Mississippi

In 1963, Mississippi established a state poet laureate position, which is currently held by Beth Ann Fennelly, who was appointed to a four-year term in 2016. Fennelly is the author of three books of poetry, including Unmentionables (W. W. Norton, 2008).

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Mississippi poet laureaute
Beth Ann Fennelly

Beth Ann Fennelly was born in New Jersey and grew up in the Chicago area. She received a BA from the University of Notre Dame in 1993 and an MFA from the University of Arkansas in 1998. From 1998 to 1999, she attended the University of Wisconsin as a Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellow.

Fennelly is the author of the poetry collections Unmentionables (W. W. Norton, 2008); Tender Hooks (W. W. Norton, 2004); and Open House (Zoo Press, 2002), winner of the 2001 Kenyon Review Prize. The Harvard Review notes, “Beth Ann Fennelly’s poems are consistently dramatic, complex in their perceptions and formal unfolding, and enthralled with language.”

Fennelly has also published two books of nonfiction, including The Tilted World: A Novel (HarperCollins, 2013), which she cowrote with her husband, Tom Franklin.

Fennelly has received grants from the Mississippi Arts Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the State of Illinois Council, among others. She directs the MFA program at the University of Mississippi, where she has taught since 2002. In 2016, she was named Mississippi’s fifth poet laureate. She lives in Oxford, Mississippi.


Bibliography

Poetry
Unmentionables (W. W. Norton, 2008)
Tender Hooks (W. W. Norton, 2004)
Open House (Zoo Press, 2002)

Prose
The Tilted World: A Novel (HarperCollins, 2013)
Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother (W. W. Norton, 2006)

Beth Ann Fennelly

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Riverbank Blues

A man git his feet set in a sticky mudbank,
A man git dis yellow water in his blood,
No need for hopin', no need for doin',
Muddy streams keep him fixed for good.

Little Muddy, Big Muddy, Moreau and Osage,
Little Mary's, Big Mary's, Cedar Creek,
Flood deir muddy water roundabout a man's roots,
Keep him soaked and stranded and git him weak.

Lazy sun shinin' on a little cabin,
Lazy moon glistenin' over river trees;
Ole river whisperin', lappin' 'gainst de long roots:
"Plenty of rest and peace in these . . ."

Big mules, black loam, apple and peach trees,
But seems lak de river washes us down
Past de rich farms, away from de fat lands,
Dumps us in some ornery riverbank town.

Went down to the river, sot me down an' listened,
Heard de water talkin' quiet, quiet lak an' slow:
"Ain' no need fo' hurry, take yo' time, take yo'
time . . ." Heard it sayin'--"Baby, hyeahs de way life go . . ."

Dat is what it tole me as I watched it slowly rollin',
But somp'n way inside me rared up an' say,
"Better be movin' . . . better be travelin' . . .
Riverbank'll git you ef you stay . . ."

Towns are sinkin' deeper, deeper in de riverbank,
Takin' on de ways of deir sulky Ole Man--
Takin' on his creepy ways, takin' on his evil ways,
"Bes' git way, a long way . . . whiles you can.  "Man got his
sea too lak de Mississippi Ain't got so long for a whole lot longer way,
Man better move some, better not git rooted Muddy water fool you, ef you stay . . ."

On the Mississippi

Through wild and tangled forests
   The broad, unhasting river flows—
   Spotted with rain-drops, gray with night;
     Upon its curving breast there goes
A lonely steamboat's larboard light,
       A blood-red star against the shadowy oaks;
Noiseless as a ghost, through greenish gleam
Of fire-flies, before the boat's wild scream—
          A heron flaps away
          Like silence taking flight.

Pilgrimage

Vicksburg, Mississippi


Here, the Mississippi carved
            its mud-dark path, a graveyard

for skeletons of sunken riverboats.
            Here, the river changed its course,

turning away from the city
            as one turns, forgetting, from the past—

the abandoned bluffs, land sloping up
            above the river's bend—where now

the Yazoo fills the Mississippi's empty bed.
            Here, the dead stand up in stone, white

marble, on Confederate Avenue. I stand
            on ground once hollowed by a web of caves;

they must have seemed like catacombs,
            in 1863, to the woman sitting in her parlor,

candlelit, underground. I can see her
            listening to shells explode, writing herself

into history, asking what is to become
            of all the living things in this place?

This whole city is a grave. Every spring—
            Pilgrimage—the living come to mingle

with the dead, brush against their cold shoulders
            in the long hallways, listen all night

to their silence and indifference, relive
            their dying on the green battlefield.

At the museum, we marvel at their clothes—
            preserved under glass—so much smaller

than our own, as if those who wore them
            were only children. We sleep in their beds,

the old mansions hunkered on the bluffs, draped
            in flowers—funereal—a blur

of petals against the river's gray.
            The brochure in my room calls this

living history. The brass plate on the door reads
            Prissy's Room. A window frames

the river's crawl toward the Gulf. In my dream,
            the ghost of history lies down beside me,

rolls over, pins me beneath a heavy arm.