This issue delivers a lot of interest in relatively few pages by coming at writers from more than one angle. This is particularly effective in the treatment of Carolyn Elkins, a fine poet now living in North Carolina but with roots in the Mississippi Delta, where Poetry South is based. We’re given a generous serving of Elkins’s poetry, seven poems, as well as an interview with her by the magazine’s editor, John Zheng. As a bonus, Zheng discusses three additional poems with the author in some detail and prints the texts in full. Here, all in one place, is an introduction to a poet whose skill and imagination run deep.
Depth, as it turns out, is a recurring motif for Elkins. “Deep Field Gravitational Lensing” recounts her physicist son’s attempt to explain his work to her. He looks for the invisible patches at the edge of the universe, the “absolute illusions” that can be traced back to show what exists—or rather, what did exist, because, as he says, “space is time, / when you look this far back, / when you look this deep.” Her poem “The Inversion of the World” meditates on the way sunlight and breeze pass each other morning and evening in the mountains, “like they’ve struck an uneasy bargain, / some kind of Persephone exchange, / one released from the deep clefts of the world.” And in “Well Water,” Elkins describes drilling in New Mexico that requires far more depth than the protagonists imagined. The poem is a perfectly realized metaphor for any number of things, among them poetry, love, marriage . . .
Zheng’s interview with Elkins covers such topics as her belief that the most important thing for a poet is to “feel her emotions more strongly than most people.” This leads her to discuss poetic form and the passage of time as ways in which emotion is controlled in the service of art. Elkins’s work indeed offers that balance. Each poem here is succinct and direct (and one is a sonnet), and each also realizes an emotion—awe, joy, desolation, or the strain of a family relationship—that is genuine and honestly portrayed. Elkins is the author of Angel Pays a Visit, Daedalus Rising, and Coriolis Forces. She is also associate editor of Tar River Poetry.
This issue gives readers several bites of the apple with the work of Theodore Haddin (two poems and a review of Dana Gioia’s Pity the Beautiful: Poems); and Angela Ball (three poems and a review by Kimberly Allen of her 2007 book Night Clerk at the Hotel of Both Worlds). More biting and ironic than Elkins’s poems, Ball is likewise succinct and powerful. “She tried to deserve a family,” Ball writes in “By Way of Explanation,” a 17-line summary of a faculty wife’s marriage. “She married someone who relished these efforts / Fully and temporarily . . .” Gioia himself contributes a lovely translation of a poem by Antonia Machado.
Other rewarding poems in this issue include work by Chicago blues poet Sterling Plumpp; Minneapolis housewife, mother, and needlepoint teacher Holly Day; Mississippi poet and teacher Kendall Dunkelberg; and Idaho poet and teacher Ron McFarland, whose “Wildfire in Florida” is a gem of a childhood memory poem about the consequences of not knowing how far the hose will reach.