Photo-illustration by Stacy Reece

At the Corner of Rosa Parks and Jefferson Davis

Three poems from—and a compelling interview with—Alabama’s inimitable Jacqueline Allen Trimble.

Over the course of Salvation South’s celebration of National Poetry Month, we’ll bring you interviews with certain poets in addition to their verses. Our poetry editor, Andy Fogle, asked these writers an almost identical set of questions, but did leave room for a few wild cards aimed at the poet’s specific work.

As we present those poems and interviews over the next few weeks, each will have a brief introduction written by Andy. But for our presentation of the work of Jacqueline Allen Trimble, he asked me to write the introduction.

Why? Because Dr. Trimble’s work has hit me where I live. It has poked me in the eye, repeatedly, with sharp sticks. It has made me uncomfortable. Better yet, it has made me open my eyes.

As Jackie notes near the end of the interview that follows these poems, “I do call a thing a thing.” Her poems speak unvarnished truth. And I figure if she does us the honor of trusting us with her truth, I should trust y’all with mine. So I’ll just say it to you the way I said it to her.

About a dozen years ago, when Jordan Davis, seventeen years old and Black, was murdered at a Jacksonville, Florida, gas station simply because a middle-aged white man (who is now in prison, doing life plus 105 years) thought the music coming from Davis’s car was too loud, I got mad. And confused. Something then became clear to me: I really knew nothing of what life was like for children of God whose skin was darker than mine. So I did what anybody with a brain would do: I started reading. With reading and study, more understanding comes. I picked up the work of Black authors and dug in. Morrison. Baldwin. Hughes. Du Bois. Trethewey. 

But only when I read Jackie Trimble’s 2016 poetry collection, American Happiness, did I feel that things I needed to understand had been put plainly in my face. 

In Trimble’s “American Happiness,” a Black family contrasts the truth of Birmingham public safety commissioner Bull Connor turning the fire hoses on civil rights marchers with what they see in Mayberry, where Sheriff Andy used his hose only “to water Aunt Bea’s roses.”

A Southern white man of some fame had once told me there was nothing I needed to learn about life I could not learn by watching The Andy Griffith Show. But in Trimble’s title poem, “American Happiness,” a Black family contrasts the truth of Birmingham public safety commissioner Bull Connor turning the fire hoses on civil rights marchers with what they see in Mayberry, where Sheriff Andy used his hose only “to water Aunt Bea’s roses.” And the poem continues:

We were so happy and relieved
we laughed until we could not think
until we fell off our sofas and wing-backs and cane-bottoms;
we laughed until we could not see or hear
until we could forget
that outside our own windows
other sheriffs with loaded guns, snarling dogs, and ready hoses
made quick work of a world on fire.

Her poem, like God, took my blindness and gave me sight.

I feel so privileged that Salvation South can present these three new poems by Dr. Trimble and share this long conversation Andy had with her. Our conversations with her and a couple of her friends—Honorée Fannone Jeffers, the poet and author of the bestselling National Book Award-nominated novel, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, and Ashley M. Jones, the Poet Laureate of Alabama—will make up an upcoming Deluxe episode of the Salvation South Podcast. Watch for that to be released in mid-April.

—Chuck Reece

Section break curlicue

Critical. Race. Theory.


Adjective: sometimes used to describe the state of a people’s movement from health to the precipice of death as in, “we have a critical situation,” meaning “the patient is critical,” meaning “death is knocking at the door,” meaning “this ain’t good,” meaning, “we are in crisis.”


E.R. A whole people. Another and another. Police! This one shot in bed. Police! This one shot in the street. Police! This one shot at a traffic stop. Police! This one smothered in the street. One plus one plus one too many equals please don’t call the police

Where is that ventilator? 

ICU. A whole country. One million dead. Black bodies stacked. Disproportionate. It’s just the flu. Get the doctor. More bodies. We have run out of room. Show me the bodies. Here they are. Fake. Ventilator, please. This one and this one and this one. Holocaust. Holocaust. Hospice. Deep fake. My cousin. My aunt. My daughter. Cull the herd. Your mother. Your father. Your spouse. Everybody’s got to die sometime. Where is that damn ventilator?

