It’s springtime and poetry is blooming

This past weekend was the New Orleans Poetry Festival, which, in addition to having a book fair, was filled with readings, music, a nonstop open mic, and a literary tour (capped off by a streetcar ride uptown to hear more music). It was good to share a long table at the book fair with writers and publishers who’d driven through the night from Denton, Texas, or flown down from Brooklyn, New York, to participate in such a grassroots endeavor. Everyone took pride in their publications, as they should have, because they were all impressive journals and books. It was nice, too, hearing compliments on The Southern Review, both how beautiful the journal looks and how good the work within is. When asked by visitors flipping through the new issue to point out my favorite poems, I found myself rattling off so many titles that I eventually stopped and said, “It’s a strong issue, all around.”

The spring issue opens with two poems from Mark Irwin. The first, “Toward Where We Are,” is a five-line powerhouse about finding love; it astounds me every time I read, “the fall / is so slow, yet precise, like climbing a ladder of straw.”  The poem ends with the questions, “Is / this what Yes feels like? Making a shore where no water was?” The whole poem feels at once ethereal and tenuous, perfectly capturing the poem’s theme in such a brief space. “Voyage,” the second poem, only slightly longer, is about renewing love, and how that sometimes requires becoming each other’s map again on the journey that you decided to take together, touching the “deserts on each other’s body,” and spending time with one another until “the huge hours and spaces between” grow “smaller and smaller.” Those poems are an auspicious beginning to an issue that continues to impress. Patricia Hooper has three lovely poems—“In the Clearing,” “Lens,” and “From a Park Bench”—addressing mortality, loneliness, and one’s place in the world. Charles Rafferty is back in our pages with two short, vivid poems exploring possibilities: “What We Learned from Our Dead Parrakeet” and “Insomnolence.” And Jeff Hardin has a narrative poem, “Concerning the Shape of Time,” dedicated to Tony Earley, which is about finding his own place in the world.

We also have many timely pieces about immigration and the environment. Iheoma Nwachukwu’s story, “Urban Gorilla,” details the life of a Nigerian who flees the terror of Boko Haram by answering an advertisement to play soccer in Malaysia, even though he is in a wheelchair. The visual art this season is by Ramiro Gomez, whose paintings—some of which are based on David Hockney’s work—highlight the often overlooked Latino workers of Los Angeles. You can view Gomez’s images on our website. In Catherine Pierce’s poem, “Planet,” the speaker admits that “most days I forget this planet,” but then says she is “trying to come down soft today,” trying to see the world even as she is “walking through it.” The changing awareness for the world we inhabit and how we affect it is also discussed in Paul Lindholdt’s ecocritical essay, “The Inflatable Museum,” about Western dams, the Bureau of Reclamation, and Norman Rockwell. Steve Myers’s poems, “Grinding Pestle: East Fork Paint Creek, Jefferson Farm” and “Stream of Consciousness,” set in the Midwest, invoke Pound and Eliot, and, among other things, address the displacement of Native Americans, the rise and loss of mining jobs, and the toll that humans have had on the landscape, where the streams gush a “bright orange red” and the banks and creek bed are stained that same “orange red at the end of Ash Alley.”

The issue closes as it opens, with a poem that has powerful images and water. Cathie Sandstrom’s “Mångata,” which is a Swedish term that roughly means “the path that moonlight lays over water,” might be the saddest poem that we’ve run in a long while. It begins, “The ghost child fastens / his mouth to yours,” and then goes on to detail the harrowing drowning of a son alone in the water. Midway through the poem are the expository lines that seem impossible for the speaker to acknowledge: “What the drowned boy wants forever: / his mother, in time.” But the mother is too late, and she is left to question all the lost children, “When / the moon melts, what / will we do with all that gold?”

You can hear Cathie Sandstrom read her poem in this season’s audio gallery. The audio gallery also includes many other poems as well as excerpts from stories and essays featured in the spring issue.

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