Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review Editor Nathaniel Perry invites readers to “imagine pouring yourself a cup of bad coffee out of that carafe on the cover and start reading. The coffee’s probably not very hot, but it will do.” Indeed, the contents of this issue will more than make you forget any bad cup of joe, with works from Ellen Kaufman, John Koethe, Dylan Carpenter, Will Brewbaker, Tao Qian, Jonathan Cannon, Tiffany Hsieh, Michael Dechane, Hilary Sio, Paul Nemser, Brandon Thurman, Valencia Robin, and many more. There is also a yearly feature I love called “4X4” – four contributors answering the same four questions. The questions are long-framed and take up a page, then are followed by responses from Shane McCrae, Lauren Hilger, Michael O’Leary, and Amaranth Borsuk & Terri Witek (who contributed a co-authored piece). Visit the Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review website to learn more.
This year’s questions touch on corresponding with other writers, solitude and writing, finding a balance of beneficial and less beneficial reading, and how shock-resistant each poet’s writing process is. The writers interviewed are Noor Hindi, Hailey Leithauser, Cheswayo Mphanza, and Jon Kelly Yenser.
Work by these four poets can also be found in the 2020 issue.
The poems inside this issue of Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review speak to our moment in different and unpredictable ways. Maurice Manning attempts to capture the past; Lauren Slaughter faces mourning head-on; and Ed Falco wonders fitfully about Narcissus. And maybe Narcissus can be a mascot of sorts for this weird moment of ours—how so many of us have stared at our own faces on Zoom and felt paralyzed, perhaps not by self-regard, but by something still inevitably bounded by the self. Hopefully, the poems and interviews in this year’s issue of HSPR will help break you out of whatever trance you might be in.
I’m ready for spring to hurry up and get here already, so I couldn’t help gravitating toward poems featuring plants in the Fall 2019 issue of The Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review.
Tara Bray focuses on plants in all three of her poems: “Inside the Sycamore,” “Milkweed: Doxology,” and “Lemon Verbena.” She writes with a hushed appreciation and admiration for each of these. There’s a familiarity and softness in her words. She calls the lemon verbena “sister,” she and her family fit themselves inside the sycamore, she feeds off the milkweed, a deep connection tying her to each plant.
This makes me appreciate Brian McDonald’s “Basil,” found on the following page, that much more. He heads in the completely opposite direction, beginning his poem with much less adoration: “Fuck. Another summer of trying to grow / these oily leaves I’ve always let fry / in the heat.” The basil plants lead McDonald to consider his shortcomings: other plants that have died in windowsills and his uncertainty about whether he’s treating his wife how she should be treated. He’s open and honest, deeply human, all with the help of these fragile basil plants.
It will still be cold here in Michigan for at least another month or two, so I definitely appreciate the writers that are able to deliver me from the chilliness and drop me in the middle of a sycamore or a warm backyard, a tray of basil plants in hand.
This year’s issue of HSPR is a collection of small things–the way the small things, the things we could almost overlook, often drive art as much as larger considerations. Our 4×4 section this year continues the theme – Richard Kenney, Tobi Kassim, Jessica Fisher and Stephanie Burt all weigh in on the role of small things in both making poems and appreciating them. Contributors include Jena Le, Sandra Lim, KE Duffin, Mary Cisper, Anna Tomlinson, Adam Tavel, Jonathan Wike, Tobi Kassim, and more. A changed logo, different paper, and new fonts are also small physical changes readers can note in this issue.