Meg Wade on TC Tolbert and voice

Photography by Mamta Popat

Photo Credit: Mamta Popat

I am forever in awe of TC Tolbert. The way his work swings the body back to life on the page, the way his language sings me home. TC went to elementary school just down the road from where my Pop lives in Hixson, Tennessee. We both ran around those hills, loved that place, an East of our own; but it’s just not the familiarity and comfort of landscape & nouns that I find in TC’s poems—it’s the voice.

Southern & strong. Proud & vulnerable. The marriage between two seemingly “different” forces, which in turn, aren’t so different at all. In his poem, “May she show herself by what she loosens with her teeth” I am (my whole mind and body) transported back to a place of belonging, of longing, of everything a little more roughed up:

“I don’t know / who told you / we like company / I am here / to tell you / otherwise / I am wishing / someone else / could see this / I am wishing / you would / put up a little / more fight / I am taking / your clothes off / with my eyes / I am warming / up my car”

There is a welcomed & refreshing confidence about this poem. A certain sass in the movement, which can’t be ignored. This is the Southern way. Take me or leave me, either way, the door will close behind you. There’s a confrontation with not only the speaker as they sing their way to the end of the poem, but with the implied reader. The “you” forever tempted into the situation:

“I am listening / to your bones / telling secrets / I am shifting / from 4th to 3rd / I am wondering / what to do / with your tongue / I am singing”

I fall in love again & again with the use of the second person in this poem. Above undressing you, above taking you for a ride, above protection & honor & tradition, what I admire most about this poem is the necessity of the speaker wanting to be heard. Wanting to impart something (a confession?) to the reader. To say that which needs to be said, and to say it most fashionably.


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