Between Tradition and Innovation, Florida Lit Mag Finds Beautiful Balance
Tallahassee is a city of dualities. On the one hand, Florida Tourism calls it “a genteel Southern town with good manners, rolling hills, oak-canopied roads, plantation homes, and genuine Southern hospitality,” and on the other, it’s an active swarm of college students buzzing with fresh ideas about culture and taste. You can feel the intersection of the two in The Southeast Review, a publication that has come out of Florida State University for past 35 years.
Vol. 32, No. 1 is a hefty 9”x6” paperback with a glossy black & white cover that showcases the experimental visual poetry of Nance Van Winckel. In her artist’s statement, she calls it “text-based visual collage,” and it is not until later in the issue when we get additional pieces that we fully grasp her vision as “Simplifier-of-the Universe.”
Her cover image “Types of Wings” dovetails well with Swiss-based artist, Lesley Oldaker’s fluid oil paintings of moving figures which grace the full-color insert at the center of the magazine.
Winners of SER’s three writing contests (poetry, short-story and narrative nonfiction) spiral around these art anchors and make up the bulk of the issue. You can also find some very well-written book reviews and a lengthy but intriguing interview with poet/professor Don Bogen.
Most contributions are from accomplished writers with extensive credentials. Though, several newer writers seem to have landed as finalists in the short-story competition. I would suggest those with briefer publication histories might try to break in there, unless your writing is exceptionally gripping or unique.
A quick analysis of gender shows that close to 2/3 of its content is contributed by women. That’s a score to be congratulated. However, less surprising when realized in light of its high female staff ratio.
To give you a sense of the quality within its pages, let me lift a few lines—bookends really— from Christine Butterworth-McDermott’s stirring poem, “You Didn’t Show”:
After your birthday party, I gather the balloons
and slice their necks, let my own air back into the room.
All these molecules circulate again and again
like the rings of Saturn in those old cartoons…
You are somewhere, tossing back another and another
and another and another, and I am here trying to catch
my breath as it is released from its nylon casing.
Other stand-out lines come from the opening of Jennifer De Leon’s nonfiction piece, “Lucky Woman.” It begins: “ I have heard the story many times. How, three decades after deserting my grandmother and their eight children in Guatemala, my grandfather asked for forgiveness.”
Without spoiling the ending, I can say that it is a kicker and as deftly woven as the other two nonfiction offerings. The magazine feels particularly tight and polished in this department. Although, the poetry section is a sure rival. I especially like the way that Jonathan Greenhause’s “All is Noise & Music” skips across the page in soothing beats:
All is noise & music, a throwing up of hands & hollering
& howling at a moon
covered in craters named after the dead & dying….
When the music stops, there’s no silence: Only waiting….
All is noise & music, each pause full of chords’ incomplete symphonies.
All is what we make of the moments between first & last,
the things we’re afraid to grasp, & the things we master.
I am also impressed with the suite of flash fiction from short story finalist, Eliot Khalil Wilson. He moves through the familiar landscapes of Costco and a model neighborhood’s Homeowner’s Association with a whipping, caustic tongue that he later turns to the online dating service Match.com and an uncle fond of the NRA.
It should be clear by now that this is a magazine which toes the line between tradition and innovation, and it does so with such skill that I find it hard to believe it has not received more attention in the press, especially with its hard push to flesh out its online companion site.
Never a quick visit there! The online site is not just an archive of tidbits from the print issue, but a wonderland of podcasts and interviews and reviews that have not appeared elsewhere. You will linger in this virtual goodie bag as long as you did with the love-worn magazine.
The only thing holding me back from bestowing the full 5-star rating is better flow between included pieces and a cleaner presentation in the review section. With those tiny corrections, SER is well on its way into stellar territory.