Sitting with his fishing buddies around a campfire near Warrior River, the words came to Adam Vines:
I spit my smack,
Jim slugs his Jack,
Rob stews his lack,
Carey prepares his rack…
Vines, an assistant professor of English at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, penned the critically acclaimed poem “River Politics” about that fireside night of fishing and Poetry magazine featured it in their May issue.
“It feels wonderful,” he says of being in a magazine that has, for 100 years, highlighted some of the best poets in the country. “Poetry is a very small world and anytime someone pays attention to my poems or poetry as a whole, it’s a good thing.”
Vines is also being lauded for his first book of poetry. A Coal Life was recently published to great reviews and named a 2012 finalist for the Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize. In the book, he explores life in Alabama's coal mining camps during the first half of the 20th Century.
Knees patched with inner tube,
tomorrow's coveralls stiffen on the line.
Today's boil in a kettle next to the collards.
My father's body, taut as wire, hunches
over a washtub, face black with dust.
(From "Almost Clean")
Vines serves as the editor of the Birmingham Poetry Review and is an also avid fisherman; so much so that he is the faculty advisor for the Fishing Team at UAB.
He comes from a long line of blue collar workers, he says. His father was a brick layer. Vines himself worked as a landscaper for two decades. And coal miners run three and four generations on both sides of his family.
Among those coal stories is where he found his poetic voice, he says.
Stories from his family’s old coal mining land seemed to call to him, haunt him, he says. After years of mining through his family’s stories, he wanted to give them a voice. And he did.
The main persona in his book is that of a young boy who is trying to figure out his voice in the world among the coal community.
“In many ways it is me groping for identity,” he says.
It’s also his way of trying to reconnect to his father, he says.
His father taught him “almost everything I know, about the real world and hard work,” he says. “He was a hard, southern man.”
When Vines got older, he and his father began to butt heads, he says, which makes him a little sad now that his father has passed away.
“We would be so close now if he had lived longer,” he says. “We are so much alike now. We would be fishing buddies.”
Vines hopes to put out another book of poetry in the next couple of years, he says. In that one, he will focus on the tales of watching his preschooler daughter grow into a little woman.
This summer, Vines has been invited to read his works in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. He will also be on faculty at the Sewanee’s Writer’s Conference.
By: Marie Sutton