Diverse Voices, Refreshing Stories
Reading The Southeast Review reminds me to thank Gutenberg. The literary journal is published twice annually through Florida State University. Submissions for fiction, comics, poetry, interviews, creative nonfiction, book reviews, and art are considered year-round via an online submission manager.
Those considering submissions should consider the zeitgeist evident in much of the content. Contributors leave telltale signs of their age: mentioning Pop Rocks, Gilligan, Blazing Saddles. But reading this journal isn’t a reminder of hours spent as children at the video arcade. This journal is literary resplendence, homage to up-and-coming writers.
Philip Belcher’s “To Dr. Paulson on the Eve of Surgery” exemplifies a romantic— not Romantic— poem. We meet not a pitiful sobbing man whose wife is about to undergo a surgeon’s knife for a mastectomy. We meet, instead, a man who cares deeply for and knows the eccentricities of his wife. The poem, in traditional stanza form, begins:
For a few hours starting at 6 A.M.,
I will break my vow. You should have
and hold my wife as if she were your own.
Most of the other poems in the journal are also traditional forms, not experimental, though there is openness to prose poetry. None of the content is academic or hifalutin. There is a wide range of voices, some of which aren’t American. See the lightly humorous “Lightning Strikes Twice” by Irish-born Mary Byrne, who’s traversed North Africa, England, Germany, and France.
Another voice that stands out is Brad Johnson’s. That man can spin metaphors and similes, and he does so deftly in “Why Boats Float.” His skill at creating a gentle narrative arc within poetry reads more roundly, less linearly. Consider this stanza, the climax of the poem.
The Olympia, Admiral Dewey’s flagship,
is the last surviving naval ship
from the Spanish-American war, a forgotten war
not mentioned in my daughter’s school books.
The ship’s white-painted steel and wedge shape
makes my daughter think of cake, which makes
me think of how too much sugar stings
my teeth where the gums receded.
Then we have Spencer Wise. His interview with Leslie Epstein ignited my interactive reader’s pen. He establishes a lively pace, which illuminates the humor of conducting a literary interview in the midst of a Spring Training baseball game. The back-and-forth between being a Jewish writer and being a baseball fan keeps readers on their toes. The two converge well when Epstein discusses his Steinway Quintet:
“Maybe I’m misremembering, as Roger Clemens said. I don’t know what’s wrong with the word ‘misremembering.’ Everyone jumped on him for that, but it seems like a useful word.”
The interview otherwise offers other food for thought for us writers— regardless of whether we love or are even familiar with the works of Epstein.
Two other pieces offer rich brain food too. Don’t be surprised to find yourself searching for more work by Kimberly Long Cockroft and Douglas Silver after reading their fiction.
In “Role Play”, Silver’s dynamicism and masculinity-centric tone and topic echoes Chuck Paluhniuk or even Hemingway. Silver commences his piece by thrusting himself into a discussion about menstruation, sexual role-playing, and bisexuality. Some of his diction even makes me feel like I’m watching Californication’s Hank Moody, a slew of god-awful diction streaming from his mouth yet the knack for obtaining instant forgiveness. Through its numerous, tight, tense peaks and valleys, you end up sympathizing with the protagonist, though at first he appeared like the obnoxious loud guy at the party.
In “Patron Saint of Trees”, Cockroft reveals a talent reminiscent of Graham Greene’s— that of camouflaging her literary tricks. Her subtle manipulation of structure, pace, and rhythm enhance character development. Her plot lingers in the memory for days afterward, twisting around in a way that brings to mind Arundathi Roy’s God of Small Things. Her writing is like a good wine: the first sip is for pure enjoyment; the second is for deconstruction. Another foreign voice, she’s from Kenya and Bangladesh and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry.
There is a lot to this issue of Southeast Review. Try this scrumptious feast for its refreshing voices and its diversity.