Hard Toward Home

Available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and from Press 53.
These stories will reward numerous re-readings. They explore universal themes and offer deep insights into human experience, and although Albin unflinchingly confronts darkness and tragedy, he always, always holds to hope. Albin is a true and serious craftsman.

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The History of Tree Roots

Available at Amazon
and Barnes & Noble

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2016 Ozarks Symposium CFP

Call for Proposals
Tenth Annual Ozarks Studies Symposium
September 2016
Theme: “Isolation and Connections in the Ozarks”

The Ozarks Studies Committee of Missouri State University-West Plains seeks proposals for its tenth annual symposium to be held in September 2016.

The theme of the 2016 symposium is “Isolation and Connection in the Ozarks.” This broad theme is intended to accommodate consideration of a wide variety of topics related to how the Ozarks region has been viewed as a place of isolation and/or connection. Some possible topics might include why isolation and connection are sought or rejected; how music, folklore, or literature comments on isolation and connection; how isolation or connection contributes to or undermines a sense of place and social stability; how these forces influence language and dialect; how isolation or connections are exaggerated; how isolation has influenced law enforcement, politics, race, class, economic development, real estate values, or tourism; and many other topics.

For purposes of this symposium, the Ozarks is defined broadly to encompass much of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas and adjacent portions of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Illinois.

Community members, historians, oral historians, folklorists, artists, writers, scholars, or students representing any discipline or field are invited to propose presentations consistent with this theme. Each presenter will be allotted 30 minutes; presenters will be asked to limit their prepared presentations to approximately 20 to 25 minutes to allow time for questions and discussion. Presentations may take the form of conventional conference papers or any other form suitable for such a symposium.

Proposals should be approximately 200 to 300 words in length and should include a preliminary summary of the content of the proposed presentation and a list of any audio-visual or other technological requirements. They should also include the submitter’s name, institutional affiliation (if applicable) and complete contact information.

Proposals may be submitted through the electronic submission form on our website at http://ozarksymposium.wp.missouristate.edu. Proposals may also be sent to Dr. Phillip Howerton, Associate Professor of English, 128 Garfield Avenue, West Plains, MO 65775 or PhillipHowerton@MissouriState.edu. For first-round consideration, proposals must be received by April 30, 2016.

To offset personal expense of travel, a modest honorarium will be granted to presenters who are not Missouri State University employees and who do not have access to an institutional budget for professional development.

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Ward Allison Dorrance and Three Ozarks Streams

Ward Allison Dorrance

Ward Allison Dorrance was born in Jefferson City, Missouri, on April 30, 1904, and attended public school in Jefferson City, where he served as editor of the school newspaper and the yearbook before graduating in 1922. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1926, a master’s degree in 1928, and a doctorate in 1935, all from the University of Missouri-Columbia. In 1926, Dorrance began teaching French at the university and continued to teach there until 1953. He then taught at Georgetown University and became Professor Emeritus of English there upon his retirement. He died at the age of 92.

His book-length works include “The Novel of Anatole France” (Master’s Thesis 1928), “The Survival of French in the Old District of Sainte Genevieve” (Ph.D. Dissertation 1935), Three Ozarks Streams (1937), We’re From Missouri (1938), Where the Rivers Meet (1939), Sundowners (1942), The Party at Mrs. Purejoy’s (1969), and A Man About the House; A Novella (1972).

In Three Ozark Streams Dorrance records his experiences of floating three rivers in the Ozarks: the Black, the Current River, and Jack’s Fork. Many nature writers have been favorably compared to Henry David Thoreau, but few have deserved that honor, yet Dorrance does share Thoreau’s ability to capture the nature’s sublimity in taut, resounding phrases. For example, Dorrance describes the river’s v-shaped currents as “the overlapping blue muscles of water,” the sound of a nearby bull frog as “the voice of one who has entered the room unseen,” and rain water as tasting like “the space through which it has fallen.” Such descriptions allow readers to experience the essence of the natural setting while avoiding exposure to the trite and inflated praise of the beauty of the Ozarks common in much of the Arcadian travel prose.

