America is the land of reinvention: we love people and institutions that arise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of their old selves, glittering and new. Now New South, a dazzling literary magazine out of Georgia State University, has joined the ranks of Madonna, the U.S. Mint, and other such American institutions. Formerly GSU Review, New South’s inaugural issue features a snazzy red plane flanked by two smaller planes, jetting into a future that looks wide open.
The strongest offerings are poems – fitting, perhaps, since poets are our visionaries. A stand-out interview with Jake Adam York about the consolations and limitations of elegy precedes a portfolio of his poems. York says that when writing his poems, which deal with racial violence in the South, he wondered how elegy might “leave a residue of violence or loss as a way of recognizing the impossibility of rescinding loss or suffering,” and experimented with pairing brutal subject matter with a beautiful and consoling cadence. His interview alone is worth the price of the magazine. So too are his poems, one of which begins, “A cloud of starlings drifts from the river, // at first, a smudge on the sky / or the hospital window, // then more definite, // contracting then scattering / like pain.”
In another kind of elegy, the speaker of Billy Reynolds’ “The Unfledged Ducks in the Abandoned Clarifier” remembers a trip to a water plant with a friend he has lost touch with and presumes dead. The friend risked his life to rescue a family of ducks: “It is still summer, and you hang on the edge ready to drop down. / I’m on my belly snaked under the guardrail. By now I have my hands / on your wrist, waiting. It looks as if the entire sky is waiting.” We are left with an image of grace, the ducks departing, the friend counting them, “each number mouthed without any sound, like a teacher asking / for a show of hands, each hand held higher, and higher still.”
Flash fiction has found a haven here – it makes up nearly half the fiction pieces. Michael Czyzniejewski’s “The Magic of Oil Painting” is particularly successful. A longer story, “Marietta and the Money,” by Lucy Berrington, in which a woman makes Christmas ornaments out of dollar bills to spite her alimony-paying ex-husband, is also not to be missed.
This reinvention is a success. If this issue is any indication, New South is on its way to becoming an old mainstay.