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Friday, January 29, 2010

Some of that good ol' Southern charm

It was the kickoff event for Emory’s Poetry Council’s spring “What’s New in Poetry?” reading series, featuring guest poets Joanna Fuhrman, Jenny Sadre-Orafai, and Emory alumna Stacey Lynn Brown 92C. The reading series gives students the opportunity to hear and meet poets in the first and second stages of their careers.

Brown was first to step up to the mic.

This Atlanta native was in fact the first Emory student to declare a creative writing major, according to Bruce Covey, Poetry Council director and a lecturer in the Creative Writing Program. After graduating from Emory, Brown went on to study at Oxford University and the University of Oregon, where she received her M.F.A. in poetry. She is now an assistant professor of creative writing at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, where she lives with her husband (also a poet) and her daughter.

Brown performed excerpts from her book-length poem, Cradle Song, which explores racial relations and growing up in the South. She explained her poem’s two main characters, an African American nanny, named Gaither, and the “little white girl” she takes care of. Brown immediately included the disclaimer that the latter was a lot like her but not in fact, the poet. She was glad to be reading about the South in the South, because she wouldn’t have to clarify those details in her poetry specific to the region.

She recited her excerpts with a slow, almost eerie voice that slightly rose at the last word of each selection. Between each passage, Brown explained the background or significance of what she was about to read. Before a piece about a woman and her distinctive accent, Brown pointed out that the subject was sitting “five rows back,” a woman wearing a red blazer who grinned at her 30 seconds of fame. According to the poem, her name is “Kristan.”

She prefaced another selection with a joke about obscure Southern churches whose names are spray-painted on the side of vans and whose congregations consist of about 40 or so country folk near Stone Mountain. Brown’s “childhood was full of them.” Most of what she read was lyrical, alliterate, and heavy with raw Southern imagery, like the “shag walls, mossy carpets, and dank concrete” of a motel in Tennessee. Maybe it was the way she spoke or the subject matter of her poetry— maybe it was both.

She ended her reading with three short excerpts about leaving the South, about the “gentlemen callers who held the door with tapered fingers or rough field hands.” With that, Brown captured the essence of the South and brought it back to her hometown and her alma mater.

--Lindsey Bomnin 12C, EAA communications assistant, and Cory Lopez 10C, EAA communications intern

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