Category Archives: CPR Volume 19, Issue 4

CPR Volume 19, Issue 4, January 2018

Repurposing Whiteness in Louisiana’s Swamp Country – Alison Pelegrin’s DIY Recycled Southerness In Water Lines

Review by Anne Babson

White Southerners still inherit privilege, the ugly legacy of the plantation system. Southern whites receive the benefit of the doubt from police officers, welcomes in small-town stores. These things are not yet uniformly guaranteed to people of color in the South, who cling even less securely to rights since November. For some Southern white writers, like Faulkner, consciousness of this heritage is no great problem; rather for them it is Yankee liberal elites who hobbled, in their view, a functional system of racial privilege (for whites, of course) destroyed by the invasion of a foreign (Union) army, and nothing Southern has been quite right since. For other Southern white writers, like Louisiana poet Alison Pelegrin, the onus of that blighted heritage feels not so much like liberal guilt as debris, obstacles in the way of important American discourse, a grim history to acknowledge then repurpose. Such writers refuse racism and traditional notions of boundaries. Faulkner wrote famously, “The Past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past.” For white writers of the New South like Pelegrin, the past may not be dead, but like a hoop found in meemaw’s attic that might be turned into a picture frame, if it cannot be tossed out, it must serve another function than hegemony. Pelegrin’s book Water Lines wrestles whiteness, acknowledges it, and explores how to bend it into an unoppressive and useful object.

Pelegrin folds her poem into a boat and offers it to the Bogue Falaya, a river with a Cajun/Choctaw name, as she has in other work made origami birds out of KKK recruitment flyers found in her neighborhood:

“How long since fog lifted its net
And released my soul to leap.”

In “Red State Epistle,” she suggests the frustration of Democrats in Republican communities abides in the landscape itself:

“Kudzu smothers with the wings

Of dirty angels. Everything must go –…

I caught a Jesus fish.

I know I’m dreaming
When the boat moves backwards.”

The toxic whiteness permeates religion as well, in Pelegrin’s “Communion with the Rebel Flag.” There, she reappropriates the word “rebel” for art, rather than for states’ rights, and she reflects,

“Am I not
Proud – ambassador between worlds,
Mingling undercover on pontoon boats
among sportsmen with trapper beards.
I’m offended, but I drink their beer
And live in limbo between worlds,
Both everything and nothing
I was taught to be.”

It’s all messy. She writes of swamp water baptisms, hot sauce shrines, voodoo, meth labs, and saints, not just football ones. We find life in her prosody’s murk, a flawed repurposing of ugly old privilege but no denial of its vernacular energy. Since the election, the Klan has stepped up recruitment near the Bogue Falaya, and Southerners like Pelegrin have needed to stand firmer against old hegemony. What can we salvage from this swampy country? Pelegrin finds mystics, penitent sinners bound to sin again, and a fertile ground where everything grows rapidly, even new ways to be white, Southern, and egalitarian at the same time.


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 19, Issue 4.

Anne Babson was nominated for the Pushcart for work in The Haight- Ashbury Literary Journal and Illya’s Honey. Her work has been published in the US, in England, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, and Turkey.

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Diana Woodcock’s Under the Spell of the Persian Nightingale

Under the Spell of the Persian Nightengale
Diana Woodcock
978- 1625491626
(2015, Word Poetry Books)
$22, Paper

Review by Deborah Fleming

Southern China, Tibet, Thailand, and Qatar are some places Diana Woodcock has called home. What we learn in her new collection of lyrics about the Arabian peninsula, Under the Spell of the Persian Nightingale, is to put away preconceptions about the desert and learn to embrace a new way of seeing a landscape we thought barren but which is an ecosystem rich with sensory detail which has much to teach us about beauty as well as economy. This is no utopian hideaway, however; we have to look past oil rigs and pipelines in order to perceive the birds and flowers, and we are reminded that we all have to be vigilant about protecting every ecosystem from the ravages of industrialism.

