Get ready for AWP 2018!

From 2/12 until the start of the AWP Annual Conference in Tampa, The Southern Review will be celebrating all our recent contributors (2016–current issue) who can also be found on AWP’s program lineup! Throughout the next four weeks issues featuring AWP panelists will only be $10. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to get panel recommendations and take advantage of the back issue promotion. We’ll feature different authors and panels almost every day! Or, bookmark this page and view all of the contributors and their panels here.

And don’t forget to come say hello at the conference! The Southern Review will be at the book fair, in booths 505/507. Coeditor Emily Nemens will also be speaking on Friday morning, March 9, 9:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m., on the panel “Born on the Bayou: Five Fiction Writers with Southern Ties”; and publisher MaryKatherine Callaway will be a part of the panel “Voice in the American Southeast: A David Kirby Tribute” on Thursday, March 8, 2018, 4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.


From our winter 2016 issue

John Peckham, author of five collections of poetry, a memoir, and a new collection of essays, Body Memory, will be presenting at the panel, “About Grief, Trauma, Loss: The Facing, the Writing, and the Healing,” on Saturday, March 10, 2018, 1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.

Lydia Conklin, who has received two Pushcart Prizes (including one awarded to the story in the winter 2016 issue), work-study scholarships from Bread Loaf, and fellowships from Emory, MacDowell, Yaddo, Hedgebrook, and Djerass, will be on the panel, “From Words to Images: Making Comics (for Writers),” on Friday, March 9, 2018, 3:00 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.


From our spring 2016 issue

Denise Duhamel’s recent book of poetry, Blowout, was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle award. She is a recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. She will be moderating the panel, “Pitt Poetry Series Reading: The Florida Connection,” on Thursday, March 8, 2018, 12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.

Sam Sax, a 2015 National Endowment for the Arts fellow, a finalist for the Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, and editor in chief of Bat City Review, will be on the panel, “Tikkun Olam: Jewish Poets on Mending the World,” on Thursday, March 8, 2018, 4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.

David James Poissant is the author of The Heaven of Animals, winner of the GLCA New Writers Award, and a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize and the PEN/Bingham Prize. His work has appeared in The Atlantic and The New York Times. He will be on the panel, “How Short Story Collections Are Born: Demystifying the Process of Publishing Your Debut Collection,” on Friday, March 9, 2018, 1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. He will also be reading from his work during the “Florida Book Award Winners Reading,” panel on Saturday, March 10, 2018, 1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.

Donna J. Long, an English professor at Fairmont State University in Fairmont, West Virgina, and editor of Kestrel: A Journal of Literature and Art, will be on the panel, “A Tribute to Van Brock, Poet and Founder of Anhinga Press,” on Friday, March 9, 2018, 10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.

Ange Mlinko, recipient of the Randall Jarrell Award from the Poetry Foundation and a Guggenheim Fellowship, is the author of five poetry collections, including her most recent, Distant Mandat.  She will be on the panel, “The Revival of Aphrodite’s Daughter: Rhetoric in Contemporary Poetry,” on Friday, March 9, 2018, 12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.

Rachel Yoder hosts The Fail Safe, a podcast about creative failure, and also edits draft: The Journal of Process. She will be on the panel, “How to Fail: On Abandoning a Manuscript, and Not,” on Saturday, March 10, 2018, 9:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.

Beth Ann Fennelly, poet laureate of Mississippi, winner of a Pushcart, an NEA, a Fulbright, and a USA Artist Grant, has published three books of poems, a book of nonfiction, and a cowritten novel. She will be on the panel, “Feminist Flash: Five Women Talk Flash Nonfiction,” on Thursday, March 8, 2018, 4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. She will also be reading from her work during the “Brevity‘s 20th Anniversary Reading” panel on Saturday, March 10, 2018, 12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.

Maggie Smith is the author of, most recently, Good Bones and The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison. Her poems have appeared in the New York Times, AGNI, and the Best American Poetry 2017, as well as on the CBS primetime drama Madam Secretary. She will be on the panel, “A Reading and Conversation with Ishion Hutchinson, Maggie Smith, and Virgil Suárez,” on Friday, March 9, 8:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. She will also be on the panel, “Why [Not] Say What Happened?: On Writing Confessional Poetry,” on Saturday, March 10, 2018, 1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.


From our summer 2016 and autumn 2016 issues

Tom Sleigh’s books include Station Zed, Army Cats (John Updike Award), and Space Walk (Kingsley Tufts Award). He will be on the panel, “Horizon on Fire: The Poet as Journalist Here and Abroad,” on Saturday, March 10, 2018, 3:00 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.

Rose McLarney,  poetry editor of Southern Humanities Review, has published two collections of poems, Its Day Being Gone, the 2013 National Poetry Series winner, and The Always Broken Plates of Mountains. She will be on the panel, “Draining the Swamp: The Future of Environmental Writing on a Changing Planet,” on Saturday, March 10, 2018, 1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.

