By Douglas John Imbrogno | Editor, WestVirginiaVille.com | July 1, 2022
Welcome to another themed issue of the monthly WestVirginiaVille multimedia web magazine. Last month’s issue was devoted to a troublesome, timely matter: “Is Joe Manchin the Anti-Byrd?” This month, with “Memoirs of Daily Life,” we offer a welcome break from do-nothing politics and political actors who seem to care more for their cameos than their country.
To devote so many pages and pixels to writers, poets, and memoirists, and their dispatches from the front lines of their lives or the imagined lives of characters, is not to take a step away from More Important Things and Essential Matters. At their best, poetry and prose are no less a form of truth-telling than the best investigative report on the latest outrage, or the most significant speech by the land’s most powerful politician.
“Great literature,” Ezra Pound once observed, “is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.”
Meaning — true, accurate, and undistorted — is essential in an age fractured by tribalism, with so many fingers stuck in earholes, as we shout at each other: “La-la-la-la-LA! I can’t HEAR you!” Meanwhile, invective flies and — in way too many cases — truncheons and bullets follow.
When I finally do take a break from the soul-withering blaze of the 24/7 news cycle as it dutifully reports — or mis-reports or deliberately misrepresents — the worst news committed by the worst humans, it is to poetry and well-gestated prose that I turn.
For this, too, is news of the day. The best of the lot channels insight, honesty, and truthfulness without fear or favor. Good writing is an antidote to the despair-inducing maelstrom of stormy headlines, which knock us over as the undertow sweeps us out to sea. Lately, lines from William Butler Yeats’ essential poem “The Second Coming” hound my brain:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity …
Spend too much time marinating in social media and breaking news, and it will surely seem “the centre cannot hold.” And it becomes crystal clear that “the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Just scan the Twitter feeds of Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert for proof.
And yet …
Whenever I step away from the screen for a while, perspective returns. Lately, I’ve been attempting a radical act. After surfing screens for too long — when my forebrain feels like a fallen popsicle melting on a sidewalk in summer’s highest heat — I no longer merely set my phone aside. I power if off. A welcome relief results. I recommend it. Let us join in a pact, forming a Mutual Self-Protection Alliance from Over-Screening.
Because when you de-power the screens, suddenly no one can snatch and grab your attention. Your muses, your soul, your self, can luxuriate in the silence of a favorite room or, better yet, in the safe harbor of trees and woodlands. At least for awhile, attention trollops like MTG are shut down and shut up.
Then, when I do return to my screens, I have the blessing of reading and sharing with serious readers the poetry of West Virginia’s poet laureate Marc Harshman and that of his poet/professor/musician buddy Doug Van Gundy, who criss-cross West Virginia and the world with a secular poetry-and-music ministry christened], delightfully, ‘Running With Whiskey.’
I get to share sweet, oddball writing about saving turtles on Pluto Road. And how WestVirginiaVille’s Minister of Paragraphs, Connie Kinsey, had some cigarette-smoking guy with bloody animal hides wander into her kitchen one night because, well … he actually had a good, if outdated, reason. I’m also able to share the strong-voiced work of up-and-coming West Virginia poet James Cochran (who I suspect will likely NOT give up coffee, even if Jesus asked him to.)
And, by way of the powerfully imagined fiction of Jay Brackenrich (“Salena”) and straight-from-the-heart recollections of a West Virginia woman who writes anonymously about three unwanted pregnancies, readers are able to see past the screaming headlines.
Then — and this is significant — to see through the eyes of an actual human being, fictive or real, whose singular life is the one that will be torn asunder by those screaming headlines. Someone who may be a family member or neighbor. Or someone on the other side of the tracks you may never encounter, but whose life is just as important, just as full of need and hurt and the deep hunger for renewal.
This issue also features our first foray (“Montani Semper …) into longform excerpts from books with a West Virginia connection. I concede the point: WestVirginiaVille is definitely not Short-Attention-Span Theater.
P.S. Thanks to Jeff Seager for his copy-editing prowess and writerly suggestions for this issue
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STORY INDEX FOR JULY 2, 2022 WestVirginiaVille.com
1 | EDITORS/NOTE: About our ‘Memoirs of Daily Life’ Issue : To devote so many pages and pixels to writers, poets, and memoirists, and their dispatches from the front lines of their lives — or the imagined lives of characters — is not to step back from More Important Things. Poetry and prose are no less a form of truth-telling than the best investigative reports.
2 | FIRST/PERSON: Turtle Rescue Out on Pluto Road | by Joseph “Billy” Corduroy : “The first time I tried to save a turtle on the move it peed — or pooped, I’m not sure which — in my truck. I had stopped when I saw a box turtle in the middle of Pluto Road one afternoon maybe ten years ago. I hit my brakes right there in traffic. Fortunately, there was none ….”
3 | 5 QUESTIONS: For Two Poets Who Keep Running With Whiskey : How did West Virginia’s longtime Poet Laureate plus an MFA Creative Writing professor-poet-musician end up “Running With Whiskey” around West Virginia and the world? We have questions, they have answers. Plus, of course, poems.
4 | SHORT/STORY: “Salena” | by Jay Brackenrich : “Salena had never had anything beautiful, certainly never anything perfect. The nuns wrapped her in perfect clean blankets. She had a little cotton shirt, perfect. They asked for the name of the father. She said, “I don’t know.” They entered ‘Unknown’ into the blank box.”
5 | READINGS: “Montani Semper … Snapshots from an Appalachian Family Album” | by Ty Bouldin : Take a read on a WestVirginiaVille.com experiment in publishing longish excerpts from worthy, well-written books with a West Virginia connection, like “Montani Semper …”
6 | POETICS: 3 Poems by James Cochran : ‘She says Jesus / has spoken to her, told her not to drink coffee / or Redbull, that black tea is okay. / I feel jealous of such direct communication / with a higher power, then wonder if I would / stop drinking coffee if Jesus told me to …’
7 | FIRST/PERSON: A few highly personal words on choice | by Anonymous : “Three pregnancies. No choice in any of them. I have never chosen to get pregnant. I was foolish, I was sucker-punched, I was surprised. I was naïve, I was savvy. I wasn’t ready, I was ready. Such a basic right that everyone deserves. CHOICE.”
8 | POETICS: 3 Poems by Marc Harshman : ‘A fiddle tune bearing, rough-shod, / the memory of the village: / sunlight on stucco, / leaf-plastered paths in autumn, / spectral sheep / in moonlight and bracken, / the lilt of the market tongue, / ancient beyond telling …’
9 | MEMOIR: Why trappers with bloody hides wanted in my house | by Connie Kinsey : “One morning, I stumbled down to the kitchen when I heard a noise. There standing was an unkempt man holding bloody hides and smoking a cigarette. “Excuse me?” “I’m looking for Frank …”‘
10 | POETICS: 3 Poems by Doug Van Gundy : ‘These are the hours I love the best, / when the golden light of summer has climbed / to the top of the abandoned building next door / and all of the neighborhood / cats have come out from the woodpile / beneath the back porch to carouse and fight …’
11 | PICTURE/SHOW: Traces of Faces in West Virginia Places | by Douglas John Imbrogno : Here is a selective round-up of people snapped doing their thing on the streets, in the alleys, and in the cigar bars of of West Virginia’s cities, towns, and outback.
12 | WATCH LIST: Here are some things to look at, West Virginia-wise | Check out this version of variations on “Country Roads” by the Kanawha Valley Community Band which channels Aaron Copeland; plus a video of a crazy fitness guy sledding around Charleston WV; and more.