Swamp Skirts

Women of Contemporary Southern Poetry

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.

The bathtub in my bedroom has had a leaky faucet for nearly a year now. I’d fixed it the last time it began to leak. But by tightening the screw behind the plastic cover of the faucet’s valve, I changed the water temperature dial to something unfamiliar. It took weeks to learn the new hot and cold.  So, naturally, when it began to leak again, I left it alone.

An ant crawls across my arm.

There are ants that get into my house. Stray ants will crawl on me in bed while I read and research late at night. I never see a trail. I don’t know that they exist until they announce themselves — meandering onto my arm. I roll them between my fingers and my skin and their life disappears — just like that. I whisk them away with the tip of my thumb and a fluttering of my fingertips. I trample invisible legions of crumbled ants when I leave my bed.

They come in for the water.

My bathtub is a yellowing fiberglass. From the toilet I often see an ant — sometimes several ants — lost and thrown about by the dripping of the faucet near the drain of my tub. I can never be sure that the ants survive. I can’t say they drown and die, because I only witness them seizing. The dripping water gives them Turret’s and any physical or psychological means to fight it is futile. They seem tired and regain their senses for only milliseconds between the quickened pace of the dripping faucet. It goes on and on. Though I’ve never witnessed it, they eventually give in and go down the drain. But, like I said, I’ve never witnessed it.

There is nothing I can’t do. If I want to I can fix that faucet, find the holes in my house that allow the ants in and plug them shut. But there is something to be said of allowing the environment to have its way. Digital distractions provide new insights into Southern writing. Clinging to history is not the only means to preserve Southern poetry. The literary environment and conventions that Southern poetry was accustomed to are in the midst of a digitalized transition. I’m unsure if conservation is the word that should be applied to contemporary Southern poetry. Our language is diluted to zeros and ones and the culture is no longer confined by county lines, but by broadband connections and cell phone towers. But culture is of the soil. Soil is of the people. Poetry stems from these.

Each week from here on, I will feature a female poet that embodies just what it means to have geographical heartstrings firmly mounted in Southern soil. I’ll share biographies, selections of work, interviews, and readings. I hope you enjoy exploring this new literary landscape through the eyes of modern female cartographers of Southern poetry.

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2 thoughts on “An Introduction

  1. amyrehner on said:

    Great Introduction. It’s so amazing how things that seem so trivial to your everyday life, like a simple ant, can truly reflect culture, life, and poetry.

    • Shanna Conway Dixon on said:

      Thanks, Amy. Small things often provide a grander context to the poetics of life. I hope to find viewpoints from women poets that shed light from many angles about what Southern poetry is and is becoming.

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