An audience of 38 gathered at the Ashe Arts Center Saturday for the April installment of Wordkeepers, the bi-monthly open-mic forum where local writers meet to share their original work, and a few laughs.
The event featured live music by singer-songwriter Henry Doss, wine and hors d’oeuvres courtesy of the Ashe Arts Council, and literary offerings from over a dozen Ashe County scribblers. Some highlights of the readings were:
Sandy Lassen read a comic short story about a funeral, “90 percent of which is true.” After her favorite aunt Faye dies, Lassen arrives at a West Virginia funeral home to find the deceased laid out in a pink summer dress as a scratched 45 of “Shall We Gather at the River” skips on a portable turntable — “at the riv…at the riv…”
Things go from bad to worse when a drunk uncle gets fried chicken crumbs on Aunt Faye’s dress, and cousin Emma — affectionately known as Enema — carries in a huge wreath of dyed-blue flowers with a pink plastic telephone inside it beneath a banner that reads: “Jesus is calling.”
Losing her composure, Lassen has to go outside behind a dumpster to laugh herself to tears, blowing her nose in a piece of old newspaper. When she returns, her “mixed family” — “some had jobs, some didn’t” — thinks she has been crying and tries to console her.
At the cemetery, the casket is almost dumped over on the steep slope where the grave is dug.
“The preacher droned on for thirty minutes,” Lassen read, and in the end her mother collapsed and “they propped her up long enough to get pictures.”
In “Diatribe for a Slobbish Bride,” Dal Lassen described life with a woman who “thrives on disorder.” While the author requires and neat, organized work space, his wife’s desk is “piled high with correspondence,” while “coffee mugs lie around the house like ancient pottery.”
“She doesn’t worry about plagiarism: no one can read those hieroglyphics,” Lassen wrote of his life partner and fellow author, who “believes in total shoe accessibility.” But, like all messy people, she assures him there’s a method to her madness: “I know where everything is!”
Singer-songwriter Michael Goss sang “Distance,” accompanying himself on guitar. The song is set in a plausibly deniable version of Ashe County, a paradise lost populated with “sons of lawyers, doctors and destroyers,” where “state troopers aim radar at cars,” and “church ladies look for ways to close down the county line bars.”
But, Goss and his friend, Billy, still visit “Joe Willie up on Wilson Hill,” just like they always will. Joe’s “bags may be skinny, but when you ain’t got any, you take what you can get.”
And the chorus: “I’m going to make some distance between this old town and me…”
John McConnell had intended to read some of his work, he said, but instead gave an off-the-cuff critique on the “intersection of politics and science.” He cited the Indiana legislature’s attempt to legally redefine Pi — the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter — as an example of how things can go wrong when the subjective political motives collide with objective scientific facts.
McConnel described the physical properties of glass, which is transparent to visible light, but not to infrared radiation or heat, resulting in the greenhouse effect. Since carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has the same properties, global warming is “not a political statement,” he said, but “a property of physics.”
Wordkeepers was organized over three years ago by Ashe Arts Council board member Chris Arvidson along with fellow authors Scot Pope and Julie Townsend. Held every other month, the event always draws new readers and new listeners, said Arvidson.
In 2012, Arvidson, Pope and Townsend published “Mountain Memoirs: An Ashe County Anthology,” a collection of works by local authors.
The next meeting of Wordkeepers is scheduled for June 15 at the Ashe Arts Center. Writers interested in sharing their work should email Chris Arvidson at firstname.lastname@example.org.