A cup of ambition

Arts appreciators — and even those who don’t know they appreciate the arts — would certainly notice if all the artful products of creative minds suddenly disappeared. We’re sensitive to extremes in scarcity, but are we grateful for what we have in abundance? We’ve all heard “art in everyday life,” “artful living,” or “without art the Earth is just ‘eh.’” But, do we pause, take note and appreciate every time creative people show us that arts are a part of everything and often the reason for doing anything (or the reason for doing anything without incessantly complaining about it)?

I wanted to take a minute to point out the creative work of an artist who — literally — serves an audience who may or may not consider themselves artsy. She makes art with something routine and commonplace for anyone desiring productivity, creative or otherwise. Some of us rely heavily on her medium for survival.

Lauren Hunter-Smith makes art out of coffee, more precisely, lattes. You can see or even consume her craftsmanship in person at Third Street Stuff & Coffee, or you can enjoy her lattes remotely on Instagram.  She’s currently working on her first series, letters of the alphabet illustrated by animals.

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Thank you to all those artists, like Lauren, who make life less ordinary.

Sarah Schmitt, Community Arts and Access Director

Categories: Other, Visual Arts

Morehead bookstore is all about community

Susan Thomas is the co-owner and manager of CoffeeTree Books in Morehead, Ky. In honor of Independent Bookstore Day, arts council program assistant, Chelsea Sparks, got to talk to Susan about her bookstore and learn a little bit more about its relationship to the community.download

CS: How did you find out about Independent Bookstore Day?

ST: We’re part of a very active regional bookseller association that encouraged us to join in. This will be our third year participating.


CS: What makes Independent Bookstore Day special?

ST: There is special merchandise just for independent bookstores on this one day of the year. We’ve got special editions, coloring books, freebies and stuffed animals that you can only find at bookstores that are participating. The space we’re in used to be a theatre so we’re even doing movie popcorn this year for everyone who stops by.


CS: Why are independent bookstores important to Kentucky?

ST: Diversity in literature. We make sure that book culture endures and that the independent writers and their many different schools of thought are represented. Independent bookstores are where a lot of great writers get their start and it’s our job to offer a way for lesser known authors to connect to audiences.


CS: What do you see as your role in your community?

ST: We are totally a community staple. When the Kim Davis stuff was going on, the media hung out here at the bookstore. We have a big space where people spend time and gather; there’s a coffee shop so they eat and we’ve got music. We moved after the big flood five years ago and it’s been awesome to be closer to the university. We have such a diverse community in Morehead and everyone comes through here looking for different books. Every day is just a big wide world.


CS: What is the best part about owning an independent bookstore?

ST: CoffeeTree is where ideas and people come together. We’ve evolved into being a place we’re really proud of and our community supports us. When new people come into town, the locals bring them here; they think of it as their place and I really appreciate them taking ownership. I sort of laugh every time I hire new people, because I have to let them know that the customers will tell on them if they’re not doing something right. Everyone knows everyone and it is truly a special place to be a part of.

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CoffeeTree Books is located at 159 E Main Street in Morehead, KY.
Learn more at www.coffeetreebooks.com.
Categories: Other

Kentucky Poet Laureate’s first year…in verse


Monday, April 25, the Kentucky Arts Council celebrated Kentucky Writers’ Day, honoring all Kentucky writers, with a ceremony at the State Capitol. The current and past Kentucky poets laureate shared their thoughts on the literary arts in the Commonwealth and read from their own poetry and prose. George Ella Lyon shared her experiences over the past year as Kentucky Poet Laureate in a reflection that began with her new “Where I’m From” poem.

POET LAUREATE, YEAR ONE                       4/3-13/16


I’m from the Mountain,



and Western Kentucky Parkways

from the Dixie Highway, I-64, I-75, 25-E:

Eleven thousand miles last year, not counting sky.

(Calculate miles per poem.)

From Warsaw to Whitley City

the mountains to the Mississippi

I’m from giving workshops that give back

from Read it again. I missed the last line.

Slower.                 Louder.                           Wow!


I’m from sixty-eight jobs

in seven states

and thirty-one cities.

I’m from my family, my cats, and my writers group.

