Today I discovered that my poem, “Dreaming to Updated Mountain Songs,” is out in the first issue(s) (1/2) of the new online journal, Coastal Shelf. I am further honored that Carson Pytell, one of the editors of Coastal Shelf, liked my poem so much that he wrote an explanatory note about his experience reading it and some of its implications regarding Appalachian “mountain songs,” which accompanies the poem in the issue. I am grateful to him for his interest, his work, and his patience with me in our exchanges regarding the poem.
I first wrote about this poem here. I want to reiterate now that the work was inspired by a performance of Robert Beazer’s “Mountain Songs for Violin and Guitar,” which can be found beginning at 45:36 of this recording of an excellent recital.
But although Carson Pytell’s interest in the poem as a commentary on Appalachian music is not wrong, I also meant it to comment on the tragic fate of Appalachia, which fell victim to the environmental and socioeconomic depredations of the coal industry, and on the dark side of our country as a whole. The innocence of the “columns” of vanished chestnuts recalls their importance as a healthier, more egalitarian resource than coal. The healing potential of the lost chestnut trees and the living music of Appalachia is counterpoised against not only the damaged region, but also against the “orange hair” and “parade of tanks” that evoke our current national sources of evil and destruction.
At the same time, the poem tells of a dream and thus invites the reader’s mind to wander where it will over the scarred landscape of Appalachia, the United States, and their own psyche. Pytell’s interest in the loss of folk character in popularized and highbrow versions of Appalachian music, for example, adds an intriguing dimension to the work. Please let me know how you read it, and join me in checking out the work of my fellow contributors as well.