Tennessee writers

The folks over at Chapter 16 are doing a great job of promoting both poetry and prose by authors who have connections to Tennessee, but in honor of National Poetry Month, I couldn’t resist making my own list of contemporary Tennessee poets whose work I enjoy. Here are 3, and I’ll be back soon with several more:

Darnell Arnoult

What Travels With Us, award-winning poetry by Darnell Arnoult

What Travels With Us, SIBA award-winning poetry by Darnell Arnoult

Maybe you’ve heard of the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, a trivia game based on the theory that there’s at most only six degrees of separation between any two people in the world. Well,  I’ve proposed there are only two degrees of Darnell Arnoult, who’s very well known and respected in Tennessee and throughout the Southeast for her writing workshops and positive coaching methods.  I talk to a lot of people who have read her novel Sufficient Grace, but fewer seem familiar with her SIBA award-winning poetry book What Travels With Us, from LSU Press.  Many of the poems in the book capture the voices and oral history of Fieldale, Virginia, a milltown built by Marshall Fields in the 1900s and the community where Darnell grew up.  It’s enough to read these poems for their “plainspoken yet eloquent” language (to borrow Lee Smith’s praise for the book), but fellow poets will also note these poems are almost all in some form – pantoum, villanelle, sestina, cinquain, and more – forms Darnell does so well that they don’t “get in the way” of the language and the stories of the poems.

Fall Sanctuary, poetry by Jeff Hardin

Fall Sanctuary, from Story Line Press, was winner of the 17th annual Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize.

Jeff Hardin

An English professor at Columbia State Community College and a fellow mentor at the MTSU Writer’s Loft, Jeff Hardin has probably published more poems in literary journals than anyone else I personally know. Every time I turn around, he’s got a poem in Southern Review or The Gettysburg Review or Ploughshares or Passages North or...well, you get the idea. I’d be jealous for a little bit, except he’s such a likable guy.

Jeff’s work has been published in his collection Fall Sanctuary and also in a couple of chapbooks. His poetry often tends toward the spiritual, if, like me, you find the spiritual in yellow pansies, the shape of a leaf, the trail of a snail, or even the smell of chalk on a pool cue. Jeff’s poems reflect keen observation and reflection, rural Southern life and a love of the land as well as his life as a man of letters.

Minton Sparks

This Dress is a spoken word CD by Minton Sparks

It's hard to say which of Minton Sparks' CDs are my favorite, but I think This Dress wins.

Since I’ve begun venturing into spoken word performances with the help of my fiddle-and-banjo-playing daughter Kelsey, I almost hate to mention Minton Sparks. I mean, our routine seems to be catching on with folks (who’ve called what we do “hillbilly cool” and “bluegrass rap”), but she’s our gold standard of Southern spoken word performers. Based in Nashville, Minton (her stage name) is traveling nationally and internationally, spreading dark, funny, poignant glimpses of the rural South through her work. I love the fact that she’s taking poetry to an all-new audience.  All I can say is, you must take a look or a listen (she’s got published books, too). My favorites are her CD This Dress and her DVD Open Casket.

And Now, a Short Advertisement: Poetry and Old-Time Music at Landmark Booksellers

Not that I care to follow Minton Sparks, but let me mention that Kelsey and I will be at Landmark Booksellers on Sunday, April 25th during the Franklin Main Street Festival. If the weather cooperates, we’ll be out on the sidewalk in front of the store (otherwise we’ll be inside), sharing my poems and her old-time musical accompaniment. We’d love to see you there! Connect with us on Facebook to learn more and see where else we’re performing soon.


So, in my inaugural post on August 6th, I said I’d like to promote Tennessee writers on my blog, and on August 10th, this arrives in my inbox:

This fall, Humanities Tennessee will launch a new website, to be called Chapter 16: A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers and Passersby. We hope and expect that this site will become a regular stop for readers, a place where you will learn about upcoming Tennessee books and events and discuss those and other topics with one another. We’ll cover novels set here; histories involving Tennessee events or locations; authors who live here, were born or educated here; and out-of-state writers when they give readings or participate in book signings anywhere in the state. Additionally, there will be opportunities for anyone statewide to submit their original essays for possible publication on the site. We will be asking diverse Tennesseans to comment on what they are reading, and we will be providing opportunities for writers and readers to interact online.

Read the full announcement here.

I dont mean to offer a grass is greener platitude...

Now, I already love Humanities Tennessee because they put on one of my favorite events of the year, the Southern Festival of Books. But I am just a wee bit chagrined that this fine organization would steal my thunder practically before its first rumble. I’ll get over it, though, because here’s the bigger picture:  I have state-based literary jealousy. In North Carolina and Kentucky, for example, its seems that readings and famous authors and book events are as common as summer showers. When I visited the Northwest last year, I was stunned by the number and variety of quality regional journals that I found in bookstores from Portland to Port Angeles.

I don’t mean to sound like a “grass is greener” platitude;  I truly believe that Tennessee can and should look to these other states for inspiration. It’s not that we don’t have our own rich literary heritage, many fine writers, and some great events for writers and readers; it’s that we’ve never seemed to be as unified and proactive as we could be in promoting all those things. So kudos and all best wishes to Humanities Tennessee with Chapter 16.