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Author, activist, feminist, teacher, and artist bell hooks is celebrated as one of the nation's leading intellectuals. Born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, hooks drew her unique pseudonym from the name of her grandmother, an intelligent and strong-willed African American woman who inspired her to stand up against a dominating and repressive society. Her poetry, novels, memoirs, Author, activist, feminist, teacher, and artist bell hooks is celebrated as one of the nation's leading intellectuals. Born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, hooks drew her unique pseudonym from the name of her grandmother, an intelligent and strong-willed African American woman who inspired her to stand up against a dominating and repressive society. Her poetry, novels, memoirs, and children's books reflect her Appalachian upbringing and feature her struggles with racially integrated schools and unwelcome authority figures. One of Utne Reader's "100 Visionaries Who Can Change Your Life," hooks has won wide acclaim from critics and readers alike. In Appalachian Elegy, bell hooks continues her work as an imagist of life's harsh realities in a collection of poems inspired by her childhood in the isolated hills and hidden hollows of Kentucky. At once meditative, confessional, and political, this poignant volume draws the reader deep into the experience of living in Appalachia. Touching on such topics as the marginalization of its people and the environmental degradation it has suffered over the years, hooks's poetry quietly elegizes the slow loss of an identity while also celebrating that which is constant, firmly rooted in a place that is no longer whole.


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Author, activist, feminist, teacher, and artist bell hooks is celebrated as one of the nation's leading intellectuals. Born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, hooks drew her unique pseudonym from the name of her grandmother, an intelligent and strong-willed African American woman who inspired her to stand up against a dominating and repressive society. Her poetry, novels, memoirs, Author, activist, feminist, teacher, and artist bell hooks is celebrated as one of the nation's leading intellectuals. Born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, hooks drew her unique pseudonym from the name of her grandmother, an intelligent and strong-willed African American woman who inspired her to stand up against a dominating and repressive society. Her poetry, novels, memoirs, and children's books reflect her Appalachian upbringing and feature her struggles with racially integrated schools and unwelcome authority figures. One of Utne Reader's "100 Visionaries Who Can Change Your Life," hooks has won wide acclaim from critics and readers alike. In Appalachian Elegy, bell hooks continues her work as an imagist of life's harsh realities in a collection of poems inspired by her childhood in the isolated hills and hidden hollows of Kentucky. At once meditative, confessional, and political, this poignant volume draws the reader deep into the experience of living in Appalachia. Touching on such topics as the marginalization of its people and the environmental degradation it has suffered over the years, hooks's poetry quietly elegizes the slow loss of an identity while also celebrating that which is constant, firmly rooted in a place that is no longer whole.

30 review for Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jon Nakapalau

    Simple poems that burrow into the heart - the triangle of culture, nature and politics is examined; each point sharp and cutting.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Hafidha

    Finished the book. The introduction was my favorite part. I found the poems too similar and too fragmented to really enjoy. The rhythm is very slow, like drum beats spaced minutes apart. I'll stick with hooks' essays.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ivonne Rovira

    The redoubtable bell hooks, known for her work on race and feminism, also writes poetry. I vaguely think I knew that. I recently found out that hooks wrote one of the earliest books on teaching children who black, poor and left behind. What I didn’t know was that bell hooks was born and raised in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. I also assumed that she, like me, was a creature of the asphalts. (I’m a New Yorker now living in Louisville, Kentucky.) How wrong I was! I stumbled on hooks’ Appalachian Elegy: P The redoubtable bell hooks, known for her work on race and feminism, also writes poetry. I vaguely think I knew that. I recently found out that hooks wrote one of the earliest books on teaching children who black, poor and left behind. What I didn’t know was that bell hooks was born and raised in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. I also assumed that she, like me, was a creature of the asphalts. (I’m a New Yorker now living in Louisville, Kentucky.) How wrong I was! I stumbled on hooks’ Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place while trying to find a copy of her seminal book on education, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. How exciting to check the Kindle edition out of the library! hooks’ introduction proved as lyrical as the rest of her work that I’ve read. Here’s an excerpt that revealed, in part of a single paragraph, how Gloria Jean Watkins of segregated, rural Kentucky became the iconoclastic bell hooks. All backwoods folks were poor by material standards; they knew how to make do. They were not wanting to tame the wildness, in themselves or nature. Living in the Kentucky hills was where I first learned the importance of being wild. Yet, too many of the poems that follow that sparkling introduction just say nothing, lacking the passion of hooks’ other work. The poems are numbered rather than titled, and numbers 9, 15, 23, 37, 40, 41, 46, 52, 54, 55, and 63 blazed, as you’d expect from the fiery bell hooks. The rest? Meh. Please allow me to end this review with my favorite poem from this slender volume of verse. Would that there had been more of this caliber! 15. pink and white oleander not native to Appalachian ground still here lies years and years of poison rebel flags heritage and hate in the war to fight hunger and ongoing loss there are no sides there is only the angry mind of hurt bringing death too soon destroying all our dreams of union