O.R. Everybody everywhere. Shoot the old folks. Suture, please. My gun. Shoot the children. My gun. Shoot the worshipers. My gun. A thousand bullets and three more guns. We are out of suture again. Shoot the bystanders. Shoot the shit. My gun. My gun. My God. Get the crash cart. Clear. Clear. Clear.



  1. An economic system on which a whole country was built by the free or super cheap physical and intellectual labor of people of color, black people who shored up mediocrity and moral bankruptcy with their inventiveness and resilience, and poor white people, particularly immigrants from Eastern Europe and Ireland, who were sold a dream of dominion and wealth from sea to shining sea although most of them could not get enough sustenance to make piss let alone acquire a window or a pot. 
  2. A hustle. 
  3. A Ponzi scheme.
  4. A distraction (Morrison)
  5. A box that may be checked.


To run. 

           Ex. Run for your life.

           Ex. Massa, they is running away! (vernacular)

           Ex. Run from the police.

           Ex. We run this.

           Ex. We don’t run shit.

           Ex. “Keep that N[*****] boy running.” (Ellison)


The Origin of Anti-CRT Laws and Legislation, Book Banning and Emphasis on Curated Parts of
Parts ofWestern Culture and Tradition While Forsaking All Others

One day this little girl went home after studying American history. Not the Southern plan invented by the Southern contingency who had wanted soft light shining on their ancestors so when their way of life rose again, people would not feel bad about treason, and they would again riot against their own self-interests. Readily. (Same reason they put up all those statues in the thirties. And sixties.) This little girl had been studying actual American history, written from research and receipts. Apparently, this had become all the rage in the schools. Facts and bodies missing for years or never acknowledged in the first place suddenly appeared in textbooks. Black towns, sterilization laws, lynching, internment camps, mission schools, blankets infected with smallpox——page after page of America not looking very land of the free like. That day, they had studied the Tulsa Massacre. The little girl had never heard of this event, and she just couldn’t believe people could be so cruel. Naturally, she had some questions. Why would American citizens shoot and bomb Americans on American soil? Who would be jealous of someone else’s hard work and prosperity? Aren’t you always saying, Mama, that anyone can succeed in America with hard work? Her mother was becoming uncomfortable. She didn’t know anything about what happened in Tulsa either, so she googled as fast as she could. And then the little girl began to drop bombs faster and faster, spreading out from Tulsa like a tidal wave of inquiry. What does it mean to be white if whiteness has been used to bully everybody who is not white? Where did we get our money? Why does the National Anthem sing of shooting enslaved people as a good thing? Was that great-grandpapa I saw in that awful picture? The questions came as rapidly as a red line on a mortgage or the growth of the black prison population. Her mother could see this thing had gone off the rails. And when grandma heard, all she could say was, “I told you so,” and then something about how misguided desires for the appearance of equality had put dumb ideas in folks’ heads. It was clear to the mother and grandmother that a return to an old-fashioned American narrative would be preferable. Little white lies make a strong country. After that it was just a matter of networking to ban books and legislate desirable histories.

The Supreme Court and Everybody Else Throwing Idle Hands Round Here

I mean, what is the devil doing in that infernal
workshop? Does he matter anymore? He was
last spotted at a rally in the Bible Belt.
He left early. People making up
their own stuff or waxing nostalgic. Old-school
German marching songs, ripping up the charts like
hollow point bullets. Songs we can goosestep around
the bonfire to. And we are stepping and singing, the crackle
of burning books, a percussive soundtrack as we plane down
history and saw uterine rights to dust.

So, Satan, you toothless old pimp, you can retire.
We’ve got our own workshop. What better than
to waste time there making sedition or new world
soup organically crafted, the Republic’s carcass boiled
down, vegetables plucked like voting rights from the
constitution, centuries of simmering for a ten-minute
meal? And those tiresome leftovers science and reason
can’t even pay their rent. They stand on the corners
screaming about truth and justice, blah, blah, blah,
bodies sagging, voices as brittle and useless as stale condoms.

A Sentence on Being Forgettable

This woman sees me in the Winn Dixie, her face lighting up, a thousand twinkle lights, and says, “So glad to see you, ‘Tina,’” except that is not my name, though I do know Tina and this woman knows me since I ate at her house two days ago, and Tina has never eaten at her house, nor do we really look alike other than in that this is a safe Black woman way, but I am not offended, since anonymity is my superpower, and maybe aliens implanted a flashy thing in my eyes so that when I blink at people I want to forget me or some out of the way thing I have said or done, I just wipe myself from their minds (though with her I had been nothing but delightful so why would I flash her?), and perhaps I do not know my own strength or don’t yet have control of my massive power or am forgetting whom I make forget because this happens to me all . . . the . . . time with a wide spectrum of people—poets I have interviewed for hours, school friends, neighbors, ex best friends at the post office (though to be fair that was probably a little senility) store clerks who should by now have memorized my shopping habits as well as my face—yet I will not deny my own culpability having myself smiled blankly and yelled “hey you!” way too loud to all those names and faces I have misplaced:  students,  acquaintances, friends, cousins, a nephew who I had not, in my defense, seen since he was an arm baby, even my own children whose names I often exchange with each other and the dogs; however, if I wax existential, we are all part of the  universe in such a way that each person we encounter is a stranger each time we encounter her/him/them, a creature made new in the absence of our parting, for we have never met that particular them any more than we have ever met ourselves,  a discovery I made just the other day when asked to hold up a mirror and  think about how I have never  and will never see my own face for real as other people see it, so maybe I look more like Tina than I think,  which is what I thought as I said, “I’m Jackie,” and the woman blushed bright liberal pink, apologized profusely and hurried down the wine aisle, away from that particular me  who knew she would remember this moment next time she ate dinner at my house or I at hers since I had refused to  use my flashy thing on her with wicked delight.

Illustration by Stacy Reece
Illustration by Stacy Reece

Thirteen Questions for Jacqueline Allen Trimble

1. Where’d you grow up and what was it like?

I have only recently discovered what a profound effect spending my first five years in Tuskegee, Alabama, had on me. My father had a farm there, land his family had owned for generations, and he worked for the Veterans Administration. In Tuskegee, Black people were the professors at the Institute, owned businesses, were the only people I saw at church or in the neighborhood. So I started my life in what for me was a Black world. 

That all changed when my mother died, my father remarried, and we moved to Montgomery, Alabama. In 1968, I became the only Black child at [Montgomery’s] Edward T. Davis Elementary, but I think being grounded in an identity shaped by reality and not by someone else’s imagination insulated me. I don’t remember any unpleasant incidents. It wasn’t a Ruby Bridges situation. I loved my teacher, Mrs. Williams, with her silver go-go boots, and I loved my school. Many of the kids I started with there, I ended up going to both junior high and high school with. 

My father died just before my seventh birthday, and my stepmother raised me. She was an extraordinary woman. Certainly no shrinking violet. I was a natural introvert. Not shy, but contemplative. My mother was always putting me on programs where I was having to play the piano (not well, despite years of lessons) or recite a long poem to “bring me out.”  To make me bolder, more social. And I participated in a lot of clubs and activities—Junior Federated Women’s clubs, Girl Scouts, church choir, church Buds of Promise, church youth groups, band, summer camp, and on and on. I often would rather just read or watch musicals on television. (I loved musicals and can still probably sing most of the lyrics to all the big Rodgers and Hammerstein productions.)  I walked or rode my bike to music lessons on Saturdays, went to ballet on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, ran track (hurdles and high jump), played volleyball and softball, just did all the things kids of my generation did. 

So, I loved growing up in Montgomery, working at the mall, going to concerts, living the typical growing-up life balanced between joy and terror. I also hated growing up in Montgomery, this provincial, dumb, country, mid-sized city. Luckily, my mother liked to travel, so we were always going someplace, usually wherever my Aunt Mahala (the first Black woman lawyer in the state of Alabama) was attending a bar association meeting. I got my learner’s permit at fourteen in Anchorage, Alaska, because we were spending the summer visiting her there. So, to answer the question, finally, I grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, where I still live, though it is wholly different now, and my childhood was both as ordinary as could be and as extraordinary as could be.

