Rural Poetics: Part 3 with Tim Earley


Marty Cain, Poet and doctoral candidate in the Department of Literatures in English at Cornell University

Tim Earley, Poet and visiting assistant professor of English at the University of Mississippi


Tim Earley (00:00):

Gum it up in the Berkeley, gum it up in the New York City, poetry, poetry, poetry, you subhuman fucks.

Music (00:09)

Marty Cain (00:21):

I'm Marty Cain, and you're listening to the Rural Poetics Series on the Humanities Pod. In each episode, we focus on matters of rural poetry and small press literature, featuring interviews with publishers local to our own region of Ithaca, New York, and discussions and readings by rural poets elsewhere.

Marty Cain (00:42):

On today’s episode of the rural poetics podcast, I’m excited to share a reading from a poet whose work I hold very close to my own heart—Tim Earley. Earley is the author of five collections of poems, including Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery, winner of the 2015 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award, and Linthead Stomp(). A recipient of writing fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and Hawhthornden Castle in Lasswade, Scotland, he is currently a visiting assistant professor of English at the University of Mississippi, where he teaches early British lit, creative writing, and Appalachian lit. When I first read Tim’s third book, Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery, which steals its title from an 1820 collection by John Clare, I was most struck by the dynamic range of diction that Earley works with. Tim Earley is a poet from Appalachian western North Carolina, and his poems often blend Appalachian vernacular English with arcane, antiquated vocabulary, and academic buzzwords associated with continental theory.

The result is an extraordinarily dense, variegated tapestry of language, and in this way, his work resists the easily consumable nature of the so-called MFA poem that relies upon lyric exposition to gesture towards epiphany. For Tim, however, employing difficult language is not merely an aesthetic exercise. Rather, it’s a direct confrontation with the unspoken class hierarchies that structure contemporary U.S. poetry communities in general. As a writer from a rural, working-class background, Tim’s work expresses an acute awareness of the way that the bourgeois urban imaginary has tended to view rural space, and especially Appalachia: as on one hand abject, impoverished, and violent, in the vein of a film like Deliverance, and on the other hand, as an idyllic pastoral removal from the pressures of modern life. But Tim’s writing, I believe, shows us how complex contemporary rural life is, and responds by giving us a form of language that mirrors this complexity. In his fourth book, Linthead Stomp, Tim ends one poem by writing,

Marty Cain (02:50):

“That is some unassimilable shit,” which strikes me as apt descriptor for his oeuvre more broadly: it refuses to be contained, simplified, or assimilated to normative cultural understandings of rural life. Linthead Stomp, which came out in 2016 is, in my opinion, Earley’s most ambitious and lingually visceral book. It’s a book-length epic poem that frantically shifts between lineated writing and large, dense prose blocks, and it deals ¬– in a general sense – with childhood trauma and the closure of textile mills in western North Carolina. Tim’s reading begins with a selection from this work. Let’s get started.

Music (3:30)

Tim Earley (03:43):

A very high number of people call me Pap for no discernible reason. The blue sky stretches out and every whoreson is a giggling minion though some further rhombus of peace may be offered to us the beauty of the ineluctable strains, dish rag, wash rag rag, picker rag face eat up with worms proffer, his pipe, like a sag wire and the sin blooming in his brain center, erupted straight from his ear there near some cast off barbwire and chicken wire and sag wire that sort of requisite particulates, which provides a stanchioning for such erstwhile fantasies, the fuckers and their spirit genes and particular methods of extruding offense from its proper social position. And then the hail rares out from its whole. And everybody commenced as a form of inarticulable violence against self and others. The dogs rolled up and watching a functioning liver resides somewhere in the valley in the distance. Lookee here my knots was the last thing he said before he died. Hey, y'all watch this was the last thing he said before he died. I thought it were coming from the other direction was the last thing he said before he died. I laid down to sleep and whatever goodly bower I happened to find, that's not a cloud line that may be profitably followed. It takes a worried man to dig that many postholes and the green darkening of an April sky. I danced myself chopless and shankless was the last thing he said before she died. All those flowers gathered from the mole and crusted, dark and feathery hillside did not seem silly to us any longer. How did your asshole smell when it passed your nose? How did your savior return to you through the moaning nomenclature? How did the horseman and obscene pursuing mob gain the apex and mingled their pablums and die on the crystal and thrusts? Like the good steady beast they've always become and always being admirers or not of the traction beyond.

