Sweetgum & Lightning concerns ‘itself’ with realigned and reimagined notions of family, trauma, sexuality, poverty and aesthetics. I’m interested in the notion of place and its thematic and investigative capacities to foster recollection and transformation. This work remembers and questions aspects of Coosa County, Alabama, my birthplace. I’ve accepted that there’s boundless literary material from my first nineteen years of life to constantly draw on for ideas about the sacredness of decency, discretion, and humor.
Before Sweetgum & Lightning, there was The Winter Between Us, my now-archived MFA thesis. The final architecture of the book resembles much of the thesis. Of course, there were numerous line edits, mostly for clarity, and a few, agreed-upon deletions, but no dramatic revisions. I credit much of this to the thematic needles and editorial questions I used to thread the book together and usher it into the world. I wanted these questions to ask: have I punctuated these poems and portraits and studies with the appropriate dignity? Sweetgum & Lightning contains many names. Naming is tricky; some people find a name fodder for forensics. But Sweetgum & Lightning is a name-based book attempting to aggravate the autobiographical. Post-thesis, I tried removing all the names and epigraphs, but the orchestral air embarrassed me. I couldn’t omit Pookie & Dank, Noodah & Low-Nuts. Nicknames cling to the melodious—they show up in seven-beat formations in the poem “Bumble o’Names.”
Some of the poems were written and published as early as 2003; for example, Red River Review published two poems, under different titles, that became parts a and b of the poem “Domesticoustics.”
Southern Humanities Review published “Language beside the language” in 2019 and “XI” in 2020; these publications, prior to a full-book publication, were akin to wearing the poems in another skin and mirror. Fantasy be told, pre-COVID, I had big plans to introduce the book to new and live audiences; this is yet to happen. Here’s a brightness: literary journals are akin to late-night talk radio listeners; they ease the angst of a non-crowded auditorium.
Manuscript Making: On Crafting Collections
Language beside the language
In da first place--
I come from baghetti & banounce
baze & baff whutta
from chullen, pitiation & clare fo god
from coosa county yall, dem & nem
dem mine—aint—big mama nem
from stankin & breff, lil bit mo
from saushit, winnies, avoid da popo
from deddy, aynee, dat dare & frune
who got da body—what time da frune iah?
from valemtines, feets, taters & okree
from coveralls & my stomach toe up
from yonda, good moanya, spensis things
from draws & how come ms roof so observative?
from sastificate, soditty, reefah & daplooma
from skrange, prestripshun, skrawberry bloomahs
from done fell out at da hosspill
better gwone now & eat dem grits
from dis here my house
git yo fangah outta my face
from got my check they cut me real bad
from foaf Sunday meetin
from “preciation outta be give when da church is full”
Read in Vandal.
RODNEY TERICH LEONARD is the author of Sweetgum & Lightning (Four Way Books). He holds an MFA in Poetry from Columbia University and lives in New York City.