Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Fixin' to Spring

It was a warm day the Saturday before Easter, and my daughter and I went for a walk in the woods behind our house. The trees were just beginning to show that touch of red when you looked out at the treetops. Otherwise, everything still looked winter-dormant. The only exception was a rogue peach tree on the edge of the woods and our yard where my wife's grandfather used to dump their food scraps. It's pinkish white blossoms were beautiful against its green leaflets, but it never beared any fruit larger than my thumb. What really knocked me out and got me to thinking about spring was this huge patch of blue Periwinkles (Vinca minor) out behind the woodshed. It covered hundreds of square feet. If it weren't for the poison ivy that I knew lied just under the surface, I would have dived face first into them. My daughter almost did just that, but settled on making a little mini-bouquet of them to put in her pocket.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The "Hillbilly as Monster" Rears His Ugly Head Again

It's nothing new in movies. The evil hillbilly stereotype has been seen since the silent film era in movies such as Stark Love , later on in talkies such as Child Bride, and in modern classic horror films such as Deliverance. Recently in the past couple of years there has been a rash of horror movies set in Appalachia or using Appalachian hillbilly stereotypes to evoke fear or elicit a dark humor as in Wrong Turn, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Descent. Once again, Hollywood is demon-hunting in the hollows of Appalachia. In February, a Pittsburgh casting company had an open casting call for "Shelter," a horror film starring Julianne Moore that began shooting in Pittsburgh this month. The call was for people with an "otherworldly" look, described in the script as people who were "insular and clannish," and because of this have an inbred look to them.

The Ku Klux Klan once made posters depicting black men as monsters kidnapping white women, and during WWII our own government printed grotesque and evil-looking posters depicting the Japanese as slant-eyed brutes. These depictions are clearly offensive by today's standards and should never see the light of day in any form of media. Though I am not making an equal comparison between ethnic racial stereotypes and regional stereotypes of Appalachia, I always find it curious that Southern and Appalachian stereotypes continue to be perpetuated in society today.

This is not a new debate, to be sure, and in many ways it has been continued in part because we've allowed it. It is still recognizable to today's media-stoked society, a society that thrives on labels and typecasts and token characters. Comedians like Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy use stereotypes like these in their skits, but the difference is that they are considered "one of us." It's funny rather than offensive because we laugh with them.

I think it's safe to say, though, that Southern Stereotypes (take Baby Doll , for instance) as well as Appalachian stereotypes as evil, sexual deviant, or monstrous is in no way excusable, no matter how casting directors or movie scripts word it. There is a little justice in the world, though. West Virginia governor Joe Manchin's office objected to what it termed as an "insensitive casting call" on the part of the casting director of "Shelter." The casting director has since been fired. The movie is still being filmed as planned. The show must go on, right?

(from Brown, David M. "Film's Casting Call Wants That 'Inbred' Look". Pittsburgh Tribune Review Tuesday, February 26, 2008; and "'Shelter' Movie's Casting Director Fired." The Charleston Gazette.com. Tuesday, March 18, 2008)

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Peoria, Texas, March 22, 1891

After some delay I am finally
getting around to writing you.
Them seeds and beans come through
all right. I am very thankful.
People are later planting this spring.
We had a big snow the first of March,
but prospects are still good for
at least a tolerable early crop.

I would like to see you out here
this fall, or later in the summer
when I can feed you on melons
from the patch I’m going to plant
behind the new school house.
You promised to come soon and
it is about time you was deciding,
but I fear that promises is all I have.

Tell your brother John I said
for him to come out here to east Texas
where he can farm right for a change
instead of plowing on rocky hillsides,
where he can get land so level and rich
it will make his eyes water to look.
A man can make an honest living out here,
can get all the work and land he wants.

Write me a long letter about home.
Give me all the news from Sevier County.
Tell your family I think of them often,
but don’t hug your sisters too hard
for they sometimes giggle and break wind.
Right now I’m sure you are all in bed asleep
under the same moon that’s full as a dinner plate.
I hope you are sleeping peaceful.

You asked about my health this winter.
After I got accustomed to the weather
which is about as cold as any in Tennessee,
I manage to eat well enough, though I miss
your cooking, your biscuits, and your smile.
I still am the tallest man in town,
and have not lost weight since last we met.
Board and washing is included in my wages,
but not a woman’s care.

I lifted your letter out of the office on the 20th.
Let me hear from you soon so I can plan.
If you want to come ahead I will assist you.
The country’s health and wages are all right.
We will have our own pastor and
a nice new church at the end of town.
My land will be six miles west of Hillsboro,
and two miles south of Peoria
when the deed comes through.
But a man can only wait for so long.
I promised your dear Maw I would
take care of you should you come.
Bring me all the news of home yourself.

J.B. Sherfly

Friday, March 7, 2008

Parody of Emily Dickinson

I'm as big a fan of Dickinson's work as the next poet, but I also like taking a friendly jab at her poetry because it's fun. This past week I had my 11th-grade English classes read some of Dickinson's work, and we talked about her peculiar life as a recluse. I then assigned students with a partner to come up with an imitation or parody of an Emily Dickinson poem. Here are a few interesting ones to come out of this. The first one is a tribute to the college basketball fans, and the second one, well, at least I can tell the students had been paying attention to my lecture.

March Madness Makes Divinest Sense
by Stephen and Brett

March Madness makes divinest sense --
To a discerning Eye
the Brackets -- make no sense
To the Number 1 seeds
In this, not all, prevail
To the Elite 8 -- great success
The Final Four -- a young boy's dream
And cutting down the nets -- Priceless

As I Lied in Bed and Pondered About Sleep
by Aaron and Andrew

As I lied in bed and pondered about sleep
I thought about all the guys I would never meet
The darkness of my bed reminded me of night
Because of my Dying Eye I saw the slant of light
My favorite thing in the world is that long black hearse
and to see my boo the pastor at church
I can't stop talking about Death
because the Goth kids in the future will give me mad respect
wild and adventurous like Tom Sawyer
It's two in the morning, all alone,
now where's my lawyer?