Saturday, August 20, 2011


Found something interesting this morning I'd like to share.  Tuscaloosa Runs This, a 184-page online collection of poems, essays and fiction about Tuscaloosa, Alabama by writers in, from, and reminiscing about that town.

An entire book about a particular place.  A place I could say I've never had the slightest desire to visit, mostly because of the heat and humidity, in which I can't function  (and frequent tornandoes) but thanks to this online gem of a collection from Tuscaloosa writers I can do so vicariously, and enjoy some extraordinarily good writing in the process.

It's not just about Tuscaloosa, it seems to me; it's also about place.  How we look at it,  fit (or don't fit) into it, what draws us to it, keeps us there, gnaws at us in its absence, drives us maddingly from it; what makes us love and hate it at the same time.

We all have some place we carry with us, think and sometimes write about, named or unnamed, reminded of through words or images or happenstance.  The actual place may even no longer exist--it could even be imaginary.  But we (and readers) can go there, absorb ourselves in the landscape, recognize experienced parallels . . . remember.  These Tuscaloosa writers--their words took me there immediately.

"Heat, like a needle driving straight for the vein . . ."

          -- MC Hyland, "Tuscaloosa Notebooks",  p. 178

You yawning stretch of sky
pressing flat these houses.
Absence rooted in your soil
grows down until plowed.

Town like gasp of damp air
flung across bloated river . . .

          -- Pia Simone Garber, "To Tuscaloosa", p. 65

This mess is masterpiece, this shiver; 
wool of wood-burning moon scarved 
around lace rock and cobwebbed arch,
the branches of dream walking . . .           

-- Pia Simone Garber, "Late Harvest", p. 66

Tornadoes happen there; but rubble is universal, as is loss:

idleness a function of power
time a sum of everywhere you can help
ours is the fourth rubble on the left
at the magnolia lying across the road . . .  

         -- Juan Carlos Reyes, "The Bama Bolero", p. 37

Of frustration with incomprehension, that has unusual consequences (e.g.,  for the over- or under-used comma):

What one thing that you have learned in this course has proven most useful? . . . one thing . . . be specific:  one word.  

This is how I make a difference. . .  What if--I gave them a word they could use to compare things--?  It could pry open their perspectives, cause them to view, to consider, two things at once."

          -- Jennifer Gravley, in "Statement of Philosophy", p. 80.

And of comings and goings:

I want to tell you how to leave
this place for the last time.

I want to tell you: leave
the chipped red bowl
beneath the crack in the drywall.

Or the rain next month will drown 
                      all this room has to offer
                      its new family.
. . .

what is it to leave a place
for the last time?  . . .

          -- Brooke Parks,
"Residual", p. 130.

Thank you, writers of Tuscaloosa, for a very enjoyable read.

You can read Tuscaloosa Runs This online here.  And download as a pdf file (with a larger font) here.


Jim Murdoch said...

I’m working on a guest post at the moment about place. The site’s owner was asking for articles about places that inspired us but since I have none I suggested I write a post talking about my relationship to the nature of place. It’s proving interesting and getting more involved than I expected. I may do a short version for her and post an expanded article on my own site where I can really go to town on it.

awyn said...

Interesting, vis-à-vis those “nature of’s”. You sometimes start out with a particular something, which then reminds you of an ‘other’, parallel phenomenon/situation--and end up writing about the not-just personal/particular thing but its manifestation 'in general'. Which takes one out of oneself, as it were, to connect with every other human on the planet. Would love to read your piece when it’s finished. Thanks for commenting.