Sunday, April 24, 2022

Thought for the Day

[. . .] To live is to build, to repair, to illuminate,
to leave traces in the fabric of time and space.[. . .]
~ Yuliya Komska

Quoted from Yuliya Komska, "A Stained Glass in Lviv", Los Angeles Review of Books [Short-Takes], March 15, 2022

Yulia Komska, Associate Professor of German Studies, Dartmouth University; Author

Thursday, April 21, 2022

New Artist Watch Feature at Escape Into Life


Ceirra Evans, Y'all Full of Crud, 2022
Oil on Canvas, 36" x 36"
 © Ceirra Evans


Louisville, Kentucky-based painter Ceirra Evans is the subject of April's Artist Watch feature at the international online arts magazine Escape Into Life.

A recent college graduate, Ceirra grew up in Bath County, in eastern Kentucky's Appalachian foothills. Already the subject of New Yorker and Hyperallergic magazine profiles, Ceirra draws her subject matter from her experience in the holler of Appalachia, a region long stigmatized and stereotyped. Her work both represents and critiques Appalachia, sharing not only its myths and folklore but also its truths.

For April's Artist Watch, Ceirra has graciously provided images of eight of her paintings, notes on those works, an Artist Statement, and a brief bio. It is with gratitude that I have the opportunity to introduce this engaging artist in my monthly column.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Joseph Bathanti's 'Light at the Seam' (Review)


Cover Art

Joseph Bathanti's new poetry collection Light at the Seam, published by LSU Press during Lent, could not have arrived at a more propitious, or more precarious, time in our lives. Though we have just retraced, in faith, Christ's journey to death and still behold in wonder His mysterious rebirth, we remain threatened by ruinous instruments of our own making; amid what we take for granted, air and water, birds and game, the earth that feeds us, we are too often oblivious to how the "[s]undial / casts its shadow on the hour" ("Sundial, West Virginia"). We have forgotten our charge to be caretakers of daylily and webworm, thistle and Queen Anne's lace, snake and vole, "whole kingdoms of [. . .] whirring ethnographies of insects" ("The Assumption").

Fundamentally a personal response to, even an indictment of, Appalachia's coal industry and the destruction that continued mining wrecks upon the Appalachian landscape, a place "almost Heaven— / but decidedly not heaven" ("Limbo"), Light at the Seam is, ultimately, a gesture toward resilience, renewal, and hope.

The collection comprises four aptly named sections whose religious connotations are deliberate: The Assumption, The Windows of Heaven, Limbo, and Light at the Seam. These sections suggest not only only glorious beginnings and hard endings but also the in-between "imaginal phase" ("My Mother and Father") of the likely or inevitable, be it disastrous runoff and floods, clouds of powdered coal that catch the air on fire ("Oracle"), slurries streaming toward once-pristine rivers in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, or the simple sign "No Trespassing / [that] impends / a large red / caution" ("Keyford"). Bathanti sources in these sections the workings of both the human and the Divine, drawing unmistakable contrasts: between the beauty on earth, where [f]ireflies torch the night" and "flowers shrive, and prick eternity" ("Blessed Thistle"), and the ugliness of mountain-top removal that renders a creek "sick // green-brown in slabs of sunlight— / dull as a gorged serpent" ("Postdiluvian: Mingo County, West Virginia"); between the holding of Creation as sacred, and therefore ever-lasting, and the ill-served-taking by humans by authority and assumption, "men [not] beholden / to words on a page" ("Sentences") who exact what's "beyond our ken" ("Boar"); between the clarity of witness and the dark acknowledgment of our "sin black as bituminous" ("Glad Creek Falls"); between loss and the possibility of regeneration. No matter the place named, whether Mingo County, West Virginia, or Dubois, Pennsylvania, how we "look upon the earth" ("Floyd County, Kentucky"), the poet indicates, is how we map our fate and our future. But, "make no mistake: // you are permitted entry through grace" ("Daylily"), the poet reminds us, adding, "Life is more than fable, // but never stops stunning earth" ("April Snow").

