As I sit down, we’ve just sent the winter issue to the printer, and it is a cold day in south Louisiana, very different from the days when I first read the poems that now fill this volume. I distinctly recall the first time I read every poem in the issue. They are exceptional, and we feel so privileged to have them grace our pages: ranging from some of my longtime favorite writers, such as Charles Simic and Stephen Dunn; to writers I’ve come to know and have great affection for since beginning my work with the journal, among those many are Bob Hicok and Wendy Barker and Alan Feldman; to writers who are new to the journal and who have come to us serendipitously, including the young and stellar talents Anna Journey and Ryan Teitman.
While the themes covered in the issue are diverse, the one that occupies me now (perhaps because of the holidays) is love—that which is long held and revived as well as that which is new; but also that which is lost or was never had in the first place; and, in between, that which is in a state of change, as love always is.
I had asked Stephen Dunn to send poetry to the journal, and, to my great pleasure, he did. “Anniversary Poem” arrived on my desk, coincidentally, on my anniversary. The poem opens, “Remember that day in the rain,” and then unfolds in its telling, “it’s raining again,” and the recognition that “it’s the body, I realize,/ that stores memory/ and sends it, when keyed,/ to those long-unvisited/ regions of the brain…” In that moment of looking back on the history of a relationship, Dunn reveals what we come to know about love and its “hundred connections happening at once”—that only retrospection can provide us with the knowledge that “long before I said I do/ I was saying I will and Let’s.” What a tribute to love and its endurance, which should never be taken for granted.
A professional acquaintance passed along to me the work of Anna Journey, an emerging writer new to The Southern Review, but who is quickly gaining the well-deserved attention of the poetry world. She adeptly uses the line and image to unveil tales of childhood, folklore, mystery, marriage, and family. In “Black Porcelain French Telephone,” the speaker addresses her husband whose mother has just died and with whom she attends a family gathering at his deceased mother’s house. She begins, “Your hoarder aunt took a truckload of angels,/ stone frogs, velvet chairs, even the ivory baby/ grand piano…” In the search for his unknown father whose identity his mother never revealed, her husband takes an antique telephone from the house, “Although we didn’t need another telephone… so you might finally reach the right number.” One night she finds him alone with his ear “cupped to the receiver” and notes, “I thought you moved your lips/ to speak, even though the phone jack was empty,” ending the poem on a crushing and beautiful image of her new husband alone in the dark, still searching for answers he will never find, feeling an emptiness that will never be filled, despite the new love he has in his life.
I was waiting for a front-end alignment on my convertible that I haven’t driven with the top down in almost four years since having my daughter, who is always with me when I am in the car. The shop TV was blaring some daytime talk show while I was making my way through a pile of manuscripts. I opened an envelope from Anemone Beaulier, whose poem overpowered the TV. “The Airy World” starts, “You’ve begun to breathe, brimming your lungs/ with my small sea,” and in nine brief lines she moves from the excitement of realizing she is growing a baby inside of her to the bittersweet recognition of motherhood, that “With each false breath, you are drifting closer/ to the airy world, this place where we’ll touch/ but forever be parted, and parting.” Maybe I wouldn’t have had the same connection to this poem five years ago, but surely I would have seen its beauty nonetheless, as I’m sure any reader will.
There is so much great work to write about in this issue, and every writer stands out as special for a different reason. For me, these three writers are particularly on my mind today. Tomorrow, three others will occupy my thoughts. All of them are inspiring and moving and, lucky for us, in our pages for everyone to enjoy.