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Standing on the Outcrop by Joyce Compton Brown

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Joyce Compton Brown writes about real mountains. Hills do not have outcrops!  And, yes, her stance is considering the whole picture, the forest as well as the trees. What she mostly sees are the ordinary people who live down in the valley, and from her vantage point she can sum them up perfectly, telling aptly-crafted and succinct stories that use key incidents in their lives to illuminate both them and their place and telling the stories of the neighborhoods that sometimes nurtured them and sometimes even martyred them. “Like a farmer searching for water, in these poems Joyce Brown delves deeper and deeper into her spirit country between Linville and Honeycutt Mountains. Voice, time, and landscape merge, and the essence of the place is revealed, becomes our spirit country too. Brown is one of our state’s finest poets.”—Ron Rash. “Standing on the Outcrop herself, Joyce Compton Brown looks out over the vast peaks and deep valleys and long swoops of land she knows like the back of her hand, it IS her hand, bone and blood---and the voices she hears are her own voices coming from way back.... the underside of history, the inside of history. Yet somehow Joyce has the great gift of writing them down and bringing them to us just as they were, just as they are still, peopling those vast and ancient hills. Standing on the Outcrop is a treasure.”—Lee Smith. “‘Here the stories linger’ opens Joyce Brown’s lovely collection, a line fulfilled on every page. This book is immersed in place, the shadow of Honeycutt and Linville mountains, the beautiful valley where people till the ‘ever cloying earth’ or work the mills or own them. They are named and unnamed–Cherokees ousted from their land, Italian railroad workers, Black men and women ‘bought or hired,’ murdered strikers, shadows in photos or lost under trees and rock. There’s joy in language here, whether a tale of loss bluntly told, the lyrical testimony of the laborer released by a stroke to reveal his true nature, or the linguistic dazzle of the Clinchfield railroad singing its siren song– ‘and you can/ work shifts /work shifts /work shifts…’ You’ll remember these people and hear their voices long after you’ve closed the covers.”—Valerie Nieman. “Each poem is a masterful piece of a multi-colored quilt like the valley of North Cove in the Fall seen from the precipice above, a vantage point from which to view the stories of people where ‘their legends are the landscape of a burnt-off mountain whose trees will rise again.’ Brown skillfully sews together stories of beetle blight and wildfires to those of perseverance. She never forgets the forgotten as ‘shadows in backgrounds of old photos’ or names etched on stone grave markers worn away by time. All the while, a train threads the mountain in and out of tunnels with its grief of coal, soothed by its sound of a ‘deep bass note pitched beneath the coyote’s tenor note.’ With such rich imagery as, ‘Burnt trees stand like/ straight black sticks/ as if someone had tried/ to fool around/ for language on the mountain wall/ and failed,’ Brown succeeds in telling what the landscape only, prior, held to itself.”—Hilda Downer

Hickory, North Carolina: Red Hawk Publications, 2021. 53 pages. Trade paperback.