Who comforts you now?

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Poet Rita Dove: Photo © by Fred Viebahn. Copied, with permission, from Rita Dove’s homepage at http://www.people.virginia.edu/~rfd4b/

Who comforts you now that the wheel has broken

the bodies of its makers? Beyond the smoke and
ashes, what you hear rising is nothing but the wind.
Who comforts you? Now that the wheel has broken,

grief is the constant. Hope: the last word spoken.

Rita Dove (from Testimony: 1968)

It’s been a minute. Or, many minutes over several days, minutes made long and weighty—even by coronavirus standards—by the turmoil raging across the U.S., in cities as close as Washington, D.C., and as close to my heart as Richmond, Virginia, and Cleveland. Racial turmoil that’s been roiling since, well, always in America, has erupted in protests.

And so the world grieves, again, more. But then, for many Black Americans grieving over human and civil rights injustices and violence is a constant. We writers like to tout our empathy, but while I’ve known grief, I’ve never known a grief that never subsides. So, what do I know?

As a reader and writer my instinct is to do just that: read and write. I read to know what I don’t know. I write to figure out what I do know and to raise new questions. And repeat. But between the reading and writing, we’re engaging—not just with text in an academic lit-crit way, but with the human being behind the words.

To engage with the community of readers and writers in the American Rust Belt and beyond is why I started this blog more than four years ago. I hope to keep this up, because I love connecting readers with the writers behind some of the literature I love most—poets (like Akron, Ohio, native Rita Dove, above), novelists, essayists, and memoirists—from a place I left behind but am still drawn to.

This blog is not a big platform, and my voice is small, but we bloggers do have the power to amplify the voices of Black writers and poets. There are many ways to do this. First, read Black authors. Thank you to novelist Courtney Maum for making me aware of a couple helpful hashtags to hone in on books for all ages by Black authors: #BlackBookReleases and #ReadingBlack.

If you’re looking to make taller your TBR, here’s a list of highly-anticipated 2020 releases by Black authors. If you’re a regular follower of this blog, you might expect that the 2020 release I’m most excited about this year is Ross Gay’s Be Holding: A Poem. Put a new book on your TBR today. Buy books, and buy them from Black-owned bookstores, if you can. Review these books. Share the work of Black authors whose work you love. I’ve been doing that over at my FB page. Maybe join me there?

Most of the poets and writers I’ve interviewed for Rust Belt Girl I met at literary festivals and readings, oftentimes fairly homogeneous events, if I’m honest. For my part, I aim to seek out more Black voices from my native Rust Belt to feature here. If you consider yourself among this group, I hope you’ll reach out when you can.

Keep safe and sane, everybody, and keep the stories coming.

With hope,

Rebecca

Sport in the Art of Place

I went for the art of the place: the earthy poetry and fiction borne by writers tied to the ever-evolving American Rust Belt, which has seen its share of glories and struggles, stemming from the rise and fall of mining and heavy industry.

And, I admit, I fretted just a little bit about what to wear. Stay with me…I haven’t gone all fashion blog on you.

No surprise that among the students of creative writing, the authors, editors, publishers, and poets attending the literary conference–there were ensembles of black, a poet skirt or two, and a pair of cat face-festooned flats (for real; they were fabulous shoes).

There was also a Browns cap. Yep, those Browns. The NFL team that went win-less last year (after which the people of Cleveland held a perfect-season parade).

At the sight of that beautiful brown and orange hat at a literary festival, I knew I’d found my people.

It got me to thinking, if you Venn diagram a place (and this is as math-y as I get), how much overlap is there between the place’s art and the place’s sport? Let’s think on that a minute, while I take you with me on another trip.

Earlier this month, as the fall foliage reached its peak color, my family visited the lovely village of Cooperstown, New York.

 

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At Cooperstown’s Farmers’ Museum’s 19th-century Historic Village, a lovely way to spend an afternoon with the kids

For its small size, Cooperstown is a place with impressive arts offerings, but it is known far and wide for being the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Read more

a bit of writerly advice…for Sept. 13, 2018

All the moments that make up a human being have to be written about, talked about, painted, danced, in order to really talk about life. –Rita Dove, Ohio native, Pulitzer Prize winner, and former U.S. Poet Laureate

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Free image courtesy of KathrynMaloney at Pixabay.com

The above quote is from an old interview with Rita Dove in which she talks about her background and her decision–not until college–to try to become a writer. “I always thought [writing] was something that you did as a child, then you put away childish things,” she said. “I didn’t know writers could be real live people, because I never knew any writers.”

There it is, isn’t it? This writing thing: childish, right? Ever feel guilty about writing? I do. Especially the writing I do that doesn’t buy groceries. Why? Because it’s unnecessary, a luxury, an escape, mere child’s play.

Or is it?

Maybe writing, as Rita Dove says, is essential to this life we’re all living here–necessary to becoming part and parcel of this existence.

What do you think?

Now…go write.

But first, sample Rita Dove’s poetry here at Kenyon Review with “Concert at Hanover Square” and try–I dare you–to forget the gray mice image!