Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place Features Poems Inspired by Kentucky

September 10
4:47 2012
Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place Features Poems Inspired by Kentucky

Author, activist, feminist, teacher, and artist bell hooks is celebrated as one of the nation's leading intellectuals. Famous for her provocative and political writings on gender, social justice, and sustainability, hooks has written more than thirty books in her career. For the first time, hooks offers her social commentary in a New Medium of creative expression: poetry.

In Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place, hooks explores life's harsh realities in a book of poems inspired by her childhood in the isolated hills and hidden hollows of Kentucky. As part of the University Press of Kentucky's Kentucky Voices series, Appalachian Elegy offers a fresh perspective on past and current issues in the state. Using the land, people, and history of the Appalachian region as subject matter, hooks's poems follow the process of mourning a Kentucky landscape that has been ravaged by pollution and social injustice. The process of environmental desecration is starkly portrayed in one poem, where hooks writes: "outsiders come / taking land / taking life / stripping removing destroying / mountains ravaged / leaving in this corrupt wake / souls grieving."

The book's introduction provides a glimpse into hooks's life as a child growing up in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. She describes her fascination with nature as a young girl and the freedom she found while exploring the backwoods of her childhood home. With images of tobacco fields, weatherworn barns, and steep mountain paths, the poems highlight themes of environmentalism and sustainability. hooks connects these images to other social issues, painting us vivid pictures of greed, racial hatred, and a violent history. Through her poetry, hooks entreats readers to remember and mourn Kentuckians whom history has forgotten and gives a voice to the voiceless rural African Americans of the region.

hooks's poetry is rich with familiar Appalachian subjects, including wild roses, tobacco, bears, and horses. She deftly connects these familiar images to major social issues, such as slavery, war, racism, poverty, and mountaintop removal. hooks's original use of grammar stands in contrast to the familiar subjects of her poetry. She purposefully uses no punctuation, minimal capitalization, and unusual syntax. In a similar fashion, she has been questioned and criticized throughout her career for the unconventional lowercase styling of her name. She claims that the lowercasing is used to emphasize the substance of her writing as opposed to who she is and to detract from the element of ego associated with names. By using unconventional styling techniques in Appalachian Elegy, hooks similarly calls attention to the writing itself in a simultaneously aesthetic and political fashion.

At once meditative, confessional, and political, Appalachian Elegy draws the reader deep into the Appalachian experience and way of life. Touching on such topics as the marginalization of Appalachians and the environmental degradation the region has suffered, Appalachian Elegy is a powerful book of poetry that quietly elegizes the slow loss of an identity while also celebrating that which is constant, firmly rooted in a place that is no longer whole.

bell hooks is the author of more than thirty books, including Ain't I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism, named by Publishers Weekly as one of the twenty most influential women's books of the last twenty years.

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