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Kentucky by Heart: Bluegrass Writers Coalition members compile book of Ky’s ‘mined treasures’

By Steve Flairty
KyForward Columnist

Back in 2018, two founding members of the Bluegrass Writers Coalition, from Frankfort, Mike Embry and Chris Helvey, discussed the idea of creating a small selection of published writings to highlight some of the state’s finest, including some who were unsung, writers. Mined treasures, you might say, that needed to be unearthed so that the glitter might not be lost on an unaware public audience.

Recently, the product of their idea emerged with the help of Virginia Smith and Keith Hellard. A 151-page collection, From Pen to Page: A Selection of Writings from the Bluegrass Writers Coalition (Next Steps Books, 2019), was published. Smith did the cover, formatting, and layout of the book. Hellard assisted in the editing.

The book’s impressive number of submissions (35) far surpassed what Embry and Helvey expected, believing that only a few poems and short stories would be reeled in.

Quoting from the book’s introduction, they stated: “From Pen to Page does indeed contain a number of fine poems and some creative and powerful stories. However, it also provides the reader with memoir pieces, creative non-fiction, novel excerpts, even photographs of Frankfort and the famous Bluegrass countryside that surrounds Kentucky’s capital city.”

There are plenty examples of individuals throughout the collection who “turn a phrase” well. In a piece that is sort of an essay/memoir blend, Melissa Ann Raines shares My Love of Reading, connecting to many whose love affair with books started as a child; through her testimony, Melissa finds herself joyously exploring the stacks of Frankfort’s “old” Paul Sawyier Public Library, often focusing on a particular subject and exhausting the book supply of such. She also describes that her reading obsession helped compensate for her auditory processing learning disability. She calls books her “talisman and teachers,” and she aptly convinces the reader it is so.

In a heart-warming memoir of his childhood in the late fifties, Dennis “Doc” Martin paints a vivid picture of his mother making biscuits on “the drum stove which stands upon the metal stove mat in the kitchen.” That imagery alone takes old-timers like me back to some of the happiest times of our lives, internalized forever.

Mike Embry (left) and Chris Helvey (Photos provided)

Mark Kinnaird, recently deceased and to whom the book is dedicated, wrote six poems for the book that I really like. In one, muskogee 1982, Mark recalls an earlier time when he “drove all night long just to run away from home,” and in meeting a woman for a brief time of intimacy, he now knows that “she must look on me like a snapshot of a time when her life was simpler.”

Chris Helvey remembers Mark as “a fine poet, as well a leader in the literary community of central Kentucky… a tireless promoter of other authors and led many book groups, author readings, and writer workshops. He is truly and deeply missed.”

From Pen to Page also includes: a novel excerpt from Helvey, a touching memoir of his mother from Steve Vest (publisher of Kentucky Monthly), a submission from former Kentucky poet laureate Richard Taylor, selections from Virginia Smith and Keith Hellard, and a short story from Embry that he plans to include in a future book.

Helvey and Embry deserve praise for getting the ball rolling on this work of artistic talent, a gift from Kentuckians to Kentuckians.

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And while I’m shining light on story collections of Kentucky writers, Chris Helvey has published his own. In September, he released One More Round: The Published Stories (Trajectory Journal, 2019). It contains nineteen of his short stories published between the years 1997 to 2015. I haven’t had a chance to inhale this offering yet, but if the writing is anything like his other stuff, it’ll be a real treat for readers. Both From Pen to Page and One More Round can be ordered online at Amazon.com.

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I’ll close the column on a note of sadness, along with a tribute. Gene Clabes, 74, passed last week. Gene and his wife, Judith Clabes, founded KyForward.com and NKyTribune.com, along with a host of other journalistic endeavors over the years. They are truly notable Kentuckians because they’ve loved their state and certainly helped, by all accounts, to move it “forward.”

Gene always supported me in my writing pursuits and talked to me about ways to expand my platform. He even encouraged me to open a Twitter account — something I didn’t do — but he sure made me feel valued. He and Judy put me on their team with KyForward, and later NKyTribune, with stories from my Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes book series and now the Kentucky by Heart column. Gene was always affable, looked you in the eye when conversing, and you immediately felt that he was learned in his chosen field, yet was adaptable and wanted to learn even more.

Writing, especially on a sustained basis, is hard work and something I’ve had to push myself to persevere. Gene Clabes helped me to feel like my efforts and what I write is worthwhile. I’ll never forget this good guy and his desire to make us and our communities better.

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Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of six books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and five in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #4,” was released in 2015. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

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