Kate Daniels: A Heroine of the South

img068This week’s featured poet, Kate Daniels, is not afraid of conveying what’s on her mind through the tones of her earnest and complex poems. Daniels, born and raised in Virginia, now resides in Nashville, TN, where a life lived in the South consistently spills out in her works through topics of racism, the working class, and the heavy-handed society of upper-class whites. Daniels has accrued three degrees from University of Virginia and Columbia University and has taught at LSU, UVa, Wake Forest and is currently an associate professor of English at Vanderbilt University. Over the last three decades, Daniels has produced four poetry books, has been featured in the 2008 and 2010 issues of Best American Poetry, and has edited two volumes on poets Muriel Rukeyser and Robert Bly. In celebration of her work to date, Daniels was the winner of the Hanes Award for Poetry by the Fellowship of Southern Writers in 2011.


Old walls are new to me. Someone else’s

babies were carried up this cracked brick walk,

sung over the threshold, bedded down

in the tiny orange nursery that gives off

the kitchen or in the low-roofed room upstairs

where I hope to write. Not mine

who took their first steps elsewhere

and never had their portraits posed by the short

stone fence or plucked the blossoms

from the magnolia someone planted

far too near the dank north wall.

Someone else conceived her creatures

here and struggled with the washer

in the cold, dark basement. Ancient

fuses, busted lights. Other

infants haunted these nights.

Mine are quiet and sleep straight through,

Uneasy in new arrangements of their furniture,

new odors, new echoes. New light on the walls.

New darkness in their hearts. And while

they sleep, I pace my newly purchased

halls choking in wallpaper I’d never choose,

dark paints that sink my spirits. Wrenched

out of context, no depth to new life

yet. On the patio, a pail is full of water

but it’s frozen. My houseplants perished

on the journey here. And the first garment

I retrieve from the packed-up cartons

is a shirt with its pocket torn off, still

wearable, I guess, but capable of carrying

nothing. No money or photos, no map,

no scrap of paper with a telephone number

I need to remember. Not even a pen or a pencil

so I can write my way out of here as fast as possible.


This piece is fairly different from Daniels other work–shorter in length, not as weighty in subject matter, a little more quiet in her language. I suppose I chose this piece over others is quite simple: I love moving, but I’ve never considered what the new owners felt like in my kitchen or my bedroom after we’ve packed up and vacated, or that they might feel uncomfortable. The particular house the narrator is describing sounds like one with character, “old walls,” “cracked brick,” “low-roofed room,” and “busted lights,” but the woman is struggling to place herself in a new section of the home’s story. This piece features a different take on a sense of place, for though the poem is anchored in the telling of the new home, there’s an uneasiness that hinders the connection one might experience after moving in. The loss of attachment is even more tangible as she describes the shirt with ” its pocket torn off,” for it cannot hold anything–no scraps of the old home, no information of where the narrator now finds herself, and no tool with which to remedy the situation. The piece leaves the reader sensing that the new homeowner is “frozen,” just like the full bucket of water on the porch–full of potential, but paralyzed by the confines of the detachment. In the depth of the dark language, she reaches for the extreme: “Not even a pen or a pencil/ so I can write my way out of here as fast as possible.” But the answer is not in writing herself out of the place, but in merely living and filling the home with fresh memories.

To continue learning about and experiencing Kate Daniels, use the following links for an interview/review of her latest poetry collection, A Walk in Victoria’s Secret, with Chapter 16, featured poems on the Story South blog, a poem on Poets.org, and a poem “The Pedicure,” from her latest book.

Bill Brown: Gentle To Words

img_4130I first heard Bill Brown’s name when Jeff Hardin gave me a list of poets I should be reading.  More recently, I witnessed Brown’s unique style while introducing TJ Jarrett and Matthew Guinn during a deeply moving reading at The Southern Festival of Books. The tone with which he spoke about the two authors was mindful, for he was intensely conscious of the words he had chosen to describe and honor the artists. Bill Brown was born and raised in Dyersburg, TN, and he has given back to our beloved state through his writings, his 20 years of teaching English at Nashville’s Hume-Fogg magnet school, and his time lecturing at Vanderbilt University. Brown has written five poetry collections and three chapbooks, and he has appeared in the Prairie Schooner, North American Review, and Southern Poetry Review. The following poem is featured in Brown’s most recent poetry collection, The News Inside.

