Southern Poetry Review has been so much a part of so many poets' lives over the past 50 years that it's hard to imagine the universe without it. When I was a student in the MFA program at UNC-G in the '60s, I was introduced to the journal and to its founder Guy Owen. Owen was an instructor in the program for one semester while I was there.
After his death, SPR, as we called it, moved to Charlotte for several years and then down to Savannah's Armstrong Atlantic State University, where a friend of mine and native western North Carolinian, James Smith, became Associate editor. Now, as editor of the new anthology Don't Leave Hungry, celebrating 50 years of Southern Poetry Review, he gathers this peripatetic history together in his masterful introduction. His first paragraph makes Owen's commitment to poetry, and SPR's ongoing adherence to it, clear: In many journals, and certainly in major magazines that bother at all, as Owen notes, poems are “filler,” not “the main course.” A Journal Dedicated to Poetry: that’s the logo the current editors gave SPR, and we like to think its founder would approve. For us, talking about Guy Owen is a way of talking about Southern Poetry Review.
No doubt about it, DON'T LEAVE HUNGRY: Fifty Years of Southern Poetry review, recently published by the University of Arkansas Press, makes an immediate impression on anyone who comes within a few feet of the book. Its cover design is composed of a Mark Rothko painting, Untitled, from 1953, Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
Its title, too, surprises the eye. This is a poetry anthology? Not a cookbook? When you read the title poem, by Eleanor Ross Taylor, you will understand that this anthology offers nothing less than an invitation to feast on the art of poetry. James Smith, again, from his Introduction: Our anthology’s title derives from a poem in it by Eleanor Ross Taylor, a southern poet undervalued for years. I was delighted to find “Don’t Leave Hungry” as I read through SPR’s archives, selecting poems for this book. Not only is it strange and marvelous (that word again!) in its own right, but its commanding title has a “southern” ring to it that would satisfy Owen. Taylor’s niece, Heather Ross Miller, also in the anthology and a former staff member, described Owen as “always encouraging us and welcoming us toward that table where so many crowd and so few get fed.” Miller speaks of writers here and their desire for publication, but Owen also offered his journal as a table where he hoped readers would crowd and find plenty to feed them, no needto leave hungry.
(Eleanor Ross Taylor)
What else by way of enticement? Well, there's a foreword by Billy Collins. And dust jacket testimonials by Jane Hirschfield and Lee Smith, who says "No reader will leave this harvest table hungry--here is nourishment for all. ...These poems epitomize their eras yet move beyond, rise beyond as poetry always does, capturing time and place and lived life in a way no other art can manage."
And now for the "main course," as Guy Owen called them, arranged and introduced by decade, with Smith's usual clarity of style and presentation! As the dust jacket notes, this anthology "charts the development of this influential journal decade by decade, making clear that although it has close ties to a particular region, it has consistently maintained a national scope, publishing poets from all over the United States. SPR’s goal has been to celebrate the poem above all, so although there are poems by major poets here, there are many gems by less famous, perhaps even obscure, writers too. Here are 183 poems by nearly as many poets, from A. R. Ammons, Kathryn Stripling Byer, James Dickey, Mark Doty, Claudia Emerson, David Ignatow, and Carolyn Kizer to Ted Kooser, Maxine Kumin, Denise Levertov, Howard Nemerov, Sharon Olds, Linda Pastan, and Charles Wright."
But wait--why rush through a feast? In this first week of National Poetry Month, let's sit back and anticipate what waits for us tomorrow, several poems from this beautiful and generous anthology. And because these few poems I offer will, I hope, serve to whet the appetite for more, here is the publication information and a link to the University of Arkansas Press.
5 1/2 x 8 1/2, 380 pages
ISBN 978-1-55728-893-6 | 1-55728-892-5
$54.95 (s) unjacketed cloth
ISBN 978-1-55728-892-9 | 1-55728-892-5