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REVIEW-ESSAY JIM CLARK Barton College From Eastanalle to East Asia: George Scarbrough’s Long Journey George Scarbrough, Appalachian Poet: A Biographical and Literary Study with Unpublished Writings, by Randy Mackin. Contributions to Southern Appalachian Studies: 29. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2011. 220 pp. $45.00. THE EAST TENNESSEE POET GEORGE ADDISON SCARBROUGH, INVETERATE logophile and philologue, had a habit, as his biographer Randy Mackin recounts in his recent study George Scarbrough, Appalachian Poet, of “flippingthroughthepagesofhisbeloveddictionary—anancientedition about a foot thick and clumsy as a sack of grain—searching for the morning’s new word” (1). The mot juste Scarbrough might have selected for Mackin’s book could well be “compendium”: a condensation of a larger, more complex, subject. Given Scarbrough’s complexity as a human being, and the prolific and varied nature of his literary production, a compendium would seem to be the best medium in which to essay an initial survey of Scarbrough’s life and work. Mackin’s subtitle, A Biographical and Literary Study with Unpublished Writings, indicates his multi-faceted modus operandi and also suggests an intriguing link with another important related work of Appalachian literary criticism and biography, Raymond Cook’s Mountain Singer, the first major study of Scarbrough’s contemporary, north Georgia poet and novelist Byron Herbert Reece. Both books, besides being about similar subjects, feature an appealing and somewhat unusual mix of biography, literarycriticism,selectedpoems,correspondence,andphotographs,and both have an informed but engaging style. Mackin’s book is Number 29 in McFarland and Company’s fascinating and wide-ranging series “Contributions to Southern Appalachian Studies” and is divided into two parts. Part One contains eight chapters dealing with “The Life and Literature of George Scarbrough” and Part Two contains five chapters featuring “Selected Unpublished Poems, Letters and Conversations.” In 444 Jim Clark addition, there is an exhaustive listing of the various magazines, journals, newspapers, and anthologies in which Scarbrough’s work has appeared, along with a list of awards and prizes, and an extensive bibliography. In writing Scarbrough’s biography, Mackin had the benefit of the complete and generous cooperation of his subject, who made available tohimhisvoluminousjournals,personalletters,andunpublishedpoems, and also sat for interviews. The portrait that arises of Scarbrough’s childhood and young adulthood is not a very pleasant one. A precocious, sensitive, bookish child whose mother taught him to read before he enteredelementaryschool,Scarbroughwasconstitutionallyunfitforthe hardscrabble life, brutal poverty, and hard work of tenant farming and was often mercilessly teased, insulted, and ridiculed by his coarse, semi-literate sharecropper father. His bookishness, along with his incipient homosexuality, made him a perpetual outcast—an intimate stranger to his beloved but highly judgmental, fundamentalist county in rural southeastern Tennessee. As Scarbrough puts it in an interview late in the book, “Biographically, it was rough. Geographically, it was beautiful, absolutely beautiful” (191). Though he studied at the University of Tennessee (from which he eventually received his M.A.), Sewanee, and Lincoln Memorial University, Scarbrough dismisses them all: “Alas, for higher education. I never had any, never found any sign of it in any place I went” (24). The University of Tennessee was “a hick university in a hick town,” Sewanee “an ivory tower of the worst sort,” and Lincoln Memorial University “only a glorified high school” (24). Even the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop, which he attended in 1957, fares no better, as Scarbrough caustically caricatures his professors there as they “preened a little for the Times photographer who seemed always to be coming to the Writers’ Workshop in those days” (37). Scarbrough’s defensiveness and his obstinate and contrarian character no doubt contributed to his chronic alienation; as he observes in an interview, “As a sharecropper’s son, I had chip on my shoulder which grew to chop block size” (22). Perhaps the finest moment in Mackin’s study is his detailed and perceptive analysis of Scarbrough as a “regional” writer in Chapter Four, “A Small, Comfortable World.” Here, Mackin is at pains to point out the largeness, the variousness, and the complexity of Scarbrough’s brand of regionalism. Scarbrough is a poet of “Eastanalle”—the southeast corner of Tennessee—in much the same way that Wallace Stevens, a poet he 445 From...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 443-447
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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