this week i have been teaching performance poetry in rural west virginia. specifically north central west virginia in doddridge county. i’ve been staying with the teacher who brought me out here, and can honestly say that i have never seen a house or community further back in the woods. the gravel road that leads to their house takes a good ten minutes or more to drive down. it wraps snuggly through these appalachian hills, weaving between farms, tractors, creeks, and all sorts of nature. it has been a tremendous learning experience for me.
the school is 99% white. students here love to hunt, fish, and ride four wheelers. for all the differences from my upbringing, i’ve also been able to find many commonalities with life here in doddridge. my high school was similarly focused on sports and mainly conservative (politically and socially). like here, many of the students at my high school, arundel high in gambrills, maryland, were not interested in education, did not plan on going to college, and are tempted with military service. i stick out here like i did there.
most students here have never seen a poetry slam. most don’t want to either. i was hired to inspire them to write and perform their own original poetry. so far this week i’ve had lots of fun writing and coaching these students. they’ve helped me reconsider my preconceived notions of west virginians and better understand small town country life. the views from the hills here are absolutely gorgeous. after school the other day i watched avatar at the teacher’s house. the view from their back porch is strikingly similar to the majestic jungles of pandora. well, not really, but similar enough to draw me into staring out the window each morning and night for long periods of time. the views in dc are just not the same.
there are so many different birds here! i did not expect to see such colorful bird life. i thought i’d see more hawks and eagles (i haven’t seen any, though i know they are here) and brownish grayish animals. instead i’ve seen these bright yellow birds, humming birds, red headed woodpeckers (i am making this stuff up– i don’t actually know what kind of birds i’m seeing, but i’m good at guessing things), cardinals, doves, and even an oriole or two. the family i’m staying with has two dogs and a cat, all of which are lovely and fun to be around.
tomorrow is my last day here, and although i’m excited to get back to the city and out to all the events and shows in dc, i am really going to miss this place. the fresh air, the friendly people, the different culture, and the cool kids i’ve met will be hard to say good bye to. i’ll most likely keep in touch with the ones who are in to poetry. later i will post some of their work on here, with their permission of course. i’ve also been writing a little while here, which is much needed.
tonight i am going to a meeting for surface owners rights. the injustice here is that though you may own your land, you do not own what is underneath it. oil companies and drilling and contaminating the water. they are taking the valuable mineral resources from under the local poor residents and not compensating them at all. i’m very excited to learn more about this issue and see what the local community organizers are doing about it.
more on the west virginia trip later, with pictures too! i swear.
thanks for reading. it’s nice that you care enough about my life, or me, or my writing, to stay up with what’s going on. peace.
One thought on “west virginia hills”
This is one of the students from DCHS. I just wanted to let you know that we all enjoyed having you here. You made poetry fun and exciting for me and a lot of other people that never liked it before. We’ll never look at poetry the same again thanks to you Jonathan. Best of luck with your poetry in the future.