It is fitting that David Bottoms was, in effect, discovered by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and novelist Warren. The works of Bottoms and those of Warren reveal that although both writers were deeply affected by the cultural milieu of the South in their youths, their southern upbringing does not completely define and restrain their writing. Essentially, Bottoms’s poetry not only manages to extract all the available benefits from his childhood but also progresses beyond the poet’s experiences growing up in small-town Georgia. As much as he focuses on the rural South in early poems such as “Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump” and later poems such as “Homage to Buck Cline” (from Waltzing Through the Endtime), he is also concerned with father-son and father-daughter relationships (as in “The Desk” from Under the Vulture-Tree and “My Daughter at the Gymnastics Party” from Vagrant Grace) and with the disappearance of the natural world as the industrial world encroaches, as in “A Walk to Carter’s Lake” (from Vagrant Grace). Bottoms has also written a number of poems in tribute to musicianship and musicians, including homages to such varied artists as bluegrass musician Lester Flatt, banjo player Little Roy Lewis, and the Allman Brothers, the 1970’s rock group.
Bottoms is interested in how the world has changed since his youth, but at the same time, he does not fall prey to romanticizing or waxing nostalgic about the past. He is, however, curious about questions of fate and destiny. For example, Bottoms’s father served aboard the U.S.S. Atlanta during World War II and floated for hours in the sea after being badly wounded at the Battle of Guadalcanal in November, 1942. Bottoms returns to this image again and again in his poems, partly, perhaps, in tribute to his father’s courage and partly because of morbid curiosity: If the poet’s father had died in 1942, then Bottoms never would have been born. In “Country Store and Moment of Grace” (from Vagrant Grace), he imagines his grandmother having received the news, picturing his “. . . grandmother collapsing one morning/ by the mailbox.” The poet thinks of how for “Fifteen months she thought him dead,” until a woman in her “. . . church dreamed him wounded/ but faceup,/ alive in burning water. . . .”
Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump and In a U-Haul North of Damascus
Bottoms’s first two collections of poetry fit most obviously into the tradition of southern poetry. They focus on the endemic problems of the twentieth century South: the loss of identity, racism, the disappearance of the rural world into suburbia, and the frustrations that come about from living lives of limited potential and opportunity. In “Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump,” the narrator states, “It’s the light they believe kills./ We drink and load again, let them crawl/ for all they’re worth into the darkness we’re headed for.” It is the light of hope that is most...
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