Most everyone involved with the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition is engaged in multiple things. The poets are leaders in advocacy and the organizers are playing music, to offer a couple of examples. A young urban Appalachian like Matt Farley appears to be keeping up the momentum as a poet and community organizer. When he isn’t working at a craft beer store, he is writing and researching while paying close attention to what is going on around greater Cincinnati.
Matt Farley’s profile on the Cultural Resource Directory begins by telling us he is a poet. But this is something of an approximation for a person involved in so many things. Poetry, it seems, is the point where his interests and commitments find their highest expression, but his work is too complex to fall under a single category. Perhaps a line from one of his poems points us in a direction we can follow. The poem, “this train is bound,” offers some background: “My great-grandfather, per the 1900 census, was born in Wayne, West Virginia, a smaller, less idyllic town than Bluefield which might not fit the lies families tell.” Tracing his roots back to Appalachia, we also find these roots to have a murky, perhaps mythological dimension, and this is something quite familiar to second and third-generation urban Appalachians.
It is within this distance from his Appalachian roots that Matt Farley finds his voice as a poet. He told me, “I think of myself as a poet from Ohio who grew up with the family stories of Clay County, Kentucky and parts of West Virginia.” Thus, his creative work tends to span the distance itself rather than one fixed place. He continued: “My collection of poetry is informed by family stories, but I wander to the things that define my place now, like the problem of gentrification in the city.” His poetry and other commitments are caught within the memories of older places and the struggles of contemporary urban life.
One of Matt Farley’s major projects right now involves an intervention of sorts in contemporary urban life. He is working on a project that would restore the largely forgotten Potter’s Field in Price Hill. Many people will be surprised to know that on Guerley Road in Price Hill, the old Potter’s Field cemetery lies almost completely obscured by overgrown weeds and brush. From 1895 until 1981, the city of Cincinnati buried poor people and people without families in this urban cemetery for the poor and indigent. Now there is a push to renew and renovate Potter’s Field, and Matt Farley is at the forefront of some of these efforts. Volunteering as a researcher, Matt explained that he is working with “Mike Morgan, local historian and History Professor at U.C., who has been working to achieve a historical designation for the site.” Morgan is leading the efforts to restore the abandoned Potter’s Field to a reasonable level of dignity. Matt’s role has been to provide some support in the form of research. Right now, he said he is “in the process of gathering resources and reaching out to Historical societies here in town.” The work is slow-going, working with independent historical societies that are not as accessible as more traditional sources.
Matt Farley studied creative writing at Miami University, but this path was not exactly direct. “I am that typical person who was the first in my family to go to college,” he explained. Beginning with a trial run at higher education at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Matt gained momentum toward the type of intellectual and creative work that suited him. Even today, the combination of his urban Appalachian background, his time at M.U., and his creative work find a point of convergence in his work on the Potter’s Field Project. This is a type of renaissance approach to life and creativity that I think many people can admire.
Matt Farley currently works as an assistant store manager at the Root Cellar. A love of fine craft beer is certainly worth indulging, especially when it manages to pay the bills. Matt lives in Silverton. He said he is watching the problem of gentrification unfold in his neighborhood, and we talked about this for some time. Seeing parts of the neighborhood of Silverton that were once emblematic of a tight and economically sound neighborhood being transformed into high-end condos and consumer destinations is troubling to Matt Farley, as it is for many of us. Clearly, these are issues of tremendous importance to the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition.
Even as he remains deeply tied to his Appalachian roots, Matt Farley is just as attuned to the events of our time and place. Perhaps it is precisely the Appalachian speaking through him that drives him to be so committed to things like the Potter’s Field Cemetery project and general awareness of community. If you would like to know more about the Potter’s Field Project, there is a link is below.
Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. Check out his profile in UACC’s new Cultural Directory. 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.