A History of the River: Poems

A History of the River: Poems

by James Applewhite
     
 

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The poems in James Applewhite's accomplished new collection of verse, A History of the River, combine to present a remarkably accurate and affecting portrait of southern culture. The fields, forests, rivers and creeks of North Carolina form the geography of Applewhite's meditations on a way of life driven by change yet rooted in tradition. In poems of quiet authority…  See more details below

Overview

The poems in James Applewhite's accomplished new collection of verse, A History of the River, combine to present a remarkably accurate and affecting portrait of southern culture. The fields, forests, rivers and creeks of North Carolina form the geography of Applewhite's meditations on a way of life driven by change yet rooted in tradition. In poems of quiet authority Applewhite recalls the men and women - his forebears - who settled this part of the country, living in squared log cabins and timber-framed houses, tilling the soil with mule-drawn plows, treating illness and disease with folk remedies, leading lives defined by hardship but enhanced by the sharing of common bonds. Applewhite also writes of the ways in which the advent of technology - the inexorable stream of automobiles, tractors, electric power lines, and television sets - subtly reshaped the lives of farming families, sometimes digging a gulf between generations. In "A Wilson County Farmer" a middle-aged tobacco planter stands before his house at dusk while, inside, his wife and daughter-in-law are lit by the "television's phosphorescent glow." Life is easier now, he reflects, but less certain and more lonely. These poems turn on the connection between father and son, mother and daughter, the hard-won passing on of identity between figures standing in different social and psychological worlds. Drawing on the wellsprings of memory and the South's strong tradition of oral history, Applewhite in this book exemplifies what language can do, conveying rich and meaningful content in a voice warm with understanding.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Looking back upon forebears who lived among the forests and rivers of his native North Carolina, Applewhite ( Lessons in Soaring ) chronicles Southern culture during simpler, less sophisticated times. A kind of poetic oral history, these dense poems detail a world of tobacco farms, log cabins and horse-driven carriages, a world slowly being encroached upon by modern conveniences like automobiles and tractors. In one poem a man stands in the shadow of the ``unnatural light'' of ``the television's phosphorescent glow'' while the poet contemplates whether technology has made life any better for his country kinfolk. But Applewhite frequently buries the emotional potential of his themes in excessively nuanced descriptions, as in a piece about the pride of hand labor: ``Broom sedge colonized, its sunset-tan extending / in feathery ranks homogenous as wheat. Evergreen seedlings / then bulked up gradually. . . .'' Overall, however, Applewhite uses his impressive knowledge of the culture about which he writes--and his capacious memory--to skillfully evoke a lost time and place, one in which life was full of hardship, but clearly more comprehensible. (Feb.)
Library Journal - Library Journal
``So history twists my psyche,'' says Applewhite, a poet and professor of English at Duke University. But in his latest collection, the poet's personal history and the collective history of his part of the world--eastern North Carolina--do not twist but instead enrich. The poems continually exhibit a hanging back, a feeling of wanting to retreat to the simpler, purer world of Applewhite's childhood, of his father's childhood, of his grandfather's childhood. This is very readable poetry, written with refreshing simplicity and sensuality and flowing as smoothly as a river: ``Poison ivy/ leaves printed their frieze/ of threes across my eyes under/ a sun in motion.'' Avoiding sentimentality, Applewhite offers poems of death, distance, and change and yet of sameness. He insists on the sights, sounds, and smells that have molded the people of eastern North Carolina but are now lost. Reading this collection is like settling down with an old album of strikingly clear, magnificently articulated photographs whose images leap into our consciousness and remain there. Highly recommended.-- Judy Clarence, California State Univ. Lib., Hayward

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807118160
Publisher:
Louisiana State University Press
Publication date:
02/01/1993
Pages:
64
Product dimensions:
6.04(w) x 9.03(h) x 0.22(d)

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