When Salvation South editor Chuck Reece launched his online magazine about the South, he did not expect it to attract so many writers of poetry. And the sad truth was, Chuck didn’t know much about poetry in the first place. But thanks to those writers, he’s developed a keen appreciation for Southern poems. Here he is to share that appreciation with you in this week's commentary.

Fishing boat on lake
Credit: Adobe Stock Image created with Adobe Firefly



The online magazine I edit, Salvation South, just celebrated a birthday. So, I took some time to step back and assess what we had published.

And there was a lot of poetry. Now, when writers started submitting poems, to be honest, it scared me. Because my knowledge of poetry was woefully low.

But since then, I have developed a much deeper appreciation for what poets do. They are kind of like miracle workers. They can pack a ton of meaning into very few words.

Hoping to share a little of what I mean with y’all, I’ve picked out some tiny bits from a few of the poems we’ve published.

Here’s something from a poem by Denton Loving called “Rituals for Catching Fish.” Denton is an acclaimed poet who lives on a farm up in the Cumberland Gap, where Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia come together. And in his poem about fishing, Denton gives us seven two-line stanzas that actually are fishing tips. But the eighth and final stanza ain’t exactly about fishing. It is, though, definitely good advice.

If you have a beloved, steal a kiss to prove

you won’t let a keeper swim away.

Sometimes, poems are gentle like that, but others are as pointed as a sharp stick. We got one such poem from Dr. Jacqueline Allen Trimble, who is a professor at Alabama State University, the historically Black college in Montgomery. She wrote this poem right after the Florida legislature passed a new Black history curriculum for the public schools that told teachers to focus on how slavery taught African Americans skills they could use for personal benefit. Her poem was called “A Note to Florida Legislators on the Skills My Ancestors Allegedly Received During Their Period of Enslavement.” I’ll just read you the first two lines:

Shall I thank you for teaching us commerce?

Was the auction block a tutorial in fair trade?

And a couple years ago, a great poet from South Carolina named Ray McManus sent us a piece called “The Last Saturday in America.” And now it’s become the title poem of his latest book. I did not know, until I read “The Last Saturday,” that watching an angry neighbor carry a can of gasoline across his back yard could rise to the level of poetry. But here’s the ending of Ray’s poem:

I won’t tell him that he can’t burn a stump out

that way. I won’t tell him that it’s easier to cover

and leave it to rot, that he’d be better off blowing

the whole thing up and just fill the hole in later.

I won’t tell him his wife is at the window, watching.

So, good advice about spotting a keeper, whether you’re fishing for fish or for love. And serious commentary about serious issues. And stories about your hapless neighbor.

Now, I have learned poetry can deliver all those things and millions more. Most every week at SalvationSouth.com, you can find some brand-new Southern poetry. Come visit us.

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. He also does an extended version of the podcast called Salvation South Deluxe each month. You can also find them here at GPB.org/Salvation-South and please download and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform as well.