Jared Carter and American regionalism

TheLandItself_cover7_reducedThe following is excerpted from the Introduction to Jared Carter’s new book, The Land Itself:

“That Jared Carter, among living writers, is one of America’s premier regionalist poets is a claim few who know his work well would dispute. Yet describing any writer as regionalist in the second decade of the 21st century is in some ways problematic. The last high-water mark of American regionalism, the 1930s, was already on the wane by the time Jared Carter was born, and regionalism’s death knell was already being sounded by such critics as Lowry Charles Wimberly – who saw in the spread of national brands and national standards the inexorable homogenization of America’s regions. At the same time, John Crowe Ransom and the Agrarians were analyzing the slow death of Southern regionalism due to the spread of industrialism, the migration from rural areas into the cities, and a host of inter-related cultural trends.

After the end of World War II, the homogenization of America’s hinterlands, due to the spread of the interstate highway system and television, received a quantum boost, with its effects becoming more far-reaching and virulent with each passing decade until, by the digital revolution of 1990s, it had come to seem as though regionalism could only legitimately be spoken of in the past tense.

And yet it was through these same decades, when so much of what was most distinctive about America’s heartland was vanishing, that Carter was turning out poem after poem, portraying characters, situations and locations as singular and sharply defined as any in literature, and he was doing so with a honed plainness of style that left no doubt as to their veracity and authenticity.

Beginning with Carter’s first book, Work, For the Night is Coming (1981), readers were introduced to a region which was at once literal and mythical: “Mississinewa County,” somewhere “east of Spoon River, west of Winesburg, and slightly north of Raintree County,” as Carter himself has explained.  It is a fictional county named for an actual river (the Mississinewa, a tributary of the Wabash) which, like the fictional town “Spoon River” (also named for an actual river), Faulkner’s “Yoknapatawpha County,” Frost’s rural New England,  Robinson’s “Tilbury Town” and a long list of other literary regions, is rooted equally in the American continent and the American psyche. Mississinewa County is a multifaceted, multidimensional “place” of such symbolic and allegorical richness that its hinterlands and far boundaries – despite several decades of appreciative commentary – remain largely unexplored. Altogether, Carter’s books contain much of what one has come to expect in a regionalist body of literature from the American Midwest: pool halls and funeral parlors, dilapidated barns and covered bridges, barbershops and taverns, and miles of highways, telephone poles and open country inhabited by farmers, druggists, drifters, drunkards, undertakers and real estate developers. Turning to any of the early and late poems in the current collection, one is struck once again by the assurance and authority in the poet’s voice. Carter’s descriptions are rendered with a pitch-perfect precision that can only come from long familiarity with his subject. He is a plein-air poet, portraying his region with a sharpness of focus and an eye for inconspicuous but telling detail that cannot be achieved at second-hand.

The answer, then, to the question of whether a genuinely regional literature is still possible in the 21st century, when America’s regions have been all but homogenized, suburbanized, industrialized and digitized out of existence, is to be found in the pages of any of Carter’s books, where the poems, like palpable artifacts plucked from field or creekbed, constitute clear evidence of a region still very much alive. Precisely how America’s regions have survived a century of destructive “progress” – at what cost, and in what fashion – are complex questions beyond the scope of this essay. But one index and proof of their survival is to be found in the literature they produce, and Carter’s books are as strong a piece of evidence as one might hope for.”


BJ Omanson

Some excerpts from Betty Appenheimer’s Depression-era Diary

 


SevereColdWave_31Jan34


Jan 30, 1934, Tue
Everyone was at school today except Kathryn Warren. They think her appendix will have to be taken out. This is President Roosevelt’s birthday. It is so cold that a jar of jam broke in John’s cellar and he had to build a fire. It was 10 below zero. Dean got some new high-tops. He makes plenty of noise when he walks.

Jan 31, 1934, Wed
Mother came home about twelve this morning. Grandpa is getting along fine. She has my party dress made. It is real pretty. Daddy got ten different kinds of breakfast food. Eight cards to paint came with some. We are going to make Valentines out of them. Kathryn went over to Noras. Florine had a temperature a hundred and two. Glenna and Yvonne have colds too. Thursday and Friday is teachers institute so we don’t have to go to school.

Feb34


February 1, 1934, Thur
Mother took some baked beans and doughnuts up to Robinson’s. (Robson’s) We went in and saw her. She looks natural. We are going to have a recital tomorrow so Dorothy and Betty went up to reherse. We have Maytime, two piano pease, and I have the morning prayer. Mother washed. We got an order. Dorothy got a brazear and Kathryn got her shoes. They fit this time.

