Selected Poems

Selected Poems

Book Pages: 184 Illustrations: Published: July 2005

General Interest > NC and Regional U.S., Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism, Poetry

James Applewhite has produced nine extraordinary books of poetry. This volume is the first anthology of his remarkable oeuvre. It brings together chronologically arranged selections from all of his previous books, from the first, published in 1975, through the most recent, published in 2002. Applewhite’s poetry is deeply rooted in the history and rhythms of rural North Carolina, where he was born and raised, and these poems mark stages in an artistic and personal journey he has undertaken over the past thirty years.

In impeccable and surprising language, Applewhite depicts the social conventions, changes, frictions, and continuities of small southern towns. He celebrates that which he values as decent and life-enhancing, and his veneration is perhaps most apparent in his response to the natural world, to the rivers and trees and flowers. Yet Applewhite’s love for his native land is not straightforward. His verse chronicles his conflicted feelings for the region that gave him the initial, evocative language of place and immersed him in a blazing sensory world while it also bequeathed the distortions, denials, and prejudices that make it so painful a labyrinth. Rendering troubled legacies as well as profound decency, Applewhite reveals the universally human in a distinctively local voice, within dramatic and mundane moments of hope and sorrow and faith.


“[A] substantial book from a poet too-often deemed 'southern,' somehow managing to be at once somber and lavish, a poet like Wordsworth of ideas advanced and developed as images.” — George Witte, Poetpeeve

“[T]hese poems demonstrate a genuine gift for figurative thinking and writing; often they provide extraordinary recastings of the extra ordinary. , , , In these portraits and meditations we see a poet who deserves acclaim not just across the South, but across the nation.” — Robert M. West, Southern Cultures

“Applewhite conveys an intimacy with land that’s increasingly rare in a culture of frequent flyer miles and truncated attention spans. People and place are so seamlessly entwined here that they know each other like longtime lovers, when ‘no words ... are enough.’ . . . Integrity of craft and compassion merge in what Applewhite terms his ‘seasoned diary.’” — Melanie Drane, Foreword Reviews

“For my money, Applewhite is one of the best poets around at capturing the grace and rhythms of the haunting Southern landscape. . . . Applewhite recently published a “best of” collection that captures the terrible beauty of the natural world and the timeless legacy of small Southern towns like no one else I’ve ever read. Make no mistake: Applewhite does not dally in provincial lullabies. He is a master of verse spinning lyrical lines about collard greens and tobacco leaves, and isn’t afraid to journey into the paradoxes and idiosyncrasies of the South, which, in turn, become metaphors for our own lives.” — Michael Beadle, Smoky Mountain News

“For those who enjoy narrative poems with familiar landmarks—rural North Carolina landmarks—these poems from nine collections over 30 years will delight.” — Dannye Romine Powell, Charlotte Observer

“James Applewhite's Selected Poems traces a world ranging from the rural landscape of his South with its cross-roads and tobacco to England's churches to the more universal subjects of time and children. . . . Perhaps the most compelling poems in this vein are two late ones in the collection, ‘A Distant Father’ and ‘Interstate Highway.’ In the second of these, a poem dedicated to Applewhite's daughter, traffic, here a collective figure for us all, moves over a landscape much as a river might, ‘exiting and rejoining . . . so closely linked that, / if seen from above’ it makes a ‘stasis of lights,’ and ‘the pattern we bead is constant.’ Constancy, no small matter, characterizes James Applewhite's poetry.”
— Wyatt Prunty, The Weekly Standard

“Perhaps because he has tried his hand at flying, or because he has long been an amateur student of astronomy, Applewhite’s poems . . . tend to lift off the earth and take the long, interplanetary or even intergalactic view of things. . . . Applewhite soars.” — Emily Grosholz, Hudson Review

“Poet/critic Dave Smith has called Applewhite’s work ‘rugged and refined, classical in decorum and local in idiom, deep in wisdom and clear as water in freshness.’ That clarity and freshness is made even more apparent as this volume presents Applewhite’s poems in their intended order and logic.” — American Poet

"The human songs of death and love, religion and family, closing the collection convey Applewhite's status as a notable in Southern literary history As a Southerner, I'm drawn to the center of the book, Section Five, where form and native language combine into beauty. . . . [I] will keep Applewhite close to my heart. The South still contains the scenes James Applewhite has observed and brings here into rich focus and perspective in this new collection." — Leah Hughes, Southern Arts Journal

"The publication of James Applewhite's Selected Poems is a signal event in the history of North Carolina literature. . . . [A] volume of uncommon consistency, a sort of spiritual autobiography less concerned with chronological circumstance than with recurrent themes, moods and motifs. . . . [M]y admiration has rarely dimmed in 50 years of study. When this poetry later gained the approval of such literary luminaries as Donald Justice, John Hollander, James Dickey and others, I did not need to feel vindicated. From the beginning, Applewhite's lines have borne the stamp of excellence, the signature of the genuine. Selected Poems is a landmark."

