The Poetic Integrity of David Bottoms

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The natural speaking voice of David Bottoms is utterly unadulterated, not just a country voice, but the voice of an older generation and a lower class than most poets of our generation would allow, and he does not mask that voice under a “poetry voice” when he reads poems. He comes straightaway from his own experience and passes through heartbreak and wonder with just enough irony to sweeten the pot. He does not generally allude to myths. He makes them. The poems behave in near perfect alignment with the man, and in their central empathy, recall the saint from the Vedantas that James Wright describes in “The Flying Eagles of Troop 62,” who refuses to enter the perfect paradise because he cannot take his dog with him. For years I carried around “In a U-Haul North of Damascus,” to stay linked with home, and to see the way ahead.  Here is unalloyed necessity, in perfect pitch:

Lord, what are the sins I have tried to leave behind me? The bad checks, the workless days, the scotch bottles thrown across the fence and into the woods, the cruelty of silence, the cruelty of lies, the jealousy, the indifference?

Why do I love David Bottoms? He bridges the cultural disconnects that characterize most American poems, so his poems may be read without shame in the Guggenheim Museum or at Baptist funeral in North Georgia. He makes poems with the attention to craft and detail of a fine luthier, and as he has matured, his instruments have opened up and mellowed.  Mortally tethered, aware of family and neighbors, beholding to the earth, and drawn to water, he is rightly praised for his narratives, but his narratives double down as religious meditation and fly on lyrical energy. For more than forty years, he has stayed one of our very finest poets.