A feature/open poetry reading in Cincinnati--an intentional arc of both past and future utterance, inspired by our most revered (and missed) voice with a nod to her Athens, GA compatriots, the last Tuesday of every month 7 p.m. at MOTR, in Over the Rhine
MICHAEL HENSON is the author of four books of poetry and four books of fiction. His most recent work is Maggie Boylan, a collection of linked stories centered on nine months in the life of a woman addicted to opiates in rural Appalachia. Kate Flaherty, writing in Ploughshares, called it, “a devastating collection . . . easily the best fictional account of the widespread meth and Oxy wreckage in Appalachia since Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone.
Gurney Norman, perhaps the most respected contemporary voice in Appalachian literature, has said of his work, “Mike Henson is an important writer of significant poetry and fiction. His sustained literary effort over the past four decades is matched by very few American writers of his or anyone else’s generation. Henson gets to the heart of working class and underclass people in ways that break your heart and then put it together again through the power of his art.”
George Ella Lyon, former Poet Laureate of Kentucky, has said, “Michael Henson is the Philip Levine of the urban Appalachian working class. His writing is so immediate that you feel the vibrations of guitar strings and sirens, smell beer and sweat, and hear broken glass crunch under your feet. Nothing is pretty in this world, but much is beautiful, seen through Henson’s compassion for his characters and his clarity about generations wrecked by capitalism without conscience.”
Henson holds degrees from Xavier University and the University of Chicago. He has worked as a community organizer, painter, factory hand, rural schoolteacher, adjunct professor, and for many years, a substance abuse counselor and clinical supervisor. He holds the rank of shodan (black belt) in Aikido and he plays mandolin and guitar in Carter Bridge, a bluegrass band. He is a co-editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, the annual publication of the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative. He lives in Cincinnati with his wife Elissa Pogue.
WoMC is an intentional arc of both past and future utterance, inspired by our most revered voice, with a nod to her Athens, GA compatriots. Word of Mouth asks poets to Show Up, Mouth Off and Pay Attention.
Admission to Word of Mouth Cincinnati is free and open to all ages, although some content may contain adult themes and language. MOTR Pub 1345 Main Street Cincinnati, OH 45202.
Midnight at the Grave of James Still
“A great voice walked with me, roaring in my head.”
-from River of Earth
The hills around have surrendered to silence.
We hear only the continuous concertinas
of the crickets and cicadas, interrupted,
now and again
by the hump and grind of a car out on Route 160
as it humbles through the curves
and whines out the straightaways.
Below, the mists of Troublesome Creek
rise from the pools between the bridges
and are candled
by the arc lamps in the parking lot
of the social services center.
I stood on the rubbled bank
and watched a sun-stunned turtle
ponder his options
among the mud-colored rocks
and the cast-off tires below the riffle.
Now, the turtle sleeps
with his beak snapped shut
upon a dream of minnows
and the rot-fragrant bodies of drowned ducklings.
The neon of the Mi-Dee Mart spills onto the highway.
Within its walls and windows
stand bright ranks of condoms and potato chips
and bullet-colored cans of malt liquor.
But I have come
in my lonely insomniac ramble
to sit here on the hillside
under the dark brow of the chapel
where the stories sleep
and to seek what solace I can find.
These are troubled, troublesome times
And I am as troubled as any.
Like your preacher, I would like to know,
“Where air we going on this mighty river of earth?”
But, mute as God himself,
you made no answer.
So here we are,
the living and the dead riding the waters
and nothing to console us
but these stories that we scratch into the sand.
I sit a long time
to absorb the silence.
The crickets and cicadas continue their rosary chant.
From around the bend,
a coal truck throbs into view.
The driver downshifts
and the diesel coughs and churns
through the curve and up the hill.
A line of yellow lights
runs across the crown of its cab
and onto the corners of its gondola
and it sails against the darkness of the hills
like a ship on a wine-dark sea.
I watch as long as I can.
It casts light forward into the darkness
and spools it up again and again
until its red taillights
wink out around a bend.