The Milkweed Ladies is written out of deep affection for and intimate knowledge of the lives of rural people and the rhythms of the natural world. It is a personal account of the farm in southern West Virginia where poet Louise McNeill’s family has lived for nine generations. The Milkweed Ladies is filled with memorable characters—an herb-gathering granny, McNeill’s sailor father, her patient, flower-loving mother, and Aunt Malindy in her “black sateen dress” who “never did a lick of work.” McNeill writes movingly of the harsh routines of the lives of her family, from spring plowing to winter sugaring, and of the hold the farm itself has on them and the earth itself on all of us. McNeill juxtaposes the life of the farm with the larger world events that impinge on it, such as the destruction from lumber companies in the 1930s and World War II in the ’40s. With her poet’s gift for detail and language, McNeill creates a particular world forgotten by many of us, and to some of us, never known.
Oh what a treasure of weathered beauty and wisdom this book is; what a magical evocation, not only of seventy-five years of deepest living in this our time, but also informed with a poet’s memoried sense of nine generations of her people.
Delicate, tensile, bittersweet, Louise McNeill’s The Milkweed Ladies is a memoir of importance, full of detail about the soul of a place—our place—and the influence of a now lost world on an accomplished individual life.
Louise McNeill (1911–1993)was an accomplished American poet, short story writer, and essayist.She served as poet laureate of West Virginia from 1979 until her death in 1993. In 1988 she was awarded the Appalachian Gold Medallion by the University of Charleston. Her writings and papers are preserved at the West Virginia Region and History Center.