Richie Hofmann, a 2017–19 Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University, is the author of Second Empire and a recipient of a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. He will be moderating the panel, “A Winding Stair: Teaching Poetic Form,” on Thursday, March 8, 2018, 1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. He will also be on the “Beyond the Margins: Expanding a Book Review Section” panel on Saturday, March 10, 10:30 p.m. to 11:45 p.m.

Doug Ramspeck has directed a writing center for sixteen years and is the author of six poetry books and one short story collection. He has served as a mentor with AWP’s Writer to Writer program and with the Adroit Journal. Ramspeck will be moderating the “The Mentor/Mentee Relationship for Creative Writers” panel on Thursday, March 8, 9:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.

Christine Sneed will also be on the “The Mentor/Mentee Relationship for Creative Writers” panel on Thursday, March 8, 9:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. She is the faculty director of Northwestern University’s graduate writing program; she also teaches for Regis University’s low-residency MFA program and was an AWP W2W mentor. She has published four books; her first, Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry, won the Grace Paley Prize.

Anne Valente the author of the novel, Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down, and the short story collection, By Light We Knew Our Names will moderate the “Beyond 140 Characters and the Canon: The Growth of Undergraduate Creative Writing” panel on Friday, March 9, 12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.

Bruce Bond is the author of eighteen books including Black Anthem (Tampa Review Prize), Gold Bee (Helen Smith Award, Crab Orchard Award), Sacrum, Blackout Starlight: New and Selected Poems 1997–2015 (Phillabaum Award), and Rise and Fall of the Lesser Sun Gods (Elixir Poetry Prize). He will be on the panel, “Thirty Years of Influence Across Genres in Indigenous Literature: Tribute to Diane Glancy,” on Saturday, March 10, 12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.


From our winter 2017 issue

Chelsea Rathburn, director of the creative writing program at Young Harris College and recipient of a NEA fellowship in poetry, is the author of two books of poetry, A Raft of Grief and The Shifting Line. Her writing has appeared in Poetry, The Atlantic, Creative Nonfiction, and other journals. She will be on the panel, “Writing/Motherhood: Difficulty, Ambivalence, and Joy,” on Thursday, March 8, 2018, 9:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.

Wendy Barker, recipient of NEA and Rockefeller fellowships, is the coeditor the anthology Far Out: Poems of the ’60s, and author of sixth full-length collections of poems including, One Blackbird at a Time, winner of the John Ciardi Prize in 2015. She will be on the panel, “Erasures, White Shame: We Need to Talk,” on Friday, March 9, 2018, 3:00 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.

Nicole Cooley, director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at Queens College-CUNY, is the author of a novel and six books of poems, including most recently Girl After Girl After Girl. She will be on the panel, “Feminist Flash: Five Women Talk Flash Nonfiction,” on Thursday, March 8, 2018, 4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.

Jacqueline Osherow, director of the Creative Writing program at Utah,  is author of six books of poetry, most recently Whitethorn. She has received the Witter Bynner Prize and grants from the NEA, Guggenheim, and Ingram Merrill Foundations. She will be on the panel, “Oy Vey es Florida: Poetry on the Jewish American Experience,” on Friday, March 9, 10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.


From our spring 2017 issue

Bruce Beasley is a professor of English at Western Washington University and author of eight collections of poems, including All Soul Parts Returned and Theophobia. He has won three Pushcart Prizes, an NEA fellowship, and the Colorado Prize for Poetry. He will moderate the panel, “The Dream Work of Poetry,” on Saturday, March 10,3:00 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.

Sandra Gail Lambert writes fiction and memoir that is often about the body and its relationship to the natural world. Her work has appeared in New Letters, DIAGRAM, and Hippocampus. The River’s Memory is her debut novel and she is a coeditor of the anthology Older Queer Voices. She will be on the panel, “A Reading from Flash Nonfiction Funny,” on Friday, March 9, 10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.

Kevin Prufer is the author most recently of How He Loved Them, Churches, In a Beautiful Country, and National Anthem. He is codirector of the Unsung Masters Series, and professor at the University of Houston’s creative writing program and the Lesley University low-residency MFA program. He will moderate the “Into English: The Case for Multiple Translations,” panel on Thursday, March 8, 2018, 4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. He will also be on the “Four Way Books 25th Anniversary Reading” panel on Friday, March 9, 2018, 1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.

Catherine Pierce, codirector of the creative writing program at Mississippi State University, is the author of three books of poetry: The Tornado Is the World, The Girls of Peculiar, and Famous Last Words. She will be on the panel, “Our Brilliant Friends: Women, Friendship, and Art,” on Thursday, March 8, 2018, 4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.


From our summer 2017 issue

Erika Meitner is the author of four books of poems, including Makeshift Instructions for Vigilant Girls; Ideal Cities, which was a 2009 National Poetry Series winner; and Copia. She is an associate professor of English at Virginia Tech, where she directs the MFA program in creative writing. She will be on the panel, “Tikkun Olam: Jewish Poets on Mending the World,” on Thursday, March 8, 2018, 4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.

