Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Monday, April 26, 2010

Byron Herbert Reece Interpretive Center receives boost

Those of us who are avid Byron Herbert Reece fans and who appreciate his poetry and prose were elated over the recent grant of $671,072 to be used in development of the Byron Herbert Reece Interpretive Center on the farm about a mile north of Vogel State Park.

For one who struggled both as a farmer and as a writer, the amount, no doubt, would have seemed magnanimous to the humble poet. To make use of the grant from the Department of Transportation Enhancement Funds, money on the local level amounting to 20 percent of the allocated grant must be raised. The Byron Herbert Reece Society is in the process of achieving that goal. Members are confident that people will contribute so that a beautiful center at the former Reece farm along Wolf Creek just off highway 129 South will become a reality.

Thanks to those who worked hard to secure the grant. Reid Dyer and Joy Still representing Hayes, James and Associates assisted with writing the grant proposal. President of the Byron Herbert Reece Society, Dr. John Kay, has exerted time, effort and enthusiasm to the task.

Thanks are due Senator Chip Pearson and Representative Charles Jenkins for their interest in and advocacy of the project. Those from the Georgia Department of Transportation supported the application for the grant and seemed happy that Union County received the money to apply to the Reece Center. These were Harold Linnenkohl, DOT Commissioner, DOT Board member Bill Kuhlke Jr. and DOT Deputy Director Larry Dent. Members of the Byron Herbert Reece Society Executive Board which include Union County Commissioner Lamar Paris, Fleming Weaver of the Forest Service and Ben Hulsey were likewise elated over receipt of the grant.

I can envision the future when the Reece Interpretive Center is completed. Visitors can go there to walk the quiet trails along Wolf Creek and experience some of the ambience Reece himself enjoyed in the invigorating atmosphere of mountains, streams, sky and land, commodities held dear in the mountain farmer’s heart. Perhaps inspiration akin to that Reece had when he wrote his poems will happen again to a promising bard.

I thought of a mutual friend of mine and Reece’s, Mrs. Marel Brown, a Georgia poet and writer. I met Marel Brown through the Georgia Poetry Society of which we were both members. We became good friends. One of the links we had in common was our acquaintance with Poet Byron Herbert Reece. In 1979 Mrs. Brown published a book entitled Presenting Georgia Poets. One of the chapters was about Byron Herbert Reece.

Mrs. Brown tells about meeting Mr. Reece first in July 1940. She was spending a week at Vogel State Park because she had won first place in the Georgia State Parks Poetry Contest for her poem, Sonnet to Indian Springs Park. The reward was a week’s lodging at the state park of her choice. She chose Vogel because she had been told that Byron Herbert Reece lived “about a mile north” of that park. She wanted to meet him because she had read with great interest his poem, His Eye Is on the Sparrow published in the North Georgia Review.

Without a phone at the Reece house for her to make an appointment to see him, she drove from Vogel to the farm. There she met first Mrs. Emma Reece, the poet’s mother.

Mrs. Reece was delighted that another poet had sought out her son, and urged Brown to wait until her son and his father Juan would be in from the fields.

Mrs. Brown writes: “The first time I saw Byron Herbert Reece he was coming over the top of a hill, walking home from an afternoon of farm work on the far side of the ridge. Even silhouetted against the brown earth as he and his father made their way down the furrowed land, I could see he was a tall, slender young man. His pace was the slow, careful gait of the farmer who knows how to walk steady in uneven, plowed ground. He reached the almost level barn lot and approached, a question in his dark eyes.” (p. 60)

From that meeting in July of 1940 until the poet’s untimely death in 1958, Marel Brown and Byron Herbert Reece were steadfast friends. With her connections in literary circles in Atlanta, she engineered several invitations for him to read his poetry publicly with the Atlanta Writer’s Club, at the Druid Hills Baptist Church in “A Night with the Poets,” and at other venues. She tells in her brief biography of Reece how adverse at first he was to reading his own poetry, and even asked her to read for him. She encouraged him, and saw a marked improvement over the years from a shy, almost apologetic reading of his poetry to a voice that undulated with the movement and power of his poems.

With poetry in her prose account of Reece, Mrs. Brown wrote: “To me the pattern of Reece poems reveals the wise farmer in him; he guided his plow against the lay of the land, always. Where the furrows should hug the curve of the hill, they hugged; where the contour changed, his furrows swerved to the natural heave and dip of the uneven soil of what he called ‘God’s Country.’ His variation of rhythm was always in conformity to the underlying substance— never any conscious effort to be bizarre or different. His are true lines, in true rhythms, against the uneven hills of life as he knew it.” (pp. 65-66).

As a member of the Byron Herbert Reece Society, I am excited to think that many can learn more about the mountain farmer Mrs. Marel Brown met that late afternoon in July 1940. It will be good to have a place to visit where he worked the land and experienced the creativity that came from his brilliant mind to produce masterful poetry and prose. Marel Brown ended her chapter on Reece with these words: “Time will surely assay the inevitable truth: Byron Herbert Reece was a farmer first, but a poet always.” (p. 69).

(Note: If you can find a copy of Marel Brown’s book, Presenting Georgia Poets, in a library near you, I recommend that you read it. You will enjoy her keen insight into this mountain farmer/poet whom she called her friend. While you’re looking for her book on Georgia Poets, you might like to check on some of her own books. She wrote nine. A collection of her most noted poems is entitled The Shape of a Song.)

c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Feb. 2, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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