Wednesday, July 24, 2019

This Place Gives Me Hope

Betsy Andrews

Brooklyn, New York
May 2019

This Place Gives Me Hope

A sampling of people I have befriended and broken bread with while on residency at Rensing Center in Upstate South Carolina: Mabel, the garrulous founder of the Soapstone Baptist Church fish fry and the anchor and preservationist of New Liberia, the historic black community established in Pumpkintown after the Civil War; Mike, the anthropologist, who has helped Mabel tell her deeply American story; Evelyn, who at 100 years old, remains the feminist intellectual and artist she’s always been, designer of buildings and teacher of children, courageous driver of golf cart despite her legal blindness; Jon, the landscape architect who knows every plant in the forest and field, and who’s been out and proud since his teens; Joel, mushroom farmer and gentle soul, and his partner, Tasha, who makes gorgeous wall hangings and fabrics with natural plant dyes; Ron, the retired antiques dealer whose cornbread is the most delicious in the state, and who seems related to everyone in Pickens; Amanda, the spiritual and herbal healer, who leads plant walks in Rensing woods.

There are so many more: the moonshiner, the mathematician, the musicians who jam at the Appalachian Ale House; the brewer, the literary journal editor, the tattooed painter, the maker of shrubs, the food justice activist, the Clemson students who are digging at the plantation house on campus to uncover the lives of the black folks who were forced into slavery there. And, of course, there’s Ellen, maker of quilts of all kinds, including the crazy quilt that is the community that gathers for shared inspiration and solace—and potluck dinners—at Rensing Center, an oasis for humans on a country lane in Pickens. I mention them here because I have been so moved and educated by the artists and
progressives and visionaries I have met in Upstate South Carolina that my poetry has
flourished for the energy they have given me. In that corner of South Carolina where Pickens is,
people reside who welcome the crazy quilt of diversity and humanity that makes our nation, our
planet, a place worth being in and working on. As a political poet, an environmentalist poet, an activist poet, a poet of witness, I really couldn’t ask for more from a residency than to be reminded every day by the community that makes it, that with shared love and creativity, there is hope for us as a species on earth. This is what Rensing Center is to me. Lately some folks leading this country seem hell-bent
on hatred.. But there’s love enough to overwhelm them. I’m convinced of it. And I thank all the
Rensings everywhere for backing that assertion up.

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