BLUEFIELD — A love for Appalachian landscapes traverses generations and mediums in a new collection of poetry and photographs, Spruce Wind’s Song: The West Virginia Poetry of Ivan Norton Hunter.
The collection brings together verse and prose stories based on Richwood, West Virginia native, Ivan Hunter’s memories of beloved places and people he encountered growing up.
According to a press release, Hunter was born in Richwood, in Nicholas County in 1916 and lived there until just before World War II, when he married and moved to Nitro, W.Va. He served in the Navy in both World War II and the Korean War, returning after both conflicts to his home and family in Nitro, where he became postmaster. He was also a community leader and co-founder of the Upper Vandalia Historical Society. He was twice named West Virginia’s Outstanding Young Man of the Year.
His passion was poetry, which he wrote most of his adult life. In poems such as “Hinkle Mountain Road,” “First Light,” “Barren She Run” and “Sundown out Greenbrier Road,” he connects memory and emotion in gem-like verses whose memorable language and subtle rhythms express hard-won insights about love and life.
“Ivan’s poetry deserved more recognition than it got during his lifetime,” said volume editor Joe Hunter, who is the son of Ivan and owner of Remember Productions. “These poems should take their place among the timeless verse of poets who have striven over the years to capture both the place and the state of mind that is West Virginia. I am glad we are helping to bring his poetry to a wider audience.”
Joe Hunter, son of the poet, Ivan Hunter, decided to publish his father’s work after his own retirement.
“I retired a couple of years ago, I was looking for projects to do. When you retire, you are suddenly in this position where you are looking back on your career and your life and connections, and things like that,” Hunter said. “I don’t know exactly how this idea came to me, but I had this idea to publish a volume of his poetry because I thought it was very good. Personally, it was a tribute to him and a way to connect to my own past in West Virginia because many of these poems I grew up with and had very positive and emotional, and nostalgic feelings about.”
Hunter said his father’s poetry writing was never a scheduled process, he would be inspired by something as simple as a phrase or word and he would start working on it.
“When he was working on something he would read out drafts and things like that, so it was an active process and everyone in the household was involved in one way or the other,” Hunter said. “He had a real way with language and he had a way with the rhythm of language and the music of language, if you read them out loud you can hear that. The canons of modern poetry say that you do not necessarily need to rhyme things, but he liked rhyming things and I think that added a lot to the musicality of the poems.”
While Ivan Hunter was able to do some poetry readings in his lifetime, his son, Joe Hunter, believes he did not get enough credit for his work.
“I think he would have been very pleased because he got relatively little recognition when he was alive for his poetry. He did the readings and I think he enjoyed doing that,” Hunter said. “He ‘published’ some collections of poems that were like a friend would do them in calligraphy and they would have them xeroxed and things like that. I wanted to kind of kick it up a notch from that, but I think he would have been very pleased and proud to have seen this book.”
After Hunter decided to publish some poems from his collection of around 200 works, he started creating a concept of the book, with the impact in mind.
“The original concept I had was to combine the poems with photographs because I think it is more impactful that way. People are very visual these days and they oftentimes need an image to be associated with the words they are reading, so right from the start, I wanted to have a photographer involved,” Hunter said. “I wanted to have somebody who was local to that area, so when they read a poem, they would have a concept of what image could go with it and what places to photograph.”
Through a mutual friend in Richwood, Joe Hunter connected with Melvin Hartley, an award-winning photographer from Fayetteville, W.Va.
“I started working with him and in the fall of 2019, we did a photoshoot in the Richwood area. So, I had some ideas of images that came to me from reading the poems and places I knew specifically they were about. Some of them are about places like Kinkle Mountain Road and Greenbrier Road and things like that. Those were obvious places,” Hunter said. “Together Melvin and I came up with a shooting plan and spent a day going to various places in and around Richwood and Nicolas County.”
Hartley is a native of Nicholas County, W.Va., and a current resident of Fayetteville. Self-taught, his photographs have been published in several magazines, won awards, and juried into many art shows including; Carnegie Hall, Tamarack: The Best of West Virginia, and the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History.
Hartley retired from the West Virginia Department of Environmental protection as an Environmental Engineer and also as an Officer in the West Virginia Air National Guard where he traveled to over ninety different countries with combat tours in the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In his retirement, he began to travel.
“After I retired, we started traveling and hitting a lot of the National Parks, and with the scenic beauty of it, I started taking photographs, mostly point and shoot,” Hartley said. “I kept saying, I can do better than this and just basically taught myself. I just really loved it.”
Hartley’s photography is based on patience and a true love for the outdoors. He estimates he has seen more sunrises and sunsets than the average person ever would.
“Landscape photography is my passion. I work hard to produce authentic imagery that reveals some of the magic that happens within the natural landscape,” Hartley writes in his artist’s statement. “Whether it’s in the cold waters of a mountain stream, on a rugged crest of a mountain, out there is where I want to be. I do it because I love it. The reward for me is experiencing the many things a landscape photographer goes through to capture the natural world when environmental conditions are at their most dynamic. If my photos have a mission, it is this: capture rarely viewed scenes and environments and present them in an interesting way to stir up unexpected feelings and thoughts in the viewer.”
Hartley and Hunter worked collaboratively to bring Spruce Wind’s Song: The West Virginia Poetry of Ivan Norton Hunter to fruition.
“I selected the poems before the photos because we needed to know what kind of images we were going to need to illustrate the poems and then I began the process of putting the book together,” Hunter said.
“I collected quite a few images and then Joe would edit them down and pick the ones he wanted for each poem,” Hartley said. “I really enjoyed working with him and it was a challenge going up there and getting what he wanted. It was a lot of fun. I like a challenge. I like the photo that he chose for the cover. Whenever you think of Richwood, you think of that area shooting out over the mountains of West Virginia. I took that on the Scenic Highway.”
After the selection of poems and photographs was complete, Joe Hunter went through the book and added context, comments, or stories in editor’s notes, bringing the story to life through the eyes of Ivan Hunter’s own son.
“It was pretty much afterward because I did not know exactly what I wanted to say about each poem, but the reason I wanted to have that and add that to the book is that there are things that I knew about the poems and the meanings that you would not necessarily know from just reading it so I wanted to share that with the readers, these things I knew about the poem and his intentions with it and where he was going with it, beyond what they could get from the poem,” Hunter said. “In some cases, it was a matter of explaining, there were some family relationships and things like that. it was pretty much the last thing I did. I chose the poems, then the photography, then I wrote the forward and then the editors note, then it went through the design process.”
Spruce Wind’s Song is available at Taylor Books in Charleston, W.Va., Lucy Butterfly in Richwood, W.Va., A New Chapter bookstore in Lewisburg, W.Va., Main Line Books in Elkins, W.Va., and online at rememberproductions.com/store.
— Contact Emily Rice at email@example.com