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ELEGY FOR THE SOUTHERN DRAWL by Rodney Jones

ELEGY FOR THE SOUTHERN DRAWL

By Rodney Jones

Pub Date: March 29th, 1999
ISBN: 0-395-95616-1
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

A southerner teaching in the cold North (Univ. of So. Illinois), Jones clings to his good-old-boy roots in this sixth collection: a big volume of mostly blank verse so expansive in its gestures that Jones doesn—t seem to know what’s expendable. Certainly, the grumpy poems about poetry readings, the rants against lit-crit and academic egoists, and the AA tales that further support his boasts of authenticity—he’s worked with “the tongue-tied, the murderous, the illiterate / and the alcoholic,” all of whom validate his present-day plain-speaking common sense, or so he would have us believe. Jones praises liberally: his penis, the focus of his religion (—Sacrament for My Penis—); himself, a regular guy doing laundry (—Doing Laundry—); Isaac B. Singer, for “the courage to be simple and precise” (—The Limousine . . .—); William Matthews for his “blues grace” (—The Secret ... ); and his daughter for digging a ditch on her college break (—For Alexis—). Jones is at his best in Dixie, remembering his high-school football team (—Natural Selection—); the communal tonic of music in the South (—One Music—); and the “hick Zen” of Alabama, where “Down- home trust rhymes first with lust.” The title sequence, a wonderful compendium of southern-inflected quotations and anecdotes, mixes a profile of Big Jim Folsom, a recording of Faulkner, a sketch of Nashville as a world mecca; his mother’s varied diction; and his own memories of shame at his accent: “the raw carcass / of the mispronounced.” Despite himself, a tighter poet than his hero Whitman: Jones lacks the room to roam and yawp, though he’s always eminently readable.