The Melting

There should be hope in the leaves’ first turning—
summer green fringed red and yellow, webbed
hands reaching out against the curtain’s blue.

Winter and what it takes from the heart
is almost worth it. Year by blessed year,
in the shortened days, something is stolen

that cannot be reclaimed—a swelling in the chest
when night comes soon. At a certain age
a man takes a season’s beginnings, the small

beauties—frozen rings on creek rocks,
the first skein of ice in the horse trough.
He holds it to the morning sun and it burns

his palm as it drips through his fingers.
Each year he grips it tighter to see
his face melt in the fire.


This poem was too timely to pass up, as it reflects the current season with vibrant hues on floating leaves and too-early sunsets, cutting our autumn days shorter and shorter with every passing week. I was drawn to the appearance of the poem with its minimal and clean three-line stanzas, but as always, the words drew me closer. “There should be hope” about the changing color of the leaves, but the autumnal tone serves as a solemn reminder that this season is a swift one. Winter quickly follows, and with it, brings the end to another year. The reader senses, that to the poet, there is more than just flora to be lost in the winter, “Year by blessed year,/ in the shortened days, something is stolen.” Maybe we age the most in the sunless days of those colder months, often pouring over the past and wondering if the future will look any different. Yet, even though the narrator is aging and his “night comes soon,” he’s still seeking out the loveliness in the different changings of the season. I envision myself right along beside him, gripping my slab of ice–making sure that I can feel this moment. For I too hate to see the years melt away, but I ache to honor these physical indications of change.

For a review of Brown’s 2008 poem book, Late Winter, an interview with the MTSU literary project, a Chapter 16 featured interview, and two different links for poems (Still Journal and Chapter 16), click on the highlighted phrases.

On this Veteran’s Day morning, Chapter 16 has featured Brown’s poem, “When the Dust Settles;” please take a moment to reflect on his poignant piece about lives that have been touched by war. Thanks, and thanks again.

Jeff Daniel Marion: Legendary

IMG_0681I had the extreme pleasure of encountering Jeff Daniel Marion at the 2013 Southern Festival of Books a few weeks ago. Not only was I able to hear him read on a panel for the newly published Southern Poetry Anthology, Vol. 6: Tennessee, but I was also able to meet the poet because my literature-loving mother was with me, and Marion was her college advisor and English professor some 20 years ago. This was a lovely moment to witness as student and teacher were reunited after so many years; mother shared of how her passion for literature was still alive today in her vocation as an English teacher, and in me, in my immense love of poetry. After the reading, I looked behind me as we all left the hall, and my professor (Jeff Hardin) was walking alongside my mother’s professor, while she and I walked ahead, side by side. It was one of those moments when you can see the whole of the circle, and all you can do is smile and offer up your grateful heart.

When Jesse Graves introduced Jeff Daniel Marion at the SoFest reading, he said, “Tennessee poetry in the last 30 years has funneled through the writing and person of Danny Marion.” In light of Marion’s many accomplishments and wide-spread influence, Graves is spot on. Marion has published nine poem books, four chapbooks, and one children’s book. His latest book, Letters To The Dead: A Memoir, was released earlier this year. An East Tennessee native, Marion settled at Carson-Newman College as their poet-in-residence and English professor for more than 35 years. Marion lives with his lovely poet-wife, Linda Parsons Marion, in Knoxville. Today’s feature comes from Marion’s poetry collection, Letters Home, published in October 2001.


Weeks at sea and no mountains
rose to break that endless stretch
of horizon, blue so deep
a man could lose himself, drift
of cloud sailing wherever
wind wished. O for the anchor
of home where markers gripped true
ground. On the 37th day
land sighted, Uncle Gene sprawled
on the beach of some unnamed
island, no sign of habitation
anywhere until he saw,
nailed to the trunk of a palm
tree, an arrow plank with words
in bold: See Rock City, 5000 miles.
There rose from that vast expanse
of sea the pastures of East
Tennessee, painted barns and
boundary trees, rocks tilled up
in spring plowing: the only
war souvenir he carried
back, this memory, like a
compass left by an unknown
sailor on a nameless isle
whose needle pointed to home.


