Friday, March 13, 2009

[Tour] Charleston - West Virginia

We had to wake up way earlier than felt natural to get on the road toward West Virginia. I think it was all just one big blur. Before too long we were on the road, and for the first time two APs fell asleep while in the car. I’ll give you a hit who they were. Frank was driving, and I didn’t fall asleep.

We stopped to get gas and I got some Arbys (sausage biscuit) then we drove for 5 hours to West Virginia. The mountains are interesting. You might think “oh, mountains, just like hills but bigger” but there’s something very different than that, because this is not like Kentucky Hills times two. Saw a lot of factories (I assumed coal, but apparently they have a lot of chemical factories? Even the children here know that. More on that later).

We arrived at Capitol Market right before we were up. Capitol market is a big market that sells all kinds of fresh fruit and foods, including crocodile meet. We set up all our books and chapbooks, and then Frank and Bianca were interviewed by a local radio station. We all read our poetry and it was exactly what I needed. I read Ricardo’s blog on Charleston and he said he felt like he was at home here, and that’s exactly what this felt like. Like I was reading at the BeanHaus in Covington, complete with people who don’t give a fuck about poetry walking by during reading. That’s fine. It’s sort of refreshing for the audience you have to be there solely for the benefit of your poetry and not because they are being forced to.

Bianca ordered a tuna sandwich and I ate half so she wouldn’t carry it around. That’s what I’m telling myself.

We left from there and went to a middle school. The room filled up with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. I had been telling myself: Regular reading, but they are children instead of adults. Just tone down the language. Frank went up and went first and I instantly became terrified. That is 100 percent the correct word for what I felt. These were not small stature-adults, this was an entirely different animal.

Frank was inspiring; I saw in him something I have only ever heard him talk about and never seen, which is a deep concern with giving back and communicating with the community, but what made it really affecting to me was that they were children and he was catering to that. He spoke the way I remember people speaking when I was that age (because those who didn’t? I don’t remember). I have a fear of high school, because it was the worst time of my entire life, and middle school was alright but in my head, it’s hard to separate the two because there is only a year between 8th and 9th grade, between childhood and hell. Frank gets done and Bianca goes up, and she kills it. I had been watching her a little when we first arrived, as the film crew for the news set up cameras. I saw that she was circling things and writing notes; she was coming up with a lesson plan right there on the fly. She read her Constella series, and got 7 volunteers come up and do actions and sounds when she got to a certain part, and then also got total class participation by having them shout out a response when she got to that part of the poem. It was amazing. During this time though, I was pretty well zoned out looking through poetry and about having a cardiac arrest. But there are things I committed myself to when I decided to really become a writer and not just talk about it, so there wasn’t the inkling of a chance that I was going to duck out of this or anything. I was just trying to stop myself from even thinking about it. It was very out of body experience. Frank came over and gave me a way out, a book with a poem by a child from West Virginia I could use to call up a volunteer to read the poem. I said thanks and sat staring at the space in between space. Then, it was my turn.

I went up with 6:30 p.m., one of my poems. I very much appreciated the gesture from Frank, but I felt as if that was my whole life, choosing the easier thing over the thing I could really learn from. So I explained each stanza, asked questions, got responses, and then read the stanza. At the very end, with the suggestion of Crystal, I read the entire thing as a whole. I had done it. (And let me point out that Crystal, who was there, as a central part of each of the experiences in West Virginia, will get her very own paragraph.) I tried to relate everything to why I wrote it in the first place, and especially how things that you might think are every day occurrence are suitable for poetry. I think so many people think their lives are too boring to write, and that’s just not true.

The rush of it all coupled with the fact I didn’t want to admit to myself how hard it was meant that I didn’t really say anything at the time. But that was some real but shit for me. Real big. I’m torn between wondering if I could have done it if I would have known before the tour I’d have to, and whether there is anything that could have stopped me from doing this.

