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Elizabeth Hadaway

Poems - Bio - Interview - Review


The Black Dog and the Blue Ridge

I believe in his black dog because he had no taste for fiction,

my grandfather, no love for tricks

of the tongue (when his clever nurse/son called the stumps of his

Sugared-off legs “little whales lying beached

on the sheets,” it just angered him worse.)  I believe in his black dog

because he was never the star

of his stories, whenever saved lives or turned down all the millions

that liars so often decline.

Like the Gospels, in which the Apostles are so clearly schlemiels,

bad fishermen, running away,

dissing Nazareth (nowhere, Nathaniel calls it), they must

be telling the truth.  If they lied

                                             they’d have better PR.

                                         So my grandfather spoke of the soul

he saw blazed into grace.  He was late

to do chores for a sick neighbor, dawdling along picking chestnuts

(the blighted kind) up, and he turned

at a gooseneck.  The view opened.  Flames filled the neighbor’s roof


the clear air above.  He lit out

running, pounding his way down the ruts—chestnuts flying from

pockets, hands, hat—and arrived to find no

fire, no damage except that the man he’d been sent to help milking

was dead.

                      I believe in the black
dog my grandfather saw disappear, grizzly-big, burning-eyeballed,
that loped like a dog in the path

of his headlamps.  he braked for the black dog and saw it leap through,

not over, but through the stone wall

of a springhouse and vanish.  No tracks in the dust or in the mud.  No

disorder among the cool rounds

of pressed butter, no gap in the milkcans’ ranks, no blade remotely

like bent in the garden beyond.

In my grandfather’s last days, he’d lie on the porch, stare downstreet

at dealers’ dogs, pacing their plot

of packed, glabrous clay.  They had worn out the grass, mauled

the inks of fence they kept running against.

They were angry as he was, and almost as trapped, and as like

to snap any hand that might help,

but they’d never, those pitbulls, etherealized

themselves, never sail through a stone

springhouse wall into infinite dusk like the vast

black dog he once was, I believed.

A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Car, of Dale Earnhardt at Daytona

Never, until we live again

where a girl can walk

to the basketball court unafraid,

among many pedestrians a pedestrian,

watching the red-tailed hawk

that roosts in bridge cable braid

swoop for its own delight

and hers, and play
a raptor-minded game

and walk back home that night

as safe as in the day,

the sidewalk crowds the same;

never, until we begin

to rise against what lurks

behind forty thousand poured

a year into Benz’s gin,

the Bavarian Motor Works,

the mouth of Moloch Ford,

those average annual dead,

will I attempt to grieve

for him in particular.

I have plenty to mourn instead.

I slap no sticky “3”

surrounded by a blur

of specious angel’s wings

on my window, no

“Gone to Race in a Better Place”

over the years of dings

scarring my bumper. Go,

buy your black t-shirts, efface

your own complicity

in his last crash. I

will admit I hold a grudge

against the whole jock galaxy,

but I didn’t want him to die

and I think you did, as much

as you want to, yourselves.

You eat the shafts

of your steering wheels. Cigarette

and gas stations pile their shelves

with his face folded, half

in love with asphalt death,

a cotton/poly blend

exclusive of decoration,

because it was no accident.

It was ritual. I won’t pretend

to buy into that rite, to pour the sponsor’s libation

at the foot of his monument.


-from Fire Baton





Poems - Bio - Interview - Review


Elizabeth Leigh Palmer Hadaway lives in Kingsville, Maryland. She was an instructor at Virginia Commonwealth University and worked as an historical interpreter at Agecroft Hall in Richmond, Virginia. She was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and has received scholarships to the Breadloaf and Sewanee writer’s conferences. Her first book, Fire Baton, was published in 2006.



Poems - Bio - Interview - Review


An Interview with Elizabeth Hadaway, author of Fire Baton

Why is the book called Fire Baton?  Can you twirl fire baton?


As a little kid, I took baton lessons--until I broke my finger trying to get into a car and hold a baton at the same time.  Putting fire in my hands would be criminal negligence. Fire baton twirlers used to practice a few houses up the ridge from mine, and watching them gave me aesthetic ambition—the impulse to make something dangerous and beautiful. 


Is poetry dangerous?


