The Urban Appalachian Community Coalition is always enthusiastic about literary projects centered on Appalachia. But an upcoming poetry anthology project led by Ohio’s Poet Laureate Kari Gunter-Seymour and centered on Appalachian Ohio is especially exciting. Popular images of Appalachians tend to be of rural mountain folks, family farmers, Bluegrass pickers, etc. There are also derogatory images that persist in popular media and elsewhere. In either case, common ideas of Appalachians seem to be focused on the people of Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. While these regions certainly are Appalachian in every sense of the term, there is also a wide swath of geography that is Appalachian Ohio. The area of Ohio that is located squarely within the Appalachian region offers its own cultural flavors, and this is now the focus of a call for submission for “I Thought I Heard the Cardinal Sing”: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices.
You may recall we spoke to Kari Gunter-Seymour last year about her work as Poet Laureate, and I got the chance to catch up with her to find out how this project came about and what we might expect. As Poet Laureate of the State of Ohio, Kari Gunter-Seymour is in a unique position to initiate something like this anthology. There are a lot of moving parts, but she explained some of what went into its genesis: “It all came about through a grant from the American Academy of Poets and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. These grants specifically awarded funds to poet laureates to help develop projects that could help lift their communities or their states.” As a poet laureate whose life is squarely situated in Appalachian Ohio, the idea for how to focus this project was obvious.
Kari Gunter-Seymour said she “started immediately thinking about what to do and I decided to lift up lift up Ohio Appalachia.” And many ways, Gunter-Seymour began with the notion that Ohio Appalachia is often overlooked when folks think about Appalachia. We talked about the fact that there are so many faces of Ohio Appalachians. We are urban Appalachians, there are industrial towns in the Appalachian areas of Ohio, and we are a farming part of the country. “We’ve been busy feeding the country, and we are Appalachian as much every other part of the region,” said Gunter-Seymour.
The anthology is meant to be as encompassing and diverse as possible. The call for submissions asks for poetry from writers with “strong ties to Ohio and [who] have Appalachian roots.” This can include “those currently living in Ohio, have lived in Ohio sometime in their lifetime or had relatives/ancestors (cousins, aunts uncles, grandparents) from throughout Appalachia who migrated, live(d) and/or work(ed) in Ohio and have/had amazing stories to tell through poetic form.” This obviously includes the countless urban Appalachians in and around greater Cincinnati. The key to this anthology is imagination, both in the writing of poetry and in our conceptions of Appalachian Ohio.
Kari Gunter-Seymour emphasized the drive for perspectives in this anthology. She said, “we are not just looking for writers who are from Appalachian Ohio. We welcome people who are writing about things that pertain to Appalachian Ohio: friends, mentors, thoughts and memories of the land or historical sites—anything with ties to Appalachian Ohio.” Gunter-Seymour, and everyone involved with this project, also invite teen writers to submit. Part of the grant that got this whole thing going is the drive to support young poets. Gunter-Seymour spoke directly to this: “I cannot emphasize enough how much I want our teen population to submit their work for this anthology.” But she went on to say that she and everyone involve are hoping for work from all emerging writers.
“I Thought I Heard the Cardinal Sing”: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices will be published by Sheila-na-Gig Editions who has agreed to provide free copies to all of Ohio’s 732 public libraries and to make it available at reduced prices. The Foundation for Appalachian Ohio is working to place copies of the book in selected Appalachian school districts. Finally, readings are scheduled around the state. A reading will be hosted by the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition, and a May 20222 date for this will be announced soon.
Kari Gunter-Seymour summed things up by saying “I Thought I Heard the Cardinal Sing”: Ohio’s Appalachian will be unique. Appalachian Ohio is distinct, but we come from the same stock as all of Appalachia. Kari Gunter-Seymour explained, “Our voices are different, but we bring the same ancestral voices as the rest of Appalachia.” With so many poets and writers involved with the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition, you can rest assured we are looking forward to the publication of “I Thought I Heard the Cardinal Sing”: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices. And it seems likely a few of us will submit. The submission period runs from August 1 to November 15 of this year. To learn more about the anthology and to submit your own work, visit https://www.karigunterseymourpoet.com/submit
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.