Swamp Skirts

Women of Contemporary Southern Poetry

Judson Mitcham of Macon, Georgia


This week I diverged slightly from my focus on women poets to feature Georgia’s state poet laureate, Judson Mitcham. As part of National Poetry Month, I spoke with Mitcham about his role as state poet laureate for Deep South Magazine. We also conversed on notions of Southern harmony and race, as well as the influences upon Mitcham’s earlier writings. Read more…


Diann Blakely of Brunswick, Georgia

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I carry a talisman in my pocket—sometimes around my neck. I have a locket that, when opened, contains an egg-shaped pressed penny from Tennessee. The pressed penny from Tennessee acts as a shield or a hidden door to a crisply folded corner piece of common copy paper. The pressed penny is imprinted with the Ten Commandments, the words are so tiny that they are meaningless, but its function is the same. It protects. The Southern mind uses countless talismans, many revolving around religion. My hidden paper means nothing to anyone, but me. It’s a source of order. My sister placed that paper there. She has a gift of placement, and her choice to place something or change something changes the people around her, a sort of order among chaos. I do small things to worship her: I fold a towel in a tri-fold for her, I listen to Sinéad O’Connor for her, I have my locket and the Ten Commandments double protecting her written words. Read more…

Heather Foster of Sardis, Tennessee


The psychology of the Southern mind incorporates both realism and surrealism. While the subjects and characters within poetry are often depicted with stark realism, the settings and surroundings often draw from surrealistic imagery, offering psychological insight into themes through a character’s surroundings. While surrealist poets seem fewer and farther between today, we still find the remnants of its manifestations in the merging of genres. Surrealistic elements are what I found in Heather Foster’s poetry this week. Read more…

Kathryn Stripling Byer of Cullowhee, North Carolina

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The coquettish and manipulative nature of Scarlett O’Hara still comes to mind when people reference Southern women. The point of reference has shifted to something closer to The Real Housewives of Atlanta, but of course pop culture thrives on these labels. For those of us women that are immersed in “southerness,” the label of the Southern woman does give a sense of empowerment, maybe because Southern women know the system—use the system as a gauge—master the system and can feel accomplished at knowing their cultural worth. But the containers that define the Southern woman are eroding. In the emerging digital landscape, the sense of empowerment shifts to how women define themselves locally (pertaining to their physical environments) and globally (pertaining to their digital environments). I spoke with Kathryn Stripling Byer this week about her thoughts on the identity of the “Southern woman” from a poetical standpoint. Read more…

Kelly Whiddon of Macon, Georgia

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Southerners thrive on stories and hold fast to their myths. Many of these myths stem from folk and fairy tales, and women are a significant part of the mythic South. One such example is the “Southern belle,” an extension of the damsel in a fairy tale castle. The mythic “Southern belle” may have persisted for the survival of social and economical elites and the fabled aristocracy of the South. Sayings like “the Southern way of life” still stand tall, but what does this mean for Southern poetry? This week I’m featuring Kelly Whiddon’s poetry, which often employs the mythic traditions of the fairy tale as viewed through Southern life. Read more…

An Introduction

swamp-875x455I sat down in bed to write my first entry on contemporary Southern women poets with mosquitos, dark water, and red clay sweat stains coming to mind. Earth, not ether. Flesh, not bits. Then a flash came to me of the Guatemalans I pass daily at lunch hour with their limbs stretched out on the freshly laid sod near ornamental trees on the corner of strip malls. They are very still. I’m uncertain that they move until I get close enough. The only movement is in the muscles of their face and the fingers that move across the keys of their cell phones. Zeros and ones are the only language now. As I begin to write, a leaky faucet and fluorescent buzz distracts me. Read more…

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