Friday, August 27, 2010

A Poem by John F. Keener


I dream of mountains where I don't live
And scarce recall but for old connections
Circled round, made course corrections
And put down here, so here I live

I dream of roads where I don't walk
Ones that go slender on the senses
Sweetened along by rot-sweet fences
But my feet are here, so here I walk

I dream of jobs that I don't work
And never could, the good Lord knows
For money grows where money grows
And its roots run here, so here I work

I dream of places I don't belong
Not precisely, not anymore
And even if I did before
I belong here now, and that's what's wrong

from the Appalachian Journal 26:2 (Winter 1999)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Rose or the Cabbage

"The question of common sense is always 'What is it good for?' -- a question which would abolish the rose and be answered triumphantly by the cabbage." -- James Russell Lowell

I came across this quote in my class textbook today that I hadn't noticed before. In teaching Romanticism, I discuss how the Romantics reacted against the Age of Reason's philosophies -- that science was the answer to all life's questions. I will admit that Romanticism had its faults; real life is not ideal or beautiful or mysterious sometimes. Too often, though, I throw away the rose for the cabbage -- I focus only on the practicality or usefulness of things, but ignore the felicitous beauty of other things. Practical and useful things bring contentment, sure (TV remotes, can openers, for example), but it's the beautiful things that bring joy and renewal to our lives.

Case in point. Because the doctor told me my bad cholesterol is too high, he strongly suggested I start getting more exercise and eating better. I started walking in the evenings in my neighborhood because it was the most practical use of my limited time, and thus fulfilled the doctor's prescription for me. I didn't much care for it at first. I wanted to be hiking or mountain biking in the woods somewhere, not walking in a circle past rows of suburbia housing. When I started looking for the beauty in the seemingly mundane, though, things changed. I noticed how the woods smelled differently as I passed the undeveloped lots, how houses even had different odors as I walked past the open garage doors. Looked up and traced the zig-zag silhouettes of bats against the evening sky as they flew from one street light to the next. Heard at least four distinctly different insect sounds (crickets, cicadas, katydids, and one I can't identify). Totally useless and impractical pursuits, I know, but well worth my attention. The laps passed effortlessly.

Eating better, that's a different story.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

On the Radio in Whitesburg, Kentucky

I was up in Whitesburg, Kentucky, the last weekend in July to camp and do some writing. My friend and fellow poet, the infamous Wiley Quixote (Jim Webb), owns a private campground on top of Pine Mountain called Wiley's Last Resort. He also DJ's on Appalshop's WMMT 88.7 in downtown Whitesburg. After a fruitful day of writing and relaxing, he asked if I wanted to be a guest on his radio show "Appalachian Attitude." All of a sudden I went from being Thoreau, leading a simple life led close to nature (Wiley actually has a "Walled-In Pond" on his property), to having my voice broadcast all over Eastern Kentucky and the World Wide Web . I was excited, honored, and a little nervous. I called my wife to tell her to listen online at 5pm on August 2nd, but unfortunately she had to take the kids to a doctor's appointment. I didn't think to call anyone else in my family. I also didn't have much time to prepare. Wiley wanted me to read some of my poetry and talk about my life as a writer, so I found some poems and took a few notes for myself.

I had a blast! I didn't have to wear headphones, but I had one of those big microphones on the swing arm to speak into. Knowing a little bit about me, Jim prompted me with questions which I didn't have much trouble coming up with something to say. Unlike most guest writers, I didn't have a book of poetry or my novel to promote, but I did have a caller. During a public service announcement, the red light started flashing, silently signalling a call. It was Walter B. Lane, who lives in Letcher County, I believe. He remembered when I was an editorial assistant at the Appalachian Journal and corresponded with him on several occasions, particularly on a poem ("The Way North") of his the Journal published. He said he appreciated the encouragement I gave him in my rejection notices. That made the whole interview worthwhile, I think.

WMMT didn't post the interview in their online archive, or one earlier in the year by fellow poet and SAWCer Dana Wildsmith (which I would love to listen to), but if ever they do I will provide a link for anyone interested. I wasn't a brilliant orator, but I had fun. And, again I apologize to the feline-lovers out in radio land when I joked during the traffic report about not having a cat to throw in front of a steam roller on Madison Avenue!