Category Archives: rumination

Community is a Feeling, Not a People

Turning ideas into action is one of my favorite things to do. So, my elation after Slash Pine pulled off the best poetry festival that I’ve ever been to was palpable. When a person talks about “the community,” they are not talking about fifty people who sit around waiting for other people to put on events for their amusement. They are talking about a feeling, the very particular and inexplicable phenomenon when very different people from near and far come together to create a giant feeling that hangs in the air and causes eyes to sparkle, ale to be drunk, thoughtfulness to be provoked, and bellies to shake like bowls full of jelly. It’s a feeling like no other and it can only arise when a few very dedicated art lovers (like the ones that can be found at Slash Pine Press) try to make it happen in a loving, respectful way. Whenever Slash Pine plans any event, it is with the knowledge that the event will never be as we planned it. It will only ever be exponentially better than we have ever dreamed or worse than our darkest nightmare. I am pleased to say that, in this case, it was the former.

The poetry festival showcased four different environments conducive in different ways to successful poetry readings: Gorgas House lawn (our only outdoor site), the Gorgas auditorium, Green Bar, and Mellow Mushroom. It was an ambitious scope for an event that focuses primarily on poetry. In the past, when I thought of the few poetry readings I had been to, they had all been dark, sometimes a little smelly, and almost always a little over the top and self-congratulatory with little audience participation. The Slash Pine poetry festival, however, managed to ensnare an almost entirely different group of people, and thus a different feeling, at every event site. Gorgas House Lawn happened to be personal; many of our close friends, our teachers, and our classmates were there, but in sizeable numbers, which led to a cozy, warm, happy, outdoorsy environment. Gorgas Auditorium attempted to attract an audience a wee bit earlier than is usually expected for poets and writers to rise. Despite this, the coffee, the chapbook table, and the snacks were conducive to a surprisingly lively and receptive audience to see readers from Slash Pine, Montevallo, and a few surprise readers who turned out to be the best of the bunch. At Green Bar, understandably, the crowd turned in a completely different direction. It was at a more forgiving hour, and friends, family, and people down for a good day-drink showed up, promoting a more responsive, cozy, dark, and thoughtful environment. Like a giant snowball, Mellow Mushroom accrued almost everyone who had been there for the weekend, plus any stragglers looking for something interesting to do with their night. It was a giant, interesting crowd there that night, and the revelry was running high.

By the end of the event, all Slash Piners were completely exhausted, but I went home feeling as though I had gone on a trip that had lasted a week and was now receiving a very well deserved rest, thoroughly exhausted but smiling like a Cheshire cat. All the poets at all the events were wonderful and very different, leading to fast-paced whirlwind of expectancy at every turn. They all created great works to be enjoyed by all, but Slash Pine made it possible for them to all share their work together, under the same roof. I appreciate the wonderful work, but I feel fulfilled down to my toes by the vision and effort that the members of Slash Pine exuded over that long and diverse weekend in October.

-Summer Upchurch


Poetry will remove your brain gag

This year’s Writer’s Festival helped shape my notions of community as it applies to writing and to art more generally.  We began with a reading on the lawn of Gorgas House.  I read my own work here along with several other interns, and I began to realize the importance of events like the one we put on.  Of course, that is the key to learning anything worth learning—do it yourself, dive in.  This is the essential ethic of Slash Pine.  When reading, I felt a connection to the audience, learned about my own work, my conventions.  I felt the audience draw closer when something worked, felt them lose interest when something didn’t.  This was a workshop experience, but more useful, because the audience could not hide behind quaint phrases and evasions.  There was a fundamental energy in the crowd, a non-verbal communication between reader and listener that was brutally honest and (at times) stunningly rewarding.  People who attended the reading brought lawn chairs or spread out on the grass.  As the reading was happening, they thoughtfully pinched blades of grass out of the earth in tiny clumps.