Chanda Feldman is the author of Approaching the Fields. She is a Cave Canem Fellow, and has received a NEA Fellowship for Poetry and a Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University. She holds an MFA from Cornell University. She will be on the panel, “Writing/Motherhood: Difficulty, Ambivalence, and Joy,” on Thursday, March 8, 2018, 9:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.

Jehanne Dubrow, associate professor at the University of North Texas, is the author of six poetry collections, including most recently Dots & Dashes, The Arranged Marriage, and Red Army Red. She will be on the panel, “Conflict, Crisis, Verse: Four Poets in Conversation,” on Saturday, March 10, 2018, 9:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.

Lance Larsen, poet laureate of Utah from 2012–2017, is the author of five poetry collections, most recently What the Body Knows. He has won a Pushcart Prize and an NEA fellowship. He serves as department chair at BYU and in the spring will direct a study abroad program in London. He will moderate the panel, “Tampa Review: Celebrating 54 Years of Poetry Publishing,” Thursday, March 8, 2018, 4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.

Clinton Crockett Peters has won prizes from Shenandoah, North American Review, Columbia Journal, and Crab Orchard Review. He holds an MFA from Iowa and has work in Orion, Southern Review, The Rumpus, Fourth Genre, and Hotel Amerika. He will moderate the panel, “Writing That Raids the Real: Research in Three Genres,” on Friday, March 9, 2018, 9:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.

Gary Fincke founded Susquehanna University’s Writers Institute and directed it for twenty-one years. He won the Flannery O’Connor, Bess Hokin, George Garrett, and two Pushcart Prizes. His thirty books include Bringing Back the Bones: Selected Poems, A Room of Rain (stories), and The Canals of Mars (memoir). He will be on the panel, “That Ticking Clock: The Handling of Time in Fiction, Poetry, and Nonfiction,” on Thursday, March 8, 2018, 10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. He will also be on the “Tending the Flourishing: What Sustains Undergraduate Creative Writing Programs” panel on Saturday, March 10, 2018, 10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.


From our autumn 2017 issue

Bonnie Jo Campbell is author of Mothers Tell Your Daughters: Stories, American Salvage, a finalist for 2011 National Book Award and NBCC Award, as well as the bestselling novel Once Upon a River. She is a winner of AWP award in short fiction, the Eudora Welty Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellow. She will be on the panel, “Understanding Novel Structure,” on Friday, March 9, at 4:30 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. She will also be on the “Writing Bad Ass and Nasty Women” panel on Saturday, March 10, 2018, 10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.

Piotr Florczyk’s most recent books are East & West, a volume of poems, and two translations, My People & Other Poems by Wojciech Bonowicz, and Building the Barricade by Anna Świrszczyńska, which won the 2017 Found in Translation Award. He will be on the panel, “Negotiating Cultural Bias in Translation,” on Friday, March 9, 2018, 4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.

Amorak Huey, a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, is the author of the poetry collection Ha Ha Ha Thump and two chapbooks. He is also the coauthor with W. Todd Kaneko of the textbook Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology, forth-coming from Bloomsbury. He will be on the panel, “Required Reading: Authors, Editors, and Publishers Talk Textbooks for Creative Writers,” on Friday, March 9, 2018, 9:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.

David Kirby’s collection The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2007. His honors include fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. His latest poetry collection is Get Up, Please. He will be on the panel, “Hitting the Jackpot: How Judges Select Winning Poetry Collections,” on Thursday, March 8, 2018, 12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. He will also be reading after the “Voice in the American Southeast: A David Kirby Tribute,” panel on Thursday, March 8, 2018, 4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.


From our winter 2018 issue

Kai Carlson-Wee is a poet and filmmaker. His work appears in Ploughshares, Narrative, The Missouri Review, and he is the director of the award-winning poetry film, Riding the Highline. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow, he is a lecturer at Stanford University. He will moderate the panel, “Poetry on the Big Screen,” on Friday, March 9, 2018, 3:00 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.

Chris Dombrowski is the author of Body of Water: A Sage, a Seeker, and the World’s Most Alluring Fish as well as two acclaimed collections of poems. A second book of nonfiction, The Nature of Wonder, is also forthcoming from Milkweed. He will be on the panel, “Navigating Uncertain Terrain: Essayists of Milkweed Editions,” on Thursday, March 8, 2018, 1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.

Cary Holladay has published seven volumes of fiction, most recently Horse People: Stories and The Deer in the Mirror. More than eighty of her stories, novellas, and essays have appeared in literary journals and anthologies. Her awards include an O. Henry Prize and an NEA fellowship. She will moderate the panel, “That Ticking Clock: The Handling of Time in Fiction, Poetry, and Nonfiction,” on Thursday, March 8, 2018, 10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. She will also be on the “Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium: 30 Years” panel on Saturday, March 10, 2018, 3:00 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.

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A Writer’s Insight: Doug Ramspeck

Doug Ramspeck’s story “A Map of Years” appears in the winter 2018 issue of The Southern Review. Below, he discusses tapping into the creative unconscious, writing from the perspective of characters with animistic world views, and his process of generating stories that seem to arrive on the page “of their own volition.”


