Readings from A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia

Readings from A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia

November, 2019—

Recently I contributed a poem to the beautiful book A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia, edited by Rose McLarney and Laura-Gray Street. The book was released by UGA Press in October. Following the unique approach of The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide (eds. Eric Magrane and Christopher Cokinos), this field guide acquaints the reader with the flora and fauna of Southern Appalachia, not in the traditional style of scientific descriptions and photographs, but with poems, stunning artistic illustrations, and conversationally written natural history information. Such a book can only present a small glimmer of the more-than-human lives that make up one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, but it is a glimmer nonetheless, and one to treasure. If you would like to give a gift to someone who loves Southern Appalachia, or someone who doesn’t know the region yet, you should pick up a copy here.

My poem in the book, “Through the Burning World You Blazed” (featured in the Southern Humanities Review), is about a fish endemic to a mile-long stretch of an East Tennessee creek near where I grew up, a fish called the chucky madtom that went extinct soon after it was discovered, in 2005. Just as I am sorrowful about the loss of the Southeast’s crazy array of aquatic wildlife, I am in equal measure honored to have written some words to one of the little flashing glimmers that once lived under the water (and maybe that sorrow and that honor go hand in hand to speak of life’s preciousness), and I insist that we stay enchanted together here in the face of our losses—enchanted meaning not only to sing, to be singing of the dead and still-living, but to be sung to, even by extinct things; we have to keep listening; keep writing.

As Joanna Macy has said, “You’re always asked to sort of stretch a little bit more. But actually, we’re made for that. There’s a song that wants to sing itself through us, and we’ve just got to be available. Maybe the song that is to be sung through us is the most beautiful requiem for an irreplaceable planet or maybe it’s a song of joyous rebirth as we create a new culture that doesn’t destroy its world. But in any case, there’s absolutely no excuse for making our passionate love for our world dependent on what we think of its degree of health, whether we think it’s going to go on forever. Those are just thoughts anyway. But this moment, you’re alive.”

With other contributors to the book—Sandra Meek, John Lane, Janisse Ray, Anna Lena Phillips Bell, Jim Peterson, and Lee Ann Brown—I gave readings this fall at Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia (to a packed house of 51 attendees), and at Hub City Bookshop in Spartanburg, South Carolina (both in the Piedmont, feet of the mountains!).

Thank you to these wonderful local book shops for hosting me.

You can read a review of the book here at the Knoxville News Sentinel, and check out a feature on the book that includes the work of Melissa Range, Rebecca Gayle Howell, Nickole Brown, L. Lamar Wilson, Anna Lena Philips Bell, Sean Hill, Molly McCully Brown, Adrian Blevins, and others here at Southern Humanities Review.

{Photograph by Janisse Ray}

The Best American Science & Nature Writing

The Best American Science & Nature Writing

October, 2019—  It’s out! Thank you to this year’s The Best American Science and Nature Writing editor Sy Montgomery for selecting “The Fading Stars: A Constellation” for the anthology. The essay was originally published in Lapham’s Quarterly‘s Winter 2019 NIGHT issue. Thanks to my lucky stars, and to darkness.— [ Continue Reading ]

“Deep in Time” reprinted in The Utne Reader

“Deep in Time” reprinted in The Utne Reader

July, 2018— Happy to say that The Utne Reader picked up “Deep In Time,” an essay originally published in Orion magazine last summer.  Written with the support of an Artist-in-Residence stay at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the piece was featured in Utne‘s Summer 2019 issue. It’s such a pleasure to see these words that were… [ Continue Reading ]

Remembering Merwin

March 18, 2019— W.S. Merwin, my favorite living poet, beloved to so many readers, passed away March 15, three days ago. With him I shared a love of trees, poems, & the landscapes, plants, & histories of the Hawaiian Islands. I woke the morning after his death to gray skies and opened my favorite book of… [ Continue Reading ]

“Deep In Time” out now

“Deep In Time” out now

Sep. 14, 2018— A new piece of mine is out at Orion called Deep In Time, a piece I wrote while roaming the Guadalupe Mountains National Park for a month as artist-in-residence, a piece in which I explore one of the world’s largest preserved fossil reefs from the Permian Era, within the larger geographical-historical context… [ Continue Reading ]

The Unbearable Lightness of Being My Father

The Unbearable Lightness of Being My Father

June 17, 2018, Father’s Day For so many of us, Father’s Day leads to that inevitable father-hole—father as source of emptiness. As if all our days do not lead us there—or lead from there, all of our movements not defined at least in part by this untetheredness, by the fact that we have no father.… [ Continue Reading ]

More on the Root-digger

More on the Root-digger

June 10, 2018 Four summers ago, I went to write a magazine story about a root-digger in the mountains of East Tennessee, coalfield country. I spent five days with her, riding around that rugged region & talking with neighbors, walking in the woods with her. I have 38 pages of notes & several hours of… [ Continue Reading ]

Pushcart Prize nomination

Pushcart Prize nomination

Nov. 9, 2017 Thank you to terrain.org for nominating my essay “Seven Words for Sustenance and Gnawing” for the 2018 Pushcart Prize! I am so honored and grateful. [ Continue Reading ]

Best American Travel Writing 2017

Best American Travel Writing 2017

Oct. 25, 2017 >> My essay “Places that Have No Names,” in which I ride a train from El Paso, Tex., to Lynchburg, Va., was included as notable in the Best American Travel Writing 2017 collection! The essay originally appeared in the Oxford American‘s 2016 Southern Journeys issue. So grateful that the OA has been… [ Continue Reading ]