Muses & Metaphor Series On National Public Radio

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Muses & Metaphor Series On National Public Radio

Today’s poem comes from Randi Ward of Ithaca, New York. After living abroad for several years, Randi says she’s now trying to think about and come to peace with where and how she grew up in Belleville, West Virginia. And she’s been playing with the images that come to her mind. One of the images in this poem is mother’s hair, which she tells us is actually a colloquial term for cornsilk. She says she remembers shucking corn as a child and piling the husks at the edge of her grandfather’s garden.

Michel Martin

Whipstitches Featured on Folk Radio UK

Folk Radio UK

Whipstitches Featured on Folk Radio UK

It was back in 2011 that I was first introduced to the West Virginian poet Randi Ward. She wrote the lyrics for an album released by Faroese singer-songwriter Guðrið Hansdóttir titled Beyond The Grey.

Her latest work, Whipstitches, was published on June 20, 2016, via MadHat Press and is already being taught in a number of high schools and colleges throughout West Virginia. The collection contains ninety-nine compact poems that stitch together the haunting story of a family and farm in crisis.

Alex Gallacher

W.Va. Poet Brings “Dregs” To Life In Iceland

Folk Radio UK

W.Va. Poet Brings “Dregs” To Life In Iceland

It was through Beyond The Grey that I was first introduced to Randi Ward, a poet from West Virginia. She wrote all the lyrics for the album. Ward had spent considerable time on the Faroe Islands, and her lyrics captured its beauty in an unforgettable way.


Before leaving Iceland, she participated in one last project entitled “Dregs.” The video for the project, based on a poem that Randi Ward wrote, was filmed in Ytri-Tindstaðir, Iceland by Gunnar Steinn Úlfarsson.

Alex Gallacher

West Virginians are Rewriting the Poetry of Appalachia

PBS News Hour

West Virginians are Rewriting the Poetry of Appalachia

Take, for example, the work of Randi Ward, who has two poems in the new WVU Press anthology. Ward also grew up in West Virginia and left — for Denmark, Iceland and the Faroe Islands — before returning home to care for her beloved, ailing grandmother. Her short, incisive poems can raise your hair.

Elizabeth Flock

  • Lyrics

    Tides

    VIEW

    Tides

    Seven moonlit tears I cried.
    Tides collided in my eyes.

    Waves can wound a moonlit shore,
    but they can’t hurt me anymore.

    Tangled in my mother’s hair,
    currents combed my bones bare.

    Currents swirled through my ribs
    spinning seaweed to selkie skin.

    Ashore I dance the sacred night,
    a surging wave of pale moonlight.

    A seal-spun daughter of the tides,
    never again a captive bride.

  • Lyrics

    Lupin Intrigue

    VIEW

    Lupin Intrigue

    Billowing purple sea.
    Midnight dusk’s reverie.


    Adrift in the unknown.
    Undercurrents of hope.

    All this enchantment begins
    with your skin.


    Don’t leave me in your wake
    tossed about lupin waves.


    Take my hand. Take the oars.
    Propel me to your shore.

    All this enchantment unfolds
    in my soul.
    You’ve taken hold.


    Midnight dusk’s reverie
    lets the tide set us free.

  • Videos

    Dregs

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    Dregs

    This video for my poem, “Dregs”, was filmed at Ytri-Tindstaðir, Iceland. Shot and directed by Gunnar Steinn Úlfarsson and featuring the song “Her Searching Hands” from Skúli Sverrisson’s album Seria (2006)

  • Poems

    Busybodies

    VIEW

    Busybodies

    (knitting needles chatter)

    …and she never draws
    her curtains shut
    of an evening!


    (knitting needles chatter)

    Christ almighty, I can’t be bothered
    to look over there…


    (knitting needles chatter)

    Me neither!

    (knitting needles chatter)

    …but the light’s always burning.

  • Poems

    Fence Post

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    Fence Post

    Does the locust
    post slip
    farther downhill
    because its wren
    heart abandons it
    each August?

  • Poems

    St. Olaf’s Fling

    VIEW

    St. Olaf’s Fling

    You kept saying
    I was frigid,

    but when you
    finally passed out

    I took off my sweater
    and made a pillow
    for you.

  • Poems

    Galaxy

    VIEW

    Galaxy

    Constellations
    of sawdust
    matted in her
    vast black
    curls.