I seem to choose poems that are feature clear and straight forward language more often than not. But I believe that this sort of writing is one of the best vehicles for projecting the voice of the poet, and, at the same time, presenting the reader space to attach their own sentiment to the piece. After reading Marion’s poems, I noticed that imagery is frequently the focal point in his works, with vivid descriptions such as–“blue so deep/ a man could lose himself”– pointedly woven throughout the narrative creating an excellent balance of lyric and color. This short tale of the narrator’s Uncle Gary surrounded by the vastness of the South Pacific and suffering from homesickness is one that many of us may have heard before. But it’s Gary’s “anchor of home,” that causes him to envision a Rock City sign echoing of his distant Tennessee–complete with the stretches of fields and “painted barns.” My heart smiled when I found this poem and remembered my own great-grandfather who fought in the Pacific arena during WWII as a very young man. Same time frame, same place, and same longing for earthy Tennessee. Papa George once told me that when he finally made the 5000-mile journey back and arrived at the Nashville train station in the dark of the early morning, he sat out on the city street and said, “I’m home.”

For more reading about the venerable Jeff Daniel Marion, take some time to read the moving homage Jesse Graves wrote for his friend that Chapter 16 featured recently. For an interview, poems featured by the Poetry Foundation, a new poem from Letters To The Dead: A Memoir, and four Marion poetry collections at Celtic Cat Publishing click the appropriate links.

Jeff Hardin: Welcome In

img074On my first day of Creative Writing class with Jeff Hardin, he told our room of eclectic and eccentric students: “You’re writing for now, and you’re writing for later.” I was hardly aware of how that quote, that class, and that man would change my path into the one that I’m now walking. He asked us once, who had given us permission to “play in the game [of writing];” and though there were others who have lovingly encouraged my love of writing over the years, it was Hardin, who looked at me, and said, “Yeah, you can write poetry.”

Jeff Hardin was raised in Savannah, Tennessee, and is an eighth generation descendent of the county’s founder. He received degrees from Austin Peay State University and the University of Alabama. Hardin teaches English at Columbia State Community College– where I first encountered him and was his student for two semesters. He has amassed some 500+ publications, and has birthed two books of poems, Fall Sanctuary, and Notes For a Praise Book.

I’m struggling, more than usual, to convey the importance of this particular poet, for he has been more influential to me than a mere poem on a page. He is a friend to trees, to old waterways, to the last light of a sunset, to the voice of a guitar, to tomorrow, to grace. And I’m blessed to say he is a friend to me.

Seed Heads Bursting Gold Light

We need to busy ourselves with memorizing autumn

in the puddles down the drive. A single

forgotten reflection makes all the others tremble.


I didn’t think twice as a boy, lying prostrate

to watch a dandelion bend with the breeze.

Amazing! I knew already what to do with my life.


I’d wager Solomon, had he lived nearby,

would have taken long walks in the sage grass field,

just to watch how seed heads burst with gold light.


I’m an advocate of letting things lean as they must.

When one tree rests its dying toward another,

I go among them to listen in and take my place.


No big difference, I say, between years that lean that way

and a shared gaze between me and some friend’s eyes.

Some weakness unspoken may be the strongest voice we have.


I smile as I read, because this poem is such a prime look into exactly who Hardin is. He says it himself, “I knew already what to do with my life,” as he identifies that noticing and bringing attention to the beauty found in the smallest, simplest of things is an integral part of him. His attention to detail is lovely; I’m there, and I can see each moment frozen in a photograph rich with emotion–the “trembling” puddles down the leaf-speckled drive or the delicate seed heads lifting into the dying sun. “I’m an advocate of letting things lean as they must,” is a line that encourages us to accept life as it comes.  The poet reminds readers, as if they were young maple trees pushing into the wind, to embrace those especially unique things about oneself. Because Hardin and I both know that it’s in those things that everyone’s particular loveliness is found. Spend some time paying attention and celebrating the distinctive elements of today. Take your place among the woods that are beginning to burn with color, put your hands to the bark and character of the trees you pass, nod your head to life’s cycle of death and rebirth, and raise your “strongest voice.”

For more Hardin reading, you can utilize the following links to his personal website, blog, a feature on Still: The Journal, an interview with Shane Toombs, a review of Fall Sanctuary, and a poem feature and a review of Notes From A Praise Book on Chapter 16’s website.

