The following excerpt is the opening lines from a poem titled “Who We Are” by Margaret Britton Vaughn, Poet Laureate of Tennessee.
The fertile soil of TennesseeThe poem holds the honor of being declared the official poem of Tennessee's Bicentennial, 1796-1996, by Public Chapter 337 of the 100th General Assembly.
Grew more than corn, tobacco, and cotton,
It grew a crop of people who are
Trailblazers, child raisers, flag wavers, soul savers.
As poet laureate, in addition to the official bicentennial poem of Tennessee, Vaughn wrote “Mr. Tennessee Music Man,” the official poem for the Tennessee state quarter, released by U.S. Mint in 2002. She also penned the governor's inaugural poem, and a poem celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Air Force. She has appeared in programs on PBS, USA, TNN, TNT, and the BBC, and on many local radio and TV programs.
Vaughn has written nine books of poetry, short stories, and children’s books. Her poetry has appeared in numerous magazines, journals, and newspapers. Her first critically acclaimed book of poetry, Fifty Years of Saturday Nights, was published in 1975 by Magluce Pub. Co. Other works include Grand Old Saturday Night, The Light in the Kitchen Window, and a play, I Wonder If Eleanor Roosevelt Ever Made a Quilt.
Her plays have been staged by the Nashville Barn Theatre, The Webb School, St. George Episcopal Church, the John Galt West End Theatre, and others. The National Quilters Convention enjoyed her production, I Wonder If Eleanor Roosevelt Ever Made a Quilt.
Tennessee’s rich history, scenic beauty, and its down-to-earth people have always captured Vaughn’s imagination, as she sometimes waxes nostalgic in The Light in the Kitchen Window about by-gone eras: “Perhaps the greatest decisions / that have been made anywhere / came from men in overalls / around the courthouse square”; these lines open the poem, “The Old Courthouse Square” which goes on to describe a scene not likely to be observed in even the smallest town today.
Here’s another sample, two of nine stanzas, also from The Light in the Kitchen Window:
Uncle MackSome of Vaughn’s friends refer to her as a “Tennessippian.” Born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in 1938, but raised in Gulf Port, Mississippi, during the forties and fifties, Vaughn returned to Tennessee in 1965. She spent summer vacations and holidays on her aunt and uncle’s farm near Murfreesboro. She began college at Mississippi Southern College, while working for the Gulf Port Daily Herald. She later transferred to Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro and completed her Bachelor of Arts degree. She worked as an account executive in the newspaper industry in Nashville from 1965-1982. She taught speech, drama, and music appreciation at the Webb School.
For eighty some odd years
He rose with the rising sun
And many mornings got up at dark
For so much work was to be done.
There was cotton to be chopped or picked
Fields of hay to be baled
Cows that needed to be milked
Fences needed to be railed.
Vaughn has also written songs that have been recorded by such luminaries as Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, Ernest Tubb, and many others. In 1990, she brought out a version of her Fifty Year of Saturday Nights, titled Grand Old Saturday Nights.
As you might expect, Tennessee’s poet laureate is a down-home girl, making her residence in a tiny town, a dot on the map about sixty miles southeast of Nashville, called Bell Buckle, Tennessee, where she operates Bell Buckle Press, publishing other poets works as well as her own. She is famous for welcoming visitors and swapping stories in her Minnie Pearl-style straw hat.