Appalachian poems stir and swirl Appalachian memories

Melissa Martin, Ph.D.

Stories and storytelling is embedded in our country culture. Appalachian poems and poets speak of the history, the land, the music, the people, and their struggles. Robert Penn Warren wrote, “For what is a poem but a hazardous attempt at self-understanding: it is the deepest part of autobiography.”

I didn’t expect the book on poems, Every River on Earth: Writing from Appalachian Ohio, by editors Neil Carpathios and Donald Pollock to wow me like it did. The 2015 anthology is published by Ohio University Press. Poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction from forty contemporary writers walks, runs, and dances on the pages. My emotions responded with understanding, empathy, and sympathy. Robert Frost wrote, “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”

Neil Carpathios is an award winning author and professor of English at Shawnee State University, Portsmouth, Ohio. He is a transplant from Northern Ohio, but writes “It did not take long for southern Ohio’s rolling hills, Ohio River, Appalachian culture southern twang dialect, warm weather, copious deer, outdoor markets, down-home friendliness, and sturdy moral backbone—as well as a lacerating economic and substance-abuse scenario—to begin imprinting me with a profound sense of place.”

Pollock, a native Appalachian, penned in the book’s foreword, “Everything I wrote fell flat and lifeless on the page until I finally began to set my fiction in southern Ohio. As I kept writing about it, I began to see the place in a new light, which is, I think, one of the chief things that art is supposed to do.”

Every River on Earth is divided into four sections: Family & Folks, The Land, The Grind, and Home and Away. Each portion conveys the regional place of home for the authors. Words describe the triumphs and tragedies of the country people—my people.

Memories of yesteryear either floated in or flooded in as I read the narratives from each writer. I identified with the place of southern Appalachia Ohio and my relatives deep affection for the land that sustained their daily living.

A smile tugged at my mouth and then a chuckle slipped out before a belly laugh erupted over the poem about a granny dipped in religion, but submerged in playing cards. I paused often as rural memories visited.

Another venue for poetry is The Women of Appalachia Project out of Athens, Ohio. Via art, stories, and poetry, women from the Appalachian region share their talents. “We tell our stories through art.” Women Speak (Volume 3) by editor Kari Gunter-Seymour is an anthology of narratives by Appalachian women. For more information go to or visit WomenofAppalachiaProject on Facebook.

And of course, Appalachians celebrate the works of Jesse Stewart; the poet laureate of Kentucky. Stewart was a prolific regional writer. His stories, articles, and poems were published in America’s most widely read magazines, journals, and periodicals and he authored around 50 books. Stuart published 703 sonnets in his collection, Man with a Bull-Tongue Plow. His Appalachian place of home often inspired his narratives.

“Appalachia is still, for American musicians, a kind of fountain of youth we always go back to, the old home place to a group of artists who represent the quintessence of American independence, fortitude, genius, and madness,” wrote Paul Burch.

My mind and heart opened to poetry in adolescence. But, I thought all poetry had to rhyme. So I only created rhyming poems. Was I stunned when I went off to college and learned that not all poetry has to rhyme. Aha! There is no rhyme for orange.

Our stories, poems, and music created in the present breathe out our past and influence our future. Our life in words is etched into paper memories. History is kept alive in our words. So pour another cup of coffee and read some Appalachian poetry.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D. is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator, and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D. is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator, and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio.