Monday, August 22, 2016

Monday Muse: New Mississippi Poet Laureate

I'll pursue my mission of wedging poetry 
into the hands of our young people.
~ Beth Ann Fennelly*

Beth Ann Fennelly is Mississippi's new Poet Laureate, only the fifth to occupy the position. She succeeds Natasha Trethewey. Her four-year appointment was announced August 10 by the Mississippi Arts Commission

The honorary post used to be a life-time appointment; that changed on the death of  Winifred Farrar (1978-2010) whom Trethewey succeeded. (Information about the position is summarized on the Mississippi Arts Commission's Poet Laureate page.)

On being appointed, Fennelly stated that she plans to "do a lot of readings and performances" and present workshops and classes to help make poetry accessible to all Mississippians, especially youth. She added that the job "gives me a platform that will help me spread the mission and the gospel of poetry, which is something I'm deeply invested in and have been for a long time."

* * * * *
You can't approach poetry with the heart or the ear;
you have to approach it purely with intellect and knowledge.
I think you start with the heart; I think you start with the ear.**

New Jersey-born and Chicago-raised, Beth Ann Fennelly is the author of three poetry collections: Unmentionables (W.W. Norton, 2008), Tender Hooks (W.W. Norton, 2004; reprint, 2005), and Open House (W.W. Norton, reprint, 2009). The latter, her debut collection, received a Kenyon Review Prize, Zoo Press Poetry Prize, and Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award (2003). Fennelly's chapbook, A Different Kind of Hunger, was published by the Texas Review Press Poetry Chapbook Series and awarded the 1997 Texas Review Press Breakthrough Award.

Fennelly's Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs is slated to be published by W.W. Norton in fall 2017.

A nonfiction writer, Fennelly published Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother (W.W. Norton) in 2006. More recently, she co-wrote with her husband Tom Franklin the novel The Tilted World (HarperCollins, 2013), a title that has been issued in a half-dozen foreign editions and was a finalist for a SIBA Book Award (2014). In addition, Fennelly is co-editor, with Lee Gutkind, of Southern Sin: True Stories of the Sultry South and Women Behaving Badly (In Fact Books, 2014); and co-editor of The Alumni Grill II: Anthology of Southern Writers (MacAdam/Cage, 2005).

Among the subjects Fennelly addresses in her poetry are motherhood and parenting, love and marriage, death and loss, faith and religion, the natural world, and the Mississippi landscape. She uses a range of forms (blank verse, narrative, persona, sestina, and sonnet), writes in lyric sequences, often in a "direct address" style. Critics note her startling imagery, creativity, unexpected juxtapositions, humor and wordplay, clarity and accessibility, and what poet Albert Goldbarth described as "dead-on kick-ass language".

Following are excerpts from several of Fennelly's poems.

Distance was the house from which I welcomed you.
Time, time was the house, and to welcome you
I strung garlands of eggshells and rubies.

Thirty I welcomed you, you the salt
sucked from the tips of braids
after running from the ocean of sometime else's childhood.

I turned the skeleton key. [. . .]
~ from "The Welcoming" in Unmentionables

I've documented everything—each tooth,
your first haircut, your first bath in the sink.
Later when you claim neglect, I've proof
of my side for your husband or your shrink.
~ "Say Cheese" in Tender Hooks

[. . .] Don't 
make me warn you of stars, how they see us
from that distance as miniature and breakable
from the bride who tops the wedding cake
to the Mary on Pinto dashboards
holding her ripe, red heart in her hands.
~ from "Poem Not to Be Read at Your Wedding" in Open House

Poems by Fennelly have appeared in such periodicals as The American Poetry ReviewThe American Scholar, BlackbirdThe Black Warrior Review, The Georgia Review, Harvard ReviewThe Kenyon ReviewThe Michigan Quarterly Review, PloughsharesPoetry Ireland Review, Shenandoah, The Southern ReviewTriQuarterly, and Verse Daily.

Fennelly's poems have been reprinted in a number of anthologies, including The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing (Bloomsbury USA, reprint, 2013), The Best American Erotic Poems: From 1800 to the Present (Scribner, 2008), Not for Mothers Only: Contemporary Poems on Child-Getting & Child Rearing (Fence Books, 2007), The Best American Poetry 2006 (Scribner, 2006), Fresh Water: Women Writing on the Great Lakes (Michigan State University Press, 2006), 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day (Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2005), and Poets on Place: Interviews & Tales from the Road (Utah State University Press, 2005). Her work also can be found in The Best American Poetry 2005 (Scribner, 2005) and The Best American Poetry 1996 (Scribner, 1996). She is included as well in The Penguin Book of the Sonnet (Penguin Books, 2001), Poets of the New Century (David R. Godine, 2001), The New Great American Writers Cookbook (University Press of Mississippi, 2003) and The Possibility of Language: Seven New Poets (iUniverse, 2001).

Magazines including Country Living, Garden & GunLos Angeles Review of BooksSouthern Living, Woman's Day, and The Oxford American have published Fennelly's articles on books, culture, design, and travel. The Kenyon Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and Ecotone magazine, among others, have published Fennelly's essays and criticism.

