Centennial Ballroom, Hyatt Regency Denver | April 9, 2010

Episode 32: The Southern Review 75th Anniversary Reading

(Steve Almond, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Beth Ann Fennelly, David Kirby, Jeanne Leiby, Sydney Lea) Founded in 1935 by Robert Penn Warren at Louisiana State University, the Southern Review celebrates seventy-five years of publishing the best contemporary fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction by the world's most accomplished writers.

Published Date: September 21, 2011


Speaker 1:

Welcome to the AWP Podcast Series. This event originally occurred at the AWP Conference in Denver on April 9th, 2010. The recording features Jeanne Leiby, Beth Ann Fennelly, Steve Almond, Bonnie Jo Campbell, David Kirby, and Sydney Lea.

Jeanne Leiby:

Hello and welcome to the 75th anniversary reading of the Southern Review. I'm Jeanne Leiby, the editor and director. Here is how the story goes. In summer of 1935, on a sunny Sunday, the president of Louisiana State University took an afternoon drive to the home of Robert Penn Warren. "Red," he said, "Why don't we start a lit mag?" "Sounds good," Red said, and off they went to the home of Cleanth Brooks and Albert Erskine. By dinnertime, they all agreed that LSU could house a journal, provided that it paid a fair rate for contributions, gave writers decent company and had concentrated editorial authority sufficient for the magazine to have its own distinctive character and quality.

I love this story. It's a good one and it's been told over and over since it was first codified in the introduction to the best of the Southern Review published by Penn and Brooks in 1952. Is it true? Well, like all really good stories, it's true enough. Now part of the Southern Review's legacy and history is what it is. The Southern Review published from 1935 until 1942 and in 1942, the country was at war and the economy was in tatters. According to old press releases, the administration of LSU claimed it was closing down the Southern Review because of lack of interest expressed by the student body and because it was the role of universities to prepare students for real careers in the real world. Is that true? It's certainly true that they shut us down and it was actually the Kenyon Review that filled the last of the subscription. So thanks for that Kenyon and David.

In 1965 under Lewis P. Simpson, the Southern Review began again and since then, we've been publishing the best emerging and established literary voices, poets, fiction writers, essayists, literary and social critics. In the last few years we've added visual artists, journalists, photo journalists, and now with our spring issue, we've even added baseball players. Recently we had to write a two-page document for the university proving our worth and value and like everyone in this room, I know what an audience is, so I shied away from glamorous narratives. Instead, I counted things.

Since its inception in 1935, the Southern Review has published three Nobel Laureates, 27 Pulitzer Prize winners, 29 of the 42 US Poet Laureates and more National Book award winners and finalists than we can possibly count. Certainly we like these numbers because it gave the university what it wanted, an easy numerical way to understand the Southern Review's history and our position in the national and international literary landscape. What's funny and more than just a little bit sad is that these numbers don't have anything to do with our artistic mission, which is to put the best work we can find into the hand of readers who care.

I love the Southern Review, not just because we produce four beautiful issues a year and not just because of its magnificent history, it's participation in the literary now and our vision for the future. I love the Southern Review because it is a community of writers and readers. Maybe in part I feel this way, a little bit old school about it because I came into this literary life a slightly strange way. My first real job after undergraduate was, if you don't count managing a tanning salon, was as a junior literary agent to the great H.N. Swanson. Motion picture packaging was my division. I lived in LA, the city, not the state where I've ended up, and Swanny had been the motion picture literary agent for all the great writers in the middle of the last century. Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, true, none of them did very well in Hollywood, but Swanny always said that that kind of success was only part of the point.

He believed that his business wasn't just about the work the writers produced, but about the writing life that the writers lived. Old school? Maybe, but I'm 45 years old, it's over half a life. I have the right and I don't care. I love the Southern Review because we believe in the active engagement with the work and the writers. Look, we've all heard it, we've read it in newspapers, blogs, tweets and on Facebook updates. The publishing world is in peril from the New York houses to the university presses, lit mags and journals. The collapse of the print establishment because of the Kindle and the iPad, the ease of self-publishing and the tendrils of the web. But the truth is that change is not peril. It is only change. What alarms me most is that I now hear the same rhetoric that we heard in 1942. Lack of interest in the written word, lack of readership. Real careers in the real world, I don't know about you, but this world looks real to me.

Now, let's celebrate the Southern Review. I'd like to introduce you to and to thank with all of my heart the staff of the Southern Review. Some of us are with as are here in this room and some are not. Managing editor, Cara Blue Adams, assistant editor, Jessica Faust, business manager, Leslie Green, designer, Barbara Burgoyne, outgoing resident scholar, Andrew Irvin, resident scholar, Jen McClanahan and our graduate student assistant, Ryan Gibbs. It is an honor, joy, and privilege to work with each one of you.

Now in this great literary history, how did we pick these five great writers to read for us? They succumbed to begging. I begged, they eventually said yes. Our one criteria is the writers we invited have published with at least two, but in this case three of the editorialships of the Southern Review. And although they don't need it, I'm going to do very quick bio introductions for each of them in the order that they're going to read. And our first reader is Beth Ann Fennelly who has the best hair in poetry.

Beth Ann received a 2003 NEA and a 2006 USA grant. She has written three books of poetry, Open House, Tender Hooks, and Unmentionables, as well as a book of essays, Great with Child. She has three times been included in the best American Poetry series and is the winner of a Pushcart Prize and a Fulbright in Brazil. She's an associate professor at the University of Mississippi. Now all that's really well and great, but here's what's really important. Beth Ann Fennelly was first published in the Southern Review in the summer of 2002 with a story she co-wrote with Tom Franklin called The Saint of Broken Objects and she has graced our pages many times with wonderful work. So please welcome Beth Ann Fennelly.

Beth Ann Fennelly:

Thanks so much. In 1962, John Berryman wrote a bunch of strange poems in a new form he created that he called Dream Songs and he sent them to the Southern Review, which published them. 40 years later in 2002, I decided to try some myself and I knew the first place I would send them to would be the Southern Review and I'm so happy they appeared there. They were really fun to write because the Dream Song form is really weird and it had rhyme in it and I hadn't written in rhyme in a long time and a lot of puns and an alter ego and so I tried all that stuff on myself.

