Southern Indiana Review takes geography seriously. Based in a heartland where visions of utopia still color local history, this journal blends a commitment to regional writers with an equal commitment to a broader audience. The resulting volume succeeds on both counts, celebrating a range of largely Midwestern voices within a far-reaching context that is anything but provincial. The variety of genres and forms presented here illuminates SIR’s encompassing aesthetic.
Grouped together, poems pave the way, followed by stories, including the winners of the Mary C. Mohr Short Fiction Awards. Read on for an interview with contest judge Speer Morgan, and a relatively new addition: fiction and poetry reviews. Socially conscious themes help the pieces cohere, as do intermittent black-and-white photographs of John McNaughton’s distorted sculptures. In the poems especially, death and suffering feature prominently, from the horrors of war (Pamela Garvey’s “Fear”) to a more internal crisis (Brand Sauerman’s “Western Nightmare”). Longings for peace resonate most strongly in Allison Joseph’s “February Prayer for a Roofless Church,” which invokes the post-utopian New Harmony setting of SIR’s biannual RopeWalk Retreat: “May no one defile you with songs / unfit for celebration.” Stories, too, explore relational themes. The first-place “Decadence,” by Dana Kinstler, descends a relationship’s ladder in twenty rung-like parts.
The remaining stories speak to questions of alienation, both of person and of place. All make excellent reading, but the standout, Mark Lindensmith’s “Forms of Life – Kansas, 1957,” takes the reader inside the eerie, yellow stillness of family secrets just before the inevitable cyclone of reckoning touches down. SIR’s sampler-style openness, though refreshing, risks a parallel unevenness of quality. Some poems suffer too much detachment, while others seem too heartfelt. Marika Lindholm’s beautiful but disjointed story, “Fall Seven Times, Stand Up Eight,” means well, but forces its Asian sensibility through self-conscious, iconic prop-strewing. “Mahjong,” knives, sushi, wasabi, fugu – all the Americanized romanticisms are here, and this good story, as a result, rings hollow. SIR, though, earns its stated goals. Read it as a cross section, a crossroads, a point of contact – and come away transported, through the Midwest and beyond.