Birds chirping (5:53)

Tim Earley (06:00):

Our favorite roustabout liked to go on about the operatives remaining and perpetual debt to the company store shook his leg like a diminished scarecrow for increased emphasis, these social and economic maladies or temporal concerns outside the realm of righteous conviction. Honey wagon produces via the mortal funk of excrement, exigencies and imperatives equate injury with virtue, the only industry injury foster his sense of permanence with domestic construction and systematized sportsing. Here in the mingling high riding nest of banjo strings on your favorite bluegrass mixtape, baby, number four, drinking mountain Dew from the bottle and Pokey losing his disability check and mounting your wooly antlers above his bed. Envision a pristine waterfall and an Elvish Cove a sissy cuts herself, cuts her daddy out cuts into the dead lips savior of every day. The social type produced by these conditions is a crucial step in your process of individuation and your arrival at palatable deformity and consumptive gloss gratitude, always for future blessings and present pain, interpretive authority of the working person among the roving processes of the industrial liturgical predator. A lot of vibrant play before extinction. A lot of duende in that aneurysm to separate labor from the soul that produces it to separate the soul from the thing produced to separate the thing produced from its ultimate function to separate the ultimate function of the thing produced from the Jonny house and the Duffers lingual fluency and the nation's prodigious body count a large toxic spectral material pig. Sputters at the edge of existence. I had to wait until revival season to act as strangely as I desired. There's a hell of a mill village. One county over.

Birds chirping (08:18)

Tim Earley (08:24):

Free poetry workshop. This reads like chopped up prose, less anger, too many birds, too few birds, too many adjectives, too many expletives. This narrative is pretty elliptical, more grounding, less concrete noun of abstract noun, more white space, more chances for breath. Use some scientific names to delineate this morass of birds and plants, penultimate line penultimate line penultimate line ground that shit. Nice line break, sexy line break. Random Larry Levis -gasm I'm trying to find a throughline here. I think this poem is divisible by quatrains, more resonant ambiguity, please. My response is somewhere along a spectrum of feeling like my head has been partially lopped off. Meh! And times are cold. You have mixed my idea of metaphor with some other idea of metaphor. Who the do you think you are as a person who has experienced things? It is difficult for me to read this poem, surrealist, vespers, try making the first line the last line. Too funny. Maybe it's like it's personal and political at the same time, this feels like two poems to me, this feels like three poems to me, this feels like four poems to me, I'm unnerved at the number of possible distinct and separate poems this feels like to me, closure exposure, try cutting everything. After the first line, invite the reader in. Peekaboo rhyme. Where is the emotional center? Its heart. Its heart. Its beautiful beating snorting, multi chamber, diaphanous animal gurgling, elastic, cartwheeling heart there, ground that shit. Ground it.

Birds chirping (10:19)

Tim Earley (10:24):

I was born in the wrong century, the wrong town to the wrong mother, the wrong body among inexcusable species of flowers and grass wrong food stuffs forced into my gullet raised among wrong packs or wrong children among crooked forks and warped shovels, a fierce lashing rain, the wrong partners. I could not satisfy them. They broke dishes over my head, wrong profession, pulling out my teeth and replacing them with fraudulent gemstones to zero applause, wrong pets. The cockroach in my ear, the screech owl crotchless upon my diadem wrong light. Irradiated my skeleton wrong field with the wrong synapses firing toward and proper sun desires entirely errant torrential, gulfs of feeling the wrong grave. No more reverent than a ditch, truly ludicrous prayers, but the rat comb, I think not a bad hat and the devotion of a few leafless trees.

