The Arkansas Review features a blend of fiction, poetry, photography, and scholarly articles about the seven-state Mississippi River Delta. At fifty pages, the brief journal is an interesting study of this part of America, but at times feels claustrophobic in its geographic constraints. What sets this magazine apart from others is the chorus of Delta voices and its convincing local color.
The journal is filled primarily with first-person accounts of people from or living in the Delta area, which adds a degree of credibility and intimacy to the journal that few others achieve. “Getting to Grand Isle,” a memoir by Ramona DeFelice Long about the shifting role of the bridge that connects Grand Isle to the rest of Louisiana, mixes the personal and the historical with a subtle critique of the changing times that ends with a pang of nostalgia.
The opening essay by Robert Hunt Ferguson outlines a history of the Great Depression and Christianity converging through the story of John L. Handcox’s poems and protest songs. Though some biographical information feels dry, Handcox’s ultimate refusal of the “end-times” leads to a proactive account of his fight against unions. The black and white photographic essay by Willy Conley that follows, “Ends of an Era,” conveys a sense of nostalgic patriotism in its objects: a Chevy truck walled by chicken crates, a 64 Motel, a shackled tool shed, and time-beaten signs. Conley’s background in biomedical photography comes through in his documentive approach.
Reviewers in the past have noted that the journal’s academic articles stand out among the rest, and I agree. In “Sharing Chopin,” Nicole Diederich puts Stanley Fish’s interpretive communities to a test by teaching Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” to two different classes: American students and international students. Her account of the resulting discussions is interestingly framed, and her pedagogical approaches pushes at conventional definitions of what it means to be a teacher. Her insights and her expression of her goals for the process are even more impressive: “I wanted to blur [the students’] boundaries, to encourage them to develop an interpretive community that would recognize connections between literature and their majors,” and “this work of literature . . . invites students to become active participants in developing their own knowledge, in making their own meaning within an interpretive community.”
Brad Cobb’s fiction piece “The Country Girl” is an original story that takes place entirely in an elderly man’s house. The first-person narrative brings us incredibly close to the old man, whose awareness of his own aging process is endearing and occasionally painful. When he hires a new woman to help him get around the house, the story really takes off, ending on an unexpected note that is both devastating and hopeful. While the sometimes-stilted language becomes a pimple on the narrative’s otherwise clear face, Cobb’s story is refreshing and a delightful read.
Both written in the first person, the poems “After the Flood,” by Anne M. Shaughnessy, and “Chinese Mulberry Tree,” by Celester Pottier, perhaps gave me the strongest sense of the Delta. Pottier’s poem had some of the most compelling imagery of the journal, and both tackle universal themes through individual experience. Shaughnessy’s poem illustrates one man’s suspension between life and death, living through one memory from when he was four years old that both cements him to his past and pushes him towards his mother’s open hand in the afterlife.