Kirk Judd: “On Cranberry”

See image credit below.

See image credit below.

October 1996.

Rachael Meads and I were producing what we thought would be Shepherd College’s one-time only Appalachian Heritage Festival. We knew it would be a great event, a dream come true, because we had so many of our heroes of Appalachian music scheduled to perform. Mike Seeger would emcee, and Hazel Dickens, Ginny Hawker, Tracy Schwarz, Dave Bing, and Jim Costa – all outstanding West Virginia musicians – would join Mike on the stage. We wisely decided to add literature as well. We invited two West Virginia poets whose work we had come to know and love – Sherrell Wigal and Kirk Judd.

As it turned out, the festival went so well that on the closing night Mike said from the stage, “Let’s make this an annual event.” And that’s just what we did!

This coming weekend, Rachael will produce the 20th Annual Appalachian Heritage Festival. Over the years, under Rachael’s consummate leadership, the festival has hosted both legendary musicians and those who are up and coming: Jean Ritchie, John Lilly, Gerry Milnes, Melvin Wine, Walker CalhounKay Justice, Nat Reese, Jake Krack, Betty Smith, Sparky Rucker, Nora Jane Struthers, Carol Elizabeth Jones. The festival has become a veritable Who’s Who of Appalachian musicians.

Along the way, the festival has continued its celebration of Appalachian literature as well. Lee Smith, Rita Sims QuillenDoug Van GundySharyn McCrumb, Jane Hicks, George Ella Lyon, Denise Giardina, Silas House, Ron Rash, Homer Hickham, and many others have graced the stage. This year, the festival is hosting Nikki Giovanni and Sheila Kay Adams.

But I always hearken back to that first festival in October 1996 – and I remember vividly how taken I was with Sherrell Wigal’s poetry (especially her poem about her love of the word “linoleum”) and with Kirk Judd’s work as well. Kirk “performed” his poetry accompanied by fiddler Dave Bing.

Now I am pleased to see that Kirk will serve as the emcee for the 20th annual festival and even more excited to celebrate his recent publication of My People Was Music, a collection of his poetry that spans more than two decades. Included is a CD featuring Kirk’s spoken-word performances of his poetry along with acclaimed mountain musicians playing acoustic instruments on traditional mountain songs, as well as original tunes. Featured performers include The Bing Brothers, Danny Arthur, Dave Bing, Mike Bing, Tim Bing, Bob Shank, Pops Walker, and Sherrell Wigal.

Kirk is also the co-editor (along with Barbara Smith) of Wild Sweet Notes : Fifty Years of West Virginia Poetry, 1950-1999, the acting president of the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation, and a creative writing instructor at Allegheny Echoes. In 1998, I took the Allegheny Echoes creative writing class with Kirk and Sherrell and helped to create the group poem, “Sacred in Green.”

I have so many favorite Kirk Judd poems, but chief among them are “Visitin’ Charleston (for a Poetry Reading),” “The High Country Remembers Her Heritage,” and “On Cranberry,” which spoke to me when I was in the depths of a dark despair. In fact, I included several lines from “On Cranberry” in my memoir, Power in the Blood: A Family Narrative. Kirk’s ending lines – “God, I am alive! / I am shining in the everywhere, / the always of this world” – called me back to my place on this earth.

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Listen:Listen to Kirk Judd read his poem “On Cranberry,” with banjo player Tim Bing providing the musical accompaniment. The clip runs one short, but beautiful, minute!

Image Credit: Photo of Kirk Judd,