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Albright

    Being familiar with at least some of the poet's other work [1] is both an advantage and disadvantage in a book like this.  The advantage is that one knows something about the author's political worldview, which is in full evidence here.  The disadvantage, though, is that one reads this book with a confidence that one will dislike it strongly.  To be fair, there are poets whose work I greatly appreciate despite a distance between my worldview and theirs.  I am rapturously fond, for example, of th Being familiar with at least some of the poet's other work [1] is both an advantage and disadvantage in a book like this.  The advantage is that one knows something about the author's political worldview, which is in full evidence here.  The disadvantage, though, is that one reads this book with a confidence that one will dislike it strongly.  To be fair, there are poets whose work I greatly appreciate despite a distance between my worldview and theirs.  I am rapturously fond, for example, of the poet William Stafford [2] despite full awareness that his worldview and mine are quite different, although there are some points of intersection between them in our shared concern for the coercive power of the state and an opposition to service in the armed forces.  With Bell Hooks, though (who prefers not to capitalize her name, a convention I do not respect), the issue of her writing is that she claims to be above and beyond race when her writing indicates otherwise.  It is her lack of honesty and integrity that makes her work less than enjoyable and those tendencies are in full evidence here despite the fact that the author's reflections on hillbilly Kentucky life and my own early childhood in rural Pennsylvania and later in rural Florida are not particularly dissimilar, race and gender aside.  And that is precisely the point of disconnect. This particular mercifully short volume begins inauspiciously with the author reflecting in her turgid prose on her childhood and on the way that she completely failed to identify with her poor white neighbors or the poor whites of Appalachian Eastern Kentucky because they were white and she was not.  The rest of the book goes downhill from there in looking at her execrable poetry which continually reflects on issues of memory and betrayal and shows the author completely unable to rise above the prison of her background and experiences.  She invokes Buddha, shows a marked preference for animals to people, and finds even the white snow to be oppressive in its whiteness, suggesting a sort of mental and moral pathology on the part of the poetess.  Most of the poems themselves are composed of fragments that lack linking words and expressions, and none of the words have capitalization so the writing does not come off as well as it otherwise would.  The perspective can be compared to a broken person trying to pretend that she is not broken but confident and strong, someone whose past is omnipresent but who is self-deceived into thinking that she has moved on. The author could be pitied for this perspective, if she was not so determinedly hostile to me as a reader on identity grounds.  What is most striking about the author's self-deception is not her misguided belief that she has overcome the wrongs she believes herself to have suffered personally or ancestrally, but that in her writings about Appalachian life she appears to be particularly blind to the indigenous inhabitants of the land who were dispossessed so that she could have her rural Kentucky childhood, as while there are many reflections on animals escaping from Daniel Boone or running wild and free as the author would like to, there are few reflections on the fact that the author too (and not only she criticizes) is a child of privilege that she does not recognize nor has she done anything to deserve.  The author's total inability to reflect upon the way that she too is the descendant of those who have benefited from injustice and not only suffered from it makes these works intensely hypocritical.  And when the poetry is so poor from a technical perspective, it cannot bear the added weight of having to be judged as lacking because of the moral blindness of its self-righteous creator on top of its failure as poetry. [1] See, for example: https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017... [2] See, for example: https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016... https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014... https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014... https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014...

