Suffering and Salvation in the Delta Blues

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Suffering and Salvation in the Delta Blues
MS Humanities Council Teaching Award Presentation

Dr. Randy Smith

Tuesday, October 27, 2015
7:00-8:00 p.m.
(rock ‘n’ roll starts at 6:45)

Belhaven University
Student Center Theater (2nd floor)

1500 Peachtree Street
Jackson, MS, 39202

Free and Open to the Public

Reception to Follow

Intro to Creative Writing: Assignment One

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Intro to Creative Writing: Assignment One

Due: Tomorrow

Directions: Write a poem
with perfect meter and rhyme. You will be

graded by the syllable. Write
a poem in which your father loves you

and does not disappear or yell.
Write a poem with sturdy stanzas and lines

like a good home where your mother
makes biscuits and cornbread from scratch,

where she is lucid, warm, and sane.
Write a poem where no one

goes to hell. Write a poem about your brothers
in which you don’t desert them

to deliver yourself. You will be graded
by those you do not

jilt, dump, ditch, abandon, cross,
or shame.

Write a poem in which no girlfriend
offers herself beneath

stars, the near-mythic beauty of her limbs,
for your long, empty truck-bed

of need. You will be graded by how you please
the constant stars. Write

a poem in which you cure cancer,
emphysema, pneumonia, strokes, diabetes,

vascular occlusions, and bad dreams. Then
burn it with gasoline.

Now write another poem, a different poem,
with crooked lines

and misspelled words, appalling grammar, cliches
of human hurt—show all your

work. You will be graded by
the stumbling drunken mess of your hurt.

This poem is due today and today
and today. Write it now

on a napkin, post, barn, pond, or patch
of hidden skin. Do not

forget to name the indelible verse,
to render, save, and send.

Once, When

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Once, When

I was five, or six, or seven, or
eight, my dad took me

fishing at Lost Creek. With poles
and tackle, we threaded

a briar path from the high dirt road
down to the creek, its thin

bank sandy as a child’s hair, and
water the color

of sweet tea. He loved to fish, but
I can’t remember

the pleasure on his face, only
the two man legs—

like abandoned fence posts whose skew
still marked a dividing line—

standing beside me while I played
with a freshwater

crawfish I caught and trapped
in a tiny scooped pool,

his feathery gills breathing and
breathing for all

his little life was worth.

Give and Take

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Give and Take

We bought a 10-year-old Volvo XC90
this summer to replace

the 20-year-old minivan
I was driving to class and kid car-

pool. Only one door
opened on the van, so I entered

from the back like a man boarding
the Space Shuttle—

ready for his helpless morning blast
into suburban space.

The Volvo is probably the nicest
car anyone in my family

has ever owned—joining a veritable
Christmas parade

flotilla of field trucks (Chevy’s
and Fords), dated

Impalas/Bonnevilles, and other
base sedans, some

with FM radios, cassette players,
and electric windows

to fine-tune that hauling-fishing-poles
work-around.

Four generations of my people
have tended rows

of tobacco, peanuts, and corn,
much like

I tend lines of poems. And the two-peas-
in-the-pod despair

lingers in me that lodged
in them, knowing that a single dry

summer or a lone interstate lane
change can

jerk it all away, because God’s inexorable
smile is a crooked

smile, and all that is is his’uns
to give and his’uns

to take, just like the rain he
justly sends

on good roofs and bad roofs every-
where the same.

The Misfit

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The Misfit

Last week, I drove my daughter
to Smoothie King

on our way back from the pediatrician,
who had stabbed

a long cotton swab down her throat
and shot her full

of penicillin
the consistency of Karo Syrup

to kill off
all those malcontent streptococcals

causing fever and making every
morsel of food

feel like gravel and grit. My girl’s
a trouper though—

choosing that horse needle over a regimen
of pills. She’s also adopted

and Black and 11 and named Flannery
after God-knows-who-

along-with-anybody-else-who’s-ever-read-
a-damn-good-story-about-

what’s-hard-to-find.

But, I’m white—a middle-aged, bespectacled
professor who could pass

for her grandfather, except, obviously,
I can’t. When

the twenty-something Smoothie King clerk
asked for a name,

I said, Flannery, and she
double-taked while the revelation hit

her. My name’s Flannery too,
she said, and I’ve never met another one.

In fact, she’s Flannery O’Connor,
a distant relation

of the Andalusian sage. For what seemed
a hot minute,

those girls stared at each other
like Fate had just

run them off the road and right
into a rest stop

where they could pause and think
about who they were

and what they shared and how
they came to be

namesake babies of the same good
woman. And me?

I was the misfit witness, preparing to pay
and break out

into August heat, stuck in that stage
of life where

weighing what you done right against
what you done wrong

is the only real meanness
left to do.