Ralph Hammond, a former two-term mayor of Arab, Alabama, who served as chief of staff, press secretary and speech writer for former Gov. Jim “Big Jim” Folsom, died this past Friday; he was 94. At NewSouth Books, he is chiefly remembered as Alabama’s eighth poet laureate. A sampling of his verse was included in a gem of a book we published showcasing the work of Alabama’s poet laureates, called These I Would Keep. It was compiled by Alabama’s ninth poet laureate, Helen Blackshear, sadly, now also deceased.
Hammond was the author of many collections of verse, and was extremely active promoting the reading and writing of poetry. He served as president of the Alabama State Poetry Society in the 1980s and as state poet laureate from 1992-1995. Maybe in his passing he’s gone back to the curl in the creek, where he swam as a boy and which later engaged his adult imagination. From his poem, “Along the Curling Creek”:
In these stalk-wilted days I
return to the curl in the creek where,
as a youth in naked sunlit body, I
dove from overhanging persimmon
limbs, splashing a rainfall of water
over barrier banks. And today, like
a scratchy needle on a worn Victrola
record, I would reverse time and relive
those soft golden moments.
Sue Brannan Walker, reigning poet laureate whose extended poem called It’s Good Weather for Fudge: Conversing With Carson McCullers was published by NewSouth Books, observes, “Ralph Hammond’s love of nature, the cycle of life and death that shaped his unfaltering faith, is preserved in the words he penned. He wrote of the ‘caress of grass,’ and the ‘sorrow of rain.’ His spirit, now ‘untethered in the wind,’ is forever alive in poetry and part of the rich heritage of Alabama verse.”