by Kory Wells
People don’t go to church anymore
and they don’t know how to sew on buttons
So writes Irene Latham in her poem “Ghost Town.” Nor do many people read poetry, this enthusiast concedes, and that’s why we have National Poetry Month.
Whether you’re a regular reader of poetry or haven’t touched it since you grumbled through your junior year of high school English, April is the perfect time to sample the delights of this often succinct, soulful art form. Here are three books, all published in the past six months, offering contemporary voices with ties to the South.
In her third collection of poems, The Sky Between Us (Blue Rooster Press, 2014), Alabama author Irene Latham marries her appreciation for the natural world with an examination of love, relationships, and interior lives. Inspired by images from the National Park Service Historic Photograph Collection, this slim volume of verse carries substantial weight in the questions it poses:
What tune should we choose
to soothe a galaxy
of uncharted fears?
The collection carries comparable heft in the truths it reveals:
We always arrive
we have the courage
to name it, or not.
Whether the scene is an ocean, a mountain summit, a distant planet or simply home, Latham is a bold and dedicated explorer, adeptly observing beauty, wondering at mysteries and pausing to discover emotional truths.
What is it to live wild? asks Lisa Coffman in her poem “The Grebe.” Her response, Not separate from what you are ruled by, establishes a theme for Less Obvious Gods, published by Tennessee’s own Iris Press in 2013. Coffman’s second collection is remarkably provocative in probing those circumstances and abstractions that can dominate our lives. In odes to concepts such as beginnings, pain and even the past tense, Coffman’s words—such as those below, from “Time”—are both relatable and startling:
Our clocks exhaust themselves
counting what you offer
In “Balance,” she warns against
the yardstick spine, the tightly laced ankles.
More applause when given less and less to stand on.
In another poem Coffman confesses, I wish I could share my heart like bread. She does share her heart, and sometimes breaks ours, through her seductively worded truths.
More than 120 poets with ties to the state, including Coffman, appear in The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume VI: Tennessee (Texas Review Press, 2013). Edited by Jesse Graves, Paul Ruffin and William Wright, the book offers well over 200 pages of poetry as diverse as the geography and demographics of the state itself: Bill Brown celebrates creation through poor Adam and his job of naming; Jane Hicks remembers Beatle bangs mixed with brush cuts at the Ryman; Melissa Range laments mountaintop removal in “Flat as a Flitter;” Jeff Baker parses history through the Loosed breath of a drowned/Nation; and Kevin O’Donnell imagines, as have many of us, a drama on an interstate runaway truck ramp along the edge/of nightfall and dark. Readers will find this anthology gives them new appreciation for life in Tennessee, and for the quality poetry being written, read and celebrated in the state year round.
Kory Wells is a Murfreesboro poet and member of the One Book committee of Read to Succeed. Find a review of her spoken word CD here