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A Conversation Around Southern Poetry

Kelly Cherry and Henry Taylor met at the University of Virginia in 1960, where he was a first-year undergraduate and she was a graduate student in philosophy. After he got over feeling inferior because the difference in their ages is only a few months, not enough to account for an entire undergraduate career, they began talking to each other about their writing; they've been doing that ever since, but specifically, one poem or story or novel at a time. Recently they were prodded into a conversation, carried out through the mail and on the phone, about contemporary Southern poetry. They had never talked about that before, even though they are both Southerners.

Henry Taylor: I took a course in Southern literature once, and came out of it mostly with a sense of gratitude that I was writing in the 20th century. I can't remember a single line by Henry Timrod, and when I think of Sidney Lanier, I usually wonder whether anybody has ever put into a novel a law firm called Habersham and Hall.

Of course the South has been studied at length as a region, maybe more than any other region in the country, and it has been pointed out countless times that it's the only part of the country that was ever defeated in war and occupied by victorious forces. That made a difference between Southerners and other Americans for a b long time. It's probably also true that anthologies of Southern poetry are bigger and possibly richer than...

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