Episode 11

Jesse Graves

Jesse Graves is a Professor of English and Poet-in-Residence at East Tennessee State University. His poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, North American Review, Southern Poetry Review, and other literary magazines and anthologies. He has published four books of poetry and his book Said-Songs: Essays on Poetry and Place is forthcoming from Mercer University Press in 2022. Graves received his PhD in English from the University of Tennessee and his MFA in Creative Writing from Cornell University. He has won the Book of the Year in Poetry Award from the Appalachian Writers’ Association and the Thomas and Lillie D. Chaffin Award for Appalachian Writing.

Links:

Read "In a Familiar City" and "Sage Grass Brushing Against My Shins"

Jesse Graves’ website

Interview with Linda Parsons at Chapter 16

YouTube reading through West Virginia Wesleyan MFA Program Summer Reading Series

A collection of Jesse Grave’s poems available online

Poet-to-Poet Interview: A Conversation with Jesse Graves and Rita Sims Quillen, hosted by Johnson City Public Library

Transcript
Alan May:

Welcome to The Beat, a poetry podcast produced by Knox County Public Library. Today, we’ll hear two poems by the poet Jesse Graves. Reviewers of Jesse Graves’ books have praised him for the strong sense of place in his poems; he grew up in Sharps Chapel, about 40 miles from Knoxville, Tennessee, and much of his work is set there and in other parts of the state. If you’re from Knoxville, you’ll probably recognize images and settings from “In a Familiar City,” the first poem we’ll hear today. In “Sage Grass Brushing Against My Shins,” today’s second poem, we follow the speaker to a haunting version of Sharps Chapel, when he returns home - in a dream. Here are the poems “In a Familiar City” and “Sage Grass Brushing Against My Shins” by Jesse Graves.

Jesse Graves:

IN A FAMILIAR CITY

Cities do not preserve buildings just because

you love them, or to help you relive a dream,

so you can drink the espresso again on 11th Street

that changed your taste forever,

so you can watch Ingmar Bergman films flicker

through the clacking projector at Terrace Taphouse,

or so you can find faded books in the back room

above Jackson Avenue Antiques,

sitting with your back against the shelves

reading Henry Miller’s The Air-Conditioned Nightmare

while a passing train rattled the upstairs shutters,

and particles of dust made wavering transit

all around you, passing along an index finger

of light from some higher realm, through a clouded window,

arriving upon this very page.

SAGE GRASS BRUSHING AGAINST MY SHINS

I went to bed thinking about how my father

died, trying to exhaust myself silently repeating

his question, “How can you let them do this to me?”

Sometime in the night, I fell into a dream

where he was old and sick, but alive, and the family

had gathered around him for Thanksgiving.

After the meal, we went outside and wandered

around the yard, scattering cornbread to chickens,

scratching the heads of all the dogs we’ve ever had.

I followed my dad past the barn to the pond

we dug together, listening as he told me how to clear

the pine saplings thickening along the banks.

The dream carried me along like real life,

and I could feel the sage grass brushing against

my shins as we walked back through the field.

The kids had all lined up to play football,

which we haven’t done since I was a child,

before my brother died, before my uncle died.

My daughter Chloe, a girl again, picked the teams,

“I want Pap on my side,” she shouted, making my dad

grin and blush, and say, “No, no, I’m too old.”

“That doesn’t matter,” my daughter said, and I loved

her more right then even than the dream itself,

more than I hated how soon I would wake.

Alan May:

That was “In a Familiar City” and “Sage Grass Brushing Against My Shins” by Jesse Graves. He was kind enough to record these poems for us at his home in Johnson City, Tennessee. Graves is a Professor of English and Poet-in-Residence at East Tennessee State University. His poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, North American Review, Southern Poetry Review, and other literary magazines and anthologies. He has published four books of poetry and his book Said-Songs: Essays on Poetry and Place is forthcoming from Mercer University Press in 2022. Graves received his PhD in English from the University of Tennessee, and his MFA in Creative Writing from Cornell University. He has won the Book of the Year in Poetry Award from the Appalachian Writers’ Association and the Thomas and Lillie D. Chaffin Award for Appalachian Writing. You can find Jesse Graves’s books in our online catalog or call us at the Reference Desk at Lawson McGhee Library. Also look for links in the show notes. Please join us next time for The Beat.

Various Voices:

Thank you for listening to and sharing this podcast from Knox County Public Library in Knoxville, Tennessee. Music for this podcast is by Chad Crouch. Find all our podcasts at pods.knoxlib.org, and explore life-changing resources at www.knoxlib.org. That's "knox l-i-b." Go to our "keep in touch" page to sign up for newsletters. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Make us your essential connection for life-long learning and information.

About the Podcast

Show artwork for The Beat
The Beat
A poetry podcast

About your host

Profile picture for Alan May

Alan May

Alan May works as a reference librarian at Lawson McGhee Library. In his spare time, he reads and writes poetry. May's most recent books are Dead Letters (2008) and More Unknowns (2014). His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The New York Quarterly, The Hollins Critic, New Orleans Review, Plume, and others.