Thursday, October 8, 2009

SURREAL SOUTH edited by Laura and Pinkney Benedict

SURREAL SOUTH is everything I love about being Southern. There's an inherited creepiness in the grotesque beauty, the strange motivations, and the dogs, because be honest, we're strange over our dogs. There are a lot of details to draw a reader to crack the binding of SURREAL SOUTH: the creepy little girl and the circling murder of crows on the cover, Rodney Jones' quote on the back, "Our Southern reality hatched as surrealism," and the editor's names, Laura and Pinkney Benedict. Not to be prejudicial, but don't you know a man with a name like Pinkney Benedict must know a good story? Just like you know a Daughtry is a politician or a Ruby can make a pie.

There are a lot of stories and poems in here one could pass out as treats to the tricksters. Right off the bat, the reader takes the side of a murderer in the opening tale, Daniel Woodrell's "The Echo of Neighborly Bones." Laura Benedict sneaks up from behind with unhinged madness in "Witches, All." I think I once waited tables with the Wonder Bread truck driving come elephant wrangling magician in Jon Tribble's poem, "Cactus Vic and His Marvelous Magical Elephant."

Press 53 is publishing a second edition of SURREAL SOUTH, again edited by Laura and Pinkney Benedict, to be released in early November. Just in time to build a fire, pour a big glass of red, and read aloud.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

"How to Forgive" DIRT SANDWICH Linda Annas Ferguson

In honor of the first day of this spooky month, we're going to do something really scary--we're going to tackle a poem! I am usually only of a poetic mind when I'm pregnant. Lately I'm leaning toward adopting a puppy over having another baby, so I'll do my best to put my prosaic mind aside.

How to Forgive

Take a sip of wine,
let it worry your mouth.
Open up the dirty window.
When moonlight is weeping
on the lawn, scatter crackers
and bread crumbs, scream,
throw stones at the stars.

Imagine another love.

Throw stones at the stars,
and bread crumbs. Scream
on the lawn, scatter crackers.
When moonlight is weeping,
open up the dirty window.
Let it worry your mouth,
take a sip of wine.

Forgiveness. If ever there were a word worthy of poetry it is forgiveness. Not only a theme, but an emotion, a state of being, a point of reckoning and ruin. We are often libel to do more damage to ourselves in efforts towards reprieve than the original transgressor could ever do.

There is a circular, repetitive method to forgiveness, and the greater the transgression, the longer the round-about to absolution. Linda Annas Ferguson's "How to Forgive" from her collection DIRT SANDWICH recognizes this circular process and takes it as its form. The third stanza repeats the first stanza in reverse, and turns the voice from melancholy to manic and back again. Ferguson's structure brilliantly builds a bridge to theme.

Ferguson uses emotive verbs like "worry" and "open" and "scream", identifying forgiveness as an active state of emotion. The verb "imagine" is the anchor of the second stanza's sole line, implicating the leagues our minds travel upon reflection of the past and, horror above all, the future.

With a comma here, exchanged with a period there, the poem slides from anxiety to anger to an exhausted resolution. There is a methodical, deliberate rhythm in the alliteration of the first stanza's verse "scatter crackers and breadcrumbs, scream..." while the third stanza's period within,"Throw stones at the stars, and bread crumbs. Scream..." leaves the rhythm broken and gives the words new cadence and thus new portent.

Objects and images also transform and play with duality. The image of sipping wine heralds the poem. Wine is an agitator creating anxiety in the first line. The open window of the first stanza sets the voice free and gives us a chance at cathartic expression. The open window of the third stanza invites a cleansing, reflective resolution with the speaker rinsing their worried mouth with wine in the poem's closing line.

"How to Forgive" is a highly successful poem. All the elements are brought together to create the most elusive and critical of poetic desires, heart.