Archives for category: Appalachian

ANN PAYNE lives with two Cairn Terriers and two cats on a steep and wooded hill on the edge of Morgantown WV. She has lived there under those trees for decades. Her house is full of books and odd things she has found outdoors. There is a shaded carp pond, visible from the living room window, through which the carp can be seen, gold gleaming in the dark water. She is visited here by adult children, grand children, friends.

[Ann’s words in purple. Faith’s in black.]



faith n ann payne copy Faith S. Holsaert (left), Ann Payne (right)


A friend who lived on Dunkard Creek called to say there had been a massive fish kill. Ann went to see for herself. Large numbers of green herons, who usually wade into the water to catch live fish, were feeding on the bodies of fish on the ground. There was a hand-made sign: “Who murdered our creek and who will save it?” Muskies and other fish floated dead in the water, The gills of fish were bleeding. Mud puppies which hide in the mud were frantically crawling, with their tiny fingers, trying to get to the air, but they were suffocating and dying. In the end, 90 species of plants and animals which had previously lived in the creek were gone.

Apprenticing in Biomedical Photography years ago, I discovered I am calm – even efficient – in the face of blood and guts.  It isn’t that. But there is something about helpless things suffering through no fault of their own that cuts very deep with me.  What got Reflections:  Homage to Dunkard Creek started wasn’t outrage first, but standing there in the creek and seeing all that suffering, those helpless being plunged into pain, misery, untimely death, and loving them and suffering helplessly with them. That was the heart of it. Then I got angry and frustrated, and then I had to do something.

    ann p rosy faced   Rosy Face Shiner, Sue Wyble


ann p crawdads   Crawdads, Jana Matusz


ann p toad   Fowler’s Toad, Ann Payne  


Dunkard wasn’t so much a protest as a way to introduce people to those amazing beings, their numbers, and how lucky we are to be blessed with such beauty, diversity and wonder.  And then to put it together, to see how awful that these beings were so disrespected, disregarded, and violated. It sounds corny but it’s that deep tenderness that I get to first and want to share.  It precedes the anger and action.  It is from there that I have to act .

Ann talking about the fishkill and the exhibit she curated with work by 90 artists, honoring the 90 species: Reflections: Homage to Dunkard CreeK

A slide show catalogue of the work:



 ann p big tree

A few years ago some people from Connecticut moved in up the hill and behind Ann’s house. The newcomers wanted a Connecticut sort of lawn. They cut down the numerous old trees which had been giving shade, offering habitat, and holding the soil in place.

 The trees…  Hearing their bodies crash to the ground day after day, the sound of the grinding up of their bodies, the crying of the animals and birds who had dwelt in them – again, suffering for them, with them, helpless. Then I got REALLY MAD and Year of the Tree was born.  YOTT 2013 also featured SHADY:  Our Neighbors the Trees, an exhibit of 27 artists from three states who answered, artistically, the question, “What do you see when you look at a tree?”  Where my ‘neighbor’ (who soon lost her job and retreated to Connecticut) saw only her own ego to which the trees were mere obstacles, pastel artist Susan Poffenbarger sees ancient beauty, Nik Botkin recreates their architectural wonder in giant metal sculptures, etc.  These artists see, love, and respect the trees, and through their work, invite others to do so.  

Morgantown’s Year of the Tree: There were hikes, and lectures, and trips to City Council, and contests, like the one for The Biggest Baddest Tree in Morgantown and a weekend of art: Carol Hummel guided people in yarning a big beauty on the arts campus.



ann p yarned tree



ann p stuio


The Passenger Pigeon Project, of which my friend Ann Rosenthal is one of the organizers, asked one artist from every U.S. state in which those birds had lived to create a piece in honor of the now-extinct bird.  