The next day, we kicked off with a reading at 10:00 A.M at Gorgas Library (I have to specify the time because it seems awfully early in poet time, to those of us who usually go to raucous readings at bars that last late into the night) which included a fantastic reading by Bruce Covey.  He electrified all in attendance with his poetry, which was both insightful and (at times) hilarious.  This reading also included Alabama’s J.M. Gamble, whose work is stunningly beautiful and mature.  I was reminded again why I am so lucky to go to this school and to run in the circles with such incredibly talented people.

Next reading was in the afternoon at Green Bar.  A University of Alabama professor, Ashley McWaters, read her work, which was astounding.  Since her reading, I have reread the poem she included in the Slash Pine Writer’s Festival Anthology over and over, rolling each line around in my head until I begin to understand why her poetry is so effective.  It meant a great deal to just let words topple on me for a couple of hours (well, for the entire weekend).

Finally, we had a night reading at Mellow Mushroom.  In this reading was the incomparable Carolyn Hembree.  She was the most engaging reader I’ve ever seen.  Her work is astounding, and being able to hear it read aloud was a fantastic experience.  It was truly a gift.  The festival closed out with Slash Pine’s own Will Gillette, who is a similarly engaging reader.  His was a standout performance.  He is a poet who seems to have an endless supply of perfect words strung together and tucked away somewhere, and his work was impressive enough to be included with the work of the various professional poets who were invited to the festival.  Overall, this was my favorite reading.  The readers delivered a stunning performance, and I went home exhausted and dreamed lyrical dreams.

-Kyle Dennan

Slash Pine Festival 2012

When I think about the 2012 Slash Pine Writer’s Festival, I do not feel that it had anything to do with Tuscaloosa. I do believe that it functioned as “community art,” but that “community” was not Tuscaloosa; it was the community of writers that came together, and it just happened that we came together in Tuscaloosa. Place did not seem to matter as much as the atmosphere that the community created. This community was the audience of itself. The writers that came to visit, the students and faculty that came to participate, and the interns and sponsors that came to host the event made up both the audience and the community.

I am not sure what this festival brought to the general public, but I know what it brought to the community of writers that participated. The festival brought out a self awareness in us that can only come from being surrounded by like minded individuals. We grew together as a community of writers during the time of the festival; we bonded in ways that only writers can. We listened to what each other had to say, and not just passively, we actively listened and engaged with one another.

As an intern, I had a different perspective on the festival than someone that just came out to hear one of the readings. I was there for the preparation meetings. I helped with the anthologies that we would be selling. I even sold books at the book table.

I remember one meeting that we had about the venues. We kept trying to decide whether or not to have chairs at the Gorgas House Lawn. Eventually we decided that we should all bring blankets. This presented us with the relaxing atmosphere that seemed to permeate throughout the festival. Sitting on the front lawn made for such a beautiful reading; the pink flowers framed each reader, and the sunshine seemed to melt away all the jitters that we had preceding the festival.

Even getting ready for the festival as an intern gave me more insight than other participants. I helped proofread the manuscript for the festival’s anthology. I went with Laura Flowers and Kyle Dennan to look for paper.  Then I got to learn the “dreaded” loop stitch that we used to sew the chapbooks together. I felt very proud after I finished sewing my first book. That must have been my favorite part of organizing the festival.

I also enjoyed reading and meeting all of the writers that came to the festival. I was so enraptured by Bruce Covey’s work, and it meant a great deal when he complimented me on mine. Some of my friends were at the festival as well, and I was pleasantly surprised when they acknowledged my reading too.

While we were at Green Bar, I managed the selling booth with Judah Martin. It felt great when people from our community of writers were buying each other’s work. I bought several books myself, and it was an amazing experience to have the writers there in person. I made a point to speak with everyone who’s work I purchased, and they all signed their books for me. I was so excited that Ashley McWaters remembered speaking with me two years before the festival. That made me so thankful to be a part of not only this community of writers but the community of the University of Alabama.

-Amber Brown

a festival! a festival! a writerly type, wonderful festival! how lucky to have been there!

