UK professor, poet to discuss Appalachia

By Allison VanderHorst

One UK professor will be a featured speaker at an event celebrating the contributions African-Americans have made to Appalachia.

The UK College of Arts and Sciences is hosting the Affrilachian Symposium on March 9 and 10.

Nikky Finney, a creative writing professor at UK, and poet who has made many contributions to Appalachia, will discuss her involvement with Affrilachian poets and read from her newest book, “Head off & Split.”

“Head off & Split” is a collection of poems that was published at the beginning of February. It is Finney’s sixth book and fourth book of poems.

Finney’s publisher said this collection of poems was “breathtaking.”

“Artful and intense, Finney’s poems ask us to be mindful of what we fraction, fragment, cut off, dice, dishonor or throw away, powerfully evoking both the lawless and the sublime,” Triquarterly Books said.

Finney credits her childhood in South Carolina with the inspiration for the title of her book. As a young girl, it was always her job to go pick up the fish for her family’s evening meal. Before she took it home, the fishmonger always asked her one question: Head off and split?

In the fish market those words simply were to ask if he should cut off the head and fillet the fish for her, but in her career, those words took on new meaning.

“As a poet I started thinking about this phrase and how it had shaped me as a girl,” Finney said. “This collection of poems, born under this extended metaphor, is about what we cut away as human beings, what we dismiss, and deny, what we hand over to other people to do that we should do ourselves.”

Vaughn Fielder, associate director of the Kentucky Women’s Writers Conference, met Finney when she was a presenter at the Conference in 2009.

After working together on a project, Finney asked for Fielder’s help in launching “Head off & Split” and Fielder was unable to pass on the opportunity.

“I could not ignore the chance to work with the words, photographs and videos that Nikky was providing,” Fielder said.

Currently, Finney is being featured on the cover of the March/April edition of Poets and Writer’s Magazine. The magazine is doing a profile story on Finney and her new book.

“I hope to keep writing, teaching and being on the front lines of all the things that matter in our community and world; politics, the environment, and how we continue to evolve and communicate as diverse human beings who share the same planet,” Finney said.

Finney’s upcoming Lexington appearances include the official Kentucky launch of “Head off & Split” on March 4 at the Carnegie Center, the Affrilachian Symposium on March 9 and the Holler! Poets Reading Series at Al’s Bar on March 30.