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Community comes out en force to support local poet

By Laura Ray/For the Sentinel

MURRAY – Murray poet Charley Allen-Dunn celebrated the recent release of her chapbook, “The Scar It Leaves,” at a well-attended book signing and reading hosted by the Murray Art Guild Friday night. Set in the hills of her native western Kentucky, Allen-Dunn’s anthology addresses how childhood experience can shape adulthood. 

MAG Executive Director Debi Danielson said the crowd was impressive, estimating 50-60 people attended the event. Guests enjoyed refreshments as the local author diligently sold and signed copies of her new book for a line of fans both before and after reading a few select poems. 

First up was the book’s preliminary poem, “Until it pops,” which Allen-Dunn explained is about the “anticipation of something that you know is going to happen, and it’s not great and just that nervous anxiety.” In the poem, a child blowing up a balloon is used as a metaphor for “hating the buildup,” as the author described, and “knowing before you know,” as the poem itself reads. As its last stanzas point out, it is human nature that although one may know what’s in store, “We pucker our lips all the faster, and begin to blow.”

Allen-Dunn also read the poem from whence the book gets its title, which itself is entitled, ‘At what point do you stop reaching for the flame?’ In it, the poet has fun with phonetics, sounding out the word “hot.” Here is an excerpt:

Hot. HhhhhhoT.  

Drag it out,  

blow into the h,  

let it breathe and spread,  

then a quick ah and clip.  

Stop hard with the T.  

HhhhhhhhoT 

Let the h rumble like the purr of a motor,  

puff your cheeks around the o at 10 and 2,  

now slam the brakes. Throw your arm out.  

Let the h build like the heat as you move your hand closer, 

warmer, warmer, then touch it. The sharp inhale,  

the rapid recoil of the T. 

A blister already beginning to bubble. We feel the heat, 

we grow to expect the burn, we learn and remember  

the sharp sting that doesn’t fade for days.  

The scar it leaves.  

Before reading her moving and evocative poem, “There’s a poem in this place,” the Graves County native acknowledged the difficulty of growing up gay in this area.

“There’s an isolation that is hard to explain when you’re raised to think who you are is bad or that you should be ashamed,” Allen-Dunn explained in an interview. “There are elements of that in a lot of my work – the struggle to survive and break free from toxic relationships (with people or substances).”

Those who identify as LGBTQIA+ can struggle to feel accepted in rural culture and even within their own families, but the room was full of belonging on Friday night.

“I’m still wrapping my head around what actually happened,” Allen-Dunn posted on Instagram, reflecting on the evening. “It was unreal and I am blown away by the support of this community. It was so much more than I ever imagined. Thank you to everyone who was there. Thank you to everyone who wanted to be but couldn’t make it. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I hope you find something in the words I wrote you can carry with you. I hope it brings you comfort and serves as a reminder that no matter what path you’re on, you don’t have to walk it alone.” 

Charley Allen-Dunn (Photo by Robyn Pizzo)

“The Scar It Leaves,” which was published by Finishing Line Press, is available locally at Bolin Books or online at Bookshop.

Sentinel Staff

Jessica Paine
I’m Jessica Paine, founder of The Murray Sentinel. You may know me from my time as a citizen journalist, running the Calloway Covid-19 Count page on Facebook, or you may be familiar with my more recent work for another local news outlet. Being that I’m “from here,” you may have known me since I was “knee-high to a grasshopper,” although you knew me as Jessica Jones. But whether you know me or not, I’m glad you found your way here.

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