Maggie Smith’s poems speak of the dangers and beauty, the tragedy and sadness, and the unforgiving joys of the world. Her poems recall the past with reflection and nostalgia, while looking through a fierce lens at the present and hoping wildly for a future, with nuance and precision and the kind of rhythmic breath that runs down a spine. And they call for attention, serious attention, to the proximity of perils, hopes, fears, dreams, desperation, lost girls, unclassified stars, motherhood, home, nature, and death. Shaping her collections to deliver warnings and reminders, memories and re-imagined myths and fairy tales, Smith constructs dwellings from her words, spaces originating in nature, in domestic life, and then shakes out their meanings so that we understand so much more than the words ever intended.
The stories of Seth Borgen’s debut collection “If I Die in Ohio” (New American Press, 2019), winner of the 2017 New American Press Fiction Prize, are stretched with strands of humor and sadness that surprise, that leap about, leaving the reader laughing, sighing, nearly crying, and then laughing all over again. One moment J.D. Salinger—humor edged with something quirky, unsettling, even tragic—and the next moment Eudora Welty—precision and sleight of hand balanced with a situation of unease, all lakeside on a summer’s day—the writing calls out and creates compassion and understanding. It becomes clear that no one else but this author could’ve written these characters, assigned their different measures of vulnerability and daring and kindness and confusion, as well as their circumstances. There are stylistic notes here that might recall previous writers, but in the writing they have shifted into a new narrative approach, one that is distinctive and bold. Endings become beginnings; men who have nothing in common have everything in common; borders crossed lead to a love that was there all along; the realization that what is feared lost was lost long ago. With this collection come stories that beckon and tease, that persuade and enlighten. To read them is to be astonished.
In his short story collection “Sweet and Low” (Blue Rider/Penguin, 2019), Nick White writes of love, trouble, family ties, and queerness, all wrapped in the heartbreak and lyricism of country songs and storytelling. Set mostly in the small towns and farmlands of Mississippi’s hill country and wide-open delta, these tales are layered with the language of the South and its complicated structures of masculinity. The reader finds herself inside a modern version of Southern Gothic, the softness of the stories here turning crystalline and then hard and brittle, as the characters contend with each other, their endings and outcomes always unexpected.