HauteLit from HotLanta: Folk

I’ve been hunting for eclectic pieces of furniture that could be “conversation pieces” in my new house.  I don’t intend to convey the traditional meaning of ‘conversational piece,’ where guests who happen to see the piece think it’s so cool they want to talk to you to “find out its story.”  Oh no, these pieces would be so original, so incredibly neat that they would talk vicariously through me in some kind of spirit-furniture way while I’m sitting near them or in them writing and thus instantly help me finish my novel while also making it a bestseller.

Etsy.com has been my inspiration for furniture, but it has also been a catalyst for me to get down with my ‘Folk’-self.  This week, I have been delving into the idea of self-taught artists as well as the idea of art that’s indigenous to a particular culture.  By definition, “Folk”-anything is less-than-haute or more honestly-it’s pretty much the opposite of haute, but lately the idea of “Folk” has been made into a more haute concept through indie folk music and sites like Craftgawker and Pinterest which celebrate the idea of Folk while still curating the “best” or the “high culture” aspect of it at the same time.  On Etsy,anyone (including me) can sell their art, handmade goods or even their own zines.  The fact that anyone CAN create and with modern innovation, can sell or promote their art, music or writing without necessarily having formalized training in that particular field is  uplifting.  The act of creation is so sacred, even if it’s only writing a handwritten letter to a friend or loved one, that it would be a shame to reserve it only for those who have had the opportunity to pursue formal training in the arts.

“This is no substitute for envelopes marked with your location, sheets of stationary with your script scratching across parallel lines feeling the back of the paper and an embossed pattern in the shape of every character formed (because maybe, like me, you press down with your pen, every letter a deliberate creation), the smell of your house on the paper itself.”

Marissa Falco, “Red-Hooded Sweatshirt #3” [1999]

There’s a wealth of art and music that could be considered “Folk,” but the term Folk itself as a description of culture is very broad and continually being defined.  Folk music spans generations as well as cultures and continues even in contemporary music today.  Folk art can pretty much be found anywhere from your local restaurant walls, to handmade family heirlooms, to the ceramics you bought at a street festival.  But how does the concept of “folk” relate to the written word?  Traditionally, folklore in America would refer to the Native American oral history tradition or to tall tales and these began as spoken word that has since been written down.  Although I deeply value the folklore of my country and tales of Johnny Appleseed or the creation myths, I wondered, is there a modern equivalent?  As I’m writing into my blog post-it hits me: blogging, video blogs, podcasts, zines and more are the contemporary folklore of today.  The difference, in my opinion, is that our contemporary folklore can span cultures as the internet provides a global platform for our storytelling.

It would be impossible for me to choose one blog post or zine from the many to represent my “folk” theme this week, so I’m not even going to go there as there’s too large a smorgasbord to choose from.  Instead, I will choose some items of “Americana” from literature that I personally feel represent my concept of my culture.  I say personally because “American” culture can mean so many things to so many people outside of the American pie, baseball bats and quilts that generally come to mind.  The first thing that came to mind for me was Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Issue 20.  The quarterly concern began as a largely experimental project and strives to put out the best work regardless of pedigree or whether or not someone has previously been published.  This idea seemed to align with the idea of folk to me, but also the first of the three stories I suggest from this issue is a contemporary twist on a tall tale.

“The Man Who Married a Tree,” by Tony D’Souza in this issue of the Quarterly Concern pretty much left me in tears at its genius and beauty.  It was such a well-woven tale of an uncommon but deep and lasting love between a man and his tree, a tree and her man.  If I ever meet Tony D’Souza I will probably be star struck because for some reason, out of all of my books, I fell upon this one story one night before bed and still have not stopped thinking about it.  I feel it really fit with the whole “Tall Tale” sort of theme, but in a contemporary way that somehow took something unbelievable and made it so real you wanted to go out and marry a tree yourself.  I also genuinely loved “Elsewhere,” by Roderick White and “To Sit Unmoving,” by Susan Steinberg and would collect them as pieces representing different parts of my culture.  I could go on for ages about these as well but there’s so much culture to crave and so little time!

Folk Culture Crave, Curated:

Contemporary Indie Folk

Bon Iver, “Woods

The Milk Carton Kids, “Michigan”

M. Ward, “Carolina”

Folk Art

Pat Thomas

Kuna Mola Folk Art

American Folk Art

More Americana Literature [but there’s oh so much more!]

Toni Morrison, “Beloved” [There must be some kind of collective consciousness going on, because I found this on Brain Pickings when I was thinking about Toni Morrison and listening to M. Ward for this piece] and “Song of Solomon”

Edgar Allan Poe, “The Tell-Tale Heart”

Allen Ginsberg, “Howl”

Who are your, “Folk?”  What artifacts represent your culture?  What folk art or music from past or present, do you love?