The speaker, a “guest/ trying not to be invasive” (“Seduced in the Desert”) as she ventures into the dunes, shows how the human spirit open to observation and acceptance can become one with a place. Lush images describe an exotic landscape of birds, flowers, and insects (particularly the white-cheeked bulbul—the nightingale of the title—and the sidra tree, which invites meditation like the Buddhist bodhi) thriving in seemingly inhospitable conditions. These poems engage our senses as we hear shamal winds blowing, owls calling, and larks singing in mangrove and acacia leaves; taste the sweetness of dates; view desert flowers like hyacinth, campion, and rock rose opening.

“Persian Nightingale” evokes love and loss through a journey across water to an exotic place reminiscent of “Sailing to Byzantium,” but instead of Yeats’s old man desiring to withdraw into a world of unchanging art, the speaker of this poem discovers enchantment in the “sad beauty” of the desert and discovers “powers/ and magic” in the “folds of feathers of this// exquisite mystic,” embracing the beauty of the world as it is. In “The Hardy Ones” Woodcock subverts Robert Frost as she voices appreciation of wild flowers like the caper plant and desert truffle, “steadfastly noble in their earnest labors/ convincing anyone who’ll kneel at their roots/ a lifetime’s not long enough to seek out/ the blooming sages of the most desolate places.”

The writings of Basho, Rumi, and Thoreau are literary ancestors. While “Bardo” declares that grace is lacking in the midst of plenty, “Living in the Margins” shows how austerity instructed the prophets, and “Hakeem’s Farm” describes the speaker’s awareness of the creation of memories while enjoying abundance and hospitality on a thriving desert farm where guests are considered to be emissaries of God.

In “Recitation for the Fatiha for the Dead” the woman speaker acknowledges that the desert itself taught her that she must be one with the women of the world (especially China, Africa, and India) who do not enjoy the right of self-determination, yet most of the time she can do little more than blasphemously recite for them the fatiha, the opening chapter of the Qur’an recited as a prayer only for learned or pious men, never for women.

Woodcock employs a rich variety of onomatopoeia and internal rhyme to endow the free verse poems with form. In “Not Born in this Desert” she writes “Not desert-born, yet I refuse to scorn flat terrain,/ sparse vegetation, lack of rain” and “maybe someone/ is listening, missing the sight of sun glistening/ on the backs of a flock of flamingos in mangroves.”

“Desert Dare” makes clear that loving the desert means taking risks as it exhorts the reader imaginatively to “Take a chance—/brave sandstorms,/ mirages, dunes that shift,/ seering silence, Sand vipers,/ a million blazing stars/ keeping you awake at night.” The walker in the desert must “Have faith the nearest oasis/ is just over the next dune,/ there’s still time to join/ the maji’s caravan.” With an image reminiscent of Shelley’s “To a Skylark” the speaker must be grateful “When the Desert lark darkens/ the sun’s stark stare” and sweeps across the dunes “into shade of sidra tree.” Finally, the walker/watcher/listener must, like Shelley’s poet, “ascend like Desert lark/ on the shamal wind just/ at that moment when the sun/comes strolling over the dunes—//a flame of love to set your heart/ and hair on fire.”

“Desert Bound,” the final poem, reveals a capacity for compassion and generosity as it weaves a “karmic tapestry” of gifts, “no weed unwelcome.”


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 19, Issue 4.

Deborah FlemingDeborah Fleming is editor and director of the Ashland Poetry Press. She has published two collections of poetry, two chapbooks, one novel, and four volumes of scholarship. Her most recent poetry collection is Into a New Country.

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Leaving Rhode Island
Margaret C. Hughes

Leaving Rhode Island

White coral, lightless chandeliers,
ship’s rigging etched in scrimshaw:
last night’s wet snow weighs on the trees,
keys of an old piano, stuck down and silent.

The trees along the highway after the snow
make fractured glass of the sky.
Every twig’s an upside-down éclair,
every branch a zigzag two-tone bowling alley.

Once, our glass stovetop shattered,
and every fragment stayed in place.
I wonder what’s waiting to burst
into burning circles

just on the other side of the sky.

Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 19, Issue 41.

Margaret C. Hughes’s poems have appeared in Foliate Oak Literary Review and Small Craft Warnings. Margaret is a queer organizer and activist, and holds a B.A. in English Literature & Creative Writing from Swarthmore College.

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