A new collection of poetry written by Columbus resident Nick Norwood is set to release this month. Norwood is an author, poet, professor, and the director of the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians. Eagle & Phenix is Norwood’s fourth full volume of poems, and explores the lives of millworkers in the historic Eagle & Phenix Mill - the same place that Norwood now calls his home.
In fact, Norwood's love of our community's rich history has been the subject of another project in the past. His poem "powerhouse" is included in a commissioned sculpture by Mike McFalls. The poem is mounted in Corten steel beside the powerhouses of the old mill where Norwood lives today. It is that same mill that became the subject for his new collection of poems.
Eagle & Phenix will be published by Snake Nation Press, and released on March 25 at a reception at the Bo Bartlett Center. Snake Nation Press, is based out of Valdosta and is the only independent literary press in South Georgia.
Norwood's previous work has been well-received and featured on a number of national and international platforms such as The Paris Review, Southwestern American Literature, Southern Poetry Review, The Oxford American, storySouth, Atlanta Review, the PBS NewsHour site Art Beat, U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser’s syndicated column American Life in Poetry, and on NPR’s Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor.
We recently corresponded with Norwood to better understand his motivation for writing Eagle & Phenix. Read our interview for a look inside the creative process and personal background of one of the South's leading poets of our generation.
Q: What inspired you to write these poems?
A: One of the main inspirations was moving into the Eagle & Phenix. My family were tenant cotton farmers who stayed on the farm. Studying mill culture after moving into this historic converted cotton mill made me realize that the millworkers were largely tenant farmers and sharecroppers who had left the farm to work in the mill. Writing about the mill and other working-class folk from, mostly, Columbus seemed like an extension of my previous book, Gravel and Hawk, which focused on my cotton-farming family back in East Texas.
Q: What is your largest challenge as a poet?
A: The biggest challenge is not having enough time. I’m pretty disciplined about my writing routine, but I’ve learned that what makes me most productive is having unlimited time to write on a given day. I can really only be productive for two to four hours at a stretch, but just knowing I don’t have anything else to do for the rest of the day makes those hours more productive. I won a Pushcart Prize in 2017, which led to me winning a residency fellowship at the Jentel Foundation in Wyoming. For a month, I did nothing but read, write, and take long walks in the foothills of the Big Horn Mountains. After working on the book for over five years, suddenly I was able to complete it, including writing a half dozen new poems that went into the manuscript.
Q: This is your fourth collection of poems. What challenges have you faced as you've gone through the publishing process?
A: Overall, I’ve been very lucky. My first book was recommended to the editor of a series, and when I sent him the manuscript he took it. While it was going through the press, I received notice that my second book, which I had entered in a national contest, had won second prize and was going to be published as well. Then, after working on my third book for about five years, I submitted the ms. to a few national contests and started writing proposals to publishers. One monring I spent my entire writing time for the day working on a single proposal, clicked “save,” then opened my email to discover I had won the Hollis Summers Prize in Poetry and my book, Gravel and Hawk, was going to be published by Ohio University Press. With this new book, I was in the process of sending the ms. around to a few publishers and contests when I saw the job Snake Nation Press had done on Rupert Fike’s new book and was impressed. So I queried them about whether they’d be willing to take a look at mine. They responded in two days, then met with me the next week. They were clearly enthusiastic and supportive and, most important to me, they agreed to give me complete creative control—cover art, layout, paper, fonts; everything. They even let me choose my own designer—Justin Briley, a recent graduate of our program in creative writing at CSU. Justin’s design work on CSU’s literary-arts magazine Arden had already won awards in regional competition, so I wanted him to do my book, knowing he’d do a great job and would be great to work with, which turned out to be true.
Q: How do you feel your work is relevant to southerners in particular?
A: I’m a child of the South (East Texas) and the language of the South is in my mouth! In this book and in my last one I write almost exclusively about the South—growing up here, my family, the landscape, flora and fauna, culture and people of the place. As it turns out, I write about place. That’s what several of my poet friends have told me. I never realized it before, but I guess they’re right. Also, my poems tell stories, and I think that’s the basic MO of a lot of southern poets.
Q: What else would you like for our audience to know?
A: I would say that to have my poem “powerhouse” on the seawall of the RiverWalk is like a dream come true, except I never even dreamed it. My friend the sculptor Mike McFalls was commissioned to create a public art piece there at the falls, something that reflected the history, culture, wildlife, and beauty of the place. Because he’d been working with text in other pieces, he asked me if I wanted to collaborate, and it just so happens I was in the middle of writing this collection of poems centered on that very spot. As most Columbusites will know, the poem is mounted in Corten steel right beside the powerhouses of the old mill. What they’ll see if they read my book is that that poem has become the third section of a long poem called “Eagle & Phenix Dam,” and what I would want them to also appreciate is how much luck and timing play in things: I was working on that very project before it was even a project, and when the opportunity came along, my work was already all but done. Thank you, Columbus, Georgia, for first providing the inspiration, then embracing the finished work. Thank you, Mike McFalls, for asking me to participate and for being such a talented and effective collaborator. Thank you, Marc and Marleen De Bode Olivié for having the foresight, determination, and generosity to make it happen. Thank you to the guys at Brasfield and Gorrie for doing such good work from a lift bucket in the August heat! ◼︎
If You Go:
What: 'Eagle & Phenix' Takes Flight
When: Monday, March 25, 7 p.m.
Where: Ruth Brooks Yancey Terrace of the Bo Bartlett Center.
More to Know: Books will be available for sale. Refreshements will be served. The event is free and open to the public.