The spring and summer of 2019 have included a few short trips and a lot of reading and writing.
On April 22nd, I drove down to Asheville, North Carolina, with Jakk Blood, a Maine buddy who’s the hot cub on the cover of my upcoming essay collection, Endangered Species. I read at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe as part of a panel of contributors to the WVU Press anthology I co-edited, LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia, along with my co-editor, Julia Watts, and poets Maggie Anderson and Nickole Brown. The staff members at Malaprop’s were very friendly and welcoming, the event was well-attended, and afterwards my fellow readers joined Jakk and me at a local Cajun restaurant, Mayfel’s, where I got to introduce New Englander Jakk to Southern tidbits like seafood étouffée, fried okra, and fried green tomatoes.
On June 23rd, thanks to a kind invitation by the West Virginia poet laureate, Marc Harshman, I was part of another panel of contributors to LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia, this time at Taylor Books in Charleston, West Virginia. The reading was sponsored by FestivALL, a local arts organization. I was joined by Julia Watts, Mesha Maren, and Charles Lloyd. Afterwards, I spent the night with an old friend from my forestry/nature interpretation college days, Debbie Keener, and her wife, Billie. What wonderful mountain hospitality! Plus I got to hang out with their sweet pets, three dogs and a cat. The next day, heading to my hometown of Hinton, West Virginia, I took back roads I haven’t been on for a while, tracing Route 60 along the Kanawha and up Gauley Mountain, then down past Babcock, Danese, and Meadow Bridge to Hinton. The drive took twice as long as it would have on the interstate, but it was green and lush, and I got to listen to quite a few country-music CDs.
In July, I drove more West Virginia roads that I used to spend a lot of time on in my youth. Thanks to the wonderful Renée K. Nicholson, the new organizer of the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop at West Virginia University, I led a poetry workshop on July 18-20. The workshop members were all accomplished poets and fine readers of each other’s work, so my job was amazingly easy. I got to spend time with fellow workshop leaders Sherrie Flick and Keegan Lester, and the assistant director, Dominique Bruno Mick, was hugely helpful in every way. The weather in Morgantown was oppressive—in the mid-90s—so Dominique showed me clever ways through air-conditioned buildings in order to get from Honors Hall, the dorm where I stayed, to Colson Hall, the building where all the workshop events were located. Renée treated us workshop leaders to great meals at Table 9 and Mario’s Fishbowl (which I used to visit when I was an undergraduate at WVU in the 1970s—talk about nostalgia). Busy as I was, I still managed to grab dinner at Hill and Hollow with one of my favorite people, Katie Fallon, a fine writer who helps run the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia, where I got to visit with vultures, hawks, owls, and an Odinic raven.
Speaking of Odin and all things Norse, my Viking research continues. This summer, I’ve read Frey: God of the World by Ann Gróa Sheffield, Odin: Ecstasy, Runes & Norse Magic by Diana Paxson, Viking: The Norse Warrior’s (Unofficial) Manual by John Haywood, and Thor: Myth to Marvel by Martin Arnold. In order to write a book of poems based on the runes of the Elder Futhark, I’ve read Edred Thorsson’s Futhark: A Handbook of Rune Magic, Paul Rhys Mountfort’s Nordic Runes: Understanding, Casting, and Interpreting the Ancient Viking Oracle, and Diana Paxson’s Taking Up the Runes: A Complete Guide to Using Runes in Spells, Rituals, Divination, and Magic. All three books have been hugely helpful and informative. As of this writing, I have eighteen rune poems completed. I’m planning to write three poems for each of the twenty-four runes.
Finally, I’m looking forward to the release of my next collection of essays, Endangered Species: A Surly Bear in the Bible Belt. Kirkus Reviews, much to my pleasure and relief, has already given the book a positive review. The collection’s due out from Lethe Press on the first of September.