Specter Mountain is a book-length poetry collaboration between Jesse Graves and William Wright that imagines the spiritual and ecological life of an embattled landscape. The collection fuses two striking poetic visions into a cohesive and innovative new perspective on nature and the inevitable imprint of human interaction with wilderness. Readers will gain a sense of the permanent beauty of rivers and mountains, timeless images of the sublime, and the grandeur that reaches beyond human life and influence.
Specter Mountain is a book of voices, delivered by an impressive range of speakers, including even the mountain itself. Sometimes they speak in chorus and sometimes in isolation, out of the past and from the future, offering meditations and reflections on our changing world. These poems reveal a sensitivity to the passing of time, and to the many losses that people and places suffer and outlast together. If the mountain is a haunted landscape, it is also a place of aspiration, where traditions flourish and customs give meaning to the lives that pass there.
In his preface to the book, celebrated poet and novelist Robert Morgan says, “Jesse Graves and William Wright are two of the most exciting talents in contemporary poetry. Before they have spoken in distinct and memorable individual voices. In Specter Mountain they have pooled their considerable gifts and found a synergy that yields a unique work that will serve as a landmark for our time, and for many years to come.”
Basin Ghosts is a collection of original poems by Jesse Graves, author of Tennessee Landscape with Blighted Pine. Many poems in Basin Ghosts address places and themes that resonated in Graves’s first collection, which won the Weatherford Award, the Thomas and Lillie D. Chaffin Award, and the Appalachian Writers’ Association Book of the Year Award in Poetry. The poems in Basin Ghosts examine life in the rural South, changes that have occurred over generations in communities there, and the ways in which the past lives on through memory and attachment to the land.
“In Basin Ghosts, Jesse Graves immerses us in sensual particulars: knotty peels of potatoes, red clay on black shoes, and blackberries in an iron pail. Carrying his past inside him, Graves’s poems contain a passion for being, for a life lived fully as love for the subjects of his poems darts in and out like a hummingbird. By freezing particular moments in the daily life of people like Ruble Johnson, who dropped dead after fiddling the ‘Tanglewood Blues,’ Leora and her accordion case, and Kidd Jordan ‘whistling ribbons of air through a tenor saxophone,’ Graves shows us how to celebrate human communion and creates a scaffolding for dreams that are needed to keep the spirit alive. These powerful and moving poems ultimately show that love and its power can redeem, that what will endure is the force within the human heart.”
— Vivian Shipley, author of Hardboot: New & Selected Poems
“What pleases most about Jesse Graves’s Basin Ghosts is the deep love abiding in every poem–for words and all their power; for the Powell River, the ghost of it still moving ‘beneath the crush of…lake and dam’; for the past and all those who we have left ‘with the earth’; for the music of Ellington as well as the night’s silence; for Graves’s daughter and his wife, who with him writes the book of their love, so full of ‘indirection and suspense, [that he] can’t stand to put it down.’ And neither can we. This love encompasses us, dear reader, for we write this book, too, and Jesse Graves helps us to know the grave importance of this our only task–to write our lives full of love.”
— Jim Minick, author of The Blueberry Years
“‘Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place,’ writes the poet Rumi. Jesse Graves heeds this advice with an innate desire to pry loose his stories held between gravestones, in boards of old houses and fencelines, the sun-streaked clay. A watchful boy’s learning becomes longing for the far past and the now passing in ‘time’s long weave,’ from Capps’s Creek and Taylor’s Grove, ‘the middle of the middle of nowhere,’ to the wider world. Like foxfire compelling us into a familiar yet darkening wood, his journey is ours–to carry the flames of memory and meaning, to store up history’s scarred lessons, to love deeply amid loss and doubt. In communion with these ‘basin ghosts’ of ancestral land, of rivers and fleeting music, Graves’s new collection is evocative yet restrained in the truest sense, standing rooted in his place that frees him–and us–to wander while looking ever homeward.”