Crystal read poetry that had to do with the area, which was awesome. Bernard read a poem about shoes, which was also nice, because it was definitely something the kids could relate to. Ricardo read an entire poem in Spanish, then took a lot of listener’s responses to create a poem (about bread) based on those results. But the best part about his choice, was that he told the kids that if they wanted to find out about the poem he read (he did quickly explain it) they had to learn a second language. It was impressive and admirable. I respect every one of the poets I have gone on this trip with even more now than when it started, and that’s saying something.

We went on to an after school program in a black neighborhood. They didn’t know we were coming, and we were so damn tired that we said we’d just go back to the hotel and sleep on it. The woman freaked out (in a good way) when she realized we were poets and said “Oh no. I’ll get the kids together for this. I am not letting you guys go.” It was awesome. I mean, she spends so much time with these children and that she cares so much that she would not let an opportunity for them slip by was really refreshing.

The kids at this room were ages 7-9. This was a rowdy bunch and I was again very nervous, this time because I couldn’t relate to them. I didn’t know what they were thinking, what words they’d understand of my poetry. Frank lead with an exercise he had done in my poetry class at NKU where he draws a line on the board and asks us to say what it is (toothpick, a tree with the top cut off, etc) and keeps adding lines. The kids were better than we were; Frank says it’s because children have unlimited creativity and we stifle our own. He’s right. I read a poem about playing on the asphalt (they thought this was a cuss word, and didn’t know what blacktop was) when I was a kid. It went okay. Bernard read about the po-po, Bianca read about her afro eating Kentucky, Crystal read about the factories in West Virginia, and at the moment I’m blanking on what Ricardo did because I seriously feel like I’m falling asleep at the keyboard. Insert here when I remember. Hahaha.

We went from there to the hotel, Crystal didn’t know he hadn’t already gotten a place to stay. We sat down and relaxed for a little while, then out to the Tricky Fish. It was a really awesome restaurant, and let me tell you. If you need a slice of Appalachia that goes against the grain of the stereotypes, go to Charleston, and if you REALLY want to go against the grain, go the to Tricky Fish. They gave us free food and we all read our poetry in front of an extremely receptive crowd. We mingled at the end, and move on to the other building that the owner was in possession of. A bar.

The bar was as close to being a rock star as I will ever be. We drank (well, everyone else did), I ate pineapple upside down cake, and we had some of the best discussions we have had. It was the definition of brother and sisterhood. I have never said that about anyone.

Now Crystal. She gets her own paragraph, because she commandeered all this like a pro. Affrilachian woman can hold their own, I swear to God. Crystal set all this up, this entire day of life changing experiences. I had never done any of the community things I have done today, for instance. And she did all this, on her own essentially, because she is our West Virginia rep (other than Norman, but he lives in Tennessee now). She packed our day full, which was hectic at first, but I am all about it. Her poetry is also great (I may be seconds away from emailing her to ask her for some of it to read on my own, and to thank her) and she was so welcoming. Plus, I think she’s a local celebrity. Everyone knows her. Haha.

We drove back and now Bernard, Frank, and Ricardo are hanging out while I finish this up. We wake up bright and early tomorrow for hardcore work shopping. The past three days are like children. I keep thinking I have met my capacity for love of them, until the next is born. Man, listen to those metaphors, this trip is better than college. No offense NKU. Although I did pay you, and this trip is paying me. And I am actually speaking about literal dollars.

Prompt: "What secrets do the mountains guard?"

ascending accent

i've been through enough of the mountains
to have seen cadence defy tepid television portraits.
I've caught glimpses of good ol voices
saunter off through a curtain of trees
holding hands with philosophy
only to return an hour later with a smirk
and a good story.
I have born witness to drawls
that gave birth to lightning
heard twangs that make violins blush
and a memory kicks in
narrated by the overly boiled voice of a news anchor
lampooning lexicon
dragging down what the mountains hold
and then almost hear that misty response
"that's y'alls problem"

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