If you don't know about Berryman, just a couple of things about his life. When he was 12, his father in Florida went outside Berryman's apartment and put a shotgun in his mouth and blew his head off. And so Berryman grew up under the shadow of his father's suicide and his father was an alcoholic and then Berryman grew up to become an alcoholic and committed suicide and left his own son. And Berryman struggled with being an Irish Catholic and that's something that I've struggled with too. So in these poems I was able to look at a couple of questions of identity and free will and inheritance, stuff like that. I ended up writing 15 of them and I'm going to read you six. What spurred on the initial writing of these was remembering when I was a freshman in an all girl private Catholic boarding school, receiving communion from a perverted priest who put the communion on my tongue and left his thumb there.

Say you waved, a Dream Song cycle. One. J.B. I read your poetry and sigh. The tale of how he slipped his tongue in my young mouth alongside host Christ, the body of. That floored priest [inaudible 00:09:11] eye in my white dressed you would enjoy if you alive hadn't done at last it. Elastic, you had none a jumping from that bridge. To your winsome Irish grin and your last wits, we'd raise a fingers worth in Mississippi, somewhere it's five o'clock. Just eight months we overlapped. 71. Of suicide, I rarely think. I have yoga along with drink, which into his throat my father gunned. You would know J.B. that bottle rolling beneath his driver's seat weren't no goddamn Listerine. Wasn't I, Mr. Bones a pretty baby?

This next one refers to the fact that when he committed suicide he jumped off from a bridge in Minneapolis and later when they found the body, they found that he had a knife in his pocket. And they believe that if he didn't have the courage to jump, he was going to slit his wrist until he fell.

Again, I meet you on that wintry bridge. Hey ho, Midwestern wind, when wilts thou blow? Consolation some, the blade you brought should courage lack was found sheathed. You stepped out to meet your fate. Witnesses say you waved. One last bed, one last cool sheet to pull over your head. Boats there must have been. Did they see amazing, a boy falling from the sky, calm did on they sail? My thoughts turn to your son Paul. You'd apologized for this bad fall, his birth. Reading that I'd fret I was too happy to write verse. Hey out there, anyone know Paul Berryman? I'd guess if at all things aren't good. My father's ice cubes, I still hear rattling down the hall.

I too have a son. There we are like. I find the world sufferable. There we are not. Leg hugging my hip, 15 days past one, he rides me round the lawn, bush, bird, sky, nature's commons. We glaze and glorify. To name to feed. My son was a rodeo cowboy when feasting on my milk. He'd flap his free arm in the air, lip smacking, no longer metaphor. Like Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction snorting coke, goddamn, goddamn. You'd have liked that film, you who force your readers to their knees to gather and restring the beads that from a height you dropped. Ass in the air, oh awkward, but at last, look what we made? Dynamite, your sentences circling our throats.

Of your strict stanzas, only nuns should speak and of your crimpled syntax only imbeciles and armadillos, mystics, children and those who dream of Calder mobiles piloted through wind tunnels by angels on LSD. In roadside Mexico, a man, machete pineapple sprinkled it with salt and lime and hell born chili dust. "Don't eat it," a fellow tourist warned stepping off the bus. I ate it. So with your words, my lips sweet burn. I get ish it. I pumped my swing at six so hard my sneakers towed the sky. You know don't you what happened next? After the swing sets, stiff legs rocked thrice, but before I hit the ground I flew.

I'm going to skip to the last one. Nor can of syntax inverting to force rhyme, you be accused. It's all inversion all the time. "Headstands," says my yogi, "aids circulation." Henry, use a clown, both anti and pronoun, you grant permission. Yet I leave you alone. In the next room a woman paid is playing with my son. My curd obsession of a fortnight nears its close. He laughs. I choose to hear him and I rise. For Dylan Thomas dying in St. Vincent's, you Mercy rose and for shunned pound. See, some of Henry's guts wasn't rot. It helps you wait in the dark in the ground. Save my spot.

Jeanne Leiby:

That was wonderful. Our next reader is Steve Almond. Steve is the author of two story collections, My Life in Heavy Metal and The Evil B.B. Chow. He has a novel, Which Brings Me To You that he wrote with Julianna Baggott, also somebody who's been in the Southern Review, and a nonfiction book Candyfreak. His latest book, Not That You Asked is a collection of essays. He lives outside of Boston. More importantly, he first appeared in the pages of the Southern Review in the winter of 2001... Although he says that this is not accurate. So Kara, if you could, when we get back to the office, please check... 2001 with a story called God Bless America. What do you say it is?

Steve Almond:

What's that?

Jeanne Leiby:

What did you say the first thing you...

Steve Almond:

The Idea of Sirloin.

Jeanne Leiby:

The Idea of Sirloin, Kara. So he's been in our page as many times and facts, six stories have appeared in the Southern Review and most currently an essay in the Baseball Issue called That's What Ricky Just Did. Steve,

Steve Almond:

I'd like to publicly disown my hairstylist before you can. Thank you. So, I'm delighted to read with these readers and especially to read for the Southern Review, which is just going to endure because they make decisions that are artistic decisions. And the small press is where the emerging writers are coming from, who are going to tell us what we need to know and I'm glad to be a part of that tradition. So let me read just some... And they also publish short shorts, God bless them. So I'm going to read some of those. This is called Body Dream and it was in the Southern Review. I guess it goes out to anybody who's gone through puberty.

When I was young, mother used to dance naked on her marriage bed with a sweaty bosom while father was away on trips. The nanny took me onto her lap and whispered red secrets and the world rushed at me like pollen. Blonde girls invited me into homes at the tops of hills and darted so close I could see the fine hairs licked down above their lips. I sniffed the great truth of these young bodies and returned to myself dizzy, let down by the great humiliation of being. I lurk beneath the bleachers at school dances, my tender parts punched blue. At church I witnessed parishioners done right by God, fired in the kiln of redemption, but I always felt phony in his presence like an inventor stuck with a failed idea.

