You may not know her name . . . yet, but Nicky Beer, author of this issue’s poetry feature, has won a fellowship from the NEA, a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, a Bread Loaf scholarship, and the Discovery/Nation Award, so, clearly, somebody’s paying attention. But that’s not why you’ll want to get to know her. You’ll want to take notice because her poem “Mako” begins “Motion took on a form / and stayed.” Because to her “all night long” means “twenty to forty minutes.” Because her poem “Hummingbird, 1:30 AM” asks us to “Consider what a thought would do / if it could abandon the body entirely.” And because she turns sharks and octopi into creatures of poetic intrigue and interest in language that is tense and indulgent, without being showy.
Beer is not the only writer with stellar credentials in New Orleans Review. I was delighted to see prose by Lynne Sharon Schwartz, a favorite of mine since her early novels. This issue features a short personal essay that must certainly be adapted or excerpted from her forthcoming memoir. “Traveling with Uncle Bert” is like most of her work, inviting and readable, making me wish I could meet the woman behind the words.
Whether you know their names or not, you’ll appreciate the sheer mastery of the writers who appear in this issue. Their work is mature and serious, thoughtful and sincere, without being sentimental. The second poetry feature is from Marci Nelligan, excerpts from “Infinite Variations,” an alluring text that bears, even demands, repeated readings – the best sort of poetry: “The skin is diffused by proportional / numbers.” I loved poems by Martha Zweig, Elizabeth Rush, and delicate, elegant translations of sixteenth century Korean poet Nansorhon Ho, translated by Ian Haight and Taeyoung Ho, as well.
Perhaps the edgiest piece is Polly Buckingham’s short story, “Compliance,” which manages to be as lyrical as it is casual and sarcastic, an excellent fable of the troubled American workplace. Chris Waddington’s story “Why Don’t You Talk About Him?” also merges the quotidian with the poetic in a family narrative that is both entertaining and heartbreaking, without a single syllable of sloppy sentimentality.
The magazine’s contributors may have jaw-dropping credentials, but there’s no snob appeal here. The issue includes fine reviews of a number of books, including (happily) several from lesser-known indie presses. Quality’s clearly what matters.