Wednesday, April 18, 2012



Tuesday, April 17, 2012


My friend Charlie Hughes posted this on facebook back in November.  Charlie runs the  publishing house Wind, located in Kentucky.  He's also a fine poet and prose writer, one of our region's best. This piece expresses his outrage at what is happening to so many vulnerable people in this country today.  I will be featuring some of his poetry later.

Charlie G. Hughes is the co-editor of Groundwater: Contemporary Kentucky Fiction, editor of The Kentucky Literary Newsletter, a biweekly e-mail newsletter, and author of Body and Blood (2010) andShifting for Myself (2002), volumes of poems. He is also the owner of  Wind Publications, a small (somewhat literary) press with an emphasis on poetry, as well as Kentucky and regional writers.

Hughes grew up on a Kentucky farm. There he acquired an appreciation both for the natural world and tCharlie Hugheshings mechanical. Like many who came of age in the era of Sputnik, he became interested in science, both physical and natural. Always a voracious reader, often to the detriment of his assigned studies, he consumed endless volumes of science fiction, as well as sports biographies. He played on both his high school basketball and baseball teams, enthusiastically, if not very skillfully. Though, as a youth, he longed to escape what he perceived as the drudgery of the farm, he often revisits that locale in both his fiction and poetry.

Hughes holds degrees from Transylvania University and the University of Kentucky.  Though employed as an analytical chemist, he has an abiding interest in the literary arts. He is the former editor of Wind, Kentucky's oldest active literary magazine. His poems and fiction have appeared in prominent literary magazines, includingKansas Quarterly, Kentucky Poetry Review, Hollins Critic, International Poetry Review, ART/LIFE, Cumberland Poetry Review, Exquisite Corpse, Appalachian Heritage, Cincinnati Poetry Reviewand others.

It’s November. When I come out of the auto-parts store, I decide to take a look at the stuff in the Goodwill Store next door. I like to inspect the shelves where I sometimes find used items that I can adapt or repair for my own use – I like to tinker. 

When I’m ready to check out with a couple of items,  I notice a young black woman, small, about 30 years of age, with several items of clothes stacked by the register. The check-out lady says she’ll total these up in her head before entering the items in the register. It comes to about $26. The young woman, a few dollars in her fist, begins to fumble in her purse, pulls out a small snap-top change bag from which she digs several coins. After searching and fumbling with bills and coins, she says something to the clerk who begins to set aside a couple of items, consult with the customer, and set aside another. 

An older man in sweat shirt and blue jeans, next in line, a few dollar bills in his hand, shuffles a half-step nearer and says to the customer, How much do you need? Two dollars, she says. He drops the bills on the counter. She looks up at him and offers her thanks, then hangs her head slightly as she completes the transaction. Again, she offers her thanks before hurrying from the store. 

After I leave the store I sit in my car for several moments, listening to the rain on the roof, thinking about what I’ve just witnessed. And I wonder if Senator Mitch McConnell, with winter coming on, ever needed two dollars to buy clothes. That evening on the TV news I learn that Obama’s jobs bill which would have provided jobs for hundreds of thousands and has been rejected by the senate. I think about McConnell again. I think about a hammer. I think about kneecaps.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


I've been a David Huddle admirer for years now, and no, that's not David in the photo above.  It's one he emailed me, in honor of the bird that has figured prominently in the  poems below.   I'm partial to his poetry, but he's also a highly regarded fiction writer, essayist,  and, I'd wager, a memorable teacher.  I was able to meet him five years ago at the anniversary Celebration of the Emory & Henry Appalachian Writers festival, at which time he was teaching in Vermont.  He's a mountain man, though, a Virginia mountain man, and for the past couple of years he's been teaching at Hollins College, his title being Distinguished Visiting Professor of Creative Writing.   

He has published seventeen books of fiction, poetry, and essays. His novel The Story of a Million Years (Houghton Mifflin, 1999) was named a Distinguished Book of the Year by Esquire and a best Book of the Year by the Los Angeles Times Book Review. In 2012, LSU Press will publish his seventh poetry collection, Black Snake at the Family Reunion, from which the following poems are lifted.  ( I'm justifiably proud that the two of us will have our  books coming out at the same time-early fall-- from the same publisher! )

Weather Report

The vultures of this landscape came to call 
this morning--found a bare-limbed tree outside
my kitchen window, settled in & held
my gaze, big tar blobs against a milky sky:
We understand you, their presence informed me,
And I you, I told them in silence.
                                            Right now 
this day can’t make up its mind--sun’s half out
but rain’s in those clouds.  If it’s that cold wind-
driven stuff that swats your eyes like a drink 
full of crushed ice thrown in your face, I’ll stay
indoors, count my failures & petty crimes,
loathe my life, and completely understand 
why friends and loved ones keep their distance.
The barometer yo-yos my mental state--
one day I’m a happy old dude, kitchen 
dancer, car-driving harmonizer, hilltop 
walker delighted by the world.
                                              Next day 
it’s the big not, the mega-never.  And where
are you breeze-blown death birds now that I need you?
This mean rain’s rotting the starch right out of me.
Come down from your perch, my beauties, I’m 
opening doors and windows, I’m looking for snacks
in the back of the fridge.  Here--try roosting 
on this chair back.  Please just sit with me 
around my table.  I’ll hold up both ends 
of our conversation.  It’s like forever
I’ve wanted to talk to you.  Here--let me 
turn off these lights--I know you like the dark.  

