Bound with letterpress covers at Horse & Buggy Press in Durham.
Includes a preface by Fred Chappell, who preceded Shelby as North Carolina’s Poet Laureate.
A beautifully produced and printed book, Paul’s Hill begins with a summing up of three subjects that Shelby has come back to time and again in his poetry:
I have folded my father’s hands across his breast.
I have descended Paul’s Hill, the intervening roads, paved and unpaved.
I have imagined July’s descendants and found some through her deed of sale.
Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s done with these subjects, any more than he’s done with possums and dogs. This one’s also, appropriately, full of music, referencing the band with which he performed with Nin at Fountain General Store many times:
The Cricket Band swells with steel, fiddle, ukulele, guitar–
And hymns–waltzes–voices moiling basses and tenors. . .
That’s likely his longtime playing partner Les Sandy, formerly one of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys, on fiddle; wife Nin on uke; brother Marshall, perhaps, on guitar, along with Shelby.
But what really moves this collection along is Shelby’s recurrent use of the telling Whitmanesque lists, of dogs, birds, trees and weeds, small game and farm animals and all that grows on and around that farm, songs and singers and musical instruments, snakes, all the foods you can eat and especially what you’ll need for a hog killing, why you write poems and who you write them for (For the gins no longer ginning, abandoned / For the orange tarp on the machine-harvested cotton / For the pickers in graves, their fingers extending death’s soiling), his family and all its names, July (when the grass grows over me I will not be over you)and her family and its known names.
And the frozen moments:
My father rests the axe on his right shoulder.
His hunting-jacket smells like a fres-caught rabbit.
I see the red blobs in the field-pouch, the dried blood.
And the panoramic visions of all he’s seen, through time’s enveloping of his world:
I cross these fields and woods without you,
Holding out my hand to neighbors, relatives, acquaintances,
Old Loves–those who once shared rooms with me–
the grand ballrooms–and you not here to dance with me. . .
When he gets loosed from his “ties and ballasts,” he’s off on (and soaring above) an open road, “afoot with my vision,” he assures his readers, like Whitman: “I know I have the best of time and space, and was never measured and never will be measured.”
And as time comes ’round again, all is well:
The martins will come back in spring to take the gourds
Leo Thornton grew and I put up on a pole.