February 2, 1934, Fri
It was such a splendid [thing] that everyone was able to come to the recital. Neither Dorothy nor I made a mistake. I went over to Nora’s. Florine is better but she isn’t up yet and Nora’s neck is stiff. Glenna has a cold and had to go to bed. Juanita knocked the clock off the table and broke the glass, but we got it fixed before Daddy saw it. The groundhogs were able to see their shadow today.

Hankins_7Feb34

February 3, 1934, Sat
Mrs. Robinson (Robson) had some relatives in California so they didn’t have the funeral until today. All the seats in the balcony was filled. Juanita’s class was going to have a party but it was postponed on account of the funeral. I went with Mother to the Leader’s meeting but we didn’t get to stay to the social hour. Yvonne and Dorothy are both sick. Being as Dorothy was sick I got to go to McRells in her turn. We all had a good time and decided to go to Streeds next Saturday night.

February 4, 1934, Sun
Glenna Mae got up this morning. Mother took us to Sunday School. Dorothy wasn’t able to go over to Ednas so Juanita and I were the only ones. Anna Mae and John were there too. We had ice-cream and chicken for our dinner. We played andy over, hide-go-seek, poison, and farmer and the cows. Anna Mae and John gave Edna a pin, Bob a handkerchief and Mother is making a dress for her. Betty June stayed all night with us.

Ericson_7Feb34

February 5, 1934, Mon
Daddy went on a business trip with Seidrick so Edie (Ericson) and her baby are visiting us for the day. Nora let Floyd come over to see the baby and he wouldn’t go home when he was supposed to so Nora had to come after him. In the contest of washing out teeth last week the boys had eight points against them and the girls had none. The punishment is that they half to sweep the floor every noon and bring in the water pail and cobs. Edna is going to stay all night.

February 6, 1934, Tue
When Bobbie went home he was feeling sick. In our exercises we learned how to play the snake dance. Dean brought a big hat box to school to put our valentines in. Juanita and Kathryn Warren are decorating it. They covered it with yellow crepe paper. Then they pasted blue birds with red hearts in their bills on it. It is very pretty.

February 7, 1934, Wed
Daddy went to town this morning and didn’t get back until night. We had our supper over and the dishes done by six o’clock. Betty June and Bobbie were both absent with a cold. We had a lot of fun playing ball today because there was just one fielder. Glenna has been working on her letters and especially “f ”.

February 8, 1934, Thur
Daddy went to Chicago with a load of sheep. He went in a truck; unless he comes home tonight he will have to buy his ticket home. Kathryn is sick with a cold and had to go to bed. Mother and Nora washed. Juanita’s class are hunting bird’s nests to take to school. Juanita has found robin, barn swallow, brown thrush and sparrow nests. Daddy found a ground sparrows nest.

February 9, 1934, Fri
Mother got her ironing done. She finished a blue blouse for Juanita. We had blackberry pudding for supper. Clay is popping some popcorn. We had a card from Auntie Kae. She is sending us some valentines to take to school. It is 10 below zero. We got two and a half pages done on our note books.

February 10, 1934, Sat
Mother, Dorothy, and Nora went to Kewanee to get Daddy. Every one was surprised to see that Grandma came with him. Edna and Bobbie came to stay all nite. Mother mixed some waffles all but putting the egg whites in so all I had to do for dinner was to bake them. We didn’t take our music. A bunch of us surprised Streeds by dropping in for the evening. It was two when they got home.

February 11, 1934, Sun
Dorothy and I were planning on walking to church but we rode up with McRells. Daddy, mother and Nora went to Peoria to bring Grandpa home. He is doing fine. Edna and Bobbie went home about three o’clock. Yesterday Mother took Dorothy and my shoes to Kewanee because she could get them fixed free. She forgot to bring them home.

February 12, 1934, Mon
Dorothy got a letter from Auntie Clae. She said for us to write and tell her what to get for our graduation present just so it didn’t cost over fifty dollars. Florine has a big knot behind her ear. The doctor said if she wasn’t careful it might develop into massetoide. Grandma brought our slips that Auntie Mae had made for Dorothy and me. They were all right except they were two long.

February 13, 1934, Tues
Edna brought over a green jumper that she had outgrown. I tried it on and it fits me. We got the valentines from Auntie Kae. They sure are cute. I took about six pictures. Nora bought two dresses for Florine and she insisted that Nora buy Yvonne one. So she bought her a little green dress. Bobbie came over the stay all night. Grandma cut his hair. Mother was on the Legion comittee so she had to go to town tonite.

February 14, 1934, Wed
We called school early and just had one recess so we could have a little party in the afternoon. Glenna, Jimmy, Yvonne and grandma came about two o’clock. The little boys squat on the floor in a line. I got at one end and started to tell a story then I gave them a push and they all fell flat on the floor. We had a peanut scrabble and passed the valentines out at four. Mrs. Fritz gave us all a candy bar. Zella sent Dorothy and I a valentine.

