These poems are never merely pastoral, and their emotional range belies their small size. Here are poems that move from the lyrical and humorous to the acerbic, the rueful, and even the creepy. “Every little whipstitch,” we can hear Randi Ward’s haunted and haunting voice moving between worlds like a wily shape-shifter.
— Maggie Anderson, author of A Space Filled With Moving and Years That Answer
Praise for Whipstitches:
Snapshots of Appalachia
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.
“This beautifully produced book of tight, intense poems has ostensible themes of animals and plants and weather in a rural place. A handful of the poems have a bit of wisdom (a poem called “Tadpole” says in whole, “When you’re stuck/in a rut,/everything depends on the weather”); a few wear their emotion on their sleeve, like “Grandma,” in which “What’s left of her” paces a sagging porch wearing one sock. There is a lot of wit and a modicum of humor as in “Daddy Longlegs” where the poet asks the arachnid to stop pointing. There are references to other poems with strong images and lots of white space (the standing water in Ward’s “Wheelbarrow,” unlike in Willam Carlos Williams’, however, breeds mosquitoes.)
But what really stuns and holds me about these small explosions is the worlds they suggest funneling down into the spare utterances. Many of these implied worlds and histories of experience are frightening, bleak and violent. These represent probably the largest group of poems. “Bath” has only fourteen words, but the penultimate one is “bruise,” and the woman in the poem soaks in a way to “make/a blind mirror cry.” Such poems hint at realms of suffering behind the crystalline words on the page: “Lights Out” seems to be a child in danger at bedtime. And, to quote one poem completely, the speaker in “Gate” has a profound ambivalence about home that outshines dozens of overblown memoirs of family dysfunction, abuse, and mental illness:
so I don’t
have to walk
This kind of writing shames us all for our sloppy purple prose and prosy poetry.”
-by Meredith Sue Willis from Books For Readers
“What a fresh, disturbing new voice is found in this collection! Imagine the quirky, revelatory ways Emily Dickinson saw the world meshed with the succinct clarities of Lorine Niedecker. Now add a dose of H. P. Lovecraft, and you have some sense of the triumph these surprising little poems achieve.” — Marc Harshman, Poet Laureate of West Virginia and author of Green-Silver and Silent
“Each poem in Whipstitches is a world Ward makes us see, or see again, with a child’s clarity melded to metaphor. Underlying the whole is both abiding love for the homeplace and knowledge of the wounds it inflicts.” — Lee Sharkey, author of Calendars of Fire and senior co-editor of Beloit Poetry Journal
“Randi Ward’s poems: western-world haikus? In one sense they are, but these succinct, precisely crafted poems rarely conclude in a mere acknowledgment of the thing per se, the event per se, as in the Japanese literary genre. Ward’s poems unfold unaffectedly, yet with increasing enigma. Snow is rarely just snow, broomsedge is rarely just broomsedge. Whipstitches narrates a subjectivity, a human body within the world, a poetic sensibility that is among the subtlest that I have encountered in my recent reading.”
— John Taylor, author of If Night is Falling and The Apocalypse Tapestries
About the author:
Randi Ward is a poet, translator, lyricist, and photographer from Belleville, West Virginia. She completed her undergraduate degree at Ohio University and subsequently earned her MA in Cultural Studies from the University of the Faroe Islands.
In 2013, Ward won the American-Scandinavian Foundation’s Nadia Christensen Prize for her translation of Tóroddur Poulsen’s Fjalir (Planks, 2013). This marked the first time in the international translation competition’s history that a work of literature translated from the Faroese was awarded the prize.
Whipstitches is Ward’s second collection of poetry. Her photography and writing have also appeared in Asymptote, Beloit Poetry Journal, Cimarron Review, Vencil: Anthology of Contemporary Faroese Literature, World Literature Today, and other publications. Cornell University Library established the Randi Ward Collection in its Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections in 2015. For more information about the author and her work, visit randiward.com.