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10 Contemporary Southern and Midwestern Poets You Should Know

Since there was a dearth of poets from the Midwest and South in our last poetry post, we’d like to like to call attention to ten emerging poets from this giant swath of land who are deserving of our attention — some of whom you mentioned in the previous comments section. See? We do listen. Jennifer Karmin extolled the virtues of living as a poet in the Midwest in an e-mail: “In a nutshell [it has] cheap rent, great teaching opportunities, and amazing creative community.” If you’re interested in more established poets (like Ohio’s own Rita Dove), you might want to pick up Crossing State Lines: An American Renga, which was recently published by FSG. Or, if you’re interested in some poetic justice, the Oxford American wrote about contemporary Afro-Mississippian poets a few years back. If nothing else, we suggest you read Keno Davis’s “Hea’m (Heaven),” which features one of our favorite lines in modern poetry: “I wonder if there’s a Hooters in Heaven ‘cause I’m gonna need something to do on Monday nights.” As always, if there’s anyone we missed, please bring it to our attention in the comments section below.

Terrance Hayes

Hometown: Columbia, South Carolina

Recent work: Lighthead, which won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2010. Cornelius Eady once said about Hayes: “First you’ll marvel at his skill, his near-perfect pitch, his disarming humor, his brilliant turns of phrase. Then you’ll notice the grace, the tenderness, the unblinking truth-telling just beneath his lines, the open and generous way he takes in our world.”

Ben Lerner

Hometown: Topeka, Kansas

Recent work: Mean Free Path (2010). He co-edits No: A Journal of the Arts, and an excerpt from his award-winning sonnets, titled, “Lichtenberg Figures” can be found here.

Joanna Klink

Hometown: Iowa City, Iowa

Recent work: Raptus (2010). Klink is currently on leave as the Briggs-Copeland Poet at Harvard University, and you can find one of her poems here.

Jennifer Karmin


Hometown: Buffalo, New York, but she’s lived in Chicago for the past 11 years and isn’t leaving anytime soon.

Recent work: The Red Rover Series, which is a reading series that was founded in 2005 by Amina Cain and Karmin and is now run by Karmin and Laura Goldstein. You can find a video of her reading her text-sound epic, “Aaaaaaaaaaalice,” here.

Lisa Janssen


Resides in: Chicago, Illinois

Recent work: Janssen has finished a few chapbooks so far and co-edits the journal MoonLit with Claire McMahon, which is available at Drag City.

Beth Ann Fennelly


Hometown: Fennelly was born in New Jersey but grew up in Lake Forest, Illinois, and now makes her home in Oxford, Mississippi

Recent work: Booklist called Unmentionables (2008) “insouciant, sexy, funny, and dead-on.”

Collin Kelley


Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia

Recent work: Seven Kitchens Press is re-issuing his chapbook, Slow To Burn, this July. As you can see above, Kelley is also a big fan of Pam Grier, and we love him for his unbridled devotion.

Susan Briante

Resides in: Texas

Recent work: Utopia Minus (2011). Briante is currently working on a translation of Marosa di Giorgio’s poems for an anthology of Uruguayan poetry, and since we know absolutely nothing about Uruguayan poetry, we’re exited about this, and you should be too. She also wrote a great article a few years ago about Marfa, Texas in The Believer.

Akilah Oliver


Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri

Recent work: A Toast In The House of Friends (2009). Oliver passed away in February, which is a real shame. She’ll be remembered for founding the freaky and fabulous performance collective Sacred Naked Nature Girls and for her (in the least flaky sense of the word) energy.

Maurice Manning


Hometown: Danville, Kentucky

Recent work: The Common Man (2010). Manning’s work has been featured in The New Yorker, and you can read his poem, “The Foot Washing,” in the Cortland Review here. Or better yet, listen to him read it on the site and fall a little bit in love with his gentle Kentucky lilt.

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