2. Who were the people who educated you, formally or informally?

I loved school, and, for the most part, school loved me. Erna Dungee Allen, my mother, was my chief educator. She had taken about seven years of Latin, could spell anything. Was very particular about language and would let me read anything and everything. Our house was always full of books. We also talked. A lot. About everything. She had a wicked sense of humor, and I know that’s where I get my sardonic wit from. I was making an airplane in church once. The preacher was droning on. My mother encouraged me to sail the airplane up to the front. “No one will get mad at you,” she said, “You’re just a child.” I didn’t do it. I was far less adventurous than she was, but I wish I had. 

Other teachers? The women of my church. They taught me to stand up and open your mouth, to dress and carry yourself in such a way nobody dare say anything out of the way to you (that didn’t quite work for me), to speak clearly and distinctly, that I was important no matter what anyone said. I didn’t know it at the time, but these women were equipping me to be a Black woman in a world where Black women are always going to be the least of these—the least respected, the least admired, the least listened to. They were saying, “Forget what others think. What you think of yourself and how you conduct your business is all that matters.” 

Important formal educators? Edna Moseley, who taught me to read. Dottis Williams, who let me know I was smart. Ophelia, who was a brilliant, beautiful, immaculately dressed high school English teacher who exuded grace and professionalism. Kenneth Deal, my college professor, who believed in me my whole life, was the first to tell me I could be a writer, and once said my problem was I had been “overly loved and underestimated.” Garret Hongo, who told me not to undercut the seriousness of my work by writing about it dismissively. And so many others who have just poured into me, including my husband, Joseph, who taught me to dare to dream, and my children (Jasmine, Joe David, and Joshua), who taught me how to live in the dreary world with joy.

I didn’t know it at the time, but these women were equipping me to be a Black woman in a world where Black women are always going to be the least of these—the least respected, the least admired, the least listened to.

3. Do you have any early memories of being in love with language (reading, writing, hearing, saying, etc.)?

I fell in love with language the day I learned the word “swiftly” in Mrs. Edna Moseley’s first-grade class. It was the perfect combo of sound and sense. That’s the day I became a poet. I loved memorizing long poems by Eliot and Poe. Loved the way they could turn sound into meaning. Growing up, I always had a book in my hand. Reading was my superpower, and I wanted, so much, to become a writer, to be one of those people who gave the world moments of recognition, enlightenment, and pleasure. Books took me everywhere I wanted to go. When I was about ten, I would walk to the library that was probably about four or so blocks from my house, and just sit and read. I spent so much time there one summer, the librarian let me check in and check out books. That little stamp felt like power. I tried to read my way through the whole library. I didn’t make it, but it was a joyous attempt.

4. How do you feel about being a Southerner: proud, ashamed, both, otherwise?

A complicated question. I grew up on West Jeff Davis Avenue. The cross street was Cleveland Avenue, which later was renamed Rosa Parks Avenue, after the most famous resident on that street, so for a long time I lived at the crossroads of Rosa Parks and Jeff Davis avenues. That’s what it’s like to be a Black Southerner. It often means to occupy identities that seem at odds with each other. I say “seem” because America thinks of the South as the place with a monolithic history, a monolithic mindset, a monolithic accent… not true at all. There is no “solid South.”

Southerners are as varied as our landscapes. My own state of Alabama has everything from mountains and waterfalls to lakes to forests, to wiregrass to beaches. The people are like that, too. Some are out there building the Cradle of the Confederacy in Montgomery and auctioning enslaved bondspeople. In Winston County people are refusing to secede. Others are creating the Black Panthers in Lowndes County while still others are making music in Muscle Shoals. The same state that produced Bull Connor produced Angela Davis. The same state that produced Hank Williams Jr. also produced Nat King Cole. Condoleezza Rice, Gucci Mane, and Harper Lee all come from the same state.

