The South is beloved by people around the world for its literature. The names of great novelists like Eudora Welty and Alice Walker and William Faulkner are familiar everywhere. But we should not neglect the work of the South’s poets, who move us to empathy with just a few well-chosen words. Salvation South editor Chuck Reece has some thoughts on the subject in this week’s commentary.


Poet Annie Woodford

Poet Annie Woodford from Appalachia.

Credit: Courtesy Salvation South


Chuck Reece: Despite my love for and insatiable consumption of Southern literature — in prose form — I have not read the poetry of our region as frequently as I should. But I’ve been catching up because the online magazine I edit, Salvation South, has been publishing new Southern poetry since we launched it in 2021.

I’ve been reading backward into the works of greats like James Dickey and Natasha Trethewey, who, about a decade ago, served two years as the poet laureate of the United States. And I’m trying to keep up with the fresh new voices in Southern poetry.

I discovered one such unfamiliar voice a couple of months ago when Andy Fogle, who had written for me before, told me he wanted to do a story about a poet from Appalachia named Annie Woodford. As soon as Andy shared with me the extra-long title of one of Annie’s poems, I felt like I had to hear more about her work. Here she is saying the title of that poem.

Annie Woodford: “A Poem in Which I Grab My Poverty Like That Jaguar in the Video Grabbed a Crocodile Out of the River and Carried It into the Jungle.”

Chuck Reece: The title of that poem instantly put a picture in my mind. I imagined a mountain-woman who grew up living with poverty wrestling her disadvantages to the death, as fiercely as a jaguar would kill its prey.

That’s the magic of poetry: It uses just a few words to paint vivid images in our heads. Here’s Annie Woodford herself reading just a few seconds of that poem:

Annie Woodford: “My daughter grabs my phone and poses her face, seeking her own beauty in the smile, in front of our distant mountains, egalitarian in their soft pink excess, planes descending from places we never have the money to visit, wing tips luminous with low sun.”

SOUND: Plane flying overhead

Chuck Reece:  “Places we never have the money to visit …”

An Appalachian mother and her daughter watch the sun set across their mountains … and dream of the places the airplanes overhead could take them — if only they had the money for a ticket.

It’s a simple image, but it’s filled with so much power and so much emotion. And it moves us to feel empathy for everyone who cannot see places they’ve dreamed about, just because of their poverty.

Yes, novels can make us feel deep empathy for our fellow human beings, but I have a great love for how poems can make us feel that with just a few words.

So, I encourage you to dive into the work of our region’s poets. Like Annie, they speak in accents we understand, about problems we all share, about the kinds of love we all feel.

And you can always come to to read some of their beautiful, moving words.

Salvation South editor Chuck Reece comments on Southern culture and values in a weekly segment that airs Fridays at 7:45 a.m. during Morning Edition and 4:44 p.m. during All Things Considered on GPB Radio. You can also find them here at and please download and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform as well.