The Logan Topographies
Alena Hairston’s book of poetry, The Logan Topographies, embraces rural life in the coalmining town of Logan just as Faulkner encompassed Yoknapatawpha Country, or Welty composed Morgana. Like her predecessors, Hairston is inspired by the foibles of small town life. It is through Hairston’s feminine viewpoint that the reader is first introduced to Logan:
Pregnant belly of coneflower and larkspur. coalcaves of lupine and barberry.
where shale grows up and bumps into the sun. breathes across the moon.
The rich landscape is distinctly female, bringing forth life. In this world Mother Earth is kind and benevolent, unlike its inhabitants. Underlying the natural beauty of the landscape is the darkness of the coalmines and the men who work within them. Hairston writes:
The fathers worked their hands to meat, side by side, tarry matter lining throats.
This one, and early man, alabastered, avowed, helmed by immigrant arrogance,
A willful ignorance…
The other, brailed believer, mafic and refined by the quiet bootstraps mobility,
this too, a willful ignorance, a necessary erasure of plantation prologues,
bred long and deep in Alabaman fields.
Racial tension between the “early men” and the “brailed believers” is continually present, even when a “brailed believer” rescues the “early man” from a cave-in. The tension continues when a disapproving parent rejects young interracial love.
It seems as if the descent of the men into the dark Earth, not only blackens their faces with coal dust, it also blackens their souls. From its metaphoric birth to its death as a coalmining town, Logan becomes a place we know intimately through Hairston’s writing. This collection of poetry is the winner of the Lexi Rudnitsky Poetry Prize, which is a collaborative gift between Persea Books and The Lexi Rudnitsky Poetry Project. It is a book of lyrical beauty – well worth reading.