by Mike Templeton
Some folks with strong connections to the Appalachian community and the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition specifically took high honors in Still: The Journal literary prizes. Still: The Journal is an online literary magazine publishing Appalachian literary, visual, and musical artists since 2009. The Still masthead explains that they “publish writing that exemplifies the many layers and complexities of the region od that is written by an author with a connection to the region.”
Core member Pauletta Hansel won First Prize for poetry. Richard Hague took top honors for Creative Nonfiction, and one of Pauletta’s former students, Anthony Otten, won First Prize for fiction. All of these people have also been published in the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative’s literary journal edited by Pauletta Hansel, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel.
Pauletta explained that winning the prize is exciting, of course. But she told me she is especially pleased with this one because “the poem was written so recently and is representative of a new voice I am exploring—a little less narrative and a little more bold.” She is also happy that three local writers who are all tied to the Appalachian writing community converged as top prize winners. As Pauletta told me, “I’m also thrilled that all three of us are connected with the urban Appalachian writing community here in Cincinnati,”
In Pauletta’s poem, “Home Is the Place Where, When You Have to Go There, You Only Think About How to Get Out,” the phrase “Nobody Cares” is repeated, yet the grief and mourning that run through the poem indicate that somebody cares a great deal. The loss of all that was left behind is tinged with something more than grief—regret, perhaps, but maybe something more like the unique sadness that comes with difficult but inevitable decisions. There is the sadness that comes from the offhand rebuke, “Everybody remembers you, sort of,” that conjures decisions and departures from long ago, and nearly forgotten circumstances that no longer matter anymore. Yet there is an instinctual longing that never goes away.
Richard Hague has been involved with the UACC as an associated writer. Though he has attended some policy meetings, he explains that “mostly I am a part of the UACC’s group of writers and artists.” His memoir takes us back and forth from rural eastern Ohio to Cincinnati.
Richard’s memoir, “Acting Up,” explores what he calls the “some of the ‘ings’ men get tangled up in: fighting, drinking, road-running, leaving and returning—and in this particular case with this particular man, writing and remembering.” Richard’s piece is a clear memoir with all the juicy fun of a good story about drinking and fighting. But more broadly, it is a study of the problem of truth in writing a memoir. For all our attempts to represent the “truth” of our memories, the story itself is always an unpredictable mix of fact and the caprice of time. As Richard’s memoir tells us, “We have to rely on memory, and on the instinct and ability to shape a story out of that dimness, that mess, that vital, vibrating, pregnant uncertainty.” Time removes us from the immediate facts, and places do not stay the same just for us.
Though not directly involved with the work of the UACC, Anthony Otten devoted part of his undergraduate work as an intern for the Thomas More creative writing program. It was during that time, he explains, that “I helped promote events that included Appalachian literary readings and open-mics.” Still, his work of fiction treats the urban Appalachian experience head-on.
I have to admit that I identified with Anthony Otten’s work, “Rivertown.” I was a Teamster myself, and while I never faced a strike, I had a few heated showdowns during my time loading trucks. The theme of displacement is what really stands out in Anthony’s piece. There is the loss of real geographical place as we read about “dislocated mountain folks like us, who didn’t seem to belong anywhere anymore.” We also get a sense of that general and alienating feeling of not having a proper place in the general order of life. The narrator reflects on his father’s expectations for a son. The son doesn’t see himself as measuring up since, as “a son too skinny to lift a tire and too clumsy to change his own oil hadn’t been my dad’s expectation,” he is not the same type of man as his father. Now the son is charged with the responsibility of finding a way to put some working man words into his father’s voice. Anthony is too good to tie up all the loose ends. What we are left with is the force of language and ideals as an enduring form of connection. In the end, the “I” becomes “We.” If place does not remain constant, then respect and dignity will provide the glue between individuals and generations.
Pauletta, Richard, and Anthony are to be congratulated. Sweeping first prize in three categories is an astounding accomplishment. Three voices of the urban Appalachian experience have been honored for magnificent work. From the mixed blessings of returning home, to the foggy ways in which we remember, to those singular moments of triumph that remind us who we are, Pauletta, Richard, and Anthony did us all proud.
You can read their winning works at http://www.stilljournal.net/contest.php
Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.