By Mike Templeton

The newest issue of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel has been released. Published by the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative (SAWC) in collaboration with Dos Madres Press, PMS&G is SAWC’s annual literary journal. The Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative includes Core members and other close associates of the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition. Many people around greater Cincinnati have and continue to contribute to PMS&G. This issue, Volume 26, is entitled The Strange, Stranger, and Estranged Side of Appalachia. To celebrate the release of the latest issue there will be an online literary launch on Tuesday, November 28th, 6:30-8:30 via Zoom. 

The Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative (SAWC) was formed in 1974 to “support writers in our efforts to take control of our regional identity and to take action, individually and collectively, on the issues that impact our land and our people.” Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel provides a way to highlight the works of artists, writers, and poets engaged in work that aligns with the mission of SAWC. Each issue is organized around a general theme which gives artists something to latch onto for developing their work. This year’s theme, The Strange, Stranger, and Estranged Side of Appalachia, opens the way for people to explore the unlikely and uncanny associated with Appalachia. PMS&G’s themes are broadly interpreted to give artists the greatest freedom to explore the theme in form, content, and subject matter.

To single anyone or anything out in this latest issue of PMS&G is impossible, but certainly some honorable mention should go to Core member Sherry Cook Stanforth’s review of Core member Pauletta Hansel’s most recent collection of poems, Heartbreak Tree. Two of the driving forces of UACC in one piece is certainly well-worth your time. In reflecting on Pauletta’s poems Sherry explains that in these poems, which can fall into all categories of the theme, “(w)e are called to take storytelling and story-listening to heart, to grow toward—not away—from ourselves and others.” It is precisely this embrace of the uncanny, which can be genuinely disturbing, that both Pauletta Hansel and Sherry Cook Stanforth have brought both poetry and storytelling beyond the arts and into advocacy and activism.

I need to remind people that Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel includes photography, and Gregg Clary’s “Brick Wall Cross” is an excellent example of digital photography that certainly falls under the category of “estranged.” We all see these things in towns and cities everywhere, these crosses drawn or installed in some way that, no matter the intentions of whoever placed them there, are so out of place that the message becomes wholly other than perhaps it was meant to be. Clary’s photograph reveals a wooden Christian cross tilted slightly to the left on an old brick wall. The wall appears to be the exterior of an old industrial building. Paint flaking and chipping, the cross between boarded windows reinforced with steel bars, the top of the wall distinctly darker than the bottom where it has been painted to cover graffiti which has since been tagged with more graffiti. The photograph shows how the symbol of faith is lifted out of its context and reveals a sense of alienation which perhaps pervades not simply this scene, but also of the times we live in. It is a haunting image of the strange and the estranged.

As for the strange—especially the form of strange we associate with old Appalachia—Dale Farmer’s “Granny Whispered, Three Times” is a captivating poem that reveals some old superstition and folk belief. The supernatural power of the number three becomes animated as the poem reflects on how “Granny slap, slap, slapped the doorframe as we crossed the threshold.” So well-known for her beliefs and talents she became known as “the Granny Witch of Abner Hollow.” These superstitions are known to many of us, and many persist to this day. The murky, perhaps unknown, and unknowable, origins of these things are given life in Farmer’s poem as “Christ the profit priest and king/ ministered three years/ was tempted three times” and this why we ‘shake, shake, shake that rattler’s tale.” The poem is a folktale in itself.

Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel: The Strange, Stranger, and Estranged Side of Appalachia is published by the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative in collaboration with Dos Madres Press. The cost is $20, plus mailing. You can order it via SAWC’s website at (the link on the website will connect you via email to request your copy.) Submission guidelines for the 2024 issue will be available on SAWC’s website soon.

To hear Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel: The Strange, Stranger, and Estranged Side of Appalachia contributors read their work at the online literary launch on Tuesday, November 28th, 6:30-8:30 via Zoom, click here at the program’s start time:

Information about Dos Madres Press is at their website:

Information on the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative is here:

Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. He is the author of the The Chief of Birds: A Memoir. Available from Erratum Press, and Impossible to Believe, forthcoming from Iff Books. Check out his profile in UACC’s Cultural Directory. He lives in West Milton, Ohio with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city and the country snapping photos. She looks up at the grandeur above, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.

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