Autumn: Time for Festivals, Halloween, and the New Issue of The Southern Review

It’s the end of October and we finally have a bit of cool weather here that reflects the calendar. Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays, maybe because I grew up in a Catholic city where schools were closed the day after for All Saints’ Day, which also happens to be my birthday. My sister and I would dress up in the store-bought costumes that everyone wore in the ’70s—the ones that were made out of cheap paper and had those terrible, suffocating plastic masks with the flimsiest of elastic headbands. About four blocks into trick-or-treating, either the paper would tear or the headband would pop, and my mother would have to try repairing our outfits on the fly, never with much success.

My daughter loves Halloween, too, and chooses her costume with great thought. Every year her father, a gifted artist, builds her costume out of cardboard, fabric, twigs, bread wrappers, and so forth; and she’s grown used to compliments of “Best costume we’ve seen tonight!” and “How did you make that?” This year she’s going as a Liturgusa krattorum, a type of praying mantis named for the Kratt brothers of PBS Kids fame. I will note here that she hates bugs and is terrified of them (which is tough considering the prevalence of huge cockroaches in South Louisiana), but she has decided that this may help her overcome her fear of them. The three of us always dress as a themed unit, and she has suggested I go as a tall tree, which is where Liturgusa krattorum live. It’s a sweet sentiment: being her home. I will also note here that I am five-one, so this may take some work.

I like that where I live celebrates as much as possible, year-round, and especially on Halloween. This weekend is chock-full of annual events, such as Voodoo Festival in New Orleans, Blackpot Festival and Cookoff in Lafayette, and, of course, the Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge, where I’ll be, along with Emily Nemens, Jenny Keegan, and Garrett Hazelwood from The Southern Review. We’ll have a booth in Exhibition Tent A, promoting the autumn issue of the journal as well as selling subscriptions and an assortment of back issues. When not staffing the table, I’m planning to attend readings and panels, too. Recent The Southern Review contributors Alison Pelegrin, Peter Cooley, Nicole Cooley, Olivia Clare, Beth Ann Fennelly, Michael Knight, and M. O. Walsh will all be there, many promoting new books that include pieces first featured in the journal.

The autumn issue feels perfect for the season, starting with its cover and interior images, which are dense, intriguing paper-collage paintings by New York–based artist Jesse McCloskey. You can view McCloskey’s work that appears in the journal here. His darkly lit still lifes and studio portraits contain a range of eerie things, including a skeleton, a glowing candelabra, a phoenix, and a lone boot, that seem just right for this time of year.

As always, there’s plenty of strong prose in our pages, with fiction from Ron Rash, Saral Waldorf, Michael Griffith, Brooke Bullman, and James Whorton Jr. Stories from Michael Hawley and Farah Ali, who are new to our pages, are also featured on SoundCloud this season, and Evan Lavender-Smith’s long essay presents a portrait of his multigenerational family, focusing on his dying grandfather, a WWII veteran with a sense of humor, in “The Itch and the Touch.”

Biting humor is found in the issue opener, Lola Haskins’s poem “Glowworm’s Dinner,” which is all about love and sets a tone with “A few more kisses liquefy / the flesh whose sweet / juice he sucks.” It’s about the end of love, or what should be the end of love: the coming to a close in one cycle before another begins. Also writing about cycles, albeit not love, is Bonnie Jo Campbell, who has an homage to the cycle of nature and the habits of neighbors in her poem, “The Same Old Story, with Leaf Blower.” While the neighbor futilely chases a leaf with a blower, a hungry dog that is tied to a tree barks. The leaf will eventually decay on its own, so why the bother? And, finally, because it’s bow-hunting season in South Louisiana, Chard deNiord’s “Stag’s Reprieve” seems the right poem to close the issue. In it, the hunter is persuaded not to shoot the stag now but to go home and love, to return in December when the stag will then be able to feed the fruits of the hunter’s love. It’s a good trick on the stag’s part, to help himself live another day, and shows a different way of feeding (on) love.

I’m going to close this blog with a bit of sad news. Ron De Maris, one of our longtime and frequent contributors, died last week. His work first ran in the journal well before I came to work here, and he had poems featured every year once I began my tenure as poetry editor. He was always kind and easy to work with, which is no small thing. I’m certain he’ll be missed by many editors and readers.

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