PublicSale_15Feb34

February 15, 1934, Thur
Clay is seven years old today. He got two handkerchiefs. Mother is going to have a dinner for him Saturday. Mother, Daddy and Nora went to a sale. Mother bought seven cake pans, six salt and pepper shakers, a nice glass dish and some other junk. Grandma stayed with the kids. She is mending everything she can find. I had a boil on my leg; it broke last night. Nora gave me a pretty bow to wear on a dress or blouse. Glenna stayed at school all day.

FarmRecordBook1934Feb 16, 1934, Fri
When we woke up there was snow two inches deep. It kept snowing until noon. Dorothy nor I could find our hats so we had to wear a scarf around our heads. We had a lot of fun playing fox and geese. Mother dressed two chickens. She bought some gum drops and fixed them like mice, using rubber bands for tails and whiskers. A man came to check daddys farm account books.

February 17, 1934, Satlayinghen
Nora’s dog has three puppies. They are all marked just like there mother. The snow is melting very fast but the kids are yet riding on their sleds. Clay and Glenna cleaned out the chicken house. Daddy took Dorothy and I up to take our music lesson. Carl Dean, Charles, Betty June, Bob and Edna came over for dinner. They were throwing snowballs when Charles and Bob got angry. It ended that they all went home.

February 18, 1934, Sun
The snow was almost melted yesterday, but this morning it was snowing and blowing. About eleven thirty Dorothy and I got bundled up and threw snow balls at each other. We couldn’t go to Sunday School so Dorothy and I got to read all day. We had a good rest. Grandma went home with Nora. I made some butterscotch. I put it on a good platter. When Clay was getting some he broke the platter.

February 19, 1934, Mon
Auntie Mae said she would do all the sewing Mother would send her so Mother sent her eight aprons and two blouses. Granma is going to take them when she goes back. The mailman left the mail at school because he couldn’t get to our mailbox in the car. Grandma came over to school about three thirty. Daddy patched Glenna’s rubber ball with some ( ? ) rubber.

February 20, 1934, Tues
Tonight Daddy went to dig in the legion cellar. Mother and Grandma went to see Mrs. Streed. Dorothy, Juanita and Kathryn slid on the ice on the creek after they got their chores done. Mother, Daddy and Nora went to another sale. Nora bought another bed, dresser and some bedclothes. Mother bought a big box for a quarter that had some old clothes in it. Mother hung them on the line for three or four days to get rid of any germs.

PublicSale_21Feb34

February 21, 1934, Wed
Daddy went to a sale and bought another old sled for a quarter. It goes faster than the others but one of the guides is broken. We fastened two sleds together. Sometimes it would go over the bank. We are trying to teach Silver to pull the sled up the hill. I took Yvonne Jane and Glenna out for a ride. We are taking two rows of spelling a week now so we will have time to review the eighth grade spelling. Juanita and I took a bath.

February 22, 1934, Thu
I was carrying Dorothy and my banana in my pocket and forgot about them and played on the sled. I sqished them clear out of the pealings. It was Grandpa McRells birthday. They had a party for him. Nora, Florine and Floyd stayed here all night. The older people played cards most of the time; the rest of us play the square dance. It was two when we got to bed. Yvonne burned three of her fingers.

BellasHess1934February 23, 1934, Fri
We wrote a business and a friendly letter for grammar. We are going to have exams the first of next week. Clay played with Silver for a long time. We got the National Bellas Hess Catalogue. I picked out the shoes I’m going to get. Yvonne was over at Florine’s all day. Grandma was trying to kiss Edna but Edna’s head hit Grandma’s glasses and broke a bow. It gave her a black eye. Daddy fixed them with some cement.

February 24, 1934, Sat
Grandma went up to have Dr. Brown fix her teeth. Mother, Daddy and Nora went to Mrs. Robinson’s (Robson) sale and Dorothy and I to take our music, so Juanita stayed with the kids. We took a chicken up to Nolan’s. Nora took two to Dr. Packer. After our music Dot and I went down to the sale. Mother bought some dishes. Nora bought an oil stove, a cabinet and a cafe. It was five when we got home. Edna came over for the night. McRells came over; we played the square dance. We had pie for refreshment.

RecordCold_28Jan34February 25, 1934, Sun
It was snowing hard. McRells was going to take us to Sunday School in the bob-sled but decided it was too cold for the horses. Nora and her family stayed all night last night. They didn’t go home until about four o’clock. Edna didn’t have to go home. I made some brown sugar candy. Yvonne Jane has been entertaining us by singing little birdie with a yellow bill and some other songs. We fixed some ice cream.

