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"To Find a Way Back," by RaJon Staunton, 2020. 

Friends and fellow Appalachians,

The time I have spent with you all over the last few weeks has been invaluable to me and has, among other things, wholly refreshed my faith in the power of community – especially of a community constructed through the various ways we express ourselves through language.

I want to keep my final dispatch fairly short, saving most of my space to amplify another young Appalachian artist who has helped shape me into a better creator, thinker and person, but first I want us to consider the late Toni Morrison and her inspiring thoughts about language as a living thing, something that is “susceptible to death” in any of the forms we choose to wield it. Morrison, who was also a firm believer in the forces of language, asserts in her
Nobel Lecture that, even in the face of the certainty of death, we must not forget that “we do language” – meaning, words are our lifeblood, our tether back to who we know ourselves to be.

The current socio-political and ethical moment that we are living in has, I think, forced us all to reconsider how we are constantly using language to both defeat and revive its subject; how language itself can be defeated and revived by us. At its best, language does exactly what I have been trying to accomplish over the last four weeks: It unites, repairing or creating connections between people, places, ideas and within ourselves; but at its worst, language is extremely destructive – as I
touched on in my first newsletter in this series – and works against these efforts in almost every way. That is not to say that all language does not have the potential to become a finite object, requiring an occasional reworking, a reimagining.

This newsletter is my attempt at not only bridging the more literal physical divide between us, but also at reimagining – and helping all of you reimagine – the function and potential of language in this version of American society we are living in. An important first step in redefining the borders of language begins with thinking about old ideas surrounding our words in new and invigorating ways. This happened for me when I recognized and embraced the flexibility of what a community can be and who is able to be included. In this time of seemingly endless social isolation and disconnectedness, I believe it is language that will carry us through and be there waiting on the other side to greet us.

Before I say goodbye, I would like to introduce you all to the Appalachian poet, and overall creative powerhouse, Elijah Bowen. Elijah is a queer Appalachian storyteller who is studying journalism and creative writing at Marshall University. Their poems hold worlds inside of them, and I am so glad that all of you get to experience a use of language that is as free as theirs. Here is their stunning poem, “Size Eleven.”

Size Eleven

Vinyl servants
take up
vicious tasks too simply.
The car ahead
I will wreck is 
the same red
as these Bratz heels 
I bought online. 
Blocks of gloss.
Too big fools. They are
always 
clacking 
out the closet. Always
clacking 
onto my wino’s tongue.
Perhaps 
I’ll sprint in them
from police today.
Press this pedal too far.
Smuggle smoke
in my throat across
state lines. 
Collide with another 
awful mouth
for money.
Grow into a 50-foot woman to
crush these cars.
All the highways of 
multi-colored beetles
fallen
under my heel.
You see me flee.
Two crazed Kong eyes
over the shoulder. 
Two fat red stilts-
Size Eleven-
sinking into countrysides
and department store 
ceilings. Leaving lonely 
craters too large 
for any man
to reach across
and live. 

I want to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for starting off this year with me and my ideas about language and community. It means everything to me that we have had this space to share with each other during these times, and I hope you have left here feeling more connected with one another. I would love to continue to be a part of everyone’s distant communities, so feel free to find me and reach out on
Twitter or Instagram!

Until we meet again,

RaJon S.

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