Sometime in the dead of winter, probably about the time we were recording this frozen video, Justin Vernon and the Eaux Claires crew asked me to incorporate a “literary element” into this year’s festival.
Nobody really knows what that means. Except that it doesn’t mean sit and listen, stand and read. We’re trying to weave the words in other ways. Find a way to make them big, make them small, make them alive.
It’ll be baby steps. But one thing I’ve known dead-solid from the get-go: I wanted Honorée Fanonne Jeffers there. Have since before this festival existed. Have since the moment I heard Honorée preach her poem “On Listening to the Two-Headed Lady Blow Her Horn” from The Gospel of Barbecue. That experience echoed in me over a decade, until it finally re-emerged and found a new home (that story–and more about Honorée and her poetry–can be read here).
Even in snippet, even out of context, the poetry of Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, a native southerner, lifts me just as music lifts me, through a combination of mystery and familiarity, as when she writes, “I take the land as text, as a preacher might,” or “the smell of peaches liquoring the air,” and finally, in a reference any plow-boy can love, “The edible smell/of turned dirt.”
Imagine words like that, imagine a poet like this, flowing beside the Chippewa.
– Michael Perry, festival narrator