there is more than heat in the south: viewing faulkner as poetry

mister faulkner

As an English major in college, I had to take a course in American literature. One day, my professor said that a lot of great American literature came from the South. As a wise-cracking young adult in the early ’90s, my hair sprayed with Proforma 5 inches high, I smacked my gum and said, “That’s because there’s nothing else to do down there.”

I was quite naïve. When one thinks about the south, humidity, heat, kids hanging out smoking in the Wal-Mart parking lot might come to mind. Then there’s more humidity, mosquitoes, hanging out on the front porch on Sunday afternoons, more heat, and sun tea. Great literature probably doesn’t pop up in that list.

But William Faulkner breaks that southern stigma, if only we pick up one of his books and read it. Take for instance, this passage from Requiem for a Nun:

“A soar, an apex, the South’s own apotheosis of its destiny and its pride, Mississippi and Yoknapatawpha County not last in this, Mississippi among the first of the eleven to ratify secession.”

When reading Faulkner I discovered that you must first approach his work as poetry and then story. Otherwise you miss out on the vivid imagery and the southern dialect, like this excerpt from As I Lay Dying by the character Darl:

“Pa’s feet are badly splayed, his toes cramped and bent and warped, with no toenail at all on his little toes, from working so hard in the wet in homemade shoes when he was a boy. Beside his chair his brogans sit. They look as though they had been hacked with a blunt axe out of pig-iron.”

As a student I didn’t see Faulkner as much more than an assignment. But now, I can’t wait to read more.

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  1. Billie Taylor · August 5, 2010

    Enjoyed your blog. As a college student many years before you, I discovered Georgia’s Flannery O’conner. Have you read her?

    One Southerner to another.


    • typhoidterri · August 5, 2010

      I’ve read O’Connor’s short stories eons ago. She’s another writer to rediscover. I need a trip to the library!


  2. Lynne Bolinger · August 7, 2010

    One of our young, cool teachers told me that The Sound and the Fury is the greatest novel he’s ever read so, I’m trying. Faulkner is SOOOO hard.

    “The life you save may be your own” by O conner…great.


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