I'm certain there were others who strayed as far as me, but we remained tense islands in the hallways at school and there was nothing we could do, no authority to whom we could apply. So we hit our fingers and sniff the seats of our crushes in empty classrooms and imagined a naked savior who smelled of fucking. We were lost, unlovable, slouching the avenues with tongues of fire. We needed more than any father could give us, the clemency of flesh, the hot suction of faith, a grown woman who would swallow us whole and let us sleep.

So this is a little piece that was based on spending a tremendous amount of time alone in my underwear, generally not well bathed and being incredibly lonely for most of my apprenticeship when I was sending mostly very shitty stories to the Southern Review and mostly getting them rejected. And so I was always very desperate for contact. I don't know if anybody's had this experience, spend a lot of time alone, you become very needy and crazy. Help me out. Indulge me. And so I would go out to the star market just up the street and I would always try to make time with the cashiers, just anything. I didn't want their numbers, I didn't want to hit on them, I just wanted them to talk with me and they just did not want to talk with me.

It's called unfriendly cashiers. Not rude, which would imply all the tired grudges against fate as would bitter or hard bitten or impervious with its slender caprice, just unfriendly as in not interested in being your friend, not interested in your clothing or chummy witticisms in what you're are buying today, just there at the register with a name tag. My favorites work at down in the mouth markets, the leaky emporiums with carts that are a tetanus threat and off brands whose lettering croons sweetly off key. And what I like second best about them is that they watch everything, a step ahead of your complaints and stupid coupons, tired of your voice before you even speak. These are men and women immune to mood, generous only in competence. You and your strawberry soda and your salsa and your low what public friendliness face. They don't care. Make a joke and they'll stare at you like you're naked and disappointing.

I think that's funny. And what I like best about them is this stout refusal to prettify the situation to obey the cursed slogans of our age with its pathological, ulteriority and salesmanship with its spirit, the color and composition of hot dogs and best of all, those moments when something unusual and true and funny happens. When a spoiled kid throws up from too many animal crackers or the anxious new bag boy rams a plate glass window or the manager slips on the ice outside on her ass and the cashiers all in a row and against every grain of better judgment grin. There's some mean fucking cashiers.

All right, so this called... So this crazy little book is divided into sections and this section is called an Imperfect Command of History and the story is called The Age 91. Anish Schmaltz of the Gomersh Unit speaks the Gomersh Unit was the unit of the Soviet army that was out in front of the lines searching for the German high command during World War II. We knew this on April 28th, 1945 and the Right Chancellor, Adolf Hitler married Eva Braun. He kissed her hand and made her his wife. She wore a blue dress and a gray stole. Four days later he and Braun entered a sitting room. She swallowed a cyanide tablet and kicked over a flower vase. Hitler bit into the pill and shot himself at the same instant. He had heard reports of Mussolini hung like a sausage in a public square and feared bombs of sleeping gas. He ordered his body and Braun's burned.

Some days later a story circulated about Hitler's valet that he had fed bits of the dead to Blondie, his German shepherd. We were never able to confirm this, though we heard the dog upon our approach howling at the artillery. The rooms of the bunker were low and dark, padded like coffins. We found in one the notes written by the physician who attended Hitler. His penmanship was exquisite. By the end he was prescribing the Führer 92 different medications for cramps, insomnia, cocaine in his eyedrops, amphetamines with his tea. In another room we found Goebbels' wife, her six children were laid out on cots as if awaiting a bedtime story, poisoned chocolate on their tongues. That is of course true.

Above ground in a fountain lay a man who resembled Hitler, the same palate, face and black smear of hair. One of the fellows in our unit began to scream, "It's him, it's him." The commander came walking quickly after an inspection he scoffed, "This man wears darn socks." Just before dusk the commander found Hitler's body and that of his new bride. They were in a shallow grave outside the bunker. They'd been partially burned. Later the commander came to my tent. He had been drinking and his eyes were full of tears. "Schmaltz," he said, "I want you to guard this with your life." He handed me a box no larger than a heart, though that exact shade. The commander said, "His teeth are in this." I don't know why he gave that box to me, which contained the last remnants of the angel of death. It is always the women who handled the dead. We allow history to pass through us like a violent wave and we hold fast to the present. I have nothing more to say.

Okay. So that's the funny part of the book and it gets depressing. So this little book that I'm reading from is called This Won't Take but a Minute Honey, and I made it with an artist friend of mine. It's just 30 really short stories and then 30 essays about sort of the psychology and practice of writing. And so if you want to buy one, I only sell them at readings and they're 10 bucks and that way, I can feed my two small children, which I don't want you to feel guilty, but just so you know, they're kind of getting thin. Which is cool. We like [inaudible 00:25:55].

So I'll just read one more piece. It's called How You Know You're An Adult. Suddenly socks don't seem like a lousy gift at all. A nice pair of socks, silk or a cotton blend in a subtle color too, slate or ochre. Suddenly you see yourself in nice socks. You covet other men's socks, you walk around the city where you live coveting other men's socks. With their socks your life might come together more convincingly. Figures of authority would be given pause. Women would associate you with words like [inaudible 00:26:40]. I've been waiting about 20 years to use the word [inaudible 00:26:48]. Yes.

You're not obvious about this new, what to call it, interest. You don't linger around the dainty sock racks looking forlorn or urge your friends to go barefoot in your home. You do drop hints though. Keep up a healthy correspondence with the surviving grandparents. Make a point of thank you notes. You do these things, exhibit a little grace, a little love, and just like that your feet slip inside the fabric and you rise and walk like a grownup. Thank you guys.

