I’ve been getting excited about Athens Word of Mouth this week, as our featured reader will be Cris Mattingly. On his last visit, he read his poem “A'int” which described the word as a “hillbilly ohm.” That settled it for me. I was sold.
It’s hard to describe the cell-deep pleasure of having disowned language claimed and even exalted. As a teen, I hate to admit how much of a self-loathing southerner I was. I tried to lose my accent. While I still cringe a little to hear myself in recordings, I try to adopt C.D. Wright’s stance, “I have a terrible accent. I see no reason to lose it.”
A friend recently described being prompted to defend The South (whatever that means) at a dinner party, as another guest sighed that it was too bad, in effect, that the region even existed. My friend launched her defense, acquired an apology in return. But the stigma remains for many. Some of us live the tension.
One weekend I watched Junebug, Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus and The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachia. All three films searched as goads and tonics. Through them I kept thinking about specifically the artist from and in the south, and the weight of depicting images about it. How much do you describe, especially if the depiction might resonate with a stereotype? Do you edit that stuff out and lie? Amplify and market it, cash in on the redneck/hillbilly trend as the freak du jour? Ignore anything but the noble and beautiful of a culture and risk sentimentality? Add to that reductionism: See Barry Hannah, below.
My accent and my writing are made up of contradictions and the exuberant mess of where I grew up. I might say a fifty cent word, but it’ll sound a bit off, the stress on the wrong syllable, the vowels stretched like taffy. I aim to keep the words like “favor” used differently in my poems. I hope to keep the contradictions alive and tense.
There’s a story that floated around about the late, great Vic Chesnutt that I hope is true and exemplifies this tension. At a party, someone was asking him about his music and when he heard the title “Isadora Duncan” made some crack, thinking it was just some girl he was pursuing. Supposedly, Vic finished his beer, smushed the empty can on his forehead and said, “Isadora Duncan was an American pioneer of dance and choreography at the turn of the century…” then proceeded to expound in his own terrible accent.
So maybe I'll just let the twang fall where it will. I hope to keep ‘em interested, or at least guessing, ala Ms. Badu.
Happy Monday, y’all!
" Remember that the South—and this is what people forget—the South is sixteen states and it’s the biggest region. It and the West are enormous country. Of the sixteen states, from Texas on up to Virginia, there is a stamp that means love of language and stories. But that might be the extent of the similarities. Texas lit is nothing like Virginia lit. The Tidelands is nothing like Appalachian. We’re talking about an enormous nation." - Barry Hannah
Frida to Diego
My infant, my love,
The eaves tremble with your laughter.
My body shakes above you,
a cracked boat on the sea.
My beautiful Gargantua,
my lovely monster, I would suckle you,
feed your enormous hunger.
Broken as I am, I weep blue-white milk,
rivers of it, for my lostlings, for you.
When you come home, you wag your centaur head
reeking of other women in your mane. Half-penitent, half-proud.
No matter. I draw you near while our fighting words
still drift above us like smoke from burning Judas figures.
I will not flinch when the embers land on my face.
My eyes will seek your eyes, and stay.
I will drink you forever and grow enormous
as a moon, full of you.
Diego to Frida
My peg leg, my dark brow,
Forgive me, Fridita, for I forgive you
because you do not see it,
the light that spills from the creases
in the low center of every woman.
Light with color, you see?
one like an orange marigold,
another with the velvet
ray as from a calla lily,
misty, milk-pale, and I am pulled
as one who falls.
It is not my pito that is the trouble, dear one,
it is my feeble eyes. I am just an old man
with dim eyes that need more light,
more light in order to see.
I ply the source to save us all
from becoming beggars,
deaf and stumbling.
You must believe me.
And you? Not light,
but music pours from you.
Here, little dove, my incendiary love,
let me put my face closer, lower
to hear you better.
Many writers, painters, and musicians have their muses. Sometimes they are the beautiful face or form that lights their imagination. Petrarch had Laura. Man Ray had Lee Miller. Frida and Diego had each other (among others). Some lucky creators get to live with and love their muses.
Grady Thrasher is one of those. A former lawyer turned author/film producer/community advocate and all-around lover of life, he has penned many odes to his wife, artist and muse, Kathy Prescott. By the way, Kathy shares all those "slashes" herself. They are quite the team, manifesting good things around them and inspiring many Athenians and folks far and wide.
Grady has confessed to an addiction to rhyming. His compulsion is visible in his work, but not nearly as brightly as his love for Kathy. This is the 10th anniversary month of an extraordinary couple. Cheers, you two!!
When We Are Old as Winter - Grady Thrasher
When we are old as winter, avoiding sleep,
We’ll retire beside a warming fire with a book,
But I, not reading, will linger on the soft look
Your eyes had once and yet still keep.
Long will I have lived in the gladness of your grace,
Loved your beauty then as I do now
And the honest aesthetic you show
In each glow and shadow of your changing face.
Undiminished by age, love’s brilliant flames,
Their unbroken fever forever abides,
Stronger than mountains, truer than tides,
Moving the stars to know our names.
I Held You in the Vision of My Mind
I held you in the vision of my mind,
The image I sought to make mine complete,
In perfect harmony with age and time,
Where others, imperfect, fell to defeat
By shadows real or shadows only feared.
You, doubtless and secure, at peace with light,
Your radiance embracing as you neared,
Warmed and softened the edges of the night.
Unhesitating, I surrendered all,
Set my sail to run before your breeze,
A course even angels cannot recall,
The journey melodious in its ease.
Awakening, I reach and find you there,
A goddess answering my fevered prayer,
My heart in the custody of your care.
Back home, the name of a road that crosses a railroad track. Here, a place to keep my verbal play-pretties and whatnot.