Jake Adam York


WORDS ABOUT THE POETRY


Each of the five poets represented here is from, or has recently lived in, Alabama. It’s a right beginning, to draw from the state that still calls itself "The Heart of Dixie," to get some new Southern writing from the very muscle of blood.

Many of the poems evince the concern for nature that has marked so many poets "Southern" – R. T. Smith and Jeanie Thompson as well as Dan Albergotti follow Jesse Stuart and James Dickey and A. R. Ammons. But the poems gathered here, like those they follow, are not simply praiseful. In these poems, nature, and the poet’s meditation on nature, are contingent. In each, the reach toward nature is complicated by its situation in a human, and very social, environment. If these are "nature poems," they are also poems that seek to understand the human in a natural context and to understand nature in a human context. Conversations are pursued.

Contingency is also at the root of Honoree Fanonne Jeffers’s and Jim Murphy’s works, which transport us to sites – the continually haunted Tuscaloosa and an equally shadowy Atlanta – where history rises to surrounds us, like a sand boil or a thunderstorm. They ask us to see ourselves within a living matrix that stretches forward and back. Dan Albergotti’s "Seeing Hiroshima from the Seventh Grade" demands no less. The culture is already crossed, by its own past selves and those they have affected. These poets search for a crossroads at which the worlds can speak back as well as forth.

Contingency may not characterize all Southern writing, but it strongly informs some of the most captivating recent work, including that presented here. An interest in mutuality, good or bad, is perhaps inevitable in a region where racial integration is ongoing, where economic and social integration are long-term projects.

Two current events epitomize the situation.

The first is the continuing attempt to try Bobby Frank Cherry for his role in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. It seemed that Cherry’s evil had finally caught up with him and that the city and the state could finally get history to shut up and listen for a minute. That is, until Cherry was diagnosed with "vascular dementia," a condition that made him mentally unfit for trial and deafened history once again.

The second is the growing movement to replace the State Constitution of 1901, a document that has favored the most powerful Alabamians – originally white aristocrats, now the plutocracy. This year the effect was clear in the "education shortfall," which resulted in a 5% budget cut for all of Alabama’s public schools, in a year when total state revenues were up — a shortfall that affects all but those children whose parents can afford to school them in independent systems. So the instrument that is supposed to hold us together just holds us back.

None of the poets here addresses anything so obviously political. But in entering into contingent states, each addresses the constitution of the culture, which will remain long after this news is old.

And though this journal cannot do so much on its own, one of its goals is to enter into a conversation about constitution, to work in a web of contingent assertions toward such intersections of promise as produce such fine writing. Each of you who read pushes us closer. Closer.