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Rerun: Mason on Morgan & Owens

Saturday Review: “The Regional Poet and the World” a review by Karen K. Mason in NCLR Online 2013
Robert Morgan. October Crossing (2009) and Terroir (2011)
Scott Owens. Something Knows the Moment (2011) and For One Who Knows How to Own Land (2012)

Over the summer, we’re sharing some reruns of older book reviews.

Since we’re reviewing books about or by both Morgan and Owens in the upcoming fall online issue, it’s again serendipitous that this old review features work by both poets. Mason had the hard task of reviewing four poetry books from the two writers for our 2013 online issue.

She starts with “Despite the concrete details that are specific to the Carolinas, reading these four volumes of poetry reminded me that people almost everywhere connect through shared experience of life and the natural world.” Mason tells us she was reading while traveling through Europe: being among different people undoubtedly highlighted the similarities between the poets and their work.

Marking that one doesn’t have to be currently in a place to write about it, Mason reminds the reader “Given that Morgan’s career has moved him out of Appalachia, Terroir and October Crossing are all the
more revealing for the role that memory serves in the recreation of familiar people and places remembered from afar.”

Mason wrote, “His two most recent poetry collections explore the distinct qualities of Appalachia, the land and people. October Crossing is a cohesive unit of thirty-four poems about Appalachia that is almost (with the exception of four poems) wholly incorporated into Terroir. However, the interplay of ideas, tone, and point of view based on what comes before or after a given poem, helps unearth new readings in both collections. Reading familiar poems from October Crossing in Terroir is similar to seeing the chain of mountains in the Blue Ridge in different lights: each view offers a new vista.”

Owens is another who moved away from home, although, from upstate South Carolina to Asheville, North Carolina, that keeps him squarely within Appalachia. Mason describes “Something Knows the
Owens’s seventh poetry collection, is an engaging and intellectually stimulating reframing of
biblical and hagiographical stories. His other recent volume, For One Who Knows How to Own Land, is a
powerful extended reflection on family and relationships, occasioned by the loss of the poet’s grandfather. Both volumes basically examine the same questions: Who are we? How did we get here? If people do bad things, does that mean they’re bad?”

Both poets are capturing memory, harnessing it for their art. Unlike other artful retellings, these poems don’t stand in judgement or try to rewrite what happened. Mason makes this clear: “In For One Who Knows How to Own Land, Owens has produced a record of the life and death of his maternal grandfather, to whose memory this volume is dedicated. The book is an historical record that does not attempt to analyze or interpret but simply to present a family’s experience of being poor and white in red clay farming country of upstate South Carolina.” While some of the subject matter and memories may be harsh, it is all provision for the poet.

Read the rest of the review in the ’13 Online issue.