Jeanne Leiby:

Thank you Steve. Next we have Bonnie Jo Campbell. She's the author of the Novel: Q Road and the Story Collection, American Salvage and Women and Other Animals. She's received the AWP award for short fiction, a Pushcart Prize and the Eudora Welty prize, which is from the Southern Review. And it was wonderful when I called her, she yelped. It was great. Bonnie Jo was also a finalist this year for the National Book Award and the National Book Critic Circles Award for American Salvage. Her poetry collection Love Letters to Sons of Bitches, great title, won the 2009 CBA Letterpress Chapter Award. Bonnie teaches at the Pacific University low res MFA programs. She is also another chick from Michigan. Bonnie Jo first appeared in the pages of the Southern Review in the winter of 1999 with a story called The Smallest Man in the World. Since then, her stories and poems have appeared in our pages seven times. Bonnie Jo Campbell.

Bonnie Jo Campbell:

Thank you. I love the Southern Review and I love Jeanne Leiby too, the editor. I can't help it. I just had to say that not just because she's from Michigan. I'm going to read a piece of a story that appeared in Southern Review called the Yard Man and then I'm going to read a complete story that's very short. So it's called The Yard Man and sometimes it's very hard to place a 30-page story, so that was very nice that there was a home first, occasionally a 30-page story, but I'm just going to read a little bit of it.

The Yard Man. He was standing in mud leaning on his round end shovel when he saw the big orange snake folded on the rocks beside the driveway, its body as thick as his stepson's arm. Jerry dragged himself out of the waist-deep hole where he'd been digging around the dry well and moved along the side of the building, approached the rocks heel toe and his mud caked work boots, trying to move silently in the overgrown grass. The snake was orange with red and gold, but close up its skin reflected green and blue as well. Strangely, the blue of his wife's blue eyes and the shiny coils of the snake suggested his wife's coppery hair.

Jerry had seen garter snakes and blue racers and rat snakes here. He had saved a dozen papery skins he'd found and tacked them to the wall inside shed number five, which had recently developed a roof leak and would have to be cleaned out and burned down. But this snake was like no animal he'd seen, as brilliant as the orange butterfly weed that had shot up like flames along the property line a few weeks ago. The snake had a smooth head the size of a Yukon gold potato and the look on the snake's face made it seem as if he were smiling in the sunshine. When Jerry was close enough, he reached slowly toward the nearest coil to touch it. The shriek caused the snake to uncoil and set out over the rocks and it made Jerry stand up and knock his shovel into the side of the house where it chipped a clapboard.

His wife Natalie stood frozen on the concrete step a few yards away, jaw loose, eyes bulging a little. Her keys jangled as they hit the ground. The snake moved across the overgrown grass toward the flower garden old Holroyd's wife had planted. It was Holroyd who told Jerry the dry well was probably nothing more than a rusted 55 gallon drummer rocks buried outside the makeshift kitchen of the old construction office building where Jerry lived. As usual, Holroyd was right. Maybe Holroyd had been the one to bury it there 20 years ago.

"Jerry," his wife screamed, "do something." Jerry watched the snake's middle part disappear under the garden flocks then the hollyhocks. The snake was at least as long as Jerry was tall."Kill it," she shouted, "Jerry, please kill it." His stepson and stepdaughter appeared on the window looking scared, although probably more by their mother screaming but then by a snake they couldn't see. Jerry picked up his shovel. As his wife of a year and a half had grown more unhappy with them, he tried to do whatever she wanted. Had she told him to go in and do the dishes, he would've wiped his hands on his jeans and gone inside to run soapy water, dry well or no dry well.

He pursued the snake into the hollyhocks, raised the shovel high enough to slice its body clean through. He didn't know exactly what went on inside a snake's body, but he could imagine a man or a boy chopped in half, how the organs and intestines would fall out. Jerry hesitated, lost sight of the snake and some ground cover and then saw orange and gold bunching up between flowering bushes. He lifted his shovel again, he could feel his eight-year-old stepson staring at his back. "For the love of God, Jerry," his wife screamed as though the whole ground around them were writhing with snakes. He couldn't blame her. What she felt was as natural as the snake's enjoyment of the sunshine on rocks, as natural as the snake slipping away from the sound of screaming. Jerry lifted his shovel and jammed the blade deep into the soil, 18 inches from the snake, which kept sliding away unaware it had come near death. Jerry studied the line of Indian corn colors as the snake moved over a railroad tie at the far end of the garden into tall, dense grass. "Did you get it?" She shouted.

So isn't that good? Most of my stories, such bad things happened, but that one, the snake didn't have to die. I'm going to read a very short story that's in my collection that's... I don't know, do you guys know about this whole methamphetamine thing? You ever hear about it? Well, this story is about a guy who has a problem with a gal, his wife, who has a problem with methamphetamine. It's called The Solutions to Brian's Problem.

Solution number one, Connie said she was going out to the store to buy formula and diapers. While she's gone, load up the truck with the surround sound home entertainment system and your excellent collection of power tools, put the baby girl in the car seat and drive away from this home you built with your own hands. Expect that after you leave, she will break all the windows in the living room as well as the big mirror over the fireplace, which you've already replaced twice. The furnace will run and run.

Solution number two, wait until Connie comes back from the store, distract her with the baby and then cut her meth with Draino so when she shoots it up, she dies.

Solution number three, put the baby to bed in her crib and sit on the living room couch until Connie comes home. Before she has a chance to lie about where she's been, grab her hair and knock her head hard into the fireplace that you built from granite blocks that came from the old chimney of the house your great-grandfather built when your family first came here from Finland. Don't look at the wedding photos on the mantle, don't let the blood stop you from hitting her one final time to make sure you have cracked her skull. Put her meth and her bag of syringes and blood smeared needles in her hand so the cops find them when they arrive.

Solution number four, just go. Head south where it's warm. Contact the union about getting a job with another local. Pretend not to have a wife and baby. When put to the test, Connie might well rise to the occasion of motherhood. Resist taking any photographs along with you, especially the photographs of your baby at every age. Wipe your mind clear of memories, especially the memory of your wife first telling you she was pregnant and how that pregnancy and her promise to stay clean made everything seem possible. The two of you kept holding hands that night. You couldn't stop reaching for one another even in your sleep. She lost that baby and the next one. And although you suspected the reason, you kept on trying.

