Taylor Swift Didn’t Talk to Our Southern Poets

Tay Tay says poets are “tortured.” Jacqueline Allen Trimble turns that assumption inside out.

I woke up on Friday and discovered Taylor Swift was, once again, impossible to avoid. In the wee hours that morning, she had released an album of new songs entitled The Tortured Poets Department.

Tay Tay was everywhere in the headlines. I even encountered this one in The New York Times:

“What Tortured Poets Think About Taylor Swift’s Album Title”

The Times interviewed a passel of notable poets, and the sweatiest hand-wringing, it appeared, came from the use of the word “tortured.” Must the life of a poet always be torturous? Throughout April, Salvation South has celebrated National Poetry Month by sharing the work of many notable Southern poets, so I could not resist. I emailed all our April contributors this question: do any of y’all have thoughts/quips/comments/disses about that album’s title?

Several folks replied to share their thoughts. A couple—people who think ahead—begged off to avoid risking a social-media row with rabid Swifties. Then, midafternoon, Jacqueline Allen Trimble, the Alabama poet whose work we featured at the beginning of this month, weighed in with a statement I felt I must share with you.

“Interesting title,” Jackie wrote, “although I usually think of poets as doing the torturing, seeing as we tell the truth, hold up the mirror, evoke the ancestors and the spirits to make sure everybody does right, then we drop the mic and walk away, leaving all to stew in their own juices. I’m just saying.”

I could almost hear the thud and the feedback when the mic hit the floor

Poetry done well, as all the folks we’ve published this month prove, can drop truth with an immediacy that prose can’t always match.

This Week-01

—“I Heard Them All Speak”: three new poems and an interview with Ashley M. Jones, the Poet Laureate of Alabama
—“Just the Right Amount of Sunflowers”: an interview with and new poems from Mississippi's C.T. Salazar
—“What It’s Like to Live Here”: new work from South Carolina poet Ray McManus
—“Jacqueline Allen Trimble and How to Survive the Apocalypse”: new Salvation South Deluxe Podcast

We begin this week with the arresting and eye-opening work of Birmingham’s Ashley M. Jones. She is the current Poet Laureate of Alabama, the first person of color and the youngest ever to hold that office.  This weekend, she offers us three brand new poems and a pointed interview with Andy Fogle, our poetry editor.

Ashley is also featured in the April episode of the Salvation South Deluxe podcast—in which three Black Southern women who write poetry take me to school. The show, our fifth monthly long-form audio story co-produced with Georgia Public Broadcasting, focuses on Jackie and her poetry. Ashley—who tells us, “I want to be Jackie when I grow up”—joins in for the discussion. So does Honorée Fannone Jeffers, the author of five acclaimed volumes of poetry and a 2021 novel called The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, which Oprah Winfrey made an official pick of her Book Club, and which The Atlantic recently named one of the Great American Novels of the last hundred years.

Andy Fogle also interviews Mississippi’s groundbreaking Latinx poet C.T. Salazar, who also has three new poems to share with you this weekend. We round out the weekend with new work from the award-winning South Carolina poet Ray McManus, who gave us seven poems five months after our launch, thus becoming the first poet Salvation South published. Ray, you started something, and we’re very grateful.

We’ll be back next week for one last Poetry Month extravaganza, anchored by a wonderful collaboration between two Virginias, the painter Allison Hall, and the poet Annie Woodford, who last year declared in these pages, “In the South, poetry is a form of survival.”

Y’all please enjoy your Sunday reading. And the listening, too!

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About the author

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Chuck Reece is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Salvation South, the weekly web magazine you're reading right now. He was the founding editor of The Bitter Southerner. He grew up in the north Georgia mountains in a little town called Ellijay.

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