Celebrating the poetry of South Mississippi

April 8, 2013 

April is National Poetry Month and that has me wondering about poets from the Mississippi Coast, and poetry about this region.

Scott Hawkins, our lifestyles and sports editor, told me that the National Poet Laureate for 2012 is Natasha Trethewey from Gulfport. So I looked up some of her work, and I’m glad I did. Her poetry captures moments that many of us who grew up on the Coast can relate to, like this excerpt from “Flounder:”

“This is how you hold the pole to cast the line out straight. Now put that worm on your hook, throw it out and wait. She sat spitting tobacco juice into a coffee cup. Hunkered down when she felt the bite, jerked the pole straight up reeling and tugging hard at the fish that wriggled and tried to fight back. A flounder, she said, and you can tell 'cause one of its sides is black. The other is white, she said. It landed with a thump. I stood there watching that fish flip-flop, switch sides with every jump.”

In 2007, her book of poems, “Native Guard,” won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. It tells the story of Louisiana Native Guards, an all-black regiment based on Ship Island. On April 14, the National Park Service will honor the 150th anniversary of the 2nd Regiment and their assault on a Confederate naval base in Pascagoula.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, while not native to Mississippi (he was from Maine), pays tribute to our region in “The Building of the Ship:”

“Covering many a rood of ground, Lay the timber piled around; Timber of chestnut, and elm and oak, And scattered here and there, with these, The knarred and crooked cedar knees; Brought from regions far away, From Pascagoula’s sunny bay, And the banks of the roaring Roanoke!”

Heck, we even have a house in Pascagoula named for Longfellow.

The narrative poem, “Pascagoula,” written by Stephen Shannon in 1910 tells the ill-fated love story that led to the legend of the Singing River and how it got its name.

“I am told that people say, Oft while bathing in the bay, They sweet music plainly hear Such as soothes the tired ear, And they think this singing noise Is made by the girls and boys Of the tribe who leap’d and died, In the bay at flooding tide.”

I’m just beginning to research poets and poems from the area. And during this month that celebrates poetry, I’ll pop into the Pascagoula Public Library to search for more.

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