Sunday, April 6, 2008

Ron Rash Reads

Getting a crowd out on a rainy Saturday night to hear a poetry reading in Hickory, North Carolina, may sound a bit like an exercise in futilty. Then factor in the semifinal game of the NCAA Final Four to be held at 8:46, featuring a team that claimed to be the UNC Tarheels (though bearing no resemblance to the men I've watched on the court all season.) While the crowd at the CVCC Library was thin, the ones who did show up found it worth the effort.

Poet, short story writer, and novelist Ron Rash appeared as part of Hickory's Big Read. The central book is The Bridge by the late Doug Marlette, the story of a mill strike and the violence that ensued around Hillsborough, North Carolina. Rash's own parents worked in the mills before furthering their education in their thirties. The poems he read from Eureka Mill reflected his parents' and grandparents' experiences and the stories he heard from them about their lives, their work, and the cultural clashes central to mill town life.

Rash is a soft-spoken Southern man whose his work, a pleasure on the page, came alive through his reading. He writes poems that are primarily narrative, but he exercises a gift for just the right word, the surprising image. I particularly enjoyed his discussion of rhythm and meter in the poem. He leans toward iambic meter, echoing the everpresent cadence of the mill. However, in one of his selections, "Boundaries," he pointed out his use of Anglo-Saxon rhythms, appropriate for a poem steeped in mythic, almost tribal traditions.

He also read a couple of pages from his novel Serena, due out in early October of this year. He said that the female protagonist has become one of the most intriguing characters he has created. This narrative is set in the timber industry in the 1930s. He has published three other novels, all set in the Carolinas: One Foot in Eden (which won the Novello Prize in Charlotte), Saints at the River, and The World Made Straight.

Rash will be honored at the October conference of the North Carolina English Teachers Association, where he will be given the Ragan-Rubin award.

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