Jeff Gundy's essay, "Hard Books," in this issue of The Georgia Review says, "Sturdy cloth covers, it is true, rarely house the most daring experiments or frontal assaults on literary norms." He is right, of course, and his quote is somewhat appropriate for Georgia Review. I didn't find much daring work here, nothing that shattered my perceptions of poetry and writing, though there is much to enjoy. Gundy also says in this essay "persistence over time is still real, and ... being of the moment is not the only value." So, there it is.
The Georgia Review has been around since 1947, and there is reason for that. It contains writing of great merit, and from this issue, I can tell it is faithful to the writers it publishes. In fact, the entire first half of this issue is devoted to Albert Goldbarth, whose work first appeared in Georgia Review in 1986. I was a little shocked by this seemingly effusive gesture—until I started reading Goldbarth's poetry. Now I feel a little shocked that I've never read any of his work before. His use of language is great fun, his word choice and word play lead to great leaps of the mind and imagination. Nothing is out of his scope of subject matter. In "The Serious Business," he starts with a man who has gone crazy after a stroke and moves deftly (almost without the reader even noticing) through the healing process, religion, sex, Darwin, poetry, government, all the way back to birth "...birth's / so often cute to the outsiders. To the participant, / however, it must be a violent suddenness: unrequested, / choking, explosive, punishingly reformative." Over and over again, his intelligent poems take leaps of faith and showcase humorous, yet thoughtful (and thought-provoking) work.
Also included in the first half dedicated to Goldbarth are photos taken by his wife and students, essays about him and his work, and a facsimile of drafts of one poem (Goldbarth still writes with pen and paper in the early stages, and it is quite fun to see his somewhat illegible scribbles).
The latter half of The Georgia Review contains poetry, two pieces of fiction, an essay, artwork, and 37 pages of book reviews (two large essays and shorter "Book Briefs"). Joseph Duemer's two pieces, "What I Like about God" and "What I Like about the Devil," are twin philosophical ponderings on the lives of those two infamous characters. I especially liked the Devil poem: "The way light falls on stone / when you are hungry will / remake heaven and earth, / he knew. The Devil knew."
Robin Black's short story "Tableau Vivant" mixes the heavy topics of aging/death, infidelity, family history, and loneliness into a moving tale of loss and the strength of the mother/daughter bond.
Michael J. Marshall's photography "seeks to express not only the visual but the emotional qualities of a particular setting, to locate the transcendent in natural environments, the spirit inherent in place" (from "Genius Loci" Introduction by M.W.). Marshall's photos, which use the "nineteenth-century process of platinum printing," do capture a sort of timelessness; the natural objects he photographs exhibit peace, as if they have been there forever and will remain longer. Beautifully reproduced here, his work makes one feel the isolation, the history, and the unerring wisdom of nature.
This issue of The Georgia Review offers much food for thought. It is not a journal that one can breeze through. It is slow going to process the writing and art offered here, but then, classic beauty takes time.