GARY COPELAND LILLEY is the author of seven books of poetry, the most recent being The Bushman's Medicine Show from Lost Horse Press. He is originally from North Carolina and now lives in the Pacific Northwest. He has received the Washington DC Commission on the Arts Fellowship for Poetry. He is published in numerous anthologies and journals, including Willow Springs, Waxwing, Best American Poetry, the Taos International Journal of Poetry, and the African American Review. He is usually seen attached to a guitar. He is a Cave Canem Fellow.

GARY COPELAND LILLEY is the author of seven books of poetry, the most recent being The Bushman's Medicine Show from Lost Horse Press. He is originally from North Carolina and now lives in the Pacific Northwest. He has received the Washington DC Commission on the Arts Fellowship for Poetry. He is published in numerous anthologies and journals, including Willow Springs, Waxwing, Best American Poetry, the Taos International Journal of Poetry, and the African American Review. He is usually seen attached to a guitar. He is a Cave Canem Fellow.

NOTES ON READING FROM THE AUTHOR:

A little while back I was asked if I could put together a set of poems for a chapbook. Hell yeah, I don’t need an excuse to write new poems. I am a southern exile, from North Carolina, now living in the Northwest Peninsula. Things are different here, mostly a more engaged creative community of artists, but don’t get me wrong, I love southern soil. My folks are buried in it. But here, I’ve found that very few people in the Seattle area talk like me. And I miss the southern language. I can’t think of anywhere else than the American south where if a friend was to give me the skinny that he was emotionally feeling particularly poorly that day, might say something like, “I feel like I been shot with shit and stabbed with the stank.” I miss that kind of stuff. I need that kind of stuff.

When I hear a hint of a southern drawl in a barroom corner, or coming from a far table in a restaurant, or wherever, I feel a touch of home. In my work for a current chapbook project, Absolution / The Hog Killing, I am definitely about a sense of place, story and situation, and culture. Through the process of just growing up where I did, I am steeped into this sort of an African American southern gothic thing. Today, no matter where I live the recognition of place is ever present, whether it’s under the ice in a submarine, getting low-down in a DC quadrant, sipping bourbon in a Chicago blues bar, or blackwater fishing in Carolina, I am woke and tuned in to everything around me. I grew up being observant of place, and as a writer that training has served me well.

In the stories I loved hearing, and also reading, when I was growing up, the setting always seemed to operate like a silent character: its foliage and dusty roads, that incessant heat and humidity of the summer, the ice storms and subsequent loss of electrical power maybe for weeks in the freeze of winter, the farmland promises in the spring, and amber and red, the woods afire with colors in the fall locate me in a particular place. It is the equilibrium of the south, but it is all the working poor, the lower middle-class working folk on down, that are affected the most by place. Every fiber of their existence depends upon having a recognition and understanding of where they are.

I think a sense of place can be like the soul of a story or poem. I mean it’s not the only thing in a poem or story, but what do really have without it? I use those literal and metaphorical road signs to locate me when I’m writing, and I need them to help locate the reader, providing a welcome to my world. My poem, “The Car is the Crucial Chariot to Rural Culture,” in this issue of The Swamp is the opening poem of one of the sections in my current project. It is the road map for all the poems in that set. It’s the farm and woods territory where I was born in my grandfather’s great yellow wood-frame house with a mid-wife attending, and in my stories and situations in this developing collection I tried to recreate place, the rural North Carolina that I remember.

WHERE’S YOUR FAVORITE AND/OR STRANGEST PLACE TO WRITE?

It’s got to be the kitchen, or as near as I can get to it. Why? I’m close to the coffee pot and food and the snacks are near. Plus, my eyes are bad and the natural light is good, and I love glancing through the windows. In the recent years my sister and both my parents have passed. I feel more connected to ancestors in the kitchen. That might sound strange, but back home the family gathered in the kitchen.


The Car Is the Crucial
Chariot to Rural Culture 

 
If you are twenty miles from a city, and a dance every Friday night at Hillcrest Gardens, and you live a quarter-mile from Sandy Cross crossroad and the same distance in the other direction towards Joppa Baptist Church, and Bill Jordan’s joint is five miles north of there, but the Hillcrest run takes you down Low Ground Road, through the thick piney-woods, and every now a pocket of houses to the south, the swamp where the big bucks walk the hunting season, the old folk say this is a haunted piece of land on both sides of that short bridge barely big enough for two vehicles side by side, a driveway that crosses over the blackwater river, and around the curve from there, in the cornfield stubble, in the gloam, the flock of wild turkeys gleaning the grain left by the combine, the low ground route has nine graveyards, the separate blacks and the whites, at night a heavy fog always rises over this road.