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Posts Tagged ‘south’

The Landlord from Ioway: James Alan McPherson, 1943–2016

August 10, 2016 | by

Photo by Tom Langdon.

Photo by Tom Langdon.

Although I didn’t yet know of his dying, I was thinking of James McPherson in the hours afterward, as I listened to President Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. I wanted very much for him to explain how these two lodestars of our current political life, Obama and Trump, could exist in the same galaxy. Years ago, at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, I had witnessed Jim’s unerring ability to find the pulse of the weakest story. Similarly, during the reigns of Reagan and Bush the First, he had listened intently to the whispering of a far right wing not easily heard in the din of that era’s culture war. I knew I had neither Jim’s wisdom nor imagination, and the night of the convention I could only sense that he again, in a way that most of us could not, would understand the spiritual impoverishment that drove this most incredible of political narratives.

I had to content myself with remembering the rumble of his laughter, the way it could start from the tips of his splayed feet and rise up to his fraying straw cap. I thought, too, of the hesitations in the murmur of his hushed voice, the result perhaps of a stutter long mastered, or the refusal to speak anything other than the truth—his truth perhaps, but a truth that many of his students learned to rely on. Read More »

The Last Days of Foamhenge

July 26, 2016 | by

Hanover 2810-24

Photo: Brett Hanover.

If you’ve ever taken I-81 north through Virginia, you’ve passed the town of Natural Bridge, in Rockbridge County—home to a ninety-foot limestone arch that extends over a gorge, a geological anomaly probably formed by an ancient underground river. Natural Bridge is an anachronism from the Route 66 era of highway travel, a place where you can pay twenty dollars to look at a rock, eat a rock-themed lunch, and then buy a shot glass illustrated with a picture of that same rock. As any respectable tourist trap must, the town hosts a constellation of other attractions: a petting zoo, a dinosaur/Civil War theme park, and the Natural Bridge Wax Museum (now closed, and former home to a ghoulish Obama tribute). Best of all is the featherlight, faux prehistoric monument known as Foamhenge.

As its name suggests, Foamhenge is a one-to-one scale replica of Stonehenge, made of foam. It is identical to the original, save the flecked gray paint, the accompanying statue of a deadhead-ish Merlin, and the fact that it was erected several millennia later. For the past twelve years, the henge has been the most public of Natural Bridge’s draws, garnering a steady stream of visitors and enough press to be mentioned in the same breath as the area’s actual ancient rocks. Its creator, an artist named Mark Cline, calls it his “foam-nomenon”: the unlikely culmination of his career as a sculptor of roadside attractions. Read More »

Flannery’s Farm

July 21, 2016 | by

Andalusia and the ache of identity.

Joe McTyre/ Atlanta Constitution, Flannery O’Connor in the driveway at Andalusia, 1962.

Flannery O’Connor in the driveway at Andalusia, 1962. © Joe McTyre/Atlanta Constitution.

You can judge how far outside of Atlanta you are by the gasoline prices. My parents kept calling them out every few minutes as we drove from their house toward Milledgeville to the farm where Flannery O’Connor once lived. Gas that was $2.26 in town became $2.11 just outside the city limits. The weather was less hot than usual, which is to say that while it was still awful and sticky, there was a breeze every now and then. Prices hovered around two dollars as we drove south, and the landscape shifted from tony suburbs to farmland. Soon forests of tall slender pine trees began filling our periphery, and my mother actually gasped when we encountered $1.96 a gallon. At $1.95, we reached Andalusia Farm. Read More »

A League of Their Own

July 3, 2012 | by

The local Junior League cookbook is the culinary bible of the Southern home. Every kitchen of my Alabama childhood had at least one well-worn copy of Magic, the Junior League of Birmingham’s 1983 recipe collection, with an enticing yellow-spiral binding and entries on everything from shrimp salad to banana pudding. Some would also have a copy of Palates, Platters, and Other Such Matters, the JLB’s 1950 edition, notable for its more liberal inclusion of lard and mayonnaise. Like every Junior League cookbook, the recipes were sourced from the community and thus varied wildly both in quality and in method of preparation. Still, the hand-me-down wisdom from Birmingham’s residents on how to properly prepare venison skewers or pimiento-cheese eggs had an authority that no celebrity chef or French instructor could muster. They were part of the trusted pantheon that my parents, whose taste ran more to grilled fish and apple pies than deep-fried catfish and layer cakes, would consult whenever a dish needed some extra flair. When I moved up to New York for college, my mother bequeathed me the most useful items she could think of for the journey: a ceramic teapot, a CD of Thin Lizzy’s greatest hits, and a copy of the newest JLB cookbook, Food for Thought.

