Monday, September 28, 2009

Voices from the Hills

This last Saturday I attended an event I had been looking forward to for a very very long time; Voices from the Hills, held at my alma mater, Northern Kentucky University. It was an event focused around the future of Appalachian and Kentucky writing, but more importantly to me, was put together in honor of Danny Miller, the former chair of the English department who passed away very recently, and to raise money for an endowment in his honor.

Danny was an amazing man, who very directly affected the direction of my life. It was through great effort, on his part, that Frank X. Walker was hired as writer-in-residence, which of course directly lead to my induction into the Affrilachian poets, which has had an immeasurable effect on my writing.

I had previously won the under-graduate (at the time of the contest) non-fiction contest for my essay “Folk Traditions as a Conduit for Healing in Gurney Norman’s Kinfolks,” and my family was there to cheer me on as I accepted my award. It marks the first, and possibly only time in my life that I'll be have such a personal investment in an essay. I was writing the essay in a one-on-one class with Danny, who passed away before the essay or the class was complete.

Among the writers at the event were Laura Sutton, Richard Hague, Chris Holbrook, Jeff Mann, Frank X Walker, Marianne Worthington, Gurney Norman (current poet laureate of Kentucky), Crystal Wilkinson, and Wendell Berry. I spent every cent of a check I won for my essay on books at the event, so I'm both inspired and poor.

Story of my life.

In other news, I think I may throw myself into sonnets. Not only because Gary Copeland Lilley, who was suggested to me as someone who I should study, does, but because I've for some time suspected I should study form, specifically something that would force me to think about iambs. I have a side-project tentatively planned about rap and iambic structure, but I have never been very good at it, and I'm not sure I know a single other person in the world who would be interested in both formal poetry structure, and rap.


  1. . . . You know at least one person who is interested in both formal poetry structure and -- well, hip hop, not rap. My especial favorites are The Roots and Faithless -- though I suppose the latter is really trip hop more than hip hop. Anyway, hopefully you can take my point: plenty of people have multi-faceted interests in poetry and music :)

    I'm curious to know which books you bought at the event . . .

  2. I take it that you are referring specifically to Hip-Hop as is often referred to the non-gangster/bling, more enlightened rap; arguably the Mos Defs, the Talib Kwellis, the Commons and so on.

    I think those sorts of rappers are obviously superior in lyrical content; I gain no joy whatsoever from hearing women referred to as bitches, and don't enjoy hearing about cars, chains, or drugs, really, at all. Although it may be of interest that when I listen to music, I almost never hear the words. I hear the rhythm, or the harmony or melody, and after many hundreds of plays, I may finally start hearing snatches of the lyrics.

    But I would actually be focusing instead on the much more well known rappers; the ones much lauded by the population. Why? Because I think that has the greatest impact on changing what people think about the genre itself. I don't think that Lil Wayne or 50 Cent need my help legitimizing what they do as an art, because sometimes I wonder if they even care if it is considered an art.

    Instead, I would like to both learn, and teach, about formal poetry, through popular lyrics. I have a hypothesis that stressed and unstress words, that is, meter, comes about naturally to some writers, or is especially stressed in some aesthetics. I suspect that although the Notorious BIG more than likely never spent time marking stressed and unstress syllables, he recognized them enough to use them to guide his flow, unconsciously, almost.

    So that's all I've got, so far. A part of me would like to highlight the rappers, like Black Thought of The Roots, who take the art to its limits when it comes to content, but I think there is a lot to learn from why it is that we nod our heads to even the more inane songs on the radio.

  3. Oh. Books I bought!

    I won The Kentucky Anthology, edited by Wade Hall (it's a giant tome of all sorts of famed writers from this state).

    I was printed in (and thus given 3 contributor copies of) the considerably well-sized Journal of Kentucky Studies.

    I bought:

    Loving Mountains, Loving Men, by Jeff Mann; a memorial book of Danny Miller; a chapbook called Larger Bodies Than Mine by Marianne Worthington; and The Mad Farmer Poems by former laureate Wendell Berry. All of these books are signed.

  4. I am so jealous that you met Wendell Berry.

    And I just read a bit on the Affrilachian Poets. What a cool group! I'd not heard of the group before, though I had read some of their work.

    Anyway, I think the intersection of hiphop and traditional verse structures would be a fascinating thing to study. I don't envy you the sonnets though; that is a form I never cease to struggle with!

  5. Raising my hand...give me structure and give me rap, please. I listen to rap, even the garbage, because I love word play...and a good beat. Even though Lil Wayne isn't really talking about anything EVER lol I like the way he talks about nothing, even when it's offensive. I know, I should get some more self-pride or something. It's not about that though, it's about my love of words and rhythm. Biggie is one of my all time favorite rappers, along with Nas, and if you want to go with some ridiculous word stylings--early Keith Murray and Wu-Tang Clan. Anyway, I could go on when my point is I hope you move forward with the idea. It's a great one!

  6. Emily, he's a genius, and also hilarious. Not to rub it in. Instead, to urge you to make it if he's ever performing around you. And thanks for your kind words about my poetic family. Keep an eye out for Bianca; I have a really big feeling she's going to be winning awards before too long.

    JayTee, I absolutely love Lil Wayne. I think some of what he does is stream of conscious, and is often very, very clever in its own way. His cadence sort of blows me away in a way that no other music ever has, so a part of me dies inside every time I think about how legendary he might be if he chose to write something akin to poetry, instead of about whatever the hell it is he talks about most of the time. haha.