WEEREAD: If You Keep Making That Shame Face

C.J. Farnsworth has spent her life steeped in words. With more than twenty years as an English literature educator, she’s made a career out of the value of words and sharing them with others. You may have heard her recently on the Wheeling Heritage Media podcast, Herstory. In the episode “Words, Words, Words,” Farnsworth spoke of the value of writing and reading. She also spoke, just a bit, on her book, “If You Keep Making That Shame Face.” Released through Shila-Na-Gig press, “If You Keep Making That Shame Face” is a collection of poetry that has everything to do with being a woman. “This book deals especially with shame and how women experience shame, for so many reasons. Whether those are just social, cultural, or in terms of who we’re supposed to be, and how we’re supposed to act. Not only in terms of gender expression but appearance and expectation in forms of motherhood and nurture. All those things are in there,” Farnsworth shared.

C.J. Farnsworth.

Over coffee, she explained what it is like to write a collection of poetry. “It’s a weird thing, you’re alone a lot, you’re isolated.” That’s not a bad thing, some of Farnsworth’s best ideas come at her in some of the loneliest times, like the first moments after waking up or driving her car. She spins these inspiring moments into poetry through, what she describes as, “hard, ugly work.” Defying the romantic notion of being an artist, poet, or writer, Farnsworth sets the reality of the scene. “You’ve got your no-makeup, you haven’t combed your hair in days, you’re still wearing your pajamas and you’re sitting at the table and you’re thinking to yourself ‘why the hell am I doing this?’ You’ve got no publisher at the time, you don’t know if it’s going to amount to anything. But, you just sort of have this drive to create. You just have to do it.”

Writing, to Farnsworth, is a necessity. She described it as a high unlike anything else. Her devotion to writing started in the fourth grade when she would shape stories for her favorite cartoon characters. She would write her early stories on blue paper, dark blue, “so dark you couldn’t even read it”. She relished in the beauty of this, keeping her writing so personal. As time passed, though, Farnsworth moved away from the unreadable papers and began sharing her work. Her writing has appeared in “I-70 Review,” “Backbone Mountain Review,” “Appalachian Review,” “Women Speak” and more. With the debut of “If You Keep Making That Shame Face,” her work is being shared through Shila-Na-Gig.

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Farnsworth sang the praises of Shila-Na-Gig, a small, women-run press created by Hayley Hauge. “She’s a one-woman show, which is amazing to me. She’s a professor, she teaches full time, she’s a writer herself, and she also runs this independent publishing house,” Farnsworth shared. Hayley had a vision, to promote writers from pockets of often-overlooked parts of the country. Farnsworth found this equally, endlessly important. “To support small press publishers is so important because there are so many voices out there that would not be heard. And that’s true of any of the arts. I get on a soapbox about supporting the arts.” In fact, the cover of the “If You Keep Making That Shame Face” is an additional celebration of Wheeling art, as it was designed by Farnsworth’s son.

“If You Keep Making That Shame Face” book cover.

While Farnsworth adamantly believes that poetry is for everyone, she encourages people should explore all art forms to find what most resonates with them. Farnsworth would like to see people engage more in the art scene that’s all around them – especially in Appalachia. She has experienced firsthand the feeling of being pigeonholed when talking to others about being a writer from Appalachia. “Once you tell somebody you’re from West Virginia, you’re a West Virginia poet or an Appalachian poet, and you’re boxed in.” In the release of this book, there is hope that it will showcase some of the multitudes that exist in West Virginia. 

Farnsworth is certainly a beautiful example of the brilliant artists that are ripe within Wheeling.  While this book certainly exists in and is informed by Wheeling, it also exists most strongly in womanhood. As Farnsworth says in the book, “I have never been anywhere but inside myself.” This work has been praised by many, including Kari Gunter-Seymour, the Poet Laureate of Ohio. She applauds, “The poems in CJ Farnsworth’s much anticipated first collection ‘If You Keep Making that Shameface’ are full of grit and sass.” This is a journey into womanhood that strikes true at the twisted guts of shame. It also lights the way to shaking that shame off. Farnsworth covers “bingo, blood-letting, brine tang, bad love, bawdy sex, and barbarous politics,” per Kari Gunter-Seymour. Truly a marvelous work, it is a book of poems worth sinking your teeth into.

If you’d like to read it for yourself, “If You Keep Making That Shame Face” is available for purchase now, through Shila-Na-Gig and wherever books are sold.

• Makayla Carney, a Wheeling native, is the 2023-2024 AmeriCorps member for Wheeling Heritage, where she will get to write all about the history and culture of her hometown. She has a B.F.A. in Film and Television from DePaul University in Chicago. She adores all kinds of art, a lavender latte, and the occasional performance on the Towngate Theatre stage.