A Sense of the Midlands

May 29, 2014


By Tom Poland

If you missed the South Carolina Book Festival earlier in May, you missed a good time. The festival yields insight into authors, their books, and why and how they write them. The panels provoke thought. They provide rare opportunities to quiz authors on their craft and subject matter.

One panel I sat on was A Sense of the Midlands, a discussion of how the Midlands and its sensory riches connect writers to where they live. Nancy Brock interviewed the panelists, which included Cynthia Boiter, myself, Ed Madden, and Randy Spencer. Cynthia Boiter, our freshly minted Verner Award recipient, is a driving force behind arts in the Midlands and the Muddy Ford Press, which published the anthology, A Sense of the Midlands.

Ed Madden is an associate professor of English at USC and author of three books of poetry. He’s the literary arts editor too for Jasper Magazine–The Word on Columbia Arts. Randy Spencer is a physician and poet living in Chapin. He received his MFA in Poetry from the University of South Carolina. He’s published two chapbooks of poetry.

In its call for submissions, the Muddy Ford Press sought poetry, essays, and short fiction exploring the sensory world of the South Carolina Midlands. Submissions were to “deal with how the sensory experiences of living in the South Carolina Midlands ground, change, challenge, and enrich us.” Submissions were sought from residents of Richland, Lexington, Newberry, Fairfield, Calhoun, Saluda, Orangeburg, and Kershaw Counties.

Cynthia Boiter served as its editor and Ed Madden served as poetry editor. Jarid Lyfe Brown’s cover art of contributors gives the book a distinctive identity. The 9 x 6-inch book is chock full of treasures and it sparkles with sensations, memories, and impressions. Here’s a peek into it: “The feel of wet soil beneath the knees of the winter-weary gardener as she plants spring peas. The sound of the Carolina fight song echoing down Main Street. The smell of meat crackling in Crisco on the stove top. The taste of tea so sweet it curls your tongue. The sight of deer on the side of the road or the sun going down on the statehouse dome. All these things and more ground us in what it means to be from the South Carolina Midlands.”

Writer and editor Cynthia Boiter asked more than thirty Midlands-area writers to share how the fidelity of place resonates from their own senses and into their writing in this collection of poetry, essays, and short fiction.

For $15, the 161-page book is a steal. I love to thumb through it and read wherever my eyes land. “In the clear water, hollowed out, closely guarded, a bream bed stirs up a trove of chalky, broken clamshells/a thin rain pricks the skin of the cove circles widen, disappear.” Those beautiful lines come from Randy Spencer’s “Kayak: A Lake Murray Journal.”

Some stories cut to the quick. Ruth Varner’s “Close to Nature” reminds us that man and wildlife don’t exactly coexist in peace. “From her kitchen window, Jessie Mae noticed a strange pale object hanging from the distant fence surrounding the three acre property … As daylight broke, curls of fog slipped between the oaks and hickories. The ghostly object absorbed her attention more than the redheaded woodpecker and finches circling their feeder … Jesse Mae gasped … the white object was the belly of a young deer, her rear hoof caught in the fence as she attempted to jump it … The hoof was nearly severed from the leg but she was alive …”

If you’recurious as to how this tragic tale of man and wildlife encounter ends, get your hands on a book.

You can learn more about A Sense of the Midlands and the Muddy Ford Press here. I can tell you that my travels and experiences as an author of six books that touch upon the Midlands have taught me that the Heartland, as I call it, stands side by side with the Upcountry and Lowcountry. You’ll discover that a lot of rich sensory experiences wait for you between the covers. The book amounts to a day trip across the Midlands, one you can make from the comfort of your own home.


Visit Tom Poland’s website at www.tompoland.net 
Email Tom about most anything. [email protected]

Tom Poland is the author of seven books and more than 700 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. The University of South Carolina Press will soon release his and Robert Clark’s book, Reflections Of South Carolina, Vol. II. He writes a weekly column for newspapers in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture.


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