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Chella, Oh Chella, Why'd You Make Us Wait so Long?

Alison Schaumburg -- August 28, 2005

A cut with a dull knife. Like quiet, slow poison. A simple, powerful pain with, and without, reckoning. A smell of sunburned skin. Words sparse and clean as a wolf whistle. Chella Courington's Southern Girl Gone Wrong published by FootHills Publishing, New York, is a Chap Book worth waiting for as twenty years of "emotion recollected (not) in tranquility" steep in Ms. Courington's soul.

What is it about these southern writers: Penn Warren, Dickey, Welty, Faulkner, and Courington? Their voices, like tiny pearls of perspiration forming on your upper lip, stand alone as humanity dances, sparse, surprising, old and fresh at the same time. They are on a first name basis with the genius that grasps the genuine human condition and serves it in the hot shade, Spanish moss swaying, with a tall glass of lemonade or a fresh mint julep.

Unafraid of taboo topics these poems bring seduction around every turn. We drown, we weep, we learn what is takes to fall in and out of romantic notions. We reluctantly sit by Granddaddy's coffin, taste okra, dodge honeybees, seduce Jesus and are seduced as well by Brother Chitwood. All the while the language drips down our chin like some sweet honey, and we hesitate to wipe it away.

The people we meet in Courington's world smoothly reinforce this statement by Dorothy Allison, "You will dream Southern, you will dream of the place you were when you were a girl. And you will be talking to those people until you die." In Courington's poems we meet Mama, Papa, a string of Billies, Anna Claire, Mary Cade and Jeff, Judith, Julia and Annie - so real. Our own youth personified with slow, smooth epiphanies at every conclusion.

Eudora Welty says that all writers are essentially assembled by the age of 15. In "Summer at Thirteen," we travel "ninety to nothing" back to Big Spring Lake, gospel music on the radio, to a time and place where stepping off into "the other side of danger" the emotions described rise up like mist on the lake and permeate our skin.

Courington's language is subtle and succinct. Heavy sighs could punctuate throughout. Each line, each word, emits a potent power. We feel, as Jeff in "Mary Cade and Jeff,"

He feels the chrysalis crack
soul expand
until it forces luscious grace.

A grace that we learned young without realizing it until the essence of Courington's adept expression : "washes him (us) in chamomile lavender musk / melds into his (our) flesh."

Robert Penn Warren states in his poem, "When the Tooth Cracks -Zing!" that: "We often pray to God to let us have Truth. / It is more important to pray God to help us live with it." Courington, capturing the dignity of simple lusts and losses, strikes hot on the Truth with the language and rhythm of the Southern girl we know smolders inside us all. In "Blackbirds," she helps us live with it, this Truth, helps us : "sit wing to wing," and "catch a new wind to an unharvested south." Truth, like the blackbirds, with all its : "black streaks on the upward drift / of a September afternoon."

And, if , by chance, you hear she's going to read her work, sell the farm (and grandma's jewelry ,too), to buy the plane or train ticket, and by all means hear Chella Courington, her voice like something good simmering on the stove, read these truly Southern works of art.