— Linda Parsons Marion, author of Mother Land and Bound
“It is a particular pleasure to welcome this unusually mature and accomplished first book by Jesse Graves, one of the most exciting and authentic voices to emerge in our contemporary poetry. Though steeped in memory and with a vivid sense of the past, these are very much poems of the present, and the unfolding future. Graves is a poet of geographies, of rivers, of rural Tennessee, of New Orleans, of Ithaca, New York, and of that special place in the landscape of language we call the sublime. I admire the assurance, the formal authority of his craft. He writes of hotrods in the Southern night and the contradictions of our culture, of the way history spills into the present. He is a master of the sonnet, of the visual vernaculars of highways, and the music of country speech. He dramatizes the wrenching changes that both separate and bind us. Even in poems that honor those who have come before, there is a relish, a spirit of celebration and community the reader will not easily forget.”
— Robert Morgan
“Tennessee Landscape with Blighted Pine is more than an extraordinary first book. These poems have the music, wisdom, and singular voice of a talent fully realized, and make abundantly clear that Jesse Graves is one of America’s finest young poets.”
— Ron Rash
“Janus is the presiding spirit over this fine first collection of poems, the evolution of a young narrator as he grows to manhood, journeys to and departs from his beloved homeland, an area his family has occupied for over 200 years. Here we look back at the dead and come to realize they live within us; then forward to places beyond, the next portal, whether it be New York or Louisiana, the next generation, knowing ‘nothing aches like home, and how the slow hours/traveled to get here from there turn into years,/the full weight of stone between my native foothills,/and the northern broadening of Appalachia,/time flattening toward the absence of it all.’ Here is a welcome new voice offering strengths in craftsmanship and music, but always grounded in a profound sense of place. Read these poems for their wisdom, listen closely to their cadence, let them take you where they will.”
— Jeff Daniel Marion
The author of nine volumes of poetry and numerous other writings, the editor of several literary journals, the recipient of copious awards, including the James Still Award from the Fellowship of Southern Writers, and a longtime teacher and mentor, East Tennessee native Jeff Daniel Marion has come to be known as one of the most significant and beloved voices in Appalachian literature over the past four decades. The twenty-one pieces in this illuminating collection range from examinations of Marion’s poetry to considerations of his teaching career and influence on students, writers, and artists throughout the region and beyond.
Acclaimed poet, novelist, and historian Robert Morgan writes about how Marion affected his development as a writer and the key role Marion has played in bringing Appalachian literature into its own. Scholar Randall Wilhelm’s essay, meanwhile, expands our appreciation for Marion not only as a poet but as a visual artist, tracing the connection between his photography and poetic imagery. Also included are essays by John Lang on the ways in which Marion’s poetry “gives voice to a spiritual vision of nature’s sacramental identity,” Gina Herring on how the poet’s father has served as his muse, and George Ella Lyon on the power of story in Marion’s picture book for children, Hello, Crow. Other features include an autobiographical essay by Marion himself, an interview conducted by co-editor Jesse Graves, and a bibliography and timeline that summarize Marion’s life and career.
In the book’s introduction, Ernest Lee notes that in the poem “Boundaries,” from his first published collection, the young Marion “dedicated himself to his place, to the land and his heritage . . . welcoming whatever may come with a firm faith that ultimately his life as a poetic laborer will bring him to a true, sharp vision.” The eloquent contributions to this volume reveal just how fully that dedication has paid off.
Robert Morgan and Kathryn Stripling Byer, Al Maginnes and Cathy Smith Bowers, Thomas Rain Crowe and Michael McFee, as well as many new voices. . . Indeed, the variegation of the Tar Heel State’s landscapes, as well as its rich history, is reflected through the myriad voices of its contemporary verse. As with other volumes of The Southern Poetry Anthology, this book–full of a wide gamut of poetic styles and approaches–will appeal to many readers, prove an excellent teaching resource for North Carolina students of literature, and serve as the definitive poetic document for North Carolina for many years.
