GODS OF FOUR MILE CREEK, Poems by PHIL HOWERTON, Are Launching Very Soon
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- Published: Friday, 20 October 2023 06:29
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Gods of Four Mile Creek
by Phillip Howerton
Coming Nov. 1, 2023
In poems, photographs, and essays, Phil Howerton manages to convey his deep love for the rural world into which he was born--specifically the farms, rivers, rocks, fish, birds, and stubborn humans of the Ozarks. His quiet, often wry, explorations of places, possessions, and people demonstrate that such elements may be “gods of our own creation,” gods we may both reject and embrace. A master poet, Howerton has a rare ability to find kinship with blackjack oaks, homeless groundhogs, or discarded milk cans—and in the process he enables readers to identify as well, and thus to discover much about who they were and who they might become. A couple of examples (See below) demonstrate the power of empathy which characterizes Howerton’s collection.
"The Farm Forgets it was a Farm" begins thus: “The loft barn wears the same faded sweater/ every day, with elbows worn thin where boards are missing.” The aging farm and its farmer merge by poem’s end as, "In the unmown fields, winds with no place to be/ make a muffled uncertain shuffling sound/ like his stocking feet lost in his numbered hallway." By clothing the old barn in human terms, Howerton invites readers to hear in the farm’s empty winds the emptiness which haunts a forgetful old man as he shuffles toward his shrunken space in a nursing home.
In "Farm Team," a lonely boy plays baseball, imagining trees and barn doors as teammates. When "the barn foundation/ hits another grounder" the "impossible catch" is "witnessed by a crowd/ of Holsteins," and readers see the imagination and resilience which farm life once required and still requires.
In “When the Milk Cans Became Unemployed,” we watch the paraphrenalia of 20th century dairy farming, the classic five-gallon milk can, become obsolete. Once an essential tool for collecting and distributing a necessary nutrient within an Ozarks community, the milk can now is farmed out to other, less valuable, uses—much like the farmers who once nourished their small communities.
Despite the deep sense of loss in many such poems, Gods of Four Mile Creek ultimately creates a sense of being and belonging, edged with hope and good humor. Running through this landscape of self and place is a seven-mile-long creek, oddly named "Four Mile Creek," filled with joy, tragedy, and relentless change.
Biography: Phil Howerton is a professor of English and a sixth generation Ozarker. His poetry
collection, The History of Tree Roots, was published by Golden Antelope Press in 2015, and his anthology, The Literature of the Ozarks, was published by University of Arkansas Press in 2019. He received the 2019 Missouri Literary Award from the Missouri Library Association. He is editor of Cave Region Review and Elder Mountain: A Journal of Ozarks Studies.
The Farm Forgets It Was a Farm
The loft barn wears the same faded sweater
every day, with elbows worn thin where boards
are missing. Brush and briars fill the garden,
and fencerows grow unruly like untrimmed
eyebrows. No one visits. Strangers glance
in as they hurry past. The doors stand open,
and the fences are down, but there is nothing
to keep in and no reason to keep anything out.
In the unmown fields, winds with no place to be
make a muffled uncertain shuffling sound,
like his stocking feet lost in his numbered hallway.
(Nine Innings of Senryu)
playing baseball alone;
the barn door strikes out
he steps to the plate,
do the wave
a fast ball,
the barn foundation
hits another grounder
witnessed by a crowd
throwing to a tree,
searching for the game ball
in a neighbor’s hayfield
he fouls off,
has no chance
the ghost runners
linger in the field
abandoned ball field,
only the wind
circles the bases
When the Milk Cans Became Unemployed
Some found positions with the postal service
holding rural mailboxes, pleased to have landed
federal jobs; others found seasonal work
hauling water during drought; a few
accepted reduced positions in the dairy business
transporting soured milk to hungry hogs;
others submitted to retirement and loiter
around the farm with their metal caps
cocked in mock independence; some
moved to town with their elderly bosses
and stand on either side of the porch
with “Welcome” painted on their bellies
and sporting geraniums; others
found part-time work holding umbrellas
and walking canes at the café or cigarette
butts in front of the laundromat; several,
unable to learn a new skill, stand
with the other displaced collectibles
outside flea markets, waiting
for someone to invent a use for them.