A book by acclaimed poet and E&H English professor Felicia Mitchell will be celebrated during a book-signing with the author Thursday at Zazzy’s Coffee House and Roastery in Abingdon.
Mitchell will be available 5-8 PM to sign copies of Waltzing with Horses and will read a some poems over the course of the evening. The reception is part of Abingdon’s First Thursday festivities, which invites people to engage with the arts in multiple locations from Zazzy’Z to the Arts Depot.
The book draws its name, Mitchell said, from a poems about a “magical hike up to Mount Rogers,” near the E&H campus, and back. The title is also referenced in the preface poem, “A Day without a Poem,” which is about the same hike and which speaks to how language can used to capture an experience, although it falls short of the experience itself at the same time it keeps the experience alive.
This book is more comprehensive than previous Mitchell works. Although it includes poems from her previous chapbooks, including Earthenware Fertility Figure and The Cleft of the Rock, Waltzing is a full collection that includes a range of poems Mitchell has written during the past 20 years.
The poems of her latest book largely explore Mitchell’s relationship with nature, although they also consist of many personal poems that touch on the themes of life, death, family and friends. They include lyric poems and poems that combine the narrative with the lyric, story and mystery.
“With this book, I did embrace the fact that I am a little morbid,” said Mitchell who finds herself currently “at peace” with a cancer that is now in remission. “I am both hopeful and morbid. I think that hope is, as Emily Dickson said, ‘the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul...’”
She has thought of death all her life, she says, having witnessed sad events from an early age. Along with her family, she was was affected by the death of her older brother, who came home from the U.S. Navy to be with his family the last months of his life. As John Henry Mitchell was waiting to die of cancer at 21, he took a few college classes. When a classmate asked him if he was terminal, he said, “We are all terminal.” Her brother’s love of life in the midst of dying has remained a beacon for Mitchell.
“I have always known about death,” she say. “I think the fact of death teaches us so much about life and hope in the face of what others might call adversity.”
Mitchell seeks to pursue life with a child-like innocence while at the same time understanding with great depth just how easy it would be to become hardened and cynical. “I take great joy in small things. I try to help others to see the joy in small things (and even the big things). I guess the poems could help others to find more faith, more spirit, more of an ability to persevere.”