The Southern Humanities Review, published at Auburn University and affiliated with the Southern Humanities Council, is a humanities journal with a Southern flavor, not a review of the humanities in the South. This means it publishes fiction, poetry, essays, and reviews that may or may not be anchored in Southern culture. For example, the lead piece, an essay by James Braziel titled “The Ballad of JD,” is set in Georgia and Alabama and is rich in down-home, colloquial language and detail. “I’ve seen him drinking Thunderbird before, what we call hog liquor back home because it smells like a pig farm and gasoline and faintly of overripe oranges,” he reports of a man who has nearly burned himself up in an apartment fire. JD, the title character, works at the pulpwood yard and sometimes at loading watermelons badly, a nobody whose anonymous, hard life makes him, paradoxically, memorable. To tell his story, Braziel takes the long way around, making the side trips as important as the destination, the way Southerners do. So the essay is both set in the South and is Southern in its delivery.
The editors’ comments point out a theme of sadness, portrayed on the cover by Nancy Nieto’s “Skull Bride” painting. An equally strong argument could be made for the search for meaning as a theme. Devon Branca’s poem, “Game Length (Part 5),” tirelessly sieves experience and memory for nuggets of significance:
the author, in not just a meta-fictional
gesture (hopefully), would like to note that he believes ‘I love you’
is the most memorized poem in the English language,
because it is not reducible to any other set of words
and because it holds up to near-infinite but not infinite meanings.
In Clay Matthew’s poem “Dadda,” the narrator piles up observations of a morning with his baby daughter, stopping to say, “I want this all to mean something,” but then, by the end, has worked himself into another place entirely: “Every spring, there’s a perfect moment when I forget / everything I’ve learned. . . .”
The fiction comes from all over. In Vic Sizemore’s “Chamber Music,” Courtney, a classical musician and thus a woman with a certain respect and need for order, has begun a relationship with Matt, a man with children, an ex-wife, and a messy house. Courtney finds herself in a triangle, with a choice to make: life with Matt, where she is already having to mother his children, or life with music and all it implies of high culture, control, and independence. Her search for a meaningful life will weigh these two choices. The story could be set anywhere.
Christopher Linforth’s eerie “The Persistence of Vision” takes place in Brooklyn where a character named Joe Lumen, author of a novel called Here is the Light, encounters doppelgangers everywhere, most notably in the person of David Phot (phot=a unit of illumination), the main character of his novel, who appears poised to take over Joe’s life. Meaning is reduced to a desperate attempt not to lose one’s identity to a fiction.
The substantial section of book reviews offers an excellent sampler of books published by university presses in the South and important to Southern culture, such as Finding Purple America: The South and the Future of American Cultural Studies by Jon Smith, and Emily Clark’s The Strange History of the American Quadroon: Free Women of Color in the Revolutionary Atlantic World; as well as books from other cultural locations such as David Madden’s London Bridge in Plague and Fire, reviews of poetry collections such as Rae Armantrout’s Just Saying and Julianne Buchsbaum’s The Apothecary’s Heir.