One of poetry’s most useful, satisfying, and unique characteristics is the power to capture life’s small philosophical or metaphysical realities with a kind of precise, economical, focused – and uncanny – accuracy. These are the sorts of poems at which this small journal seems to excel. Poems that embody both physical and emotional immediacy. Masters of the art represented here include David Wagoner, Margaret Gibson, Carl Dennis, and Kelly Cherry, who are joined by more than two dozen others who clearly also excel in this arena.
Southern Poetry Review is not, however, dedicated only to this approach. Susan Cohen’s “Cargador de Flores,” inspired by a painting of Diego Rivera, is a family poem of considerable appeal (“It’s him! ... this man who overlooked by childhood from a print / above my parents’ bed. He’s still burdened by blossoms / piled so high they shove his sombrero down over his brows.”) Keith Flynn recreates a historical situation with incredible subtlety and power in “Nanking, 1937” (“I used what was left of my hands to dig / through the stench and wails and jelly / to the surface, and walked / thirty-five miles to tell you this tale.”)
I think of Kelly Cherry as the one of the best practitioners of the small philosophical poem. She’s at the top of her game here with “Which is a Verb” and “Underwriting the Words” (“Ousted from heaven, / we crashed to language.”) Jody Bolz with “Breakage” proves to be a gifted contributor to this “mini genre,” as well:
rough as gravel
where it ruptures
at each wrist,
the history of art,
is full of damage.
Amy M. Clark, too, is clearly at home in this realm with “Going Back”:
Sometimes you have to go back
for the things you’ve forgotten
that you cannot do without –
all that remains
of the food, or your notebook. So
you turn back, an act of subtraction,
hoping the thing is still there
to anyone but you.
In “Fish Cutter,” Joe Wilkins asks “You think you know the world?” After reading this issue of Southern Poetry Review, my answers: well … yes!