February 26, 1934, Mon
Juanita and Kathryn made some cookies. We had ice cream again. Grandma found an old gunny sack; she made her a crochet hook and is going to made a rug. Mrs. Fritz pronounced our words to us this noon. We are going to have exams tomorrow. It was better sliding today than it had been but was so cold that the little ones didn’t play long. Mother was making a dress for me but it was too short so Juanita gets it.

February 27, 1934, Tues
It was twenty-two below zero this morning. We took our reading, arithmetic, civics, spelling and grammar. I got one hundred in spelling and arithmetic. Juanita is learning how to count in her music. We have a new black and white calf to feed. It is so fat that we are going to call it Chunky. Daddy had to teach it to drink. Kathryn and I cleaned our room. Daddy got stuck in a snow bank. John pulled him out.

~~~~~

Some of the “Main Characters” who appear in the Diary

 

The Parents

Alpheus Ray Appenheimer (1891-1974)

America Swango Appenheimer (1897-1957)

     The Children

Dorothy Louise Appenheimer (5 Jun 1920-___)

Betty Marie Appenheimer (24 Oct 1921-24 Dec 2011)

Juanita Ara Appenheimer (23 Mar 1924-___)

Kathryn Pearl Appenheimer (25 Jun 1925-___)

Alpheus Clay Appenheimer (15 Feb 1927-29 Aug 2008)

Glenna Mae Appenheimer (6 Jul 1928-___)

Yvonne Jane Appenheimer (28 May 1931-27 Dec 2007)

 

Betty Marie Appenheimer was the second of seven children, six girls and one boy, born to Alpheus Ray “Al” and America Swango Appenheimer. Sister Dorothy was sixteen months older.  Her sisters Juanita, Kathryn “Katy,” Glenna and Yvonne Jane were younger by about 2, 4, 7, and 10 years.  Her only brother, Clay, was 6 years younger. America Appenheimer enjoyed telling new acquaintances that she had six daughters and each one of them had a brother.

The McRells, a farm family of seven boys and one girl, lived a quarter mile to the west.  Ernie McRell, the father, and Al Appenheimer were good friends.  Ethel McRell was the mother.  The McRell children were, in birth order, Robert, Floyd, George, William, Anna Mae, John, Charles and Carl Dean.  The McRell grandparents, George and Anna McRell, lived in a second farmhouse on the farmstead, along with Ernie McRell’s brother Frank.

The Appenheimer children and McRell children attended Maxfield School, a one-room rural school located between the two families.  Betty Appenheimer was younger than the oldest McRells but older than John, Charles and Carl Dean.

            John and Nora Cockerham were neighbors and family friends.  John worked as Al Appenheimer’s hired man.  Nora helped with the domestic work, as well as filling and labeling one-gallon sorghum cans during sorghum season.  Florine was their daughter and Floyd, their son.

~~~~~~

NOTES:

Jan 30.  John Cockerham.

Feb 3.  The Streeds, Ferdinand and Ethel and Lester and Adelheid, were farm neighbors to the west.  Mrs. Leonard B. Hankins and Olive were Al Appenheimer’s sister Pearl and his niece Olive–thus, Betty’s aunt and cousin.  Seidrick (i.e., Cedric) Ericson was the husband of Al’s niece Edie Appenheimer Ericson.

Feb 5.  Name error in newspaper article.  Mrs. Cedric Ericson, not Mrs. Frederick EricsonFloyd Cockerham.

Feb 6.  Dean and Kathryn Warren.

Feb 9.  Auntie Kae was the wife of America’s brother, Alfred Swango.

Feb 14.  Jimmy Warren.  The Warren children moved away and did not finish Toulon High school.

Feb 24.  Dr. Fred Brown, D.D.S., Toulon dentist, graduate of Northwestern University Dental School.  Nolans, spelled Nowlans.  Likely James Nowlan family; he was editor of The Stark County News and a representative in Illinois legislature.  I would guess the family bought the chicken.  Dr. Elmer B. Packer, beloved family doctor.  He was a captain in the Medical Corps in World War I.

Monongahela Books: an independent publishing company

Longbuilding_narrow Monongahela Books is an independent publishing company located in Morgantown, West Virginia. It is situated in a 19th-century storefront overlooking the Monongahela River in a ghostly district of town that vanished a good many years ago. You can still get a glimpse of it, though, on certain turn-of-the-century postcards that turn up now and again in flea-markets and junk shops.

We are easier to find on the Web, at MonongahelaBooks.com. We specialize in books of local history, military history and regional literature. Our titles include books on the 18th century frontier, the Civil War, the First World War and the Great Depression.

Our literary offerings include new titles by Jared Carter, Dana Gioia, Peter Whitfield, BJ Omanson and the only book-length study of the recently rediscovered poet of the First World War, John Allan Wyeth.

Monongahela Books also carries an extensive selection of used books, mostly on American history. You are welcome to peruse our titles at leisure in our Used Book Annex.

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