Whipstitches (MadHat Press, 2016) by Randi Ward is a collection of miniature poetry snapshots of Appalachian life. Ciara Felty and I work at the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center and took a liking to the book when it was nominated for the poetry Weatherford Award in 2016. We spent time in the rocking chairs out in the Center Gallery taking turns reading the poems aloud to each other and letting the glimpses of the Appalachia we know and love wash over us. To celebrate National Poetry month, we decided it was time to share our love of the collection with our readers on The Gravy blog.
Randi Ward is a poet, translator, lyricist, and photographer from Belleville, West Virginia. Whipstitches is her second collection of poetry, and the poems have been described by Dr. Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt, managing editor of the Anthology of Appalachian Writers, as “little gems of insight and poetic thoughtfulness, utterly unique and genuine.” Ward’s lyricism and photographic work show through in her writing. The form of vivid snapshots of Appalachia in the poems is photographic, and Ward manages to pack a lyrical punch in few words.
Both Ciara and I agreed that before reading Whipstitches, we had never felt particularly drawn to poetry. Chris Sturm’s cover art depicting a field of hay bales on a hilly landscape and the whimsical title were the first things to catch our attention. I know people say not to judge a book by its cover, but let’s face it: a good cover can be the difference between picking up a book and passing it by, and this book is one your hands just itch to open up. After reading the first couple of poems, Ciara and I were amazed to find that as novice poetry readers, we couldn’t put the book down. Ward’s poetry is accessible and digestible for those who may not be accustomed to reading poetry. Her work is artful and her lyrical voice and vivid word choice paints pictures and makes connections to the Appalachian experience.
To get you started on your Whipstitches journey, Ciara and I both selected our favorite poem from the collection. Please enjoy “PTSD” and “Door,” and then go buy a copy of Randi Ward’s Whipstitches.
Ciara: This poem spoke to me, because as someone who suffers from my own past traumas and someone who has been close to more than a few people who have suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, I understand the feeling of even the most mundane objects or interactions inducing a fight-or-flight response. This poem elicited a visceral response in me; I felt the mood of the room shift as the words rolled off my tongue. I watched as the spoon become a loaded gun. This is why such a short, simple poem became so much more than that in my eyes.
he’ll think the spoon
in your hand
is a loaded gun.
Emily: The imagery in “Door” is one I find familiar and comforting. Fireflies bring back memories of childhood for me, memories of home. From my bedroom, I could see all of the fireflies blinking on and off as I would fall asleep as a child, and to this day, I find them magical and comfortable. The repetition of the “s” and “k” sounds in this poem give it a rhythm that is as comforting as the twinkling fireflies themselves.
ways to slip
and keep me.