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Spooks Branch, a human history story

Spooks Branch was a singular place in settlers’ loreby Rob NeufeldImportant editorial note:This is a significant historical story that is also, in parts, personal and controversial.  It is about a few families who settled a particular cove and played out their heroic and complex legacies in ways that interacted with place and time.  You don't read this kind of story much because people don't like to expose themselves or stir up trouble, even a little.  This caution makes history classes boring…See More
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The Rise of Asheville by Marilyn Ball

History of the "Asheville 1000" and the 1970s renaissance                       Let’s not miss the history of Asheville’s renaissance, Marilyn Ball’s new book, “The Rise of Asheville,” advocates.            She’d come here in 1977, making her one of the advance guard of “artists, entrepreneurs, and off-the-grid…See More
Nov 20
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Century-ago woman's apple cake recipe

Mmm, them apples in Beaverdam coveIn 1972, Helen Nelon wrote about the traditions of old-time Spooks Branch, off Beaverdam Road.  Here's what she said about her use of apples in a cake.(The full story of Spooks Branch will appear soon.)There were apples for delicious cider cooled in the spring "dreem" (drain), apples for frying for cold winter days, and for special days there were dried apple sauce fruit cakes.These cakes were made of very thin, sweet dough with dried apple sauce spread between…See More
Nov 18
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Nov 16
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Dignity is the key to Richard Russo's inspiration

So funny, and yet so exposing--Richard Russo's geniusSnakes on the lane            In Richard Russo's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Empire Falls, the protagonist, Miles recalls the time his father, driving, had accelerated into a box on a highway.  “What if that box had been full of rocks?” Miles asks.  Unfazed, Max quizzes his son about what he would do about the box.  Max says he'd stop and look in it,  “What if it was full of rattlesnakes? “ his father asks.            The verbal match…See More
Nov 14
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Nov 12
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Humanize the history--especially with Civil War--writes acclaimed author

Writer illuminates tangled web of Civil Warby Rob Neufeld             David Madden has written a book, “The Tangled Web of the Civil War and Reconstruction,” that deserves special attention.            First, there’s Madden’s background.  In 1992, he founded the U.S. Civil War Center in New…See More
Nov 12
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Nov 11
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Nov 10
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Coming attraction--Singleton at Malaprop's & City Lights for Calloustown

George Singleton's latest collection of stories, Calloustown...features the folk who try to survive in a place that has little to offer besides a Finger Museum and a taxidermy petting zoo,It's funny, but also tragic and angry.  The review, "Love-hate humor cries in Calloustown," appears in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Sunday, 11/15/2015.  Singleton's at Malaprop’s Bookstore, 7 p.m., Wed., Nov. 18; and at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, 3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 21.Here's an excerpt from the…See More
Nov 10
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Juniper Bends Quarterly Reading at DownTown Books & News

November 13, 2015 from 7pm to 8pm
Our very special Autumnal edition starts at 7PM and is sure to be a lively and vibrant set, with featured writers Randi Janelle, Tina FireWolf, Logan Parker, and Annabelle Crowe. Two of our readers have new books out, and as always there is wine flowing by donation. Hosts Lockie Hunter and Caroline Wilson look forward to seeing you there----remember, your wellbeing depends upon it.See More
Nov 9
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Love and Mercy ~ Up On Roan Mountain

My family lived and loved up on Roan Mountain and in the surrounding mountain areas, and this is their story. It's woven into a tapestry that weaves down through the years, before the days of the Civil War and up to present day. They were…
Nov 9
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It's All Relative--50 WNC women write about family

Family life as perceived by 50 WNC authorsby Rob Neufeld             If you have biases against small press books or anthologies of local writers’ work, I recommend you lay them aside and take a look at “It’s All Relative” (Stone Ivy Press), 52 stories and poems by 50 WNC women authors writing about family.           …See More
Nov 6

Asheville Poetry Review informs the world

by Rob Neufeld


            “In times like these,” Newton Smith writes in the new issue of Asheville Poetry Review (APR), “when men and women are dying miserably everywhere, and when politicians and nations have lost all dignity and compassion, it is time to turn to poems.”

            The 22nd issue of the Asheville-based, internationally read journal comes through again with a representation of what’s vital in the field. 

            Does poetry fill a critical need, as many of the contributors declare?  That’s not an easy argument.  Poems do not teach you how to change a tire, though they may teach you how to change tiredness.


Beginning with the fetus


            Becky Gould Gibson’s poem, “Heading Home,” 2012 winner of the William Matthews Poetry Prize (given by the APR) takes you on a journey from conception to birth with a world of prayer.

            “The jig is up…You’re past blastocyst,” she tells a fetus.  Gibson’s at-ease, intelligent voice talks street, science, and spirituality, as in her address to the baby when it’s 12 weeks in the womb: “And where’s original sin?/  Will it show up on your next sonogram?” 

            Seven months along, Gibson intones: “Stunning how badly we’ve managed Earth.  Yet/ you’ll find it stunningly beautiful,/ wrinkled in places like you.”  Ultimately, she announces: “Here you come in your craft plaited of reeds/ dragging a seine of bright constellations…Lung/ leaves the ocean of its origin, and/ you take your first breath on land.”


Very like a bat


            The second-place winner of the prize is also a magical expression of worldly caring

            “The young need the old,” Catherine Carter writes in her poem, “The Young.”  “You wouldn’t think it, to see/ them toss their hair silky as the ears/ of vampire bats, eyes not focused on anything/ you can see.”

