During this first year of my laureateship, I have traveled to Henderson, Bedford, Shelbyville, Frankfort, Lexington, Madison (Ind.), Berea, Bowling Green, Maysville, Richmond, Georgetown, Newcastle and Glasgow, as well as a few venues in my hometown of Louisville. And I look to significantly expand that geography in the coming year.
As well, I have found occasion to share the stage with many wonderful poets – Trina Pfeffer, Gurney Norman, Maurice Manning, Rebecca Gayle Howell, Wendell Berry, the U.S. poet laureate Tracy Smith and others.
Tooling around the Commonwealth, I have been reminded of what a beautiful place we inhabit. The palisades of the Kentucky River. The green veldts around Bowling Green. The Bluegrass of Lexington and Georgetown. And I have been inspired, like many of my fellow poets, by the natural beauty of this special place.
Kentucky is a “writerly state,” as Jim Wayne Miller used to say. James Baker Hall said his New York agent wondered aloud about how there are so many good writers in Kentucky. I think Jim responded by saying that it has to do with the blue grass, the limestone and the distilleries.
My first literary enthusiasm was the Appalachian writer Jesse Stuart. Whenever a new book of his came out, my mother drove to Stewart’s department store, where we found him squeezed in behind a folding table. In middle school, I wrote a report on him, and we corresponded a bit. In his last letter to me, he wrote, “You tell your teacher I am very much interested in whether you make an A or not.” Naturally, I included that letter in my report.
The Kentucky literary tradition goes way back, at least to the first poem, a kind of backwoods haiku, written west of the Cumberland Gap – “D. Boon kilt a bar on this tree, 1760.”
It is a real pleasure and honor to follow in this tradition.
Please join me for Kentucky Writers Day on Thursday, April 24, at the Spalding University Library in Louisville. We’ll begin the program at 6 p.m. EDT. I will be joined by former poets laureate Maureen Morehead (2011-2012) and Joe Survant (2003-2004) for readings of our respective work. Lynnell Edwards, poet and Spalding University’s MFA in Creative Writing Program associate program director, will moderate a discussion following the readings.
I look forward to seeing you there.