Birds chirping (11:27)

Tim Earley (11:32):

Investigations of a snapping turtle. My uncle delivered the snapping turtle as a present. He fetched it from near the dam at the coal-fired power plant where he worked, it was obscenely large, possessed of red eyes. It never retracted its head into its shell, instead it. Lorded around the yard. Vaingloriously curious hissing at our terrified cats. I fed it raw hamburger. I was warned repeatedly about his powerful jaws. If it bit me, they said it would not let go until it thundered. My grandpa wanted to make turtle stew out of it. Best stuff you can get, he said. One day the turtle clamped down on my finger. I thought I might lose it. The pain was excruciating. The adults gathered round. “L’all day. You will have to wait until it thunders.” My grandma said, and they went into the house. It turned out to be a drier than average June.

Tim Earley (12:36):

The turtle and I sat in the yard for 16 days and nights. I prayed for death. Many times it seemed eerily content in its duty and apply to constant pressure. It never tried to take my finger though I knew it could. When that beautiful afternoon darkening fell upon us, the first rumble of thunder was so distant that the turtle did not hear, but I knew the storm was getting closer. I looked into the turtle's eyes, red voids, distant time evolution of scum and entrails. The next rumble was substantial. A quick flak of lightning beyond the trees, the turtle released my finger. I felt no pain, but my finger was swollen the size of a pine cone. That's not a turtle we should eat, my grandpa said. That's not a turtle I can take back to the river, my uncle said. The turtle transformed into a young woman with an untroubled face. This is where folk ballads came from. She said in the days before television and started time, one of our chickens by its feet to the clothesline, preparing it for slaughter. First this, my uncle said. Next, the rapture, my grandma said. Who would ever want to leave this place? I thought. But then I did.

Birds chirping (14:07)

Tim Earley (14:13):

A dog beneath and a dog above. The trailer single-wide or double, underpinned or not, on its lot or part of a larger park, has lost its formaldehyde smell or not, is level or not, has broken windows or not, is landscaped with mulch and monkey grass and hibiscus or not, has septic tank that ceases to function during heavy rain, a hound kicked to death or not, that spent its life rolling over other hounds in the muck beneath the stoop that gnashed into the rib cage of a deer that was crushed on to the asphalt or not, a nimbus of fleas around its asshole, Pill bottles on the counter an illiterate person has my pills. Get me my scripts. Get me my nerve pill. A preacher's crotch distended into the River Jordan, a coterie of Elvises in various stages of decline. Crush it up. Honeysuckle kudzu, dandelion Ivy trellis, railroad trellis. Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you. Sugar, sugar diabetes, brown lung, loom plucked scalp, missing fingers, Spam, Little Debbie's, nerve endings on fire, bad liver, glaucoma, lost time accident, goody powder, seven dust as best to send the brake pads round up smelled like formaldehyde for a solid month. Then they have some dirt that is permanent. He was an alcoholic and he married this woman he met across the state line playing the poker machines and they moved in next to her brother's liquor store and they kept him drunk all the time. And he died on the floor in his own shit and piss. And she got his pension and kept on living in that house directly tied, directly notice law. They Lord, I declare I'm fixing to you fucks, bait, pisson, deef, spicket, his'n, her'n, yourn, airish, kindly, poorly. They said Mr. McGillicuddy lived in the chimney and he was insane and had a long pecker. And they did not say it was shaped like a scythe, but in my imagination, it was shaped like a scythe. And I saw him mowing in the field with his pecker. And the other thing like I said was he was insane. And the older cousins would shove our heads up into the chimney. So our heads would just loom up into his insane darkness and he had long teeth. And then I figured it out. He was a metaphor for my Aunt Gypsy Rose Lee with the bullet fragments in her skull and for my cousin who died in restraints at the mental hospital in Morgantown, and for my grandmother's mania. And for her shock therapy, we put her shock therapy in the chimney, righteous fucks. Satan, I will beat your ass. Gary got his ass beat. That boy needs a fucking beating. Eddie tried to kill that dude with a railroad spike. He is a stupid bastard, peppertown ragtown. Darrell was handsome and dated white girls them boys cut up his face with a straight razor, 30 or 40 cuts each an inch or so long. They sprayed David with birdshot, just for fun. He killed his best friend for fucking his wife, invited him over to watch the race and met him with a shotgun at the door. When his friend turned away, he shot him point blank in the back. Dale Earnhardt heals the sick, fuck you. My brother lost 50 pounds after Dale was killed at Daytona he was so depressed. Jane smiley writes of the Scotch Irish, mean as a snake and twice as quick, fuck you Jane Smiley, minstrel corn pone. Minstrel corn pone. Whistle pig, peaked, job it with a stick job that shit with a stick, catched that tree frog. I knowed to thow it back. Jesus face sissy holler. We is just folks. And these is just some cultural interstices. The absence of teeth and the compromised nature of the gums give the tongue freer range and indeed create an almost limitless field for linguistic play and invention. Teeth have everything to do with the Lord and social Darwinism and distract the poet from his Orphic emptiness, gum it up in the Berkeley, gum it up in the New York City, poetry, poetry, poetry, you subhuman fucks.

