Bottoms' first book, Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump, was selected by Robert Penn Warren as winner of the 1979 Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets. His poems have appeared in magazines such as The Southern Review, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Harper's, The Paris Review, and Poetry, as well as in over four dozen anthologies and textbooks. He is the author of seven other books of poetry, In a U-Haul North of Damascus, Under the Vulture-Tree, Armored Hearts: Selected and New Poems, Vagrant Grace, Oglethorpe's Dream, Waltzing Through the Endtime, and We Almost Disappear as well as two novels, Any Cold Jordan and Easter Weekend. Among his awards are the Levinson and the Frederick Bock prizes from Poetry Magazine, an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award, an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
Bottoms has given over 200 readings in colleges and universities across the United States, as well as the Guggenheim Museum, The Library of Congress, and The American Academy in Rome. He has been interviewed on several regional and national radio and television programs, including two interviews on National Public Radio, and he is featured in a half-hour segment of The Southern Voice, a five-part television miniseries profiling Southern writers. Essays on and reviews of his work have appeared in The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, The Los Angeles Times, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Southern Living, The Southern Review, Poetry, The Observer (London), and dozens of other newspapers and literary journals. Profiles appear in a number of resource books, including The Dictionary of Literary Biography, Contemporary Literary Criticism, and The Oxford Companion to Twentieth Century Poetry. In 2006, Bottoms was honored as a Star of the South by Irish America magazine.
Bottoms received his B.A. from Mercer University and his Ph.D. from Florida State University. He has been a Richard Hugo Poet-in-Residence at the University of Montana and currently holds the John B. and Elena Diaz-Amos Distinguished Chair in English Letters at Georgia State University in Atlanta, where he edits Five Points: A Journal of Art and Literature and teaches creative writing. He was Poet Laureate of Georgia 2000-12. 
- We Almost Disappear, (Copper Canyon Press, 2011)
- Waltzing Through the Endtime, (Copper Canyon Press, 2004)
- Oglethorpe's Dream
- Vagrant Grace, (Copper Canyon Press, 1999)
- Armored Hearts: Selected and New Poems, (Copper Canyon Press, 1995)
- Under the Vulture-Tree
- In a U-Haul North of Damascus
- Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump, (William Morrow and Company, 1980)
- Jamming with the Band at the VFW
- Easter Weekend
- Any Cold Jordan
- The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets (editor)