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Light at the Seam by Joseph Bathanti.

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The seam in the title is the coal seam. Sunlight streams onto the coal seam only when the layers of soil and rock are scraped off of it by heavy machinery in the ominous process of Mountain Top Removal mining that makes retrieving the coal to sell it not only cheaper, but also more damaging to the environment and people nearby who are assaulted by the desecration of the land, the water and the air. Half of these poems were inspired directly by Carl Galie’s photographic exhibition, Lost on the Road to Oblivion: The Vanishing Beauty of Coal Country. “Joseph Bathanti’s eco-poems simultaneously praise the intricate beauty of Creation and rage against the coal industry’s destruction of Appalachian mountains and Appalachian lives. His sacramental vision, his witness, along with his compression of sound and sense, are akin to the work of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Lamenting the felling of Binsey poplars, Hopkins cried out, ‘O if we but knew what we do. . . .’ But in this moment, we do know. Climate change tells us, and Bathanti’s poems show us, close up. In ‘Sundial, WV’ we learn that ‘children take sick from powdered coal’ and that ‘2.8 billion gallons of coal sludge’ are impounded in a slurry pond right above their elementary school. We see disastrous flooding in West Virginia when Pigeon Creek has ‘had too much to drown’ and in Kentucky when ‘a good house / built righteously . . . [is] swamped, then sundered, vitals bared . . . [its] yard washed off to Pike County.’ For Bathanti, as for Blake, ‘Everything that lives is Holy’―‘mossy black rock / pink angiosperm / lichen, leather-leaf / stonewart, ferns.’ Light at the Seam exposes the ruin spewed forth from the opposite outlook: Everything that lives is money. Greed and gluttony will get it while they can, Mother Earth, her inhabitants, and Mater Gloriosa be damned.” -- George Ella Lyon. The poet, Joseph Bathanti, is a former poet laureate of North Carolina, the author of seventeen books, and a professor at Appalachian State University.

Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2022. 78 pages. Trade paperback.