Bettie Sellers (b. 1926)
Bettie Sellers lives and writes poetry in Young Harris, a small college town in the mountains of north Georgia.
Nature figures prominently in much of Bettie Sellers's verse. Many of her poems observe the passing of seasons and paint vivid pictures of regional plants and animals. They also portray the named world of north Georgia. Her poems frequently celebrate the complex beauty that she observes around her, but they also consider how the land influences people. "Moment at Dusk," probes that issue:
When September's quarter moon tips down
From a rocky perch, the speaker quietly watches evening advance and realizes that the mountains provide strength and stability to those who live in their shadow.
Concern for the preservation of north Georgia's natural places also pervades Sellers's poetry. She recognizes that development and modern technology threaten to destroy wild places, and her poems often lament their passing. In "Wild Ginger," for example, she describes the tower on Brasstown Bald, Georgia's highest peak, as an "inept" intruder. Similarly, "Complaint to Betelgeuse" laments the loss of once-clear night skies in which constellations stood out against the blackness of the heavens:
Now satellites invade the ridge—
A sense of irreparable destruction pervades the poem, and the violent, martial imagery underscores the threat that pristine places face for their survival.
Sellers writes not only of the land but also of the people and families who live on it. Her poetry shows that communal and familial relationships provide part of the continuity of Appalachian life. Birth, death, marriage, divorce, and the dynamics of relationships are all subjects of her poems. "Writing is a terrible, awesome responsibility," Sellers says; thus, she does not shy away from the pain that is sometimes part of life. "Sarah's Quilts," for example, relates the story of a mother gathering stones to mark the grave of one son who has been killed by the other:
She stands, barefoot, in the creek, homespun dress,
of August. Now her sons are far away:
that picked up stones to end the quarrel
rest on patchwork squares she sewed; a quilt
him in the cold of mountain nights, no bright-
One stone, now clean of blood, joins others
An intricately rhymed narrative poem based on the story of Cain and Abel, "Sarah's Quilts" reflects the inspiration that Sellers regularly draws from biblical stories and names. Her verses often portray a region steeped in Christian belief.
Sellers has published four volumes of poetry, including Spring Onions and Cornbread (1978), Morning of the Red-Tailed Hawk (1981), Liza's Monday and Other Poems (1986), and Wild Ginger (1989).
Sellers was named Author of the Year in 1979 by the Dixie Council of Authors and Journalists. She received the Governor's Award in the Humanities in 1987 and in 1992 was named Poet of the Year by the American Pen Women. In 1997 Governor Zell Miller named Sellers as the poet laureate of Georgia, a position she held for three years, and in 2003 she received the Stanley W. Lindberg Award (named for longtime Georgia Review editor Stanley Lindberg), which recognizes outstanding contributions to Georgia's literary culture. The Georgia Writers Association gave Sellers a lifetime achievement award in 2004.
Bettie Sellers, "Westward from Bald Mountain," Bloodroot: Reflections on Place by Appalachian Women Writers, ed. Joyce Dyer (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1998), 233-42.
Robin O. Warren, University of Georgia
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.