  5. 5 out of 5

    michelle

    i wanted to like this but i ended up reading it just to finish it. too choppy for my liking and although, as other reviewers have said, that may have been a stylistic choice to reflect an appalachian pace of life, it did not appeal to me. i saw some reviewers saying this reads as one long poem; to me they were more standalones that kind of just tied into each other. i was hoping that hooks' poetry would give me more context into her own past than this brought me but i don't even really know how i wanted to like this but i ended up reading it just to finish it. too choppy for my liking and although, as other reviewers have said, that may have been a stylistic choice to reflect an appalachian pace of life, it did not appeal to me. i saw some reviewers saying this reads as one long poem; to me they were more standalones that kind of just tied into each other. i was hoping that hooks' poetry would give me more context into her own past than this brought me but i don't even really know how to read poetry anyway

  6. 4 out of 5

    Anita Fajita Pita

    The introduction was very good, and I would love to read more about her life growing up in the Appalachians, and the history of black people there. I admit, I would be one of the people who equivocated the hills with poor white people, not black. The poetry was very simple and yet it conjured images of mountainsides covered in green foliage, banks of fog settling over dew covered ground. A feeling of peace settles over her work, and it reads nostalgic over the freedom.. just freedom to be, the fr The introduction was very good, and I would love to read more about her life growing up in the Appalachians, and the history of black people there. I admit, I would be one of the people who equivocated the hills with poor white people, not black. The poetry was very simple and yet it conjured images of mountainsides covered in green foliage, banks of fog settling over dew covered ground. A feeling of peace settles over her work, and it reads nostalgic over the freedom.. just freedom to be, the freedom of wilderness. None of the poems were economically driven, they were focused on the benefits of this lifestyle, and at this time in our modern world, I couldn't help but wonder what those backcountry people think about the city folk, locked up behind doors because of a virus.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Zachary

    bell hooks can do no wrong

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lydia

    I had no idea bell hooks wrote poetry. How glad am I to discover she does? This slim little volume is about place, identity, belonging, coming home and all the emotional turmoil and joy that comes with it. What I adore about hooks' writing in this volume is how articulate she is. She is so precisely able to express herself and her thoughts. When I read her writing, particularly her essays, I feel like she has said exactly what she needs to say and used the right number of words doing so. It's not I had no idea bell hooks wrote poetry. How glad am I to discover she does? This slim little volume is about place, identity, belonging, coming home and all the emotional turmoil and joy that comes with it. What I adore about hooks' writing in this volume is how articulate she is. She is so precisely able to express herself and her thoughts. When I read her writing, particularly her essays, I feel like she has said exactly what she needs to say and used the right number of words doing so. It's not like with Hemingway, where his writing is sparse and minimalist and bare. hooks writes with so much purpose that I feel it tangibly when she puts pen to paper. As to the actual poems, I loved so many of them. They were full of beautiful (if painful) metaphors about loss, land, freedom, blackness, ownership and all of the above. I feel that I preferred her poems when they were steeped more in metaphor and not necessarily so explicit about, for example, slavery. I felt that the intertwining of the environment and the discussion of the history of Kentucky made her poems what they were. I didn't want her to tell me the history, I wanted her to show me. I'll leave you with a poem of hers, so that you may decide for yourself if you'd like to read it. 3. night moves through thick dark a heavy silence outside near the front window a black bear stamps down plants pushing back brush fleeing manmade confinement roaming unfettered confident any place can become home strutting down a steep hill as though freedom is all in the now no past no present