  • Poems

    The Village

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    The Village

    The tides yet drive the surging of the sea
    to give voice to the gorge’s cliff-clenched mouths,
    slowly coercing the reticent rocks
    to split from sprays of salt and drills of rain
    and speak to the quiet of the village
    that sits near the ever-approaching edge.

    Ever approached on all sides where an edge
    spoke of an edge beyond which one could see
    across open ocean and the village,
    beyond windows fogged from curious mouths
    asking who would dare to stand in the rain
    up on the cliffs among the wind-whipped rocks.

    The children sang and hid among these rocks.
    They took turns courting the perilous edge
    where angelica was sweetest with rain
    and stood tall against storm and snarling sea
    before bending in the fall, when sullen mouths
    spoke of the tragic loss and the village.

    They’d watched the boats row out from the village.
    They waved and sat among these mossy rocks
    till the damp morning crawled into their mouths
    and sent them, coughing, home from the cliff’s edge
    unknowing that the evening would not see
    the fisherman returning with the rain.

    In procession against oncoming rain,
    six widows walked away from the village
    knitting as they turned their backs to the sea
    and continued beyond the wall of rocks
    into the outfield at the pasture’s edge
    to fill their milk pails like home’s hungry mouths.

    Cast from our memories of tear-chapped mouths,
    their solemn faces blister with cold rain
    in the silence pooling around the edges
    of the park where they rest in the village;
    the young boy stares straight out beyond the rocks
    along the gorge’s cliffs into the sea.

    Lonely, the rocks lean toward the soft edges
    of the sunrays that rain on the village
    where few see windows fogged from living mouths.

  • Poems

    Phone Call

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    Phone Call

    Soon the stork
    will swoop down
    and snap me up,
    because heaven’s full
    of better kids
    waiting for my bones
    to be born.

  • Poems

    A Faroese Fisherman Speaks

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    A Faroese Fisherman Speaks

    A Faroese Fisherman Speaks of Drowning


    “I’ve pissed salt water since I was fourteen,
    and I’d still be on board my cousin’s trawler
    if that damned cable hadn’t snagged my sleeve
    and bent me backwards till I couldn’t holler.

    But you can’t let fear cripple your will
    when you’re in the waves well above your neck
    or else your limbs will get heavier still,
    and then who’d dare risk pulling you on deck?

    ‘Cause you can’t always save a drowning man,
    especially if he don’t try to swim!
    And if you choose to reach out to him with your hand,
    there’s a strong chance that he might drag you in.”

    Then he drew a bottle from his coat
    and stumbled back to his motorboat.

  • Lyrics

    Watch

    VIEW

    Watch

    Watch
    the pigeons walk
    in circles searching for a crumb
    between raindrops.

    Picking at pebbles.
    Grey upon grey.
    Why don’t they fly away?

    Bobbing
    their heads with every step
    trying not to get
    trampled down.

    Watch
    the people walk
    in circles thinking of the dreams
    they’ve all but lost.

    Caught in the rain.
    Grey upon grey.
    Why don’t they fly away?

    Shivering souls
    drenched in shadows
    of empty buildings
    bullied by the wind.

    Watch
    the people walk
    in circles torturing themselves
    until they drop
    like rocks.

  • Poems

    Reflection

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    Reflection

    My pupils sink back
    into thought as I stare out
    beyond the grey waves;
    the colors run from my eyes
    till I’m blind in all I see.

  • Poems

    Móti Morgni

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    Móti Morgni

    móti morgni
    gløddu kvistholini at mær
    so febrilsk
    frá stovuveggjunum
    at æðrarnar
    í viðinum brustu.

  • Poems

    Glóð

    VIEW

    Glóð

    vend ikki bakið
    til eina glóð
    ið rekst
    víða
    í sínum einsemi

    enn
    kann hetta hjartað
    hevja
    eitt bløðandi bál
    úr slitnum skuggum.

  • Lyrics

    I Mjörka

    VIEW

    I Mjörka

    They say I should not wish for it to go.
    I sit silently staring at the grey.
    They say the fog will make the pastures grow.
    They say the fog will make the pastures grow.


    The fog is all I see from my window.
    I ask myself how long such murk can stay.
    They say I should not wish for it to go.
    They say I should not wish for it to go.


    They say the earth breathes fog
    like it drinks snow,
    letting the dark weeks soak into its clay.
    They say this fog will make the pastures grow,
    will melt the dead grass with its ebb and flow
    and soften the ground for the tender hay.
    They say I must not wish for it to go.


