Regional poet Raymond Neely is known of the locale of Mercer County [WV] as live reader and arts organizer, and throughout greater Appalachia as author of Appalachian Rivules as well as other chapbooks. His most recent publications include The Bluestone Review, Holler, and A Word With You Press. He is most devoted to the active practice of the art form of poetry.
(Read his full biography at Middle Island Press.)
(“Coffee With the Poets” interviews
are conducted by Christina.)
MIP: Hi, Raymond, and how do you prefer your coffee?
RN: I’ll have my coffee very strong with a lot of cream and a lot of sugar. Thanks for asking.
MIP: Having gotten to know many aspects of you through your heartfelt and insightful Appalachian poetry, it’s difficult to decide where to begin, so I’ll just start at the beginning. How long have you been writing poetry, and what initially inspired you?
RN: I began writing poetry at about the age of fourteen, and have loved doing it everyday since. I was first inspired to write poetry by the stars themselves.
MIP: That’s beautiful. In what forms did those early expressions manifest, and how do you feel that your poetry has evolved over the years?
RN: It took the form of “Gazed a Boy and His Father” of our latest project The Pathway. I’ve over time incorporated more forms and rhyme into my poetry from this early free verse writing.
MIP: You live close to the land as well and are certainly in tune with its communicative subtleties. What aspect of nature moves you to write most of all, and why?
RN: Both the Bluestone and New River Valleys are extremely inspirational to me about nature. The places are of pristine and extreme natural beauty, unforested, and ancient are the rivers and their valleys.
MIP: You connect with that which is pristine, where ancient truths echo from their source. This reflects in the clear imagery that elevates your poetry to a higher plane. If you were to be remembered for one stand-out quality within your work, what would it be, and why?
RN: It might actually be the use of nature imagery and the interactions between humans and nature.
MIP: Along that same note, if you were to be remembered for one singular poem, which would it be?
RN: Perhaps, “You Are My World.”
You bring forth before me
the life and essence
of the lands and places
for me, my mind and life.
Your emanations gladden the posies,
so sunshine smiles,
colors live, and
all that is does give.
You spurn the green from dormancy
and inspire romance.
You pull the lighted petals apart,
Cause the roaming rivers’ rapids,
and allow to live my labors’ love.
You beautify the dove.
You make the days and lands and skies
livid before my eyes.
You make me hear its sounds and cries.
All loves us.
You are my world.
MIP: Empowerment of femininity through a gentle sort of living hyperbole! I love it. We share a mutual love of chapbooks, and you have crafted several of your own collections in a time-consuming, “made with love” fashion that is inspiring. What drew you to chapbooks as a means of delivering your poetry?
RN: I was first inspired to begin producing chapbooks by a few competitions which I wanted to enter, and by delighting in the compilation of poems into collections with commonality, with a backbone of relatedness. I also love the length and easy-to-read nature of the chapbooks. I love the artwork and format of chapbooks.
MIP: How many chapbooks of your poetry have you compiled, and which one is your personal favorite, and why?
RN: I have ten chapbooks which are penned and compiled, some awaiting professional publication. My favorite of these is entitled The Pathway that I hope will soon be available from Middle Island Press.
MIP: Certainly. The sense of accomplishment that comes with completed projects is the reward for hard-working, goal-oriented poets, and speaking of The Pathway, [with time elapsed between the onset and completion of this “coffee break”] it is now being finalized. How do you feel that The Pathway differs from your earlier work, and what are your hopes regarding this collection?
RN: The Pathway is actually of my earlier work, and I only hope that it finds readers, and, where it does, that the poems may become dear to them.
MIP: You are active in your literary community. What projects have you been working on to enrich the literary art of West Virginia?
RN: Live readings, meetings, publishing…
MIP: You are too humble but I’ll respect your brevity. Your home and heart is in Appalachia. What is it about Appalachia that you strive mostly to communicate to others?
RN: Natural beauty is a primary aspect of Appalachia that I strive to communicate, and also, that which is “hillbilly” or stereotypical of our people makes for a good subject to write about.
MIP: I agree. “Get ‘r done!” as they say around here. You are a poet of the people, and I wish you an enthused and attentive readership in your life and beyond. *Clink*
(Raymond’s new chapbook The Pathway as well as Appalachian Rivules can be purchased through the Middle Island Press website. He has also self-published several chapbooks.)