Solution number five, there are seven solutions. Solution number five, blow your own head off with the 12 gauge you keep behind the seat of your truck. Load the shotgun with shells, put the butt against the floor, rest your chin on the barrel and pull the trigger. Let your wife find your bloody corpse in the living room. Let her scrape your brains off the walls. Maybe that will shock her into straightening up her act. Let her figure out how to pay the mortgage and the power bill.

Solution number six, call a helpline, talk to a counselor. Explain that last week your wife stabbed you in the chest while you were sleeping, that she punches you too, giving you black eyes that you have to explain to the guys at work. Explain to the counselor you're in danger of losing your job, your house, your baby. Tell her Connie has sold your mountain bike and some of your excellent power tools already. Try to be patient when the counselor seems awkward in her responses, when she inadvertently expresses surprise at the nature of your distress, especially when you admit that Connie is only five foot one. Expect the counselor to be even less supportive when you say hell yes, you hit her back. Then realize the counselor probably has caller ID. Hope that the counselor doesn't call social services because a baby girl needs her mama. Assure the counselor that Connie is a good mama. She's good with the baby. The baby's in no danger.

Solution number seven, make dinner for yourself and your wife with the hamburger in the fridge, sloppy joes maybe or goulash with the stewed tomatoes your mother canned. Your mother who like the rest of your family thinks your wife is just moody. You haven't told them the truth because it's too much to explain and it's too much to explain that yes, you knew she had this history when you married her, but you thought you could kick it together. You thought that love could mend all broken things. Wasn't that the whole business of love? Mix up some bottles of formula for later tonight when you'll be sitting in the living room feeding the baby, watching the door of the bathroom behind which your wife will be searching for a place in her vein that is not hardened or collapsed. When she finally comes out, brush her hair back from her face and try to get her to eat something. Thank you.

Jeanne Leiby:

I remember when I read this story, The Yard Man. It was I think in my first issue, it was published in the first issue I did of the Southern Review. It has snakes and bees and unnamed vermin. And I called Bonnie and I said, "I hate them all, snakes and bees and unnamed vermin, but I love the story."

Our next reader is David Kirby. David Kirby is the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University and the author of The House of Blue Light and The Ha-Ha, both selected by Dave Smith, former editor of the Southern Review for the Southern Messenger Poetry Series. He's published over 20 other books of poetry and literary criticism, most recently The Temple Gate called Beautiful and Little Richard: The Birth of Rock 'n' Roll. David's work first appeared in the pages of the Southern Review in the summer of 1981 with a review called Hulking and Nebulous Immensities. Since then he has had 27 pieces appear in our pages. David Kirby.

David Kirby:

Oh hell yeah. I'm going to read you one poem. It's called Talking About Movies with Jesus, which is the title poem of a book of mine that's coming out from LSU Press in 2011. And because you're all writers, I'll tell you a good story, which is that in 2009 the book Talking About Movies with Jesus won the 2011 Leslie Phillabaum Poetry Prize from the press, which is a prize the press gives for forthcoming poetry book. And at that time they pretty much accepted the manuscript, but it hadn't been through that final evolution that we always in our nervousness and horror at what we've done and what people might think inflict upon it at the last minute. So I still had to... I ended up pulling six poems out and putting four new ones in and really making some big changes in the ones that were in there.

So what I'm saying to you then is that I won a prize in a strict, technical sense for a book that had not been written yet. So I want to tell you this, you can go ahead and look at your editors and say, "Where my prize at?" And they'll say, "For what?" You say, "The book I haven't written yet." It gives you something to look forward to. It's a thrill to be up here with these people, with Jeanne and all of you. In fact, it's literally a thrill. It's like being in a thriller with those eyeball searing lights there. And I don't know whether you can hear it, but there's that echo that comes back? It's like Hanoi Hannah, trying to demoralize the troops. "Hey GI, your wife's going out with the milkman," but it's your own voice, which makes it even more fun.

Barbara and I were in Paris. We had a sabbatical and decided not to spend it in our little storybook town of Tallahassee, but to go to Paris and we had an apartment that was pretty near the Luxembourg Gardens. So we had a sort of ritual where we would get up in the morning and walk in the gardens and talk and then come back and write all day and then go out at night and eat fine food and washed down by the finest wines known to humanity. And then that would necessitate the cycle again the next day because you'd have to get up and walk off those good things. But where we would enter the Luxembourg Gardens, there was a statue of Mary, Queen of Scots and the poet Joseph Brodsky would sit there in that same park and he wrote a series of sonnets about Mary and so that comes up.

It's called Talking About Movies with Jesus. Those of you who prefer to think about Mary, Queen of Scots as opposed to all those other decapitated monarchs should try it here near this statue, which always makes me think of Jesus seeing as how she was born Catholic and he became one after he'd finished the Jewish phase of his career. Why Luxembourg though? Nobody seems to know. Today the country itself is the world's only grand dutchee, meaning it is ruled by a grand duke. And who's Jesus today? Well, let's see. There's Ku Klux Jesus hovering in the sky over the triumphant Klansman in D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, but he was probably just having a bad day. My Jesus doesn't hate people. There's Malibu Jesus, also known as blonde and blue eyed, Jeffrey Hunter in the King of Kings. Whereas a first century Semite would've looked like a present day Palestinian, only smaller topping out at around five three and weighing a trim 110 pounds considering that he walked everywhere. That'd be shrimp Jesus, but no disrespect because his doctrines are king-sized.

Then there's buddy Jesus, the one Protestants like. The Protestants say, buddy Jesus walks with them and he talks with them, but my Jesus wouldn't put up with the offkey singing and the cheesy lyrics. My Jesus would be somebody who walk right by you and you wouldn't even notice him. He'd be going to the Titian show at the Luxembourg Museum or stopping to take a snapshot of the kids sailing boats on the pond or stepping around back to the orchard to catalog the apples and pears with names like General Le Clerk and Prince Napoleon and Summer Rambo and Madam Ballet. And he'd looked just like anyone else, only more Palestiniany.