    Still fog is all I see from my window.
    How long can I keep staring at this grey?
    Grey, Grey, Grey.


    They say I must not wish for it to go,
    that once I’ve known its workings
    deep and slow
    I’ll patiently weather these somber days
    trusting that fog will make the pastures grow.


    They say the fog will make the pastures grow.
    They say the fog will make the pastures grow.
    They say I should not wish for it to go.
    They say the fog will make the pastures grow.

  • Poems

    Mother’s Hair

    VIEW

    Mother’s Hair

    Tangles
    of torn stigmas
    withering
    at the edge
    of the garden.

  • Lyrics

    The Village

    VIEW

    The Village

    The children sang
    and hid among these rocks.
    They took turns courting
    the dangerous edge
    where angelica was sweetest
    and stood tall
    against the storm and snarling sea
    before bending in the fall.

    They’d watched the boats
    row out from the landing.
    They waved and laughed
    among these mossy rocks
    unknowing that
    the evening would not see
    the fishermen
    returning with the rain.

    Cast from our memories
    of tear-chapped cheeks,
    their solemn faces
    blister with cold rain
    in the park where
    they stand for the village.
    They always stare
    longingly at the sea.

  • Poems

    Afterbirth

    VIEW

    Afterbirth

    Pacing and whining,
    the dogs lick their quivering
    flews
    at the clank of the shovel
    scraping
    the stall floor.

  • Essays

    Meditations On Salt Statement

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    Meditations On Salt Statement

    The photo-poetry collection meditations on salt was publicly launched in the Faroe Islands in Nólsoy’s convocation center, Royndarhús, on the evening of 12. October, 2007. After welcoming my guests and introducing myself, I gave the following talk:
     
    “First and foremost, I’d like to thank the village of Nólsoy for all that it has given me throughout these past years; it has been a home and inspiration to me, and you’ve all been remarkably patient and generous with your time.
     
    I remember one day this past January when I was norð í Stong taking pictures. I was lying on the ground in the snow trying to get the right angle on some fence posts just as the sun was setting and shadows were falling across the field. I looked up on the path and saw a man standing and staring at me from a distance and knew that he was wondering what in the world I was doing! Regardless of what you all may have heard, I was working on the photographs that you see today. All of the photographs in meditations on salt were taken in Nólsoy during the first days of January 2007, and all of the poems in the collection were written between August 2004 and September 2007.
     
    As you all know, I’ve spent these last two years working with Mrs. Olevina Joensen to write her life history, and I visited her frequently. She’s one of the best friends I’ve had here in the Faroes, and her remarkable grace and perseverance helped inspire me to work through some dauntingly difficult times in my life. The cover photo of meditations on salt was taken just outside her home á Bátatúgvuni one afternoon this past January. I went inside her kitchen to warm my hands and change the film in my camera but, as usual, we ended up drinking tea together and spent a while talking about everything between heaven and earth.
     
    When I left Vina’s house that particular day, I was awestruck by the patterns of footprints on the road just below the kitchen window where she spends most of her days sitting. The footprints were so poignant to me at that moment, because I’d just been listening to a wise and wonderful person tell me about the paths she’d walked down throughout her life, and then there I was surrounded by all of these intersecting footpaths in the icy snow. Standing, admiring the haunting beauty of the footprints á Bátatúgvuni, I realized that you’re never so painfully aware of where you’re walking as when you see so clearly where others have walked before you… or away from you…
     
    The fence photography in meditations on salt is also my way of critically engaging my audience to become more conscious of the boundaries that mark the landscapes of our everyday lives. It is my way of problematizing the fences that people have used to try confine and neutralize me while I’ve been living in the Faroe Islands, and I know that I’m not the only one who has gotten scratched up climbing out of my proverbial pen. The subtle shades and degrees of social violence in Faroese society can be relentless and stultifying; through the images and voices in meditations on salt, I’ve tried to open windows into how individuals internalize and experience this violence in all of its complexity.
     
    As we have seen all too often in this world, boundaries become rigid at the hands of human beings when dialogues stop. As a protest against and testament to the oppressive silences in Faroese society, I have chosen to color meditations on salt a warm grey. For in the Faroe Islands, insulation takes on a whole new meaning when your neighbors begin ostracizing you…disappearing one-by-one, and the very turbulence of the atmosphere and the weather’s bleakness magnify the tension and turmoil that is so visceral yet nearly impossible to name. The greyness of meditations on salt is both a symptom and a critique, a means of comprehending and deconstructing the boundaries and borderlands where our jumbled personal/collective identities, histories, heteroglossia, and meanings are all at once constructed, ascribed, negotiated, embodied, performed, contested, and affirmed (1).
     
