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clods of southern earth: introduction (1946) Editors’ Note: Drawing on his family background and longtime research on the “other history” of the Mountain South, West’s essay “intends to tell about these people with rough hands,big feet,and hard bodies; about the real men and women of the South.” A shorter, slightly different version of this introduction to Clods of Southern Earth appeared earlier in Toil and Hunger (1940). Once upon a time, not too long ago, authors wrote mainly about kings and nobles—the aristocracy. Many stories and poems were filled with debauchery and intrigues.Writers occupied themselves in turning out tales about the purity of lovely ladies and the daring of gallant gentlemen who never did a useful day’s work in their lives. The fact that systems of kings and nobles, of aristocratic ladies and useless gentlemen, were always reared upon the misery of masses of peasants, slaves, or workers, was carefully omitted from most books. The idea that these same peasants, slaves, or workers might themselves be fit material for literature would have been heresy. You may think this is a strange sort of way to begin an introduction to a group of poems. You may be one of those Americans who say you don’t like poetry anyhow. No one can blame you for that. I’ve often felt that way, too. Maybe it’s because too many poets write in the old tradition.Using an obscure and “subtle” private language,they write only for the little clique of the “highly literate” elite. But in spite of their high and mighty intellectual snobbery, one finds them, after all, concerned mostly with minor themes. Such literary gentlemen , writing only for the “elite” ten percent, spurn the “crude” and “vulgar ” masses.They still have their eyes full of star dust.They see neither the dirt and misery nor the beauty and heroism of common folk life. You say you want a poem with its roots in the earth; a poem that finds beauty in the lives of common people,and perhaps a poem that may sometimes show the reasons for the heartache and sorrow of the plain folks and sometimes point the way ahead. I don’t blame you. I sort of feel that way, too. 01.Prose.1-blnk 96/West 12/2/03, 11:48 AM 3 no lonesome road 4 Does this sound like a strange notion about poetry? Maybe it is. Some people say I have strange notions anyhow. I don’t know. Lots of things I don’t know.I’ve been a preacher,and I’ve preached the working-man,Jesus,who had some strange notions himself about the poor and rich and the slaves.I’ve been a coal miner in Kentucky’s Cumberlands1 and a textile worker in Carolina.I’ve been a radio commentator in Georgia and a deck hand on a Mississippi River steamboat. I’ve been a sailor, a farm owner, and farmer. I am now a school Superintendent. And I’ve wondered why it always seems that the folks who work less get more and those who work more get less. That puzzles me some. I’ve a notion it shouldn’t be that way, and some say I have strange notions. Maybe it’s because of family background.You know, some people go in for that family stuff. I do come from an old Southern family. You’ve heard that one before, yes? Well, I don’t mean what you think. Mine is a real old Southern family. Oh, I’m no sprig off the decadent tree of some bourbon, aristocratic , blue-blood family of the notorious slave-master tradition. That’s what is usually meant.You know—the professional Southerners who claim to be kind to Negroes—the tuxedoed gentlemen, the silk underweared, lace-dressed ladies coyly peeping from behind scented fans. No, I don’t mean that. I’m more Southern than that. That represents only the small minority. My folks were the men who wore jean pants and the women who wore linsey petticoats. They had nothing to do with the genteel tradition. Some were the first white settlers of Georgia, and some were already settled when the white ones came. Yes, on one limb of my family tree hangs a bunch of ex-jailbirds. They were good, honest (I hope, but it doesn’t make a lot of difference now) working people in the old country. They were thrown...


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