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Posts Tagged ‘Southern Sentence Poem’

There are two kinds of barbecue in the known universe: Wilbur’s Style, and all the rest.  Head east on 70 past Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base and the aroma captures you about the time Goldsboro is fading in the rearview.  Pork shoulders and hams cooked all night over a hardwood fire (at Wilbur’s they favor oak, not hickory); basted with the secret Wilbur’s sauce (I’ve tried to recreate it – boil cider vinegar with salt, black pepper, white pepper, red pepper, nothing else, and you’ll come pretty close); most of the fat trimmed off (but not all), chopped, and heaped on a plate with field peas, turnip greens, and hush puppies.  OK, OK,  I’ve given up eating meat, but I can still savor the memories, can’t I?

When I asked folks a few weeks ago to come up with a name for a new poetry form that embodies the essence of the South, sweet tea and barbecue were mentioned more than once.  I kind of like Arthur Powers’s suggestion –  Sou-Ku – and the one Ruth Moose has come up with sounds more than Japanese – Sentea.  Do they still sell Nestea?  But in the same way that our Southern Sentence Poem is a poetic form all our own, I think its name needs to be wholly ours as well, and not beholdin’ to some 3-line cryptogram.  Especially when you see the examples folks have sent: we are clearly opening ourselves to the Southern Loooong Sentence Poem.

So I’m still hoping to hear from you with a great name.  And keep sending those poems . . . !

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Once again, here are the elements of a Southern Sentence Poem:

1     It is a single SENTENCE.
2     A word or phrase has to PLACE the poem in the American South.
3     It requires a reference to the PAST.
4     It captures something of Southern CULTURE.
5     It ain’t got none of them damn Yankee semicolons.

Here are several that people have sent me:

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Arthur Powers

I stand on Polk Street
looking East over Oakwood cemetery
and watch late afternoon sunlight
sepia the Confederate headstones.

.     .     .     .     .

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Diana Pinckney  – The Garden Party

Aunt Blanche’s yard dripped pink
punch and azaleas, offering shrimp

sandwiches, ham biscuits, cucumber
rounds and cheese wafers so yummy,

yet not a crust in sight on the scalloped
linen, daffodils and petit fours abundant

for family and friends so chummy,
invited to honor and bless the newly

engaged couple, the bride
and groom dreamy as budding

dogwoods with no one batting
an eye that the hostess batted hers

from her second story bedroom
window, having sampled more

than her share of the punch,
forcing Uncle Edward to take charge,

his large hand now patting the key
in his seersucker jacket while

Aunt Blanche, bejeweled in her silks,
nodded and waved, greeting and calling

down to all, Have a good time, ya’ll,
then dipped as she sipped

more of her own pink sweetener.

.     .     .     .     .

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Jane Theis

On our evening walk, the Crepe Myrtles,
bowing and dripping from that day-long shower,
nodded us down the mossy path
where the ramps came up last spring.

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Ruth Moose   –  Shadow Tag

Run, run

Feet                      freeze

Harwood Street, Woodland

stop

Dew cold grass

In the barefoot nights        hold

Bee stings, wasp stings, hornets,

sweat flies                   stay

Tobacco juice, sweet snuff stuff

Childhood pain of

loss.

[Editor’s note – Ruth’s poem had wonderfully complex formatting which I can only partially reproduce on this verpfluchte WordPress blog.]

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Beth A. Cagle   –   Story Tellin’ at ‘Possum Trot Diner

Laughter of square-shouldered
uncles erupts
deep in my throat as a
bucking mule jumps
out of me, hoofing his
hopscotch in corn,
braying by grandfather’s
elderly oak,
leaving my youthful dad
caught on the clothesline,
dangling with overalls
rolled to his knees.

[First version published in The Blind Man’s Rainbow, Fall 2003]

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[After you read this post, move on to my revised definition of the
SOUTHERN SENTENCE POEM
at
https://griffinpoetry.com/2012/11/25/when-the-train-whistle-blows/
And send me your offerings at our Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/SouthernSentencePoem?ref=hl ]

Last month after a poetry workshop we all went out for lunch.  Someone had been reading a book of Buson and Issa, and we got to complaining about how hard it is to transmigrate haiku from Japanese to English.  Syllable counting aside, Japanese haiku has so many formalities that just don’t translate.  Each word is drenched in a thousand years of cultural nuance; lotus, frog, mountain, they all have layers of meaning very difficult for an outsider to grok.  Why do we even try to write haiku ourselves?

At some point we came up with the idea – note here that no alcohol was involved in these discussions – that we Southern poets need a poetic form we can call our own.  I remember us laughing about what we might call such a thing;  the term “Bubba” seems to have come up a few times, with various prefixes and suffixes.  At the end of the day, though, we hadn’t really developed anything substantial.

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I’ve been thinking about that conversation ever since, and I’m now ready to unleash upon the literary world a new poetic form: the Southern Sentence Poem.  Besides consisting of a single sentence (which actually ain’t too Southern, knowing how we like to tell long-winded stories), each Southern Sentence must include all three of the following:

1 – Place.

A word or phrase has to place the poem in the American South.  It can be the name of a town, a geographic feature, a mention of some typical flora or fauna, even an ACC university.

2 – Past.

We Southerners make fretful Buddhists – we just can’t let go of the past.  The poem can be “in the moment” but it requires a reference to the past: kinfolk, a historical event, a personal experience (inevitably with a bad outcome, of course, but lesson learned).

3 – Culture.

Let the New Englanders and the Californians and the Canadians come up with their own poetic form – this here poem is about the South!  The reference to Southern culture can be food, customs, language/slang, clothing, agriculture or business . . . even anthropologists have a trouble defining the word “culture.”

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And to my mind a really good Southern Sentence would be seasoned with a drop of bittersweet.  Aren’t some of our great themes sin and redemption, hurt and healing, always at least a little hopefulness?  And it is ever appropriate to inject a little humor.  Just one additional rule: no cussed semicolons.  I love semicolons, but they are just too damn Yankee.

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Help me out.  Send me some Southern Sentence Poems.  If I get a whole passle of them I might start a whole new blog, or at least give them their own page.  Any comments and enlargements on my three rules?  Make the form your own.

AND . . . can anyone think of a better name than Southern Sentence Poem?

Finally, here are a couple of examples (it’s only a coincidence that each is 3 lines; that’s not one of the rules):

.     .     .     .     .

Nana said she despised those “jawflies,”
cicadas that filled the oaks around her house,
but every August I think of her.

.     .      .      .      .

In Nana’s preserves each fig
was suspended in gold – the summer sunset
on Bogue Sound.

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