James Cherry: Here, Now

IMG_1293I had the great privilege of hearing James Cherry read at the Southern Festival of Books last weekend and meeting him afterwards. Though we were surrounded by a crowd of ardent book lovers and a medley of city sounds, I was deeply moved by how comfortably he shared the workings and introspections of his mind. As he read of a death in the family, new neighbors, and judgement in his everyday 21st century life– it was as if an old friend was simply unfolding those kinds of incidents that we’re all trying learn from. Cherry and his wife Tammy reside in Jackson, Tennessee, where he is the creator of The Griot Collective of West Tennessee, a non-profit that promotes poetry and the spoken word. He has written four books (Bending the Blues, a poetry chapbook; Honoring the Ancestors, a full collection of poems; Shadow of Light, a novel; and Still A Man and Other Stories, a collection of short fiction), and this week’s poem can be found in his newest book of poems, Loose Change.

Space Between Us

Death that has brought home my niece,

her cousin, lost in twisted metal, broken glass

on an interstate highway.  The house is hushed


with midnight when Lauren leads me to the kitchen.

She hops onto the counter, her shoulders hunched

inside a T-shirt with Mickey Mouse on the front.


I anticipate a change in college majors, a new job

or even life in another city, but I’m still not hearing

what she has said, her words


crystalizing in the space between us,

shatter into syllables around my feet.

“I’m going to have a baby.”


She is twenty and in her smile remains

Christmas, bright early, sparkling with surprise,

summers in Tennessee swelter


satiated on Bar-B-Que and ice cream,

living room skits performed with baby brother Niles,

replete with costumes, props and improvisation.


She explains her plans to resume school

after the baby is born, that it’s a girl,

that the father is close to my age, mid-forties.


“Is this what you want, Lauren?”

Her answer echoes down the hall

to my bedroom long after


we have said goodnight.

I undress the moonlight, measure the pulse

of my wife’s breathing and lay beside her,


ponder the shape of shadows on the wall

and the wants of loved ones that rarely fit

desires we have designed for them.


I can’t help but hear Cherry’s steady, gentle voice every time I read and re-read this poem. His writing voice, much like his physical one, is strong and rich, as he describes this encounter with his niece. I am struck by how vividly I can see the scene Cherry’s described–“The house is hushed/ with midnight when Lauren leads me to the kitchen.” Perhaps there’s a grandfather clock ticking like the house’s heartbeat and the linoleum in the kitchen is cool on their feet, but it’s the “space between us,” that’s so tangible to me. Much like Lauren’s “crystallized” words, Cherry has frozen this particular night with all of its conflicting emotions: shock, naive understanding, happiness, confusion, and loving concern. This has quickly become one of my favorite poems as it is straightforward in its form, tone, and language, but quietly leaves the reader mulling over the question of how to respond when one’s desires for someone they love do not align with the actual choices that are made.

To read more on James Cherry, visit his personal website for a list of books, interviews, reviews, etc. Use the following links for the AALBC’s feature on Cherry and Project HBW’s blog feature on Cherry’s book, Loose Change, which I highly encourage readers to purchase on Amazon.

Why We Share Our Words

img 213The Tennessee Poetry Journal Credo circa 1967.

When I read Jeff Daniel Marion’s introduction in The Southern Poetry Anthology, Vol. 6: Tennessee and discovered this declaration by the Tennessee Poetry Journal, it gave me a little more spirit and resolution for this project. In addition, I’ve never been so proud to be a Tennessean as I was following my time at the Southern Festival of Books last weekend. For I am more than pleased to hail from the same state as Jim Clark, Jesse Graves, Amy Wright, Kory Wells, Jeff Hardin, Linda and Jeff Daniel Marion, TJ Jarrett, William Wright, James Cherry, and many more talented individuals. And indeed, I am privileged to be a part of the beauty and richness of history that Tennessee has to offer its inhabitants and passers-by.

“It would be a shame to live most of your life here thinking it’s ‘just’ a place.”