    In addition to introducing warm grey as the collection’s unifying color, salt is superimposed on the pages and inside covers of the book. This emphasizes one of the most important metaphors and themes in meditations on salt’s overall composition. In salt, seemingly unassociated entities interrelate in unexpected ways, and their properties and effects are transformed as a result; for this reason, salt signifies constant change, mediates holistic interactions, and is an integral part of the dynamic processes that are the source and fate of everything on earth. In the Faroe Islands, salt is a pervasive and manifold element. Meditating on this salt is my anthropo-literary method of contextualizing and fleshing out the many forms and faces of the human condition as it is conditioned… of conveying the universal in the local, and the local in the universal.
     
    Rooting meditations on salt in the metaphor of salt and the village of Nólsoy is an attempt at foregrounding many different kinds of dialectic relationships and their implications in situ via local landscapes, architecture, and the metaphorical space opened up within the juxtaposition of poems, photographs, and the book’s design. The collection’s coloring/graphics and progression of themes serve as a multi-dimensional plane of narratives, languages, images, symbols, lyric forms, and associations that illuminate how a local poetics is and continues to become a coextension of ever more comprehensive stories. I guess what I’m trying to say is that meditations on salt is a highly innovative work because of how it integrates so many different media and devices for the purpose of expanding hermeneutical possibilities in literature and the visual arts.
     
    The collection is also innovative because its calculated composition has highly experiential components; its uncompromising nature demands that we participate in how it means what it means… that we become conscious of how its unyielding poetic and visual flux constitutes an intense intercourse of elements that simulate how meanings, in all of their mutability, assume form and are constantly resignified in lives as they are being lived (2). Even the punctuation of the collection reflects a grammar of lived experience in its combination of convention alongside the unconventional: it’s important to consider how relative the rules of form and grammar are and how important their variations may be to learning new ways of reading and understanding the hybrid identities of words and their arrangements in meaning.
     
    And it is this intensity of our lives here, the subtle diversity, stark proximity, and transparency of our lives, that I think meditations on salt so accurately conveys. The Faroe Islands can simultaneously be claustrophobic yet mercilessly isolating, and I’ve seen and felt how our histories, shared experiences, and roles not only keep us inextricably tied to one another but can actually end up alienating us from others and ourselves. It’s nearly impossible not to feel suffocated when the emotional, social, and geographical landscapes on which our identities hinge so unsparingly pit us against ourselves and others. The tense silences and aching resignation escalate into desperation as we feel ourselves breaking down and scramble to keep our humanity intact. At times the anguish becomes torturously ingrown and tangles with other haunts and hurts. Rejection, disappointment, abandonment, and betrayal blossom into anger. It’s as though the horizons on every side are swallowed by sea spray and darkness. The winds bear down and our houses quake.
     
    And yet, even in those bleak moments when poetry seems to die and life feels unbearable, there’s hope so long as we retain the capacity to observe that something is always happening in our solitude… that life hasn’t forgotten us (3). There’s an almost paradoxical solace and strength to be rediscovered in solitude, though it too takes its toll and has unexpected repercussions. Quintessentially, reading meditations on salt is itself a part of this process : the collection is about struggle, transition, striving to transform the self, and learning to have the patience and courage to live the loneliness, griefs, and questions that riddle our lives all the while recognizing and using what they are accomplishing within us to bring our inner and outer worlds into a sustainable dialogue.
     
    meditations on salt culminates in its life-affirming reflections on salt, reflections on the existence and communion of all forms as they violently but beautifully change. And so here I am tonight, just a few days before my departure, giving this book to the Faroese people with all of my affection, devotion, and hope for the future of this most fascinating land. I’ve never sacrificed, suffered, or worked so much for the people and things that I believe in, as I’ve had to do while I’ve been living here, but I thank you for the opportunity and invitation to struggle, learn, grow, and become.”

     
    (1)
    As in anthropology, I believe that poetry should not lead us to confirm our assumptions but, rather, to reflexively and holistically investigate context-specific relations of power, the hybridity and complexity of social identities (as geographically and temporally contextualized), and the possibilities that people have for re-reading their pasts and mobilizing themselves to claim a different vision of the future (Crapanzano, 1980: xiv), (Benedict, 1948).
     
