Rebecca Gayle Howell is the author of American Purgatory and Render / An Apocalypse. She lives in Knott County, Kentucky, where she is James Still Writer-in-Residence at the Hindman Settlement School; since 2014, she has served as poetry editor for this magazine.
In Lexington, where I’m from, a federal medical prison stands on the town’s west side. Far off the main road, it does not ask our attention as we drive home from the Kroger’s or Goodwill—another sight among many in our urban pastoral. Not so long ago, this building held the nation’s attention as the world’s leading drug rehabilitation center, constructed to save civilization from the addict, and the addict from himself. Though, if the United States Narcotic Farm is today known for anything other than its eventual failure, it’s for the legendary figures who came there.
Atget, Modotti, Weston, Stieglitz, Avedon, Karsh, Brassaï, Bresson, Ulmann. Jim would hand the books to me with no explanation, no bias of who was who and why and what the world already thought of the work. He told me only to put paper clips on the pages holding photographs that “found something in me.”
Since joining the Oxford American in 2014, I’ve taken the occasion of our annual music issue to offer our readers a variety of special poetry features. I feel that our Georgia issue, aligned with the spirit of that state, acts as a little archive of a certain time and place, a bound capsule of song and sensibility.
Five poems from the spring 2014 issue.
Across the white highway, dogs drift unmoored
Silver-tipped seagrass, but no cactus. An offing
of shopping plazas, their harsh light and low roofs.
That's the way with drought; first dissent,
a worm belief that one place could be another.
I bet it feels good to twist a head of cotton
clean from the stem's fat and browning boll.
I bet it feels good to stand in irrigated rows.