(first published in The New Yorker)

Hilltop Sonnet

Who visits this high meadow, lawn of the dead,
 to see blue and bluer mountains that rise
  out of the west; to converse with the crows,
   great-winged turkey buzzards, black kites riding
    thermals in seamless silence; to greet deer
     here at twilight grazing near the wood’s edge;
      to scare the huge groundhog that lives inside
       the brick-walled graveyard: Who moves through this     space?

       A yellow dog leading a deaf old man 
      who likes to talk, a girl and her boyfriend
     who sit atop her car’s roof murmuring
    quietly, two off-leash labs ignoring
   their shouting owner, a policeman who 
  parks up here to feel lonely, guarding the wind.

Roanoke Pastorale

Cardinal, goldfinch, titmouse, turkey buzzard--
dear companions of my afternoons--
above this field, high clouds dream of blizzards

to snow me in till spring ends my solitude.
Sober’s my binge now, nature my saloon. 
Wren, mourning dove, house finch, turkey buzzard--

for your entertainment, I sing the words
of old fifties songs, use baby talk, croon
as I walk the field beneath great blizzard-

dreaming clouds.  You gaudy pretties, sweet birds
of my senior years--my later’s my soon.
Catbirds flit through cedars in the graveyard, 

turkey buzzards swirl their patterns overhead,
across the mountainside sunlight bows a tune 
rising to blue eternity but heard

by the heron fishing the creek, wizard
of stillness, creature designed by the moon.
Bluebird, jay, chipping sparrow, turkey buzzard,
clouds, and field--I dream this life, walk this world.

(first published in The New Yorker)

Photo by Anne Noble

Monday, April 2, 2012

National Poetry Month: Anne Clinard Barnhill

National Poetry Month 2012, Day 2

Anne Barnhill dropped by City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, NC a few weeks back to talk about her new novel, At the Mercy of the Queen.  Her poetry chapbook titled Coal, Baby had not been released yet.  It was waiting in the wings.  Now it has flown out into the world, or soon will be, and I can feature some of the poems on its pages to celebrate National Poetry Month.   
If you go to Anne's website, you'll find out more about her, but for starters, here's her short biography.

"Anne Clinard Barnhill has been writing or dreaming of writing for most of her life. For the past twenty years, she has published arti cles, book and theater reviews, poetry, and short stories. Her first book, AT HOME IN THE LAND OF OZ, recalls what it was like grow ing up with an autistic sister. Her work has won various awards and grants. Barnhill holds an M.F.A. in Cre ative Writing from the Uni ver sity of North Carolina at Wilming ton. Besides writ ing, she also enjoys teaching, conducting writing work shops and seminars to enhance creativity." 

The Angel of Appalachia Speaks

Awaken the trees.
Call the clouds to collect themselves
and march the mountains to the sea.

Gather starbuds.
Shepherd every skittering thing—
beetle, grub, spider, snake—
all the crawling ones of the earth.
Lead them to the water.

The birds of the air
and the creatures of the deeps—
starfish and kingfisher
catbird and calico
deer and panther—
bring them.

Deliver the children of dust,
the bare, two-legged ones.
Call all to the banks of oblivion--
the air itself and the sad, sad rivers,
boulders and shattered rocks,
fragmented fossils and live veins of coal--
direct them to the blistering waters.

There, they will weep together
for all that is lost.

After  they have re-salted the earth with their tears, 
after they can no longer stand,
they will sink until their cheeks press against the pebbled bank
and their bones feel the pull of naked earth.

Snow Angel

The first snow made us light-hearted,
hopeful the inches would pile up.
When they did, you bundled me, yourself, too.
Up King’s Hill we tramped,
our sleds trailing us, slow as mules.

Atop, we warmed stiff mittens
over the garbage-can fire.
I lay my heart against the wooden slats—
the thudding, a quick comfort—
You pushed me off, down

Cold wind in my nose, ice pricks on my cheeks—
Houses, legs, bushes, dogs—
My belly skirting snow piles—
Finally, the slow glide to safety,
you close behind.

Old Bob Gaul

I saw him often on our one-horse Main,
smelling of dirty socks, sour wine, urine.
Beneath his unzipped fly
it hung, one eye staring, a dead fish.
Sweet snow danced on his matted hair,
that hatless head a roost for pigeons.

Schoolboys taunted him while he gathered 
his harvest of coke bottles.
Grown-ups gave him a wide berth
and matched his averted stare.
In winter, he came to church,
his back pew in ready reserve.
He hunkered into it
like a scolded dog.

Rumor swore he’s been a pianist,
some young Mozart gone awry.
Hard to believe there’d been that kind of light
in his red, dead-panned eyes.

Once, at midnight, on a back-road haunt,
far from any place I’d been,
in the clearing, a one-room shack--
his shadow bent low to the concert grand,
the air rippled mountain arpeggios,
thrilled wild with thundering chords
crashed against granite peaks.