Rafting Rise (Contemporary Poetry Series)
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Set in the central Kentucky basins of the Rough, Green, and Ohio Rivers in 1916-17, Rafting Rise joins the storytelling virtues of fiction with the intensity of the poetic lyric to reach a wider audience, including readers of poetry, lovers of good tales, and those interested in the small events of history recreated through the lives of carefully imagined characters. The book's central action is the rafting of logs in winter down the rivers to the lumber mills in Evansville, Indiana. Survant re-creates the whole fabric of the hardscrabble society that lives by this perilous trade. They are tough people, such as Carl Peters, stranded on a raft run aground in a freezing rain, walking in a figure eight all night to stay alive while his fellow rafter Tom Simpson, who didn't make it, ''...lay/like frozen wood/in the bottom of our boat.'' Elsewhere, in love poems and poems celebrating the lush riverine landscape, Survant conveys the simple, sensuous moments that punctuate this hard life. Here is Bill Balcom at a camp meeting, eighteen and chafing for adventure on the river: ''When I took/a piece of Susie's buttermilk pie,/I saw her looking,/and when I ate/I imagined/her taste.'' But none of the characters is more vivid than Sallie, the female protagonist, a half-mad medicine woman living with her dogs in whatever shelter she can find. Survant gives Sallie such a deep empathy with the countryside and its creatures that she becomes the spirit of the place. But Sallie pays dearly for her empathy with nature, hearing voices over which she has no power. Worse, she has the curse of prophecy, can see the hand of death before it strikes, and is as much feared as needed by the community. Through these and a handful of other characters, Survant fashions a verse epic of Kentucky on the eve of the entry of the United States into World War I. This volume continues the experiment begun in his earlier Anne : Alpheus, combining poetry and narrative to tell the story of several generations connected by place and memory across the artificial boundaries of time.