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Tom Chaney: Wade Hall: 200 Years of Kentucky Writing

Of Writers And Their Books, Wade Hall: 200 Years of Kentucky Writing is an review of the anthology with comments on Kentucky writers. This column first appeared 20 November 2005
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: A Trace of Awe

By Tom Chaney

Wade Hall: 200 Years of Kentucky Writing

Last Saturday I motored to Frankfort for the 25th Kentucky Book Fair.

More than 150 authors of books by Kentuckians or about Kentucky were there selling and signing their books. 'Twas a fine place to get reacquainted with the amazing richness of this state's literature.


Without a gunny sack my purchases were limited to what I could carry in my arms or, more specifically, what my wallet could stand.

The pleasure of the fair lay in seeing old friends and in meeting friends whom I knew only because of their writing. Poets, novelists, essayists, photographers, historians littered the floor of the convention hall. I didn't even get to the cookbook section.

Missing from this year's panoply of authors was, of course, Dr. Thomas D. Clark, the dean of Kentucky historians who died this past June.

'Tis hard to select a favorite book of the fair. I like each one better than the next. But most of all I favored Wade Hall's latest and most gargantuan effort: The Kentucky Anthology: Two Hundred Years of Writing in the Bluegrass State, The University Press of Kentucky, 2005.

Mr. Hall, emeritus professor of English at Bellermine University, is, like Dr. Clark, a transplant from the Deep South to the Bluegrass State. We are much the richer for his migration.

Professor Hall invites us in his introduction: "Come with me on a journey of exploration and discovery. It's a Kentucky journey you can take anytime it pleases you. . . . Open this book and join the adventure at any point -- from Daniel Boone's account of his early years in the Kentucky wilderness to Bobbie Ann Mason's memoir of her mother's heroic contest with a fish of epic proportions in western Kentucky."

He notes another objective: "They were chosen to tantalize you to read additional works by the writers in this book. . . . The first course for a banquet of delights that Kentucky's writers have waiting for you in libraries and bookstores."

And what a first course it is -- nigh nine hundred pages in a banquet of delights! The poems, stories, essays, and sermons are arranged in roughly chronological order with superb introductory essays by Professor Hall designed to orient the traveler in the journey.

Complete works were chosen where possible, but the excerpts, mainly from fiction, are designed to suggest and represent the whole. They do tantalize.

I have trouble putting the book down to do other work. There be old friends -- Elizabeth Madox Roberts, Robert Penn Warren, and Alfred Leland Crabb. Here be contemporary writers -- Joe Survant, Richard Taylor, Wendell Berry.

And imagine my delight to find a family duo of poets from Hart County -- Charles D. Williams and his nephew, Davis McCombs. Mr. Williams is represented by the poem
"Upon Discovering That My Daffodils
Were Taking Leave without a Word."

I do not know the way back to the gate.
I know the way the daffodils have come.
Creeping, exploding through green-ridden winter,
The mystery-driven face,
This force that moves me even on my way.
Odd, that it should take me to a gate,
The way I watched the daffodils go last spring,
Processions of an April afternoon,
Unspoken riddles from another tongue.
Watch for Mr. Williams' upcoming volume of poems.

His nephew, Davis McCombs, winner of the Yale Younger Poets award, is here with two of his Stephen Bishop sonnets from Ultima Thule (2000).

I could have wished for two other Hart Countians to have been included: Alberry A. Whitman, an early black poet of the late 19th century, and Joseph A. Altsheler, author of historical novels for young folk. But this is a quibble -- a mere personal speck on a magnificent book.

My only regret is that The Kentucky Anthology is the creator's swan song as a resident of Kentucky. Professor Hall is moving back to his native south Alabama within a few months. "I want to be close to my graveyard," he told me the other night. May the leaf mold grow deep on the ground before that grave be dug. And may he often be tempted by good poetry, good friends, and good White Lily biscuits to return to the Bluegrass.

Wade Hall has become a Kentuckian -- and that by choice. We shall miss his presence across from Cherokee Park in Louisville. But he leaves us with an incomparable parting gift in this anthology.

Christmas is coming. I can think of no finer stocking stuffer although the stocking would have to be mighty big to hold it. The Kentucky Anthology is worth its weight in sheer pleasure -- a Christmas gift to last down all the years.



Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
THE BOOKSTORE
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
270-786-3084
Email: Tom Chaney
http://www.alibris.com/stores/horscave






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