This week, I’ve been reading Michael Dowdy’s amazing debut collection, Urbilly, the winner of the 2017 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award. This is a great collection of poems that all work together to voice something really meaningful that is in some ways about modern Appalachia and its people. But it’s also about a great deal more.
Through the pages, the idea of the “urbilly” becomes so vivid. I would attempt to explain, myself, what an urbilly is, but I think Dowdy does that best on his website:
“Urbilly? Think antic field guide to parts (un)known & exploited. Mountain / megacity mashups, rural / urban hullabaloo, New River / Gowanus cocktails. Backwoods & Brooklyn. Mountaintop removal & Edison bulbs, landfill & farm-to-table, Muriel Rukeyser & Big Daddy Kane, James Still & girders of steel. Think Urbilly as the anti-Hillbilly Elegy.”
When I was an editor at drafthorse a few years ago, we had the pleasure to publish a few of Dowdy’s poems that are included in Urbilly. Click on “drafthorse” to read a group of the poems, but here’s one of my favorites.
The Out-Migrant’s Family Tree, as Seen through Binoculars
Smudged along the lower ridge
a copse of knobby hardwoods
withers in coils of cold wind.
Squint past the blind curve scribbled
in cut banks of brush, just there,
where fog-coated sycamores
unfurl scrolls of icy bark,
where taillights trickle beyond
where calm haunts the revenant.
Laurel hells strangle hearth and flue.
Even springs zigzag uphill.
No good here my wistful words.
Those provenance jackets veil
a sparrow chest and stuffed gut.
Here, where decades stretch threadbare,
my grave dark eyes, sockets deep
as karst caves, skitter and rest.
A tongue rhododendron tied
slips loose; restless legs snap to.
My sneakers swoosh in hoarfrost,
scything kin from the harvest
of time, stutterers who hauled
fieldstone, sunk wells, and raised beams
right about there. You have to
cock your head just so, just there,
where clouds lung the mountains’ ribs.
Where trunks bend and crack the last
inky leaves bear down, hold outs
against the thieving north winds.