Garrett Hazelwood: You’ve said before in an interview that you often feel as though someone else is doing the work when you write a poem, and that when composing you become a conduit for a voice that is not yours. Do you have a similar experience when writing fiction? What was the origin of this particular story?

Doug Ramspeck: The first draft of “A Map of Years” was written in a single sitting, while I typed as rapidly as I could, probably over the course of a couple of hours. All I knew as I began was that the protagonist viewed the world through an animistic lens, and that he was going to witness the shadow of a crow passing into the body of his brother. Everything else that occurs in the story, including Cal’s attachment to his brother’s wife, were things I discovered in the writing. This method of leaping blindly into stories and poems has long been my preferred approach. I attempt, as I write, not to decide what will happen next, or even to make stylistic choices, but to simply listen to what the work is telling me. This is not always a successful method, of course, but I have learned, over time, to simply abandon poems or stories that don’t arrive seemingly of their own volition. Writing slowly, for me, is almost always a sign that things aren’t going well. I have come to accept that my conscious mind is less skilled as a writer than my unconscious one. Listening to a story arrive at its own destination, on its own chosen track, brings its own kinds of pleasure, not that far removed from what I find when reading. But it is also a little unnerving. The stories do what they want, and they have little interest in my opinion.

GH: This is your first story in The Southern Review, but our readers have seen a number of your poems over the last several years. Could you speak a bit about the difference? In comparison to poetry, do you find any particular advantages or drawbacks to writing longer prose pieces?

DR: I turned to the writing of poetry at the age of fifty, to escape a severe writer’s block that had persisted over many decades with fiction writing. It was liberating to be able to call a work done after a page or two. Still, because I had always thought of myself as a writer of stories, I brought that mindset to poetry as well, and, indeed, focused almost all of my early efforts on narrative poems. I wanted to join the chorus of storytellers, which is what has always drawn me—both as a reader and a writer—to poetry and fiction. Because of this, I don’t see a large difference between the writing of stories and the writing of poems. Even length isn’t always necessarily a deciding factor, since I have written a great many flash fiction stories and a number of longer poems. Indeed, there have been cases where I have written works that I thought were stories when I began but that ended up as poems, and poems that turned into stories. Even with longer works, like “A Map of Years,” I employ many of the same types of compressed storytelling I attempt in my poems, covering a great many years in just a few pages. These days I move back and forth between fiction and poetry, often on the same day, trying to let the one inform the other.

GH: In “A Map of Years,” Cal seems to read nature, as though occurrences in the wild spaces and bodies around him convey a coded message about the order of things to come. While he struggles sometimes to keep pace with verbal exchanges, he is uniquely receptive to the language of a hawk’s shadow or leaf meal in his brother’s hair. This receptivity to a sort of language beyond language gives him a deeper insight into the way things are, and it also strikes me as a way of seeing that might have profound benefits for a writer. Do you find yourself reading the world in a similar way? What do you make of the connection between wildness and meaning that seems so much a part of Cal’s daily experience?

DR: I have become increasingly interested as a writer with the idea that the primitive brain exists side by side with the rational brain. I am not superstitious myself, but I often create characters who see the world in animistic ways, who assume the natural world is a map we might read if only we could learn the code. Before writing “A Map of Years,” I had written a number of what I thought of as “demented little boy stories,” where the savagery of male children was fully on display. With Cal, though, I wanted to create an adult character who was sympathetic, who viewed the world as a mystery just beyond the reach of his understanding, but which he seemed to think he might access if only he were attentive enough to the signs. So is this how I see the world myself? Not really. Or, more accurately, it is the way I see it only when I am writing poetry or fiction, and then it is difficult for me to see it any other way. This voice has seeped into my sense of the fictional, and I find it very difficult to envision any story without it, though I have written a few.

GH: Your writing is at once so lyrical and full of images in “A Map of Years.” As you craft and edit your lines, do you find that one sense predominates over the other? Are you more likely to see through the eyes of your characters or to hear the rhythm of their thoughts?

DR: I will admit something here I probably shouldn’t. I don’t do a lot of conventional revising. Indeed, whenever I return to multiple drafts of the same work, this is usually a sign that it’s time to pack things in. Why? If I failed to listen attentively enough early on, it is highly unlikely that I will be able to “reason” my way toward a story or poem that coheres. Most of the revising I do, in fact, consists of cutting rather than rewriting. With poems I often carry this to an extreme. I might write a hundred lines then cut the work back to twenty lines or even ten. I also like to cut up poems for pieces. I will take the best lines from four failed poems then try to arrange them into a new work. I have attempted similar methods with fiction, occasionally taking two failed and unconnected stories and rewriting them into one. And I am always searching for new ways to make the revision process as unconscious as possible. I do remember, though, that with “The Map of Years” it wasn’t until after I read aloud the first draft to my wife, and we were walking our dog and discussing it, that it became clear to me that Cal might be suffering from some mild form of autism. Knowing this (though I don’t really “know” it, of course) helped me return to the story and to adjust several things. I also received a number of excellent editing suggestions from Emily Nemens. I envy any writer/editor who can point out ways to make focused improvements on almost every page. I consider this a deficiency on my part. Once I start looking too closely at individual sentences, I am just as likely to muck things up as to improve them.