I’m from four journals—

fat with tickets, leaves, dreams–

from rejection and acceptance.


I’m from school halls papered with poems.

From the Arts Council

and from the common wealth

of teachers and librarians

helping writers find their voices.

I’m from amazement in a woman’s face

when she said, “I don’t like writing but I loved this.”


I’m from coffee urns and Keurigs

from yellow food formerly known as eggs

kept curdled on the breakfast bar.

I’m from third grade poets

who burst into applause

when they discovered how old I am:

“You’ve been writing poems for fifty-eight years!”


I’m from round table revelations

and pot luck celebrations,

from silence.

I’m from poems that got out of prison

though the poet did not.


I’m from “My Mamaw was bad to write”

and “All I wanted was a washing machine

and a trip to Woodstock.”


I’m from where you’re from:

branches and creeks of your Kentucky poems–

Big Goose, Little Reedy, Beargrass.

They find their confluence here.

I’m from the lines you’ve written

and the welcomes you’ve given


from the poems we haven’t made yet

the truth that waits to be told.


— George Ella Lyon


Categories: Other

Kentucky: a place of inspiration


Author Ellen Birkett Morris

When I think of Kentucky, I think of scarred mountain tops and brother fighting against brother, gorgeous green hills and rich food and folkways. When I started a story cycle that dealt with a photographer from Boston documenting the bicentennial, I wasn’t surprised to find that I set the stories in Kentucky.

My stories are Kentucky stories. They deal with rich and poor, bitter and sweet. I knew that with stories set in Kentucky my protagonist would find a beautiful but broken landscape, characters who defied expectations and a place steeped in tradition, but ready meet the challenges of modern life.

My stories encompass the contradictions of Kentucky, our love of and connection to a land that has been ravaged and our aspirations for a better life. My protagonist Jasper Macks takes photos of a mountain top ravaged by mining as he listens to Hal Emerson tell the story of a coal sludge flood that devastated an entire community.  Jasper befriends Terri, a young waitress with a depressed mother, who reads poetry between serving up plates of food at the diner and dreams of working as a librarian. He joins estranged brothers on a hunting trip and witnesses a ritual burial that links the men to the land.

Kentucky stories are stories of connection and community. There are stories in my collection about the desire to be a part of a community, including the title story “Religion,” in which a virgin accidentally joins a breast feeder’s group and decided to stay. There is “May Apples,” in which a grandfather teaches his artistic grandson to love the land.

He picked up his paintbrush and mixed a yellow, the color of corn silks,

for her hair. His grandfather had taken him into the cornfield when he

was small. He held David level with the plants and taught him how to

check for holes left in the stalks by sugarcane beetles.

Kentucky stories are about coming home and finding home. In another story, a young boy from Vietnam lays his demons to rest in the Kentucky countryside as a burning barn recalls the death of his parents in a fire. In another, a mailman longs to be part of the culture change of the 60s, but finds the hippie life he aspires to may not match his expectations.

I’m proud to be a Kentucky writer and tell stories that draw on the complex and rich heritage of the Bluegrass state. I’m proud to add my voice to those that came before Berry, Mason, Kingsolver, Lyon, Naslund and so many others.

On April 25, Kentucky Writers’ Day, writers across the state will be celebrating their own Kentucky stories and those that have come before. It is an honor to have this day set aside to recognize the artistry of Kentucky writers. I plan to share the work of my favorite Kentucky writers that day via social media. I hope that you’ll take a moment that day to read and share the work of Kentucky writers and continue to do so long after the celebration is over.

Stories from Ellen Birkett Morris’s unpublished collection, “Religion & Other Stories,” have been published in Antioch Review, Shenandoah Review, Notre Dame Review and South Carolina Review. “May Apples” from this collection is the winner of the 2015 Bevel Summers Prize for short fiction.  

Categories: Other

When love is (sometimes) enough: the writer’s relationship with the word

Spriggs Headshot

Author Bianca Spriggs

Dorothy Parker said, “I hate writing. I love having written.” Last year around this time if you had asked me about the elusive definition of that word Parker used, ‘love,’ I might have said something to the effect of, “Whatever it is, love don’t keep the lights on.” Lately, however, I’ve been revisiting the idea of love. Lost love. New love. And this month in particular, because April is National Poetry Month, I find myself reflecting often about the love I have for my vocation. But even loving what I have written is often not enough.

