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Southern Poetry Review - 2016

  • Image: Image
  • Issue Number: Volume 54 Issue 1
  • Published Date: 2016
  • Publication Cycle: Semiannual

If I were to give this issue of Southern Poetry Review a title, it might be “Profound Perspectives” or “Meaning in the Moment.” The poems in this issue find moments of awe in life events and transport them from the mundane through reflection to the place where art lives in all its weighty insightfulness and magic. The poets accomplish this with rich imagery, carefully controlled lines and stanzas, and an attention to the natural rhythm of language.

The richness of the imagery in this issue’s poems conveys emotion and sensation while describing lightning, finches, household repairs, flowers on a grave, or a dying mother. David Tagnani’s haiku “Grave Flowers” is all image and metaphor, ending with, “Lichens stubble it.­­”

This type of close observance is found in nearly every poem in this issue. Consider Jody Bolz’s “Repairs,” in which the rhythmic imagery works to show how important the “you” in the poem is, and how much the speaker relies on that person to know how to fix everything. The cadences in the lines are as important as the words. In stanza three, the speaker relates how the person described would sometimes go:

twice on a Saturday to gather supplies
brackets for the rattling pipes
copper wire solder spackle
hinges slide-lock thermostat
and items I can’t even name

The lack of punctuation in the poem invites the reader to keep up with the lists without pause, to take in all of what the poet wants to reveal about this relationship and the realization that the speaker of the poem has “learned next to nothing / understood next to nothing.” In a­­ similarly close observance in “Flashlight,” Emily Tuszynska illuminates what happens when “Once again the planet has rolled / to expose us to darkness” and how “Our flashlight marks the path / with its vanishing trace.” Between these couplets, the reader finds more images of darkness, distance, and light that change the perspective from one’s own little world to the expanse of the earth where we are “pressing on beyond understanding.” Paul Martin relates an observance of the last moments of his mother’s life in “Passage,” a ten-line chronicle ending with a powerful image after she breathed her last: “Outside her window a clump of snow / fell from a branch and shook it.” These last lines place death in a personal space and also in the comfort of the natural world. In this issue, observations may begin with a close look but eventually end with a view through a wider lens.

Moving in another direction, Robert Cording’s “Cedar Waxwings” begins in contemplation of a greater philosophy and ends with a closer look at the flock to appreciate the birds: “all silky brown, gray, and yellow, / gliding in like good luck.” Cording leaves a discussion of tragedy and happiness courtesy of Greek playwrights to relish in the flight of the waxwings, observing closely enough to see how “they pick the red berries / and hold them momentarily in their beaks / or pass a berry from one bird to another.”

The larger meaning behind the destruction of their nest is at the thematic core of Veronica Patterson’s “Finches,” in which she too finds a greater meaning in an event that others might have missed. Her questions wonder at the meaning of the destruction for the finches and how they perceive what has happened. She asks, “Are they saying in finch / oh my god, oh my god // as we do at the news / of hurricane, tumor, fire?” Assigning human emotions brings attention to the daily negligence of humans to the natural world.

The natural world is a major character in this issue of the Southern Poetry Review in which many poems address the relationship between humans and nature, melding the two into a larger perspective of how life plays out on earth. Each poem has its subject and its voice aimed at the small occurrences that fill human lives, that matter in their moments, and that reveal who we are. After reading this issue, I come to the same conclusion as Robert P. Cooke in “Last Bumblebees”:

How silly I am.
My talk of God. My jar of money.

And as R.T. Smith writes in “New Bluetick,” the last poem of the issue, let “no hunt ever prove wild enough / to soothe the yearning / in that howl.” Indeed.

With so many new views to consider in these poems, it is easier to put things into perspective. These well-crafted poems are worth visiting for their awareness of perception and their observations of consequence and understanding.


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Review Posted on November 15, 2016

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