My Jesus would be a poet like the Joseph Brodsky. He sat in this same park and looked at this same statue of Mary, Queen of Scots and wrote 20 sonnets about her and of whom Professor Alexander Zholkovsky has written, "Brodsky is a versatile poet, metaliterary almost to a fault and pointedly intertextual with his jocular references to Dante, Schiller, Pushkin, Gogol, Akhmatova, Russian proverbs and popular songs, Mozart, Manet, a 1940 Nazi movie about Mary Queen of Scots, Parisian architecture, and so on." Now doesn't that sound like what the French call a [French 00:45:49]? Wouldn't it be fun to take a stroll through the garden with somebody like that on a sunny day or even a rainy one or best of all, one that's overcast and cool so you could walk along with your hands behind your back and your overcoat hanging off your shoulders like Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, though without the infidelity and bad dental work?

I know my Jesus would be pointedly intertextual and metaliterary too, though not to a fault. How can you be too metaliterary? My Jesus and I would walk all over the place, past the statues of Boutler and St. Berve, past the ravens big mothers the size of bulldogs and stop at the apiary to admire the bees. "I bet you had a lot of honey in Palestine," I'd say. And Jesus would say, "Yeah, we ate a lot of it over there." And then look into the distance as though he were thinking about his mom and the apostles and all the suffering we underwent. We'd walk some more and stop to get a cotton candy called barbe à papa or daddy's beard in French. And Jesus would mutter, "This is not my father's beard."

I think Jesus would be a little mean to me, but that's okay. God knows we were plenty mean to him. When we pass a glade with a beautiful grassy area where people could have a picnic, I say, "You can imagine naked people at their ease. They're like the lovers in [foreign language 00:47:14]." And Jesus says, "You're an animal, Dave." And I say, "Of course, I'm an animal, Jesus, just like everybody else. We've all got the reptile and the early mammal brain. So there's the crocodile and the horse and the rest of me. And it's David, not Dave. Aren't you an animal, Jesus? The Gnostic Gospels say you kissed Mary Magdalene on the mouth and your disciples chided you for it."

"I am as I am," says Jesus. And when we get to the tennis courts, I ask him if he wants to play tennis and he says, "I don't play tennis." Though I can't tell whether he has played and doesn't like it or never learned how to play and is embarrassed. Jesus says, "You don't take me seriously." And I say, "I do, Jesus. I want certainty. I want a relationship. I want there to be another side. And when it comes my time to go there, I want you to walk me over just as we're walking through this garden at this very moment." By now it's early afternoon and the joggers are gone for the day. So we stop for a coffee at the little snack bar just south of the Medici fountain. Then we get up and walks somewhere and we come to the bowling green and I suggest a game of bowls. And Jesus steps around in front of me and he looks at me so piercingly that for a moment I think he's going to headbutt me. And then he says, "You ever see that Mary Queen of Scot's movie, Dave?"

And I say, "No, I haven't, Jesus." And Jesus says, "Well, I haven't either though I know that during World War II, Swedish born actress, Zarah Leander became the highest paid star of Nazi cinema upsetting Joseph Goebbels who felt that the part should have been played by a German actress. But if you're going for the racial purity, shouldn't it be a Scottish actress? Wouldn't that make more sense?" And I say, "It would, Jesus. It really would." And then I smug and say, "Oh, well, Germans schmerman, Jesus." And Jesus smiles and says "German, Ethel Merman, Dave. Did you know her real name was Zimmerman? She was a Jew like me." And I say, "I don't think there's a whole lot of Jews like you, Jesus." And the au pairs who've brought the little kids to the park for the pony rides and the puppet show are rounding them up for the trip home. And Jesus takes my arm in his and says, "And Kerry Grant was Archibald Leach."

"And Natalie Wood," I say. And Jesus says, "Hold on, that's a tough one. Let's see. Natalia Nikolaevna Zacharenko." "So Russian," I say. And the gendarme blows his whistle because by now it's sundown and the garden is closing. "Yeah, Russian," says Jesus, "like Brodsky." And the bigger kids are racing to get their boats back to the rental stand. And the old duffers who have fallen asleep on the benches wake with a start and put their newspapers and ice cream wrappers in the trash bins and start to shuffle towards the gates.

"Brodsky's sonnets don't seem to have all that much to do with Queen Mary though," I say. And Jesus says, "Yeah, they're more about his fucked up love life." And I say, "You say fuck?" And Jesus says, "I say everything." And then he says, "I love the movies." And I said, "But the movies weren't even invented until the 19th century." And Jesus says, "Look, when was America invented?" And he even makes the little double hook signs in case I can't hear the quotation marks in his voice. And I say, "Um, 1492." And he says, "And what? It didn't exist before then?" And just then the door of the Luxembourg Palace opens and someone steps out. It is Edgar Allen Poe. And I say, "Isn't that Poe, Jesus?" And Jesus says, "It is." And I say, "But isn't he dead?" And he says, "Nobody's dead, David." And I say, "Is this a movie, Jesus?" And Jesus says, "What isn't?" Thank you. Thank you.

Jeanne Leiby:

That's wonderful. And our last reader today, if you can't tell, not only was it difficult with all these writers to invite five, but also then how do you put them in order? So I did it numerically. So the last to appear first and backwards. So our last reader is Sydney Lea. Sydney Lea is the author of eight collections of poetry, most recently Ghost Pain. His prior collection, Pursuit of a Wound was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He's an American poet, novelist, essayist, editor, and professor. His most recent book is A Little Wildness: Some Notes on Rambling. And he has a ninth collection of poetry, Young of the Year forthcoming from Four Way Books. Sydney's work first appeared in our pages in the autumn of 1979, and since then he has had 20 poems and essays appear in the pages of the Southern Review. Sydney.

Sydney Lea:

I don't know how I went from a promising beginner to a late bloomer in such a flash. But to be the senior member here, it seems oddly gratifying. I didn't want to come to AWP because my oldest daughter had just had twins and I thought maybe I'd like to hang out with them. But I realized that I was blessed by the Southern Review in a lot of ways, not least by its founder, Red Warren, who was a wonderful mentor to me early on, perhaps particularly when I founded my own literary quarterly called New England Review. And at that time, I had a co-founder whose name I won't mention, but he disappeared after the first couple of issues because his real intention was to marry the managing editor. And when he found out that she didn't want to marry him, I didn't see him for a while and I married her instead. It's 28 years ago, I think it's going to stick.

