By Mike Templeton

We have seen much activity on the urban Appalachian literary front in recent weeks, and the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition has enjoyed following the action of our poets and writers. Urban Appalachian poet and storyteller Ben Kline has had a boom is publications and activities, and it seems like an ideal time to highlight some of his work.

Among the many things that strike me about Ben Kline’s poetry is the way he harnesses areas of thought that are rarely placed under the same yoke. It is not at all unusual to find highly technical scientific language threaded through the language of everyday life and the imagery of folktale and dream. That he does not make distinctions between things is perhaps the signature feature of his writing that makes it so unique and compelling. In the poem “Aurora,” which appears in the journal Atmospheric Quarterly, a moment between the speaker and his grandmother does not operate with a movement through time;. Grandma’s perspective of the atmosphere is that “It’s one sky,” but as soon as she speaks these words, we are transported into the perspective of a child who believes “heaven fit the sky and ghosts lived underground, nocturnal because they feared seraphim and the godsong of sunlight.” Yet, just a quickly, we witness the old woman’s labored breath as it sublimates “carbon to astral hydrogens,” and even her dying breath, lifted by something distinctly holy, rises toward a kind of heaven as “her electrons rush the thermosphere, ionizing somewhere over Alaska.” All of this appears to give us something almost akin to magical realism, but more intensely attuned to the world we currently occupy, one in which the globe is simultaneously too large to grasp and small enough to require the tenderness one brings to one’s elderly grandmother. Everything is coldly rational and frightfully magical at the same time.

Bear in mind that Ben Kline is both a poet and a storyteller—he is naturally going to situate language and experience in the play of poetic language while he sits us down to hear a tale. These roles and talents would appear to come naturally to him as an urban Appalachian poet who draws his earliest experiences from a part of Appalachian Ohio where, as he explains, “the river runs north and the ‘crazy’ comes easy.” Kline grew up on “a large family farm that straddled Lawrence and Scioto counties in the southernmost apex of Ohio’s heart.” The wide-open space of rural Ohio and what Ben likes to call the “crazy” that emanates from this space would seem to offer the fertile ground for a poet and storyteller who can cut across ways of looking at the world without making the kinds of distinctions that shut down less accomplished writers. That Appalachian childhood, both the land and the people, bear down on him to this day. As he told me: “the hills stay with me. Both the view from the peaks and the shadows shifting in between them. The people I knew. What storytellers they all were.” Kline’s imagination is that of the Appalachian storyteller and the contemporary poet who has to think fast and slow at the same time.

I’ll get to the flurry of publications below, but I want to focus on how Ben Kline is immersed in community in greater Cincinnati in ways that are a tribute to the urban Appalachian community. Kline spent several years as the MC of a community poetry reading at the Littlefield in Northside. He is now involved in a poetry project called Poetry Stacked. This is a community project that bridges what can often be a gulf between poets and writers within the academy and poets and writers who operate outside academic arenas. The readings take place at the Elliston Poetry Room at the library at the University of Cincinnati. More about this program can be found in Core Member Pauletta Hansel’s essay about Cincinnati’s Literary Community in Cincinnati Review.   Kline takes these kinds of activities quite seriously. As a poet who seeks to bridge the divide between rural and urban, the worlds of Queer writers and others, he necessarily writes from a position that bridges multiple worlds. To bring together people from diverse communities through poetry is a natural part of his way of operating in life.

Ben Kline has recently seen a flurry of publications. There are too many to list in this article, so I will provide the link to his website below. Completely in line with his way of bridging divides and crossing frontiers of all kinds, Kline’s prose poems are appearing in publications that allow him to channel different voices and, as we saw in the example above, bring vastly different ways of understanding the world under one path of expression with poetic language. Ben Kline is the kind of poet and storyteller who embodies what we mean when we talk about a contemporary urban Appalachian poet. He articulates so much of what we are about at the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition. His work speaks the language of a rural life as easily as it expresses urban references and ideas. As his own bio explained, Kline articulates the rural-urban dichotomies and queerness as it was, is and might be.” Kline’s poetic voice, one might argue, is a voice for our contemporary world as it was, is, and might be.

You can follow all of Ben Kline’s work at his website at this link:

Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. He is the author of 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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