Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Poetry of James Still

Carr Creek
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
Whilst on vacation last week, I was faced with the stunning realization that I don't believe I've ever read much of James Still's poetry! James Still was one of Kentucky's poet laureates - our first, in fact - and I have read some of his fiction ("River of Earth" being his most well-known book). But somehow, I've managed not to read much (any??) of his poetry.

I realized this when someone recited one of his poems during the week last week at Cowan Creek Music Week, where we were vacationing. I was awed by the simple beauty of the poem and have promised myself to become more familiar with his poetry. A sampling for you...

Wolfpen Creek

How it was in that place, how light hung in a bright pool
Of air like water, in an eddy of cloud and sky,
I will long remember. I will long recall
The maples blossoming wings, the oaks proud with rule,

The spiders deep in silk, the squirrels fat on mast,
The fields and draws and coves where quail and peewees call.
Earth loved more than any earth, stand firm, hold fast;
Trees burdened with leaf and bird, root deep, grow tall.

Fiddlers' Convention on Troublesome Creek

In the night's dark clover, in the burnt wood shadows
And whitened thrusts of hard long furls of moonlight
The fiddlers have wound the sullened ridges down
To Troublesome's fork, to the cross-hatched mountain valley,
With wind nibbling their sleeves, brushing the stubble
And rattling the martins' gourds and purple feathers.

And the men are lean, and their nags are leaner still
Than the rick-poles in the fields, the high rail fences
Hemming the patches of hoe-turned slanting earth;
And the fiddles are weaned with long silent hunger,
The dull strings slack, and fire of song unstruck
In the wooden throats and hollowed dusty bosoms

O fiddlers, play life's hardscrabble,
Play soot-winged bats in the damp green coves,
Saw with your bow till the strings scratch gravel,
Till glad tongues sing in the beechwood groves.

Foxes scratching in the family graveyard,
Hound dogs baying at the blighted moon,
Bull frogs sharpening their tongues with croaking,
Lonesdome doves moaning the day too soon.

On every fork and trace the willows are shedding
Brief blossoms in downward flight to scattered sand,
To breathing waters quiet against the stone;
And the banjos sleep, the guitars lie unstrung,
The dulcimers rest in ash dust on the mantel's breast,
And their songs are perishing from the shaggy hills.

O fiddle the moon and the star-tails flying,
Fiddle the dead in their earth-long sleep,
Sing the day breaking, the sun-ball dying,
Fiddle me to laughter, fiddle me to weep.

No comments: