The Logan Topographies by Alena Hairston

If you’re searching for a book of poetry that is both beautiful to read and expanding to the mind, The Logan Topographies delivers on both counts. In a rhythmical and flowing voice, this poetry collection describes a West Virginian mining town and the difficulties to the ethnic groups who make their living in coal mining. Alena Hairston’s debut poetry book, divided into four distinct sections, reflects the devastating effects the evolving coal industry has on both the environment and the people of Logan.

With such a long and difficult history behind it, I wanted to know more about The Logan Topographies, so I asked author Alena Hairston a few questions about her award-winning work (winner 2006 Lexi Rudnitsky Poetry Prize):

(e): Your poetry has a unique and worthy theme. Can you tell us a little more about that?

AH: Presently, West Virginia and other Appalachian states such as Kentucky, Virginia, and Ohio are suffering and struggling against government/corporate-sanctioned mountaintop removal schemes (the latest, most disastrous form of mining) that are a total insult to the integrity of the communities and environments in which the mines are located. Much has been said about this issue (though, to my mind, not enough). A recent interview between Amy Goodman, co-anchor of the excellent “Democracy Now,” and Ed Wiley, a West Virginian activist, gives a poignant overview of the issue. The link is here:

The city of Logan has been impacted by this process and by the historical rapaciousness of the coal mining industry in general. This history explains the nature of the people, their beauty, poverty, frailties, and so on. While I am not a native Loganian, I lived there during my formative years (13-17) and was greatly influenced by the culture.
While my book does not seek to necessarily speak for this history or to completely fictionalize it, I did intend for the complexities of the area, its history and culture, to undergird the various stories within the book. West Viriginia has a mythic aura and I wanted the poems to represent this by virture of the themes, technical strategies, and overall approach of the book.

(e): I love the rhythm of your writing. Do you have to do a lot of rewrites to achieve that, or is it something that comes naturally?

AH: Thank you. No. I don’t do much rewriting. But I wait sometimes. The rhythm is “natural” I think. I like the mathematics of the line, the constriction of the page layout, syllabics, meter. I believe that I am both consciously and unconsciously “aware” of this as I write, even in notes.

(e): That’s a rare talent. I often find the most flowing writing has gone through many rewrites to appear effortless. I think you just made a lot of writers jealous! Are you working on any new projects that we can keep an eye out for?

AH: Yes! But, if I just didn’t have to work work. I am trying to finish a poetic novel — a novel in poems or poem-like vignettes. And I’d like to finish a screenplay. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and so the cost of living is quite steep. Teaching tends to keep me from writing. But, soon, I’ve a month long break, and I plan to write all day every day.

(e): Thanks, Alena! Keep us posted on your new work. I’d love to read it when it comes out.

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