Birds chirping (18:46)

Tim Earley (18:52):

The road was filled with broken glass gasoline. She wasn't saying nothing. It was just a dream. The wind comes silent through the windshield. All I could see was snow and sky and pine. I closed my eyes and I was running. I was running then I was flying.

Birds chirping (19:24)

Tim Earley (19:28):

This is a poem that's in memory of my neighbor, Eddie Dobbins. If I sanctioned the memorial evangelical hortatory as a yellow call that administrated to the poor ass, culturally determined, but not at skeletal flash of being in the trash hills. That's us. Well then may I be a sale by temptation and may have a sentient zombie dumb will be constructed that I am forced to converse with until I negate my interior value system and become a bleeding Rouge. Mewling on the ridgeline of an ordinary mason's imagination, or let me drown in the river while my sister is saying and nettles converse with the wind and other nettles or, give me wings so I may urinate from any vantage point, arcalimbic of angel plague, doctor split stream modality, or lay me down in the potter's field with the most exceptional masculine area dots among mine ancestors. So they may dispense their many hatreds into my being and no one will with me except celestial wolves and their thousand ritual lies, not mere resurrections tearing up my belly or eye holes. And then whole again, I would pick the banjo for the first time in a furious way that would justify the moaning alcoholic cotillion of my younger days. And that would be one of many ways to die in a high mountain valley the greeny asked Fidel's about. Filch asked to borrow my lawnmower and some gasoline. He mowed the adjacent trailer park and returned to me and offered to mow my lawn with my own mower and gasoline for $20, I felt like an emperor. I drained my bag. I filleted a Barracuda asset. I want to be you, Filch. Let me live in your trailer house with its many prescription bottles, its Spanish art, its enormous garden tub. The wind that whistles through the broken window at night and gives birth to your dreams more intense than any rivening profits, much boots, what rust he said, but I want to be you, to place my trailer house inside your trailer house, a citizen filled with bookish, theoric an anchorite on a stoop or just regular with a backup generator, some cable channels, a family Bible alive with script. Okay? I said, you grasshopper you goat. We will be in complete amity and provoke salvation and spool catfish, whiskers, and survey the valley round for signs, a holler ghost or other unsavory elements, a modified stock car and an astonishing spray of gravel. A hundred flask, a thousand pills cannot undo us. I will never forget Tammy Tonks. I will never forget Bradley Wayne. I will never forget the nail bomb. I will never forget exploding the can of Raid with gasoline. I will never forget the bottle rockets rain down upon the home of Simmie L. Scruggs as his father amped on speed and strange delivered the semi to a far away land. His mother in bed, unable to move from the systemic triolage of her days. Annexation of blood and progeny. All modern texts should bear the subtitles Tobacco should bear a bear to the heavens where their snouts and clouds belong. The nascent science of the bounty system. I capped gnats until I aspirated the remaining beasts of my own erotic imprimatur. I do not speak from my people. I do not speak for people.

Music (23:19)

Marty Cain (23:39):

Rural Poetics is part of the Rural Humanities Initiative, which is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and housed at Cornell's . Our thanks go to Cornell's College of Arts and Sciences and the Cayuga Nation on whose land Cornell resides.


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Book Cover of Earley's latest publication, Linthead Stomp. Depicts two headless figures with outfits matching their floating hats.