This thirty-fifth anniversary issue features poetry from several dozen poets with largely, though not exclusively, narrative tendencies, two essays, six works of short fiction, and three illustrators. Stephen Dunn, Maxine Kumin, Molly Peacock, and Charles Harper Webb are the headliners, joined by such other familiar, it not household names, as Leslie Adrienne Miller and Sarah Kennedy. Bret Gottschall’s charcoal on paper drawings are stunning (“I am interested in the allure and mystery of beauty in the nape of a woman’s neck or the light that, reflect off breasts, illuminates the lonely underside of a chin. In the right light and surroundings, we are all beautiful in one way or another.”). The issue is, overall, extremely pleasing, creating a sense of satisfied, contented reading, a story to sink your teeth into (whether in verse or prose).
Several poets recount the lives of famous men and their professions. Here is Galileo at his best, in a poem in the scientist’s name by George Bilgere:
Best of all, the Pope would flip out,
A brass rod rammed up his pious ass.
What a night he was having!
Plus, he had just discovered the universe.
Leslie Adrienne Miller, too, concerns herself with the lives of famous men in “fizee óllajee” (whose title I cannot correctly reproduce with its phonetic upside down e):
Why is it so amusing to know that Darwin
why obese to the degree that a half moon
had to be cut from his dining table…
Better yet that Beddoes believed
in the curative powers of bovine breath…
Here is the last generation of men
schooled in the flesh. Who knew
how the firm whorls of the human brain
Soften too fast in a corpse…
And a story about another profession, by Walter Bergen, “Poet as Grand Marshal of the Fall Parade”:
Doubting the gravitas, the decorum, it’s poetry after all,
and being led by a Boy Scout honor guard that’s following a police car’s
flashing lights, their brown shirts sashed with merit badges,
and behind them the poet bucket-seated
in a low-riding wine-dark sports car, hand-lettered signs
announcing his presence…
Allision Joseph, instead, offers a poem not about the poet’s life, but about her tools, in “Notebooks”:
I crave them as if craving something carnal,
Blankness of pages erotic, clean with sensual
Possibilities and ready to be dampened
By my insistent ink, swirls of language
Made plain on thin blue lines taut
Leonard Kress, too, concerns himself with the lives and work of poets (Ginsberg, Creeley, Duncan, Corso, Kinnell, Bly, Rexroth) in “Harmonium” (‘You don’t love your harmonium enough,’ / said Ginsberg. But he was wrong!”)
Poets Loren Graham, Jennifer Perrine, Daniel Donaghy, Charles Harper Webb, and David Axelrod tell family stories. Dan Olburn unfolds the story of a near tragic airplane crash (“In the Unlikely Event of a Water Landing”), and John Ridland imagines the life of figure in a Vermeer painting (“A Woman Holding a Balance”).
An usual and witty entry is an imitation of the best-selling “dummies” books, “Dummies Books for Dummies. The Guide to the Guides for the Rest of Us, Featuring an Expert Writers: Andrew Hudgins,” illustrated with a cover featuring the familiar dummies books look and illustrated book pages. A dummies book about how to read dummies books, Hidgins piece is funny and sarcastic:
Tip for more advanced readers: Though the location of the numbers varies, they are generally in the same place on each book. For instance, if the book has the number one in the upper right hand corner, all subsequent numbers (2,3,4, and so on) will also be in the upper right-hand corner.
Henry I. Schvey, Professor of Drama and Comparative Literature at Washington University contributes an essay about meeting the Scottish scholar of American drama Konrad Kopkins and his own encounter with the works of Tennessee Williams. And there are a number of fine stories, including a short-short by Buzz Mauro (“Long Division”) and a satisfying contribution by Qui Xialong, “Chinese Chess (1964),” a story of the grueling college entrance exam experience.
We wish the folks at River Styx – and their readers – another successful thirty-five years.