I returned last night from two days in High Point. On Tuesday, I read at the beautiful High Point Public Library on North Main Street, and Wednesday I was at High Point University giving a reading in the University’s Sechrest Art Gallery. The reading was part of a collaboration that’s been ongoing between me and nature photographer Carl Galie, who is the recent recipient of the Roosevelt-Ashe Conservation Award for Journalism for his work on mountaintop removal. Mountaintop removal is where my work and Carl’s intersects, though he has far far and away taken the lead on pinpointing through his breathtaking photography the devastation wrought by MTR. In fact, he’s dedicated much of his life to that kind on artistic activism.
I met Carl through Hank Foreman, Director and Chief Curator of Appalachian State University’s Turchin Center for the Visual Arts. Hank and I had discussed some type of collaboration at the Turchin that would somehow involve my work and the work of a visual artist. One day he happened to show me Carl Galie’s photographs, scheduled for a future exhibit, Lost on the Road to Oblivion, The Vanishing Beauty of Coal Country. I was instantly captivated – not just because of their inimitable, often foreboding, beauty; but also because they lyrically take head-on the multi-faceted dilemma of mountaintop removal and its aftermath.
What’s more, it turns out that Carl and I grew up in adjacent counties, very much beholden to coal, in southwestern Pennsylvania. His dad was a coal miner and mine was a steel worker and we both lived in old world Italian households. The similarities between us are numerous and inexplicable, so this partnership – and the friendship born out of it – has been a natural. Writing about Carl’s photographs has forced me to dig deeper into my own sensibilities about the environment – not to mention the research that has gone into the writing – and the ways in which poetry can engage in political discourse to bring to light in distinct ways, especially when teamed with images as powerful and provocative as Carl’s, very pressing dangers literally in our backyards.
At any rate, we first teamed in November at the Turchin in Carl’s inaugural exhibition of Lost on the Road to Oblivion: The Vanishing Beauty of Coal Country, a panoramic journey through the Southern Appalachians that unflinchingly documents the practice of mountaintop removal, as well as its collateral fallout, in images that portray an often devastated and endangered natural environment. I wrote a suite of fourteen poems, inspired from Carl’s photographs that were also on display at the Turchin.
On display at the Turchin, as well, was a short film of Carl and me in conversation, along with images and readings, filmed and produced by Scott Temple, a fine writer, film-maker and English Professor at Cleveland Community College in Shelby, NC
Today, as designated by the Academy of American Poets, and in Celebration of National Poetry Month, is Poem in Your Pocket Day. Be sure to have a poem handy to whip out at a moment’s notice.
In today’s nod to jazz, let’s celebrate one of North Carolina’s indisputable geniuses, the fabulous John Coltrane. While Coltrane was born in Hamlet, in Richmond County, he grew up in High Point. The High Point Museum houses a wonderful exhibit on him, and there’s a regal, imposing statue of him at Commerce Avenue and Hamilton Street in High Point.
And, finally, and gloriously, Coltrane himself, live, with his Quintet, performing “My Favorite Things.”