I am enamored of literary magazines devoted solely to poetry. I look forward to immersing myself in metaphor, surrendering to symbolism, and indulging in sensory imagery to my heart’s content. This issue of Southern Poetry Review delivers a compilation of poems of such craft and mastery that leaves me nearly speechless and most assuredly breathless.
The poets represented in this issue are the heavy hitters, the rock stars, the ones whose work we lesser beings aspire to be near, to hear read, or to have read pages of their published collections. Among the poets in this issue are notables such as Billy Collins and Claudia Emerson. The longer list of contributors includes the names of poets whose works grace the pages of prestigious journals and who have numerous publications, chapbooks, and collections after their names.
The poems in this issue are sublime, narrative, observant, and structured all at once, reaching the height of poetic proficiency. Having read poetry for as long as I can remember and having written poetry throughout my adult life, I read with an intent to understand, to enter the world of the poet, and to come away with more than I had on arrival. I come away with an abundance.
I am allowed to watch an 89-year-old woman complete a puzzle in Richard Krohn’s “Jigsaw Moose”:
Her hands, veins meandering among age spots
and knuckles, shake as she cheats with the box-
cover, Moose in Main, as if logic and squinting
could home a piece’s role into its setting’s
whole. . . .
I am there until the completion, the end, to find the miracle.
Claudia Emerson’s poem “Lock” shares an encounter with greatness at an Emily Dickinson Exhibit in which attendees view a lock of Dickinson’s hair:
and next to it,
the something rare, unexpected, lock
of her hair—the shape and circumference
reminiscent of a sparrow’s nest, the color
she likened to a chestnut bur. . . .
And then the description of those who
get close enough, they will never be any
closer than this to what it does not tell them,
and they are desperate for all that that might mean.
This poem leaves me breathless, wanting for something intangible to which the poet has given voice.
Every poem in this issue is a masterful mini-world where the ordinary becomes extraordinary and holds meaning worth my contemplation, that makes me ponder long after I’ve finished reading, long after I’ve left to my own world, made all the richer for these poetic interactions. These poems nourish.
Melanie McCabe’s “Foresight” lures me with her first few lines: “I know precisely what to do to avert disaster, / and do not do it. My friends are wary, // prudent; I can read their minds.” I’m taken into this world of the speaker who is alone even among friends and hears “reason, dictating, in a nearby room.”
Michael McFee’s “Snoring” is accurate, fulfilling description of sleep apnea by the unafflicted. The speaker fears the snorer had “snorkeled too deep and couldn’t quite / make it to the surface without choking on water.” The lines and stanzas resemble snoring with diction such as “hiss and bleat and gag and growl and snuffle.” I’m reminded of my father’s snoring and know why my daughter jostles me awake when I nap on the sofa.
In “Sea Daffodils” Maura Stanton tells of the scarcity of flowers that once were abundant, explains what has caused this absence: “Fingers of oil wash in, or a new hotel / Covers the beach where bulbs once thrust through rocks.”
Natural events noticed by the poets in this issue are made profound, from Billy Collins’s contemplation of a robin who “could be Immanuel Kant were he not so small / and feathered,” to John Bensko’s “Cricket” described as “a rasping // memory of warm / nights of childhood.” The poems draw attention to the nuances of life that may go unnoticed if not for their having been written.
Reading is an inefficient verb for my encounter with these works, and I am left bereft of vocabulary sufficient to my task as reviewer. My final words are an urging for readers to run to this issue and read every word; you will find yourself running back again and again for sustenance.