GH: I found myself particularly interested in your descriptions of the landscape during the funeral that takes place toward the end of the story. Up to that point, Cal seemed to perceive the natural landscape as something foreign to and set apart from the realm of human interactions. But suddenly in that scene, we encounter the landscape taking on human dimensions: the “open mouth of dirt” and the sun imagined as “a plucked eye.” What does it mean for Cal to experience the natural world merging with the human world in that moment?

DR: Well, I can’t say I was aware of this merging when I wrote the story. Indeed, I have to admit I wasn’t thinking about imagery much at all while I was writing. So what was I contemplating? I was trying to hear Cal’s voice inside my head, and trying to block out any of my own thoughts that might interfere. Cal, apparently, began imagining the landscape taking on human dimensions, and undoubtedly this was connected to the loss of his brother, who was at the center of his life. I could certainly try to analyze from the outside what this shift in imagery might mean, or why it might have occurred at this moment, but I can’t claim any real inside knowledge. I suppose, if I were to give a somewhat tongue in cheek answer, I would say, “Why are you asking me? Ask him.”

GH: I understand you recently won a prize for your first story collection, The Owl That Carries Us Away, which is forthcoming from BkMk Press. Can you tell us about the book?

DR: The twenty-nine works in The Owl That Carries Us Away, which received the 2016 G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction, are split evenly between flash fiction and full-length stories. Many of the pieces include idiosyncratic and distorted voices at their center, and the characters include a young boy who finds a possum skull and brings it into his bed as compensation for a family tragedy, a newly married woman who imagines that mushrooms are growing from her husband’s body, and a woman who absconds with her sister’s baby and envisions a life for them in Florida. In other words, these are stories about characters at emotional and psychological extremes. The book is in the final stages of production and is likely to appear very early in 2018.


Doug Ramspeck is the author of six poetry collections and one collection of stories. His most recent book of poems, Black Flowers, is forthcoming from LSU Press in October. His books have received numerous awards, including the G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction, the Michael Waters Poetry Prize, the Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize, and the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry.

Garrett Hazelwood is the editorial assistant at The Southern Review. He was the 2017 recipient of the Kent Gramm MFA Award for Literary Nonfiction and his work was recently anthologized in Eclectica Magazine’s twentieth anniversary anthology of speculative fiction. He’s currently writing a novel and at work on a book-length essay about the usefulness of pain.

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Broken Pipes and Water Boils: Snolapocalypse; or, Winter in South Louisiana

We had unexpected time off last week when a winter storm brought sustained freezing temperatures, ice, and even snow to South Louisiana. As soon as LSU announced its closure on Tuesday afternoon (it remained closed until Saturday), I jumped on I-10 so as to get home to New Orleans, to my daughter.

The temperature on my dashboard read 27 degrees, and sometimes a sheet of ice would slide down from the car’s roof and across my windshield. I made it home just before the spillway bridge—and much of South Louisiana’s interstate system, a lot of which is made up of bridges—shut down due to ice on the road. Living in a 115-year-old wooden house built three feet off the ground (pretty much like everyone in the city), means taking precautions: we wrapped the pipes, ran the water from the tap farthest from the point of entry into the house, opened the water cabinets so the heat from the house would help warm the pipes, covered the plants, closed the shutters, stuffed towels around the base of the doors, and bundled up. No matter what, I was grateful to be inside and worried about those who were not, as well as those who had no electricity due to power outages during the freeze. It was unbearably cold and damp.

In the light of the next morning we could see that there was ice and snow! My daughter was beaming with excitement on her walk through the neighborhood. Everyone was posting photos of the rare snow day and calling it Sneauxday or Snolapocalypse or some other clever pun. It was fun, even if it was ridiculously cold and weird things were happening with the water. By weird, I mean my house was doing fine, sort of; I had only hot water in the kitchen and the toilet wouldn’t refill, but the rest of the house was normal. My ex-husband’s house had only cold water and only in the bathroom sink. Other friends also had only cold water and from random faucets. Then my outside pipe burst, and I had no water at all. Fortunately, a neighbor, who was out of town, left keys so that we could use the bathroom there. Then because of all the broken pipes and people running water trying to prevent broken pipes, the city’s water pressure dropped, and we had yet another boil water alert in New Orleans (we have these much more often than you’d expect). The water, if you had it, was not safe to drink, wash dishes, bathe children in, and so forth. Snolapocalypse, indeed.