    (2)
    As anthropologists must refrain from collapsing the conceptualization and phenomenology of experience in order to avoid distorting how people tell about the experiences they have of their lives and how these stories are metaphors for truth (not identical with it), writers should also try to refrain from collapsing the coexistent discursive dimensions (and signifying extensions) that socially construct society and individuals in their re-presentations of how people’s stories situationally and narratively unfold in time (Crapanzano, 1980: 126/130). This is the only way that writing, particularly anthropological writing, can do justice to how our lives’ constant, temporal immersion in interpenetrating social forms and meanings allow the processes and relations which produce these forms and meanings to dialogically surface in the act of employing, manipulating and repositioning their metaphoric extensions narratively.
     
    (3)
    (Rainer Maria Rilke, 2000)
     
    Works Cited
    Benedict, Ruth. 1948. “Anthropology and the Humanities” in American Anthropologist, V. 50 (# 4).
    Crapanzano, Vincent. 1980. Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan. The University of Chicago Press. Chicago.
    Rilke, Rainer Maria. 2000. Letters To A Young Poet. New World Library. Navato, CA.

  • Lyrics

    Chaindance

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    Chaindance

    You’ll pay.
    I’m possessed.
    That’s a promise, not a threat.

    I’ll teach you how to yearn.
    I’ll make your head turn
    till your neck breaks
    loving art for art’s sake.

    Skuggarnir pulsera yvir mær.
    Eg smakki málið í tær.


    Now every breath beads
    along this frigid pane
    where I reflect on you
    each time you pass by me
    so near
    we both become the same
    body of color
    sprawling into black.

    You say
    I’m possessed.
    Don’t deny it, you’re impressed.

    I’ll teach you how to yearn.
    I’ll make your head turn
    till your neck breaks
    loving art for art’s sake.

    Kann ikki sveitta skuggarnar av mær.
    Eg smakki málið í tær.


    Now every breath beads
    along this frigid pane
    where I reflect on you
    each time you pass by me
    so near
    we both become the same
    body of color
    sprawling into black.

    You’ll stay.
    I’m possessed.
    One more night you won’t forget.

    Smakki málið í tær.
    Hvussu man tað vera
    at búgva
    djúpt í tíni bringu?


    Now every breath bleeds
    down this frigid pane
    where I reflect on you
    each time you pass by me
    so near
    we both become the same
    body of color
    sprawling into black,
    sprawling into black.

    You’ll pay.
    I’m possessed.
    That’s a promise, not a threat.

    When I dance, I reel
    just to crush you with my heels
    each time I tramp the beat.

    I’ll feed your fantasies
    then leave you in the dark,
    alone with what you are.

  • Photos

    Hjörleiv & Jörmund

    VIEW
  • Poems

    Karlsvagninn

    VIEW

    Karlsvagninn

    strange.

    karl never comes
    after his wagon.

    it always looks
    so lonesome
    at midnight.

    maybe a wheel
    is busted.

  • Essays

    The Village Life Statement

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    The Village Life Statement

    The Village Life (bygdarlívið) photographs were taken in various villages throughout the Faroe Islands, and they dispute the romanticized discourses that people have often used to portray Faroese villages as storybook communities where time stands still and villagers live in perfect harmony with nature and one another.

     

    Bygdarlívið presents a much harsher reality, one fraught with symbolic specters of overexposure and degeneration: doors that can no longer be opened, broken or sealed windows, severely corroded hinges, abraded walls, and corrugated sheets of metal that bleed rust as they struggle to maintain order, form, and function.

     

    In Bygdarlívið, the only people we see in the framed photographs are the exhibition’s audience, people whose distorted perspectives and visages are reflected back to them for urgent consideration.
     
    The Village Life exhibition was featured in the Main Entrance Hall of the Nordic House in Reykjavík, Iceland from 31. July – 21. August, 2010.

  • Lyrics

    Lovelorn

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    Lovelorn

    I waited for you
    where I knew you’d never come,
    yet I waited for you
    long after all hope was gone
    then wandered through
    the places where I knew you’d been.

    Hvar ert tú?
    Ljósið følnar um meg.

    I wore the spaces
    where you’d walked,
    I wore them thin
    in lingering to make each place
    you’d touched my home
    till, room by room,
    I discovered I lived alone.

    Hvat ert tú?
    Eitt rúm í einsemi.

