This Saturday’s (Dec. 1) edition of Garrison Keillor’s nationally broadcast program “The Writer’s Almanac” will feature a poem authored by Converse College English professor Rick Mulkey. The poem is entitled “Bluefield Breakdown” and is taken from Mulkey’s latest collection of works entitled Toward Any Darkness (Word Press).
Broadcast on public radio stations, “The Writer’s Almanac” is a daily five-minute radio and on-line program and podcast of poetry and historical interest pieces, usually of literary significance. It is produced and distributed by American Public Media. Program sponsors include, among others, The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry Magazine and The Mosaic Foundation of Rita and Peter Heydon.
Mulkey, a native Virginian who serves as an associate professor of English and director of Converse’s Creative Writing program, says that the inspiration for “Bluefield Breakdown” was his home state. “‘Bluefield Breakdown’ was written at a time when I was interested in trying to find ways to capture some of the tone and, in some small way, the rhythms of the Bluegrass and Mountain music that had developed in the part of Virginia where I grew up,” says Mulkey. “During the period when I wrote the poem, I was listening to a great deal of the music from that area, and not only the more prominent names like Ralph Stanley, but also some of the less familiar names. Also, at the same time, I was trying to do a little research about Southwestern Virginia, the culture, the music. Though I grew up there, I felt that I didn’t really know the region or the people. I had recently returned from a trip to Scotland where I had received a writing residency, and while there I began writing and thinking a great deal about the idea of home. Something about Scotland had reminded me very much about the part of Virginia where I’d grown up. I returned from the trip with a desire to try to understand and write about the place I had thought of as home. Anyway, the poem includes details about the place and about some of the people who had been part of the bluegrass mountain music culture there at one time. Ultimately, the poem tries to consider the ideas of isolation and the desire to find some kind of spiritual connection to that place.”
“Bluefield Breakdown” (From Toward Any Darkness, Word Press, 2007)
By Rick Mulkey
Where are you Clyde Moody, and you Elmer Bird,
“Banjo Man from Turkey Creek,” and you Ed Haley,
and Dixie Lee singing in that high lonesome way?
I feel the shadow now upon me…
Come you angels and play those dusty strings.
You ain’t gonna work that sawmill Brother Carter,
nor sleep in that Buchanon County mine. Clawhammer
some of that Cripple Creek song. Fiddle me a line
of “Chinquapin Hunting.” Shout little Lulie, shout, shout.
I need to hear music as lonesome as I am,
I need to hear voices sing words I’ve forgotten.
This valley’s much too dark now.
Sunset right beside us, sunrise too far away.
I haven’t heard a tipple creak all day,
and everyone I loved left
on the last Norfolk & Southern train.