Tag Archives: george ella lyon

Poetry Month in Kentucky

April marks the celebration of National Poetry Month, and in Kentucky, the poetic tradition runs strong. In recognition, we’re featuring some of our favorite collections from Kentucky Poet Laureates past and present.


From the Mountain, From the Valley: New and Collected Poems 9780813121994

James Still first achieved national recognition in the 1930s as a poet. Although he is better known today as a writer of fiction, it is his poetry that many of his essential images, such as the “mighty river of earth,” first found expression. Yet much of his poetry remains out of print or difficult to find.

From the Mountain, From the Valley collects all of Still’s poems, including several never before published, and corrects editorial mistakes that crept into previous collections. The poems are presented in chronological order, allowing the reader to trace the evolution of Still’s voice. Throughout, his language is fresh and vigorous and his insight profound. His respect for people and place never sounds sentimental or dated.

Ted Olson’s introduction recounts Still’s early literary career and explores the poetic origins of his acclaimed lyrical prose. Still himself has contributed the illuminating autobiographical essay “A Man Singing to Himself,” which will appeal to every lover of the work of Kentucky’s first Poet Laureate.


The Total Light Process: New and Selected Poems

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Nationally acclaimed poet, photographer, filmmaker, and novelist James Baker Hall (Kentucky Poet Laureate, 2001-2002) has long been regarded as one of Kentucky’s most profound artists. Hall’s growing body of work is an essential part of Kentucky’s literary tradition, and yet his poetry in particular transcends the borders of the Commonwealth.

The Total Light Process collects poems spanning Hall’s celebrated career as well as new poems that have never before been published. The subjects of Hall’s poems range from humorous and revealing portraits of his fellow writers and friends Wendell Berry, Ed McClanahan, and Gurney Norman, to the traumatic experience of his mother’s suicide when he was eight years old, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the tragic murder of Matthew Shepherd.


The Land We Dreamed: Poems 9780813144580

Weaving together universal themes of family, geography, and death with images of America’s frontier landscape, former Kentucky Poet Laureate (2003-2004) Joe Survant has been lauded for his ability to capture the spirit of the land and its people. Kliatt magazine has praised his work, stating, “Survant’s words sing. . . . This is storytelling at its best.”

Exploring the pre-Columbian and frontier history of the commonwealth, The Land We Dreamed is the final installment in the poet’s trilogy on rural Kentucky. The poems in the book feature several well-known figures and their stories, reimagining Dr. Thomas Walker’s naming of the Cumberland Plateau, Mary Draper Ingles’s treacherous journey from Big Bone Lick to western Virginia following her abduction by Native Americans, and Daniel Boone’s ruminations on the fall season of 1770. Survant also explores the Bluegrass from the perspectives of the chiefs of the Shawnee and Seneca tribes.

Drawing on primary documents such as the seventeenth-century reports of French Jesuit missionaries, excerpts from the Draper manuscripts, and the journals of pioneers George Croghan and Christopher Gist, this collection surveys a broad and under-recorded history. Poem by poem, Survant takes readers on an imaginative expedition—through unspoiled Shawnee cornfields, down the wild Ohio River, and into the depths of the region’s ancient coal seams.


The New and Collected Poems of Jane Gentry

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A consummate poet, Jane Gentry (1941–2014) possessed an uncanny ability to spin quietly expansive and wise verses from small details, objects, and remembered moments. Her poetry is deeply rooted in place, exuding a strong connection to the life and land of her native Kentucky. Gentry was also a beloved and influential teacher, as well as serving as Kentucky Poet Laureate from 2007-2008. She served as a mentor to generations of young writers and worked tirelessly to promote new voices.

Gentry and her daughters collaborated with editor Julia Johnson to organize this definitive collection. The result is an important assembly of Gentry’s most celebrated poems alongside new, previously unpublished works. Johnson uses Gentry’s own methodology to organize the book, showcasing the range of the poet’s work an
d the flexibility of her style—sometimes ironic and humorous; sometimes poignant; but always clear, intelligent, and revelatory.

This volume includes two previously published full-length collections of poetry in their entirety—A Garden in Kentucky and Portrait of the Artist as a White Pig. The final section includes Gentry’s unpublished work, from verses written for loved ones to a large group of recent poems that may have been intended for future collections. Alternately startling and heart-wrenching, The New and Collected Poetry of Jane Gentry offers a valuable retrospective of the celebrated poet’s work.


Winter Come: The Ascension of York Walkerjktcomprev3.indd

In the sequel to his award-winning Buffalo Dance, Frank X Walker (Kentucky Poet Laureate, 2013-2015) reimagines Lewis and Clark’s legendary exploration of the American West. Grounded in the history of the famous trip, Walker’s vibrant account allows York—little more than a forgotten footnote in traditional narratives—to embody the full range of human ability, knowledge, emotion, and experience. Knowledge of the seasons unfolds to York “like a book,” and he “can read moss, sunsets, the moon, and a mare’s foaling time with a touch.” During the journey, York forges a spiritual connection and shares sensual delights with a Nez Perce woman, and Walker’s poems capture the profound feelings of love and loss on each side of this ill-fated meeting of souls. As the perspectives of Lewis, Clark, Sacagawea, and others in the party emerge, Walker also gives voice to York’s knife, his hunting shirt, and the river waters that have borne thousands of travelers before and after the Lewis and Clark expedition. The alternately heartbreaking and uplifting poems in When Winter Come are told from multiple perspectives and rendered in vivid detail. When Winter Come exalts the historical persona of a slave and lifts the soul of a man; York ascends out of his chains, out of oblivion, and into flight.