    Hvør ert tú?
    Ein bylgja ið breyt.

    I live alone
    with the silence you left me.
    I let it have my heart,
    but I can’t make it breathe.
    And yet it grows…
    in and around me it grows still.

    Her sært tú.
    Uppetin av tøgnini.
    Her sært tú.

    It has become all I know
    and want to feel
    now that I’m paralyzed
    inside this reckless need
    to reach for you
    and what you’ll never give me.

    Hvar ert tú?
    Standi í regni.

    Hvat ert tú?
    Ein frostsprongdur steinur.

    Her sært tú.
    Ein spegil í regni.

    Hvør ert tú?
    Ein frostsprongdur steinur.

  • Lyrics

    Time Will Tell

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    Time Will Tell

    How did they get wind of this?
    Who am I trying to fool?
    They all know, and they always knew.

    I’ve taken all I’m taking.
    Who am I trying to fool?
    You’ll just bury me alive
    if I stand here and let you.

    So I’m going to leave
    while there’s still time to save myself.

    Time will tell if I’m lost and broken.
    I want to believe
    even the worst of me deserves a friend.

    Time will tell, but I won’t stop hoping.
    My heart’s still hoping.

    I’ve taken all I’m taking.
    What was I trying to prove?
    I don’t owe anyone the truth.
    But the truth is you can keep it all,
    all that I’m leaving behind.
    Tell yourself whatever you want,
    if that helps you sleep at night.

    But I’m going to leave
    while there’s still time to save myself.

    Time will tell if I’m lost and broken.
    I’ve got to believe
    that I can change and start again.

    Time will tell, but I won’t stop trying.
    This heart’s still trying.

  • Poems

    Stalks

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    Stalks

    Broken cornstalks jut
    from rain-filled furrows
    in our mucky field
    pockmarked
    with my retreating
    footprints.

  • Essays

    Holdfast Statement

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    Holdfast Statement

    holdfast: \hōl(d),fast\ n.

    1a). a structure by which a plant clings to a flat surface
    1b). an organ by which a parasitic animal attaches itself to its host
    2a). something to which something else may be attached
    2b). a restraint that holds something in place

    The holdfast photographs I completed during my last weeks in Morgantown, WV in 2008 are a testament to the terrifying struggle to find a place in an oftentimes indifferent world, a world that all too rarely reflects on the socio-economic dynamics and discourses that shape us, our perceptions of ourselves and others, and our opportunities and access to particular resources. All of the photographs in this collection were taken within a one-mile radius of West Virginia University’s downtown campus and juxtapose and problematize enculturated notions of growth, deterioration, and poverty in metaphorical terms that hinge on architecture, flora and graffiti. Simultaneously, holdfast is a tribute to the tenacity and terrifying complexity of the human spirit as well as its ability to turn an austere wall’s crevice into an anchor even in the bleakest of circumstances.

    holdfast was also designed to raise awareness of the Appalachian Prison Book Project (APBP), an official student initiative of West Virginia University founded by English professor Katy Ryan and the members of her graduate Prison Literature course in the fall of 2004. Sending free books to the women and men currently incarcerated in Appalachia’s prisons, the APBP is staffed by undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, interns from the Center for Civic Engagement, and Morgantown community members. These volunteers improve prison libraries and nourish the imaginations and intellects of Appalachia’s prisoners through their progressive work and commitment to education. As research conducted by the Federal Bureau of Prisons has shown, access to educational programs significantly reduces rates of recidivism. The APBP also helps build nurturing contacts between inmates and those involved in literacy efforts, prison reform, and violence prevention.

    By donating books or volunteering in other ways, you can help give the people in Appalachia’s prisons opportunities to empower themselves and improve their lives before the desperately creeping claspers of their curiosity and humanity get torn out by the roots. Please contact project founder Katy Ryan to learn how you can become an Appalachian Prison Book Project volunteer:

    P.O. Box 601
    Morgantown, WV 26507
    appalachianpbp@gmail.com

  • Poems

    Fawn

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    Fawn

    Planted in the tall
    timothy, your dappled hide
    took root and you dozed,
    trusting that she would return
    before the mower found you.

  • Stories

    68 South

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    68 South

    Story Coming Soon.

  • Videos

    I Mjörka

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    I Mjörka

    The poem “Í Mjørka” originally appeared in my photo-poetry collection meditations on salt in 2007. It is now featured on Faroese singer-composer Guðrið Hansdóttir’s new album, Beyond the Grey. This video of Guðrið performing “Í Mjørka” Live on KEXP was shot at KEXP’s studio in Seattle in October 2011. Jim Beckmann and Scott Holpainen filmed the performance, and audio was recorded by Kevin Suggs.

