David Bottoms' poems captured Georgia's soul.
Georgia's poet laureate from 2000-2012, Bottoms found beauty in the state's verdant natural landscape as well as the discarded detrius of its working class.
Like Georgia poet James Dickey, Bottoms loved old-time music, abandoned cars, rural landscapes and the rhythms of working language.
Bottoms, a longtime professor at Georgia State University and founding editor of the Five Points literary journal, died Friday at age 73 of progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare neurogenerative disease similar to ALS, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He had been battling the progressive disease since 2018, longtime Atlanta arts writer Phil Kloer said in his obituary about Bottoms written for the newspaper.
Noted Southern novelist and poet Robert Penn Warren in 1979 selected Bottoms' first collection "Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump" for the prestigious Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets.
Warren, author of the famed novel "All the King's Men" and a major poet and critic, called Bottoms "a strong poet, and much of his strength emerges from the fact that he is temperamentally a realist. In his vision, the actual world is not transformed but illuminated."
Kloer in his warm and authoritative obituary noted Warren's praise of Bottoms, along with an appreciation by Josh Russell, the director of creative writing at Georgia State.
In announcing Bottoms' death, Russell said "David was at turns funny, cranky and philosophical. That range is in his poetry, as is his amusement and bemusement and wonder with the world."
Bottoms was born in Canton. Ga., in 1949, and graduated from Mercer University. He received a doctorate from Florida State University in 1979. He published 11 poetry collections, including "In a U-Haul North of Damascus" and "Vagrant Grace," along with the novels "Eastern Weekend" and"Any Cold Jordan."
I remember Bottoms fondly for the generous and learned interview he gave me for an AJC feature story I wrote on the 19th century Southern poet Sidney Lanier, a Macon native remembered for poems like "The Song of the Chattahoochee" and "The Marshes of Glynn."
Bottoms cordially analyzed Lanier's work, and how Lanier's poetic reputation had declined with the advent of modernism in the early 20th century. High schools across the South were named for Lanier, but his work is little read today, although his musical language deserves renewed attention.
I also remember a stimulating lecture on poetic craft that Bottoms delivered at an Atlanta writers' conference. Unlike many well-known poets, Bottoms displayed warmth and generosity in encouraging his audience of aspiring writers. Bottoms pointed out that poetry unlike philosophy lives on concrete images from the natural world.
My favorite memory of Bottoms came from a reading by the esteemed poet James Merrill at the Callanwolde Arts Center in DeKalb County. Major American poets once appeared at Callanwolde's annual poetry weekend, a wonderful event sadly canceled before the 1996 Olympics.
After Merrill delivered his magical reading, he warmly greeted David. I saw them standing together in a soft light, two giants of American poetry.