— Fred Chappell, News & Observer

"When reading [Selected Poems], it isn't difficult to feel as if we are in the hands of a skilled and trusted guide. Applewhite's creative judgement in these poems is pretty much beyond reproach. [His] lovely, unassuming, and clarifying last lines are the kind poetry could use more of today." — Daniel Anderson, Duke Magazine

“James Applewhite has individuated a logical and meditative voice all his own. I cannot think of more than a few living American poets who fuse so remarkably intellect and emotion.” — Harold Bloom

“James Applewhite writes of his childhood and later life in rural North Carolina (‘places not much in anyone’s thoughts’) in language whose timeless gravity and sweetness are close to sublime. An essential book.” — John Ashbery

“James Applewhite and Seamus Heaney are the same kind of talents and Applewhite’s Selected Poems suggests accomplishment worthy of comparison. It is rugged and refined, classical in decorum and local in idiom, deep in wisdom and clear as water in freshness. It is a compact, luminous etching of a singular imagination working to get down the way it was and is in this place on the planet.” — Dave Smith


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

James Applewhite’s books of poetry include A Diary of Altered Light (forthcoming), Quartet for Three Voices (2002), Daytime and Starlight (1997), and A History of the River (1993). He has received numerous awards, including the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Jean Stein Award in Poetry, the Associated Writing Programs Award in Poetry, and the North Carolina Award in Literature. Applewhite is Professor of English at Duke University, where he has taught since 1972.

Table of Contents Back to Top
On the Selection ix


State Road 134 3

My Grandfather's Funeral 4

Driving Through a Country America 6

The Sunplane 7

Leaf Mirrors 8

William Blackburn, Riding Westward 9

Looking for a Home in the South 11

Discardings 12

Visit with Artina 13

A Kid at the County Fair 15

Revisitings 16

Zeppelin Fantasy 17

Bordering Manuscript 18

To Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in Exile 19

War Summer 20

A Southern Elegy 21


The Capsized Boat 25

On the Homefront 26

A Vigil 27

A Garden's Season 28

Iron River 29

With Darkening Foliage 30

Diamond of Shadow 31

A Forge of Words 32

Combat Station 33

To Forgive this Inheritance 34

Images, Burning 35

A Minister, Crippled 36

Keeper of the Dragon's Teeth 37

Boundary Stones 38


Tobacco Men 41

Drinking Music 42

Building in the Country 43

Roadside Notes in Ragged Hand 44

Water 46

Blood Ties: For Jan 47

Pamlico River 48

January Farmhouse 49

White Lake 50

Firewood 51

Some Words for Fall 53

From as Far Away as Dying 54

The Mary Tapes 55


Iron Age Flying 65

English Church Towers 68

Evening in Bath 69

Royal Hospital 70

Beginning with Egypt (The British Museum) 71

Foreseeing the Journey 72


Jonquils 77

Collards 78

A Leaf of Tobacco 79

Barbecue Service 80

Southern Voices 81

The Morning After 83

Greene County Pastoral 84

Quitting Time 86

How to Fix a Pig (as told by Dee Grimes) 87

The Advisors 89


World's Shoulder, Turning 93

The Ford 94

Crossing on Cables 95

Constructing the River 96

Just Rain 97

Tree of Babel 98

Clear Winter 99

Like a Body in the River 100

The Sense of Light 101

When the Night Falls 102

In Sight of the Self 103

Buzzard's Roost 104

An Orphaned Voice 105

House of Seasons 106

The Water-Machine 107

The Sex of Divinity 108

Light Beyond Thought 109

Out of My Circle 110

Prayer for My Son 111

The Bison 112

Bridge Back Toward the South 114

Driving Toward Cairo 115

Rivers 116

The Self, that Dark Star 117

Sleeping with Stars an Bulbs, Time and Its Signs 118b

The War Against Nature 121

The Student Pilot Sleeps 122

Lessons in Soaring 123

Art and the Garden 125

The Failure in Southern Representation 126

A Place and a Voice 128

Greenhouse Effect 134

The Descent 135

A Conversation 136


Storm in the Briar Patch 143

Home Team 144

A Wilson County Farmer 145

Time at Seven Springs: An Elegy 146

After Winslow Homer's Images of Blacks 148

The Cemetery Next to Contentnea 150

A Father and Son 152

Light's Praise 154


A Voice at the River Park 157

Botanical Garden: The Costal Plains 159

Autumnal Equinox 160

Letter to My Wife, from Minnesota 161

A Tapestry in the Mirror in the Palazzo Pamphili 163

Sailing the Inlet 164

A Distant Father 166

Interstate Highway 168

Grandfather Wordsworth 170
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Winner, Roanoke-Chowan Award for Poetry, North Carolina Literary and Historical Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3639-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3601-3
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