Passenger Pigeons, distinct from the familiar rock pigeons many call “flying rats,”once existed in such large numbers that when a mass of them passed overhead the sound was deafening and it took hours for the group to pass. Unlike rock pigeons, the Passenger Pigeons were a species native to North America.  A new book about the birds, A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction (Bloomsbury), by  Joel Greenberg is reviewed in a recent New Yorker. Sadly, among other things, these birds who were so numerous they could be called a feathered river across the sky, were not only numerous but delicious. The hunting and eating of them contributed to their extinction

I ended up with (imo a kind of weird) vision, a wounded bird with a mountain-top removal site in the background.  I had to use all kinds of source photos and try to blend them together, but the point is that again – these beautiful creations were disregarded, destroyed, in fact mined, the hills for coal, the birds for meat.  Forever lost.  Then and now.



ann p c pigeon

url to New Yorker review, which contains a lot of information about Passenger Pigeons:



SHH… LISTEN! My current project  with Betsy Jaeger, Steve Lawson and Nik Botkin, is a 20-artist collaboration called Shhh . . . Listen!  an installation to premier at the Allegheny Highlands Climate Conference at Blackwater Falls State Park in early June 2014.  This project highlights 20 regionally common plant and animal species whose populations are dropping rapidly, but who are not yet ‘listed’ as threatened and endangered. The point is to alert the public to common species suffering and vanishing right under our noses (from climate change, habitat destruction, pollution).  In other words, let’s quickly start to pay attention.  We have a pending disaster we can prevent here and now.












Some people think there is such a thing as safety.

respectability          safety           illusion





The Mission, San Francisco
To walk these streets is to walk the faultline between wealth and poverty.

I walk Valencia Street from 24th street to 16th. In some blocks I do not recognize where I am from a year ago. Rectangular glass, metal,and concrete buildings have usurped the places where old buildings stood. On Sunday, working through the Brunch Swarm is a piece of work. Stores sell organic cotton clothing, … and old furniture and clothing sold as retro with an ironic wink to hipster insiders. The old places are here, too, some of them. La Cumbre for burritos, Fritz for crepes, New York pizza where you can buy dinner for a couple of bucks, in contrast to the new places with their chrome and glass, their dead-stylish neutral grays and browns, khaki, black. Women in tights, big shiny shoes and skinny jackets race past, pushing their babies in aluminum buggies.

Walk up Mission, one block parallel to Valencia. Start at the 16th Street BART plaza, never empty, always thronging with men and women and children, shopping carts, chihuahuas, chihuahuas in shopping carts, wheelchairs, people reeling with substances, people asking for money, people yelling. Between 16th and 24th, the stores include Thrift Town, holes in the wall selling everything from luggage to skinny skinny jeans; outside some stores stacks of mangos, baby fist red bananas, pads of cactus, sometimes the smell over-ripe, water thrown over the pavement to wash away the night before. Families marshall their children to school or appointments.

It is not that one of these is better, but one is squeezing out the other to make The Mission “safe” for the new settlers. It boils down to the illusion of safety. On one side of the faultline, people can afford to think they can create safe lives behind their gates, that because they can they will buy safety for themselves and their children. On the other side, that illusion would be dangerous: there is no safety.



They blame Eve who
answered desire,
knew better than god

the fruit of
her loins condemned:


Mountain schoolhouse
potatoes and onions in the side lot
children walk out of the hills from hand built houses
some don’t know faucets.


Chain link fences off
Cougar Mountain Coal.
Outside in Cougar bottom
eleven trailers shelter brain cancer.


I heard a man groped a little girl.


The earth movers
throw up dust the color of army.
It chalks over the poplar leaves
and ashes the laundry on the line.
It comes between the sick and tired lovers.
It slinks a cur dog, impounded:

[Faith S. Holsaert, appeared in Prairie Wolf Review 10/12]

not book reports, not scholarly, not comprehensive

but                        snapshots

Irene mich

week 4:  have you had enough darkness yet

In January, the dark month of my birth, I read Irene McKinney aloud.

Around 30 years ago, my WV writing friend Colleen Anderson and  I spent an evening reading aloud in a motel room with the poets Irene McKinney and Maggie Anderson. I sat on the cheaply carpeted floor, my back propped against one of the beds. The other three were on chair or bed, or on the floor, too. Maggie and Irene, and perhaps Colleen, were smoking. Words and smoke issued from their mouthes in what I, who had quit but who had not stopped remembering nicotine, imagined must be a giddy rush. The words, grand mountain words at that, became confounded with the delicious remembered crawl of smoke through my veins. And when the night was done, late, hours after we had started, I left that motel room with the sweet drowse, the muddled come-down of reading poetry aloud.

