Who will make Your long bed, Smooth your grass quilt,…
Last month my writing group descended at our home in Berea for a weekend of words and kinship. We are close-knit bunch, with friendships reaching back over a decade and, in some cases, even longer. Our group meets each quarter, and more if we can manage it. We often meet here in Berea, but we have also been known to frequent other locations, including a Kentucky state park, a friend’s home in Knoxville, and Airbnbs in Nashville and Louisville.
The weekend goes like this: we converge on Friday afternoon, our respective cars loaded with books, laptops, notebooks and libations, and then we visit. Saturday afternoons are usually devoted to workshop, and before we know it Sunday morning has arrived, when we must follow the highways back to our separate lives.
During our time together, we always end up talking, eating and drinking as much as writing and workshopping. But that’s part of the point. Feeding the soul means feeding the craft, and we are quick to exchange all manner of information and recommendations gathered in our time apart. Last month, one of our members spotted a clutch of shockingly blue spider lilies growing in our backyard. She asked my husband for a cutting.
“Sure,” he said, and after fetching a knife, they left to retrieve the plant.
Another member observed this and grinned. “She doesn’t know what she’s asking for. Those things spread like wildfire.”
I’ve thought about that exchange over the past few weeks, turning it over in my mind. It was an aside, one that reflected the ease of friendship among all the involved parties. Once planted, the flowers will be a reminder of our friendship, of our group, of the breezy May morning on which they were cut. But it was the image of the plant itself I kept landing on, how it might look when it does spread all over her backyard. I needed a concise, visceral description for that image, and time after time I came up short.
Community—that’s the word I was searching for. A community of flowers, of friends, of words. A term increasingly threatened today by nationalism, tribalism, prejudice, and a frightening lack of attention to language—to words and their consequences—and decorum. Nowadays, we need literary work more than ever. We need writers who worry over their words, work that both moves and shakes us.
In this issue, I am pleased to offer new work from two poets who are engaging in this conversation on a national level. Lyrae Van-Clief Stefanon and Rebecca Gayle Howell were the visiting writers at the 2017 Appalachian Symposium, and between them they have contributed poems, an essay, and a powerful conversation from the event itself. Sterling writing also appears from Mary Ellen Miller, Jane Hicks, Lisa J. Parker, Jon Sealy, Pauletta Hansel, and others, serving to create a community of spirit and beauty.
Community: a beautiful word. Commune, its root. As you read through these offerings, these meditations, take time to commune with our contributors and their words, their characters, their ideas. May they spread like wildfire.