Published by Blue Horse Press, Redondo beach, California, 2019
“I am inextricably connected to the Mississippi River Delta in spirit, emotion, and by bloodline.” With these words, Larry D, Thomas, invites the reader to join him on a journey back to a place of whispers and dreams that informs his present reality.
Thomas is a Texan, born and reared. But like many Texans, his roots are entangled in the dark, fertile soil of the Mississippi River Delta country. When cotton played out in the deep south in the 1890’s, his family joined the flood of Mississippi and Louisiana farmers flowing west into Texas to begin again. They left behind the land and their taproot, but they brought with them stories, memories, and folkways to pass on to the children they bore in the great dry spaces of West Texas. Thomas heard their stories and memories and kept them in his heart.
I met Thomas for the first time when he was serving as the 2008 Poet Laureate of Texas. He was speaking and reading at a meeting of the Gulf Coast Poets in the Houston area. I enjoyed and was moved by his poems describing the stark beauty of central and west Texas and the effortless way he juxtaposed the scenes and characters with the raw emotions of the landscape. I was excited to meet this fellow who captured that vast endless plain in powerful and authentic images. As far as I was concerned, Larry D. Thomas was the real deal.
Imagine my surprise several months ago, when I received an email announcing the publication of Larry’s latest work In A Field Of Cotton: Mississippi River Delta Poems and discovered not only was Larry a beloved Texas poet, but he had roots in the same part of the world as I did, Mississippi. My family had also been part of the great migration to Texas. His new poems took me immediately back to the stories and tales I recalled hearing from great-grandparents about their life and times before they gathered a great group of families and distant kin and moved west.
In his book, Thomas tells of mules and cotton, old houses and juke joints, country preachers and a young man dying in a cotton field from the “burning venom of a cottonmouth.” Each poem is an elegy to the courage and vitality of the folk, black and white, who loved and labored, prayed and mourned on this land they called home. The gritty sound of the blues and the ghostly refrain of an old-time hymn is their anthem. An excerpt from the poem “Cotton.”
“For miles around
red fields of it
lay fallow, fields
where in their youth,
Sunup to sundown,
they picked it, each
a hundred pounds a day.
where they picked it
till their fingers bled.”
The original photography of Jeffrey C. Alfier adds a poignancy and authenticity to this evocative look back at a time and place, long since passed, but not so far away.
Prize-winning poet and author, Larry D. Thomas, 2008 Texas Poet Laureate, lives with his wife, Dr. Lisa Thomas and their dogs, Pinon and Pecos in Las Cruces, New Mexico. He is a graduate of the University of Houston and began writing poetry when he was serving in the United States Navy. Thomas is the author of numerous poetry books and has been published in many national and regional literary reviews and magazines including : As If Light Actually Mattered, Where Skulls Speak Wind, Stark Beauty, Amazing Grace and Woodlanders. “Mother Nature is by far my greatest inspiration.”
Photographer/Poet, Jeffrey C. Alfier is the winner of the 2018 Angela Consolo Manckiewick Poetry Prize and the Kithara Book Prize. His most recent book is Gone This Long: Southern Poems. His photos and poems have appeared in many literary reviews and books. He is co-editor of the Blue Horse Press and the San Pedro River Review. In addition to In A Field of Cotton: Mississippi River Delta Poems, Alfier has also collaborated with Larry D. Thomas on Bleak Music, a volume of poems and photos.