Conceived by Series Editor William Wright in 2003, The Southern Poetry Anthology is a projected twelve-to-sixteen volume project celebrating established and emerging poets of the American South, published by Texas Review Press. Inspired by single-volume anthologies such as Leon Stokesbury’s The Made Thing, Gil Allen’s A Ninety-Six Sampler, and Guy Owen and Mary C. Williams’ Contemporary Southern Poetry: an Anthology, The Southern Poetry Anthology aspires to provide readers with a documentary-like survey of the best poetry being written in the American South at the present moment.
Specifically, the editors’ goals are twofold: first, to re-establish poetry of the South as a major presence in American literature, and second, to include a greater range of poets from the South to introduce a new poetic geography, a fresh corpus of what we understand to be “Southern Poetry.”
The state of Tennessee is widely recognized as a home of great music, and its geographic regions are as distinct as Memphis blues, Nashville country, and Bristol old-time sounds. Tennessee’s literary heritage offers equal variety and quality, as home to the Fugitive Agrarian Poets, as well as a signature voice from the Black Arts Movement. Few states present such a multicultural panorama as does the Volunteer State.
The poems in The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume VI: Tennessee engage the storied histories, diverse cultures, and vibrant rural and urban landscapes of the region. Among the more than 120 poets represented are Pulitzer and Bollingen Prize-winner Charles Wright, Brittingham Award-winner Lynn Powell, and Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize-winners Rick Hilles and Arthur Smith.
The book includes an introduction from renowned poet Jeff Daniel Marion, who in 1978 received the first literary fellowship from the Tennessee Arts Commission. Too, the book celebrates relatively young and gifted voices. This important anthology will stand for many years as the definitive poetic document for the state of Tennessee.
“When Southern literature is discussed, poetry tends to be left out of the conversation. And even when poetry gets a word in edgewise, it’s usually the Fugitives who are doing all the talking, especially in a conversation about the poetry of Tennessee. To a degree this is fair, but to reflect on Tennessee poetry while failing to discuss the poets who have followed the Fugitives is a grave mistake that occurs far too often. Editors Graves, Ruffin, and Wright redress these oversights with their new volume, The Southern Poetry Anthology Vol. VI: Tennessee.”
— Quincy Rhoads, Chapter 16
Every place has its own poetry. For some places, the poetry appears in the tones of voice between neighbors in the grocery store, or in the spirit people share when a high school football team brings them out of their houses on Friday evenings, or even through the sounds engines make as they idle in traffic on the road out of the city after a workday. The poetry of Appalachia sings in all those familiar ways, but also in the music of the particular poems collected in The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume III: Contemporary Appalachia. This anthology of contemporary poetry arrives from one of America’s most vibrant literary communities, an area with a rich storytelling history and beautiful natural landscape, the often misunderstood Appalachian South. Readers familiar with writing from Appalachia will be pleased to see work from such favorites as Charles Wright, Robert Morgan, and Fred Chappell, yet will be intrigued by the already distinctive voices of emerging talents like Melissa Range and D. Antwan Stewart. This collection of poems is the only one of its kind, a snapshot album of a timeless place, as it is represented at the present moment.
“For reasons that are not entirely clear, there has been an explosion of poetry in the Southern Appalachian region in recent years. Perhaps this creative surge has been inspired by the rapid changes in the region, as the vast hunting ranges of the Cherokees are crossed by superhighways, and golf courses, casinos, condominiums, and shopping malls spread into the shadows of the highest peaks. Or perhaps the poetry is a celebration of a region still discovering itself, its heritage and resources. What is clear is that much of the best poetry of our time is being written in or about the Southern mountains, with unprecedented diversity, artistry, freshness, and humanity. Here is a poetry of place and people, of history, sometimes sad, often comic, a poetry of haunting voices, vision, music and story. This anthology is a showcase of some of the best poetry we have, from the place the music comes from.”
— Robert Morgan