Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Renegade Poetry

I grew up in Trion, Georgia, a cotton mill town in the northwestern corner of the state. From early grade school, my classmates and I planned our escapes. Most talked of moving to the city, but I had the opposite notion: I would move to the woodlands and live the rustic life.

Many of my classmates made good on their plans. I have facebook friends in Chattanooga, Atlanta, and various other cities from Florida to Wisconsin. But when I visit Trion today, I still see familiar faces. I'm certain that some remained by choice, to be near family or carry on a family business, but many simply never broke the tethers and got away. Ruefully, one Wal-Mart associate admitted as much.

For myself, I did move to the woods, but not far. For my most of my life I remained in a county contiguous to that of my youth. Only recently did I gather my courage, and my family, and relocate to a cabin in rural Rockcastle County outside Berea, Kentucky.

Rockcastle is rustic, and rural, by anyone's standards. But Berea's population was said to have been over 14,000 souls in 2008. Trion, by contrast, was said to be just over 2,000. So you can imagine my amusement when, awaiting a poetry reading at the Black Feather Cafe' near Old Town in Berea, I was privy to a conversation about how gossipy folks are “in a small town”.

Those folks don't know. Berea has a business district with a bookstore, a college, two coffee shops and several pizza joints. They don't know how small a town can be, or how claustrophobic living there can feel. On the other hand, one former classmate--among the group who moved away to a more urban landscape --commented recently how fortunate she felt that she and her family were rooted in “small town values”.

So I've been thinking a lot lately about the effect of landscape on mentality.

The poetry reading that followed the conversation was inspiring. Below is some verse I penned the morning after. I hope you enjoy.

Renegade Poetry

Crumpled piece of paper in a college student's hand.
Ball point ink blots on a denim knee.
This is art?

The tourists' heels click faster as they pass us.
Cops ride by and stare beneath their flattops.
“Better clean up your act, you dirty poets!”
My subjects and verbs don't simply disagree; they go to war.
I mix a tall, cool metaphor and take a sip.

A hawk spirals upwards to the sun.
It touches, sizzles, and begins to fall.
The smoky trail of its descent scribes a hyperbolic arc
to earth below.

I am guilty of crimes against the syntax.
I've seen it all, and felt it, too,
but oh, the things I've read.

Punk rock lyrics in an Appalachian diction.
A timid tale told from a spiral bound notebook.
Crumpled piece of paper in a college student's hand.
Ball point ink blots on a denim knee.
This is art, y'all. This is art.


  1. Reading this makes me think of another friend I recently (very) encountered in Athens GA...
    he studied pottery making in Japan and now pots in rural SW GA, making pots in the "Jappalachian tradition"! barker