Louise McNeill

Louise McNeill

Paradox Hill: From Appalachia to Lunar Shore, Revised Edition

Louise McNeill (1911-1993) is a former poet laurete of West Virginia. A.E Stringer, the editor of this new edition, answers questions about the poet and her work.

Why you believe that Paradox Hill is such an important work in McNeill’s career?
Paradox Hill not only spans several decades in McNeill’s long career, containing the poems of her younger years along with those of her maturity, it also insists on diversity of subject matter as well. Because the work of many Appalachian writers continues to be stereotyped as uniformly nature- and family-oriented, Paradox Hill’s apocalyptic vision and its exploration of the scientific universe escape such narrow categories.

Modern day poetry seems to have slipped a bit away from relying on rhyme: how do you think this sets McNeill’s work apart?
McNeill’s rhymes are rarely easy: Chord and sword, move on and cyclotron, for example. Her schemes are not always rigid, either, as she prefers the ABAB or the xBxB, where x is any unrhymed word. While a number of contemporary poets have returned to off-rhyme and especially to the use of repetition, of which McNeill is a master, her stricter formality retains its power. Unlike the typical free verse of our day, which can seem less traditionally musical, her poems approach the music of folk songs.

How do you think a modern audience may take her poems placing science, religion and nature set against one another, as opposed to her audience when the book was first published.
Modern audiences have long known that the frontiers of science (which is to say, the study of nature) and religion are merging. If religion is a more intuitive understanding of nature, including human nature, the poems in Paradox Hill seem to acknowledge that this faith-based understanding is shaped by scientific knowledge.

How did you go about choosing some poems to include and discarding others?
Of course my own taste influenced my choices, particularly my interest in how poetry can render scientific marvels. I also sought out poems that I felt were as lyrically rich as they were narratively driven. By that, I mean that I wanted the book to represent the widest possible range of McNeill’s subjects and styles.

What was it that drew you to reprinting McNeill’s work?
The more years I’ve spent in West Virginia, the more I’ve understood how beloved and influential Louise McNeill has been. This book had been out of print for decades when WVU Press offered me the opportunity to explore and to re-emphasize McNeill’s major contribution to Appalachian literature.

How has McNeill’s work affected you personally?
My own writing continues to become more musically and rhythmically aware, thanks to her influence.

What do you think the people of Appalachia will take away from reading Paradox Hill?
Certainly, they will enjoy being in the presence of a master poet; one who knows their history, loves their land, and can tell their story in a voice both tough and sensitive.

What do you think people not from Appalachia may take away?
Perhaps non-Appalachian readers will re-appreciate the cultural richness of this region through one of its most appealing voices.

How do you think McNeill’s poetry is able to resonate overtime?
Her insights into human need and human value are various. She has a vision of how we interact with the spiritual and material sources of our existence, the soul and the earth, and she sings that vision in these poems.