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Mencken’s stinging characterization of the American South as “the Sahara of the Bozart” reflects an understandable frustration with the narrow view of the canon of southern literature. With its focal point on novelists, it in large part ignores the works of all but a couple of poets―the Fugitives Robert Penn Warren, Allen Tate, and John Crowe Ransom, and the larger-than-life James Dickey among them. Invited Guest is the primary anthology that attempts to succeed in beyond this small coterie to encompass the variability and brilliance of twentieth-century southern poetry. Editors David Rigsbee and Steven Ford Brown have compiled the works of a richly diverse choice of poets―all born or raised southerners.
Women and African Americans are recognized for their alternative, subversive contributions to southern aesthetics; the myopic, incessantly scathing views of the New Critics or the overly historicist agendas of identity politics are discarded in favor of a middle ground that allows for inclusion on both aesthetic and historical bases.
Along with a respectful acknowledgement of the contributions of the preferred figures in southern poetry, Rigsbee and Brown offer long-overdue attention to underrecognized poets such as Anne Spencer, John Beecher, Eleanor Ross Taylor, and Alice Dunbar Nelson. The juxtaposition of the canonical and the little-known makes Invited Guest an intriguing illustration of the abundance and range of poetry within the twentieth-century South.