It was part homesickness, part tiring of the endless meal-plan tuna melts that caused me to leaf through Food for Thought for more than just the pictures and familiar contributor names. (In scanning the index of recipes, certain contributors jumped out: the mother of a junior high crush, the organizer of the reception of my first and only debutante event, the family for whom my high school auditorium was named.) Sandwiched between essays waxing nostalgic about grits and poking fun at California cuisine were the dishes that taught me how to cook in earnest. After teenage years full of longing for escape from my muggy Southern home, I began, in my little dorm on 116th Street, clumsily making vats of overly spiced gumbo and punch bowls of mint juleps for my bewildered but grateful roommates. Read More »


David Orr: Lost in the Archives, Summer 1996

August 8, 2011 | by

A. R. Ammons.

“Locality,” said Frost, “gives art.” It’s an aphorism that directs us toward, well, directions. But when we’re talking about space, we’re also usually talking about time—which means it’s important to think about when, not just where, an artist finds the locality that’s going to be doing the giving.

These questions have particular relevance to the Summer 1996 issue of The Paris Review because the subject of “The Art of Poetry” interview is A. R. Ammons. Ammons has been slightly out of fashion since his death in 2001—fame, as Emily Dickinson observed, is fickle food—but he was a bracingly intelligent writer, and his relationship to the idea of place is intriguing. In part, it’s intriguing because he can’t seem to determine whether he is actually Southern after having lived for three decades in the north. Consider:

INTERVIEWER: You’ve spent more time in the north [at Cornell].

AMMONS: Much more. I lived the first twenty-four years in the South. I’ve been in Ithaca more than thirty years.

INTERVIEWER: Are you conscious of being a Southerner here?

AMMONS: I don’t hear my own voice, but of course everyone else does, and I’m sure they’re all conscious of the fact that I’m Southern, but I am mostly not conscious of it. In the first years, I was tremendously nostalgic, constantly longing for the South: for one’s life, for one’s origin, for one’s kindred. Now I feel more at home here than I would in the South. But I don’t feel at home—I’ll never feel at home—anywhere.

On one hand, this is the kind of thing poets like to say because it recalls the expatriate glamour of the early twentieth century (“I have beaten out my exile,” announced Pound, in the most self-satisfied formulation of this maneuver). On the other hand, Ammons wasn’t just a poet. Read More »


Here with the Windies

June 21, 2011 | by

Margaret Mitchell was on her way to see a movie when she was struck by an off-duty cabbie driving too fast down Peachtree Street one night in Atlanta in 1949. Her death five days later cemented certain facts of her life, most notably that her first novel would also be her last. But she had made the most of her debut: in its nearly 1,500 pages, Gone with the Wind captured the romance and demise of America’s Old South like none other before or since, sold one million copies within six months of its publication, secured a Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1937, and inspired one of the most beloved motion pictures of all time.

Little was said about Mitchell’s death one recent evening in Atlanta, when several dozen of her fans—Windies, as they like to be called—gathered for a tour and graveside toast at the historic Oakland Cemetery, where Mitchell is buried and where her plot is among the most visited. The soiree was one of many held in and around the city this month in honor of Gone with the Wind’s seventy-fifth anniversary. The crowd was almost entirely female; Gone with the Wind handbags abounded, and at least one wristwatch bore the iconic image of Rhett and Scarlett’s smoldering onscreen embrace. Though most wore street clothes, some ladies had arrived in 1860s-ish period dress, their dedication eclipsing both the melting late-afternoon heat and the outfits’ flagrant anachronisms—clip-on chignons, hemlines revealing reputation-shattering amounts of ankle, synthetic fabrics not invented in Mitchell’s lifetime.

Until recently, I was only vaguely acquainted with Scarlett O’Hara. I was raised in Tennessee by multigenerational Southerners and grew up visiting Civil War battlefields on field trips and family vacations. I went to college in Atlanta—Mitchell’s hometown and the setting for most of her opus—and have lived here ever since. But my knowledge of Gone with the Wind was only sufficient enough to know that Rhett Butler’s most famous line from the movie perfectly summed up my sentiments regarding the whole franchise: frankly, my dear, I didn’t give a damn.

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