Savannah Sipple kicks ass…and Jesus is her homeboy.
A writer from Beattyville, Savannah’s poems and short stories have recently been published in Appalachian Heritage, The Pikeville Review, Southern Indiana Review, Still: The Journal. Savannah’s work also appears in the anthologies Appalachia Now: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia from Bottom Dog Press, and in If You Can Hear This: Poems in Protest of an American Inauguration, which is fresh off the presses from Sibling Rivalry Press. Savannah is also the co-owner of Brier Books, Lexington’s newest independent bookseller.
She’s recently finished a full-length poetry collection that fascinates me in its complexities around love and pain, two things inextricably intertwined. Whether the love in question is from a victim of domestic violence to their abuser or a young queer woman learning to love herself without losing faith, there is no easy answer for the mind or the heart in these poems.
It’s the complex relationship between Christianity’s expectations of women and the woman’s intense need for survival—but more than just that, the need for affection and acceptance—that can tear us down over time, cell by cell. But it can also light a fire within us that can engulf the world around us and burn it to the ground. Out of the ash, new life can emerge with immeasurable beauty.
At the heart of these poems is a type of come-to-Jesus talk. Literally. In this collection, Jesus rises up in ways we rarely hear about from the contemporary Christian church. He’s more human than most depictions, concerned about young kids using birth control, about victims of abuse finding freedom from their abusers, and about all of us finding connections with others, even if those connections are not what’s typically deemed acceptable in the churches. Yes, this Jesus is a brother, a confidante, and even a wingman.
As Savannah told me, “We’re taught at church that you wouldn’t be at the bar anyway, and you sure wouldn’t be there with Jesus.” And yet we are at the bar with Jesus in one of these poems, a Jesus who shows the purest love to a queer woman by encouraging her to love herself enough to be loved by another woman. This Jesus is love, for all of us.
I met Savannah years ago at the Appalachian Writers Workshop, which is held every year at the Hindman Settlement School. She makes me laugh and she makes me think, a combination that makes for good conversation…ones that can be about everything from balancing a life of art with academics to waging wars on squirrels that won’t quit eating up the garden.
So I felt lucky that my visit with Savannah happened to be on a lovely early summer evening in Lexington, prime porch-sitting weather. We talked about poetics and politics, the importance of women telling our stories, and searching for and finding a Jesus that loves you just as you are. Oh, and of course, Brier Books!
You can also read one of her political poems, “Our Country Needs,” over at Still: The Journal.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait until they’ve got a porch for me to sit on and visit a while. I’m gonna be that heathen in a hammock over in the corner.
Frankie Wolf is an Appalachian myth-maker and teller of small tales. She was the first woman editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, the literary magazine of the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative. Her essays and short stories have been published in Nantahala Review, Appalachian Journal, New Madrid, and Still: The Journal. She was named a finalist in the Carnegie Center’s Next Great Writers Contest, has been a recipient of multiple Kentucky Foundation for Women Artist Enrichment and Arts Meets Activism Grants, and earned an Emerging Artist Award for Nonfiction from the Kentucky Arts Council. She lives in Lexington, KY, where she is currently at work on a novel set in the Red River Gorge. You can sometimes find her teaching new writers aged 5 to 75 at the Carnegie Center. To see more of Frankie’s work, visit frankiewrites.com.