Jessica rambles on about the spring issue

It’s spring, and if I didn’t know it from the ongoing string of fabulous festivals in south Louisiana, where we return home at day’s end sunburned by eighty-seven degree heat (it’s early April!) in a Beckett landscape where not a shadow of shade is to be found, covered in that protective layer of sweat I’ve grown to embrace in my lifetime but which my four-year-old has not quite accepted yet, then I’d know it by the arrival of the new issue of The Southern Review.

The striking photograph of a swimmer’s back and gorgeous bald head with arms outstretched grabs hold and pulls me in. This photograph by Peter Kayafas is part of his Coney Island Waterdance series, from which eight additional images compose the issue’s insert. My husband first mentioned Peter’s work to me; he’d seen one of the Polar Bear Club prints on a friend’s wall in Hell’s Kitchen, New York. I went to Peter’s website (  )and was captivated, the various expressions and experiences of so many different people in this relatively small area of water seemed a perfect microcosm of how we move around in this world together, often unaware of the joy or trepidation of those right next to us. If only we’d reach out a hand.

I am so pleased with this issue because we are fortunate to have many wonderful writers who contributed to our pages. A longtime poet-hero of mine, David Antin, graciously sent us “white ravens black helicopters,” a talk piece he had performed originally at the Bowery Poetry Club,   ( and in which he mentions both his mother and his wife, Elly, who readers familiar with Antin’s work will recognize. He talks about many things, including highly improbable events that are described in philosophical circles as “black swans,” but in Antin fashion, he trumps the idea by pointing out “few people have ever seen a black swan but nobody has ever seen a white raven,” and I suspect, as he did with Milton Berle’s line at the beginning of the poem, that he “didnt have any idea just how terrific a line that was.”

The rich lines of Christine Garren’s poem “The Conversation” open this issue: “He thought I was asleep in the sun, I was not.  I was lucid. / For a long time I watched his ship departing / until the flag at the stern vanished, eaten by the gray horizon.” Garren deftly paints a vivid scene strewn with “emptied halves of mollusk shells for the roof,” where the speaker and absent subject speak through “the ocean’s shell” she holds to her ear. There’s a quietness to Garren’s work that moved me unsuspectingly from the immediate feeling of, These are really nice poems, to, I really love and appreciate these poems more with every reading.

Maybe I’m feeling the desire for a bit of isolation after the exhilarating crush of people I encountered with the holidays and Mardi Gras and AWP in Chicago all on top of each other, but the sense of aloneless in Garren’s “rapture of the void” is appealing. And just as her speaker cups a shell to her ear to stay connected to the departed, Charles Rafferty’s speaker in “Golf Course Moon,” calls on his departed to “step to a south-facing window” to see the moon he is seeing, the moon whose light that once, as he says, “made your body milk and I drank it from the cup of my coat beneath you.” Such absolutely sublime images fill Rafferty’s work. I’m only saved from the disappointment of having no words left to read in his poem by knowing that there are three others that I get to read.

Joe Wilkins, who sometimes contributes poetry to our pages, but this time has provided us with an honest and touching essay, “All Apologies,” writes about his relationship in high school with a friend named Justin, whose troubled family life eventually pushed him out town. The essay brilliantly captures the complexity of this moment in adolescence while also seamlessly weaving in the contemporary details of the era, grounded in Kurt Cobain’s lyrics, the words of another troubled soul whose genius would come to a tragic, too-soon close.

And finally before I close this note, I’ll say how exciting it is for us at The Southern Review to have in our pages a play. Included in the issue is an excerpt from Tommy Nohilly’s award-winning drama Blood from a Stone about the fraught relationships within a working-class family in New Britain, Connecticut. While there’s the hint of influence of Shepard (I’ve been fortunate to read it in its entirety, and it will run at Profiles Theatre in Chicago this fall), the play is clearly in the hands of a highly skilled and thoughtful writer who has his own experiences to build on and stories to present.

Well, I’m writing this in the kitchen of our converted shotgun double, and it’s strangely and suddenly chilly with the fans on and the rain outside. It’s the coolest the weather has been for months. But it’s spring, and I know because I’m looking as my copy of The Southern Review. Enjoy the weather, whatever you may have. I’m just grateful to have this beautiful new issue to take outside and crack open on my stoop, letting the rain which has begun to fall harder still soothe my sunburned legs.

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