 {my adaptation of a quote by author Matt Guinn.}


John Bensko: Perceptive Heart

IMG_1916I am quickly finding that the most common thread among contemporary poets, but especially our southern ones, is their potent sense of place that they champion, and John Bensko is no exception. This poet has resided in many southern states before calling Tennessee his home, and he has particularly highlighted his Alabama birthplace through his book Iron City: PoemsWith an impressive string of degrees, teaching positions at Rhodes College and the University of Alicante, Spain as a Fulbright Professor, and celebrations such as the Yale Younger Poet Series winner for his book Green Soldiers, I am pleased to feature John Bensko’s poem found in my spanking new copy of The Southern Poetry Anthology, Vol. 6: Tennessee.  

A Broken Ode to Snow

A winter day cannot avoid its snow.

Can I accept that I do not belong to myself?


On the street at night a flurry of shadows falls

across the light, Can I think that I will not be?


My feet leave impressions

that the snow itself cannot remove.


Things melt. Hair grows gray, then white.

Disappearing, can I think those I love will be gone too?


I love snow, when it falls fast and thick,

when the wind takes it and throws it up against itself.


To explain me to me. To know

exactly what I am, and am not.


Snow does not worry, does not toil.

Its only order is to fall and deepen.


When we unbecome ourselves, when we melt

in moments we cannot bear, who do we become?


I like to watch the snow melting leave the footprints. The icy

remainders where I’ve gone down the walk are the last to go.


People like to speak of the soul, and the soul’s awakening.

It drifts, it rises, and falls, it deepens.


Watching at night, I wonder how thick it will be by morning.

In the day, I hope it won’t stop before night.


Bensko’s ode to snow is accompanied with an inescapable chill that your body and your mind cannot seem to shake long after you’ve read the piece and shut the book. His simple language, quiet repetition, and drivingly introspective questions build throughout the poem just like piles of its cold, white subject matter. Bensko starts the poem by reminding his readers that just as a “winter day cannot avoid its snow,” one cannot necessarily escape the heavy thoughts of personal existence during one’s life of many seasons. In a steady pattern of alternating between descriptions of snow to asking questions about the soul’s transience—“things melt”—, Bensko beautifully crafts this connectedness. But he also contrasts the lightness of the snow, saying that it “does not worry, does not toil,” with the weightier matters of the soul –though they both “fall and deepen.” Three-quarters of the way through the poem, the eighth couplet snagged at my spirit: “When we unbecome ourselves, when we melt/ in moments we cannot bear, who do we become?” Each of us knows those instances where we helplessly dissolve into our circumstances, but I don’t think I’m ready to answer Benkso’s final question. Yet, here’s to continuing to ask myself the heavier questions and learning to live in gratitude, no matter what season my soul finds itself.

To read more of John Bensko’s work, invest in a copy of Vol. 6 of The Southern Poetry Anthology: Tennessee, or any of his books: Green Soliders, The Waterman’s Children, The Iron City: Poems. And for some insight into his poetic practices and thoughts, click on Poetry Net’s feature of Bensko.

A Celebration of the Written Word

SFOBposter3_small finalWith just two more days between you and the weekend, I hope you’ve planned accordingly for the 25th annual Southern Festival of Books this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday!

This Nashville literary event boasts around 200 authors and as many as 30,000 lovers of the written word. This past week, The Tennessean ran a feature on the past twenty-four years of the festival with pictures and posters spanning the growth of this truly noteworthy endeavor.

The Humanities Tennessee site has a detailed schedule if you would rather map out your day than amble around. To keep up with the goings-on this weekend, you can find the Southern Festival of Books on Facebook and Twitter.

See you there!

Kory Wells: Mixing Past and Present

IMG_5616This week I’m happy to feature Kory Wells— a genuine Tennesseean– who writes, reads her pieces to the sound of her daughter’s fiddle, mothers two children, and works as a product manager at a software company. Wells is more than just a well-rounded person; she’s a living and interactive work of art. Her first book of deftly crafted Southern poems, Heaven Was the Moon, was published in 2009. Since then, she has begun to perform these poems as spoken word, “bluegrass rap,” with her daughter Kelsey, who produces old-time music on the banjo, fiddle, etc. The duo released their first album, A Decent Pan of Cornbread, a year ago. As a Tennessee native, Wells grew up in Southern Appalachia and then relocated to Murfreesboro, where she has spent the majority of her days, and received both a B.A. and M.S. from Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU).

Hope Universal

What happens when a galaxy eats its neighbor? 
the boy reads aloud from Discover online.

