Doug Van Gundy: “A Beautiful Jar of Jelly”

See image credit below.

See image credit below.

I have so many beautiful memories of my fifteen years in West Virginia. Among them are listening to friends play old-time music, sharing stories and poems with them, sitting with them on front porches and back porches and in kitchens, eating rhubarb crisp made from their grandmother’s recipe. Indeed, some of my most beloved storytellers are folks I met when I lived in West Virginia.

In past issues of StoryWeb, I’ve sung the praises of other West Virginians – Hazel Dickens, Louise McNeill, and Kirk Judd. But one of my absolute favorite storytellers is poet and musician Doug Van Gundy. He is an integral part of my West Virginia memories – and it is his beautiful wife, Melissa, who made the rhubarb crisp with the recipe passed down through her family. When I met Doug, he lived in Marlinton, West Virginia, in stunningly beautiful Pocahontas County. He now lives in his hometown of Elkins, West Virginia, and teaches in Buckhannon in both the BA and MFA writing programs at West Virginia Wesleyan College.

Doug’s music and Doug’s words are woven through the fabric of West Virginia culture.

He is an outstanding old-time fiddler – and can hold his own with anyone on this quintessential West Virginia instrument. He apprenticed with Mose Coffman, played with NEA National Heritage Fellow Melvin Wine and with the acclaimed musician Dwight Diller, and he recorded a 1999 CD with the young fiddler Jake Krack. He now plays fiddle, guitar, mandolin, and harmonica with Paul Gartner in Born Old, an old-time string band. He has been featured on two other CDs, in several short films, and on National Public Radio’s outstanding show, Mountain Stagerecorded in West Virginia. You can hear clips of Doug’s music on his website.

Doug is also well known and well loved as a poet. His poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in The Oxford American, Poems & Plays, Ecotone, Appalachian Heritage, and Poetry Salzburg Review. His poems have been included in Wild Sweet Notes: Fifty Years of West Virginia Poetry, 1950-1999 (edited by Kirk Judd and Barbara Smith), and Doug is currently co-editing a forthcoming anthology of contemporary writing from West Virginia.

Doug’s greatest claim to literary fame is his first collection of poems, A Life Above Water, published in 2007 by Red Hen Press. This fine book includes my favorite of Doug’s poems, “A Beautiful Jar of Jelly.”

Though it tells of sitting on a porch in summertime (calling to my mind memories of sitting on Melvin Wine’s porch as he played the fiddle), “A Beautiful Jar of Jelly” seems appropriate for Thanksgiving, too. There’s just something about preserving family memories that links us to the past and helps us find our way forward. Doug’s poem reminds me of Kentuckian George Ella Lyon’s poem “Where I’m From,” but the voice in “A Beautiful Jar of Jelly” is powerfully, uniquely his own.

To learn more about Doug (especially about his music), visit his website.

Don’t forget to leave a comment on this post! You’ll be entered into a monthly drawing to win a StoryWeb T-shirt if you do one of the following. 1) Subscribe to the weekly StoryWeb email, and leave a comment here (or on any other post!). 2) Subscribe to the StoryWeb podcast in iTunes, and leave a review on iTunes. (If you subscribe on iTunes and leave a review there, shoot me an email at to let me know you did so!)

Listen:Listen as Doug Van Gundy reads “A Beautiful Jar of Jelly.” I’m thrilled to feature this one-and-a-half-minute clip, recorded just for StoryWeb!

Image Credit: Photo courtesy of Doug Van Gundy.