Mid/South Sonnets: A Belle Point Press Anthology; Belle Point Press; 112 pages; $19.95
I’ve always loved a good anthology. Ever since grade school, when many of us were all collectively welcomed into the world of literature by being handed an anthology, the immanent power of a collection of writings carries within it the mysterious seeds of variety. From the ancient Greek for flower (anthos) and collection (logia), the compilation of the ‘flowers’ of verse has a long-standing history. By offering a curated assortment of poems, the reader is held in the enviable position of controlled chaos. The charge of not knowing what might come next, by acknowledging that our fortunes now lay with the skills of the curator(s), and by opening ourselves to the possibilities of authenticity, transcendence, and astonishment, we accept the potent gift of providence. In this, the curatorial prowess of C.T. Salazar and Casie Dodd is as impressive as it is cathartic.
A tribute to the poetic form, Mid/South Sonnets: A Belle Point Press Anthology, showcases the majesty of the sonnet and reveals its rhapsodic appeal. Sixty-six poets offer poems here, sonnets that explore the sense of what it means to be a Southerner. But as C.T. Salazar points out, what it signifies to be a Southerner is an expansive manifest of the personal, the political, and the metaphysical. The true breadth of themes presented in this anthology can only be described as vast. Everything from the weather to racial and ethnic compositions is tackled. And the form of these poems mirrors the diversity of themes because the sonnet is infinitely malleable.
Some of these sonnets first appeared among other journals, reviews, and presses. And some, it appears, are being first published in this anthology. Both sets present wonderfully nuanced, beautiful, and exotic expressions of what resonates as home among the Mid/South cities and countryside of states as disparate from one another as Oklahoma and Florida or Maryland and Texas. The table of contents hints at the potential connections to place for each writer, as do the acknowledgments. But these distinctions serve less as anchors and more as tethers in the sense that the poems themselves speak to a movement and stillness of the passions, albeit spurred by the intense influences of the spaces we call home. In the Publisher’s Note, at the beginning of the book, Casie Dodd states, “…we were struck by the range of people who either continue to feel a sense of belonging here [the Mid-South] after they leave or who decide to stick around after coming from elsewhere.”
There are many excellent sonnets to choose from in this collection, and they all approach the sonnet form in unique ways. For example, “Old Highway 80 (to Meridian)” by Benjamin Morris, and Clara Bush Vadala’s “Semi-Automatic Sonnet” both stand out as beautiful and haunting testaments to the power of place. Both poets use the road to chart a path through the lives of the people who drive them, through the animals that die on them, and through the memories we create and then bury alongside them. And then there’s Caleb Nolen’s “Letter to the Man Possessed by Demons” —a perfect example of how the compression of verse into form allows powerful words to chip away at the granite encasements of deep emotion. This sonnet packs and unpacks a density of expression that touches so many themes: spiritual or mental suffering, absolute compassion, and forgiveness to name a few.
There’s a line in Maggie Rue Hess’s poem on page 16, “A Sonnet, Because I Didn’t Want to Say, I Already Knew” in which the speaker traverses time lost and offers: “What is truth. A blink in the evening / rather than a wall of light. I forgive the distance necessary / to breach the unvoiced.” This line helped me think further about the nature of the sonnet, which originated as a vehicle to express romantic love. But not long after, the form expanded to embrace many other themes. What has remained intact over the centuries is the poet’s love of the problem/resolution structure, where a question or proposition is brought forward, followed by a volta, or turn, that leads into the resolution. In Hess’s verse, the fulcrum of the poem is strong enough to support that weight of transition, and by doing so affords the reader a moment of transcendence. This feeling is often what the sonnet can provide, when executed well, that sensation of floating, escaping gravity for just a moment right before the fall, before returning to the world as we know it.
Mid/South Sonnets adds a new level of interpretive invention to the poetic form of the sonnet and again shows us how form in poetry can be a miraculous remedy to the existential unease of creating eloquence among the few words afforded by the sonnet’s many iterations of design. C. T. Salazar puts it best in the book’s introduction with what is essentially a rhetorical question: “The sonnet lets us also ask: can’t loving be a talisman against disintegration? Can’t screaming? Remembering? Neighborliness?” As Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote in “A Sonnet Is a Moment’s Monument,” his poetic introduction to the House of Life sequence in Ballads and Sonnets (1881) — “A Sonnet is a coin: its face reveals / The soul,—its converse, to what Power 'tis due….” All is possible, and all is embraced here among the glorious worlds of the sonnet with Belle Point Press. Whatever real or imagined connections you have with the Mid/South, there’s no doubt that this anthology of sonnets will show you a way home, to that place among all of us where we long to find deliverance, from our pasts, from each other, and from ourselves.