Chadwick Thaddeus Harris, known as Tad to his friends but often called Chad or Chaddeus in discourse after two quasi-pseudonyms he used in his early writing, wrote his first poems as an undergraduate at the University of Northern Mississippi and immediately attracted media attention and stiff criticism. After all 1,000 issues of the local student newspaper were stolen to prevent the publication of a Harris poem in 2002, his case was taken up by the national news media and became an intense focal point of discussion. So much so, in fact, that it all but completely overshadowed the poems themselves.

Harris tended to use the common vernacular of unrhymed, unmetered, and often prosaic poetry common to many poets in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, but his subject matter tended toward right-wing causes. Poems against immigration, against affirmative action, and in favor of the controversial military strikes of the Clinton and Bush II eras were just some of Harris’s most-cited works. The fact that he used the poetic vernacular of his contemporaries to espouse cause that those selfsame contemporaries, by and large, found incredibly distasteful, classist, and even racist, seemed to be the source of particular vitriol.

The poems have been claimed by many to have little value as poetry when compared with their value as screed, but the perfect storm of media attention generated by his first few publications established Harris as a cause celebre often held up by right and left alike as a symbol. It’s clear in retrospect how uncomfortable this made Harris, being held up as a paragon on one hand and a boogeyman on the other. In the few interviews he granted, he is consistent in denying any larger political focus to his work, holding that he wrote solely for himself and that readers were seeing what they wanted to say.

Authorities in Hopewell continue to treat his death as a suicide, but have steadfastly refused to release any further details. Harris’s blog, the only public space in which he had any significant presence, contains a final entry that many have seen as serving as a suicide note of sorts, though it is dated more than two months prior to the discovery of his body:

“The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that I am seeing the end of a great age of peace and plenty for my country, to be followed by an age of eclipse, division, and sorrow. What would, I wonder, a Roman have done if they could have known the anarchy that would follow the death of Alexander Severus? As much as I pray I am wrong, I also pray that I will never live to see myself proven right.”

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