            But “they need your/ time, your ear for their keening,” she continues, “your admiration/ and pity for their brashness/ and tenderness…Your approval, for the like of which many/ an adult still goes thirsty.”  So, we may forgive the hunger of the bat-like child, “its dainty fangs, its fingers for wings.”

            (See full poem below.)


Modest profession


            The late poet William Matthews, in whose honor his son, Asheville poet Sebastian Matthews, established the prize, is the subject of Robert Morgan’s elegy, “In Memory of William Matthews.”

            “Bill,/ wherever you are now, I’m sure/ you’re laughing at the way we poets/ take ourselves so seriously./  And I concede the fault, except/ I want to say I took you seriously/ and was not wrong,” Morgan writes.

            As he presents his loving memories like bouquets, Morgan hears Matthews snicker and say, “Send/ no flowers, bub, but maybe some good claret might not be unwelcome.”

            Like William Matthews, many contemporary poets have abandoned conventional Western lyricism for something that sounds more Eastern: lots of music, but not rhyming or strictly metered; with a freedom to shift voices, almost conversationally, and gifted with suggestive imagery.


Getting beyond human


            Sam Hamill translates a poem written by the eighth century Chinese poet, Li Po.

            “You ask why I live/ alone in the mountain forest,” the poem begins; and concludes, “I live in the other world,/ one that lies beyond the human.”

            One of the reasons that poets can speak to us in such a special way is that they have immersed themselves in lives of reading poetry; and can demonstrate the advantages of a poetic appreciation of life.

            “In her collection ‘Covet,’ Lynell Edwards manages to illuminate the small wonders of regular life,” Janice Moore Fuller reveals in her book review (one of 20 by various reviewers in the APR).

Edwards elevates ordinary things to the level of a mythical objects, Fuller writes.  “She also throws Wordsworth’s ‘certain coloring of imagination’ over ordinary actions.”

            Every rose has its thorn and, as Edwards’ book title suggests, a hunger for beauty brings with it a painful awareness of loss.  Is it folly to covet?  Or to love?

            One answer to those questions is that the poem makes a permanent flower of the dying flower because it comes alive every time you engage with it.  For those who love and grieve—and that has to be the most sensitive among us—poetry saves lives.


Saved from disaffection


            Poetry saved Sam Hamill, the Li Po translator, and a living stand-out in the boundary-crossing poetry world.

            The current issue of APR devotes 52 pages to Hamill, continuing its tradition of shining light on under-celebrated greats; and on representing world poetry as well as local roots (seven of the eight editors, including founder Keith Flynn, are Western North Carolinians; and the eighth is from Oak Ridge).

            In the late 1950s, Hamill had been a lost teen on the road in San Francisco when the late great Kenneth Rexroth took him under his wing.

            “I spent most of my days sleeping in Golden Gate Park and wandered at night between the Tenderloin and North Beach, searching cars for things to pawn or sell or trade,” Hamill told Lisa Morphew in an interview.

            “Then one crisp afternoon, I spent my last couple of bucks to buy ‘Thirty Spanish Poems of Love & Exile,’” Rexroth’s book of translations.  “I was standing outside City Lights (bookstore in San Francisco) when Rexroth came around the corner…I told him I wanted to be a great poet like him.”

            Rexroth let him stay at his home.  Hamill dried out.  He read through Rexroth’s library.  “It’s not an exaggeration to say,” Hamill says, “he not only shaped, but also saved my life.”

            Hamill has gone on to publish 14 volumes of poetry; and many other volumes of translations and essays.  He has taught in prisons and worked with battered woman and children.

            In 1972, he co-founded Copper Canyon Press, a heralded publisher of new works of poetry.

            Then, in 2003, Esteban Moore reports in his essay about Hamill, Hamill began to speak out against the war in Iraq.  He founded Poets against War.  Major newspapers and TV networks attacked him and “as a consequence, the board and sponsors of the publishing house he had founded asked him to resign his position there for its sake.”

            We wonder if and when poetry will assume the popular place it has had in other cultures and times.  The APR gives us a window into that effort, including with a good look at a hard-knocks-schooled iconoclast such as Hamill..

            “I’m simply not much moved by the stars of what I’ll call ‘workshop poetry,’” he told Morphew.  “The avant garde frankly bores me.”


Asheville Poetry Review, vol. 19, no. 1, 2012, issue 22, $13.  Visit


by Catherine Carter

Second place winner of the William Matthews Poetry Prize, published in Asheville Poetry Review, vol. 19, no. 1

The Young

for the new teachers

The young need the old.

You wouldn't think, to see

them toss their hair silky as the ears

of vampire bats, eyes not focused on anything

you can see.  You wouldn't think it

from the sound of the giggling

almost too high to hear, offering you less

notice than the cries of hunting

bats.  But the young

need you.  They need your

time, your ear for their keening

and chiming, even when it means nothing

you know.  Your admiration

and pity for their brashness

and tenderness, your abnegation

of what you hoped to do this hour,

which for either of you comes once

only.  Your approval, for the like of which many

an adult still goes thirsty, fifty

years on.  Your life drained out to feed

their unfocused need.  They drink

it like bats too, eternally beautiful for having

bathed in your blood like Bathory

countesses.  They do it helplessly,

as you do to your own beloved old,

who forgive you, helplessly

as you'll forgive these, as the weakening

cow forgives the hungry bat,

its dainty fangs, its fingers for wings.

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