  • Photos

    Holdfast Exhibition

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  • Photos

    Faroese Writers

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  • vvv

    Photos

    The Village Life Exhibition

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  • Photos

    Meditations On Salt

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  • Lyrics

    Cloth Mother

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    Cloth Mother

    I’m not angry anymore.

    Tantrums on the floor
    never got me my way.

    Pounding on the door
    never got me my way
    anyway.

    Góða mamma, myrkrið kemur,
    myrkrið er nú mær í nánd.
    Hvar ert tú tá ið á stendur
    og óttin tekur yvirhond?

    Anyway,
    it’s not as though
    I had it like those
    war orphans who died
    waiting for daylight,
    withdrawn and limp
    in makeshift cribs
    after being fed
    and carelessly left
    to fade into dream.

    So why do I keep
    nursing this blame?

    I can’t complain.

    I can’t complain.

    Góða mamma, ljósið brennur,
    men eg fari at sovna brátt.
    Ætlar tú ikki at koma og
    ynskja mær eina góða nátt?

    Why do I keep
    nursing this blame?

    I can’t complain.

    I can’t complain.

    I had my cloth mother,
    my cloth mother.

    Góða mamma, man eg gloyma,
    gloyma tað ónda eg havi sæð?
    Langt langt burtur eg meg droymi,
    men vakni her í sama stað.

  • Videos

    A Faroese Fisherman Speaks

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    A Faroese Fisherman Speaks

    The poem “A Faroese Fisherman Speaks of Drowning” originally appeared in my photo-poetry collection meditations on salt in 2007. It is now featured on Faroese singer-composer Guðrið Hansdóttir’s new album, Beyond the Grey. This video of Guðrið performing “A Faroese Fisherman Speaks of Drowning” was shot and edited by Pete Velluet in the Faroe Islands in July 2011. Audio was recorded by Will Morley with Danny Robbins lending a hand.

  • Poems

    Barn

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    Barn

    Warped stall doors creak
    mournfully on frayed hay string
    hinges as bright motes
    of dust swirl between sinking
    beams streaking the empty loft.

  • Photos

    S.S. Björn Restoration

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  • Essays

    John P.

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    John P.

    West Virginia is the place I’ve always wanted to be able to come home to but never quite could. In November 2007, after seven years living out-of-state and abroad, I found myself back on Rural Route 1 licking my worldly wounds and confronting the clutter of my former life. The garden was overgrown, the fields were scarred with new fence lines, and I’d forgotten how dark the nights get out on Pond Creek.

     

    Within a week, I was two hours northeast of Parkersburg sitting hunched over a table in SO.ZO Café on High Street tearing through the local newspapers in search of an apartment within walking distance of West Virginia University’s downtown campus. I took Falling Run Road to the top of the hill that same day and signed a lease on the first apartment I found. I’d never been to Morgantown before, but it seemed like a flourishing town to make a fresh start in while recovering from years of turmoil and illness.
    I felt ready to make myself at home in my home state and invested the last of my savings into the move.

     

    My best friend and I spent that first weekend in Morgantown sitting on the apartment floor assembling furniture with hex keys, and then I began the painstaking task of reopening those heavy, carefully sealed boxes and sorting through the contents and sentiments I’d all but abandoned. It didn’t take long for me to shelve my books and reconcile most of those other amputated items to my new space, but situating myself and my emotional baggage wasn’t as simple. I was struggling just to look at myself in the mirror each morning without becoming nauseous; to me, my face looked completely mutilated, and my eyes saw the world through the pleaching scars that kept hedging me into traumas I wished to move beyond. Readapting to the mercenary work ethic and breakneck pace of American life complicated matters even more.

     

    In the midst of personal crisis, and a failing job market and economy in the hollowed out heart of Appalachia, I coped as best I could by retreating into translation work and half-heartedly refashioning vapid CVs and cover letters. I tried not to get discouraged and occasionally sought refuge sipping chai and filching Wi-Fi at SO.ZO. I soon noticed that I wasn’t the only one who regularly happened into the progressive café looking for some empathy and conversation. In addition to the stressed students cramming for exams and guzzling fair-trade coffee before hurrying off to class, SO.ZO welcomed several of Morgantown’s
    young homeless; it was there that I met the charismatically manic John P.

