Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

James Still’s highly acclaimed novel River of Earth first appeared in 1940. Sporty Creek (1977) continues the story of the family introduced in River of Earth. Still’s short stories are collected in On Troublesome Creek (1941), Pattern of a Man (1976), and The Run for the Elbertas (1983). Like his novels, Still’s short stories are admired for their deceptively simple narrative technique, skillful character delineation, and psychological insight. They have been compared to the stories of Anton Chekhov, Katherine Anne Porter, and Bernard Malamud.

The exact, colorful language of Still’s novels, short stories, and poems is often achieved through the artful use of folk speech, examples of which are found in two collections of Appalachian riddles and rusties (playful, formulaic uses of language): Way Down Yonder on Troublesome Creek (1974) and The Wolfpen Rusties: Appalachian Riddles and Gee-Haw Whimmy-Diddles (1975). Jack and the Wonder Beans (1977) is a delightful retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk” in the local idiom. Still also prepared his version of the Mother Goose rhymes as An Appalachian Mother Goose (1998).

In The Wolfpen Notebooks: A Record of Appalachian Life (1991), Still drew from the notebooks that he kept for more than fifty years, recording the distinctive expressions and customs of the Appalachian region.

Critical attention has been more often directed to Still’s novels and short stories than to his poems. Still was rightly admired for his prose, however, because he was first of all a poet. After reading his novel River of Earth and the poems in Hounds on the Mountain, Katherine Anne Porter said in a letter that the two books should be read together. The novel was “an extension of the poems,” while the poems were “further comment on the experience that made the novel.” Still’s poems, then, are doubly deserving of critical attention. Rewarding in themselves, they also belong to any assessment of his total achievement.