Clinch River

by Susan Hankla

In Susan Hankla's debut poetry collection, CLINCH RIVER, Appalachian women can dirt in Mason jars, push husbands down wishing wells, and try to read the signs on Hostess cupcakes. This landscapes is made of thorns, where the golden fleece of ambitions snag on troubles. A woman leaves town just so she can write a love letter to her husband. Another dispatches her man down the well. A real body of water in Appalachia, the Clinch is also a clenching river that baptizes souls as it takes them. Through lyrical narrative poems peopled by school friends, veterans, and ghosts, Hankla presents the poverty of the psychic wound, such as regret, as well as the wounds that poverty asserts, such as longing. The axe of fate chops off the tip of Junior's index finger, and we follow him till he is transparent. Some wounds heal over time and a narrator enters her doppelganger, Glenda, to give us that sturdy girl's one-eyed view. Following her into middle age, we'll hear her tell it like it is, when her friend can't. Wearing a red sweater, the narrator tries to leave the premises, but comes unravelled, as if it's Glenda who makes sure of her return, so that together, they bear witness to the issues of cooking with lard and slaughtering hogs, of crazy men and the deaths of them. 

There ought to be some hoopla for Susan Hankla’s CLINCH RIVER. Her pure Americana—ghosts, abandoned houses, unfinished dreams, and censored lives—conjures up Nick Cave and Bobbie Gentry (think ‘Casket Vignette’ or ‘Niki Hoeky’) at their finest, maybe collaborating on a southwestern Virginia version of Our Town, or else it’s like Dorothy Allison writing a southern gothic Spoon River Anthology with Frank Stanford. Hankla can really move mountains and sing. Boy howdy can she sing.
— Richard Peabody
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Susan Hankla

Susan Hankla is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. She teaches writing classes at the Visual Art Center, serving the adult education community and is also an exhibiting visual artist. Clinch River is her first full-length collection of poems. Other works have been published in Gargoyle, Beloit Fiction Journal, Michigan Quarterly Review, Blue Mesa, Artemis, Hollins Critic, Open Places, Southern Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest and the New Virginia Review as well as a chapbook published by Burning Deck Press. She is a recipient of a Virginia Commission on the Arts Grant for Fiction and of a fellowship to attend the Frost Place, and she has enjoyed being a fellow many times at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She is a graduate of Hollins University and has an MFA in creative writing from Brown University.