Saturday, June 10, 2006

Reading James Applewhite's Selected Poems: a substantial book from a poet too-often deemed "southern," somehow managing to be at once somber and lavish, a poet like Wordsworth of ideas advanced and developed as images. The "southern" in poetry as in prose has trapped more writers than honey has flies. Yes, there are writers who are recognizably, even professionally southern. Others who use the notion of southern as a point of attack--a stand from which they interrogate not only the South but the dominant other culture that has rendered so much of the South a colony. Applewhite might fit into this group. And then there are the Fred Chappells, the Charlie Smiths, the Cormac McCarthys: from the region, perhaps still of it, but outriders whose work frequently detaches completely from any affiliation with place. "Southern" has become a useless catchall that allows a vast range of writers to be kept in their place; once designated or identified as from the south, they are never allowed out of it. Do we do the same for the range of writers from/residing in New York? New England? The Midwest? The West (maybe the West, yes...though not so much for poets). While many of those regions have individual poets who popularly epitomize those regions--Frost for New England, Sandburg the Midwest, Hart Crane New York--it's interesting that all are from some years ago, writing during a time that America was discovering its own national and regional literature. Current writers from regions other than the South are not saddled with regionality, and therefore needn't escape it.


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