The rainstorm that thrashed its way across the Northeast in March was just delivering its final punishing blows to the tri-state region when I read Christine Tobin’s “Exhale,” winner of the The Greensboro Review’s Amon Liner Poetry Prize. She captures well the anxiety before and sense of strangeness and near disassociation during a storm of great magnitude, and then the return to routine, in this case one that is symbolic of the death and destruction of the everyday, the cycle of life with or without storms, the return to normalcy as a return to a cycle of expected devastation on some level:
In the morning I find the trophy my cat left –
a small creature – a mouse or mole
almost neatly dissected on the rug in front of the cast-iron stove:
body, then head, then organs clustered like whitewashed pebbles.
Tobin’s poem is representative of many of the poems and stories in the issue, small narratives that build to impressive, lasting final images of visual or metaphysical heft (the other award-winning poem, “Father as a Distant Boat” by Jennifer Whitaker; Lois Beebe Hayna’s poem, “Brief Eden”; Michael Cadnum’s poem, “Neglected Garden”; stories by Alexander Lumans and Denzil Strickland).
At the same time, there are significant departures, particularly in the poetry selections, from this model, demonstrating the editors’ eclectic editorial vision. Byron A. Kanoti’s “Earth-Eater! Earth-Eater!”, composed of single lines that stretch across the page (left margin/indented line/left margin/indented line) in an urgent lyrical plea, also uses the storm as metaphor, but with an entirely distinct aesthetic from Tobin’s. At the same time, he brings us to a conclusion not unlike hers, and then to another wholly unique:
When we are finished we are mysteries
–for sciences of the delivered–
All music is broken from silences in stone.
offend a bored god then retreat
into the deep mood of its first believer.
Stephanie M. Boyle Fledderjohann’s “All That Resides in the Unspoken,” offers another approach to images of damage (“Why can’t you keep your life together?” the poem begins). Her poem is composed of four single-line questions, answered in parentheses containing longer verses, paragraph-like in italics (the unspoken). The poem is one of loss and grief, which does, so often it seems to me, prompt us to imagine answers to questions we will never have a chance to ask.
Stories are told in casual, familiar voices and tell the tale, for the most part, of family relationships There are natural disasters here, too, (a forest fire in Bushnell’s “J. T. Bushnell’s Evacuation”), and the same press toward snapshot-image-conclusions as in much of the poetry (“Her arm dropping like dead weight around him and pulling him tightly against her body” in Strickland’s “Texas is a Big Place”). There is a decided tenderness in most of this work, a forward motion toward the clear skies at the end of the storms, that keeps us hopeful – and reading.