But we showed the first issue. My colleague and friend, he's still my good friend. We showed him... He was well connected and it had people like Warren and Borhees and others in it. And I showed it to Red, "What do you think?" He said, "Why would you want to publish an anthology of stars?" He said, "Well, you want to do one the stars of the future." And that was very good advice for me and I tried to follow it thereafter as closely as I could. And it's very gratifying to look back and see that in much lesser span of time and with less distinction, that magazine under my editorship published some writers that I admire greatly to this day.

I'm going to read... All the poems I'll read today are... There are five and are from the pages of the Southern Review, but none of them have appeared in books yet. In fact, I should say that there's one poem here that in fact has not appeared in the Southern Review, but I'm in sincere hopes that it may. I'm here to lobby a bit for it because it's under consideration-

Speaker X:

[inaudible 00:54:53] a pen? I'm taking notes.

Sydney Lea:

... by Jean who's just done this magnificent job in perpetuating one of the really wonderful magazines that we have. And the first poem begins with the mouth filling German word Heimatlosigkeit and the reason... Well, I don't really know why it occurred to me, but that's part of the poem, Heimatlosigkeit. Why on earth would I remember this or any other word in German, which I'd never really learned. It was used by some brainy scholar in a book I read in a time when I thought I wanted to be a brainy scholar. He put a twist on the meaning. My seldom considered German dictionary called it simply homelessness. But for the scholar, the word meant thrownness, exemplified by Adam and Eve's condition when they got themselves chucked out of the garden.

But why would I summon Adam or Eve or Eden on a certain evening, late March, Vermont, while hiking thick woods unbrainly without my snowshoes? A mile or so, then I started to break through the grime crust with every step. And today I'm left to guess why such a term unbidden, highfalutin would leap into mind. My endurance running low, it may have been I feared I'd never again see home. My legs like saturate iron, zinc colored sun slithering nightward down the blackened hills. But no, of course I'd survive, for once having a pack full of extra clothes on my back. It was really no more than that, speculation famous now. I wasn't really in physical danger or not of dying unhoused in any case. And so it was perhaps that a sort of metaphysical thrownness subtlest Satan slid itself into a brain that I had tried to set as free as it wanted to be.

I do that whenever I walk this landscape. I've never been much for philosophy. Abstracted thought, as Huck Finn said, is something else, too many for me. So I may fit Flannery O'Connor's self description as a person constitutionally innocent of theory, but with certain preoccupations. Whatever my own preoccupations is likely is not that they're much different from so great an authors, who's to say? Truth is as we're looking here for truth or at least I am or was I believe when Heimatlosigkeit dropped in so strangely to my ken. I've never quite defined my preoccupations, a lot of nature, a lot of love, a lot of family, a little at least of this and that. But as I was lying safe in my own bed last night, I started meditating on things I call important. Though I can't fit them even into the sort of polysyllabic satchel, the German allows.

Yes, I struggled yesterday to make my way, but at least I was headed home. Whereas Evie Benson, who lives or rather lives beside the railroad tracks, got burned out two weeks ago. I saw her standing in front of our general store a day or so after. She held what little she'd managed to save in the plastic bag that showed the logo of some chain drugstore. And with her was Dennison Carter, to whom I'd never paid a lot of mind, the merest nod, a vague hello. Evie had always seemed the very figure of loneliness to me. No husband, no children. And she never belonged to the women's club or the local church or anything else I could think of. Though it was seldom I thought of Evie either if the truth be known. Yet I watched as Denny offered her his paper cup of coffee and handed her his powdery donut. And when she blew on the cup and dunked the donut and ate it, I thought a thought so embarrassingly bland, so far from metaphysical, it almost threw me, but I'll speak it here. Some people still know how to be kind. And a thought so simple brought me to tears.

This is a poem called Ignorant. It's from a series of poems called Village Life. This arrogant, ignorant, natural, philosophically, this is the ignorant one. Back then, it must've been hard for Nick to work in that shop, his father-in-law's garage. He was my longtime friend. His side of the story was my side. He'd always confided in me for some unknowable reason. He'd shake my hand when I stopped in which Yankees just don't do. So I knew about the ulcers, though Nick wouldn't see a doctor, stoic, stubborn, country. And no I didn't know. No one learned what it was that killed him until it killed him, which made me remember that once I'd caught him clutching his gut, leaving a torque wrench to rattle and dance on a thunder a moment as if that was some kind of trick. Nothing but a heartburn he claims, turning aside my questions, turning to what really hurt him. How his wife and three young sons obviously favored her father while Nick was the one who worked all night and day all week to keep the family going, including the father who lounged all day indoors on a couch. A man said, Goddamn stupid, as Nick would often complain. You don't hardly even know how to ache when he's in pain.

This is a poem called Dubber's Kerr. I haven't seen this dog for a while, but we used to have a dog that would wander into our yard and he was kind of a nuisance. And this is a poem about him and ancillary material, Dubber's Kerr. At last one day I used a trick you may have heard of. I loaded a 12 gauge shell with rock salt and shot him from distance enough. I'd hurt him plenty but do no actual harm. He gave a satisfying yelp and bolded over our ridge, blonde blur of sinew. A scary thing to look at. He must be partly pitbull, the telltale eyes and boxy countenance, but mixed with something much, much bigger. He's a brute all mar and chest and yet as far as I can tell, there's no mean streak in Buddy who's not to blame. Dubber just can't seem to keep him home or won't. Every morning Buddy winds their own dogs up and pees on each last post and door and flower stock.

That day of the shooting, I told myself I'd had enough this time and told my family, "We won't see him again." In a matter of hours, he climbed back up to us from that junk heap ramble of trailers, pickups, scrap iron tires down where Dubber lives with his wife by common law and two young rolly daughters, still at home each girl with at least one child of her own. The Lord knows how they keep body and soul together. Sometime later and who can say a thing and start to brew in a person's mind. While driving back from the upscale market, five towns south, hauling salmon, French bread, organic greens in our foreign car, I came to think how likely it was that Buddy had wandered in once more to lift his legs somewhere.

