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
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.