Yet while all of this was happening in our small part of the world, the winter issue of The Southern Review was released, and what a beautiful—and wintry—issue it is. The evocative landscapes and sculptures of German artist Sibylle Peretti—cast glass installations that celebrate, among other things, the flora and fauna of the winter world—adorn the cover and are the featured visual art this season. It’s a gorgeous invitation to peek inside, where Jill Osier’s visceral poems, “Blood,” “February,” and “Refuge,” portraits of winter in Alaska, open the journal. Daryl Jones, making his first appearance in the journal, has two terrific poems: “The Bandwidth of Beauty,” in which the speaker recalls his mother’s love of listening to opera on a pink Philco radio on Saturday afternoons while she cleaned house; and “Deer on the Ice,” a recollection of painfully watching deer that had fallen through ice slowly drown, one “just a snout / circling low in the opening of black water, / a spindly foreleg desperately reaching out.”

Stretching across to other areas of the world, Susan Wicks’s poem “The Romance of Steam” gives a glimpse of England, where the speaker muses that “there’s something about the steam, / the way it swells and rolls below the tracks / and spreads across a winter valley / to disperse.” I imagine this steam is absorbed by the clouds and travels the world, only to return to the ground somewhere else as rain or ice or even snow. Another text set outside the U.S. is Lailee Mendelson’s story about American students in St. Petersburg in 1992, “So, the Cold War Is Over,” which is also featured in our audio gallery this season.

The audio gallery also includes Michael Downs reading from his funny and heartfelt essay about a neighbor, “Jim at 2 am: Something like Opera.” Poets featured are David Bottoms with his poem “Foul Ball,” a look back at being a kid chasing foul balls before they reached the polluted Etowah River so as to trade them with the ballpark for free ice cream; Kai Carlson-Wee reading “Pike,” in which an elderly dying woman recalls fishing as a young girl with her father; and Chris Haven, whose charming poem, “The Second Pig,” considers the fairy tale “The Three Little Pigs” from the perspective of the middle sibling. The poem ends with the acknowledgement that “I am just a pig . . . This is the best I can do.” It’s a sentiment with which many of us may identify. I certainly do, especially when I wrap my house made of sticks and plastic in foam and fabric, and hope for the best against the wolf of winter and water. May the annual appearance next week of that other animal, the personable Punxsutawney Phil, herald an early spring.

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A Writer’s Insight: Carol V. Davis

Carol V. Davis’s poem “A Student Says Everything We Read Is Depressing” appears in the autumn 2017 issue of The Southern Review. Here, she discusses origins of the poem, her unique way of engaging with details, and her experiences “living” in multiple languages.


Garrett Hazelwood: What was your original impetus for writing “A Student Says Everything We Read Is Depressing”?

Carol V. Davis: I always tell my creative writing students to never start a poem with the title because one never knows where a poem will go. However, in the case of this poem, I started out with the title as this was a comment a student made and it was so perfect it just stuck with me. So the impetus was the comment by a student.

 

GH: How often and in what ways do your students become part of the fabric of your poetry?

CVD: I actually am not a fan of what I think of as self-referential poetry, that is, poetry about poetry or even about teaching. However, there are times when students say surprising things and these comments will work their way into a poem. More often than not, though, my work will come from the usual sources: an image (something I’ve seen and that sticks with me), a snatch of conversation, a memory. Certain pieces of music for me can often trigger the start of a poem. And, of course, more than anything, reading other poets’ work.

 

GH: The movement of this poem, from a student’s comment to an orange in a Soviet winter, is gorgeous and so much like the movement of memory. Can you tell us about your process in stitching together the various pieces?

CVD: This is probably an unsatisfying answer, but my mind works that way. I very often make these kinds of leaps in my poetry. It probably does have to do with the way memory works. When we read poems that make leaps, there is often a kind of organic unity. We can’t explain (not that we should need to), why it works, but it just does. I usually don’t consciously stitch together various pieces.

 

GH: One of the lessons of this poem seems to be that interpretation is fundamentally shaped by our ways of seeing. In your own life, do you feel naturally disposed to close observation or have you had to cultivate a practice for keeping your eyes receptive to the beautiful details like a “tourist’s plaid shorts” or “the crisp sheets under [a] dead body”? Can you recommend any techniques for honing one’s poetic eye?

CVD: This is an interesting question. Whenever I can, I like to go away to write, either to an artist colony or, when possible, to go back to Russia. I find that when I am away, particularly somewhere new, my powers of observation are always keener. I’ve actually been thinking a lot about that lately, as I would like to work on making this skill of “seeing” stronger, even when I am not away. When I am away, it is always in conjunction with either not teaching or teaching in Russia. Because of that, I tend to have more time and be more isolated, which helps in being more aware and being able to get a lot of work done.

In the case of this poem the details came from my thinking about what makes a piece of literature interesting and what is important in something we observe. I think there are also times in our lives when our power of observation is keener, when we are experiencing some change in our lives or some emotional intensity. In terms of techniques, certainly it is most important to pay attention, to be open to new experiences, but also not to be alarmed with fallow periods. For me, very often something I see will stay in my mind, and it will only be sometime later, even much later, when that image makes its way into a poem.

