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George Scarbrough was born in a clapboard cabin in Patty, Polk County, Tennessee in 1915. He was the third of seven children in a family of sharecroppers which moved frequently around the County during his early years. He was an avid reader from his earliest years, and showed literary inclinations which seemed very strange in the County at the time. George attended the University of Tennessee in 1935-36, The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee for two years on scholarship during the war in 1941-43, and then taught at several schools. He entered Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee and graduated with a B.A. degree cum laude in 1947. He received a Masters degree from The University of Tennessee in Knoxville in 1954, and later attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

He has published poetry in more than 65 magazines and journals over many years continuing into the present, and recently, for example, has been published in Poetry five times in 1997. He has also published five major books of poetry and one novel. George’s first book of poetry, Tellico Blue, was published by E. P. Dutton in New York in 1949. Dutton also published two additional Scarbrough books of poetry: The Course is Upward (1951) and Summer So-Called in 1956. Iris Press published Scarbrough’s New and Selected Poems in 1977, and it was greeted with widespread acclaim. St. Luke’s Press published George’s novel, A Summer Ago in 1986. Iris Press published his most recent book, Invitation to Kim, in 1989, and it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1990. Iris Audio Publications published an audio tape of Scarbrough reading and commenting upon a selection of his poetry in 1997. The tape is called Ice Storm and Other Poems read by the Author, George Scarbrough, and it is available from Iris.

A new addition of Tellico Blue was published in 1999 by Iris Press (see our online catalog.) A large new collection of George Scarbrough poetry is anticipated at a later date.

Critics have been uniformly ecstatic about George Scarbrough’s writing over the years, and it seems clear that he will occupy an important place in 20th century literature. In his 1978 review (The Black Warrior Review, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp 99—108) Rodney Jones said:

George Scarbrough’s poems have been appearing in magazines like the Sewanee Review, Poetry, and Atlantic for over thirty years now. His first three books—Tellico Blue, The Course is Upward, and Summer So Called—were published by Dutton, and now after a twenty year wait, we have New and Selected Poems, a 304 page "cathedral of a book" published by Iris Press. These poems, among the finest written in the South in the past few decades, are a direct chronicle of the development of a poetic style so individual that it invites comparison with Hopkins or Thomas.

Other critics have commented on Scarbrough’s work over the years. James Justus in The History of Southern Literature said: The tensions in Scarbrough’s work stem largely from an almost primitive awe at the semiotics of nature....Scarbrough’s memories of childhood are stark and fiercely ambivalent. Allen Tate said: In my opinion George Scarbrough is one of the few genuine poetic talents to appear in the South in the past generation. James Dickey said: George Scarbrough’s poems have carried him deep into the very heart of the Southern Land. The medium is words, and in the superbly imaginative use of these, he has arrived at the deepest roots, beyond what could imagined by anyone less than a true poet. Anyone who gives himself without reserve to George Scarbrough’s poems will find his life renewed.

There are also more recent reactions to Scarbrough’s work. In a recent critical essay, (New Orleans Review) Forrest Gander writes: However various their forms, Scarbrough’s poems are all remarkable for a vocabulary so richly sonorous, so elegant and exact, that they have few contempory equals. What he is after, he says, is a language the size of life.

 

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