All our house dogs meanwhile, who in fact should daily bark their thanks to God they are just that, house dogs inside, not out there mixing it up with him. Our dogs would again be slobbering on the windows howling at Buddy. I swore by habit then somehow felt at times your life can lift you from the factual. I was more than glad for that no matter it came so sudden and didn't make any sense and doesn't accord with anything a man could prove or defend or even want to. In that same moment, I envisioned my penniless neighbor's mongrel, the dauntless, tireless Buddy trotting his usual beat up the face of that murderous ridge, leaving his wretched gang to eke out its day, the sun pouring down through a crack in the mountains, buttery in the vision on the dog's thick fur heraldic. And he seemed an admirable creature if only for his patients.

And more, the house and hovels, the twisted wrecks of chassis and antique farm machine all seemed to assume a kindred glow and seemed part of something much, much bigger. The wet nose kids, the scrambling barn cats, puls pulses, the scrawny pony and weedy garden plot. Forgive me, but these all testified to a light in each of us, though don't embarrass me, don't ask a thing about it. Instead, let me ask you, have you not in your wandering a world that you've done your own small part like me to soil, not sometimes sell the purpose? Some might shoot you for it, granted. It remains a purpose though and though I almost see you lift the gun, you may have sensed a near exalting rightness in doggedly keeping at it. Just as Dubber's Kerr keeps at his climb, shows up.

This is a grim, not nasty poem called The 1950s, time of my puberty. It is not very nice, but I'm actually all kinds of fun in real life. Lots of people will tell you that. 1950s. The boys went back and forth between scamming and snubbing the girl who showed up late afternoon to watch each practice and game. Her elbows propped on the boards as their bodies flew by. Cinder block and I-beam echoed with grunts and the claps of sticks on pucks. Before they showered on lacing skates on the bench, they threw fingers to see who'd be the one to go find her. They bragged about what they'd make her do or had. Some of them must've known her actual name. So there's no excuse for what those young punks called her. Among themselves the girl was always a rink rat.

Where was the school where rink rat took her classes? Nobody cared. Nobody wondered how her family, if she had a family in fact, would set her free to hang around with boys at play and after. Behind the building a path of mud and cinders snake passed propane tanks and garbage cans up a squat little hill that was more or less out of sight. Not exactly a bower, but then atmosphere wasn't the issue. Much later driving past some bleak looking scene that sketchily resembles that meeting place, one of the boys who now has daughters and granddaughters shivers as he thinks of a blurry figure with bottle thick glasses lopsided on a face, a savagely birthmarked face. The mark is what lingers more than anything. It started under an ear as they saw when she wore her limp hair up or in braids. She tried out other styles too, but none of them cared.

Her body was all that mattered as one of them sneered. The chassis is not half bad. When she wasn't a rodent, she could be a machine. What sort of desperate longing, if that's what you'd call it, made the girl so easy a mark? What on earth could make her come and come? Oh, they had fun with that word. Their double meanings as lame as each of them, no doubt was mistaken. The rink rat machine would thrash and sign and moan, a pretense the graceless boys didn't bother with. Her birth splotch took the nastiest possible path, from that ear to the edge of her scalp and straight back down, turning her oversized nose with its acne and blackheads to a blob of berry and paste and melting chocolate. Her chin the same.

So the boys were playing two games, one with the nets and goalies, the other with a rink rat. After their sweat cooled down down, they talked about hockey. They praised their teamwork, deception, brotherhood, speed. In short, they swapped a mindless swagger's claim... Claims that men have always shared. I'm saying they, you'll understand, as I try to skate over shame. It seems to have taken me 50 years to name.

And the last one is much more cheerful. And unlike me, it's a bit yogic. I'm scarcely yogic type, but this is called Mahayana in Vermont. My objectives this morning were vague. As always, I'd hike these hills the way to keep going against the odds, age deals. A way to keep body and soul together, and not so much thinking as letting things steal into mind. But I started counting from the very first step I took. I wore rankled boots, ill laced and patchwork pants. Around my neck, hung the frayed lanyard of a whistle I used to summon our trio of dogs who tapered and yelped their pleasure at one of our walks. At more miraculous, still at having me for a master. It's true in a sense that I always count as I wander, though it's usually the beats of a tune. Thelonious Monk's, Brilliant Corners a favorite that mark my time.

These counts felt odder, better. We scattered a brood of grouse at step 91. The deer flies strafed us. At 500, a late trillium glowed by a ledge like a lotus. Right along the rain kept pounding. I was mindful of all these things, but I never stopped counting. Life was good and more. It was worthy of better response. At a thousand, I thought enough, and counted on. Nothing was coming to mind. Nothing is coming again from my hike half the day ago with three dogs through rain, but a mystic sense of wellbeing in quietly chanted numbers. Whatever this trance, I treasured it as a wonder not to be wrenched into meaning, as in every second counts, as in you should count your blessings. Though of these, there seems no doubt. Thank you.

Jeanne Leiby:

Thank you. Thank you, David. Thank you Beth Ann, thank you Syd. Thank you Bonnie Jo. Thank you Steve. More importantly, thank all of you for being part of our audience, for being readers, for being writers, subscribers, contributors, and submitters. We really appreciate it. Pretend with me, for one minute that it's 10 years from now celebrating the 85th anniversary of the Southern Review, and maybe it'll be the second female editor of the Southern Review standing before you. And what she'll say is, "I'd like to introduce you to Fatima Rashid, a writer whose works first appeared in the pages of the Southern Review in 2008. Or Elizabeth Geni, a writer whose work first appeared in 2009, or Paul Manier, whose first appeared in the pages in 2010." Because we love the writers that we published with great histories, but we also love the writers who we get to bring to you for the first time. So those are three names you might want to watch out for. And again, on behalf of everybody at the Southern Review, thank you.

Speaker 8:

Thank you everybody.

Speaker 1:

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