Several years ago, Louisville poet Kathleen Driskell was browsing a used bookstore when a blue linen cover caught her eye. It was an early edition of Emily Post’s “Etiquette,” and her interest only increased when she began flipping through the pages. The book covers everything from how to use an oyster fork to where to place a coffin in the parlor during a home visitation.
“I was absolutely fascinated, and one of the first things I noticed is that she’s actually a really great writer,” Driskell says. “The book is still on my bedside table.”
There was also something beyond the in-depth sections on manners that intrigued Driskell — which is what inspired her latest book of poetry, “Blue Etiquette.”
“I saw myself and my family in that book,” she says.
Though not in the archetypes Post had created as general terms for the upper class — the Worldlys, Oldlineages, or the Gildings — but in the passages detailing how to manage one’s servants.
“We weren’t the rich ones, we were the ones being managed,” Driskell says. “We were probably the cooks, and the housekeepers, and the gardeners. And so then I began to be really interested in playing around with my heritage, that heritage.”
Driskell comes from a family of factory workers and West Virginia coal miners. She was a first-generation college student who says it was a “long slog” to get her degree while working jobs as a waitress at the Seelbach’s Oak Room and in a nursing home.
Driskell says as a result she occupied an in-between space when it came to class. While reading “Etiquette,” she was inspired by those tensions that existed between the classes then — and now.
“When I began to sort of meditate on the color blue and what it means in our culture, I began thinking about blue collar workers,” Driskell says. “I also realized I hadn’t seen a lot of working poems by women.”
To listen to Driskell read from “Blue Etiquette,” check out the audio in the player above.
“Blue Etiquette” came out on September 17 from Red Hen Press. It is now available at local bookstores and online. More information is available here.