     

    John P. was what he called himself, and the redemptive P. he’d adopted as his last name stood for “Phoenix”. He would often come bursting into SO.ZO, sometimes several times a day, gesticulating wildly with his nicotine-stained fingers, loudly doing one of his many self-impersonations in a punctuated, mischievously nasal tone that both playfully pronounced and parodied his intimidating capriciousness. When he showed up in the mornings, occasionally sporting bruises, scrapes, and torn clothes, he would wash up in the restroom then sit with us and launch into hypnotic rants about the turbulent nights he’d spent strung out and philosophizing over empty plastic cups in some of Morgantown’s seediest corners. He’d also tell us about the purring vehicles that
    jerked along stalking him up and down the sour sidewalks after the joints had closed and he was alone trying to walk off the cold and find a place to squat for the night.

     

    John P. was markedly gaunt for a man in his early twenties, and the greasy brown of his side-parted, chin-length hair made him look even paler. Behind his whiskery moustache and thin lips, he was missing a couple of his front teeth, and several prominent scars riddled his cheeks and forehead. He never talked about the old scars, but he had a veritable life history bound up in how he’d acquired each of the bulky rings (set with pieces of shell and multicolored stones) that he wore on most of his fingers; John P. also ritually carried a black-ink pen, a spiral-ring notebook full of torn, stabbed pages of drawings, and a few shatters of milky quartz that he said he used to channel the universe’s energy. Many of the drawings in his notebook were fraught with disquieting shapes obsessively superimposed over one another in patterns at times indistinguishable within the violence of their dark lines.

     

    Over the course of the seven months I lived and worked in Morgantown, I often sat admiring John P.’s art and chatting with him as he compulsively drew to the rhythms of his speech. He talked about getting his GED, and I told him that he should, that he had undeniable talents, but he would avert his eyes each time I said this, looking deeper down into the pyramided eyes of his notebook. He tenderly placed one of his crystals on the back of my hand one afternoon and said “You’re a real lady. Would ya’ like to have one’a my drawins?” He gave me an autographed picture of a gnarled tree whose naked branches reached upward imploringly, its roots exposed out of the ground, and its bark veined with ominous shadows. There was a cold, crescent moon in the sky, and the black hollow at the center of the tree’s thick trunk appeared to be yawning ever wider.

     

    Some days after this, while driving downtown, I saw John P. walking across from White Hall near The Den. I waved at him but he didn’t see me; he was walking solemnly beside another man who was dressed entirely in black, and they weren’t talking to one another. I was stopped, waiting for the light to change at the corner of Willey and High Streets, when I saw three young men bolt around the corner shouting, “There he is!” “Get’im!”. In my rear view mirror, I watched them run up behind John P. and tackle him to the ground. John P. curled up on the pavement to protect his face and head while punches, curses, and stomps rained down on him; he did not fight back, and the man dressed in black stood by emotionless, unmoved to intervene or even gather up the notebook of drawings that had fallen out from under John P.’s coat and gotten kicked off the sidewalk.

     

    By the time the light turned green, it was mostly over. The three attackers had backed off enough to allow John P. to get up, but they celebrated their humiliation of him by swooping in to give him an encore of punches in the back and head after he’d turned, retrieved his notebook, and begun to slowly walk away alongside his acquaintance in black. John P. recoiled under the impact of each blow but neglected to shield himself or even look at them, seemingly desensitized to such abuse.  I lost sight of him when I turned the corner that day. In my mind, I can still see him flinching from their last punches: shoulders shrugged, head lowered.

     

    I drove away that day overwhelmed with a sickening, visceral dread, wondering whether John P. would ever be able to heal or find a place where he could settle and reemerge from the ashes of his young life. When his conspicuous absence from SO.ZO stretched into its second week, I asked after him and learned that he’d been arrested and transferred out of Monongalia County to another correctional facility, but I never found out exactly why and never saw or heard from John P. again. His haunting drawing brooded on my bookshelf until the end of May 2008, when I decided not to renew my lease and carefully packed the drawing into a cardboard box containing my journals and a few old photographs of my mother and grandparents.

     

Dregs

This video for my poem, “Dregs”, was filmed at Ytri-Tindstaðir, Iceland. Shot and directed by Gunnar Steinn Úlfarsson and featuring the song “Her Searching Hands” from Skúli Sverrisson’s album Seria (2006)