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}

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