Whether his poetic inspiration is drawn from the sun or stars over Lake Allatoona, or from the startled eyes of doomed rats in the Bibb County dump, Canton-born poet David Bottoms has mastered the art of mining the imagery of his native state for the spiritual proof of "the shadowy and profound relationships that lie just below the surface of our everyday lives" 1 The author of nine books of poetry and two novels, Bottoms is a repeat winner of the Georgia Author of the Year award for poetry, and he served as the state of Georgia's ninth poet laureate from 2000-2012.
Bottoms began writing in his Cherokee County youth, but he credits his decision to be a poet to the encouragement of his professors at Macon's Mercer University, where in 1971 he graduated with a Bachelor's degree in English. Between earning a Master's degree (also in English) at West Georgia College in 1973 and receiving his Ph.D. in American poetry and creative writing from Florida State University at Tallahassee in 1982, he taught high-school English in Douglasville, Georgia, and worked for the state Poets-in-the-Schools program. During this period Bottoms produced a chapbook of 10 poems, Jamming with the Band at the VFW (1978), that became the core of his first published collection, Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump (1980), which Robert Penn Warren selected for the Academy of American Poets' Walt Whitman Award for best first book by an American poet.
In 1982 Bottoms began teaching poetry and creative writing at Georgia State University in Atlanta, and quickly produced two new poetry collections - In a U-Haul North of Damascus (1983) and Under the Vulture-Tree (1987) - both of which the Dixie Council of Authors and Journalists honored as best Georgia poetry books of the year. Bottoms briefly shifted his writing medium to write two novels - Any Cold Jordan (1987), set in the swamp and river country of north Florida, and Easter Weekend (1990), which is set in Macon. In 1995 he published his fourth poetry collection, Armored Hearts: Selected and New Poems (1995), and in 1996 he helped to co-found Georgia State University's celebrated journal of literature and art, Five Points. In 1999 Bottoms yet again won the Georgia Author of the Year award for poetry with his fifth poetry collection, Vagrant Grace. In 2004 he published his most recent collection, Waltzing through the Endtime.
Throughout his remarkable career Bottoms's work has been chosen hundreds of times for publication in literary journals and national magazines of the highest reputation, such as The Paris Review, The New Yorker, The Atlantic and The Kenyon Review. His wide reputation made him an obvious first choice as Georgia's official poetic voice, and even before he was proclaimed Georgia's poet laureate by Governor Roy Barnes in 2000, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had commissioned him to write a commemorative poem for their millenial issue, Jan. 1, 2000. Since assuming the role of poet laureate, he has also been asked by the newspaper to write a poem in the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks upon the United States, and he has performed the ceremonial functions of providing lectures and occasional poetic works, notably providing the text to a showcase book of Georgia images commissioned by the Georgia Humanities Council, Oglethorpe's Dream (2001).
In addition to his many publications and the honors bestowed on him by his home state, numerous literary organizations have recognized the importance of Bottoms' poetry. In 1985 he was the recipient of the Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine, and the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters recognized him with their annual award in 1988, the same year that he also received an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry in 1999, He has served as the Richard Hugo Poet-in-Residence at the University of Montana, the Ferrol Sams Distinguished Writer at Mercer University, and the Chaffee Visiting Writer at Johns Hopkins University.
A book of essays on his work, David Bottoms: Critical Essays and Interviews, edited by William Walsh, was published in 2010. He received a Governor’s Award for the Arts and Humanities in 2011 from the Georgia Humanities Council, and he currently holds the Amos Distinguished Chair in English Letters at Georgia State University.
The Onion’s Dark Core, a short collection of Bottoms' essays and interviews, was published in 2010, followed by his two most recent collections of poetry, We Almost Disappear (2011) and Otherworld, Underworld, Prayer Porch (2018).
The following books by David Bottoms are held by the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library:
Jamming with the Band at the VFW. Austell, GA: Burnt Hickory Press, c1978.
Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump. New York: William Morrow, 1980.
In a U-Haul North of Damascus. [Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Florida State University, 1982]
In a U-Haul North of Damascus. New York: Morrow, 1983.
Under the Vulture-Tree. New York: Morrow, 1987.
Any Cold Jordan: A Novel. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree Publishers, 1987.
Any Cold Jordan: A Novel. New York: Washington Square Press, 1988.
Easter Weekend. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990.
Easter Weekend. London: Constable, 1991.
Easter Weekend. New York: Washington Square Press, 1991.
Armored Hearts: Selected and New Poems. Port Townsend, Wash.: Copper Canyon Press, 1995.
Easter Weekend. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998.
Vagrant Grace: Poems. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 1999.
Oglethorpe's Dream: A Picture of Georgia. Photographs by Diane Kirkland; Text by David Bottoms. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001.
Articulating the Spirit: Poetry, Community, and the Metaphysical Shortwave. Atlanta, GA: Georgia Humanities Council, 2002.
Waltzing through the Endtime. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2004.
The Onion’s Dark Core: A Little Book of Poetry Talk. Winston-Salem, NC: Press 53, 2010.
We Almost Disappear. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2011.
Otherworld, Underworld, Prayer Porch. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2018.
The Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library of Emory University (Atlanta) holds David Bottoms' literary manuscripts and personal papers.