LyonManyFinal2.inddMany-Storied House: Poems

“The speaker in George Ella Lyon’s smoldering poem, “What Won’t Burn” – in her smoldering new book of poems, Many-Storied House – declares: “I didn’t know / they outlasted / conflagration / like the diary’s / charred metal lock.” Indeed this book, rooted as it is in the reliquary of memory, and the power of words to raise the dead, and absolve the living, is determined to outlast fire. This volume is itself storied, assembled with an architect’s acumen; yet the true craft is commemoration, and the tool is the poet’s heart. Each room, each curio, each haunted nail and joist is catalogued, named, and invested with chiseled language. This house is Lyon’s muse. Within it, she commingles ethnography, archeology and catechism. Many-Storied House is a heartbreaking, yet triumphant, inventory of acquisition, loss, the sacramental offices of love, the vanished beloved, and their shades that forever walk the rooms of recollection.” –Joseph Bathanti, North Carolina Poet Laureate

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Poetry Spotlight: George Ella Lyon

Many-Storied House

As you know, April is National Poetry Month, so let’s continue to honor some of Kentucky’s great poets. George Ella Lyon is an award-winning poet and novelist from eastern Kentucky. Her latest book of poetry, Many-Storied House, was inspired from an assignment Lyon gave her writing students to write a poem based on memories from a house where they had lived. Lyon worked on the assignment as well, and wrote several poems for each room in her home as a way to answer questions about herself and her family. Her poems explore the nature of memory and relationships as well as the foundations of love, family, and community. Below is an excerpt from the “Downstairs” section:

Bathroom

This is the window
they put a kid through
when they lock their keys
in the house. It was
my brother till he got
too big, then my wiry
cousin David, then me.
No screen or storm window,
so once they haul up
the sash, somebody (not
Daddy because of
his back) puts hands on
both sides of your waist
and lifts you straight up
like a post hole digger,
then eases you through
the slot. Your task is
to find the linoleum
with your Keds, steady
yourself, go out the
bathroom door—avoiding
the scary faces in
the varnished pine—
step into the hall,

turn the latch left (that’s
toward the train track),
and let your keepers
back in the zoo.

National Poetry Month Coming Soon

National Poetry Month is almost here! Created by the Academy of American Poets, National Poetry Month has been held each and every April since 1996. It is a month-long celebration of all kinds of poetry, whether it be written, spoken, slammed, or even sung. Publishers, libraries, schools, universities, writing groups, and others come together to share and express themselves through poetry. It is a time to rejoice in our country’s poetic heritage, which includes poets such as Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, and Sylvia Plath. It serves as an opportunity to increase Americans’ awareness of this heritage as well as their knowledge of poetry crafted today.

What are ten ways that you can get involved with National Poetry Month? Below is an excerpt from “30 Ways to Celebrate,” a list made by the Academy of American Poets. The full list can be found here.

  1. Take a poem out to lunch or put a poem in your lunchbox
  2. Get out the sidewalk chalk and commit a poem to pavement
  3. Leave a copy of a poem in an unexpected place
  4. Write a letter to a poet
  5. Watch a poetry-related movie
  6. Visit a poetry landmark
  7. Listen to poetry on your commute
  8. Attend a poetry reading
  9. Buy a book of poems for your local library
  10. Subscribe to a literary magazine

Another way to celebrate and prepare for National Poetry Month is to read George Ella Lyon’s Many-Storied House: Poems (University Press of Kentucky, 2013). If the walls of Lyon’s childhood home could talk, they would tell stories of her brother waking everyone in the middle of the night by playing the trumpet, describe the various contents of the junk drawer, and reveal Lyon’s intimate discussions with her mother. Since walls cannot speak, Lyon speaks for them, writing about such memories in a collection of poetry centered on the love and hardships shared by a family.

So think about how you will enrich your life and the lives of others through poetry, and consider using poet George Ella Lyon’s words to do so. You only have five days left before April arrives—get ready!

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George Ella Lyon’s Many-Storied House

Don’t miss Kentucky favorite George Ella Lyon at Joesph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington tonight introducing her new book, Many-Storied House: Poems.

Lyon is also a featured guest at the upcoming Kentucky Women Writers Conference September 20–21. To learn more, visit the conference website.

Many-Storied House: Poems by George Ella Lyon kentucky writerBorn in the small, eastern Kentucky coal-mining town of Harlan, George Ella Lyon began her career with Mountain, a chapbook of poems. She has since published many more books in multiple genres and for readers of all ages, but poetry remains at the heart of her work. Many-Storied House is her fifth collection.

While teaching aspiring writers, Lyon asked her students to write a poem based on memories rooted in a house where they had lived. Working on the assignment herself, Lyon began a personal journey, writing many poems for each room. In this intimate book, she strives to answer lingering questions about herself and her family: “Here I stand, at the beginning,” she writes in the opening lines of the volume, “with more questions than / answers.”

Collectively, the poems tell the sixty-eight-year-long story of the house, beginning with its construction by Lyon’s grandfather and culminating with the poet’s memories of bidding farewell to it after her mother’s death. Moving, provocative, and heartfelt, Lyon’s poetic excavations evoke more than just stock and stone; they explore the nature of memory and relationships, as well as the innermost architecture of love, family, and community. A poignant memoir in poems, Many-Storied House is a personal and revealing addition to George Ella Lyon’s body of work.

George Ella Lyon is the award-winning author of more than forty books, including Golden Kite Award winner Borrowed Children, Appalachian Writers Association Book of the Year Catalpa, Aesop Prize winner “Which Side Are You On?” The Story of a Song, and Bank Street Best Books selection and ALA notable All the Water in the World. Her most recent books are She Let Herself Go: Poems and the young adult novel Holding on to Zoe. Her poem “Where I’m From” is featured in the PBS series The United States of Poetry and has become a model for teachers around the world. Connect with her online at www.georgeellalyon.com.