 

GH: Like the loud, maybe-Texan man in your poem, our own limited experience often causes us to misinterpret (or altogether miss) what is going on in the world around us. The poem also seems to meditate on both a lack and excess of language: the items on the menu don’t correspond to the meals available, the man is speaking too loud, the narrator hopes the waitress doesn’t speak English and then laments that her own Russian is not stronger. What role do you think language plays in shaping our experiences?

CVD: Language and the role it plays has been an obsession of mine for decades. In 1996, I went to Russia for a year on a Fulbright grant. I noticed while I was there that I was really a different person. I tend to be quiet in general, but there I was even more quiet. It was partly a language issue, partly emotional. If I were in a room full of Russian speakers, I often would be very quiet, listening, trying to understand everything. I was very aware of the effort it takes to fully express oneself in another language. As poets we are so focused on language, on how we say something, and it gets amplified when one is, as I said in a poem, “living in another language.” Perhaps this is the curse of a writer. For us, being able to speak conversationally in another language is not enough. That is part of my frustration living in Russia on and off for decades. There’s always that one word, that nuance, that I don’t know how to say, and I feel that frustration acutely. People always ask if I am fluent. I don’t know how to answer that question. Conversing and being bilingual are such radically different things.

 

GH: You recently published a collection of poems, Because I Cannot Leave This Body. Can you tell us about it?

CVD: The new book weaves together various themes. Poems cross cultural and geographic boundaries to explore my family’s history as Jews, as outsiders, as immigrants. Some poems probe the boundaries between faith, folklore, and superstition. One section has ekphrastic poems, mostly responding to paintings by Lucian Freud. And there are poems of place, Nebraska, Wyoming, Berlin, and of course Russia.

 


Carol V. Davis is the author of Because I Cannot Leave This Body, Between Storms, and Into the Arms of Pushkin: Poems of St. Petersburg, for which she won the 2007 T. S. Eliot Prize. She is the poetry editor of the Los Angeles newspaper the Jewish Journal.

Garrett Hazelwood is the editorial assistant at The Southern Review. He was the 2017 recipient of the Kent Gramm MFA Award for Literary Nonfiction and his work was recently anthologized in Eclectica Magazine’s twentieth anniversary anthology of speculative fiction. He’s currently writing a novel and at work on a book-length essay about the usefulness of pain.

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A Writer’s Insight: Taije Silverman

Taije Silvermans’s poems “Ways to Say Luck” and “Who the Letters Were From” appear in the autumn 2017 issue of The Southern Review. Hear Silverman read the poems in our audio gallery here; read more about the inspiration behind the poems, as well as Silverman’s thoughts on the randomness of love, the language of self and distance, and her current projects, below. 


Kathleen Boland: What inspired “Ways to Say Luck” and “Who the Letters Were From”?

Taije Silverman: “Ways to Say Luck” was inspired by the man on the street who opens the poem. The vacant cathedral against which the woman sleeps is actually on Broad Street in South Philly. I’d gone out for a bike ride one night, and I stopped to ask if they wanted food. The man was totally coherent when we first spoke, but when I came back with burgers he had become too absorbed in a discussion with the moon to acknowledge me. He didn’t seem angry at it, exactly; it was as if either he or the moon had done something truly outrageous and together they were trying to understand why.

Ten years earlier I had fallen in love with someone, but we hadn’t spoken to each other for a decade. That night, I rode home from Broad Street wondering if what we had felt for each other back then would still hold, or if it wouldn’t be any more real now than a talking moon. When I reached my house, I found he’d written to me. The line “Who knows how many moons of distance / separate us by now” is from his e-mail. Instead of writing him back, I started this poem.

“Who the Letters Were From” has a sillier backstory. I’d been visiting a close friend when I wrote this poem. She had begun to tell me about something that happened to her by describing “This guy I used to know . . . a friend of mine . . . my ex-husband . . .” I started laughing too hard to let her finish. We were with another friend who had just learned her husband was having an affair with a pregnant woman. He was a great baker, and he did love Jaw Breakers. I had also just come back from a Fulbright in Italy, teaching at a poetry center whose director was pathologically addicted to seduction. He was similarly passionate about abortion, and he sometimes introduced poetry readings by explaining that the word embrione leads to the murder of unborn children. Neither the legitimate drama nor the absurdity in our relationships seem to give an inch to each other, and the belligerence between them probably sparked this poem.

 

KB: Both poems are meditations on how language controls perspective, memory, and relationships. There’s also a theme of dislocation, both literally and structurally; “Ways to Say Luck” travels across geography and generations, while “Who the Letters Were From” roams among different attributes and vignettes. How do you believe dislocation interacts with language, especially in these poems?

TS: I think dislocation is the source for language. The sensation of being uprooted—whether physically or emotionally—prompts us to speak. Longing, too, is a dislocation that inspires the language we use to express it. Time dislocates longing further. The dislocations in my friend’s description of “this guy I used to know—a friend of mine—my ex-husband” reflect the trajectory of their relationship.

