Published by Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (not to be confused with The Southwest Review published by Southern Methodist University), Sou’wester celebrated its fiftieth anniversary edition in 2011 and succeeds in the commemorative issue in creating a balanced fugue of themes, style and subject.
Regarding this Fiftieth Anniversary issue, I struck editorial gold in the work at the center of the magazine, where poets Sean Singer and Erika Meitner book-end “Tiger, Tiger,” a short story by Leyna Krow. What makes this journal outstanding is captured in this sample—experimentation in Singer’s work is complemented by the gentle lyricism in Meitner’s poems, and Krow’s clean prose exudes incisive social commentary while telling what seems like a simple story about a neighborhood mystery about what seems to be.
I liked “Tiger, Tiger” because it is an achievement in the arc of the storyline that is chiseled and runs parallel to the underlying theoretical plot with admirable discipline. “Tiger, Tiger” could be construed to be about, on the surface, the story of four neighbors trying to discern if another neighbor has captured a wild animal on his property and whether or not he runs a meth lab. The use of tiger as a symbol is hugely rich with many celebrated recent incantations, political and literary, to reference a few. (However, the treatment is more “Rear Window” or “Bart of Darkness” than “La Dolce Vita.”) But the emotional layering—unemployment, the fragility of a marriage for a couple just past a miscarriage—raises another plot, and the two weave together to a powerfully orchestrated conclusion that is both an epiphany and an allusion to a Yeatsian longing: ”the presence of the alleged tiger has never really left me. . . . I feel it most acutely in the thin hours of the morning . . . Everywhere I go, something is amiss.”
Sean Singer’s poems “Afrofutrism,” “Ars Poetica,” and “Roundhouse Kick to the Solar Plexus” are radically different in style, subject matter and theory from Erika Meitner’s “Bedtime” and “Maple Ridge,” and this diversity is a precise achievement. Sou’wester brings together poets who stand on their own, each with unique timbers but can invoke John Ashbery and Billy Collins in one book. I love Meitner’s classic Americana Halloween imagery in “Maple Ridge”: “We can count on the neighbor’s cigarette / and children like our street, sweet things. / We don’t turn anyone away.”
And this juxtaposition of different styles is a great gift—I enjoy the Meitner even though I’d select Stevens over Sexton any day.
From “Ars Poetica”:
If poetry is the essence
Of thinking, then the fourth dimension of time
In music is swing. If the fourth
Dimension is swing, then obstacles are transformed
Singer reveals more “keys” than, say, later Ashbery work (I’m thinking of Can You Hear, Bird ), but you still need to focus on the details and deconstruct the eerie poem with full post-fledgling effort. I read it with a ruler to slow down the lines; the meaning is rich and well worth the time in discovering it, or at least worth the time in discovering your own meaning and interpretation in the words.
The prose in this volume also kicked open a door for considerable examination. “The Man who was Cast into the Void” was a futuristic-folk art meditation that challenges the legacy of Italo Calvino and Washington Irving in a brilliant escape from the kind of philosophical narration usually employed to seize the big contemplations of meaning in “the void.”
Creating a tremendous lyric in the early part of the journal Makalani Bandele provides “Souls of Black Folks Boogie Woogie,” “The Three Faces of an Elvin Jones Solo,” and “Cornet Chop Suey,” poems that were bold and innovative with form and a trove of allusion.
The journal is ended with the cadences of Marc McKee. From “A Moment in Fill-In-the-Blank City,” the ending strikes me as a lovely way to start to close a strong book of literature:
Let’s not stop
making maps and letting maps help make us
even as the burning cities seem,
for a moment, like mirrors
In sum, Sou’wester is a bright, energetic publication that can be read in pajamas—or pantsuits that is, on many different levels that all seem to work well and function cohesively. The writers in this journal are uniformly excellent and marry diverse styles and content in a triumphant read.