An advance copy of the spring 2014 issue, adorned with glorious birds—the vibrant colored pencil and watercolor work of artist Mary Lee Eggart—sits next to me on my desk this morning. As I write this, we’re midway through April. Tax day has passed earlier this week, and the entire month, since 1996, has been declared National Poetry Month. That makes it eighteen years old (I’m good at math!), which, coincidentally, is the age when most of us probably started filing tax returns. What better way to have tax day, National Poetry Month, and the arrival of the latest issue of The Southern Review share the stage than with a blog celebrating a few of the new poems in our pages which happen to be about work in America?
Ryan Teitman, who has three wonderful poems in this issue, writes about work—both his father’s and his own—in two of them: “Sonnet with Horses Where the Turn Should Be” and the aptly titled, “Work.” The sonnet opens, “I was afraid of my father. Each night,/he came home from work, set a Piels/on the desk, and paid bills . . .” But the speaker is not afraid of his father, who after a hard day at work comes home to the routine of bills and beer, because he is subsequently mean or abusive or even neglectful. If the poem were presenting a cliché, the reader might expect this to be the result. But because Teitman doesn’t disappoint, the poem, instead, reveals the father never “raised his voice to me/more than once or twice . . . [and] never spared me/any affection.” Here, the speaker fears his father as he does horses—strong, mysterious, noble creatures. Like some children who grow up to finally understand the sacrifices their parents may have made to protect their children from the hard realities of the world, the poem ends with the image of “My father had the look of a horse worked/years too long, laboring to falter.”
In “Work,” Teitman, like so many writers whose parents were laborers and who make this difference in vocations the subject of their poems (I’m thinking especially of Seamus Heaney’s “Digging” at this moment—whose own father “. . . could handle a spade. /Just like his old man”), reveals his father “. . . woke/hours before sunrise/each morning and worked/until long past sunset.” This was a man for whom “Sleep was a country/to retire to . . .” Like Heaney, who writes, “But I’ve no spade to follow men like them” and, instead, uses a pen and must “. . . dig with it,” Teitman closes with the reconciliation that “I still have countries/left to discover . . . /. . . work/for my hands to learn.” To justify one’s work with hands that blister from pens—and even, now, from keypads—rather than from hammers, spades, or blowtorches, is often both the internal and external struggle for writers who emerge from families where work has always been muscle and sweat.
But to give other very hard work its due, the new issue also includes the always inventive and inspiring David Kirby, who provides tributes to the work of writers—especially Emily Dickinson in “Old Poets” and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald in “All My Jellies.” Likewise, adding to her series of poems about teaching, which we’ve been privileged to publish several of previously, Wendy Barker unspools heartfelt tales of the profession in three poems: “Rereading The Golden Bowl after Thirty Years,” “Ending the Semester in Am Lit,” and “The Morning after Our Second Ecopoetry Class.”
As we continue to be fortunate, there’s tremendous poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, and such beautiful visual art in one issue. And right here, online, just a click away, we have our audio gallery, where the terrific voices of many fine contributors can be heard—this time including Mika Taylor reading her story, “Camera Obscura,” and Lance Larsen reading his essay, “I Am Thinking of Pablo Casals.” Of course, as always, and not just because it is National Poetry Month—but what a bonus!—we have poetry from Joshua Poteat (“Department of Acoustic Appliances”), Bonnie Jo Campbell (“Teakettle” and “Scribblers”), Keith Ekiss (“Target Practice” and “Flowers and Runaways”), Bonnie Bolling (“Stars, Moon, Rooster” and “Maybe That Good Cherry Jam”), and Andrea Selch (“Early Berry Picking”).
Selch’s poem about a mother and daughter picking strawberries—not always harmoniously—is perfect for spring. As I have been patient and followed the wise advice of my elders and the farmers (whom I thank for Daylight Saving Time), I will take next week to do some annual gardening with my daughter, who has been asking for months when Easter will pass so that we can finally plant flowers. We can bring the computer outside and listen to poems from the audio gallery (and maybe even Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” on repeat because it’s good to dance!) as we work in our small, city yards. Although it is not always easy gardening with children, it is certainly rewarding and a reward for all the hard work we do and the taxes we pay. Happy April! Happy spring!