Celebrating Our Culture
“I am thrilled by language, I love knocking words together, kicking
out sparks and occasionally starting brush fires. . .I often feel like a
pyromaniac, an illicit-feeling. Glee
rises in me. It’s a good feeling.”
This is how Philip
Martin, critic and columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little
Rock, Arkansas and author describes his work.
I know journalists,
having worked myself at the Memphis Commercial Appeal for eight years.
There are those on newspaper staffs that know, and then there are
those who “think” they know. The prose of many snot-nosed kids -journalists that are fresh
out of college - reeks. Journalism
degree and upper-middle class liberalism may win them a badge of honor
with their cohorts in the pressroom, but it doesn’t guarantee success on
the printed page. Experience
and hard knocks, however, usually make the words of a journalist shine
forth. Such is the case with
Martin attained a B.A.
from Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge and went to the Paul M.
Hebert Law School for two years as well. He held a steady stream of
writing jobs: a sports editor, columnist, magazine editor and criminal
investigations reporter in Louisiana, managing editor for a newspaper in
Texas, contributing and executive editor in Arkansas, followed by staff
writer in Arizona and now columnist and chief film critic in Little Rock. Muscle-bound from all the writing assignments that he had to
do, he finally tried his hand at writing what he wished to do.
1990, he helped produce a book called A
Spectrum Reader, which was a compilation of the best criticism and
journalism that friends and he had published in an alternative newspaper
in Little Rock. He helped write a biography of Hillary Clinton a few years
back. (Yeah, like who
wouldn’t want to read that, you say?) Like… everyone in Arkansas wrote
one. Not so fast! The co-author and Martin actually knew the Clintons.
Then, his most recent book, The
Shortstop’s Son, a collection of essays published by the
University of Arkansas Press. He
is gathering material now for his next collection, which will be called The Artificial Southerner.
It might be out as early as next year (2001).
His contributions to
books, speaking engagements and journalistic awards are too many for me to
dwell upon here.
So, why should anyone
Examine, if you will,
this from Martin’s forthcoming book, The
“There is white trash in my blood, no doubt some of my ancestors
were bigots. Surely there were horse thieves and bad debtors and busthead
imbibers. Some of them were ignorant and mean and hard; were I of their
time I might have turned out to be just like them.
Here, we are presented
with the basic ironies and incongruities of a man who is geographically
truly Southern, but seems to constantly be in pursuit of his Southerness
(whatever that implies.)
First, there is the man
who comes from a poor or common background, but has a college degree
himself. Next, he experiences
the deprivation of the South (i.e., the picking tobacco episode mentioned)
only he takes offense when people say things about where he has lived.
Next, the writer is
proud of his accomplishments as a journalist and knowledgeable man, but
hints himself of producers that “seem to think I do sound Southern, or
at least Southern enough for their purposes.”
And what are these purposes? In
the main, the media expounds the liberal philosophy.
Unsaid here is the implication that a learned man is more left of
center in his viewpoint, hence – not a true Southerner? Would the media exploit such a person? Hmmm, I wonder?
Martin finishes with an
attempt at reconciliation, between his allegiance to the old South
(unreconstructed South) and the new, (Lincoln. . .was right.)
Dichotomy is the rule
in Martin’s writing. And
this is as it should be. For
behind every Southerner is a contemporary man who feels, as expressed by
Martin as if his Southerness must be “something decided upon.”
It is the soul of the
region that Martin reaches for. He
continues. . .
defend a civilization would seem to us as impertinent as to defend time.
Certainly the South needs defenders as little as it needs
apologists…We are, I think, less interested in any social order past or
present than we are in that unknown quality which we once called the
And there is this, a
America it might be possible to believe in our own innocence, in Manifest
Destiny or Mickey Mouse; the pragmatic South has always known and
understood guilt. Where
elsewhere was plenty, this land knew privation.
The South is more real than the rest of the country, at least it
has lived through more.”
I had the opportunity
to contact Philip about his work recently and ask him about his essays and
Philip, tell us about the book you have out now-The
I’m an Arkansan by
choice. I came back to Little
Rock after living in Phoenix for a while, and I can say I truly feel at
home here. It’s a very cosmopolitan little city, and the rest of
Arkansas surrounds it, which is alternately fascinating and heartbreaking.
But it’s a great place for a writer, for people actually read here.
Regardless of what the alleged comedians say, the people here are alert to
things that in other parts of the country don’t seem to matter at all.
That may be why our newspaper can support having someone like me on staff.
I’m really more a writer who happens to work for a newspaper than
anything else. I do film
reviews, write (less and less actually) about politics, and think about
stuff. It’s not a bad way to make a living.
is killing the South. What other trends do you think are fragmenting its
There’s a woman in
Paris who thinks I write like Raymond Carver. I don’t see that at all
and I don’t think she means it as a compliment.
You can find Philip
Martin’s webpage at: www.philipmartin.net
This article is by Robert L. Hall - raised in and currently living outside Memphis, TN., writes crime mysteries and tales of a youth with adventures in horsemanship. His books are Mid-South based. Mr. Hall also is a contributing writer for the on-line journal, When Falls the Coliseum , a self-described “Journal of American Culture(or the lack thereof)”at www.wfthecoliseum.com.
He also does interviews with authors and cultural articles, as well as book reviews for www.southernscribe.com. A trained musician with a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Memphis and Master of Music degree from Florida State University, he is staff pianist at Trinity Baptist Church in West Memphis and has taught music courses at three institutions of higher learning.
© 2000 Robert L. Hall, All Rights Reserved