We both loved Gary Stewart, and we both loved Grace. My wife Grace’s father was a big man. He wasn’t much more than six feet tall, but I think folks thought of him as taller because he carried himself large.… by David Ramsey | Sep, 2017

A story by Jesmyn Ward, the third and final excerpt from her forthcoming novel  Sing, Unburied, Sing. The officer is young, young as me, young as Michael. He’s skinny and his hat seems too big for him, and when he… by Jesmyn Ward | Sep, 2017

Sketches of Tennessee. From the time I was about ten years old, my mother and I put in our time by visiting with Irma for an hour or two every day. We’d bring her the Enquirer and Star and try to cheer her up… by Danielle Chapman | Sep, 2017

Traces of Cormac McCarthy’s Knoxville.  McCarthy’s books came to me as transformative things so often do: several-times borrowed. It was during my junior year of college, my first semester back home in Colorado after a failed track scholarship out of state.… by Noah Gallagher Shannon | Sep, 2017

An installment in Chris Offutt’s Omnivore column, Cooking with Chris.  Nothing is as powerful as the extraordinary jolt of a teenager’s first love. It’s like seeing the world after a double-cataract surgery. Life is suddenly exquisite. Each leaf becomes the bearer… by Chris Offutt | Sep, 2017

Take Sturgill Simpson. Sturgill (can I call you Sturgill?) is a Kentucky rascal, born in the heart of the Appalachian mountains. Jackson—population around twenty-one hundred. He comes from a family of coal miners. He was in the Navy. He worked… by Leesa Cross-Smith | Nov, 2017

A Kentucky Music Issue web-exclusive liner note.  Raised in Sandy Hook, Kentucky, Whitley grew up admiring country greats Lefty Frizzell and George Jones, whose vocal styles he imitated as a young musician. Whitley’s uncanny talent for mimicry is something of a… by Alex Taylor | Nov, 2017

A Kentucky Music Issue web-exclusive liner note.  Jim Ford’s lone album is a twenty-eight minute, mystical celebration of the kid that got away—a hazy, bourbon-and-cocaine-fueled-funk-&-soul-honky-tonk cousin to Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run. by Jesse Donaldson | Nov, 2017

Notes on the songs from our 19th Southern Music Issue CD featuring Kentucky. This faculty, to be attuned to one’s surroundings and the ways in which they’re unique, to be rooted in the local, to be of a certain place—no matter if… by Oxford American | Nov, 2017

Poetry in Place

Poetry in Place

A symposium on Southern poetry


The New South.” We use that phrase as if it means something, but it doesnt. Since the Civil War, the South has been declared new” just about as often as the moon has. Over the years, some needed the South to be newly liberated; others, newly commercialized; others still, newly afraid. Carpetbaggers. Jim Crow. The Freedom Riders. The Coal Mine Wars. The Gingrich Revolution. New Orleans. History loves a do-over. But Im writing these words during Ferguson. In regular life, theres no such thing as a do-over.

A poem comes from a person. A person comes from a place. Sometimes the ground of that place is soaked with a blood crying out. The poet can listen for that old cry and make something new from it. Many of us in the South are emerging from a twentieth-century coma in which we dreamed that any other place was better than our own. These days, we’re buying our food from the county farmer. We’ve started riding our bikes to work. We’re looking people in the eye again, people we may have hurt. What does it mean to be a poet of the “New” South? It’s not an easy question. I invited the poets published in our summer 2014 issue to begin the conversation, and we will add new essays from contributing poets going forward.

— Rebecca Gayle Howell, Poetry Editor


For so many years I thought of myself as a Kentucky poet, and for many years, I proudly wrote about Kentucky, or at least my small, cave-hollowed corner of it. 

While Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown sat in prison, my sisters and I went on school trips to the Biltmore House and Six Flags; we took family trips to Blowing Rock, Chimney Rock, Sliding Rock, Callaway Gardens. By the time I memorized the counties of North Carolina for Mrs. Eddington’s sixth grade class, Brown and his stepbrother had been on death row a couple years.

I came from New York to the racetracks of Florida as a groom but also as a poet, one who wasn’t writing very much. It took some time to end up in a good stable, but I was young and the timing of youth has a sense of the divine, or so it seemed when one day I found myself working for Woody Stephens, who had one of the best training outfits in America.

In a place where we have few trees and a lot of wind, I’ll risk it and go out on a limb to say that Texas may be a part of the New South. Texas doesn’t believe that, but still, there’s a common bond. Almost. I think it was Leon Stokesbury who I first heard define the Southern poem. He thought such a poem likely included a big dose of heartbreak and comic sensibility featuring family, landscape, and religion in varying degrees and combination. I hear these same quirky, dusty, open-sky, heartfelt mixtures in the songs of Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett, the Dixie Chicks (don’t judge), and more recently, Amanda Shires.

The history of the South is the South. And history is always with us—as present as you are, reading these words. As present as I mean to be as I type them. My South made me, in spite of itself.

An installment in our ongoing series, Poetry in Place, a symposium for Southern poets to consider the question, "What does it mean to be a poet of the 'New' South?"

I was not born in the South but I've known the spirit of inequality all my life.

Digging through this hard clay, I dig through history. I take the blood-red clay of my native land and shape it with my own hands. This raw red earth symbolizes violence and vitality.