I could never be a politician. If you ask me a question, I’m going to tell you the truth, straight up, and maybe America, having lived with an illusion for so long, isn’t ready for people who don’t tell lies and half truths just to stay in power and make themselves rich. It’s the reason I write. Art is often the unmitigated truth. That’s why people are banning books and trying to have the government take over museums. Art is the last bastion of freedom. 

I love being Southern, and I love being Black. I am proudly both. The people of Alabama are great people—warm, loving, kind, and smart. I am not ashamed of them. I am frequently ashamed of the decisions legislators who allegedly represent the people make.

5. Have you ever left the South for any significant period of time? If so, did it have any effect on how you understood the region, or how you understood other regions?

At one time, I wanted to escape the South. It can be overwhelming and stifling. I lived out of the South for two years when I went to the University of Missouri. Hated every single moment. I have never felt so lonely in my life. The smiles covering daily microaggressions were intense. So what? What was racism to me? I had grown up in Alabama. Bring it on. But this was something I had never experienced before. The level of condescension, sexism and racism were astonishing and couched in terms that made it gaslighting. For years, I thought it had been in my head. My mother died while I was there. I thought grief had skewed perception. Maybe so, but years after, I was talking to a young white woman who described her first graduate school experience, and when I noted it sounded a lot like mine and asked her where she had gone, she said the University of Missouri-Columbia. And years after that a Black professor who had worked there for years corroborated what I had perceived had been very real. When I reentered Alabama after leaving Missouri, I got out of my car and kissed the ground. I swore I would never leave the South again. Southerners may be crazy, but it’s familiar crazy, like family crazy.

6. Do you have any sense of whether other parts of the United States are starting to see the South differently? And does it matter whether they do or don’t?

I think America has always used the South as the scapegoat for its sins. The South is the site of slavery and lynching and all that is ignorant and nonsensical. We even talk funny. Or so says the rest of the country, and yet the industrial North was built on the money generated by the slave trade and its collateral industries. Most of what is American (the music, the literature, the food) comes out of the South, was created in the South by Southerners. And yet while the country continues to be fascinated by our peculiar region, at the same time it is repulsed by it, making us the butt of every inbred, half-witted, long-vowel spouting joke. 

I was just at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference, and there was a panel talking about how there is not one literary organ on par with the Los Angeles Review of Books or The New York Times Book Review that touts Southern literature. If you are a Southerner who wants his/her/their work to be considered, you must get noticed and reviewed by publications in the far West or the North. You must win awards outside the region. You probably need to get publishers outside the region to look at your work as well. Otherwise, you don’t exist as any more than a quaint writer. Hard to do. 

America needs to give up the delusion that the South is somehow an anomaly. Do I care what other parts of the country think of where I live? No.

I had a young woman say to me recently, “Oh, you are such a lovely Southern writer,” which was probably meant to dismiss me and relegate me to a very unimportant pile. I know a lot of writers who have left the South and try very hard not to be labeled a Southern writer at any cost. Not me. I am a Southern writer. Period. The South is baked into my DNA. A group came to visit Montgomery and took a civil rights tour. They were lamenting the dark events of the region and wondering what they could do to help with making things better, given our horrifying history. I reminded them that the progressive Midwestern state in which they resided had been home to one of the top three largest numbers of sundown towns, and that many of their counties had happily lynched Black people in droves, not to mention being a breeding ground for Klansmen. 

What could they do? Go back to their home state, research the history of their own community, and start making a change there. New York was built on the backs of enslaved people and poor immigrants. A group of frat boys hung their heads out a window in Madison, Wisconsin, and yelled, “Niggers!” at my daughter and her boyfriend. Some friends from Chicago, Illinois, just told me about how when they were fourteen and began going to a predominantly white high school outside their neighborhood, some of the students lined up to hurl bottles and racial epithets at them every day because they didn’t want them there. America needs to give up the delusion that the South is somehow an anomaly. 

Do I care what other parts of the country think of where I live? No.

7. Is there anything you’d like to say about any of the poems we’re publishing (anything about their origin, evolution, or otherwise)?

