Off the Road
Kentucky Literati ‘disconnectors’ oppose I-75 connector at upcoming rally
By Kakie Urch
The tall timbers of the Kentucky literary, art and music world will stand together “Off The Road” on Sept. 19 at The Lyric Theatre in North Lexington at a benefit performance for The Disconnectors, the group of Jessamine and Madison County residents opposed to the I-75 connector.
Kentucky authors Wendell Berry, Barbara Kingsolver, Maurice Manning, Erik Reece, Crystal Wilkinson and Richard Taylor will bring the words. Matt Duncan, Steve Broderson and the Northside Sheiks and special guest Tee Dee Young will bring the music.
Photographer Guy Mendes will bring what they all have in common: “Marble Creek/Endangered Watershed,” an exhibition of photographs taken over a span of 30 years in the wild land that is in the path of the proposed connector.
Marble Creek, for photographer Mendes, is a place that has become for him part of his photographic practice, like Carmel, Calif. was for Edward Weston or Lake George in New York was for George Stieglitz. “I didn’t set out to do it. I just kept going there.”
It’s all because of his ex-sister-in-law Beezy, who owns a home on Marble Creek. “I went to visit her there and went hiking there. Never realizing that I would spend the rest of my life going there and photographing. I got more serious, and went with the View Camera, large format film. One of the draws was the swimming hole. There’s a swimming hole that my kids have gone to for 19 years.”
“The pictures span from 1975 to 2013 (about two months ago) — 38 years. It’s certainly a major part of what I’ve done,” Mendes said. “Photography allows us to see more….it can yield images that are better than we can see with our eyes in real life. Marble Creek is one of the places I learned about that,” Mendes said, showing a panorama that will be featured in the show.
Kentuckian Barbara Kingsolver, named one of the most important writers of the 20th Century by Writers Digest, was awarded the National Humanities Medal, our country’s highest honor for service through the arts. The author (The Bean Trees, The Poisonwood Bible, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2000.
“Those of us who call Kentucky home will have to remember that ‘home’ is not some bigger road to get people through or out of here. It’s the winding creeks and limestone cliffs that nourish the bluegrass. It’s the quiet places that have made us who we are,” Kingsolver said.
Kingsolver, who grew up in Carlisle, has family that live along the Marble Creek watershed and has hiked the area herself, Mendes said. “Barbara’s dear cousin lives on Marble Creek….she’s hiked there, she knows it, she was ready to sign on,” Mendes said, about her participation in the evening.
Berry, Mendes said, has hiked the Marble Creek area with him. Mendes and Berry, friends and allies in environmental causes since the 1960s, were once both arrested for protesting one of two proposed nuclear power plants near Lexington. Berry is one of the world’s leading authors on the environment and sustainability. He has been awarded the National Humanities Medal and is a 2013 Fellow of the Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was recently awarded the Dayton Peace Prize. He lives on his farm in Henry County and rarely does local events or readings.
Maurice Manning, a professor at Transylvania University, who was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, the winner of the Yale Younger Poets Series Prize and a Guggenheim Fellow, has frequently taken as his material the natural world of his home state — Kentucky — in his poetry.
Crystal Wilkinson, a founding member of the Affrilachian Poets group, is the Writer-in-Residence at Morehead State University and heads the Creative Writing Program there. She grew up at Indian Creek, Kentucky in the 1970s, and credits her idyllic childhood in a rural setting with fostering her creativity.
Richard Taylor, the former Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth, has co-authored a book called “The Palisades of the Kentucky River,” which celebrates the area near Marble Creek.
Erik Reece’s work Lost Mountain helped coalesce understanding of the mountaintop removal coal mining process and its effect on old-growth forests and watersheds in Eastern Kentucky. He teaches environmental writing at the University of Kentucky and is the editor of the recently released The Guy Davenport Reader about the late UK professor and Macarthur Fellow Guy Davenport, who was his mentor. He lives at Nonesuch, Ky.
Even the people bringing the doo-wop sound to the stage have a connection to Marble Creek. When Guy Mendes was a producer at KET, he would bring some of his colleagues down to Marble Creek to hike with their children. Some of his colleagues were the parents of Lexington musician Matt Duncan, who will play the event.
“Most people don’t know where Marble Creek is because it’s mostly private land. An old rusted sign that said “You Are A Dream Come True” – washed down the creek in a flood and Beezy hung it up. Marble Creek is a dream come true. It’s a place where the past and present walk side by side,” Mendes said, about one of the photographic pieces he captured.
Another work shows the creek as it might have been thousands of years ago ““To your left there’s this palisade made up of ancient sea creatures. But there’s the present day with kingfish flying overhead every day right on time at 3 p.m.”
“One thing I can do is show pictures of this place even though it’s only a half hour out of Lexington,” Mendes said.
“We need wild places because those places can be wiped out. It’s a biological wonderland. Daniel Boone lived there with his family. Freed slaves settled there. There are 50 or 60 live stone slabs turned up as gravestones. It’s an area that’s ripe for study by historians and anthropologists,” Mendes said. Also, “People are making a living there,” raising cattle, growing crops.
At a recent information meeting sponsored by the transportation department, Mendes said, hundreds of people showed up to speak against the connector.
The Lyric Theater show is sold out. The reception with the artist at the Ann Tower Gallery before the show and the after-party at Tee Dee’s Lounge just a block away from the Lyric are other opportunities to engage with some of the authors and artists.
Reception with the artist on September 19, 2013 at Ann Tower Gallery in the Downtown Arts Center (next to Alfalfa’s on Main Street) 5-7 p.m. Off The Road Lyric Theater Event: 7:30 p.m. (sold out). After-party: Tee Dee’s Lounge.
Kakie Urch is an assistant professor of multimedia in the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications, and an Ace contributing editor.
This interview appears on page 4 of the September 12, 2013 print edition of Ace.
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