(Approximately 5 pages.)


Wolfpen Creek


Dear William,

Butterfly weather though it is a bit cool for them this early in the morning. My neighbor across the creek is already up and busy with his saw and hammer, despite it being Sunday, despite his having worked in the mines all the other six days of the week, often in water shoe-mouth deep, as he tells me, and in spite of there not being a plank requiring sawing or a nail needing driven. He must be doing something, just as I, propped up here by pillows on my four-post walnut bed, itself a creation of Jethro Amburgey, the dulcimer maker. I find I've written seven pages in a notebook --- extraneous matter, hardly any page belonging in subject to any other, pages looking toward books or manuscripts partially written, or only projected to a number I could not possibly complete given my age and biological life span.

The lady who once asked me, "Do you do your own writing?" and to whom I replied, "No, I have seven dwarves," has lately inquired, "Where do you get your ideas?" For me ideas are hanging from limbs like pears, from fences like gourds. They rise up like birds from cover. They spring out of reports in the Troublesome Creek Times, from a remark in a country store, a happening. The first summer I moved here was a dry one and the creek dried up to a series of potholes crowded with minnows. Every day I drew water from my well and replenished the holes to little avail. Few survived until the next rainfall. Thus:

Leap Minnows, Leap

The minnows leap in drying pools,

In island of water along the creekbed sands

They spring on dying tails, white bellies to the sun,

Gills spread, gills fevered and gasping.

The creek is sun and sand, and fish throats rasping.

One pool has a peck of minnows. One living pool

Is knuckle deep with dying, a shrinking yard

Of glittering bellies. A thousand eyes look, look,

A thousand gills strain, strain the water air.

There is plenty of water above the dam, locked

and deep,

Plenty, plenty and held. It is not here.

It is not where the minnows spring with lidless


They die as men die. Leap minnows, leap.

Log houses are not as warm as reputed. Not mine at least. My first winter here was "a horse." A February blizzard dipped many degrees below zero. I pushed my bed as close to the fire as dared; I heated a rock, wrapped it in a towel, put it at my feet. I wondered how my neighbors fared, many of them in less sheltered quarters. Spring came and there they were, without complaint.

Spring on Little Carr

Not all of us were warm, not all of us.

We are winter-lean. our faces are sharp with cold

And there is the smell of wood smoke in our clothes;

Not all of us were warm, though we hugged the


Through the long chilled nights.

We have come out

Into the sun again, we have untied our knot

Of flesh: We are no thinner than a hound or mare,

Or an unleaved poplar. We have come through

To the grass, to the cows calving in the lot.

As Coleridge composed "Kubla Khan" in a dream, a dream disturbed, one of my poems came unbidden after an imagined telephone ring in the night.

In My Dreaming

Last night the telephone rang in my head, in

my sleep, in my dreaming.

You had passed from all reckoning of our days

without number,

From our knowledge and practice of love

From terrestrial sleep to infinite slumber;

The coils which bound us snapped in two,

The bowl was broken at the well,

Our sky of crystal cracked and fell,

The seeds of surfeit sprouted and grew,

In my head, in my sleep, in my dreaming.

And it was true.

And it was true.

There was a period in Africa during World War II when I had little assurance of ever retruning to my home in Kentucky. Thus this verse of remembrance.

Wolfpen Creek

How it was in that place, how light hung in a

bright pool

Of air like water, in an eddy of cloud and sky,

I will long remember. I will long recall

The maples blossoming wings, the oaks proud with


The spiders deep in silk, the squirrels fat on


The fields and draws and coves where quail and

peewees call.

Earth loved more than any earth, stand firm,

hold fast;

Trees burdened with leaf and bird, root deep,

grow tall.

As you are aware, from childhood I've been a reader, when there was anything to read, and I suppose I've read an average of three hours a day for half a century. Reading jaunts with mountain climbers in the Himalayas, the South Pacific, the American Civil War, World War I, the mysteries of Mayan civilization to name a few tangents, and the entire corpus of many an author. Curiousity like an itch that needs scratching.

Madly to Learn

Madly to learn,

To fathom, to discern,

To master the Gobi, the ruins at Petri,

Climb K-2 and Nanga Parbat,

Swim the Strait of Malacca,

Be Ahab aboard the Peaquod,

Milton in his agony,

Shakespeare treading the boards;

To unravel, to grasp, to speak

Freud's Theory of Seduction,

The mathematical beauty of irregular surfaces,

The Quantum theory, the leap genes,

The invisible morghognetic fields

Transmitted across space and time ----

Bridges to infinity -----

And why Tennyson's "Flower in a Crannied Wall"

May not tell us all and all and all.

Madly to learn.

The question is often asked: "Who influenced you to write?" Certainly it wasn't handed down in the family, and I can't think of an author I wish to emulate although I have admired the works of many. I was already scribbling before the great books came to hand. As an English observer of Appalachian folk in Harlan County, Kentucky, said, "Not knowing the right way to do things they did things their way." I did encounter the novels of Thomas Hardy during college days and the fact that I've always written about the common man may have been sparked by him. The only class I ever cut was when I was deep in Far From the Madding Crowd and could not put the book down. The most memorable book read in college, and in French, was Alphonse Daudet's Le Petit Chose. I must grant some credit to a decade of issues of the Atlantic I came upon during the late 1920s. Otto Jespersen's The Philosophy of Grammar directed me toward "living language" as opposed to the formal.

It took time, my own time, to figure out the King of England is a myth, and all that implies --- the myths we live by, county lines, state lines, imaginary acts made actual by acceptance. I learned an apple is a modified leaf. My self-education proceeded from such facts. I am more an autodidact than a classroom scholar.

"How did you escape the stereotype 'hillbilly' writing?" -- a frequent question. That is, the stereotypical mountaineer and his dialectical speech as rendered by several authors of fiction in the past. I was hardly aware of them, didn't have access to their books. My experience was with the folks themselves. As for handling dialect in my fictions and Notebooks, the way folk actually talk, well, now, dialect of any sort on a printed page always bothered me. Peculiar spellings can't account for the tone of voice, body language, the intent behind the statement. My aim is to invoke speech. To expect the true sound of it to happen in the reader's head. Aberrant spelling rarely accomplishes it. I trust to preserve the "voice" of the speaker.

I answered a set of down-to-earth questions at Carmus Combs' store the other day. A fellow inquired, "How many years have you lived amongst us?"

"This year makes forty-six."

"You're the last 'possum up the tree. Everybody your age when you come here are dead. Hain't that so?"

"I thought they'd live forever."

"What's your notion about dying?"

"Death is as natural as sleep," I said, quoting Benjamin Franklin. "We will arise refreshed in the morning."

My neighbor is still hammering and sawing. He has apparently decided on something to build -- a doghouse, a chicken coop, perhaps a playpen for his children. He will not halt until it is accomplished. It is his act of creation.

Your brother,


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