Savannah’s richness in culture and imagery easily lends itself to poetry. In this round-up of great voices in the 912, we dive into the writing groups, student intensives and poets that speak to this city’s great diversity and literary talent.
Deep Center, a nonprofit organization that teaches creative writing in middle schools throughout Chatham County, mentors emerging young poets and authors by helping them to find their voices. Each semester, students share their work in a live public reading at the Savannah Theatre and in a printed book.
Where I’m from is rectangular plot of land.
On the far end, a gray cement.
Gray and rough and unevenly spread,
To the right, a second house, also gray, also rough,
a window, another one, not exactly sure they were symmetrical.
from “Where I’m From” by Krystell Sanchez-Romero, Deep Laureate, Fall 2016
Spitfire Poetry Group leads the way with spoken word in Savannah. Throughout the year, the community is invited to share, dance, vent or just cheer at numerous live events. Together with W.O.R.D., Seersucker Live and other literary and arts groups, Spitfire presents the Spoken Word Festival each spring. The week is filled with raw and inventive poetry and art. Marquice Williams is one of the organization’s directors.
Let your nectar
cultivate the flavor of a southern sweet tea perspiring in a mason,
baking in rehabilitative sun rays.
Drippy like sticky ice cream honey combs
from “Dear Wildflower” by Marquice Williams
Sjohnna McCray teaches creative writing and poetry at Savannah State University. He is also the winner of the coveted Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets. He drew on his childhood and family history for the collection, Rapture.
Rage is the language of men,
layers of particulates fused.
Rage is the wine
father pours to the ground
for men whose time has passed. Rage
is gripped in the hands
like the neck of a broom held tight. Rage
gets stuck in the throat, suppressed.
Rage is a promise kept.
“Portrait of My Father as a Young Black Man” by Sjohnna McCray
Danelle Lejeune fell into poetry while in the throes of another career: pig farming in Iowa. Wanting to know more about the wild hogs on Ossabaw Island, she submitted a collection of work and an application one of the island’s famous writer’s retreats. Her first book, Landlocked: Etymology of Whale-Fish and Grace, was just released.
I was told early that ghosts would crawl
into Lorraine’s blue bottles, placed upside
down on fence posts and crape-myrtle branches.
Longing fell, a shawl around her shoulders, tangled,
long dishwater hair, lingerie dropped to the planked
floors when no one was looking, negligee a regret.
From “Lorraine’s Blue Bottle Blues” by Danelle Lejeune
Before Conrad Aiken was the U.S. Poet Laureate or the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, the Bollingen Prize, the National Book Award, the National Institute of Arts and Letters Gold Medal, and the National Medal for Literature, he was a young boy growing up on Oglethorpe Avenue in Savannah. Born in 1889, he said of his childhood, “In that most magical of cities, Savannah, I was allowed to run wild in that earthly paradise until I was nine; ideal for the boy who early decided he wanted to write.” In his last years, so the story goes, he would go out to the river and watch the ships come in. Today, visitors to Bonaventure Cemetery are encouraged to sit on his grave, a granite bench inscribed with the epitaph “Cosmos Mariner?Destination Unknown.”
Who are you now, —we cried to her—
Spirit so strange, so sinister?
We felt dead winds above us stir;
And in the darkness heard
A voice fall, singing, cloying sweet,
Heavily dropping, though that heat,
Heavy as honeyed pulses beat,
Slow word by anguished word.
And through the night strange music went
With voice and cry so darkly blent
We could not fathom what they meant;
Save only that they seemed
To thin the blood along our veins,
Foretelling vile, delirious pains,
And clouds divulging blood-red rains
Upon a hill undreamed.