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.