Book Review

 

Echoes Across the Blue Ridge: Stories, Essays, and Poems

by Writers Living in and Inspired by the Southern Appalachian Mountains
Nancy Simpson, Editor

Editor Simpson, in her introduction, writes that Glenda Barrett’s poem Echoes suggested the book’s title.  The narrator cannot silence national discourse on war, poverty, and the homeless, but she can . . . follow in the footsteps of [her] faithful ancestors. . . .  People whose voices still echo across these Blue Ridge Mountains.  Steve Harvey, in his essay The Oldest Answer, discusses  the eerie silence that Ms. Barrett’s  Faithful Ancestors . . . needed to fill . . . with something human: a story, perhaps, or a song or a poem.  The ballad is . . . all three at once.  The composers and authors of these ballads, book excerpts (published and in progress), essays, poetry, and short stories invite us to step away from our incessant din of national discourse into the silence that inspired the Ancient Faithful. 
The song writers and authors span the generations.  Ancient Faithful  Byron Herbert Reece (1917-1958),  . . . the mountain poet from [Georgia] who was the finest writer of the literary ballad in our time, filled the silence with ballads such as Lest the
Lonesome Bird.  Contemporary Poet Laureate Kathryn Stripling Byer, in Last Light, challenges the absurd questions asked women with failing memories . . . as if those numbers and names / matter more in the end than this place / where I stand at the same kitchen window, / observing the same pines set swaying by the wind, . . . .  Before planes and satellites polluted her sky, the narrator in Poet Laureate Bettie M. Sellers’ Complaint to Betelgeuse knew . . . that stars were stars / and stayed wherever in that distant place their ordered orbit was.   The New Faithful ponder music, religion, memories of the elderly, madness, and nature as though taking dictation from their predecessors.
Into the lively Contradance in Brasstown (Ellen Andrews) An old lady comes to dance,. . . .  Her timing is off, but Her partners provide well for her . . . respectful of her bewilderment.   In the attic of an elderly father mourning his musician son . . . a fiddle, a banjo and a guitar stood quietly in a corner, like chastened children (Listen to the Mocking Bird, Gary Carden).   The dulcimer player in As the Deer (Mary Michelle Brodine Keller) admires a grazing deer as Quietness slides along her body / my finger descending the string / in a smooth slur of music. . . .
Chicken and Dumplings (Estelle Darrow Rice) reveals nothing about the Bishop’s church service, but his Sunday dinner expectations indicate that he serves plenty of fire and brimstone.  The humble kindness of acolyte George (The Trillium, Glenda Beall) and Deacon Thomas (The Man on the Doorsteps, William V. Reynolds) defy the Bishop’s traditional religiosity.  Even more audacious, an elderly cancer victim moves a newly-ordained minister to tears with his certainty that their beloved dogs await them for The Final Gathering     (Dick  Michener).  
Elder memories are treasures in any era.  Beulah (Kitty Inman) recalls her siblings shoving her through the tiny chicken coop door to perch the ducks and chickens on their roosts before their father discovers a deed certain to bring swift punishment.  She hasn’t eaten chicken since!  In Rendezvous (Charlotte Wolf), Celia looks up into the far-reaching arms of the 400-year-old oak that has been her quiet place, her safe place since she was a child.  Bewildered, an elderly coon dog follows his master’s advice: If You Can’t Run With the Big Dogs, Stay on the Porch (Mary Lou McKillip).     
Did eerie mountain silence drive the mothers in The Third Floor Bedroom (Lana Hendershott) and The Spirit Tree (Susan Lefler) to madness?  The first mother continually brushes imaginary spiders from her arms; the second increasingly alienates Billy Ann, her young daughter. Veteran’s, driven to the brink by war’s madness must, like the Pot Belly Stove (John T. Campbell), be . . . appeased [or] the whole edifice will go up in flames.  The driver in Street Scene (Jayne Jaudon Ferrer) burns with shame when she realizes that the pedestrian she maliciously misjudged is . . . a woman abandoned . . . dumped like discarded ballast.
The Goat Man (Rachel Bronnum) delights his audience as he . . . shepherds his goats in bah-ing cacophony, tripping through the middle of town.  The Apple Man (Richard Argo) advises the new owner of Sultan, a brutalized roan gelding, to sell the horse insurance.  Puppy (A Walk in the Dark, StarShield Lortie) reminds his harried mistress why she . . . moved to this mountain town. Unlike Aunt Lucille, the narrator in Visitor (Maren O. Mitchell) welcomes and honors her . . . elusive Ursa come to earth. . . .    It’s a Seagull Morning on Lake Chatuge (Karen Paul Holmes) wonders if the gulls stay near Bell Mountain during  January’s abnormally cold temperatures  . . . to dance among mountains, where melodies . . . still hover, preserved for gull generations. . . .
The book is divided into Spring, Summer, Winter, and Fall; each section honored within.  For nature’s proof that winter looms, consult Rosemary Royston’s Dogwood Winter.  The narrator in Dancer (Eileen Lampe) yearns to live like the final leaf falling from the branch . . . full of vigor to the last.   The man in Memories of Summer (Marshall McClung) reports that  As I grow older, summer reminds me of my youth even more. 
The New Faithful protest the desecration of their beloved mountains.  Beneath the sparkling surface of the lake created by the Fontana Dam (Brenda Kay Ledford), decay  Pieces of railroad . . . Broken plates from a farm house. . . .  In Ms. Ledford’s Progress, . . . The Shewbird Mountain / quivers beneath the Thunder Moon / as the mining company / creeps up the mountain / to grind her bones into dust.   The Summit Bald (Wendy Richard Tanner) offers hope for the land as eagles and owls, bears and foxes reclaim abandoned farm land. 
Unfortunately, Reading Friends, I must end my foray into this captivating book.   Please accept the invitation of the Ancient and New Faithful to abandon noisy spaces for the silence that calls them to the
wonder and wisdom recorded in these pages. 
Hope to see you there!

The authors belong to North Carolina Writers’ Network West (Netwest), a chapter of North Carolina’s Writers’ Network.  They live in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee.  Netwest offers support and encouragement through critique groups, classes, workshops, and other programs.  Read more about the group at netwestwriters.blogspot.com

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