When you go to an amusement park and ride every roller coaster, it’s hard to remember later what exactly happened on which one.  You just know you had a ball.  That’s sort of how I feel when I look back at the festival.  I can remember the readings, and I can recall lines that stuck out to me.  I can’t remember everything, though.  The festival isn’t like going to a reading to hear a few poets.  It’s an intense, all day event with twists and turns of phrases that make you feel so much.  That’s how the festival was for me; I felt so much.

After going to the Arboretum with our friends from New Orleans, some of us read with them on the Gorgas House Lawn on Friday.  I liked the outdoor setting.  It was a smaller reading of about 50 people.  People sat on blankets or the grass, and it felt extremely intimate.  It was the first time we heard the New Orleans kids read and vice versa.  We had a lot of fun there.  My mother came, and I was glad she got to hear my work and understand exactly what I was doing in the internship and in college as a whole.  She was able to understand that I was a part of a community of writers, and I was happy that she could share that with me.  Will

I’m not used to feeling so early in the morning, but at 10 AM on Saturday, Bruce Covey opened the festival with the coolest poetry I’d heard in a while.  I wanted to lean forward, take it in, and memorize everything he read to us.  From that point, I realized we were in for some crazy awesome stuff.  That’s another thing—these readings weren’t normal.  Usually, I go to readings and sit with three or four friends.  This time, I was with all of the interns and the kids from UNO.  It was fun being with so many friends at a reading.  Ethan Saul Bull (author of In the Hour and a Bedroom Later from Slash Pine Press) closed the reading with beautiful work from the chapbook some of us worked on last semester.  I loved being able to meet and listen to the poets whose work we knew so well in Slash Pine.  Being the first reading of the day, we got to see what was in store for the rest of the day.  We knew the rest would be just as amazing.

The reading at Green Bar was full of some power houses.  Ashley McWaters sticks out  to me from that reading.  I remember listening and thinking that I wanted to write like her, and I felt so lucky to be involved in a community of artists in Tuscaloosa where I could hear poetry that made me feel inspired to write.  Some of the other interns, like Blake, read at the Green Bar.  His parents were there, and it was the first time they were able to hear him read.   It was amazing watching them listen to him.  They were so proud of his (really awesome) work, and it was neat to watch them understand his function in the community of writers.

Mellow Mushroom was our last reading, and I’m pretty certain that it was my favorite.  I was thrilled to hear Cindy St. John after reading Be the Heat (also out from Slash Pine Press), and she was amazing.  I was also fortunate to hear Carolyn Hembree, a professor at UNO who brought our friends, read from her book Skinny.  Her poetry is jaw dropping.  It was probably my favorite reading of the festival.  After the festival was over, we were all in sort of a daze.  So many words were jumbled in my head, and I wanted to remember and make sense of them all.  I couldn’t, but that’s okay.  Remembering everything wasn’t important.  What was important is the inspiration and sense of community I took away from the festival.  There were so many people at each reading supporting the community of artists.  It felt amazing to understand that this community of artists isn’t insular.  It isn’t just the university, Tuscaloosa, or Alabama.  It’s a nationwide community.  It’s about coming to some poetry festival in Alabama to read with friends.  Watching the exchanges between the poets was awesome.  It was so cool how everyone seemed to know each other, and it gave me hope that one day, our own little Slash Pine internship community will be all over the place and at the same time be together in our community.

Laura Flowers

I’m a community artist! Are you?

When people ask me what it means to be a southern writer, I immediately reach for words like people, space, relationships, connections. I think less about traditionally southern tropes and more about the network of people that forms the community I know and love. This gives me the distinct feeling of being a community-oriented artist.

The relationship between an artist and a community is a symbiotic and mutually beneficial exploration into the relationships between culture and place. The community artist sees other members of the community as characters (living, breathing inspiration), but also sees the community itself—the place, the trees and cracked sidewalks and odd weather patterns—as its own character. As a writer, I am sharply attuned to the movement and characteristics of the people around me, but also to the vivid life of the town and its physical components: the looseness of its soil, its rocky outcroppings and riverbeds.

