The twenty-fifth anniversary edition of the Birmingham Poetry Review presents readers with a special feature: six poems and an interview with Pulitzer Prize winning, former Virginia Poet Laureate, Claudia Emerson. The six poems demonstrate her range and proficiency as an acclaimed American poet; from her historical poem “Virginia Christian,” a narrative of the “first female electrocuted in the state of Virginia in 1912,” to the “Lightning” sonnet that brings us to the electric moment when the poem’s persona “hears the strike that splits the pecan tree,” readers are treated to language that at once is immediate and powerful.
What follows are highly crafted poems from an array of poets. David Kirby’s dexterity with social commentary is a priceless offering that makes readers both smile and wonder at the sad state of the world. Describing dope dealers in an audience listening to an address by Jefferson Davis, Kirby observes:
What makes dope dealers so fat? I know, it’s because they
can make thousands of dollars each week by making a few
phone calls rather than hundreds delivering stuff and throwing
their backs out or mowing people’s lawns only to have
them say, “You missed a patch over there” and not tip you.
Kirby’s Civil War irony that follows is set up perfectly to show the struggles in the U.S. both then and now. Further on, Harvard graduates and Helen of Troy join the group in elevating the dealers historically and socially. Kirby’s second offering is one that every poet who has ever read publically and every student who has ever attended a poetry reading will value for its candor.
The range of poets and poems provides readers with glimpses into lives, moments, and reflections that hold universal significance and reach readers with language that echoes its meaning long after they have put down the magazine. Meg Sexton imparts her poetic memoir, “Crabapples,” in a prose piece that perceptively demonstrates the meaning of perspective. The speaker wonders about her long-ago friend and furnishes readers with this insight: “Thinking now of that place is like peering out a plane ascending to 30,000 feet: the higher we rise, the harder I squint to see.”
Similarly discerning, is Jehanne Dubrow’s “Milagro Umbrella Factory,” which brings readers into the world of umbrella manufacturing, demonstrating the success of the speaker’s grandmother in knowing what consumers wanted from an umbrella. Her organization and courage were keys to her success:
In the beginning, every shade was black. But grandmother wanted scarab green, purple, the pink of bougainvillea. Parasols for sun, umbrellas for rain. Everything had its proper name. Her columns always added up.
But the poem is much more than anecdotal or reverent. It speaks of sweat shop workers, working conditions, as well as inventions and the ideas that spawn them.
This issue is filled with gems of poetic intuition and bravery encompassing a wide range of subjects and prize winning poets. The issue closes with four reviews of recently published poetry collections, illustrating even more the bounty of poetry extant in the world. We should all partake of what Claudia Emerson calls “the highly ordered language of poetry.” All of the poems in this issue fit into this high order and ask readers to soar with them.