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The Spirit of Man Goeth Upward

Research by Laura S. McKee, Berea Sound Fellow, regrading how WW-II era radio and personal histories have shaped the development of "From the Diary of Eve", a narrative series of poems set in Southern Appalachia.

Chapter One: Home, Restlessness, and the Seeds of Doubt (1937-38)

Still following the originally proposed three-part structure, the revised narrative will follow Eve on her journey from the mountains of East Tennessee to the hills of rural Kentucky and back.  Chapter 1 will still take place in East Tennessee and will focus on Eve’s mounting doubt regarding her father’s fervent religious beliefs. During this time Eve will be learning, partly in secret, skills in folk medicine, especially as a mid-wife. 

At the end of Chapter 1, Eve’s mother dies in childbirth, a tragedy that sends her father into an emotional tailspin that manifests itself through an increasingly extreme religious fanaticism. Believing he is being called to preach “the word” on a national tent revival circuit, her father sends Eve and her brother Patrick to his older brother’s farm in Kentucky to live.  Chapter one ends with their departure from East Tennessee.

Chapter Two: The World on the Brink of War (1938-41)

Chapter 2 begins with Eve and Milton’s arrival at their uncle’s farm. Their uncle Isaac is a mild-mannered and well-educated man who had originally trained, like Eve’s father, to be a minister. Somewhere along the way, he abandoned the pulpit for farming. Having no children of his own—his own wife had died many years earlier—he welcomes his niece and nephew as his own. Moreover, he encourages Eve’s curiosity in medicine as well as her growing desire to travel.

In his home, Eve discovers classic texts such as The Iliad, The Odyssey, and St. Augustine’s Confessions, which will serve as influential texts on the scope of the narrative poem as a whole, especially as they inform and mold Eve’s understanding of war, of religious faith, and doubt.  It is also at her uncle’s that Eve’s obsession with radio takes a firm hold. She immerses herself in broadcasts from WHAS out of Louisville, which include regional music programs, The Renfro Valley Barn Dance, soap operas, and national news coverage of the impending war in Europe.

Chapter Three: The World at War (1941-43)

By the end of Chapter 2, the U.S. has declared war on the Axis nations and Patrick has enlisted in the Army.  Eve’s vision of the world is further expanded by her brother’s letters home. These epistolary poems will be told through Eve’s voice, however, sections (serving as excerpts from Patrick’s letters ) will be inspired, in part, by passages from the G.I. Journal of Sergeant Giles and images from the Norman Ball photographic collection.

She still struggles with her desire to leave while caring for her father who is unwell.  The chapter concludes with Eve’s departure from the region (and her father) to join the Army Corps of Nurses.