Friday, May 25, 2007

Hillbilly Hotspots

I've had a fascination for anything hillbilly ever since I first dived, head-first, into a Coca-Cola cooler and pulled out a cold glass bottle of Mountain Dew with the outhouse, pig, and gun-toting mountain man logo. Even in the 1980s, bottling companies were still reusing them. My grandmother used to work as a cashier at a gas station/general store out in Woodlawn, Virginia. Oftentimes I would stay with her at the store, walking around the aisles or sitting on the front porch with a bottle of Mountain Dew and a candy bar. Down the mountain from where we lived, in Cana, Virginia, was a produce stand and tourist stop called Mountain Man. Its sign had the same bearded man with a frayed hat. I haven't been there in years, so I don't know if it's still there, but they used to have regular bluegrass music performances from a flatbed trailer.

I later learned that back in the 1960s there was a trend for anything country or hillbilly -- usually for comic effect. This trend gave birth to the Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and the Dukes of Hazzard. Advertisers also jumped on the bandwagon, and many businesses in the Appalachian region touted "hillbilly" in their names. I know of several, some I've been to and some I've only seen in postcard pictures. My new favorite is Hill-Billy Village in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. In the midst of the fancy laser tag, bungee jumping, go-cart racing, there is a little oasis of yesteryear. It was the first tourist stop on the whole strip, before anything else was there. Sure, it's run down today, but if you want a coonskin cap, Indian moccasins, or a rebel flag T-shirt this is the place to go. And if you follow the signs to the very back (sorry, no photographs please) you end up on their back lot where they keep a replica of an old cabin and moonshine still. It is oooold, but has a kitschy quality to it. If you are in the area and like kitschy, then you have to go to Hillbilly Golf in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, as well. The whole miniature golf course is built on the side of a hill. You even have to ride a trolly to the top, it's so steep. My wife is rolling her eyes right now. Some people just don't appreciate good hillbilly culture.

(Note: This blog entry is not intended in any way to stereotype, degrade, or trivialize mountain life in the Appalachians or Ozarks. There are many folks that believe the Appalachian American is the last ethnicity that is still safe to make fun of without reprecussion from the politically-correct minded. I feel that if there is to be any fun made of mountain folks, it should be done by mountain folks themselves. This is why Jeff Foxworthy can tell Redneck jokes, because he is one, and why I feel justified in doing the same. And if you come to my house, I'll show you my shotgun to prove it.)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Submitting Poetry -- Aaaarrrrrgh!!

To become a published writer, one has to submit, and submit, and submit. It is good to know the type of poetry a journal or magazine publishes in order to estimate if your style or particular poem might be what they are looking for. More often than not, it's not. So I usually have work sent out to several places at a time. When one comes back rejected, I usually either evaluate why, maybe make some tweaks to them if its been several months since I read them last, and send it back out, or just take the same hard copies out of the returned rejection and into a new envelope ready to send somewhere else. One must not get discouraged.

Recently, however, my work hit a new low. I sent a group of poems to the magazine Now & Then, which is a regional and Appalachian magazine that publishes poetry among other things. I read a few issues of it the last time I was at the library. The upcoming theme was "wildness." I picked several I thought were fitting of the theme. I mailed it on May 10th. I got it back on May 16th with my original cover letter and a small note from the editor at the bottom dated May 13th that stated my poems weren't what she was looking for. Now that may be, but talk about rejection! My poetry spent more time in the mail than it did on her desk waiting to be considered! Well, at least I can now consider sending them elsewhere, instead of waiting months to a year for notification.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007


Ham Hocks

While eating a funnel cake I saw him,
walking down from the uphill side of Main
where factory houses are stacked like cards.
That day he must have felt a little out of place
with the starched collars and tourist faces
of the Harland County Apple Festival,
tall, gray hair in a cowlick, wearing work boots
and overalls without a shirt,
looking like he had just awakened
from a third-shift-induced slumber.

