2.2 (episode 54) featuring ANNIE WOODFORD!
Annie Woodford is the author of Bootleg (Groundhog Poetry Press, 2019), which was a runner-up for the Weatherford Award for Appalachian poetry. Her second book is the winner of Mercer University’s 2020 Adrienne Bond Prize and will be published in 2022.
Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Terrain, Southern Humanities Review, Epoch, Blackbird, The Southern Review, The Rumpus, and Prairie Schooner, among others. She has been awarded scholarships to the Sewanee and Bread Loaf writers’ conferences as well as Barbara Deming Fund and Jean Ritchie fellowships.
Originally from Bassett, Virginia—a mill town near the North Carolina border—she now teaches community college English in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.
Check out Bootleg at Groundhog Poetry Press: https://www.groundhogpoetrypress.com/bootleg.
Notes on Annie’s reading:
“Snake Cane” is a poem that arrives from my primal memories of the Southeastern Virginia woods where I spent so much time as a child, and from being around adults who feared snakes with a passion, a worry that I have now passed down to my daughter as I warn her to look out for copperheads and rattlesnakes when she runs around barefoot in our yard on our North Carolina ridge. The first time I met Sandy Ballard, the editor of Appalachian Journal. I announced to her that I was going on a hike on the hillside up above the Hindman Settlement School, where the Appalachian Writers’ Workshop is held each year in late July and she advised, “I don’t know how much concrete you’re from, but watch out for snakes.”
Whenever I would go on walks with my granny as a child, she would carry a walking stick and tap ahead of her as we went. I read an article from the Virginia Humanities Foundation about Norman Amos, a master carver from the county beside the county where I grew up and was fascinated by the snake canes he carved. You can learn more here: https://virginiafolklife.org/sights-sounds/remembering-norman-amos-master-carver/. I like to think this folk artist used his art as a way to channel the power and the beauty of the snakes and other animals he depicted, a sort of magic I aspire to in my poetry. This is a poem that moves back and forth through time and is another instance where I am trying to imagine the life of people my grandparents’ age. I have always been fascinated by stories of the way people had to stay up all night tending the fires that cured tobacco and this poem depicts that practice and is a sort of ode to the wary intimacy we used to have with our landscape because we lived in it on much closer scale. I am thankful to editor Jason Howard for originally publishing it in Appalachian Heritage, now Appalachian Review: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/688196/summary.
“Eft” is a poem inspired by a hike I took with my daughter in the Carvins Cove Natural Reserve in Roanoke County, Virginia. She would have been in first or second grade and looked down and saw this little red-orange salamander in the leaves. While I had found many salamanders in creeks when I was a child, I had never seen one in the stage known as, I believe, “red eft.” We had hiked in for probably two miles and it was very remote feeling and beautiful that spring day. The school year was ending and though I was filled with uncertainty about my job and my life, it was beautiful to be on that mountain with my child. I didn’t even realize it was one long sentence until after it was written, which felt like a gift of form following the poem’s euphoria. It was originally published in Appalachian State’s literary magazine Cold Mountain Review: https://www.coldmountainreview.org/issues/spring-2015/three-poems-by-annie-woodford.
The latter three poems I read have all been written since 2016 and are my attempts to grapple with whiteness and the spiritual repercussions of trying to survive “our nation’s peculiarly brutal economy,” as Matthew Desmond described the way capitalism and white supremacy are intertwined in his essay on the NYT’s 1619 Project. “This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces It to Surrender” takes its title from the mantra written around the body of Pete Seeger’s banjo and is meant to establish the poem and the music being described in the poem as part of that tradition of using art to dispel the power of fascism. I was thinking of an amazing series of photographs by the photographer Johnny Milano, chronicling the KKK in the Virginia County where I was born and grew up (https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/gavon/fascinating-frightening-photos-of-the-modern-kkk) and of an exhibit about the banjo that was featured at the Blue Ridge Folklife Museum at Ferrum College in Franklin County Virginia at some point in the nineties, delineating the complex history of that originally African instrument. When this poem was written in the summer of 2017, there was definitely a feeling of some evil trying to assert itself in white rural America and this poem was about trying to cast a spell against that evil.
Oscar Micheaux was a Black filmmaker who made films about and for Black people during the silent era in American film. He was often based in Roanoke, Virginia, where I lived for many years, and even shot movies there. Unfortunately, much of his work has been lost. The area where he filmed and lived in Roanoke was known as Gainsboro and Henry Street, which was a thriving community of Black-owned businesses and homes decimated by the urban renewal push starting in the 1960s. I went to a lecture at one of the only remaining buildings in Historic Gainsboro, the lovely Gainsboro Library, and was moved to see the mostly elderly audience members get up out of their chairs and start pointing out churches and business in a photograph projected on the wall that overlayed the old neighborhood with the parking lots and interstate created by urban renewal. Twenty-six churches were destroyed during Roanoke’s urban renewal.
“Wilkes County Posada” is the newest poem in this packet and honors my new home here in the foothills of the North Carolina Mountains and the incredible people I have met since moving here. I am an agnostic who has never been a church goer. I was raised in no religion, but my mama did tell me the story of how her father told her the animals knelt in the barn on Christmas Eve. I might believe in that, and the women who work extra shifts in back-breaking jobs in December to make sure their children have presents under the tree on Christmas morning.
Rebecca at Bad Mouth
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