welcome to pluck!

pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture, takes its name from a Nikky Finney poem of the same title which appeared in RICE. The journal features poetry, prose, and visual art from writers who identify with multicultural experiences based in the Appalachian region. The journal was founded by Frank X Walker and debuted in the Spring of 2007. pluck! is currently released twice a year through the University of Kentucky.

what the pluck!?

According to Lorenzo Thomas, “Every poet must confront a serious problem; how to reconcile one’s private preoccupation with the need to make poetry that is both accessible and useful to others.” Poetry can’t cure cancer, end racism, or stop domestic violence, but it often is the most direct road out of the dark places those tragedies take us. William Carlos Williams said, “ … men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there (in poetry),” yet, there are days when I doubt there are sufficient words enough to deal with multiple maladies of government gridlock, real-world consequences of a shutdown, self-immolation, or another mass shooting. I believe fervently that words have power, but if I haven’t learned anything from a recent twenty-one hour speech by a congressman, words can also just be rhetoric.

There seem to be enough season premieres, final episodes, reality TV, and ESPN channels to allow us to bury our heads in the sand, which means television itself is also part of the problem. If the billion dollar opening weekend for the Grand Theft Auto video game speaks volumes about how comfortable we have become with misogyny and violence as a culture, the fact that in some states it is more difficult to vote than to purchase a gun speaks even louder.

Critics of the current POTUS like to compare President Obama to Hitler, and their wholesale rejection of the Affordable Care Act suggests that they haven’t read the two thousand-plus pages or the table of contents.

We have lost our way. It seems our private preoccupation as a country is dysfunction. Many of our leaders in Washington seem perfectly willing to let the car go over the cliff as long as they aren’t the ones riding in it, while a lot of other people are struggling to identify the poetry in their lives. So now what? Do we stop writing? Do we surrender? Do we grab the remote in one hand and the controller in the other and self medicate? I say hell no! We can’t afford to stop challenging the madness or the ignorance.

Sometimes, the pop dysfunction is so indefensible that only art is fit to respond to it. Before K—-’s recent egomaniacal notion that the confederate flag worn on his back and chest and merchandise could be reclaimed and its vitriolic and tainted iconography be erased my mere association, Lil’ Wayne’s ill advised Emmett Till reference illustrated the need to educate those who are influencing our children’s generation. The only silver lining I have found about the Trayvon Martin case is that it allows those ignorant about what happened in Money, Mississippi to better understand the Emmett Till story, confirming the notion that when we don’t learn from history we are doomed to repeat it. Ultimately I want to believe that truly understanding the full backdrop of the Till story allows more than a surface knowledge of Medgar Evers before his assassination in 1963. If today’s generation can follow a straight line backwards for fifty years and then another shorter line back to 1955 they will see the links between J.W.Milam, Roy Bryant, Byron De La Beckwith and George Zimmerman.

This special issue tries to give voice to all our thoughts and emotions when it comes to institutional and individual injustices. It celebrates the healing power of words. And most of all, this issue demands that we not forget. We at pluck! hope that you will find solace within these pages. We hope you will recognize that if these contributing authors were running the country we’d be a whole lot better off. And that would be a perfect tenth anniversary issue present for the staff. You shouldn’t be able to hold public office unless you can write a crown of sonnets. Patricia Smith for Congress! And Bianca Spriggs for President! You heard it here first.

—Frank X Walker, Founding Editor


in the hood

This work, as a Trayvon Martin tribute piece, responds to the Zimmerman acquittal, profiling, gun violence and Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law. This VideoPoem is also associated to the editorial, “Guns and Skittles: The Civil War Continues.”

You can read John Sims essay “Guns and Skittles” in the print issue of pluck! 10. 