Hmmm. I love irony, and all these poems are rooted in irony. I am fascinated by the cognitive dissonance it takes to keep spinning certain narratives in America and whether that be the Supreme Court contorting itself to legislate from the bench or anti-Critical Race Theory laws that seek to erase diversity, equity, and inclusion and the teaching of history under the lie it’s divisive, or a liberal in the grocery story confusing me with another random Black woman, there is such a pretense, such gaslighting, such a “I’m not doing that” mentality that makes the doer look like an idiot and makes those of us experiencing the foolishness and looking on begin to question our sanity. 

8. Who are some contemporary Southern poets or poems we should know about and why?

Kwoya Fagin Maples, who wrote this astonishing book, Mend, on the enslaved women the “Father of Gynecology” experimented on. James Cherry, a master of the tightly composed smart poem. Ashley Jones, first African American and youngest poet laureate of Alabama, who writes beautifully on the joys and challenges of being Black and Southern. The brilliant Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, whose scholarship on Phillis Wheatley Peters undergirds her The Age of Phillis and makes us all rethink that writer. And among her other books, my personal favorite is Red Clay Suite. C. T. Salazar, a wonderful, lyrical poet, whose Headless John the Baptist Hitchhiking is a masterclass in line and wisdom. Tina Mozelle Brazial, whose studies in both nature and human nature will take your breath away. Jason McCall, whose take on superheroes, mythology and the bible in Dear Heroes is funny, inventive and expertly written. Jeanie Thompson’s The Myth of Water, a poetic biography of Helen Keller, is amazing. There are so many others—Aurielle Marie, L. Lamar Wilson, Lauren Slaughter, Jim Murphy, Laura Secord, and on and on.

9. Tell us about a great poem about an issue facing your South.

Miz Rosa Rides the Bus” by Angela Jackson and “All Y’all Really From Alabama” by Ashley Jones. The first one speaks of both progress and lack thereof, and the second one gets at that point that the whole of the country is problematic and better come to grip with it.

10. What’s a poem from another era that’s close to you and why?

Langston Hughes’s “Harlem.” We often think of Amiri Baraka’s “Black Art” as a kind of defining poetic moment of Black fed-upness. But for me it comes a little earlier with Hughes’s “Harlem,” a brilliant, succinctly written malediction that says, “You know what, we tried to play by the rules set for us, but we have seen that is not going to work. Nobody cares as long as our weariness leads to implosion, but I bet everybody will care when we explode and blow everybody up.” I love that it is so tightly written, and yet evokes everything from hope in the American dream, to the burden of the cotton field, to looking at Harlem as a metaphor for America’s unfulfilled promises. And he does all of that with six questions and a maybe.

Langston Hughes's “Harlem” evokes everything from hope in the American dream, to the burden of the cotton field, to looking at Harlem as a metaphor for America’s unfulfilled promises. And he does all of that with six questions and a maybe.

11. What role does poetry play in understanding the South’s past, recognizing its present, and influencing its future?

The poets chronicle the history, and they put it in such a way that everybody can feel it. Like Dudley Randall’s “Ballad of Birmingham” or Nikki Finney’s magnificent Rice. The poets know, and they tell. And because it’s art, not a political diatribe, people listen. I mean, you absorb poetry with your mind and your heart. I suspect that’s one reason a few people are working so hard to ban books. Art gets to people in a way nothing else can.

12. One of my favorites of yours is “Poem for My Neighbor Whose Good Intentions Are Wolf Pelt.” Along with your characteristic intellectual incisiveness, glittering fury, and almost literal ass-kicking skills, it has one of my all-time favorite endings: “Fucker.” If we gave a writing prompt where a poem had to end with that one-word sentence, I bet people couldn’t pull it off. Of course, I don’t imagine you wrote “toward” that ending, but it does make me think of something in your voice that is distinctly yours. It’s a voice that is deliberate and conscious, but sounds and feels completely natural. Like, it’s just you breathing, thinking, talking, casually, off-the-cuff, but it’s a casual that crackles, it’s details marshaled in service of something absolutely real and important. Lord, how do you do that?

