Louisville native Mackenzie Berry always felt she had a chip on her shoulder.
“I had big dreams, especially as a child, and I thought to accomplish those dreams I would have to leave the city, and a lot of people relate to that or think that we do not have as many resources as a major city, “Berry said.
Even with that “chip” on her shoulder, Berry, who is 24, still carries with her the pride of being from Louisville – a pride that drove her to write the book “Slack Tongue City,” which explores the dangers and joys of nostalgia for home and place, girlhood sketches and traces stories of family, food and backyard pools.
The book of poems published by Sundress Publication follows Louisville along the line between the South and the Midwest and reframes the narrative surrounding Louisville and the South away from being “a dumping ground for national issues,” Berry said.
“The US as a whole points to the South as the backwards region, the place of racism, ignorance, conservatism, impoverishment, and climate crises, to ignore that these are throughout the US, in its fabric,” she said.
“Slack Tongue City” wrestles with the position of the South and Louisville’s place in it.
One of the poems in Berry’s book, “In Which an Entrepreneur is the Mayor,” references the police killing of Breonna Taylor: “Once a city said, How do we operationalize compassion? Before firing 20 bullets into a couple’s bed and never should the masses be able to turn from it. ”
The title of Berry’s book refers to the “slack tongue” of residents who call the city LOO-a-vul and can easily tell if you’re from the Derby City based on how you pronounce its name.
“I thought that was the thing that was distinct about Louisville is the pronunciation,” Berry said. “I thought you had to have a ‘slack tongue’ to say it right, so I called it ‘Slack Tongue City,’ as another name for Louisville in a way,” Berry said.
For those who are not from Louisville, the book offers a peek into the city of bourbon, good food and horses, and for Louisvillians, an opportunity to dwell on the personality of the River City.
“Slack Tongue City” serves as a love letter to Louisville, Berry said.
Berry began writing at age 14, entering her work in poetry contests while attending Highland Middle School. Falling in love with the art of spoken word came easily after she saw videos of spoken word being performed, prompting her to learn everything she could about the art and create her own poetry organization, Young Poets of Louisville, a nonprofit that offers free writing workshops and poetry slams for youth.
Berry earned a BA in English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison through the First Wave Hip Hop and Urban Arts Program. She got an MA in Race, Media and Social Justice from Goldsmiths, University of London through a Marcus L. Urann Graduate Fellowship and is pursuing an MFA in poetry at Cornell University.
In her book, Berry draws the reader in through poems that provide a sense of place and explore Louisville’s history, including housing developments like Sheppard Square, Cotter Homes and Beecher Terrance and notable restaurants like King’s, Indi’s and The Seafood Lady. She also pays homage to events like the Dirt Bowl tournament.
Berry encourages readers to forget what they think they know about Louisville and view it from the eyes of an author who will never fully be removed from her hometown.
“I wrote it for Louisville, for Kentucky, for the South and to have a kind of repository to return back to a place of intimacy, to show where I’m from and to have that in the literary world,” Berry said.
Berry’s poems have been published in Poetry Ireland Review, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Hobart and Blood Orange Review. One of Berry’s poems from “Slack Tongue City” will be featured in the next episode of WFPL’s Words for the People Podcast hosted by Kentucky Poet Laureate Crystal Wilkinson
Berry is currently writing her second book of poems. People can purchase “Slack Tongue City” at www.mackenzieberry.com/poems.
Reach Features Reporter Genesis Malone at firstname.lastname@example.org.