One of the most valuable things about being a part of a community is the commonality of the interpersonal relationships—everyone feels a certain degree of kinship simply because they all fundamentally identify with the same place and the same experiences. My hope is that my writing will bring people together in conversation about the places, people, and quirky unique surprises that they know and love—or, if my readership extends to people outside the community, that they, too, will begin to feel as though they are a part of our community as well.

-Alexandra Franklin

A Community Artist

A community is a straw belly deep in an untapped, cold slush of shared emotion and experience, sweet but stagnant. The artist is one blessed, maybe cursed, with thirst; a thirst that guides his lips to the end of the straw, previously only teased by gusts and weary flies. Each piece an artist creates is an inhalation, whether deep and enduring or sudden and jarring, that bids the slush rise within the straw bathing its insides (the minds and outlooks of a community and its participants) in the vibrant fluid of communal life like marrow coursing through an otherwise dusty bone.

Though, perhaps this metaphor falters in that it ignores one simple but unavoidable truth: the artist is not separate from his community. He is not a man peering through windows scrawling messages backwards in the steam-breathed glass so that if the partiers inside are willing to take their eyes off the butts stirring up their crotches they can read the wisdom of his observations. Rather, the writer is himself dancing the night away and is himself on the receiving end of an eager booty, which in this case represents the allures and sensual delights of the daily grind as well as the ever-present potential for pain and sadness. However, unlike the other dancers, the artist is called to take his eyes from the rump in his lap and look to the stage where sits the universe, congealed into a glowing mound of music.

He has heard the melody since birth and seen remnants of the soft shine in the stories of Grandma, Shakespeare, and all the poets and yarnsmiths he’s ever encountered, but only after seeing the simple, grand totality of the world for himself can he wield the light and fashion a disco ball to spew light on his fellow dancers and embolden the movements of all those with whom he shares the floor.

 Will Gillette

I’m Colin, Welcome to my Home

   On the first day of class, each of the new interns of Slash Pine Press was asked to ‘write freely’ about what it means to be a community artist or an artist within a community. On the surface, these questions may seem somewhat evasive in nature, but it’s really that kind of thinking that made me interested in the Press and interning with them.

I guess the obvious place to go is to tell you what I wrote. I will spare you the verbatim prose of an undergraduate English major. I am sure you already know it’s all wordy and pseudo-eloquent, and it bashes around the point until I run out of time. However, the main idea is still there, and it goes, to me, back to the nature of an artist. Some think of art as a solitary thing—the painter in the tower, the writer in the room, et al—but in reality, with no community to represent, art is simply self-serving [and in a frank personal opinion, kind of devoid of any actual merit]. Call me a communist hippie, but I tend to like every occupation to somehow work for a communal good, arts included.

Back to me. Not because I am conceited [even if I am] but because this is my first post here on the grand old intern blog, and you’re supposed to get a bit of me out of this, I think. I like to write things. Mostly true things. Hopefully those things make people smile or giggle or something…maybe not. Beyond that, I watch Netflix, go to school, and paint. Please don’t ask me what I am doing when I graduate in May. I might cry on you. Beyond those beyonds, and perhaps more related to this post, is a certain personal goal that I enjoy pursuing here and there. As a young writer who prefers reading his work aloud as opposed to the tedious publishing process, I try to create opportunities for other young writers to read when I have the opportunity. That is one of the things that draws me into this community of Slash Pine, and the Press world beyond that.

The press world, to me—an outsider dipping my toe in, or perhaps just jumping in—is a place where people take opportunities that are there, and when they aren’t there—by god, you literally make it. With your hands. A BOOK! That’s pretty awesome. Maybe my personal interest isn’t quite as tangible, but I am sure I can learn quite a few things from the interesting people I am going to be around. [To be fair, I already have]. Along the way, if I make something that puts someone’s words into someone else’s hands, what better coincidence is there?

Hopefully, I will have more words for you here soon! In the meantime, look out for me on Twitter with the official twitter @SlashPinePress or my personal one @Mr_Colin.

