Claiming Place

This weekend I attended the Appalachian Studies Association Conference at EKU in Richmond, KY (a great conference, which featured live bluegrass music throughout).  I consider myself somewhat of an anomaly – I’m an administrator in higher education who also happens to be a poet.  It is an odd line to walk, as I often teach creative writing classes yet hold the title of VP.  This way of being, ironically, is familiar to me.  Never being from one particular place (I moved often as a child), I missed having the luxury of feeling as I fit in anywhere.   Enter the term “Appalachian writer.”  While I presented a paper on the Transcendentalist theme that runs through the work of four poets in the recently published anthology Echoes Across the Blue Ridge, I did not consider myself an actual Appalachian writer.  Why?  Because I was not born and raised in Appalachia.  As a matter of integrity I pause, always, at claiming to be something I am not.  But then I met Denton Loving, a fiction writer, who happens to also be in higher ed administration such as myself.  What a find!  And over some rather kick ass beer we discussed this very topic.  He pressed me, rightly, to ask why I thought I could not categorize myself as an Appalachian writer, and his points were valid and steered me into a new direction.  The questions he raised that hit home the most were these:  Just because I wasn’t from Appalachia, had I not lived there for quite awhile? Do I not value many of the same things that those native to the area do?  And the answer to these questions was yes.  While my great grandparents may be a mix of Russian and Polish immigrants and Native Americans, I realized I do hold values that those born and raised in Appalachia hold.  Quite vehemently, in fact.   These values are most obvious in my reverence and respect for nature, as the natural world brings me both sustenance and solace.  As a matter of fact, this mirrors the very theme of the paper I presented:  how Emerson (specifically in his 1846 essay, “Nature”), and contemporary Southern Appalachian poets respect, revere, learn from, and wish to protect the natural world.  So while I cannot claim birth to this area, I can claim two decades of living here and honoring the sanctuary I find in the natural world.  Emerson said the following of Nature, and it is a belief to which I and other contemporary poets/writers subscribe:   In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity…which nature cannot repair. 

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3 thoughts on “Claiming Place

  1. Rosemary, you continue to amaze me with your readiness for new awareness and your active search for the experience which can provoke such awareness. It is often through the eyes of others that we see ourselves in new light. By sharing the value of your journey you may give encouragement to your fellow travelers. Courage is contagious.
    Keep moving thither beyond splat! (private joke)

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  2. I certainly relate to your feelings of not fitting in and being reluctant to call yourself an Appalachian writer, Rosemary.
    I felt the same way until I was interviewed when my poetry book came out and the interview was posted on the Appalachian Writers section of Tipper Pressley’s blog.
    I’ve been in the Appalachians for about 16 years now and felt at home the minute I came here. So I think we can both call ourselves Appalachian writers. We hold the same values, as you said, and we couldn’t love this area any more if we had been born here.
    I love the quote at the end of this post.
    It strikes a strong chord with me.

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