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Harrington-Bain

    This is my first exposure to hooks's work, and while part of me wonders if that's like if my first exposure to Kanye West was listening to the first half of 808s and Heartbreak (something that I'd be really interested in as a Kanye fan, but let's stay on track here), it's done nothing but motivate me further to read more of her work. For starters, the way she arranges and chooses line breaks is beyond intuitive to me personally. It was a brilliant blend of being smooth to read, but leaving ambig This is my first exposure to hooks's work, and while part of me wonders if that's like if my first exposure to Kanye West was listening to the first half of 808s and Heartbreak (something that I'd be really interested in as a Kanye fan, but let's stay on track here), it's done nothing but motivate me further to read more of her work. For starters, the way she arranges and chooses line breaks is beyond intuitive to me personally. It was a brilliant blend of being smooth to read, but leaving ambiguity in the lack of punctuation that allows for most of the poems to be read in semantically different ways. There are layers to her creativity. The introduction at the front of the collection was beautiful without seemingly meaning to be, and was especially helpful in locating deeper themes in the book. hooks mentions getting to spread her ecofeminist wings in a sense, and that comes through in spades! The framing of the work as an elegy is not only appropriate and accurate, but also frames all of the content of the poems as a world worth celebrating without ever breaking out of the somber context. The topics of classism, economics, race, and experience are all explored so creatively, but poignantly in such an effective way. These would be powerful lines for use in English classrooms across many grade levels and topics. A beautiful if conflicted world.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    A beautiful collection, though unsurprising in how it lingers on hills, trees, birds, soil, the iconography of Appalachia. In her introduction hooks argues that the agrarian lives of black folk have been erased from history, even though as she notes "all my people come from the hills, from the backwoods, even the ones who ran away from this heritage refusing to look back." (5) What this story drudges up his the loss of land and fear of landscape over time, but she wants us to know the "ecohistor A beautiful collection, though unsurprising in how it lingers on hills, trees, birds, soil, the iconography of Appalachia. In her introduction hooks argues that the agrarian lives of black folk have been erased from history, even though as she notes "all my people come from the hills, from the backwoods, even the ones who ran away from this heritage refusing to look back." (5) What this story drudges up his the loss of land and fear of landscape over time, but she wants us to know the "ecohistories of black folks." Yet even with the joy of homecoming is the challenge of finding voice, of speaking to the pain "inflicted on red and black folks in this country, connecting that historical reality to the pain inflicted on our natural world" (6). As such, this is a collection of poems of mourning, but also calls to action. Many of the poems have within them an imperative voice, but also the process of lamentation. Of particular note are poem #4 (bequeath to me / the hoe the hope / ancestral rights / to turn the ground over), odes to the impermanence and instability of the landscape, poem #15 (pink and white oleander / not native to appalachian ground / still here lies / years and years of poison / rebel flags / heritage and hate"), #19 (invoking "the scene of memory / tobacco leaves / green yellow brown / plant of sacred power), and #29 (renegade red men running / fleeing daniel boone / white wrath / all nature / slaughtered in / the colonizing wake). Lots to savor here.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ashish Kumar

    1.5 star. i'm really really disappointed with this book. The introduction part of the book was brilliant and i thought the poems would be that brilliant but they weren't. there are more than 60 poems in this collection but i only like 6 out of them which is not a good thing. most of the poems just didn't made sense to me, they changed from one line to another. they are too chopped up, to direct that its confused me what she was really trying to say. i will not recommend to check this one out. the 1.5 star. i'm really really disappointed with this book. The introduction part of the book was brilliant and i thought the poems would be that brilliant but they weren't. there are more than 60 poems in this collection but i only like 6 out of them which is not a good thing. most of the poems just didn't made sense to me, they changed from one line to another. they are too chopped up, to direct that its confused me what she was really trying to say. i will not recommend to check this one out. there are many other good poetry collection to go for.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Dione

    Reason this poetry collection just has me itching to read more of bell books work. This intro describing the experiences of black people in Appalachia was really interesting and I would love to find more information and history about those communities. The poems themselves were incredibly dynamic. I particularly was moved by #9, #44, and #65. autumn ending leaves like fallen soldiers manmade hard hearts fighting battles on this once sacred ground 3029 Reading Women Challenge # 4 A About or Set in App Reason this poetry collection just has me itching to read more of bell books work. This intro describing the experiences of black people in Appalachia was really interesting and I would love to find more information and history about those communities. The poems themselves were incredibly dynamic. I particularly was moved by #9, #44, and #65. autumn ending leaves like fallen soldiers manmade hard hearts fighting battles on this once sacred ground 3029 Reading Women Challenge # 4 A About or Set in Appalachia

