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Thomas Rain Crowe’s Poetry: The Soul of Appalachia

Crack Light: Poems by Thomas Rain Crowe

“Thomas Rain Crowe’s Poetry: The Soul of Appalachia”

by Ted Olson

Interspersing 48 poems by acclaimed North Carolina author Thomas Rain Crowe with 22 images from photographer Simone Lipscomb, a new book entitled Crack Light (Wind Publications, 2011) offers a meditative, resonant portrayal of Appalachia’s unique natural beauty. Crowe’s poems composed in celebration of that beauty are perfectly complemented by Lipscomb’s representational yet subtly composed photographs of places and creatures of the Blue Ridge and the Great Smoky Mountains.

Most of Crowe’s works in Crack Light were previously published, yet the poems—each of which advances some poetic vision of the meaning of life in Appalachia—are reenergized from their proximity to Lipscomb’s visual interpretations of the region. For instance, the title poem “Crack Light” (referring to an Appalachian dialectical term for the sunlight that enters a cabin’s or barn’s dark interior through cracks in logs) benefits by being juxtaposed beside Lipscomb’s photograph of a Cades Cove cantilever barn (similar images on the book’s front and back covers further enhance the impact of the book’s title poem). The concept of “crack light” serves as a central metaphor for this fine book: given the region’s mountainous, thickly wooded terrain, Appalachian visions, however profound, often are indirect, partly subsumed by shadow.

Many Rapid River readers know that Crowe has been closely associated with two significant literary periodicals based in western North Carolina, the Asheville Poetry Review and Katuah Journal: A Bioregional Journal of the Southern Appalachians. Overlooked today—even among his readers—is Crowe’s formative interaction, during his 1970s residency in San Francisco, with the Beat literary movement; he counted as friends and colleagues such major Beat Generation authors as Gary Snyder and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Crowe’s own writing shares the Beats’ penchant for individuality and spontaneity. Indeed, Crowe’s poetry reflects the deep influence of Beat literary aesthetics, including capturing the primacy of an experience in direct, vernacular language. In a 2003 interview published in Nantahala Review, Crowe described his writing process:

“My process is about letting it happen. When I’m writing, I really have no idea of what it is, rationally, that I’m doing. I’m just letting it happen. . . . Kerouac said often, ‘first thought, best thought,’ and that concept has stuck in my head all these years. It’s true, that I’m part of that tradition, the Beat tradition, but organically, that’s really just the way that I work best. I’ve found that you can revise the heart and soul out of a poem if you’re not careful, and I have seen this done often by my more academic friends. It’s about the process for me–it’s not so much the results. I’m not as concerned about ‘the perfect poem.’ I do want what I put out into the public to be as good as I can get it, so there are changes and revisions from time to time, but . . . it’s always a spontaneous process.”

Granted Crowe’s extensive Beat affiliations, his writing is far from imitative. He has long immersed his imagination in the natural and cultural life of Appalachia, yet his work has universal implications. As Jim Wayne Miller put it, “Crowe is a new kind of literary voice in which both local and global perspectives are compatible, even requisite.” Returning to his native Appalachia from California in 1979, Crowe drew inspiration for his poetry from the work of major regional literary figures, including James Still, Fred Chappell, and Marilou Awiakta; simultaneously, he read and learned from such nationally prominent environmental writers as Wendell Berry and Thomas Berry. In two non-fiction books, Zoro’s Field: My Life in the Appalachian Woods (University of Georgia Press, 2005) and The End of Eden (Wind Publications, 2008), Crowe presented nuanced interpretations of environmental issues affecting Appalachia today, and the poems in Crack Light grapple with similar concerns. In the poem “Seed,” for example, Crowe identifies the redemptive power of a seed in healing a compromised place, and he suggests that, figuratively, people are seeds of a healthier future.

From hands that have learned to scratch the
soil like another skin,
the seed slips into the wounded earth.
Like a prophet who lies down by water
and begins to dream…
the seed starts to take on new life.

We are all seeds.

Also characteristic of Crowe’s poetry is its frequent invocation of the spirit of Cherokee culture. Presently residing in the heart of ancestral Cherokee territory near the Tuckasegee community (Jackson County, North Carolina), Crowe honors the eternal, ecologically grounded traditions of native Appalachian people in his poetry. One example in Crack Light is the poem “Planting Corn”:

When the moon
beds warm and silver in the sky, and
the signs are in the hands:
it’s time to plant corn.

When crow starts
in spring with his breakfast songs
and cotton meal lies golden in the row:
it’s time to plant corn.

As the bluebird feeds
its first batch of young and
the sky takes earth in hand,
and I dance in the darkness of
a moonlit field where spring now rules the land
to the tune of Kanati’s horn:
plant corn!

Consistent with the central metaphor that infuses the book’s title poem,
Crack Light offers readers a range of profound if at times shadowy glimpses into overlooked or neglected places across Appalachia, and in the process the book illuminates the essential nature of those places. Crowe’s poems and Lipscomb’s photographs work in tandem to transport the reader into the heart—and, if the reader opens his or her heart to the book’s charms, into the soul—of Appalachia.

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Posted by on March 3, 2011 in Poetry, Thomas Rain Crowe

 

A nice review of The Brucciano Poems.

The Brucciano Poems by Thomas Rain CroweFrom The Orange Spotlight (May 2010):

“For awhile now I have been fixated on finding the perfect place. The place that feels like the euphoric rush and sudden peace of the first sip of thick black coffee in the morning. It’s that calm, the stillness and relaxation that I think I am seeking, but that I never take the time or risk to actually find. It is also that surreal peacefulness and lush richness of life that that the new collection from Thomas Rain Crowe captures. I can clearly see Crowe sitting at the little wooden table in front of the open window absorbing Italy and attempting to capture that feeling. He uses a series of scenes and lives to try and convey his experience in Brucciano, Italy, and does a fantastic job.

My favorite piece is where he describes the five hour meal event that no one wants to end. It makes my mouth water and my longing for culture and adventure swoon. I’ve been reading a lot of Travelogues lately and the desire to actually travel is welling up higher and higher with each book. The Brucciano Poems was printed by Sunnyoutside with two-color letterpress-printed cover and hand-stitched spine. Just like most Sunnyoutside chaps the book is a work for of art on its own.”

Click here to view the original review.

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Posted by on May 26, 2010 in Poetry, Thomas Rain Crowe

 

Welcome to New Native Press

New Native Press

New Native Press is an independent small press based in North Carolina, USA, specializing in poetry, literary books, broadsides, and recordings.

Thomas Rain Crowe is a Western North Carolina poet, translator, editor, publisher, recording artist and author of more than thirty books of original and translated works.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2010 in Poetry, Thomas Rain Crowe

 

The Blue Rose of Venice

Thomas Rain Crowe reads a selection from his latest book of travel poems, The Blue Rose of Venice.

“Travel poems from a larger manuscript documenting a summer-long trip by the author to Italy, including Venice and theItalian Alps. These poems, all written in and about Venice are a part of that trip. A love poem to the place and to Crowe’s life and travel partner Nan Watkins done in a  beautiful limited edition release by Mountains & Rivers Press in Eugene, Oregon.”

List price for book: $8

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Posted by on February 9, 2010 in Poetry, Thomas Rain Crowe