The Georgia Review is a venerable fixture on the American literary scene, and a magazine entrenched in the academic world. Founded in 1947 at the University of Georgia in Athens, Editor Stephen Corey is equally venerable, having joined the magazine in 1983. According to their website, “The Georgia Review seeks a broad audience of intellectually open and curious readers—and strives to give those readers rich content that invites and sustains repeated attention and consideration.”
The most striking feature in this issue is the art of Bianca Stone, on the cover and in a twelve-page, full-color spread of drawings titled “We Dust the Walls: A Poetry Comic.” The drawings contain short hand-lettered texts, some of which are in balloons that come from the mouths of women. Some of the women are trapped in too-small houses, or the houses have legs and eyes. A three-page introduction by “L. S.” calls the art “a highly charged, lyrical narrative” that is “conversant with Italian fresco painting.” It would be more accurate to call it surreal, like the drawings of Paul Klee, repetitious, and full of non sequiturs.
As if the art set the tone, the essays are literate, allusive and stylized. “Writing While the World Burns” by Scott Russell Sanders begins: “Suppose the year is 2100, and the mid-range predictions of today’s leading atmospheric scientists and ecologists have come to pass.” The fourteen pages that follow touch on rising sea levels, extinction, consumerism, global capitalism, ecological collapse, “the havoc wrought by our own economic systems and plutocratic governments,” and the “healing visions” of a few writers like Gary Snyder and Mary Oliver. “After the Fact: Scripts & Postscripts” by Marvin Bell and Christopher Merrill is a series of one-paragraph meditations on not-so-current events, like the death of Bertrand Russell in 1970, and the birth of the cloned sheep Dolly in 1996.
Stories by Jessica Hollander, Charles McLeod and Miles Wilson are flawlessly written, with contemporary settings, sharp dialogue, and hyper-realistic characters. In Hollander’s “Fault Line,” the first-person narrator is married to and cheats on a nerdy graduate student in damp, humid, moldy Alabama. In McLeod’s “Lords,” a widow aged 42 has a minor adventure at a waterside Oakland hotel. In Wilson’s “Tough,” an old man named Stillwell buries his grandson, killed in Afghanistan, and the government warns him to stop setting brush fires on his ranch in eastern Oregon. Yet for all the artistry in these pieces, none of these characters is very engaging, and their actions don’t amount to much.
The strength in this issue is the poetry, much of it by well-known poets like Bob Hicok, Stanley Plumly, and Andrea Hollander. Plumly’s “The Sleeping Dogs of Erice” is rich with imagery as it paints a picture of that Italian island, with its marble churches, morning fog, and stray dogs asleep in the street. “Poem as If Written by the Other Woman” by Hollander begins: “I didn’t know he was married,” then ends strong as she compares the man to a blue heron and herself to a fish, eaten alive.
Stephen Dunn has six poems from a series of twenty-five devoted to “Mrs. Cavendish,” a kind of femme fatale “among bankers and brokers / in the New Jersey suburbs.” The poems read like a short story with dialogue, maybe a story by Cheever or Updike. Elton Glaser in “Out Like a Lamb” writes about March in Ohio in a way unlike any other ode to spring: “tulips / Drunk in their cups, and the brazen azaleas—showgirls from / My Southern roots.”
Six book reviews cover linked stories by James Magruder, poetry by William Trowbridge, The Most Dangerous Book: the Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses, by Kevin Birmingham, and more. These book reviews are professional and lively, the kind that successfully make you feel you ought to read the book under review.
If the rest of the prose were this good, The Georgia Review would satisfy the most fastidious reader. As it is, no one can overlook it.