Poetry on Posters in the middle of nowhere by Hi Newman
When Jim Wilson asked if I’d put a few posters up locally, I’m sure he thought I’d go to bookstores, the library, coffeeshops, the usual intellectual stuff. Well, here in Gainesboro, Tennessee, there is a bookstore… sort of. A used book store, but apparently it’s a used book museum because it’s never open. So, as usual in such an out-of-the-mainstream area, we did things a little differently.
First, we took a selection of Kiwi poetry to a Ladies’ Sunday Picnic, sponsored by the Bethany Café. After all, if the little ladies like something everyone will take notice. The ladies looked, read, passed ‘em around and had a great time. Hone Tuwhare’s “Sea Call” and “The End” by Janet Frame seemed to be the favorites, and who can blame them?
Tuwhare writes, “And I shall stuff my longing/ in an empty pack/ and hasten to the secret shore…” Who could blame anyone for wanting to do that? The ‘Nice Ladies’ (as I refer to them) have been around a while, you know, and after you’ve seen as much of life as they have deep thoughts become the norm. These and other poem posters are now in a rotating exposition in the foyer of the Café itself, a place where at lunch you get the daily menu and it’s always good, plus a spectacular view down the valley of the Cumberland River from the overlook at the parking area.
The second part of the Middleofnowhere Poetry Tour was even stranger, a teacher’s in-service training day at Smith County High School, in Carthage. The English teachers were enthralled by the variety of the poetry, both the style and substance. Again, Frame and Tuwhare seemed the favorites, with a big nod to Elizabeth Smither’s “Two adorable things about Mozart” and “Family Tree” by Jeffery D. McCaleb. Interestingly enough, McCaleb is a local, living in Cookeville, only about 20 miles from where I sit at my typewriter this very minute. The English teachers decided to add Smithers, Frame and Tuwhare to their poetry classes this year. New Zealand poetry invades the Cumberland Mountains? Maybe so.
“Nafanua, the Samoan goddess of war, sleeps rough in Central Park” by Tusiata Avia, was my personal favorite (along with “Sea Call”) of this batch of poems Jim sent me. Perhaps because, having slept a couple of strange places myself, including in New York City, I felt a more personal affinity for this one. At the moment it graces the wall of the recording studio of my friend Dave Henderson, whose currently aiding me in the new Men Behind the Curtain album. Why a recording studio? Because only crazy people go there, and in America it’s usually crazy people who still read poetry!
And, to top off this list of out-of-the-way places for poetry, there are the local swimming holes. Here at the tail end of summer there is still a heavy stream of humanity at the favorite places, such as ‘The Boils,” a spot on the Roaring River where thousands of gallons of water continuously spews up through a hole and runs into the river. The water is always very cold, and the locals have taken to calling it “the Redneck Beach” because of the crowds at the height of summer clustering along the gravel beach at the river’s edge. There are also a number of lesser-frequented spots; some are very small, tree-shaded pools, just big enough for a few close friends, perfect places for Becky Woodall’s “In Love,” or “Wired” by Frankie McMillan. Nothing like watching a person (who might be characterized by one who didn’t know them as “some Appalachian yahoo”) stop, read a poem and say something like, “Wow,” “That’s purty deep,” or “I like the way h/she uses (fill in the blank) as a metaphor for life.”
Is the Middleofnowhere Poetry Tour over? Nope, not by a long shot. There are always alternative venues for the enlightenment of mankind, and we’ll find ‘em all before we’re done!