Over last Christmas break, I got a book called “Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place” by bell hooks (she chooses to have her name decapitalized) as a present. I had no idea what the book was about and had never even heard of the author, but my mom thought it was imperative that I have it.
Unfortunately, I had never gotten around to reading the book since college was taking over my life; there was simply no time for reading anything other than what was assigned in class. When there was time, I was usually rock climbing or hanging out with friends (anything that didn’t require the use of my brain).
However, for March, I decided to set aside specific time to read this book given that March is National Women’s Month after learning about how amazing a woman bell hooks was. Born in 1952, hooks was an author, poet, and trailblazing feminist for her time. She wrote “Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place” as a lamentation for the hardships of Black people in the Midwest, specifically in Kentucky where she grew up. She has just recently passed in December of 2021.
I wish I had read this book when I first got it, since I absolutely devoured it in two sittings. While it was poetry and easy to read, her metaphors are so deep and thought provoking that I often found myself sitting after a verse and letting it sink in.
Something that I noticed pretty quickly were hooks’ attention to detail when describing nature. From “cracks in clay” to “barren broken hills”, her language provides intense imagery, and she makes it easy to become immersed in her work. It also provides more depth to her writing, since hook’s intention with the use of nature from the Appalachians is to showcase Black culture in the area. I found myself a few times forgetting that I wasn’t reading about nature necessarily, but about the entire experience of a culture.
One of my favorite poems was “14,” and it was also one of the shortest:
softens harder ground
from solid rock
to mud so thick
feet go under
making every step
direge and trial
even as joy surfaces
at last today
My interpretation of this poem is how hard Black people work to progress equality, though sometimes it feels like they’re going backwards instead. Even through difficult times, morale remains high and pride never wavers. This poem can be interpreted in numerous ways, and I love how applicable it is to so many situations.
All of hooks’ writing is this way, beautiful and haunting. It’s no wonder that I read this book so quickly, and continue to reference it whenever I’m bored. I highly recommend that everyone read “Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place” to gain a further perspective on Black culture, as it’s certainly opened up my eyes. I am excited to pick up another bell hooks book for myself, and I definitely won’t leave it on the shelf this time.