 

KB: In “Ways to Say Luck,” the poem explores the meaning of symbols: “I have tried to explain to my students / that we share only symbols and how / the word symbol is also a symbol.” There is particular focus on the moon, and what moon means to both the speaker and her family. What would be the poem’s definition of this symbol? Yours?

TS: The mention of symbols came from a class I had taught that week on Randall Jarrell’s wondrous poem, “Seele im Raum.” Its title is taken from Rilke, and it translates as “soul in space.” Jarrell’s narrator describes this huge esoteric animal (an eland, which is a kind of antelope) who politely eats at the dining table with the narrator’s family and has “been there always.” The eland’s presence is at once dream-bound and quotidian, as the narrator doubts the animal’s existence yet doubts the existence of everything but the animal. So the eland comes to symbolize the impossibility of the other in relation to the self, and the resulting uncertainty of the self: “that raw thing, the being inside it / That has neither a wife, a husband, nor a child.” When I wrote that “any heavily breathing / and darkly warm beast is a symbol,” I was thinking of Jarrell’s eland, but I wanted the reference to be a loose one, not referring back to his poem but toward the homeless couple’s version of family and toward my own.

The moon is a symbol for so many things—it’s even a symbol for what a common symbol it is. The poet’s go-to. But it’s “that raw thing” too—a cluster of rocks that is 239,000 miles from Earth, reflecting sunlight. I think we use the moon to express how we come together and pull apart because of its constancy, and because of its changeability, and because of its roundness. Maybe we want it to represent that dichotomy between self and other because it reflects something so much stronger.

 

KB: In “Who the Letters Were From,” the speaker discusses Gaelic rhyme schemes, stating, “changing the placement / of any one word means reducing / the poem to nonsense.” The poem also features heavy use of disjunctions: em dashes, “or,” and interline contradictions. Could you discuss the relationship, if any, between these word choices and the theme of nonsense, or instability?

TS: To me, so much of romantic attraction seems nonsensical. I combined the details of a few romantic histories to imply how random they seem in hindsight—the syntactic disjunctions evoke the preposterously specific and unpredictable turns that lead us to what we’ll love and what we’ll stop loving. The fiction that there’s one person in some way fated for us overlaps, I think, with the broader fiction of narrative: that there is a beginning, middle, and end to experience. No life or love affair really fits the shape of a singular story; they’re interrupted by the em dash and the “or,” which are the actual substance of how we interact with and how we feel about people.

Mostly I was just having fun with sounds. “Baby” and “maybe” are a sweetly troubling rhyme—troubling because those two words shouldn’t have anything to do with each other, and yet they do. Most of us came into existence accidentally.

 

KB: You do a lot of translation work, particularly with Italian. How does this influence your work in English, or your understanding of language as an artistic medium? 

TS: Actually, the title “Ways to Say Luck” references translation. I began to learn Italian after my mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. That man “I loved once” had written to wish us luck at the biopsy, and he used a particular Italian idiom: “in bocca al lupo.” I had never heard it before. Colloquially the expression means “good luck,” as he explained to me, but literally it translates as “in the mouth of the wolf.” And instead of saying thank you, you respond with “crepi il lupo,” which means “may the wolf be killed.” This was a new kind of luck for me, the fearless and decimating kind that makes a weapon out of resilience. I have since experienced other kinds of luck.

At the time, learning Italian felt lifesaving. I couldn’t say “my mother died,” but I could say “mia madre non c’è.” The distance engendered by the translated version of the statement gave me a moment to breathe, before its meaning arrived. In the mother tongue, no space exists between meaning and sound: you understand language instantly and within the body. And the body isn’t large enough to understand all that it experiences.

The lack of equivalency between languages demands that language expand, and the meaning it articulates expands with it. “Mia madre non c’è” doesn’t translate into “my mother died” but rather “my mother isn’t.” So the word “died” develops into something broader and perhaps more amenable to the mysterious.

 

KB: What are you working on now? 

TS: I’ve just finished translating a book of poetry by an Italian poet, and I am organizing my own second book of poems. I’ve also been scribbling notes about Charlottesville, where I grew up. My imaginary border between the personal and political got zapped beyond imaginary recovery this year. I think I’m writing about that conflation, and about the terrible difference between safety and the feeling of being safe. Maybe I’m just working on a reassuring theory for how we’ll get through this . . . presidency? This reckoning with our white supremacist foundation? This psychopathic approach to global warming? I’m working on changing my understanding of endings.


Taije Silverman’s first book of poetry is Houses Are Fields. Recent work appears in Ploughshares, the 2016 Pushcart Prize anthology, and the 2016 and 2017 editions of Best American Poetry. She lives in Philadelphia.

Kathleen Boland is a recent graduate of LSU’s MFA program, where she served as the 2016-2017 editorial assistant of The Southern Review and received the 2017 Robert Penn Warren Thesis Award. Her work has appeared in Paper Darts, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and Tin House online. She now lives in Portland, Oregon, and works for Counterpoint Press and Catapult Books.

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