John Sims, a Detroit Native, is an interdisciplinary conceptual artist, creating multimedia projects in the areas of visual mathematics, art, text, and political activism. His work has been featured in the science journal Nature, Art in America, Sculpture, BOMB magazine, Transition, FiberArts, NYArts, Science News, CNN, New York Times and the Washington Post.www.johnsimsproject.com.



the thirteen

In 2013, The Thirteen, a multimedia narrative, debuted as a visual art exhibition and live musical/spoken word performance paying homage to thirteen black women and girls who were lynched or otherwise violently murdered in Kentucky. The Thirteen enshrined the shared history of the thirteen women through a short film and live performance by an ensemble of fourteen Kentucky musicians and vocalists paired with poetry by Bianca Spriggs and original photography by Angel Clark. Below are photographs from The Thirteen. A selection of poems from this project are available in the print version of pluck! 10. 



Angel Clark is a Photographer/Filmmaker and creator of the newly formed parkour! Media Design team. She is a native of Richmond Virginia, but after 10 years, considers herself an honorary Lexingtonian. Currently, Angel serves as the Director of the Center for HIV Prevention and Community Outreach at AVOL AIDS Volunteers, Inc. Angel’s photographs have appeared in pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts and Culture, The Lexington Herald-Leader, Kentucky Monthly, Appalachian Heritage Magazine, and the UK Appalachian Stories Project.

roadside memorials

Roadside memorials mark geographical points of departure in a landscape that is generally devoid of real human interaction or activity. They are almost always built in the no man’s land bordering our country roads, interstates and highways. We pass them at 60 miles an hour, sometimes glancing back but are never afforded the time to actually see them. This project is about slowing down.

Polaroid was a natural choice. Early in its development, Polaroid film was widely used by police officers and other law enforcement, because it produced an unalterable instant photo – irrefutable evidence of a particular event. These photographs are evidence of something greater – an unspoken need to commemorate and celebrate our own fleeting lives and stories.

—Phillip March Jones


Phillip March Jones is an artist, writer, and curator. He is the founder of Institute 193, a non-profit contemporary art space based in Lexington, Kentucky. March is his mother’s maiden name. 

the unbearable blackness of being

(in response to the verdict and the notion that my life is without value)

Nietzsche says
it has already
that it will
happen again
ad infinitum
in fact
this heaviness
he says is
unbearably unavoidable

but the sophist
knows i am
made of stardust
there will
only, ever be
one of me
my life is
not cheap

i am beautiful and i am black

i know why
i frighten you
when i step
onto the elevator
so from time
to time i
must remind myself
that my blackness
is too bright
to gaze
directly into

ask the greeks
about the unbearable
of my being
they thought
i was a god
as plato and
herodotus walked
among us, they
thought my
skin was otherworldy
my head, wondrously
woolly or smooth
as the face
of the sun
must have been
crowned in celestial glory
that as my hand
to the sky, it
held the what
and the why
as i circumscribed
the heavens in
the palm of
my hand, that
my finger
pointed to where
we came from
running back to
athens to build what
they thought was
a flattering replica
of the mysteries
they had been
exposed to
conveniently forgetting
where they got
it from

the astronomer
knows, i am
made of stardust
there will
only, ever be
one of me
and my life
is not cheap

i am terribly and wonderfully made

i know why
you are frightened
of me, why
you have to
follow behind me
in the dark, i
have to remind
myself that
my sun-kissed skin
may be envied
that you need
freud and jung
to help you with
what you have
repressed, to
unwind your mind’s
deep seeded jealously

ask the
Cheyenne or
about the
unbearable blackness
of my being
how they thought
i was sacred
how their men
knew me as
one part ferocity
that my hair must
have meant that
i was also two
parts buffalo
how the women
wanted me to
lay down with
them knowing my
offspring would
be blessed

the shaman
knows, i am
made of stardust
there will
only, ever be
one of me
and my life
is not cheap

i agree with Kundera, Nietzsche had it wrong

in a little
while, not
long from now
in an age
soon to come
your hate
will have crumbled
into dust, and
blown away
like the paper this
is printed on
that you had to
follow me, that
you feared me
crossed the street
when you saw
me coming
because my
blackness was
unbearable, your
ugliness, will
be a distant
memory out
of focus
like an old
photo faded
beyond recognition
that you tried
desperately to hold
onto your privilege
as it evaporated
like milk in
the noonday sun
will be an
unread footnote
in the back
of a mis-shelved book
smelling of mildew
on the bottom
shelf in a forgotten
corner, no
longer checked
out of the library
but i, who
am beautiful
black and
made of stardust
will live on

