Ode to My Southern Drawl

Today, I am dedicating my blog to a wonderful Texas author, poet, teacher and mom. Kathi Appelt and I first became acquainted through NJWPT writing retreats, but I heard of her first when her poem Ode to My Southern Drawl was read one afternoon after lunch during the three weeks that I attended my NJWPT (New Jersey Writing Project in Texas) training. Each day after lunch, one of the Institute Directors would read poetry aloud. Their belief as was Robert Frost’s, is that poetry “is a fresh look and a fresh listen.” So with that “a fresh listen” in mind, we were treated daily by one or both of them reading poetry aloud to our group. We listened to the best, brightest, and greatest poets because Joyce and Eddie only allowed the best. The day Eddie read Kathi Appelt’s Ode to My Southern Drawl, I belly laughed until I cried…every word so true and so Texan.

Kathi was born in North Carolina, but moved to Houston, Texas as a small child. She by birth and by raising definitely has the “stuff” of a southern drawl.

Kathi’s poem is part of a collection of poems complied and published by Joyce Armstrong Carroll and Edward E. Wilson. Institute participants and writing retreat devotees alike long begged for something that included all the wonderful poetry these two brilliant educators read aloud whenever there was a gathering of any type. Poetry After Lunch – Poems to Read Aloud* was born from those after lunch poetry reading sessions. My copy disappeared during one of many writing institutes, not that I am accusing anyone of theft, but everyone loved this book so much and it was there for the reading. I know someone just neglected to get it back on the book display table at the end of the three weeks of writing. Because of this loss, I recently replaced my copy and have been enjoying that poetry all over again.

Below is Kathi’s wonderful poem. I wish she would make a recording of it because absolutely no one can read it with any justice be Kathi. No one and I do mean no one can say “G III RRRR L” like she can during the reading.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ode to My Southern Drawl

Here in the south
my tongue relaxes
under the warm blaket of my language.

I’ve been away too long
in places where tongues are clipped
and I must say
if I may
I’m happier here
where dogs are named Duke
because they’re redbones
and our sons have soft names
like Hampton and Buddy
There aren’t any blizzards in y’all.

and even though the
temperatures may drop
the name is blue norther
not cold snap
which is too abrupt.
I used to blush at my maiden tongue
my badge of ignorance
my scarlet letter among the literati.
But not any more.
And I like it when my friends
say “G i R L!” in a whole note
whenever I bring them a casserole
for no other reason
than casserole feels good to say.

I know that it’s heat
at the root of my southern drawl.
I know this
because in cold climates
you cannot speak slowly
or your teeth will clamp down
onto your tongue and punish it
for leaving your mouth open so long.
You have to spit out the words
or else biting air will slip
between your lips
and strangle you.

No, no
in the north
there’s no relishing
no pondering
no savoring
a particular turn of phrase
no allowing the l’s to roll roll roll
across the soft palate.

Here in the south
we treat words like wine
letting them rest in our mouths
until they are ripe and
have soaked into the sides of our cheeks.
And sometimes they get so warm,
we have to cool them
off with iced tea
or Coco Cola

or else we change the subject

which could be anything
from husbands
to the gospel
to the PTA
and if we talk gospel
well, we always choose Luke
because Luke feels so good
up against the back of our throats.
And honey,
why not let the message
go ahead and give us a little massage?
I mean
isn’t that what the good Lord intended
when he said
First, there was the word?

Kathi Appelt

I could hear Kathi’s “southern drawl” as I typed the words of her poem. Go ahead, I dare you…read it out loud. If you are not from the South, pretend and let your speech slow, your words lengthen as you play with them on your tongue. Embrace and enjoy your southerness if you are from below the Mason Dixion Line, if not, well just close your eyes and pretend Scarlett O’Hara is reading the poem to you.

No Musical Muse as I am writing this the night before posting … but Gibbs was on the TV as I wrote. That is a whole other kind of Muse for me!

As always, I wish you peace, joy and happiness, but most of all I wish you LOVE.

As, Ever Annie

*Poetry After Lunch – Poems to Read Aloud. Compiled by Joyce Armstrong Carroll & Edward E. Wilson, 1997, Absey & Co.

First Published 1/16/2013

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