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Oxford American – Winter 2007

The resilient southern quarterly features essays, poems and journalism on a range of sports, both major and minor (for the latter, see Mike Powell’s essay on dog shows, “the most allegorical sporting event in America”). Some of the themed pieces are amusing but slight, more Sports Illustrated than New Yorker. Others, however, shade into poignant territory.

The resilient southern quarterly features essays, poems and journalism on a range of sports, both major and minor (for the latter, see Mike Powell’s essay on dog shows, “the most allegorical sporting event in America”). Some of the themed pieces are amusing but slight, more Sports Illustrated than New Yorker. Others, however, shade into poignant territory.

 In Beth Ann Fennelly’s poem “First Warm Day in a College Town,” the narrator notices a group of young men running bare-chested near the campus where she teaches. She smiles at these “taut colts,” but later realizes that a day will come when they will no longer smile back. The poem ends as a lament against aging and mortality: “hard to think of that spring, that // distant spring, that very very very / (please God) / distant / spring.” John Updike’s “Baseball” attends not to the heroes of the game, but those doomed to fail in youth, who “at first base are scared / of the shortstop’s wild throw / that stretches you out like a gutted deer.”

For me the highlights of this issue are two (non-sporting) short stories by Mary Miller and Mark Edmundson. The first-person narrator of Miller’s “Leak” is an adolescent girl isolated from the world following the death of her mother. The story is understated, entirely unmaudlin, and deeply moving. Edmundson’s “One Life” features three characters (a graduate student “who thought of herself as a serious scholar,” an obese janitor who lives in a trailer, and the janitor’s wheelchair-bound mother) who would easily have become caricatures in the hands of a lesser writer; Edmundson endows them all with moral and spiritual complexity.

Also not to be missed are James Perry Walker’s photographs of underclass (but not downtrodden) men and women in 1970s’ Tennessee and Mississippi, and an illuminating essay by David Payne on the persistent Northern condescension towards Southern writers. The Oxford American provides a window into a rich and varied literary culture. For this Northerner, it is a compelling read.
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