“This is my best regards to you
I have started for the kiser
Don’t you think I havnt”
That message, scrawled on a postcard from Great Uncle Lester who served in World War I, inspired the poem, “No Man’s Land,” by Eastern Kentucky University professor emerita Dorothy Sutton.
It’s one of six poems by Kentucky writers featured in the February edition of Kentucky Monthly Magazine as part of its contest, “Penned,” the 11th Annual Writers’ Showcase.
Originally published in 2009 in her book of poetry, Backing Into Mountains, Sutton says she’s thrilled to share the poem with new readers since it’s one of her favorites. When she saw the sepia-toned postcard of her husband’s relative in his Army uniform, rifle at his side, flag in the background, probably only 19-years-old and far away from home, Sutton knew she had to share his story. “It’s about shell shock and culture shock and how hard it was to adjust from growing up on a Pike County farm to suddenly finding yourself halfway around the world, fighting on a battlefield in a foreign country,” she explains.
The farm imagery in the poem comes easily for Sutton who was born on her family’s tobacco farm in Todd County, who was raised in a remodeled log cabin and began her education in a one-room school. So “husking corn,” “plowing with mules” and “slopping the hogs” are borrowed from her own experiences.
Those same references parallel what Great Uncle Lester finds in the “trenches of muddy slop, fields plowed and furrowed with harrowing shells, scattered husks of what was left of his friends.”
Dr. Sutton, a former Foundation Professor and Director of the EKU summer Creative Writing Conference for ten years, retired in 2004. She recently has been updating other older poems to submit to additional contests, drawing on more childhood experiences like Christmas with her own Uncle Bob who would shake hands with relatives and leave silver dollars in their hands. Her most recent book of poetry is Modern Odyssey, published in 2016.
Turn the page in Kentucky Monthly and you’ll find “Unexcused Absence,” one of only two fictional short stories published in the February edition, and penned by EKU professors Marie Mitchell and Mason Smith, a husband and wife writing team.
“The subject is something that’s relatable to us in the classroom,” says Smith, a senior English Department lecturer. “A student is making excuses for coming late to class or not coming at all.”
“But it’s not the typical excuses of being sick, a family emergency or a death in the family. This is something much more imaginative—and absolutely unverifiable,” adds Mitchell who teaches Public Speaking.
“I’m fascinated with the supernatural so there are hints of aliens and UFOs in the story,” Smith jokes.
“We like writing humor since there’s already plenty of drama in the world,” Mitchell says. “But we also added a serious touch where there’s compassion and respect established between teacher and student.”
Mitchell and Smith, who have been married for 35 years, have co-written books for young people, plus short stories and plays. In fact, their One Act, “Beasts of the Bluegrass” was among the plays recently chosen to be performed by Spotlight Acting in Berea on March 29th.
“We enjoy entering contests,” Smith says, “because someone is required to read your work and measure its worth against other writers.”
“It’s exciting when your piece is chosen for publication or production,” Mitchell agrees. “It’s the payoff for all the hours spent writing because an audience will finally get to read or see your work.”
The couple is currently contributing to the 10th novel in a series for adults set in a fictional southeastern Kentucky county called Clement. It’s written in collaboration with Hal Blythe and Charlie Sweet, two retired EKU English professors, and the late Rick Given, professor emeritus in Criminal Justice.