Monday, July 23, 2012

Monday Muse: Georgia's Poet Laureate

Making nonsense sound turns out to be the first step
toward making poetry, because when you make poetry 
you have to first sing before you make sense. You sing
and you make sense eventually at the same time. But
if you just make sense and don't sing, then you're 
writing something else, something flat. . . . 
~ Judson Mitcham on Forum Network

The Poet Laureate of Georgia is Judson Mitcham, who began his term this past May. Mitcham succeeded David Bottoms, who served from May 2000 until May 2012.

Information about the uncompensated state-established position is included in my earlier post about Bottoms. Mitcham told an interviewer that in addition to participating in readings and other literary events throughout the state, he aim to "make people aware of the many accomplished poets who live in Georgia."

* * * * *

Poet and novelist Judson Mitcham, Ph.D., has published, most recently, A Little Salvation: Poems Old and New (University of Georgia Press, 2007) and This April Day (Anhinga Press, 2002). His first poetry collection Somewhere in Ecclesiastes (University of Missouri Press, 1991) was honored with a Devins Award. Mitcham's novels The Sweet Everlasting and Sabbath Creek made him a two-time winner of the Townsend Prize for Fiction (1998 and 2006), which is awarded by the Writers Institute at Georgia Perimeter College, co-sponored by Georgia Center for the Book. The former was a finalist for the Southern Book Critics Circle Award.

Perkolater Press in 2007 published Heart of All Greatness in a letterpress edition of 65. Illustrations are by book artist and letterpress printer Amy Pirkle. The poems, whose subject is fathers and their relationships to their sons, are reprinted from This April Day. Perkolater Press also published in an edition of 25 a broadside of The Sweet Everlasting.

Family relationships, identity and place (Mitcham grew up in Monroe, Georgia), Southern culture, time's passage, memory, change, death and loss, and futility are among Mitcham's themes. Spirituality, as reflected in the treatment of issues such as redemption, also is present in Mitcham's poems, which tend toward the ruminative and philosophical and sometimes have a decidedly elegiac tone, especially if written in first person. Both a narrative and lyric poet, Mitcham mixes it up; even quick perusals of his collections reveal that he follows no set style or form, sometimes writing in couplets, tercets or quatrains, other times employing poetry as prose; some poems are short, others dozens of stanzas long.

An inattentive reader can be caught off-guard. For example, "Body" begins with the lines "Let no one explain / the parable of the hot dog gobbled at the ball game." Those lines do not hint at what is the real, and tragic, subject of the poem, revealed in section 2:

Not shaped like an apple or pear
or anything that would go soft and rot; not like any
accoutrement of sport—Titleist or tennis ball—

this knot of cells, calcified, building itself
for years, like a thoughtless practical joke—
outrageous, with no one to witness it—

in the cerebellum. [. . .]

Mitcham leaves us at the end of this moving poem with the shattering knowledge that "Our mother had a twitch in her eye, nothing more / when I took her to the doctor, // eleven years ago, this September." We need no more detail.

Here are several other excerpts that give a sense of Mitcham's fine writing:

I had seen the earth open and close, the golden ash
of pollen wash away, each thin copper spine
of broomsage bending in the dawn,

as if burdened by the shining of the sun;
[. . . .]
~ From "In the Sweet By and By"

What if every prayer for rain brought it down?
What is prayer made drunks quit the bars, numbers hit,
the right girl smile, shirts tumle from the dryer
fully ironed? What if God

required no more than a word? [. . . .]
~ From "History of Rain"

Poetry by Mitcham has appeared in such highly regarded literary journals and periodicals as Chattahoochee Review, Georgia Review, The Gettysburg ReviewHarper'sPoetry, Poetry Daily, and Southern Poetry Review.

In addition to being named Georgia Author of the Year by Georgia Writers Association, Mitcham has been awarded a Pushcart Prize (1989, for the poem "Explanations") and fellowships from Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Georgia Council for the Arts

Mitcham has taught poetry and fiction workshops at Mercer University, Macon, and creative writing at University of Georgia and Emory University.


All Poetry Quotations © Judson Mitcham

Press Release on Appointment of Mitcham from the Office of the Governor Nathan Deal, May 4, 2012

Judson Mitcham Poetry Online: "The Question", "In the Sweet By and By", "History of Rain", and "An Introduction", All at Poetry Net; "Risen", "Praise", "Forever", "Night", and "Wrong", All at Contemporary American Voices; "Rocking Anna to Sleep" (Video) at 13WMAZ; "The Foolishness of God Is Wiser Than Men" (Video) at 13WMAZ; "Delilah" (Video); "Explanations" at The Gettysburg Review (Pushcart Prize-winning Poem Reprinted in The Pushcart Prize XIV: The Best of the Small Presses 1989-1990)

Judson Mitcham reads "An Introduction", "Lyric", "Night", and "Forever" from A Little Salvation on YouTube.

Judson Mitcham on Forum Network Lectures: March 29, 2007 (Mitcham talks about and reads from his work in this podcast.) and April 21, 2004 (Mitcham reads from his work in this video.)

Judson Mitcham on FaceBook

Joe Kovac Jr., "A Conversation with Judson Mitcham, Georgia's New Poet Laureate", The Telegraph, May 13, 2012

Stephen Milligan, "State Poet Laureate Has Local Ties", WaltonTribune, May 13, 2012

Review of A Little Salvation at Old Smiley (September 2007)

Review of This April Day at Via Negativa (April 2010)

A Little Salvation: Poems Old and New on Googlebooks (Selected Pages Available) 

This April Day at GoogleBooks (Selected Pages Available)


Louise Gallagher said...

Why is it men from the southern states have the most beautiful names?

His name is poetry to my ears.

And his poem -- History of Rain -- beautiful!

Anonymous said...

sing a poem...

S. Etole said...

the excerpts you have shared ... so powerful