Past, Present, and Future in Annie Woodford’s “Where You Come from Is Gone”

Annie Woodford’s Where You Come from Is Gone is a haunting poetry collection that explores themes of both the horrific and the beautiful aspects of poor, rural life in the South. As the author’s second collection of poetry, it leads us into the Southside region of rural Virginia where progress rarely yields transformation.

Where You Come from Is Gone is a conviction of the guilty and the guilty by association. Woodford is a master at identifying segregation of social status alongside the bonds of family and community in a forgotten time and place. Regardless of what we have done or who we are, this collection isn’t about where we are going, but rather where we have been. Woodford understands firsthand what it means to come of age in a community that is fading away after growing up in a region of rural Virginia called Southside. Woodford’s collection is lyrical and is divided up into four sections that are titled and themed in correlation with “Kitezh,” a mythical city in Russia. “Kitezh” was known as the “invisible city” and is a brilliant metaphor for a time and place that is overlooked and easily forgotten. 

It is in those first few lines of “Aunt Lovelene’s Beauty Shop Was in Her Home” that Woodford states a truth we all must learn—that our past shapes our future. She writes:

So much regret in this one life
it seems likely it could spill
into the next.

The poet parallels childhood memories beautifully and describes what it means to grow up in a southern home. Woodford brings readers hope for our nation’s future by addressing racial and social injustice. As I read through each of these poems, I was reminded of how it takes great discipline to overcome the ideals of our upbringing. Woodford is a woman who knows how to make the best of what has been given and it shows in the “songs” throughout the book. Each poem serves as a cautionary tale of how we must make the best of what we have.

Woodford’s use of imagery is extraordinary as it takes us to another place and time, while at the same time tethering us to the present. In “The Beat Itself,” for instance, we are lured in with rhythm and the lessons that come from turning poverty into power:

…where my child and I walk
and I wonder how I will pay for this, how I will pay
for that, but for right now, I can buy her
a Crystal Pepsi and she says everyone thinks
she’s one of the rich kids in class…

Woodford brings life to a ghost town, resurrecting the poor, the sacred, the damned, and even the cruel, but it is not all downtrodden. There is beauty in the darkness. In “Great Road” out of the dire is new growth and hope is reborn:

Rain almost falls.
The scent of clover
and car exhaust
caresses. Roses
spill off porches
built back when trains
were still built downtown.

Woodford’s lines bring the promise of a new day. Rain looms to wash away the past and flowers grow in places where society once prospered. 

Where You Come from Is Gone transforms the heart and the mind, telling the valuable truth that the invisible is what we should be noticing, and valuing the little things long past are the life lessons that bring about true change. This collection is a musical wonder, filled with imagery and transformation that haunts the mind and the senses.

Where You Come from Is Gone
By Annie Woodford
Mercer University Press
Published October 4, 2022