The official journal of the low-residency M.F.A. program at Murray State University, New Madrid “takes its name from the New Madrid seismic zone, which falls within the central Mississippi Valley and extends through western Kentucky.” Earthquakes within this region have caused the river to change course and after-effects have been felt as far away as New England. The quiet, honest intensity of the work in this issue is less explosive than a violent weather event to be sure, but powerful and lasting nonetheless. This issue includes the work of sixteen poets, including a special feature on “Emerging Poets,” four stories, an essay, and a couple of reviews. The work is steady, sturdy, and precise, careful work that takes itself seriously and encourages thoughtfulness and deliberate, attentive reading.
The emerging poets feature, highlighting the work of four poets whose first books were published in 2008, Elizabeth Bradfield, Jericho Brown, Sean Hill, and Catherine Pierce, is especially appealing. In these times when book sales are slow, which, I assume means sales of poetry books are even slower, I hope that features like these may boost book sales by giving readers a chance to sample “emerging” writers’ work. I appreciated the range of poets and presses represented in this section (Red Hen and Saturnalia, for example, tend to publish poets with very different tendencies, the latter offering work that tends to be edgier and more oriented toward daring and inventive language). I don’t typically care to read a poet’s remarks about her work, but the “Author’s Statements” here are more instructive and less self serving than most. Bradfield says, “In the end, it’s all mysterious, isn’t it? The interplay of subject, diction, song, beauty, and strangeness. And that, for me is reason to keep writing.” And reading!
There isn’t a piece in the volume I wouldn’t recommend. Poetry represents a nice balance of narrative and lyric. Judy Jordan has eight lovely poems that will change your mind about “nature poetry,” if you don’t really care for it (which they did, and I don’t). Widely published essayist Maureen P. Stanton’s essay is a short dissertation on an incident that, it turns out, is not incidental, but essential in terms of her understanding of human relationships, the kind of short narrative burst I’d like to see more of in literary journals. The fiction is much like the poetry: purposeful, quiet, finely crafted, and utterly readable.