A lot has happened regarding devastating clashes between law enforcement and the general citizenry here in Baton Rouge and across the United States in the past week, and it continues. Many people have spoken their opinions in person, in writing, on social media, and so forth. I don’t have anything to add, no brilliant insight or proposed solution. I just see a lot of people in pain and that pain manifesting itself in various, individual ways: frustration, sadness, anger, compassion, lack of compassion, judgment, self-righteousness.
A few days ago I told our publisher I didn’t want to write this blog. I was dreading it. I didn’t know how my usual banter that leads into my talking about the new issue of the journal could work at such a sad time. All weekend I was thinking of how much pain and anger and frustration and sadness was around me, and even my daughter’s usual adorable antics—a common theme in my blog—couldn’t set it right. Two weeks ago, before any of the events of Baton Rouge, Saint Paul, or Dallas unfolded, I read a poem by Maggie Smith, a contributor to The Southern Review. Like a lot of you reading this blog, I wake up to a daily dose of beauty sent to my e-mail from the Poetry Foundation. Her poem “Good Bones,” is a seventeen-line powerhouse. In it she talks about protecting her children from the world which “is at least half terrible.” But she’s attempting to sell the world to her kids, like “any decent realtor” would, by trying to convince them, the reader, and herself that the world has “good bones” and that, with the right touch, “You could make this place beautiful.” I shared it two weeks ago on Facebook, and for the past week, especially, that’s what I’ve seen on Facebook and in the news: that the world continues to be at least half terrible. I told my good friend last night that I’m shutting off social media for now because I can’t take everyone’s feed. But before I do, I am going to give you something beautiful, not terrible, to read.
And here’s where I remind you that we have a new issue out, and it’s gorgeous from cover to cover. Internationally celebrated artist and recipient of the U. S. Department of State’s Medal of Arts award Kehinde Wiley provides images of his vibrant paintings for our summer issue. His aesthetic simultaneously prompts an emotional and intellectual response by using the traditions of portrait painting to show young black men and women in positions of power. You can view Wiley’s paintings and read about him here. You can read his statement about his work in the issue.
In addition to Wiley’s lush, provocative paintings, the new issue includes much wonderful writing, of course. The issue opens with “Letter to Summer, from the Other Side,” from Louisiana Poet Laureate Peter Cooley, a poem he says is inspired by his favorite poet, Emily Dickinson, and that he reads in our audio gallery, which includes a dozen contributors this season. I’m happy to share poems on the more unexpected topics of gastronomic challenges from Mary Jo Firth Gillett (“Strange Appetites”) and Christine Rhein (“‘Woman Fries and Eats Pet Goldfish After Fight With Husband’”) and professional wrestling from Carrie Shipers (“Poem Ending When My Match Is Cut Because the Show Is Running Over”). And, as always, I love David St. John’s verse. His “Emanations” is a sprawling, vivid journey along the California coast and around the area known as Jeffers Country, named after the poet Robinson Jeffers who lived there. At one point, about two-thirds of the way through the poem, the speaker says, “Today we walked down to Henry Miller’s library to steal Wi-Fi / & sit with an espresso // —as news of the world came a hawk overhead dipped one wing // So I turned off my phone & opened The Air-Conditioned Nightmare // & that’s all the irony anyone should share.” I like that irony and the notion of shutting off the news of the world to steep oneself in literature.
I’m posting this blog on the Internet and on Facebook, and then I’m shutting it down, for a while at least. When I get back home to New Orleans, I’m going to take the summer issue of the journal to the pool with my daughter, Saoirse (whose name means “freedom,” for another dose of irony), and sink myself into the pages of the new issue, rereading Richard V. McGehee’s translation of Eduardo Sacheri’s charming story about flirtation and soccer, “A Smile Exactly like That,” and Josip Novakovich’s “Vignettes”—humorous short essays about a love of wine and drinking. Maybe it’s an escape from the reality of the day, but it is still a reality that is worthy. One way to help make the world a beautiful place is to offer it beautiful things.
The summer issue is now available for purchase online or from your favorite bookstore.