Southern Appalachian ballads and their European counterparts
often obscure rather than reveal their tales of love and
power, relying on fragments, gaps, repetition, and resonant
metaphors that call forth lives of centuries past. Three
writers of drama, non-fiction, and poetry who have lingered
in the “gude green-wood” of the traditional
ballad will read–and sing--from their works, and then
discuss why and how they weave the ballads’ language,
sound, and other-worldliness into their writing.
Our panel brings together written and oral literature by
exploring how a distinctive southern American traditional
form–the ballad--influences writers of drama, non-fiction,
and poetry. Several panelists will not just talk about ballads
but also sing them. The second AWP panel to investigate
how writers weave traditional materials into their creations,
we will continue the conversation, begun in 2006, between
the closely allied fields of folklore and creative writing.
Lee Ann Brown is the author of two books of poetry: Polyverse
(Sun & Moon); and The Sleep That Changed Everything
(Wesleyan University Press). She received an NEH Summer
Institute grant on "Regional Studies and the Liberal
Arts: An Appalachian Exemplar" in 2006, and teaches
poetry writing at St. John's University in New York City.
Betty Smith is a traditional ballad singer from Hot Springs,
NC, whose singing appears on June Appal and Folk Legacy
labels. Author of Jane Hicks Gentry: A Singer Among Singers
(Univ of Kentucky), she wrote and performs a one-woman drama
based on Mrs. Gentry’s life. The Appalachian Writers
Association honored her with its award for contributions
to Appalachian literature.
Susan Tichy is the author of three books of poetry: Bone
Pagoda (Ahsahta), A Smell of Burning Starts the Day (Wesleyan),
and The Hands in Exile (Random House, National Poetry Series).
She is an editor of Practice: New Writing + Art and teaches
in the MFA program at George Mason University.
Moderator: Margaret Yocom, folklorist,
is Associate Professor of English at George Mason University
where, among her courses, she teaches "Folklore and Creative
Writing." Assistant editor of Ugiuvangmiut Quliapyuit: King
Island Tales, she has published poetry, and articles on
family folklore, material culture, gender, and ethnographic
writing. Her major fieldsite lies in the western mountains
of Maine. She serves as American Folklore Society liason
Organization of the panel:
– Throughout the session, Betty Smith will sing several
ballads, especially "False Knight on the Road"
(Child #3), "Unquiet Grave" (Child #78), "Lady
Isabel and the Elfin Knight" (Child #4), and "The
House Carpenter” (also called "The Demon Lover,"
– Lee Ann Brown, Betty Smith, Lee Ann Brown, and
Susan Tichy will read from their writings for 10 minutes
each. Then they will talk about ballads and their writing
for 10 minutes each, in the same order
– Time for discussion
We are attending to such questions as
– What first drew us to ballads, as singers, writers,
folklorists? What kept us there? How have we learned more
about the ballads?
– How have the ballads—their words, images,
metaphors, half-told stories, fragments, gaps, repetition,
and sound—influenced our writing?
– Which ballads and which ballad performers have most
influenced us at different moments of our lives?
– Why do we pay special attention to the oral nature
of the ballad, to the music? What has our singing of and
listening to ballads taught us about ballads, writing?
– What has listening to multiple versions of the same
ballad brought us? (For multiple texts of traditional English
and Scottish ballads, see <http://www.contemplator.com/child/index.html>
– What are some of the most unfortunate misunderstandings