Wow. Well, thank you. No, I didn’t know that poem was going to end that way when I began it, but it seemed the right word at the time, given that character’s personality. It’s what that speaker would have said. Me, I love cuss words. I know people say they are used by people who can’t manage language, but I disagree. They are magnificent words. And scientists have proven that cuss words are used by smart people more frequently than not so smart people. It’s how people talk. 

That poem grows out of a comment a neighbor of mine made on a neighborhood social media group. Some of us liked to go on it and taunt people making racist and other asinine comments between posts about their lost animals. (I always wanted to ask them why their pets were constantly running away. Could it be that the animals were trying to escape? Was it a hostage situation? But I digress.) Anyhow, the neighbor says, in response to some retort I had posted, “But your husband is so nice!” As if anyone who calls out foolishness is not nice, so I wrote “Wolf Pelt” in the voice of my not-nice-but-oh-so-truthful alter ego who wished to say a word about what was going on in the neighborhood.

Everything Flannery O'Connor wrote was pretty much violent, religious, and funny. But it was always trying to say something true. I have a touch of all of the above in my work.

13. Another thing we love is how your work seems to get up in white America’s face and tell them directly, “Here are the experiences of Black Americans that you need to understand and acknowledge.” You’ve been writing poetry like that for a good long while now: As far as you know, what has been the result of that work? Have you changed any minds? God knows white people need to do enough of their own gut-checking and perspective-comparing, but based on, for example, conversations after readings, can you tell if your poems have woken anyone up and started them re-calibrating their awareness?

So, that is interesting you think of it that way. I do connect the dots of history to the present. I do call a thing a thing. For sure. But I don’t really imagine a general white audience per se. I work things out in my head. I talk to myself about an issue or event that is bothering me. 

I usually have someone particular in mind when I write a poem, an individual or a particular group—folks in my neighborhood, my state legislators, the Supreme Court—or I am recounting a story about an event that illustrates a larger point. So many of my poems are me talking back to something I’m reading on the computer or watching on television. I’m thinking, “No. Are you completely unaware of American history? Do you hear the foolishness coming out of your mouth? Am I supposed to believe this?” 

It’s the professor in me. I’ve been teaching college students for almost four decades that accuracy, credible sources, and logic are important. Much of what happens in our country defies logic, even common sense. I will say that people have been affected by the poems. I had a man email me about “This Is Why People Burning Down Fast Food Joints and Whatnot” to say that while he didn’t usually like political poems, that poem really moved him and enlightened him. It made sense and shifted his thinking. 

I have gotten letters from people who may differ from me culturally but who identify with something in the poems that feels true, that feels honest, and they respond to that at a human level. I have even had people come up to me after readings and say things like, “I see what you mean. I had never thought of it that way.” And I think that people who probably disagree with me politically can hear what I am saying because somewhere underneath they sense I’m not really shaking my finger. I’m connecting dots. It’s probably also the use of humor. 

One of my favorite writers growing up was Flannery O’Connor. Everything she wrote was pretty much violent, religious, and funny. But it was always trying to say something true. I have a touch of all of the above in my work, though we are very different kinds of Southerners, and Flannery and I would not have been friends. But that’s okay. For me, the purpose of poetry is to illuminate what it means to be human, to shine a light on the human condition. Because I am who I am, my poems are absolutely going to tell the truth about what it means to be a Black woman in America. The good, the bad, and the ugly and everything in between.

Author Profile

Dr. Jacqueline Allen Trimble is a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellow, a Cave Canem Fellow, and a two-time Alabama State Council on the Arts Fellow. Her first collection, American Happiness, won the Balcones Poetry Prize, and her latest collection, How to Survive the Apocalypse, was named one of the ten best poetry books of 2022 by the New York Public Library. Her work has appeared in Poetry, The Offing, The Rumpus, Poet Lore, and other journals and has been featured by the Poetry Foundation and Poetry Daily. Trimble is a professor of English and chairs the Department of Languages and Literatures at Alabama State University in Montgomery.

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