By: Sue Brannan Walker and J. William Chambers, eds.
Reviewed by: Wade Hall
Negative Capability Press, 2007
$30 Hardcover; $24 Paperback
Alabama’s colorful history and cultures have always provided our writers with plenty of raw materials and inspiration for their poetry and fiction, and this collection of poetry testifies to the variety and richness they have found. Good material, however, doesn’t automatically translate into good poetry.
Editors Sue Walker and William Chambers have, nevertheless, selected for this anthology an impressive cornucopia of poems to suit just about any taste and preference. What’s more, the editors have covered every corner of the state better than a gubernatorial candidate on the campaign trail. Among the 173 poets included in this anthology, readers will easily find a host of poems that will challenge and delight them.
With a title chosen from a poem by John Ciardi, the editors set forth to celebrate Alabama poets with their own poetry, and they succeeded. From Bruce Alford of Mobile to Christopher Singleton of Semmes, 270 pages later, Alabama’s best poets—most of them academics—are presented in seven theme chapters, from “People” to “Nature.” The poems are structured in forms ranging from ragged free verse to primly constructed lines of meter and rhyme. A few poets even produce traditional couplets and sonnets.
Most of the poets are Alabama born, though some moved here and became Alabamians by choice. Whether adopted or native, these poets take some piece of Alabama history, geography, or culture as their subject matter. Moreover, you will feel, see, hear, smell, and taste pieces of Alabama: sweet tea and honeysuckle, okra and field peas, Spanish moss and magnolias, mockingbirds and bull frogs, barefoot boys and catfish, bird dogs and gun racks. You will be introduced to such Alabama icons as Hank Williams and Tallulah Bankhead, Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, W. C. Handy and Joe Louis. Helen Blackshear’s “Muskogee Legacy” will remind you of our Native American heritage in such place names as Eufaula and Tallapoosa.
Indeed, in these poems Alabama is deconstructed, analyzed, praised, and condemned. While acknowledging our checkered past of racism and classism, most of the poets, however, point to present achievements and future promises. And thus you have a taste of what awaits you in this delightful, arresting, and provocative anthology of Alabama poetry. Kudos to Sue Walker, the current poet-laureate of Alabama, and William Chambers for having prepared this feast for the mind and soul of us all.
Wade Hall, a native of Union Springs, holds degrees from Troy University, the University of Alabama, and the University of Illinois. For some fifteen years he edited Kentucky Poetry Review.