Poetry can be dangerous in lots of ways.  I doubt that a coalition of fundamentalists, college professors, and NASCAR fans will off me for criticizing my native cultures (I’m from a mountain whirlpool in the New River of Virginia where those three streams run together), but better poets than I’ll ever be have been imprisoned or executed for expressing unpopular views.  More often, poetry is dangerous for writers and readers because it takes us to places we weren’t expecting and may not be equipped to handle.  For example, I had the start of a shiny academic career in creative writing: the University of Virginia of Virginia , the University of North Carolina at Greensboro , Stanford University University in California . I walked away from it because I was in love with John Donne and Gerard Manley Hopkins and W.H. Auden; I wanted to write with their theological depth but I had a lousy background in theology.  So I threw myself on the mercy of the Episcopal Church. They gave me two years at Virginia Theological Seminary, with the goal of improving my poetry as a form of ministry.     


What effect did going to seminary have on your poetry?


I’m still trying to figure that out.   I wrote many of the poems in Fire Baton before I went—it’s more about adolescence, Appalachia, and California than the poems I’m writing now are.  One thing seminary showed me is that arguing with God—which my poems do—is an ancient tradition, and much more engaging than arguing about God.    Auden says the ideal school for poets would teach, among other things, Greek, Hebrew, liturgics, and cooking, and every student would garden and look after a domestic animal.  After seminary, in rectory life with the priest I met and married there, I have most of that covered.  If my husband counts as a domestic animal.


Why are so many of your poems in rhyme and meter?


The poem on the page is just sheet music.  To really feel a poem, you have to say it out loud, let the sounds roll around in your mouth and down your throat.  You know a poem and it’s in your blood.  Blood has a beat, if it’s in a living body.  When I started writing, as a very young girl, I imitated the things my family quoted.  My dad went around chanting Robert Service verse about gold mining in the Yukon: we had this routine where I’d recite “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” up to the point where Dan “tilted the poke of dust on the bar and called for . . .” and Dad would roar out “Drinks on the house!” I was also isolated: small mountain town, no bookstores; most of my books came from the A-1 Flea Market.  So I was reading Christopher Marlowe and John Keats in those old editions where the page was divided up into two columns and there weren’t any footnotes to intrude—I just read aloud to try to figure the strange words out, and because it sounded so good.  


Some of my teachers tried to convince me that formal poetry, that is, poetry in meter and often in rhyme, was out of style and so I shouldn’t write it.  That never made sense to me.  Obviously, English is a living language and our vocabulary is always changing.  I don’t use words like “o’er” or “morn” in my poems because I don’t use them when I speak.  I use slang, because I speak slang.  But I don’t just transcribe my slangy stream of consciousness.  Why would anyone want to read that?  If a poem has funny or surprising rhymes, if its rhythm pleases me—then I want to keep on reading.


Does working in rhyme ever get in your way?


It helps me get a handle on slippery emotions, like grief and anger.  A lot of my poems are angry—anyone paying attention to what we’re doing to the world sees plenty to be angry about—but poetry shouldn’t just be ranting.  That’s what blogs are for.  Poetry comes from the impulse to make something admirable out of that anger, and you can’t do that if you’re focused on how angry you are.


Form can also fend off self-censorship.  I tend to judge myself quickly: can’t say that, no, that sounds stupid; am I hurting my gay friends’ feelings or betraying feminism if I write that I’m happy to be married?  Occupying that censor in my brain with technical problems—Hey, judge!  Find a rhyme for effulgent!—frees the rest of my mind to say things I never would otherwise.     


Is that need to fight self-censorship especially strong because you’re from Appalachia?


People from Appalachia have to deal not only with urban and suburban America’s stereotypes about us, but with the fact that we’ve watched all the same TV shows they have, so we’ve absorbed those stereotypes.  The fact is that the mountains—the ones that are left—are places of spectacular beauty, and the way people talk there can be downright courtly.  I hear more civility there than I’ve heard anywhere else.  But stereotype leads to a vending machine in Virginia that sells “hillbilly teeth” along with souvenir keychains and bouncy balls.  I have to make fun of that, if I’m not going to vandalize it.  And it’s in high culture, too.  There’s a technically very proficient photographer who did a series called “Appalachian Folk” that included a great-aunt of mine.   She’s out in her cornpatch in an old straw hat and work dress.  The picture’s titled “She Made ‘em Mind” and the caption makes her sound like Granny Clampett.  It doesn’t mention that she’d gone to New York, earned a master’s degree from Columbia, and come back because she preferred the mountains. 

Poems - Bio - Interview - Review

Click here to read a review of the book by Catherine MacDonald at Blackbird

Buy Hadaway's books here