American Life in Poetry: Column 047

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

The poet, novelist and biographer, Robert Morgan, who was raised in North Carolina, has written many intriguing poems that teach his readers about southern folklore. Here's just one example.

Holy Cussing

When the most intense revivals swept
the mountains just a century ago,
participants described the shouts and barks
in unknown tongues, the jerks of those who tried
to climb the walls, the holy dance and laugh.
But strangest are reports of what was called
the holy cuss. Sometimes a man who spoke
in tongues and leapt for joy would break into
an avalanche of cursing that would stun
with brilliance and duration. Those that heard
would say the holy spirit spoke as from
a whirlwind. Words burned on the air like chains
of dynamite. The listeners felt transfigured,
and felt true contact and true presence then,
as if the shock of unfamiliar
and blasphemous profanity broke through
beyond the reach of prayer and song and hallo
to answer heaven's anger with its echo.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Reprinted from Southern Poetry Review, Vol. 43, No. 1, 2004 by permission of the author. Copyright © 2004 by Robert Morgan, whose most recent book is The Strange Attractor: New and Selected Poems, Louisiana State University Press, 2004 Introduction copyright © 2018 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.