Bathanti, in showing how "[t]hings are taking shape" ("Oracle"), relies on muscular verbs and physically robust imagery — "roads conflux and houses, / that once believed they'd be a town, // cower" ("The Windows of Heaven"); "From the gouged peak, subdural, / lobotomized, serpentine switchbacks // weave a cat's cradle into the grade-rooms" ("Sundial, West Virginia"); "[h]e seesaws on his haunches, / as he strips the doe: / his bestial gorge and groan, / tugging her up like taffy, /" ("Boar"); "after years in the pit, hunched, / you could only so far lift your arms" ("The Coal Miner's Wife: A Letter") — and his use of sonority, alliteration ("the thousand thousand thuribles of light" in "Blessed Thistle"), consonance and dissonance, and equally accented syllables to emphasize relationship, mark his poems with a distinctive rhythm that energizes his narrative line.

Bathanti praises, too, in certain of his 35 beautifully written, richly rewarding poems, for even as earth teeters on the "threshold of oblivion" ("Light at the Seam") and "[u]pon the land gathers a biblical // quietus before it explodes" ("The Windows of Heaven"),  life in Appalachia renews itself with each "day [that] dawns repentant, sky blue" ("Postdiluvian"), and the poet finds solace watching "a cardinal and indigo bunting / feed, [. . . ] / [. . .] / their self-absorption / an ongoing evolutionary tick / completed this very instant." ("Evensong"). The "light at the seam", then, is both omen and reward.


Joseph Bathanti, a former Poet Laureate of North Carolina (2012-2014) and a recipient of the North Carolina Award in Literature, is the author of at least 17 books, a couple of which I have reviewed*. Currently, he is the McFarlane Family Distinguished Professor of Interdisciplinary Education at Appalachia State University in Boone, North Carolina.

* Review of Concertina

* Review of Crossing the Rift Anthology

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Thought for the Day

Any small thing can save you.
~ Mark Doty 


Quoted from Mark Doty, "Ararat" in Bethlehem in Broad Daylight (David R. Godine, 1991)

Mark Doty, American Poet; Professor, Rutgers University

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Thought for the Day

Maybe the only gift is a chance to inquire,
to know nothing for certain. An inheritance
of wonder and nothing more. 
~ William Least Heat-Moon

Quoted from William Least Heat-Moon, Blue Highways (Back Bay Books, 1982, 1999; Little, Brown, 2012)

William Least Heat-Moon, American Travel Writer and Author

William Naparsteck, "An Interview with William Least Heat-Moon", Association of Writers & Writing Programs Magazine, December 2015

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

In Bucha's Graveyards (Poem)

In Bucha's Graveyards

Hands tied, they offer
no resistance. Strips
of white, not unlike
the shackles that bind

arms to back to ride
the lightning, tighten

with weeping. This is
not fake news, nor is

it staged to effect
mock pleas for more help.


Bodies not buried
in playgrounds of sand

lie waiting for words,
the calling of names.


On these urban streets,
light fails in a flash.

Shots replace shouting.
Breaching smoke-filled clouds,

the Russians retreat
east, vodka at hand.


It takes time to torture,
no more than minutes

to walk away from
the dead left to mourn.

"Ride the lightning" is slang for the electric chair.

Pick up any newspaper or turn to any social medium, radio, or television station for coverage of the horrific war in Ukraine.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Thought for the Day

[T]he very act of trying to look ahead to discern possibilities
and offer warnings is in itself an act of hope.
~ Octavia Butler


Quoted from Octavia Butler, "A Few Rules for Predicting the Future," Essence, May 2000, pages 165-166 (Epigraph, Rebecca Solnit, Orwell's Roses (Viking, 2022)

Octavia Butler (1947-2006), American Science Fiction Author