Also unlike numerous travel writers, Dorrance refuses to cast himself as a superior outsider among inferior natives. In several instances Dorrance admits his lack of outdoor skills, and although he is amused by elements of the natives’ lifestyles, he is intrigued rather than contemptuous. He seems to admire the descriptive power of the Ozarks speech as much as he does the like powers of Native-American languages and French, and throughout his travel log, Dorrance portrays the Ozarks people as hospitable, intelligent, and endearing.

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Robert Heinlein’s Spaceman Jones

Robert A. Heinlein

Robert Heinlein was born July 7, 1907, in Butler, Missouri. Soon after graduating from Kansas City High School in 1925, Heinlein entered the United States Naval Academy. He was released from the navy in 1934 following a bout with tuberculosis. Heinlein then entered politics, but his defeat in a race for the California State Assembly ended his political career.
Heinlein’s professional writing career began when he submitted several stories to Astounding Science Stories in 1939, and he soon established himself as the leading innovator of the science fiction genre. Heinlein served as an aeronautical engineer during World War II and then continued his writing career to become one of the most popular and influential science fiction authors. He pushed the genre beyond the realms of pulp fiction by infusing his writing with a literary quality and with a serious contemplation of several social themes, such as individualism, the impact of religion upon government and social customs, social constructions of gender roles, race relations, and the value of space exploration.
Heinlein received numerous honors and published 32 novels and dozens of short stories. During his lifetime, four of his novels garnered Hugo awards, and three others have been given “Retro Hugo” awards since his death. In addition, at least four volumes of Heinlein’s work have been published posthumously. Robert Heinlein died of emphysema and congestive heart failure on May 8, 1988.

In his novel Starman Jones, the teenage protagonist, Maxwell Jones, is from the Ozarks. Although this story is cast two centuries into the future, the hill culture of the Ozarks still survives, partially because in this future laws are in place to preserve both the landscape and the culture of the Ozark region. Several elements of the Ozark stereotype surfaces in this novel: there are references to moonshine stills and the suspicious nature of regional insiders. Perhaps Heinlein chose to depict this culture in a distant future in order to suggest that it was worthy of being preserved or to suggest that the stereotypes surrounding the region are so resilient that even a novel set in the distant future must engage those stereotypes.
Although stereotypical elements are present, Max is not the typical hillbilly. He possesses a photographic memory, and he is well read, intelligent, courageous, and painfully honest. After he signs onto a starship under a false name and is assigned the job of caring for the animals in the cargo bay, Max’s talents are recognized by members of the crew and he is quickly promoted to chartman, and after the ship becomes lost in space, he becomes the ship’s captain and uses his extraordinary memory to put the ship back on course.

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Edsel Ford

Edsel Ford

Edsel Ford was born December 30, 1928, in Eva, Alabama. When he was eleven, Ford’s family moved to Avoca, Arkansas. Ford graduated from Rogers High School in 1948 and entered the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in the fall of the same year. He graduated from the University with a degree in journalism in 1952 and was immediately drafted into the United States Army.
While in the military, Ford published several poems in Stars and Stripes, and in 1955 he collected these poems and published them as This Was My War. After his discharge, Ford worked for Phillips Petroleum in New Mexico but quit this job when his manuscript, The Manchild from Sunday Creek, won the Kaleidograph Book Competition in 1956. In 1958 he became editor of the poetry column, “The Golden Country,” in The Ozarks Mountaineer, and he published another collection, One Leg Short of Climbing Hills, in 1959.

During the 1960s, Ford had several significant successes as a poet. In 1963 he published a series of Civil War poems, Return to Pea Ridge, and the title poem of this collection was read at the 1962 dedication of the Pea Ridge National Battlefield and was inscribed on a plaque at the park. In 1965 Ford recorded poems at the request of the Library of Congress. In 1966, Ford was honored by the University of Arkansas as a Distinguished Alumni and during the same year he was awarded the $3500 Alice Fay di Castagnola Award for “A Landscape for Dante,” a work in progress. Two years later his manuscript, Looking for Shiloh, won the Devins Memorial Award and was published by the University of Missouri Press. Ford died of a brain tumor on February 19, 1970.

