I’ve got a bit of an unusual job here at the Hindman Settlement School. After graduating with my bachelor’s from the College of Agriculture at the University of Georgia, I moved to Hindman to work as the Settlement School’s Community Agriculture Coordinator VISTA. While I manage the farmers market, grow tomatoes, and coordinate gardening classes, I have taken advantage of the Settlement School’s rich literary tradition and programming to work on my other craft, poetry.
I love working the land, raising plants to their full maturity, and sharing this knowledge with others. I love observing nature, finding its hidden rhythms, and crafting it into the English language. That is to say, my agricultural work inspires my poetry.
One August afternoon, I was alone at the farm. The previous evening’s thunderstorm had broken the top-heavy corn plants in half. The ripe cobs were tangled in a foot-deep mat of vegetation. I needed to find them before the bugs did.
I started at the corner of the field nearest the farm truck. Find the cob, grasp, twist, snap. Throw it in the onion bag. Repeat. I turned towards the southwest mountains, where the sun was tracing the ridgeline. I closed my eyes, and was on top of the ridge looking down at the field, the fallen stalks wound together like a tapestry, the fallow plot next to it blooming yellow with ragweed, these perfect squares bordered by cut green grass paths, a patchwork quilt- I knew I had a poem. I put down my bag and got pen and paper out of the truck. I had to make my notes before the image left my head. I got down on one knee, and, using the other for a desk, started writing.
My notes are disjointed images– on top of the mountain, plots like patchwork quilt, thunderstorm fallen corn— they do not constitute a poem– yet.
I sat on the piece for three months. I had to let my subconscious work on the poem. It asks: How does this image, this scene, fit within my memory? My ancestral memory? My knowledge of Hindman, Knott County, Kentucky, Appalachia, America? What message do I want this image to deliver? Like a child I keep asking Why? Why? Why? until I can find truth in the image, the words. Then I start crafting the poem.
After work I’ll sit down in my apartment overlooking Troublesome Creek. I’ll open the door to let the breeze in, get a glass of water, and find the paper copies of what I’ve been working on. From my raw notes, I make my poem. I order my words, create the line breaks, refine the metaphors, and cut the filler words. Each draft takes a few intensely focused hours.
My August afternoon finds its form.
Before harvest, morning
glories stretch to sun,
stumble up corn stalks,
stitch light into quilts,
Stalks snap below
cobs, lay down
patchwork, warm earth
I pluck crop from stalk.
The legacy of agriculture and arts education lives on in the Hindman Settlement School’s people and programming. I teach gardening, canning, and cooking classes to area residents in the Settlement School’s Grow Appalachia program with the goal of lessening food insecurity in the region. However, when it comes to writing, I am the student. Writer-in-Residence poet Rebecca Gayle Howell has given me a de facto writing fellowship consisting of Makery classes, the Appalachian Writers’ Workshop, and a focused reading practice surveying the Appalachian tradition. These classes and books have spurred me to think deeply on the ethics and techniques of writing about people and place. I am learning how to place my family history into the context of regional history while also gaining the foundation I need to contribute to the Appalachian literary tradition. After my yearlong VISTA term, I hope to pursue an M.F.A. in creative writing to continue strengthening my craft so it can reach well into, and far beyond, the mountains I call home.