Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Cross Currents and Counter-Currents: The Southwestern Poetry of John Gould Fletcher and Americo Paredes

Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Cross Currents and Counter-Currents: The Southwestern Poetry of John Gould Fletcher and Americo Paredes

Article excerpt

The theme of this special issue, "Literatures of Gulf Souths, Gulf Streams, and their Dispersions," opens a new critical perspective on the Anglo and Mexican American literatures of the Southwest. Critical scholarship on these literatures has grown over the past two or three decades, though largely in separate domains of study. (1) "Gulf dispersions" and the idea of "Gulf souths" provide a platform on which to discuss the Anglo and Mexican American literatures of the Southwest together. By focusing more on the waterways and currents that link the South and the Southwest, and less on the ethnic or social histories that distinguish them, this special issue brings forth a new current in the discussion of southwestern literature. From a Gulf perspective, one can begin to envision the multiple "souths" in the Southwest and to lay the groundwork for an alternative framework from which to imagine the Anglo and Mexican American literatures of the Southwest.

In this essay, I discuss the regional poetics of John Gould Fletcher and Americo Paredes in parallel, cross current, and counter-current ways. Fletcher was a Southern Agrarian and "Southern modernist" (Carpenter 130-131), The Southern Literary Journal, volume XLVI, number 2, spring 2014 Paredes a Mexican American folklorist and "border modernist" (Schedler 155). Though Fletcher fell into obscurity shortly after his death in 1950, more has been written on his significance to southern literature over the past two decades. In a similar vein, interest in Paredes' work plays an important role in uncovering his importance to a South Texas literary tradition. (2) John Gould Fletcher was a southern poet who was born in 1886 in Little Rock, Arkansas; he grew up there and also perished there in 1950, drowning in his beloved Arkansas River. Between the time of his birth and his death, Fletcher became a modernist poet living as an expat in London during the First World War where he published several collections of poetry. He resettled with his wife in his native Arkansas in the 1930s, joined the Southern Agrarian Movement, and co-founded the Writers' Edition in Santa Fe. Like other poets and artists at the time, the Southwest served as a key site in the formation of Fletcher's regional poetics, but unlike his Anglo peers who "colonized" Santa Fe in the inter-war period, Fletcher returned to his native South, both geographically and in his poetry. Although Paredes represents a very different kind of regional poetics than Fletcher, reading them together and from a Gulf lens connecting the Arkansas and Rio Grande rivers yields an evocative way of rereading the literature of the Southwest.

Americo Paredes' scholarship, particularly his 1958 "With His Pistol in His Hand": A Border Ballad and Its Hero, revised South Texas folklore in the mid-twentieth century, and for this reason he is considered foundational to Chicano/a cultural studies. Scholars Jose Limon (2012) and Ramon Saldivar (2006) continue to establish Paredes' domain in Chicano studies, and the recovery of Paredes' short fiction in Saldivar's The Hammon and the Beans and Other Stories (1994) reaffirms his foundational place. Saldivar describes Paredes' fiction as expressive of a "new Mexican American consciousness ... that resides in the cognitive, social, and political-economic space 'between two worlds' and that speaks a bicultural tongue" (x). The title to Paredes' 1991 collection of poetry, Between Two Worlds, invokes the border geography of his South Texas homeland and serves as a testament to his place in the Chicano/a literary canon. Paredes' work is at the border of two nations and it constitutes a "counter-discourse" to Anglo folklore in South Texas, but from the perspective of a "counter-current," we can begin to reconsider Paredes in the inter-war literature of the Southwest. The North American waterways flowing in and out of the South, South Texas, and the Southwest provide a different avenue for understanding better the currents, cross currents, and counter-currents of the Anglo and Mexican American literatures of the Southwest. …

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