Ford’s books include Two Poets (1951), The Stallion’s Nest (1952), This Was My War (1955), The Manchild from Sunday Creek (1956), One Leg Short of Climbing Hills (1959), A Thicket of Sky (1961), To Give a Child a Book: Seven Poems (1962), Return to Pea Ridge (1963), Love Is the House It Lives In (1965), and Looking for Shiloh (1968).

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Murray Sheehan

Murray Sheehan

Murray Sheehan was born in 1887 and became the first instructor of journalism and the first director of publicity at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville in 1921. Before coming to Arkansas, Sheehan earned a bachelor’s degree from Miami University and a master’s degree from Harvard, served as a sergeant major of artillery during World War I, and taught for a year at the University of Wisconsin. While at the University of Arkansas, Sheehan authored Hints on News Reporting and several histories about art for the Little Blue Books series of Haldeman-Julius Publishing Company. Sheehan also wrote two novels while at the university: Half-Gods and Eden. After resigning his position at the University of Arkansas, Sheehan served for thirty years as a liaison for the Siamese legation in Washington, D.C. and served as a tutor for the Prince of Siam. Sheehan died in 1963 and was buried in Arlington Cemetery.
Sheehan’s publications include Hints on News Reporting (1922), The Story of Painting (1923), A History of Music (1923), The Story of Architecture (1923), A History of Sculpture (1924), Half-Gods (1927), and Eden (1928).

Half-Gods is a biting satire of all levels of Fayetteville society as Sheehan lampoons the ignorance that is prevalent among both the hill people and the educated, urban classes. A centaur is born on a farm, and, when very young, the centaur can recite chapters of the Iliad in ancient Greek and can remember the “old days” among the gods. The community leaders are fearful that the presence of the centaur will harm the image of their town, and like the people in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” they fail to recognize the miracle that lives among them. The centaur, because he is considered an abomination by all the humans around him, soon degenerates to the level of his hill farm companions. Simultaneously, Daniel, one of the sons of the farmer who owns the centaur, develops the intellectual power and artistic taste to break away from the oppressive human society surrounding him.

In one of the most poignant scenes in the novel, sixteen-year-old Daniel returns home from visiting Mrs. Delacourt, the flirtatious, attractive, and cultured wife of a college professor. Mrs. Delacourt has offered to let Daniel live with her and her husband, but when he returns home after touring her large, luxurious, and tastefully decorated home and truly sees for the first time the degraded manner in which his family lives, he decides to continue living with his family in order to try to improve their lives. However, he is soon verbally abused by his family for making efforts to educate and to socially elevate himself. He then goes out to the pasture to escape his family and is joined there by the centaur. The centaur reveals to Daniel that he has been having visions and memories of a former life and that he has seen Pan sitting on a log and playing a flute and can recall bits of poetry and can recite it in Latin.
In this passage, Daniel becomes aware of the state of squalor in which his family lives and begins to question why people choose to live in such conditions and why he feels a responsibility to stay with his family. He asks himself, “What were people here on earth for? Why was he going down into the valley to these people with whom he had no sympathies, and who meant almost nothing to him despite the fact that he had adventitiously been born into their midst?” Daniel, although he has had very few experiences that would have inspired him with confidence, feels that he is capable of doing more with his life than is offered by this hill farm. These undefined longings are augmented when the centaur tells Daniel about his visions and his ability to recite poetry. When Daniel asks the centaur how he knows about poetry, the centaur displays “resentment, as though it were the most natural thing in the world for a misbegotten monster in the hills of Missouri to be acquainted with the mysteries of poetic composition” and replies, “‘You don’t have to be told everything in this world, do you!’” Sheehan seems to be suggesting that Daniel, and other people living in an oppressive society, even the so-called “hillbillies,” have inherent desires and innate abilities that will allow them rise above their surroundings.

