Many years ago, when I first started publishing and selling my poetry, I thought I would write a book such as this. I dreamed of becoming wildly famous and gathering up my band of local poets, and touring the country. I especially wanted to take on the south, not just Atlanta, Birmingham, Jackson, Jacksonville, Memphis, Mobile, Montgomery, Nashville, New Orleans, and Tallahassee, not even just these towns and the college towns like Auburn, Macon, Gainesville, and Gainesville, Oxford, Tuscaloosa, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Hattiesburg, I wanted to go to Heidelberg, Tallassee, Lucedale, Dadeville, Sylacauga, Pell City, Gautier, Jasper, Dahlonega, Sylvester, Earle, West Helena.
I wanted to go to everywhere a two lane Federal Highway leads to some tiny public library where kids use the computers to do homework and play video games and then, just maybe walk home with a copy of Harry Potter or the Hunger Games in their hands as they kick the red or white clay dust into little clouds. These little places where cockleburs cling to your pants, and poke tiny holes in your fingertips when you try to remove them, these paper mill pine forests, these soy and cotton fields that go on forever without shade and the swampy little creeks the meander thru it all where mosquitoes buzz while their mates look for that one drop of mammalian blood to spawn a whole ‘nother generation of grass eating buzzing insects, this is where I wanted to bring poetry. This is where my heart lives.
I wanted to reach the next kid like me, coming up, drawing pictures and putting words down on paper. To reach him or her before they were told one too many times they were crazy and that they ought to do something useful and save the writing for school.
I never got there, not alone, not with my band of merry poets (some of whom are now deceased, including the two above, Breanda Black White and Dr. James Lancaster, god I miss them!). I remain a fairly obscure poet, with the exception of a couple of pretty amazing awards, that mean a lot to poets, and not much to anyone else.
I still work my day job. I write less poetry than I did twenty years ago. But I still dream of my now nearly geriatric band of poets, limping, or pushing walkers, with trifocals and sometimes creaky voices. And I know we will all finish getting old, or not. We will all die off, leaving a few thousand poems, combined, maybe one of us will be remembered in a generation, maybe someday a grad student will find a few of one of us’ poems and maybe that will lead to another and someday the world will know the entirety of the Night Heron Poets, or not. Either way, for a few years, we truly had our own sparkling city on a hill, our Camelot.
I wanted to share it with the world. For me, growing up in Alabama, being a poet was about like being gay. I didn’t know any other poets. I knew there were other poets. I had read a few poems, but for the most part, I was all alone. When I finally “came out” as a poet (no, I am not gay) and found a group of fellow crazy beautiful people who were also poets, it was like, for the first time, I had a real community.
I cant say it was like I had found my family, because, I had and have a family that is deep and wide. A family of food, of fishing, of college football, of hunting and camping and telling of tales, of bible thumping. I love them, at least most of them, dearly, only most of them did not give a whit for a poem, and not much more for a poet. So I wrote poems about them, about me, about us, but those poems are the poems everybody already knows. At least everybody who wants to know them. But I came alive when I found the other poets. I wanted to be a poetry missionary, spreading the word to those dusty little towns that you can write a poem if you want to.
So now, 30 years after my first chap book, I am gonna do this thing. If you want to help, jump in. You know a poet, a little BBQ joint, even one on a trailer on the side of the road, a fancy little coffee house in Mayberry, a French pastry shop in Pascagoula, a place like Chris’ in Montgomery, a Blue Dot, a dusty little library where you found a copy of Carolyn Kizer and fell in love with poetry. Tell me about it. I might use it in the book.