An accomplished and highly commended poet and writer, Fennelly is the recipient of The Chattahoochee Review's Lamar York Prize in Creative Nonfiction (2016), the Orlando Award in Creative Nonfiction (A Room of Her Own Foundation, 2015), for her essay "Goner"; and a Subiaco Award for Literary Merit (2012). A United States Artists Fellow (2006), Fennelly also received a Pushcart Prize (2001) and a National Endowment for the Arts poetry grant (2003). She also has been awarded a poetry grant (2010) and two nonfiction grants from the state arts commission (2015 and 2005), and a poetry grant from the Illinois Arts Council (2001). Her other honors include a Fulbright grant to study poetry in Brazil (2009), residencies at the MacDowell Colony and University of Arizona, and a Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellowship from the University of Wisconsin (1998-1999). She was among the "Top 20 Arts and Humanities Professors in Mississippi" in 2013. In addition, in 2011, she was named "Humanities Teacher of the Year" by the Mississippi Humanities Council.

Fennelly directs the master of fine arts program of the English department at the University of Mississippi, a job she is relinquishing to handle responsibilities as Poet Laureate.


Photo Courtesy University of Mississippi (English Department) and Poetry Foundation

All Poetry Excerpts © Beth Ann Fennelly

* Quoted from Fennelly's Statement on Appointment (Presented Live on State Arts Commission FaceBook Page)

** Quoted from Gabriel Austin, "Poet Laureate Selection Tickles Honoree", Mississippi Today, August 10, 2016

Howard Ballou, "Celebrated Writer and Educator Named New Poet Laureate", WDAM, August 11, 2016

Alyssa Schnugg, "Oxford's Beth Ann Fennelly Named Mississippi Poet Laureate", The Oxford Eagle, August 10, 2016

Jacob Threadgill, "Beth Ann Fennelly Named Mississippi's Poet Laureate", The Clarion-Ledger, August 10, 2016

Beth Ann Fennelly Poems Online: "Poem Not to Be Read at Your Wedding" at Writers' Corner, National Endowment for the Arts; "The Kudzu Chronicles" (Excerpt) at The Clarion-Ledger; "Souvenir" at Academy of American Poets; "Asked For a Happy Memory of Her Father, She Recalls Wrigley Field", "The Kudzu Chronicles - Oxford, Mississippi" (Excerpt), "Poem Not to Be Read at Your Wedding", "Because People Ask What My Daughter Will Think of My Poems When She's 16", "Souvenir", "Say You Waved: A Dream Song Cycle", and "Favors", All at PoemHunter; "Because People Ask..." at Poems Out Loud (Audio Available); "The Kudzu Chronicles - Oxford, Mississippi" at Blackbird; "Three Months After Giving Birth, The Body Loses Certain Hormones" at All We Can Hold (Poems of Motherhood); "A Study of Writing Habits", "Because People Ask...", "Cow Tipping", "I Need to Be More French. Or Japanese", "Poem Not to Be Read at Your Reading", "The Impossibility of Language", and "The Welcoming" (Audio), All at Knox Writers House; "I Would Like to Go Back as I Am, Now, to You as You Were, Then" and "The Cup Which My Father Hath Given Me", Both at Louisiana Literature; "Heating and Cooling" (Audio) at SoundCloud; "Some Childhood Dreams Really Do Come True" at Brevity; "The Welcoming" at Verse Daily; "Favors", "We Are the Renters", and "Say You Waved: A Dream Song Cycle", All at Blackbird; "I Provide for You, Boy Child, Like God" at The American Poetry Review; "Poem Not to Be Read at Your Wedding" at Best American Poetry Blog

Beth Ann Fennelly Reading Her Book-length Poem "The Kudzu Chronicles" (Crown Ring Press) on YouTube (Video):

Beth Ann Fennelly, "A Reckoning of Kisses", Guernica, May 26, 2016

Beth Ann Fennelly, "On Collaboration", Glimmer Train Press

Beth Ann Fennelly's Tender Hooks on GoogleBooks

Beth Ann Fennelly's Unmentionables on GoogleBooks

Beth Ann Fennelly on FaceBook and Tumblr

Madison Redd, "Dueling Writers & Honing the Creative Impulse: A Conversation with Beth Ann Fennelly", Crooked Letter Interview Series, Prairie Schooner, May 3, 2013

Luan Gaines, "An Interview with Beth Ann Fennelly", curledup, 2005

Charlotte J. Robertson, "The Moments in Our Lives: An Interview with Beth Ann Fennelly", Southern Scribe

Mike Smith, "Mentioning 'Unmentionables'", Review, Notre Dame Review (pdf)

Isaac Cates, "'Unmentionables'", Review, Smartish Pace

Ginny Kaczmarek, "Unflinching Honesty: Beth Ann Fennelly's 'Tender  Hooks'", Review, Literary Mama, October 2007

Adrianne Kalfopoulou, "Beth Ann Fennelly: 'Open House'", Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, 2002

Mississippi Arts Commission on FaceBook (The announcement of Fennelly's selection was made live on FaceBook.)

Fence Books


HarperCollins Page for The Titled World

In Fact Books


Michigan State University Press

W.W. Norton (See Beth Ann Fennelly page.)

W.W. Norton Pages for Great with ChildOpen House, Tender Hooks, and Unmentionables


Texas Review Press

Utah State University Press

University Press of Mississippi

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