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John Rollins Ridge

John Rollins Ridge

John Rollins Ridge was born in 1827 in a section of the Cherokee Nation that later became part of Georgia. Ridge’s father was a Cherokee leader who believed that it was futile to resist President Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal policies and was assassinated in front of his twelve-year-old son by other members of the tribe for negotiating the treaty that culminated in the Trail of Tears.

Following this assassination, Ridge’s family relocated to Arkansas, and Ridge was educated in Arkansas and Massachusetts. In 1847, Ridge married Elizabeth Wilson and led the life of a farmer in Oklahoma near the Missouri state line. Two years later, however, Ridge killed a tribe member in a fight that was probably related to the treaty policies of Ridge’s father. Ridge then fled to California and never returned to the Cherokee Nation or to Arkansas.

In California, Ridge served as a newspaper reporter and editor and became an active member of the Democratic Party, supporting states’ rights and opposing abolition. In the years immediately following the Civil War, Ridge participated in treaty negotiations between the United States and the Cherokee Nation. Ridge died in Grass Valley, California, in 1867.
In addition to his journalism, Ridge produced a significant amount of poetry, much of which was published in newspapers and literary journals. He also wrote a popular novel, The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit (1854). This novel was republished with an introduction by Joseph Henry Jackson in 1955. A biography of Ridge, John Rollin Ridge: His Life and Works, written by James W. Parins, was published in 1991. Ridge’s poetry was collected after his death by his wife and daughter and published as Poems in 1868.

In the “The Arkansas Root Doctor,” the poem reproduced below, Ridge offers, within a comic frame, thoughtful commentary on humans’ obsession with immortality. Dr. Brown, Ridge’s version of the Ozark root doctor, and his sidekick, Bill Skid, seek a mountain herb that will cure all human illnesses and defeat death. In this well-intended but quixotic quest, these characters destroy their health and happiness and overlook the fact that that the most effective elixir to promote health and happiness is meaningful work. In addition to engaging the common image of an herb doctor, this poem also toys with the image of the Ozarks as an exotic place that holds the key to physical regeneration.

The Arkansas Root Doctor

On Osage Creek, in Arkansaw, amid
The wild-browed hills there stands a cabin hid;
The boards are shattered badly on the roof,
And when it rains it is not water-proof;
The wooden chimney totters to one side,
As though a posture straight it did deride;
The puncheon floor’s uneven and so rough
A naked foot to stand it should be tough;
The door upon its hinge half hangs, and creaks
Most dolefully when shut!

Close by there breaks
From out a gently rising hill so pure
A stream, some madness of the brain ’t would cure;
Below ’t through which this pure stream runs, a lot
There is, fenced round—a green and grassy spot,
Whose verdure’s all the nourishment that grows
For one old horse, who well that pasture knows.
Through many a long and slowly rolling year
That old gray horse has fed, a MUSARD here!
Bereft of sight, he seems reflecting sad
On all the joys his buoyant colt-hood had;
But, like some stoic, weather-beaten sage,
He seems resigned to all the griefs of age!
His owner dwells within that cabin rude,
A man of forty, fond of solitude.
From manhood’s earliest years his searching mind
Has striven hard a secret truth to find;
The face of herbal nature he’s perused,
On all the properties of plants has mused;
No mountain’s been too savage or too high
For him—he’d scale it, if it touched the sky!
No glen has been too dark—his prying look,
That’s ever keen, will no denial brook,
When searching for that herb, whose root shall save
The well from pain, the dying from the grave!
A noble work on earth he dreams is his:
To find the source, the ROOT of happiness!
The lore of letters he has never known–
He claims the book of “natur” as his own!
He deems the knowledge which is learned in schools
But fitted for a polished pack of fools;
His mind ne’er soars above the ground; the earth
Contains beneath its surface all that’s worth,
In his idea, the search of man. Poor fool!
He’s wise because he never went to school!

