Voices from the American Land — along with local partners Land Trust for the Little Tennessee, the Wilderness Society, Tuckasegee Reader, Western North Carolina Alliance, Wild South, Canary Coalition, Mad Batter Café, Tuckasegee Alliance, New Native Press and City Lights bookstore — presented the Every Breath Sings Mountains event at the Jackson County Public Library on Sept. 23.
The speakers, music and readings drew a packed house to the new library. The entire event was also recorded, and the video is both entertaining and thoughtful.
For those who couldn’t make it, organizers videotaped the entire event. Here are the links, in the proper chronological order.
Here is some information about some of the writers and community members who took part in and organized the event:
• Thomas Rain Crowe is an award winning author, poet an essayist. His memoir Zoro’s Field: My Life in the Appalachian Woods won the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Philip D. Reed Award for Outstanding Writing on the Southern Environment for 2006. Crowe’s literary archives have been purchased by the Duke University Special Collections Library. He is a respected, outspoken advocate for the conservation and protection of the Southern Appalachian landscape, her people and her culture. Crowe lives on a small farm along the Tuckasegee River in Jackson County.
• Barbara R. Duncan is education director at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee. Cherokee Heritage Trails Guidebook, which she co-authored with Brett Riggs, received the Preserve America Presidential Award. Her book Living Stories of the Cherokee received a Thomas Wolfe Literary Award and World Storytelling Award. The singer-songwriter has also written a poetry chapbook, Crossing Cowee Mountain. Duncan lives on a tributary of the Tuckasegee River in Jackson County.
• Brent Martin is Southern Appalachian director for The Wilderness Society. Martin is a recipient of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s James S. Dockery Environmental Leadership Award. Martin has published two collections of poetry, Poems from Snow Hill and A Shout in the Woods. Martin’s poems and essays have appeared in Pisgah Review, North Carolina Literary Review, New Southerner, Tar River Poetry and elsewhere. Martin lives in the Cowee community.
• Western Carolina University historian George Frizzell, Jackson County farmer and former commissioner William Shelton, and Cherokee elder Jerry Wolfe. There will also be “a conversation with authors” featuring authors Charles Frazier, John Lane, Wayne Caldwell, George Ellison and Keith Flynn. The Ian Moore Song & Dance Bluegrass Ensemble will provide music. There will also be a meet-the-authors book-signing reception catered by the Mad Batter Café. And all audience members will receive a free copy of the chapbook.
There is a core of energy to Thomas Rain Crowe, a get-in-there and get-it-done spirit, evident both in his writings and the man himself.
So it isn’t surprising that when fellow poet and friend Brent Martin mentioned an interesting concept he’d stumbled across — a group, the Center for the Study of Place, reviving that great tradition in American letters, the poetry of place, through the project Voices from the American Land — Crowe was off and running.
“Thomas is Thomas,” Martin said affectionately.
Crowe, Martin said, contacted the nonprofit group involved, the Center for the Study of Place, and got down to business.
The result is a lovely little book, Every Breath Sings Mountains, featuring poems about the Southern Appalachians written by Crowe, Martin and Cherokee scholar Barbara R. Duncan.
The writing is superb, the subjects timely and meaningful, the book lovingly published, the illustrations by Robert Johnson of Yancey County are perfectly rendered.
“For those of us who love these mountains, this volume is a crucial reminder of what we have, and how easily it can be lost. Every Breath Sings Mountains is small in size but large in wisdom,” as author Ron Rash noted of this exquisitely presented book of poems.
A book launch is set for 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 23 at in the community room of the Jackson County library complex in Sylva. The event, however, is intended as more than simply a forum to introduce the community to Every Breath Sings Mountains, as enjoyable as that alone would undoubtedly prove.
Many of the region’s most notable authors will be there to help create a multi-layered event, to create on this night their own Voices from the American Land, through readings, conversations, music and more. The event’s major sponsor is the N.C. Humanities Council.
Charles Frazier, Wayne Caldwell, Keith Flynn, George Ellison and John Lane will carry on “conservations.” Sylva’s own Ian Moore will perform his unique, Southern-Appalachian inspired style of music. Duncan, Martin and Crowe will read poems from the chapbook. Johnson, the book’s illustrator, will show work from the chapbook. George Frizzell of Western Carolina University, William Shelton, a farmer and former commissioner, and Jerry Elder, a revered Cherokee elder, will be guest speakers.
As Crowe put it, “we’re throwing a party to celebrate the place in which we live. A unique and relatively large group of accomplished authors, Cherokee elders, political spokespersons, scholars, musicians, cooks and bookstore reps all in one place. In this case, ‘the whole’ is greater than the sum of its parts.”
The region’s “uniqueness, diversity and starpower,” Crowe said, all on display, and intertwined with the very serious mission of protecting this area from devastating outside, or economic, encroachment.
“The Great Smoky Mountains is a special part of the world and we, as authors and artists, write and sing about it in order to plant the seeds of sustainability in the public mind so that we, our children and grandchildren, will have a beautiful place to live and prosper into the indefinite future,” Crowe said.
With Frazier’s new novel set for release Sept. 27, the event provides an opportunity for people in this area to get inscriptions in his new book. These personalized books, however, won’t be available for pickup until the actual release day, by orders of the publisher, Crowe noted.
This unusual land conservation program uses contemporary poetic voices to “move the message of the land.” Through chapbook publication, local readings and educational activities, the group seeks to revive and amplify a dominant tradition in American letters: the poetry of place. In this way, it seeks to celebrate and help protect America’s extraordinary heritage of land and landscape.
Voices from the American Land was founded in 2008 by a group of writers, editors, and graphic designers who had worked together for some years on a quite successful series of local poetry readings in Placitas, N.M., taking place every winter solstice.
The organizers met with poets and editors from New York, Virginia, Colorado, California, and other parts of the country to discuss whether the idea of a national program of chapbook publication, and readings, could make its way. The idea of single-author chapbooks was the key feature of the program, since they could be inexpensive to produce, and could concentrate on a single landscape or locale needful of conservation.
Source: Voices from the American Land
“Over rock and gravel bed
Mingus Creek runs fast through the tall trees.
Diverted by a makeshift dam,
It turns to the right
Into a millrace lined with boards.
An ‘Appalachian aqueduct,’
race becomes flume
and flume becomes water’s trestle as
it flows downhill to the mill.”
— Thomas Rain Crowe, from “Mingus Mill.”
“English place names
clatter on our tongues
People were here, now gone.
The names remain, shadows.”
— Barbara R. Duncan, from “Naming Place.”
“Here is where Brush Creek at last frees itself
from State Highway 28
and shouts hallelujah as it races
into the wilds of the Needmore game lands.
Here the creek leaves behind its burden of old sofas,
washing machines, car parts, and garbage.
Here people were once free of the need
for such things; and here things were thrown
after the need was placed upon them. …”
— Brent Martin, from “Homeplace.”