“They carried earth in baskets” — Virginia Tech Researcher Jordan Laney Wins Moundsville Film Poetry Contest

Jordan Laney, a postdoc researcher at the Virginia Tech Dept. of Religion and Culture, has won the Moundsville poetry contest.

Poet Crystal Good says she was inspired by the documentary film (which you can rent for $3.99 here) to run the competition for national poetry month in April because of the film’s treatment of race, the cyclical nature of history, and the part we gave to West Virginia poet laureate Marc Harshman, one of her favorites.

The three poems she picked as winners — all meditations around the 2,250-year-old Native American mound — “were rich and lovely and I hope you enjoy reading them,” she says.

Laney, the first-place finisher, says she “entered the contest as a challenge to myself during National Poetry Month– to be more productive and public with my work.”

The film, she wrote me in an email,

had a story and cadence that reminded me of my hometown, Marion, North Carolina and our beloved “old Wal-Mart” (not to be confused with the new Wal-Mart on I-40). The “old Wal-Mart” that I went to as a child is now half Big Lots, half vacant building and sits on top of/in front of an indigenous burial ground. I was moved by the similar emotions of different generations throughout rural America can be seen through the stories you captured in Moundsville– the ability to stay for older generations (the hope the mill and mines offered) and the struggle to return and thrive for younger generations (despite a college education). Through the film, I enjoyed being reminded of the rich material culture in our small towns and the way the present moment interacts with history through both stories and the literal ground we walk on. I’m looking forward to visiting Moundsville, WV.

Here’s her poem:

To Know

They carried earth in baskets

        high          above furrowed brows

feet in Ursa Major, dragging

onward, to Polaris

wandering, making hollers

and ridges of skylines

For supper, soft round soil

silt     clay     sand

dirt between teeth, sweet on the tongue

swallowing, to know

what it means to be

of a place in a place

to be        a place

After long days of work

water wheel planting

Pelleted fertilizer, fire

deep in good dirt

pushing life into emptiness

backs bent and dreaming

At nightfall

we closed our eyes and we ate


glutinous by nature

When baskets were empty, stomachs

swollen (all water, organic matter gone)

we carried seeds in our teeth

         blood blistered lips to the ground

speaking life         into rows

tilling      ripping

subsoil        topsoil         red soil

peat        chernozems         loess

Praying, bleeding, waiting

          drought and flood

resigning.       until only

the gathering

the discovery recovery uncovering

is left

Second place goes to Nora Edinger, a writer for Weelunk.com in Wheeling, who wrote one of the first reviews of Moundsville. (Disclosure: We had no say in the selection process.)

The Moundsville Method

They carried the earth in baskets.

One does what one can to make a forever mark.

Have a baby. Write a book.

Attract 90 million followers on You Tube.

Build a mountain where there was nothing but flatness.

Same difference.

And third place goes to Andrea Keller, a conservationist at the Grave Creek Mound and a participant in the film. (Same note as for number 2.)

Grave Creek Mound Contemplation

I stand looking up


                             Those who rest here


Three million loads of Earth

               Monumental creation


                                Those who rest here


I  wonder:

       Who will remember me

                                 When I rest

                                                       Eternally ?

All three winners will receive a free Moundsville DVD, and jewelry made by Crystal Good. Poets, she told me, “are keepers of the past, present and future. Poets look for the poem and Moundsville is full of them.”

John W. Miller

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