"I know a valley green with corn
Where Nottley's waters roil and run
From the deep hills where first at morn
It takes the color of the sun."
In the summertime he 'laid by' his crop of corn along Wolf Creek in Choestoe. As he toiled by day, the rhythm of the cultivator plowing through the corn rows produced the lyrical cadences of poems which he set down by pen at night when most farmers in his valley were resting.
But "I know a valley green with corn" came as a remembrance, with nostalgia and homesickness. The poet was (as he indicates) "three thousand miles away" from his beloved valley "green with corn" when he penned these lines.
He left his home beside US Highway 129 near Vogel State Park on June 14, 1950. It took him almost as long to get to the Atlanta airport and board a plane as the flight across country to the University of California at Los Angeles. There he taught classes, met with literary groups, and faced criticism that he was a poseur. "Many people in the artificial circles where he read his poetry, after hearing one of his exquisitely executed lyrics, could not accept the authenticity of the man standing before them. Surely he must be cultivating the appearance of an unpolished mountain farmer who was trying to gain notoriety and publicity by posing as a 'primitive.'" (in Raymond A. Cook, Mountain Singer. Atlanta, Cherokee Publishers, 1980, page 70).
He wrote a friend that he felt he was "Exhibit A" from "the primitive mountains of Georgia." The academicians could not accept that he wrote with such perception and lyricism without having earned several degrees from prestigious colleges. It was from his apartment on Veteran Avenue in Los Angeles that he thought about the Wolf Creek farm and longed to be there, where "Nottley's waters roil and run."
Now the farm which was once "green with corn" is being turned into the Byron Herbert Reece Memorial and Appalachian Cultural Center. As progress is made on the project undertaken by the four-year old Byron Herbert Reece Society, work is moving forward to save the land, the barns, and Reece's dwelling house which will become the Visitor's Center of the complex.
Interactive programs for children will help them understand how an early twentieth century mountain farm operated. Educational displays will show the life and times of Byron Herbert Reece. When the plaza is built, some of his poems will be engraved at each of the cardinal points. An amphitheater is on the drawing board. It will be at the north end of the property at the bend of Wolf Creek. It will be available for outdoor dramas, poetry readings and programs.
Union County had a genius among us as Reece farmed the land and spent what few hours he had from hard labor writing lyrical poems, ballads, sonnets and novels. Kenneth Rockwell writing in the Dallas Daily Times in 1950 stated: "There is no doubt that Byron Herbert Reece is one of the important younger writers in America." (Cook, p. 72). In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution of July 16, 1950, a reviewer wrote: "Anything that Byron Herbert Reece, Georgia's hill country bard, turns his hand to is done with vigor and thoroughness. This is true whether he is plowing a furrow on his farm in the Choestoe district or writing a ballad or a novel." (Cook, p. 72).
In this ninetieth year since Poet Reece's birth, the Society named for him is working hard to build the Cultural Center, to create lesson plans and make persons available for the "Reece in the Schools" project, to record oral histories from those who knew Reece personally during his life; and to have programs that will give insight and understanding about the "poet genius of the mountains." You may go online at http://www.byronherbertreece.org to find out how to join and to read more about the cultural center. We in the Society would like to have readers of this column as members. Your membership can make a difference as we work together to make known the rich legacy of this mountain poet.
Young Harris College and the Georgia Center for the Book/Georgia Humanities Council are the presenting sponsors joining many other supporters to honor Reece this fall at 2007 Georgia Literary Festival. Featured writers will be Philip Lee Williams of Athens, Helen Lewis of Morganton, and Bettie Sellers of Young Harris. Cathy Cox, former Georgia Secretary of State and President of Young Harris, will be the keynote speaker. Many other Georgia writers with ties to the mountains will be Honored Participants. The Festival will be held in Blue Ridge September 28-30. For more information, see http://www.georgialiteraryfestival.org.
c 2007 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published July 19, 2007 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.