Exploring History

Poetry professor Rose McLarney explores history as stories told in ‘Killing the Negative,’ ‘Colorfast’

Rose McLarney

Rose McLarney
Photo by Parker J. Pfister

Power and truth inspired poet Rose McLarney’s latest contribution and collection, “Killing the Negative” and “Colorfast.” McLarney, a professor of creative writing and poetry in Auburn University’s Department of English, uses poetry to stage conversations on history and culture against the backdrop of rural America.

“Killing the Negative: Poetic Interventions” is an art exhibition and book exploring truth, power and censorship during the Great Depression.

Visual artist Joel Daniel Phillips drew and painted 22 large-scale renderings of images from a collection of photo negatives showing the plight of poor Americans that government officials made unusable by punching holes in their centers. He and poet Quraysh Ali Lansana then commissioned writers to compose 19 poems in conversation with the art to create a book.

As a contributor, McLarney focuses on negatives from her home state of North Carolina to confront issues associated with class and race, honesty in media and low-income, rural areas of the country.

“‘Killing the Negative’ focuses on a particular period, yet it is timely, as our country today confronts similar issues,” McLarney said. “The project is broad in that it’s multidisciplinary and involves multiple contributors. Even broader are the audiences to which it can speak and the conversations it can open.”

McLarney again draws on her personal experience in Appalachia for her fourth poetry collection, “Colorfast,” recently published by Penguin Random House. In the collection, McLarney explores the gaps in her personal history about gender and labor, using the stories behind recipes, questions about what is lost and what will last and more.

“I am again writing about the Appalachian Mountains, where I grew up and where a part of my heart remains,” McLarney said. “Yet in ‘Colorfast,’ I am reexamining the stories about the culture and my own girlhood I have been told – and told myself – and recognizing omissions. White males dominate recorded histories, yes – and they dominate some of the folklore and art I love and even some of my own early poems. In ‘Colorfast,’ I try to give women’s and others’ voices the space on my pages.”