Community Arts

All artists exist in context.  Although artists are known for withdrawing from society, none can escape that their art is a response to their surroundings.  Communities shape artists.  I’ve moved four times without counting my transition to the University of Alabama, so what community is it that has shaped me? The church has undoubtedly played a pivotal role in mine as well as most Southerner’s lives.  The schools I’ve attended have shaped me. They’ve certainly shown me the horror that is American public education. Family pressures have ated me. Perhaps most significantly, the authors of books I’ve read influence my work. If an artist is raised by a community, then art also is the product of that community.  I’m seeing the phrase “community art” as an input-output relationship. I wonder what it is that makes an artist, an artist. Although I’ve been producing creative work since I can remember, it feels far too assuming to call myself an artist. But, if someone is creating, they must be a community artist. Argue with me. What makes a community artist?

A Community Artist

An artist affects a community the way a scented candle affects a room. The wick is lit, burning with a desire to reach the soft, shiny, unaffected wax surface.  The introduction of heat starts to burn and soften. The wax begins to shift, molding around the puddle of liquid. The aroma slowly works up and outward, changing the atmosphere of the room. The flame flickers back and forth as an occasional breathe of air disturbs the process. An artist, like a candle, slowly works its way into the community, shaping and molding as its influence works outwards; leaving its presence on everything it touches.

That is the type of community that I would like to be a part of: where the very air is so completely condensed with the fragrance of art that your head begins to feel heavy from over-stimulation. In a good way.

My hope is that Slash Pine Press, with its large community of artists, can be a flame to the Tuscaloosa community. With each additional artist that is added to the community, the flame will get larger and larger, until we consume the city. In a good way.

Sarah Jennings is a senior at the University of Alabama studying English Literature with a minor in Creative Writing. One of her short stories, “Sporadic Lightning”, was published in the inaugural issue of DewPoint, a student-run literary journal at UA. Her nonfiction story, “On Adventure”, is forthcoming in the newest issue of DewPoint. This is her second semester as an intern for Slash Pine Press. She would enjoy long walks on the beach, but her skin is too fair and she burns easily.

Community Art – Summer Upchurch

A community artists takes cues from whichever environment he/she lives in (i.e. from architecture, community spirit, community ideals, and from the people) and chooses to create something in response to it. There is no wrong way to be a community artist except to refuse to be a part of the community. We are all connected to the world around us and to reject that sense of interconnectivity would be a rejection of what makes us who we are. A person who makes community murals, paintings, engravings, etc. can be considered a community artist, but community art also encompasses any work that is representative of the community spirit. The work could be anything from a statue of George Wallace to a cookbook of local recipes. I think that whatever community/location the artist finds him/herself in, it will be impossible to not recognize and participate actively in it. The community draws those dedicated to making art and capturing the spirit of the world around them to it. The “doors” of the community can be difficult to find, but if one is open to their discovery, then they will present themselves to him/her.

Few artists can (or should) create willingly for no one. I can not see how an artist can create in a way that is uninfluenced by the place around them. I would call my mother a community artist in Montgomery, and because she is such, I have gotten to meet a huge number of artists who live and work in the city. Strangely, none of them seem to work together in the way one might think of “community artists living and working together.” Every artists’ work is dissimilar, and yet when I think of Montgomery, I think first of the city and then of the city’s art. Maybe that’s because it has been such a huge part of my childhood. My family has a huge collection of community artists’ art up on the walls of my house. Being surrounded by all of that art is my community to me. So, I don’t think that it’s completely true that it’s just the community that influences its art; it’s also the art that inevitably becomes the community.



Summer Upchurch has been a freshman at the University of Alabama for the better part of a year. You can find a short story of hers, The Soot Beneath the Flame, in the 2012 issues of the campus literary magazines DewPoint and Marr’s Field Journal. Currently, she is busy talking about her feelings in New College, writing short stories that always end up too long, and staring at her Basil plant, wishing it would grow. She has just started to wear a watch, which means, technically, she is an adult now. If you’d like to find her, she’ll be hiding in Riverside East behind walls of paper.