Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Prize-Winning Poems

What’s new in Tennessee books—and at Chapter 16—on January 7, 2010

“I hope my collection of poems, in some small way, does honor to the work of Whitman and Dickinson, George Herbert and Gerard Manley Hopkins and Robert Penn Warren, the stories and voices I heard on my grandparents’ porch, the language of the public school playground, the ball field chatter and work site rhythms I grew up with.”

During this bleak winter a Jackson poet has brought home laurels to Tennessee: Bobby C. Rogers, Writer-in-Residence at Union University has won the 2009 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press. Ed Ochester, Pitt Poetry Series editor, was the judge. One of the premier poetry prizes in the country, the annual award goes to a poet who has not yet published a book of poems. (Prior Tennessee winners include Rick Hilles, whose Brother Salvage won in 2005, and Kate Daniels, who took the prize with The White Wave in 1983.) Rogers’s collection, Paper Anniversary won out over more than 700 other manuscripts.

In a Pitt press release, Rogers—who attended Union University, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and the University of Virginia (where he studied with Charles Wright)—acknowledges his poetic forebears in Tennessee and elsewhere: “I hope my collection of poems, in some small way, does honor to the work of Whitman and Dickinson, George Herbert and Gerard Manley Hopkins and Robert Penn Warren, the stories and voices I heard on my grandparents’ porch, the language of the public school playground, the ball field chatter and work site rhythms I grew up with. The book of Ecclesiastes and the epistle of James, the prose of Peter Taylor and John Cheever and Flannery O’Connor and James Agee—these and other writers have set up shop in my head.” Paper Anniversary will be published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in the fall of this year, but you can get a sneak peek on Chapter 16‘s poetry page, where “Ornithology” appears for the first time.

First-time Nashville novelist Adam Ross got a nod this week for his novel, Mr. Peanut, which isn’t even published yet. The Center for Fiction asked a number of prominent writers—including Richard Ford, Hannah Tinti, Cynthia Ozick, Junot Diaz, and others—which books they most look forward to reading in 2010, and novelist John Pipkin singled out Ross’s book. Pipkin calls it an “unusual mystery about love, hate, murder and marriage (and, apparently, peanut allergies). The main character, David Pepin, has loved his wife since the moment they met, and after thirteen years of marriage he still can’t imagine living without her—yet he obsessively contemplates her demise. Soon she is dead, and he’s both deeply distraught and the prime suspect.” Knopf will publish Mr. Peanut in June.

If you enjoyed Ann Patchett’s essay in The Washington Post last month, you won’t want to miss her newest piece for the paper, either. “How to Read a Christmas Story” is a holiday memory: “I am certain this is the only time in my life that my father, or anyone else for that matter, ever read me a story over the phone. I pressed into the pillow and closed my eyes in order to give myself over completely to the pleasures of listening, the phone against my ear like a conch shell.” Go on—click the link and give yourself over completely to this lovely tale.

Scott Christian Sava, who creates graphic novels for children from his Franklin-based studio, launched a holiday auction of sketch cards to benefit First Book, a charity which provides free books to children who couldn’t otherwise afford them. The sketch cards, all from Sava’s popular Dreamland Chronicles series, are like baseball cards for cartoon characters: the front of card features a Dreamland character, while the back side offers an original sketch by a graphic artist. “When all was said and done, we brought in a thousand dollars [for First Book],” says Sava. “Artists took up a pen or pencil and within five-to-ten minutes had a finished sketch on the back of a two-by-three-inch trading card. To raise a thousand dollars from something so small, and something that fellow artists were able to ‘scribble’ out in a few minutes. … it’s just amazing.” You can follow The Dreamland Chronicles online here.

Author Clay Risen—who has written frequently for Chapter 16; his most recent piece is an interview with Helen Tate, widow of Fugitive poet Allen Tate, in this week’s issue—is heading to New York and into the arms of the Grey Lady. Starting February 8, Risen will be an assistant editor on the op-ed page of The New York Times. He’ll be soliciting articles, reviewing pitches, editing, writing headlines, fact-checking—”basically working on all the aspects of putting together the page,” he says—but plans to continue reviewing books and interviewing authors for his adopted home state. At Humanities Tennessee, we’re all very proud of him and will absolutely hold him to that promise.

This week, in addition to the new poem by Bobby C. Rogers and Risen’s interview with Helen Tate, Chapter 16 has an interview with country megastar Sara Evans, whose first novel hits shelves this week, and a review of Vanderbilt professor Lorraine López’s new essay collection, in An Angle of Vision. We’re also celebrating the 75th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s birth (on January 8) with an Elvis double-header: click on reviews to read Paul V. Griffith’s take on two new books—one sweet, and one … not—about the King.