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James Applewhite’s new book Cosmos: A Poem brings his long devotion to region, family, and the natural world into a dialogue with science. These poems relate the space-time distances of the universe to local landscapes. The journeys and encounters recorded here are emotive quests for meaning, wherein the vastness of origin makes particular places and persons and moments shine more preciously.
The thousand-person farming village where Applewhite grew up provides a valued beginning for wider explorations: from the Carolina coast to the WWII invasion beaches at Normandy, from a home-built telescope in Durham to the galaxy of lights seen from a hotel tower in Oahu, where WWII is recalled through the sunken Arizona and the movie From Here to Eternity.
This book follows Applewhite’s intellectual and emotive journey from the religion and traditional farming culture of his ancestry, to a professorship at Duke University and to the company of literary theorists and world-class scientists. The central dialogue, between a poet-humanist and a theoretical physicist is dramatized in the Duke Faculty Commons. These two discuss the origin of the universe, and the mysterious way in which these very early events implied and produced the world we inhabit.
Applewhite’s first book won a Guggenheim Fellowship in poetry. His second was published as winner of the 1979 Associated Writing Programs Contemporary Poetry Prize. He has received a National Endowment for the Arts Award, the Jean Stein Award in Poetry from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and the North Carolina Award in Literature. North Carolina has also honored his books with four Roanoke Chowan Poetry Awards, two N. C. Poetry Society’s Brockman-Campbell Awards and by this induction into the N. C. Literary Hall of Fame in 2008. His poems have appeared in American and English journals including, Poetry, Harper’s, Esquire, American Poetry Review, Sewanee Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, The Atlantic Monthly, New England Review, Stand (Newcastle, England), The Southern Review, Georgia Review, Hudson Review, North Carolina Literary Review, and many anthologies, including volumes edited by Harold Bloom and Czeshev Milosz. His book-length poetic sequence River Writing: An Eno Journal was published in the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets. An interview with him by V. S. Naipaul was published as part of a selection from A Turn in the South, along with quotations from his poems, in The New Yorker.