Monday, November 21, 2011

Places Poets Love

In his poem “For you: anthophilous, lover of flowers,” Reginald Dwayne Betts asks "what place do you love?" The question had me thinking about my own preferences, and then, I started thinking more broadly about places--especially regions and locales--that some my favorite poets seem to love.

Langston Hughes, it appears based on his writing, loves Harlem. You see the place represented quite often in his work. You get the sense reading Helene Johnson's "Sonnet to a Negro in Harlem" that she loves the site to or at least its people. In Calvin Forbes's recent poem "Talking Blues," the speaker warns raccoon about the pitfalls of New York City and Harlem, but it's clear there's some community reverence for the place.

For Gwendolyn Brooks, it's Chicago. She wrote frequently about folks struggles in the city such as in her famous poems "kitchenette building" and "The Bean Eaters." But still, she made the Chi a central place in her writing. You know the love was there.

Margaret Walker, who spent time in Chicago, also had love for the city. But reading her work, you get the sense that the South was really the place she loved, loved as evidenced by her poems "Southern Song" and "Delta" for example. Natasha Trethewey writes powerfully about the South, especially in her poem Native Guard. Sometimes that love, as it is with many black writers, is complex. But what love worth thinking and writing about isn't complex and strained in some way?

Along those lines of a complex relationship with the South, the poet C. Liegh McInnis has several poems about the people and locales of Jackson, Mississippi, where he's based. We certainly get the sense reading his work that it's a place he has developed an extensive relationship with over the years.

People who meet Eugene B. Redmond are quickly made aware of his fondness for East St. Louis. His long poem "A Tale of Two Captains & Two Avenues in the Life of East St. Louis" is one of his single extensive poetic tributes to the history of his city.

Reading Nikky Finney's volume Head Off & Split reveals her Southern ties, and although poet Kevin Young regularly pays tribute to his Southern roots, he acknowledges other places as well such as his "Ode to the Midwest."

So that's only a glance. There are certainly far more places that poets love.

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