Clarksville, TN – “Poetry and place are the oldest of friends,” said Barry Kitterman, Austin Peay State University (APSU) creative writing professor and author of Stories from San Joaquin and The Baker’s Boy, in his effusive introduction to his 30 Poets, 30 Poems Clarksville anthology.
This collection is a love letter to all things Clarksville: the people, the places and the memorialization of this marriage through art.
“The streets and houses and the fields where we live play no small part in making us who we are, whether we embrace those places or run from them,” Kitterman, the book’s editor, said.
What started as a book of 80 to 100 poems by men, women, children, the old and those who had never written a poem before quickly became a visual art and literary collection.
The Clarksville Arts and Heritage Development Council – which published the book – “suggested pairing each poem with a work of visual art,” Kitterman said. The collection of poems either written about Clarksville or by a Clarksville poet and each poem was paired with a local artist.
The book is available at Clarksville’s Hudubam’s Booktraders or at this link: https://bit.ly/2yK0RQO.
All of the poems in the collection in some way describe a place that codifies an experience or emotion. Kitterman’s own poem, titled “Johnny’s Big Burger,” captures the bustle of an iconic Clarksville tradition: skipping class to grab a burger with your friends. Or maybe it’s about the retired couples who talk quietly among themselves, perhaps watching younger versions of themselves make their own memories in this place that seems unaffected by time.
“It’s Johnny himself / guards the grill, head down, nodding to his burgers / who sizzle in unison. I know that nod / is also for me,” Kitterman writes.
Kitterman says people aren’t likely to write a poem about beauty. They are more likely to write about “a particular place of beauty, and the people who live there.”
A poem like “The River” by Joanna L. Grisham works especially well with the artwork by Paula Edwards.
“I’m pleased when the artwork contributes to the experience of taking in the poem. But I feel like every poem in this collection is filled with imagery. The artwork and poetry is like a motorcycle with a sidecar,” Kitterman said. “I have some young friends in Nashville who reversed the process: They had artists contribute work and then asked writers to contribute an accompanying story. Having tried that, I found it a lot more difficult.”
All the poems stand on their own merit. But the collection as a whole serves a greater purpose: an attempt to paint a complete picture of Clarksville.
“I’m really pleased by the wonderful diversity that can be found in 30 Poets, 30 Poems. Young, old, different backgrounds, and different orientations. I just think it’s cool. I wish somebody had welcomed me to the world of poets and writers when I was younger. I’ll continue to hope that these poems will encourage young writers who may not realize they have an amazing world to write about just outside their front door,” Kitterman said.
30 Poets, 30 Poems collects writing from a pre-Coronavirus world. Much has changed aside from the pandemic, most notably the surge in support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Kitterman and Austin Peay State University’s Zone 3 Magazine are planning an issue devoted entirely to writers of color.
“All of these poems predate our recent trials with the COVID virus,” Kitterman said. “The other thing that has been much on our minds in recent times is the Black Lives Matter movement. At Zone 3 Magazine, we are working to devote an entire issue to Black writers and other writers who are people of color. So if anyone wanted to do a second edition of this book, it would be a different project in many ways.”
Through this project, Kitterman realized how much of an impact Austin Peay has had on the poetry scene in Clarksville.
“It makes sense that in a world where poetry struggles to get out on a Saturday night, much of the best writing will be done by people connected to the university,” Kitterman said. “Only after the fact did I realize that 29 of the poets here either taught at or took classes on campus.”
And this book has been a great opportunity for Kitterman to better get to know the people he has worked with and perhaps taught in his time at Austin Peay State University.
“I wish I could say I’d been able to spend an afternoon at least, with each of these writers, walking through the park or drinking a cup of coffee,” Kitterman said. “That would be a blessed life. Some of them I know only from reading their poems, as many of you will only know them from their work.”
To learn more
For more information about the APSU Department of Languages and Literature, visit https://www.apsu.edu/langlit/.