  13. 5 out of 5

    keri

    In her introduction, bell hooks taught me something conversations around my Appalachian identity often deny: self-love. I remember reading the first paragraph for the first time, and my heart suddenly hurting, bursting and glowing all at once. hooks writes about an Appalachia that is free, independent and strong. She writes about an Appalachia that is hers, ours, and belonging to no one at the same time. This book, specifically introduction, is a must-read for any Appalachian person. It is an em In her introduction, bell hooks taught me something conversations around my Appalachian identity often deny: self-love. I remember reading the first paragraph for the first time, and my heart suddenly hurting, bursting and glowing all at once. hooks writes about an Appalachia that is free, independent and strong. She writes about an Appalachia that is hers, ours, and belonging to no one at the same time. This book, specifically introduction, is a must-read for any Appalachian person. It is an embrace; a coddle. We are so lucky to have bell hooks.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Morninglight Mama

    I'm not confident in my ability to talk about poetry in the same way that I talk about narrative fiction, but I do know that this particular collection had poems that made me appreciate hooks' word choice and poems that made me feel something, both lighthearted and deeply ashamed. I was drawn especially to the pieces about nature, and while I'm still a relative stranger to most things Appalachia, I am a big fan of the wilderness here.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I was very excited about this and bell hooks is so, so wonderful. But maybe it just didn't live up to how much I love her? The poetry seemed incredibly simple, too simple for what I was expecting from hooks. While the verses straightforwardly described the types of scenes you see in Appalachia, most of it is about the land, and not in a way I found particularly evocative. It gets three stars for its basic defiance of the conflation of Appalachia with whiteness.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia A

    I loved this book for its simple beauty and love of nature. There are gems to be read and appreciated again and again. There are lessons in here about being in sync with the earth, being connected through our food and our work and our hands with the earth. In the introduction, bell hooks introduces a discussion of ecofeminism to accompany her work and quotes beautifully from Ivone Gebara, the Brazilian catholic nun, feminist, philosopher and theologian.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Davis

    Beautiful and poignant The mountains and trees come to life in the lines of Bell’s poetry and prose. All the love, loss, struggles and joys of generations are celebrated and remembered. If you have any appreciation for the mountains and valleys of Appalachia, you will revel in the remembrances the poet etches here.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    After reading this beautiful collection of poems, I am convinced more than ever of the impermanence of things, that heart and soil are one, that life in any iteration is a glorious path, and that every one of us who travel it is a hero!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kat

    i appreciated this collection but didn't feel it to be extraordinary. certainly it evoked a place and a mood that i'm glad to have had the opportunity to access, but the poems were of inconsistent quality and, as a whole, did not blow me out of the water.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Matt Jaeger

    Perhaps it is a collection to be read slowly, a poem a day on which to meditate. But I read it straight through and felt unmoved and unchallenged, finding the poems redundant in imagery and rhythm. The introduction, however, was quite good.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Em

    I enjoyed the idea of this book of poems more than the poems itself. Every poem felt like it was paced so similarly that I didn’t really find myself inspired or jolted by it. The words are beautiful, and bell hooks rocks- but this wasn’t my cup of tea.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cait Farrow

    I love reading work from Kentucky authors. While our state is small, our experiences are vastly different. I really enjoyed reading her poetry and the introduction about what being from the backwoods of Kentucky meant to her.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sujata

    Poetry is hard for me. Her intro was worth it all, revealing the context of being black and Appalachian

  24. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie G. Lewis

    Read Them Aloud I am here. You are here. She is here. Read to learn that this is the earth which bore and sustains us.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

    I’m going to be real... I’m usually not great at reading or even understanding poetry but I really liked this one. My favorite poem was the one about horses being like Buddha.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jade Geary

    As an Appalachian, some of these poems really resonated with me and my upbringing.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Meredith Scalos

    An incredible piece of work capturing the beauty, sorrow, strength, resilient, desperation, and hope that comes from being from Appalachia.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sabra Kurth

    Some lovely images, some stark, inhumane images.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Terry

    Lovely!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    I love her voice. It’s filled with insight, wisdom and loving acceptance. Her poetry is clear.

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