Places in Cassity's Poetry
Critics of Turner Cassity's poetry observed throughout his career that he referenced wide-ranging places in his work. When Turner Cassity died in 2009, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s obituary highlighted his identity as a southern poet who didn’t write about the South:
He was so very Southern that he didn’t need to write about the region to prove it,” Dana Gioia, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, wrote in an e-mail. “He didn’t write about conventional ‘Southern’ literary themes because he represented the more cosmopolitan side of Southern identity. He was also a Southern eccentric in the style of Flannery O’Connor or John Kennedy Toole.” ("Turner Cassity, 80, award-winning poet and Emory librarian," 11 August 2009)
Cassity challenged expectations for a southern writer, by attending to diverse, international locations.
Using the corpus of the born-digital poetry files in Cassity's collection at the Rose Library, this exhibit investigates the geographic references in the files. The poems in his born-digital materials confirm that Cassity's poetry deals with many and diverse locations. His files mention myriad place names that span much of the map.
This exhibit highlights those place names, so that readers can get a sense of the range and frequency of the locations, and explore the poetry in new ways. Readers might explore poems by tracing their overlapping geographies on the map.
Of course, as Cassity wrote, "cartography is an inexact science," and plotting lines of poetry on a map is certainly even more inexact, and less of a science. Poets have multiple ways of evoking space and place, beyond uttering place names. And, the visual representation of these place-names relies on the Cartesian map, with all of its imperialist trappings. For a poet like Cassity, who did not hesitate from writing about colonial histories and legacies with irony, cynicism, and satire, such a straightforward mapping may seem flatfooted.
Nonetheless, isolating these proper place names and plotting them on the map may suggest new ways to encounter and analyze Cassity's poems.
Anne Donlon, CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow, Emory Center for Digital Scholarship and the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library