I sat on a curb as he crossed the street
to a hippie vendor counting change.
"Where are your ham hocks?" he asked,
clearing sawdust from his throat with a loud hawk,
looking red-eyed and clearly confused.

"We sell hammocks, man – woven by Mayan Indians,"
the vendor replied with a faint smile and a nervous tug
on the shirttail of his sweater.

He spat on the ground beside him.
"I read your sign from my front porch,
walked all the way down the hill...,
aimin' to get me some ham hocks."
Hands in his pockets, the long-haired vendor
only shrugged his shoulders and smiled again.

The old man walked out into the street
among the crowds of balloons and baby strollers,
squinted his eyes at the vendor's sign above,
and scratched the stubble on the end of his chin.
He walked up to the booth once more,
stooping to get under the canvas awning.
"So you don't sell ham hocks then?"
he asked again in a querulous voice.

"Nope," the vendor answered with finality
and, almost mockingly, asked
"What are ham hocks?"

With a look like a slap in the face,
the old man backed away, bumping clumsily
into a young couple eating candy apples.
I turned to sneeze,
blowing powdered sugar off my paper plate,
but lifted my head in time to observe
the old man slip behind the vendor's booth
unnoticed by others,
hook the toe of his brogan
around a corner pole.
The falling canvas captured
the hippie and two customers
as a cowlick head of hair
sauntered away, disappearing
behind a bee-swarmed dumpster.

in Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel 7 (Fall 1999) 26.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Poetry Reading at Malaprops

The date is finally set for SAWC's (Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative) poetry reading at Malaprops in Asheville, NC. After a few changes in schedule from last mention, it will be held on Sunday, July 15 at 3pm. All in all, seven of us will reading, which is a good number for the 45 minutes they are giving us. Our illustrious co-coordinator Frankie gets all the thanks for setting this up for us. Though Asheville is not far from where I live, some folks are driving from as far away as Virginia, Kentucky, and Georgia. I'm excited about going, and it will be great to see old friends that I normally see only once a year. I'm a little anxious as well because public reading has never been my strong suit when it comes to sharing my writing with others. Mainly it's the reading aloud to strangers; I've gotten better about reading in front of people whom I know.

Several of our folks who are reading even have books to promote, seeing Malaprops is a bookstore. Though I don't have one of my own to tout, SAWC's newest edition of our journal Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel is coming out soon, and might possibly be ready to share with our audience. I have a poem that will be in it entitled "A Picture's Worth," that I will probably later post after it is published. Though SAWC may not be a nationally-known group, I feel a part of something larger than just the mountain South. I'm in a community of like-minded people who enjoy writing, Nature, the Appalachians, and who aren't afraid to stand up for social injustices of the region.

For more information on SAWC (like the history, or our mission statement), see the links list on this blog site.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

James Still's Poetry Besmirched

A student in my American Literature class was interested in writing his research paper about James Still, an Appalachian author from Kentucky, but couldn't find any poetry of Still's on the internet. "Jack" is a self-proclaimed "good ol' boy" who had no interest in poetry before, but I convinced him to look into poets like James Still and Jim Wayne Miller because they wrote about such things as hunting and the outdoors. That piqued his interest a little, so I brought a copy from home of Still's Wolfpen Poems for him to skim through. After looking through the slim volume of poetry, he gave it back with a page bookmarked for me to photocopy for him. I can't remember the poem right offhand, but I immediately noticed the page edges, especially his bookmarked page, were covered in dirty, greasy thumbprints. I looked at his hands, which were calloused and stained from where he had been working on something in Masonry class before. I was taken aback at first, my out-of-print copy smudged with reddish orange, but I got to thinking how James Still would probably welcome the stains. Whether it was red North Carolina clay or black coal dust from Kentucky, it wouldn't matter. Still' s writing reflects his connection to the earth, as in his novel River of Earth, just as those smudges were inextricable from the pages of my book. He apologized when he realized what he did, but I did the best I could to play it off as not a big deal. Maybe James Still will leave a lasting thumbprint on him.