John Lane is a poet with the eye of a naturalist. Quarries. Cottonmouths in a creek. Civil War battlefields. Suburban lawns. These are the places he turns to for meaning.
Lane understands that our relationship to the environment is a symbiotic one — that there is a connection between the plastic objects we put into our shopping carts and a strip-mined hill in Kentucky.
“John Lane has created poems that lament what’s lost, praise what is, and prophecy what could be,” writes poet Gregory Orr. “Reading them, we hear a clear voice that does what the best poetry always does — persuades and sustains.”
As a native Southerner, I was struck by the gritty descriptions of sweet tea and Southern landscapes in Lane’s most recent book, Abandoned Quarry: New & Selected Poems. (I must confess that sweet tea is the first thing I order at a roadside restaurant when I cross the Mason-Dixon Line.)
These vivid poems about Cumberland Island reminded me of the Spanish moss, wild horses and boar, and crumbling mansions on this breathtaking barrier island in Georgia, one of my favorite places on earth. Few writers have captured this beautiful, haunting island as well as Lane.
For today’s Sunday Poem selection, I’ve chosen five poems from Abandoned Quarry to share with you. These poems were written between 1978 and 2010, and represent not only Lane’s range as a poet, but also his deep passion for the environment and place.
As Kate Daniels writes, Lane “shows us how to make stories and music out of what remains, and how to thrive in the small epiphanies still to be found chopping wood, climbing rocks, or drinking sweet tea on a shaded front porch.” I hope you enjoy these poems as much as I have.
Happy New Year!
My Dead Father’s Bypass
In high school I lied about my father’s death,
said he died of a heart problem. I couldn’t say
the word suicide. But it was heart trouble
that took him so low he couldn’t come back up.
He owned the ESSO on the main highway, Number One,
from New York to Florida. This was the Fifties.
Southern Pines, small town south, and my father,
with a station on the highway. Then the by-pass
shut him down, traffic speeding past the local,
the beginning of the end for the slow life.
So I believe now it was speed killed my father,
not the gas from his car exhaust. His heart
was with the land, not the road, a farm boy
from the country, where land is slow like blood,
the pulse of spring through the plowed fields.
I didn’t lie in high school. I told a truth
slower in coming. I was only five. Like a by-pass,
the traffic flowing around my heart, my daddy’s death.
The Country House
Early Spring on Cumberland Island
For David Scott
Small Change Over Deep Time
About John Lane
John Lane is Professor of English and environmental studies at Wofford College and director of the college’s Goodall Environmental Studies Center. Also poet, essayist and author of numerous books, Lane has been teaching students in English and creative writing since joining his alma mater in 1988. He continues to develop Wofford’s environmental studies major, a program entering its third year. As director of the Goodall Center, located on the Lawson’s Fork Creek in the historic Glendale textile mill office, he has seen the renovated and restored facility receive the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Platinum certification – the first academic building and only the third non-residential facility in the state to achieve the highest achievable level of LEED.
Lane is the author of a dozen books of poetry and prose. His latest, Abandoned Quarry: New & Selected Poems was recently released by Mercer University Press in Macon, Ga. The book includes much of Lane’s published poetry over the past 30 years, plus a selection of new poems.
Lane has won numerous awards and fellowships, including the 2001 Phillip D. Reed Memorial Award for Outstanding Writing on the Southern Environment by the Southern Environmental Law Center. In 2011 he won the Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner Award for his essay, “Sardis,” and in 2012 Abandoned Quarry: New & Selected Poems won the SIBA (Southeastern Independent Booksellers Alliance) Poetry Book of the Year prize.
In 2008, his literary papers were acquired by Texas Tech University’s James Sowell Family Collection of Literature, Community, and the Natural World. He is a co-founder of the Hub City Writers Project.
For more information about John Lane and his work, please visit his website.
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All poems © John Lane. These poems appear in John Lane’s Abandoned Quarry: New & Selected Poems from Mercer University Press © 2010. All rights reserved. These poems were reprinted with permission from the author.