—Gerald Coleman



Gerald L. Coleman is a native of Lexington, KY. He did his undergraduate work in Philosophy and English, before completing a Master’s degree in Theology. He is currently finishing work on the first, in a series, of Fantasy/Sci-Fi novels entitled Sanctuary, and has just compiled his second collection of poems entitled naked. He is a lover of espresso, early mornings on the golf course, and Lexington in the fall. He is a founding member of the Affrilachian Poets.

the angel of sidewalks

& the angel of convenience stores
& the angel of schools
& the angel of parking lots

& bowling alleys & living rooms
& bed rooms & front yards & basements
have all lodged their complaint

when they want to know did
their job change to this
when & how long will it be this

this mopping up this scrubbing
this dealing in the afters
in the bodies & the families left

they’ve spoken with the angel
of exceptional cases to note
this is much too routine

& to the angels of righteous
anger & empathy & justice
to ask where where where

are you does not your god
like our god teach thou
shalt not kill thou shalt not

kill thou shalt not kill
how long o lord they’ve asked
how long before the dancing

& the strutting & the strolling
how long before the romancing
& the reminiscing

before stoops & porches
& swings & courts & the smooth
concrete floors of garages

are for congregating & carrying on
how long before they are again
angels of play & coming together

before they hear again

olly olly oxen free

—Jeremy Dae Paden



Jeremy Dae Paden was born in Milan, Italy and raised in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic. He lives in Lexington, Ky where he is an Associate Professor of Spanish and Latin American literature at Transylvania University and spends his free time baking bread for his children and wife. His poems have appeared in here there and yon, including Atlanta Poetry Journal, Adirondack Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Louisville Review, pluck!, Tidal Basin Review, and various others places and journals.

black hoodie (for trayvon martin)

Trayvon, the week the jury found
George Zimmerman “Not guilty”
for killing you, I had traveled to Oregon
all the way from Catskills. The morning
of the verdict I hiked into redwood forest
with a man I first met when I was not
much older than you the night you died.
I wanted to walk up to the mountain laurel trail
because I love wild laurel even when it’s not
blossoming. Perhaps you had heard of
enchanted forests when you were a little boy …
the redwood forest was like that,
a greening deepness shawled with moss,
the great-girthed trees seeming to touch sky.
The immense agate of forest shimmered
with blues among leaves lit to emerald,
roots rising up like runes over the trail.
Near a surprise of Indian pipes, where
the shiny laurel leaves began to show,
I spotted a black torso beyond my feet.
Yes, a magical forest … I saw you.
But when my heart recovered its beat,
I drew closer and the torso became
a black hoodie just my size. I knelt
to pull the fallen blackness on, warmly
soft the way your skin must have felt
the evening your heart lost its bountiful
beat. I always did hate Florida’s gated
communities like above ground graves
for the living dead. Trayvon, I wish
you had wandered into an enchanted forest
that would have protected you from being
hunted down. I wish you could have
happily eaten millions of Skittles, traveled
and found a woman who loved your skin
and you as a starry night. After emerging
from redwoods, my old sweetheart and I
heard the verdict on NPR. What runes
or blues can grow back the beauty
of a seventeen year old boy-man cut down?
I shall wear the black hoodie until I die.

—Susan Deer Cloud



Susan Deer Cloud is a Catskill Mountain Indian. An alumna of Binghamton University and Goddard College, she has received a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, New York State Foundation for the Arts Poetry Fellowships, and an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant. Her most recent book is Fox Mountain. http://sites.google.com/site/susandeercloud/