Rural Poetry and Place

A roundtable discussion at Cornell University, entitled “Rural Poetry: Writing Place/Teaching Place,” with two visiting poets, Evan Gray and Jane Springer. The roundtable discussion was held in conjunction with a poetry reading and book release party for "Thickets Swamped in Fence-Coated Briars." This roundtable discussion focused primarily upon craft and context, appealing to MFA students in poetry, PhD students of literature more broadly, as well as any humanities students or faculty members interested in the intersection of poetry, place-making, and pedagogy.

Within our contemporary political moment in the United States, ideological tensions often seem to map directly onto the binary between “country” and “city”; Appalachian and rural Southern geographies, in particular, are frequently victim to popular narratives of cultural abjection. Teaching, reaching, and writing rural poetry, then, can provide more nuanced forms of representation, subverting the mainstream tendency to view rural space as a faceless, pastoral monolith.

Evan Gray lives in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. He has earned a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He currently is a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Appalachian State University. His first book, Thickets Swamped in Fence-Coated Briars, is forthcoming from Ithaca-based Garden-Door Press this Fall. Thickets Swamped in Fence-Coated Briars is a visionary evocation of Appalachian life and labor, interweaving imagistic observation, fragmented narrative, and cultural critique. In this work, Gray draws upon his own experiences—specifically, the effects of the 2008 financial crisis upon his hometown of Jefferson, North Carolina—while also exploring Appalachian history and the rural politics of classic country music.

Jane Springer was born in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, raised in several small towns across the South and earned a PhD at Florida State University. Her debut poetry collection, Dear Blackbird (2007), won the Agha Shahid Ali Prize from the University of Utah Press. Her second collection, Murder Ballad (2012), received the Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James Books. Additional honors include a Whiting Writers’ Award, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Associated Writing Programs’ AWP Intro Award, and the Robert Penn Warren Prize for Poetry. In an author’s statement for the National Endowment for the Arts, Springer described her work as “love letters to the South,” adding, “The landscapes and stories of folks in and around the towns I come from seem too small and fleeting for notation in conventional history books; when viewed as integral to a long tradition of pastorals that Theocritus began, they seem more lyrically epic, somehow: more as I see them.” Springer lives in upstate New York and teaches at Hamilton College.