About twenty years later, I spent twelve hospital hours with Irene. After too-long of telling her doctor that something was not right, she had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma and after some other attempts at treatment, had undergone a bone marrow transplant. In the corridor I hygienically and ritually washed my hands three times. I passed hospital room after hospital room in which someone lay emaciated or swollen, solitary or hovered over, plastic lines and leads and lit up screens and drapes on tracks. And there she was, a small gowned figure in bed, hair aflame (always). I didn’t know her well, so entering her room I entered twelve hours of rare intimacy, during which she spoke in her twang as pointed as barbed wire, her mind agile and busy as a sparrow. I offered her water and spoonfuls of ice. Maybe there was a small bird’s amount of food. We were. We were in that medical cell of sitting. I sat beside her while she slept, the space so small that we shared one another’s breaths.

She survived the transplant, returned to her country house on the land her family had worked for generations, for several years returned to her own work of writing poetry.

And then she died.

Reading McKinney’s posthumous collection, Have you Had Enough Darkness Yet? was to say good-bye all over again. Her mountain twang, her duality —saucy irreverence beside burning reverence — are so embedded in her work that even when I, born a Yankee, read her poems aloud, her mountain spirit rises up into this life. Reading these poems aloud was to come so close to death, to come to the very edge, to be ravaged again by the loss of this spirit who described the precipice before she slipped over it.


There’s a passage through the night
where someone awards me, hangs
the tassle of distress off to the side
and replaces it with a badge
indicating that I did one thing
right by continuing what
I’d started when I didn’t know
it had begun, and I was sure
of no reward. Blessings were not
forthcoming, daily distress.
The path is aerial seen from
above. I startle myself
and feel I have no choice but
to proceed by inches. I pull down
the magic curtain, uncurb the car,
get in and drive, coaxing
the pattern to relief.

And you have been with me
through the long and hateful night
although you are only a shadow.
You have stayed behind
my shoulder and I’ve sheltered
you there, made a place for
you in my mind. In loneliness,
in rain, in the loss of breath,
you have been with me
and I have not failed you
because I continued to speak
when you begged me not
to inquire further and I spoke
to your fears in a voice of grief,
saying, yes they are gone and
will not return, but you
are still breathing. And I sang
you a song that came through
a trail of nerves down the generations
through all we have read together
and all we have remembered.
Remember the words, and I’ll remember you.

(Irene McKinney)

If you would like to hear Irene read her work aloud (including “At 24,” below):

The same irascible spirit at the beginning of her life as a poet wrote this blazing anthem (from her 2004 collection, Vivid Companion):

At 24

At 24, I had written and read until my eyes were bloodshot,

spending nights and early mornings in a fervor

of page-filling while the baby slept.

I was writing to save my life as I knew it

could be. I was writing to inscribe my body

on a stone tablet, writing in defiance and silence.

Nothing could stop me, I kept saying No

to the paper, I kept saying you can’t have me

to the Junior League, to the tiny streets, to impossible

jobs and prissy motherhood. I was certain

there was another way to love and work than the

simian forms evolved so far. One morning I drank

eight cups of coffee and wrote four poems

and I didn’t even care that my head was bursting

and I was lurching around while I scrubbed the bathroom.

Another time I left the children with my mother

and lay in bed all day reading a biography of Van Gogh

and groaning. What a life, what a life.

I thought about Toulouse-Lautrec, that little freak.

I was a freak myself, but only in private.

I stared at his bronzes and terra cottas and oranges

until they pulled the color nerves out of my chest.

That was a long time ago and now I know that

I knew nothing then, and if I had I wouldn’t

have gone on. Dear Mr. President, I said, Dear Dean,

Dear Husband, Dear Our Father, Dear Tax Collector,

you don’t know me. I don’t know what I am,

but whatever it is, you can’t have me.

(Irene McKinney)

photo: Julia Kramer