Sitting on the shelf of my university library, the Summer 2018 issue of The Southern Review intrigued me with its curious cover art by Gina Phillips, a New Orleans–based artist. Upon close inspection of the issue, I found quite a generous collection of portraits created by using mixed media and titled Friends and Neighbors. Gina Phillips shares her process of creating these portraits:
I begin by photographing the subject multiple times. Then I sketch from the photos, sometimes combining elements of several photos into one sketch. After the sketch is complete, I trace the drawing onto a transparency and enlarge the figure using an overhead projector; then I redraw it on a piece of plain muslin. At this point, I use acrylic washes to complete an underpainting. After the underpainting is dry, I load the piece onto a long-arm quilting machine and begin the process of appliqueing various combinations of fabric, thread, yarn, and hair. After rendering the figure with fabric and thread, I cut it out of its background and pin to the wall.
The results of this unique process are strikingly vibrant. As the artist notes, these portraits reflect the essence of the people and animals depicted in them.
Although originally attracted to this issue by Phillips’s art, I was happy to find a multitude of pieces to satisfy my craving for quality writing. Lydia Peelle’s fiction piece “Nashville” speaks to the social media generation. Jen, the heroine of the work, ventures on a quest to take a “perfect” picture that would reflect her “perfect” bachelorette party. Alongside her friends, she is drinking and pedaling around Nashville on a mobile bar called Pedal Tavern. Interestingly, the reason Jen has chosen Nashville and Pedal Tavern is her friend’s picture of a bachelorette party from the previous year. Jen is overwhelmed:
But the thing is, I never used to worry about my weight, never even really thought about it until I got engaged and I started planning this wedding. Because everything has got to be perfect. There is so much to decide. Like centerpieces for the rehearsal dinner: succulents, or do we spray-paint bunches of little twigs silver and white? Succulents? Adorable, but they are so done. The things is, I need to do what has never, ever been done before. And Pinterest is killing me.
Look into my eyes. I mean, really look into them. Do you see how f’ing stressed out I am? Do you see?
Writing in a manner characteristic of everyday conversation, Peelle manages to bring up quite a few serious issues, such as obsession with the media and opinions of other people, sexism, and mortality to name a few.
Marilyn Abildskov’s essay “Holding” also deals with women’s lives and concerns. With a short introduction of “You’re fourteen,” readers plunge into a life of a teenage girl. Abildskov writes:
Tonight you start a new job, your first real job, meaning not a babysitting job, meaning you will be working at Dee’s. Your mother begins cutting apricots, sliding them into a silver stockpot, pouring in sugar and water, then stirring. For the rest of the summer she will stand at the stove, stirring, waiting for the liquid to thicken. And you will spend your hours at your new job and at home watching Nadia on TV, Nadia as she stands on the beam, Nadia with her arms raised, Nadia with her back arched, Nadia with her toes pointed.
You hold your breath.
All summer you hold your breath.
Fast-paced, this nonfiction piece is a time machine transporting readers to 1976, a time when readers, along with the author, hold their breath and wait for her “firsts.”
The Summer 2018 issue of The Southern Review also offers a variety of poetry. “If you look for something, / you will find it,” writes Nathaniel Nelson in his poem “If You Look for Something.”
So, careful readers can find truth and meaning they are searching for in the poems of the issue, such as Holly Karapetkova’s “Genesis,” which explores motherhood and beginnings; David Lehman’s translation of Vladimir Mayakovsky’s A Cloud in Trousers (from part four); and Aza Pace’s “In Retrospect” among others.
Whether one is first attracted by the art or the promise of fine writing inside, The Southern Review offers each reader a well-rounded reading experience. Additionally, twelve works are available on SoundCloud, allowing the reader to enhance their experience even further.
Review by Evgeniya Monico