All the Great Territories by Matthew Austin Wimberley
Winner, Watherford Award for Best Books about Appalachia, 2020
In 2012 Matthew Wimberley took a two-month journey, traveling and living out of his car, during which time he had planned to spread his father’s ashes. By trip’s end, the ashes remained, but Wimberley had begun a conversation with his deceased father that is continued here in his debut collection.
All the Great Territories is a book of elegies for a father as well as a confrontation with the hostile, yet beautiful landscape of southern Appalachia. In the wake of an estranged father’s death, the speaker confronts that loss while celebrating the geography of childhood and the connections formed between the living and the dead. The narrative poems in this collection tell one story through many: a once failed relationship, the conversations we have with those we love after they are gone. In an attempt to make sense of the father-son relationship, Wimberley embraces and explores the pain of personal loss and the beauty of the natural world.
Stitching together sundered realms—from Idaho to the Blue Ridge Mountains and from the ghost of memory to the iron present of self—Wimberley produces a map for reckoning with grief and the world’s darker forces. At once a labor of love and a searing indictment of those who sensationalize and dehumanize the people and geography of Appalachia, All the Great Territories sparks the reader forward, creating a homeland all its own. “Because it’s my memory I can give it to you,” Wimberley’s speaker declares, and it’s a promise well kept in this tender and remarkable debut.