their ages is only a few months, notnenough to account for an entire undergraduatencareer, they began talking toneach other about their writing; they’venbeen doing that ever since, but specifically,none poem or story or novel at antime. Recently they were prodded into anconversation, carried out through thenmail and on the phone, about contemporarynSouthern poetry. They had neverntalked about that before, even thoughnthey are both Southerners.nHenry Taylor: I took a course inn.’ Southern literature once, and camen’ out of it mostly with a sense of gratitudenthat I was writing in the 20thncentury. I can’t remember a single linenby Henry Timrod, and when I think ofnSidney Lanier, I usually wondernwhether anybody has ever put into annovel a law firm called Habersham andnHall.nOf course the South has been studiednat length as a region, maybe morenthan any other region in the country,nand it has been pointed out countlessntimes that it’s the only part of thencountry that was ever defeated in warnand occupied by victorious forces.nThat made a difference betweennSoutherners and other Americans for anb long time. It’s probably also true thatnanthologies of Southern poetry arenbigger and possibly richer than anthologiesnof Western poetry or Midwesternnpoetry; I don’t recall seeing an anthologynof Northeastern or New Englandnpoetry of this century, but it wouldnmake an interesting collection, andnmight be more like a collection ofnSouthern poetry than we might expect.nI guess I’m wondering whether thenSouth’s pure size, and the diversity ofnits cultures, make labels like “Southernnpoet” almost a matter of geographicnorigin. There are still Southern poetsnwho use Southern landscapes andnspeech patterns, but aren’t there a greatnmany who don’t?nKelly Cherry: I suppose that we mightnapproach the Southern poet the samenway one approaches God, via negativa.nIn that case, it seems to me, thenSouthern poet is, first of all, somebodynwho is not a Northern poet. What thisnmeans is that the Southern poet is notnunfamiliar with the idea of defeat. ThenSouthern poet is not unfamiliar withnthe Bible. The Southern poet is notnaverse to telling stories, and may evennelect to tell a story rather than expoundna point.nI spent part of my childhood innupstate New York, and I remembernbeing, even then, amazed by the Yankeenability to assume an invulnerability,nby a Yankee lack of interest in thenrhetoric and rhythms of the KingnJames Bible, and by Yankee reticence.nNobody talked with anybody! Ofncourse, later on I found out that innNew York City there was quite a lot ofntalk, but it was nearly all in the form ofnargument, not story.n(As for the biblical reference, however,nI could not have been happier—nthough, again, later on — to encounternthe splendidly allusive music of suchnYankees as Melville, Jonathan Edwards,nRobert Lowell. Even of a Midwesternernlike T.S. Eliot. As it happened,nMelville, Edwards, Lowell, andnEliot were not present during mynchildhood, in the tenement railway flatnwe lived in, three flights above a grocerynstore.)nThese are generalizations, and asnsuch, trivial. Besides, they’ve beennmade before. I’ve made them before,nmyself But what I do think is peculiarn— pretty peculiar—to the Southernnpoet is the idea of resurrection. “Thenidea of resurrection, of the old madennew, the last made first, the deadnquickened,” I once wrote, underwritesnSouthern poetry with a sense of gladness,na sense of irrepressible joy, at thenpossibilities of reformation, even in thenface of defeat. Especially in the face ofndefeat. (The face of defeat could be densole. I didn’t say that.) This is why, Inthink, Harold Bloom’s theory of misprisionn— that great writers must figurenout a way to misread their “precursors”nin order to clear imaginative space fornthemselves — has found so little sympathynin the South. Southern poetsnhave had no difficulty at all locatingnimaginative space for themselves. Howncould there ever be any limit to imaginativenspace?nConsider Fred Chappell. He’s takennon Dante, in his long poem, Midquest.nWell, so has James Merrill, but Merrillnmakes a series of points, or rather,nmakes a series of refusals to make anpoint, while Chappell goes right aheadnand tells a bunch of stories. Withncharacters who have names like Virgilln”The Southern poet,” I wrote,nnn”who grows up even laterally with thenCood News as part of his daily bread,nand who is maybe more than somenguiltily aware of the need for it, isnlikely, looking at the merits of hisnpoetic fathers, to feel not that anxietynwhich has been wished on him but annexpansive exhilaration, a sense of thenterrifying possibilities of— not of ‘misreading.’nOf translation. In the beginningnwas the Word. And in the endnalso.”nI wrote that, by the way, back in thendays when I was tenaciously clinging tonthe representative masculine pronoun.nI didn’t want to sacrifice the power ofnthe singular for the political inclusivenessnof a slash mark. If you want to talknabout the imaginative space availablento women poets, I’ll become positivelynrapturous.nSo what I would say is this: there isnsomething beyond geography that definesna Southern poet. Not that youncan’t be from Japan and know what it isnto have lost a war, or from Israel andnknow the Bible, or from California,nand have stories to tell, but that thesenthings taken together promote an assertivenbelief in the possibility of, andnneed for, self-re-creation.nTaylor: I think you’re right about thenBible. I was just paging through annanthology of recent Southern poetry,nand was surprised at the number’ofnpoems that get right to it, very often- bynway of a story, a recollection, say, of anfuneral; the past has an immediacy fornmany of us. There, now, I’ve said usnwithout thinking, so I have to admitnthat I can see Southern poets as angroup, scattered as we are. I’ve neverneven met James Applewhite or RobertnMorgan, much as I suspect I wouldnenjoy them if I did. Morgan lives innIthaca, I think, and that reminds menthat a bunch of Southern poets don’tnlive in the South now. We’re hardly anMafia.nCherry: Maybe that’s another definitionnof the Southern poet. Somebodynwho is not a member of the PoetrynMafia.nBut don’t you feel that we are atnleast some sort of extended family? I’vennever met Robert Morgan, either, andnApplewhite only once, but I think ofnthem as literary cousins of a sort. Andnwhy? Because they come out of anMARCH 1991/53n