Tag Archives: Jane Hicks

Gentry Named Recipient of AWA Book of the Year for Poetry

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Author and former Kentucky Poet Laureate Jane Gentry (1941–2014) has been named the recipient of the Appalachian Writers Association’s 2017 Appalachian Book of the Year for Poetry for her posthumous collection The New and Collected Poems of Jane Gentry, edited by Julia Johnson, professor of English and creative writing at the University of Kentucky.

Alternately startling and heart-wrenching, The New and Collected Poems of Jane Gentry offers a valuable retrospective of the celebrated poet’s work. Upon being diagnosed with cancer, Gentry and her daughters began collaborating with editor Julia Johnson to organize this definitive collection. The result is the entirety of Gentry’s published work alongside new, previously unpublished poems.

“In poem after poem in this rich and important collection, Jane Gentry commemorates her personal history through the lens of poetry — family, friends, the seasons, the flora and fauna she moves through. This book is a love song to Kentucky,” commented Jeff Worley, editor of What Comes Down to Us: 25 Contemporary Kentucky Poets.

Poet and professor Jane Gentry spoke to UK College of Arts and Sciences about her life and work in 2013.

The New and Collected Poetry of Jane Gentry is the ninth University Press of Kentucky book to win an AWA award, joining Driving the Dead: Poems by Jane Hicks and From the Mountain, From the Valley: New and Collected Poems by James Still as winner of the poetry award. In addition, Bloodroot: Reflections on Place by Appalachian Women Writers by Joyce Dyer, Songs of Life and Grace: A Memoir by Linda Scott DeRosier, My Appalachia: A Memoir by Sidney Saylor Farr, Bloody Breathitt: Politics and Violence in the Appalachian South by T.R.C. Hutton, and Helen Matthews Lewis: Living Social Justice in Appalachia by Helen Lewis all won the AWA’s Book of the Year Award for Nonfiction, and The Birds of Opulence by Crystal Wilkinson, UK associate professor of English, won for fiction.

Gentry’s work is deeply rooted in place, exuding a strong connection to the life and land of her native Kentucky. In honor of this consummate poet, who possessed an uncanny ability to spin quietly expansive and wise verses from small details, objects, and remembered moments, we are sharing one of her poignant pieces, “A Garden in Kentucky.”

A Garden in Kentucky

Under the fluorescent sun
inside the Kroger, it is always
southern California. Hard avocados
rot as they ripen from the center out.
Tomatoes granulate inside their hides.
But by the parking lot, a six-tree orchard
frames a cottage where winter has set in.

Pork fat seasons these rooms.
The wood range spits and hisses,
limbers the oilcloth on the table
where an old man and an old woman
draw the quarter-moons of their nails,
shadowed still with dirt,
across the legends of seed catalogues.

Each morning he milks the only goat
inside the limits of Versailles. She feeds
a rooster that wakes up all the neighbors.
Through dark afternoons and into night
they study the roses’ velvet mouths
and the apples’ bright skins
that crack at the first bite.

When thaw comes, the man turns up
the sod and, on its underside, ciphers
roots and worms. The sun like an angel
beats its wings above their grubbing.
Evenings on the viny porch they rock,
discussing clouds, the chance of rain.
Husks in the dark dirt fatten and burst.

 

 

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Driving with the Dead

We hope we haven’t spooked you too much with our “Haunted Lexington” story from yesterday. To keep up the creepy Halloween spirit, we decided to switch it up and give you some poetry today. Today’s excerpt comes from Driving with the Dead by Jane Hicks. While it’s not exactly a ghost story, the book laments the struggles and loss of the Appalachian region, which is all the more scary to us in a much more realistic way.

Certainly, Appalachia is no stranger to loss. The region suffers regular ecological devastation wrought by strip mining, fracking, and deforestation as well as personal tragedy brought on by enduring poverty and drug addiction. In Driving with the Dead, Appalachian poet, teacher, and artist Jane Hicks weaves an earnest and impassioned elegy for an imperiled yet doggedly optimistic people and place. Exploring the roles that war, environment, culture, and violence play in Appalachian society, the hard-hitting collection is visceral and unflinchingly honest, mourning a land and people devastated by economic hardship, farm foreclosures, and mountaintop removal. So without further introduction, today’s excerpt is the book’s title poem:


Driving with the Dead

The little bus ate the road, rose toward the sky,
topped the mountain, perched on the edge before
falling toward the valley, white lines clicked
in rhythm to Mickey’s drums, tape deck humming,
there is a road, no simple highway,
between the dawn and the dark of the night.

The mist gathered, fell in a steady drum
on the roof, merged to rivers on glass.
Truck tire spray, like white angel wings,
washed us, on our flight through the dark.

For more poems like this one, be sure to check out the rest of Driving with the Dead.