Earlier this week, at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop here in Denver, I attended a salon conversation in which three poets—David Rothman, Nicky Beer, and Seth Brady Tucker—discussed what they were reading. The lists, the reports, the recommendations hewed to the contemporary, so I asked the panelists to mention some poets from previous decades they considered under-known. Nicky Beer discussed Larry Levis’s The Afterlife as a masterpiece eclipsed by the light of later work, like Elegy. Seth Brady Tucker waxed toward the memory of James Dickey.
But when David Rothman discussed Belle Turnbull, a little-known poet who lived in Colorado Springs and then in Breckenridge, published frequently in Poetry and won the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize (1938), I started to think about my own lesser-known jewels, like Ann Deagon, whose book There Is No Balm In Birmingham, published in Godine’s bygone series I read in Auburn University’s Ralph Brown Draughon Library six or seven times.
But the book I reach for when thinking of forgotten poets is To Live and Die in Dixie by John Beecher. I discovered Beecher, or rather was introduced to Beecher when I was in graduate school at Cornell. Bookseller, Larry Tucker, who had a hole-in-the-wall store out of a Collegetown alleyway, thrust a copy of the book into my hands one stipend-check afternoon, and I spent the night getting to know a Birmingham poet, who lived, worked, and published less than an hour from where I grew up. These were great political poems, steeped in the racial dilemmas of Alabama, but also beautiful imagist, modernist meditations. How had no one ever mentioned him to me before?
This is a special moment, when one reader hands a poet over to another.
What lesser-known poets are of interest to you?