Jessica introduces the autumn issue

With the release of autumn issue, the last of the eightieth anniversary publications, this celebratory year of The Southern Review is coming to a close. It’s been a productive and rewarding year, with readings at AWP in Minneapolis, the Strand in New York (which the Writers Studio so generously hosted), the AJC Decatur Book Festival in Georgia, and upcoming at the Louisiana Book Festival. It was there we began our anniversary celebration last November, and we will return to the state capital to have our final anniversary reading on Halloween. We also hosted an evening at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans to release our summer issue and come together with the community to mark the ten-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

These events have been special and highlight the exceptional writing that The Southern Review has published over the decades and that it continues to share with our readers. My coeditor, Emily Nemens, and I worked together to seek out literature that both evoked the innovation of the journal’s founders, Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks, and that responded to the diversity of our contemporary readership. The mission of the journal remains: to discover and promote engaging, relevant, and challenging literature and to feature a diverse range of literary luminaries alongside the very best established and emerging voices. We think we did that this year.

Each issue has featured stunning art on its cover and has been filled with some of our favorite previous contributors as well as outstanding writers who are new to our pages. The autumn issue presents the unique artwork of Alison Elizabeth Taylor, who uses marquetry (cutting and collaging pieces of wood) to portray landscapes and people. Inside, previous contributor Floyd Skloot opens the issue with “Nabokov in Goal, Cambridge, 1919,” and we see Nabokov shift “within the goal, aware / but not aware of poems taking shape / in his mind tuned now to no language / ever known.” I admire this poem for many reasons but also because, in painting this image, it reminds me of two things I love: soccer and the beautiful sentences of Nabokov.

David Kirby, another longtime contributor to the journal has two poems, “Mrs. Jones” and “The Nematode,” which are also featured in our audio gallery. “Mrs. Jones” is about a fanciful return to high school to visit a favorite former teacher. It is charming and bittersweet in its recognition that “The light is creeping out / of the sky the way it does this time of year, and it’ll be / dark before we know it.” When I first read “The Nematode,” which in Kirby fashion, takes a narrative journey, I was moved by the way it addresses a student afflicted with ALS. In edits, I was lead to the Jack Gilbert poem “Failing and Flying,” referenced by Kirby, about the end of a marriage, and the paintings of Van Gogh, only to be moved more. Tying together all of its themes, the poem closes: “Those stars are burning too brightly! / That fire you see can’t last. Still, when it goes, it lights everything.” With my most visceral impulse, I can only say it’s a crusher.

Finally, we’re happy to close out the anniversary year with a suite of six unsentimental poems about family and coming-of-age adventures from rising poet Anders Carlson-Wee, who is appearing for the first time in The Southern Review. Among many things, he writes about train hopping, a fingerless man, and childhood violence between brothers. “The Muscles in Their Throats,” about Neanderthals, ends with the line, “When scientists / finish a life-size model of the esophagus, we’ll finally hear / what their voices must have sounded like.” What a fitting image this is for a literary journal that has brought voices to light for eighty years. Carlson-Wee is also featured in our audio gallery, along with other new contributors, Katherine Mitchell, Anna Lena Phillips Bell, Alen Hamza, Matthew Baker, Jacqueline Lyons, and Margaret Luongo, as well as previous contributors David Petruzelli, Nick Holdstock, and David Kirby. Listen to these writers perform their works, and read them and the many other memorable pieces featured in the autumn issue.

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