His mother, arcade queen of 1979,
pictures Pac-Man gobbling little yellow dots,

targets so flat and mundane they’re almost alien
to the boy, who navigates three-dimensional

Super Mario Galaxy like he’s an astronomer.
Or a Jedi fighter. A dangerous occupation,

his mother knows, and she worries: What happens
when a boy is addicted to PlayStation and Wii?

But the boy, still reading, stops on the phrase
rivers of stars to say

that’s nice, meaning the language,
not the aftermath of a cosmic invasion,

and her heart explodes, a supernova
flinging hope into the universe where,

elegant in black velvet and satellite bling,
Venus waits in the night like a sure lover,

winks her seductive eye
at the man he will become.


The poem is happily placed in the ordinary, everyday world, and features a heavy vocabulary of Wells’ geekier love: space. I smile every time I read this piece, not only because of its whimsy voice and metaphors, but also because there is a ten-year-old boy in my life who is similar to Wells’ son. My youngest brother, like many children his age, is deeply ingrained with the technological age that we live in. Both boys can wield these new devices with an ease that has begun to worry adults who grew up entertaining themselves with fishing poles and backyard escapades. But often my brother, the young historian and devourer of novels, gives me daily reasons to fling “hope into the universe.” If we can keep teaching them to find beauty in the lives of those who walked before them, in the land they inhabit, in the language on paper pages of a book, and in the richness of the heavens above, I have supernova- sized confidence they’ll grow  to become decent young men too.

To find more of Kory Wells, click here for her personal website and blog. To purchase her poem book or CD, one can buy directly through her site or through Amazon. Though Wells will not be reading at the Southern Festival of Books next weekend, I’m pretty positive she will be around with her fellow writers for the festivities. Come join us!

TJ Jarrett: Stronger Than The Storm


I am astounded by Ms. Jarrett; although Jarrett works in the technical realm of software development, she possesses an uncanny ability to wield words in such a fashion that the reader is left with a sweet ache around their soul. A Nashville native, TJ Jarrett was blessed into a family headed by a professor and a pastor. She has since received scholarships from Colrain Manuscript Conference and Sewanee Writer’s Conference. Her debut book of poems, Ain’t No Grave, was published a mere two weeks ago, while her forthcoming book, Zion, will be available in the autumn of 2014.

When the Sun Nears the Earth

in the West

we chase it.  The ghosts follow, followed then
by the dark.  It has come to my attention that it is possible,

due to recent technological advances, to live only
in sun.  You could fuel mid-air if you like; you could simply

quit the earth.  Someone could do that.  That someone
could be you.  You could read this and nod, yes, yes.  Take me to a

place without darkness.  It would be unwriterly for me to do so.
Worse— Irresponsible.  Uncharitable.  Let me tell you how

to withstand the dark: The dark will go on only as long
as you let it.  You must forgive the dark.  It never takes you

into account.  Forgive the earth that bears the dark
on its back.  Forgive then, the ghosts you carry.  Touch them

on the cheek tenderly, each one, and send them on ahead
of you.  Forgive the stars their disinterested twinkling.  Forgive the

air and trees.  You will experience weightlessness.  Forgive
the gravity that holds you.  Behold the spinning earth.  Choose.

As Jean Valentine remarked in a blurb about Jarrett’s Ain’t No Grave, I too can now agree: “I was more lonely before I heard this voice.” For me, Jarrett’s works fill a new place in my poet-soul: a place that is as wise as it is fresh, and as lovely as it is upsetting. Her language is direct and modern, but the words quickly move the reader to “nod” when prompted and to breathe forgiveness when given the choice. In a moment as simple as a sunset, Jarrett first prods the reader to consider if one believes that technology can relieve burdens. But then she soothingly reminds the reader that the choice “to live only/ in sun,” can be found within one’s self and the ability to extend grace to the specific occurrences of the days. In between the perceptive lines, I hear her whispering, “Don’t fear the difficulty, don’t fear the darkness, don’t fear the pain–because you are already free. Just choose.”

To experience Jarrett’s readings in person, carve out time to see her at the Downtown Nashville Southern Festival of Books in two weeks or in the intimate setting of Poet’s Corner at the Scarritt-Bennett Center on October 24th @ 7pm. For poems, interviews, and praise try these links, and for Jarrett’s quips, you can find the poet on Twitter.