No one told me when I signed up to be a writer about how hard it was going to be, how lonely, not only to wrestle content to the ground but to learn how to balance process with product, to answer a lot of awkward questions about what it is exactly that I do anyway. Then there’s the commitment to being consistent with my practice despite periods where I’m not inspired or super productive, or even if I am, no one’s necessarily falling all over themselves to pick up what I’ve thrown down.

In my workshops with novice writers, I often begin with an introductory exercise I borrowed from Frank X Walker. I ask students to introduce themselves and their relationship to writing, as though writing were a lover or someone they’d been involved with romantically. I give them an example: “Writing and I fell for one another pretty hard in college. We got married soon after we graduated. We had a couple of kids a few later and this year, I’ve got twins on the way!” When the giggles die down, we go around the room, and investigate each student’s relationship to writing using this metaphor. And if we have time, we might even craft an ars poetica out of the exercise.

I love hearing new writers’ relationships to their writing. Newly minted appreciation for narrative and language is so exciting! Listening to them reminds me why I got started and why I’m still all in. To be a veteran writer is still about finding the right word, the thrill in the right arrangement of multiple words, yes, but it changes. For me, now, it’s more about how pure the message is that I am trying to convey. Am I getting as close as possible to what I originally set out to say? Inspiration doesn’t come saddled to lightning so much anymore. I’ve learned, over the years, to create the conditions for lightning. I’ve learned that I am the lightning and the lightning rod and the bottle to carry it home in. I’ve learned that true inspiration is as necessary to find as it is rare, but it is in the editing process, the sifting through these flashes for intention and the subsequent arrangement of that intent is where the real work happens.

Like any relationship, a writer’s bond with her craft is going to evolve the longer they’re together. Gwendolyn Brooks once said, “Art is that which endures.” In order for me to continue to hone, experiment, and enjoy generating new material, I have to basically fall in love with writing again and again at every juncture of our mutual growth through revolving interests, life and content changes, aesthetic, stylistic, and voice changes. I have to remind myself to forget the gigs, the books, any accolades. At the end of the day, writers write. Writers endure.

For the past several years, I have used the cruelest month to court my muse and remind her I still care the way I did in the beginning, going on 16 years ago. And I’m not alone. In April, poets all over the world go overboard sharing prompts and poems from their own cache or favorite works by other poets. Me? I’m writing all month. Some years I get to 30 poems in 30 days; other years, I am just glad I have 14 more poems that I didn’t see coming than I did at the beginning of the month. Or six. Or just one.

I try to write closest to my core in April. I work through problems. I try to understand concepts. I process everything and everyone I encounter through the lens of a poem. No filters. No holds barred. All I see and witness and experience is fair game. This month, I am not obliged to put my pen to use for any performances or public projects or collaborations or even with the intent to publish. I’m basically just doing a lot of porchin’ (Kentucky writers know that “to porch” is a verb) because for me, poems have always lived on porches. I don’t even have to wait long, sometimes less than even a few minutes, before one comes sidling up to investigate my ankles with its antennae. I learn something more about the earliest stages of the writing process this month than the rest of the year combined, with every poem I write, whether I’m stumbling or sailing through it.

Sure, love may not keep the lights on, but there’s still a lot I can do with it. I can measure things with it: time, for instance. Distance. Maturation. I can keep some things alive and for others, to love them the most is to let them find their natural end. For me, one way or another, love in general has become about surrender. If applied to writing, to love writing is to surrender to it. Word by word, letter by letter, to love writing is not so much about keeping the lights on but letting love, in all of its incarnations, lead the way.

Affrilachian poet, Bianca Spriggs, is the recipient of a 2013 Al Smith Fellowship in Poetry from the Kentucky Arts Council and grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women. She is the managing editor for pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture, poetry editor for Apex Magazine, and the literary arts liaison for the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning. You can find more about her work, including her latest collection of poems from Northwestern University Press, Call Her by Her Name, at www.biancaspriggs.com.

Categories: Other

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