In searching for the healing root desired,
He’s found some other ones for health required,
And, having in slight mixing with his kind,
Revealed by chance the treasures of his mind,
His neighbors onewhile kept him much engaged—
For fevers dread on Osage frequent raged.
On ’s old gray horse, the country up and down,
Was seen each day the noted Doctor Brown;
A bunch of roots was to his saddle tied,
Another bundle hanging at his side;
He ministered, with tender hand and care,
To those who pale on life’s last limits were;
He smoothed the pillow for the feverish head—
He bathed—he purged—he sweated—and he bled!
But Death forever triumphed o’er his art,
And left the good, kind doctor sick at heart.
So frequent did the deaths become where he
Was sent, himself became a Malady;
And when the good Root-finder came to save,
He seemed to patients, Herald of the Grave!
At last no one in Dr. Brown believed—
Much wronged by men’s opinions he conceived
Himself, and from that day, henceforth, retired
To find the long-sought root so much desired.

One faithful pupil has he, named Bill Skid,
Who tracks him everywhere and does as bid;
These two (and that old horse to bear the roots),
Not caring for the busy world and its pursuits,
Each day are traveling o’er the hills around,
With anxious gaze bent down upon the ground,
Intent to see some leaf of different size
Or hue, reveal itself unto their eyes.
They stop at intervals, and dig amain—
Then breaks the Doctor into raptured strain,
Describing to Bill Skid’s wondering soul
The mighty mystery of art:
“The whole
Secret of medicine is this–TO SWEAT.
If in our sarching we kin get
A yarb that’ll do this bizness, Bill,
No sickness know’d of then will kill!
The reason so many people dies,
Is caze the Doctors tells them lies—
If they’d tell’em to always sweat
As much as they kin, and to eat
Nothing that’ll hander it, folks would
Live as long agin! It’s so good
To sweat, I’d advise you to let
No chance pass. To live long JIST SWEAT.”

One day in their accustomed rounds they came
Upon a plant with blossom red as flame—
They hailed it with delight—both held their hands
In silence for awhile—Bill waits commands—
The Doctor bade him dig. He dug. The root
Was large, and of a color brown as soot;
“Taste it, Bill,” says Dr. Brown; “God! no,” says Bill,
“I’m feered it mought have the defect to kill.—
Lessen you had yer Low-Billy along?”
“I’ve got it.” They both taste. The root was strong
And bitter as could be. Directly, pains
Began to seize them—rueful throes and strains!
The doctor searched his pockets for the vial
Of Lobelia which he kept for the trial
Of experiments with herbs—but ’t was gone!
At this discovery both were headlong thrown—
They fell upon the ground in agony,
Each crying lustily: “Oh God!” “Oh me!”
The med’cine worked them savagely. One hour
They rolled upon the hill-side—still with power
The root was operating, and no peace
To Dr. Brown and Skid! It would not cease,
But kept their stomachs in ferment extreme,
As though they were hot engines full of steam;
Until, exhausted with the torment, they
All motionless, outstretched, at full length lay!
When they uprose at last, they both were white
As is a sheeted ghost late in the night;
Their limbs were trembling; downward rolled the sweat;
Says Bill, “Well, that’s the toughest med’cine yet!”
“God! Yes,” replied the doctor, panting loud,
“The sweat rolls down like water from a cloud—
I b’lieve in this—this is the yarb at last!
A root that sweats a fellow so d—-d fast
Must be the one I’m sarching for! Hoo-ray!
The greatest yarb on airth I’ve found to-day!”

And now these student of the healing art
Are seen each morn at dawn of day to start,
With their old, gray horse, into the woods;
Take good care to have Lobelia stowed away
In deer-skin saddle-bags, lest once again
Some bold experiment may cause them pain;
They gather in particular the herb
Which did their inward organs so disturb,
Believing in the noblest gift of earth,
And more than all Time’s lettered learning worth.

Two such industrious men are nowhere seen:
They’re martyrs to the cause they’re busied in;
For constant trial of some new plant doth
Exercise so much their systems both,
That they are pale and withered in the face,
And their forms have lost all natural grace!
They seem the skeletons of men entombed,
Who have by some convulsion been exhumed,
Allowed to journey ’midst the human race,
To show the terrors of a darker place!

So let them journey on—so let them weave
The mighty wonder dying they shall leave;
Yes, let them labor, like their old horse, blind
And hope by digging roots to save mankind!

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Summer Loft

Summer 2005

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