Over the last few weeks we’ve sunk into the anticipatory malaise of late winter, reaching for Spring, and in our waiting we’ve begun a violent hurricane of list-making: “Exercise on Mondays,” “Go to yoga on Fridays,” “Read a book a week,” “Spend more time with Mom.” The lists go on for pages in our journals, as yet unfulfilled. We all naturally find ways to mark time, crafting “systems both elaborate and simple for carving up days, weeks, and months into comprehensible and wieldy increments,” as Sarah Menkedick writes in her latest essay, “A Wilderness of Waiting.” Menkedick’s essay is a beautiful record of time spent in one of nature’s most mysterious intervals of expectation—pregnancy. Writing from her family’s farm in Ohio, she considers what time and routine become when you are stuck in what might feel like an interminable place. Structure both dissolves (“Time as a bowl, with me nestled at the concave bottom, the days and weeks orbiting around me, no clear forward, no back”) and condenses into the concrete (“I have two months to go. I have six weeks to go”).
Before Durham-based Jake Xerxes Fussell went about recording his self-titled debut album—recently released by the excellent and selective North Carolina label, Paradise of Bachelors—he had already: come up in “the Wickedest City in America” (Phenix City, Alabama, across the Chattahoochee from Columbus, Georgia); recorded vernacular Southern music in the field with his father Fred C. Fussell and eminent Georgia folklorists George Mitchell and Art Rosenbaum; studied Choctaw fiddle music in Mississippi; rapped with Les Blank in Berkley and Etta Baker in North Carolina; made an appearance on A Prairie Home Companion; toured with Rev. John Wilkins; and apprenticed under family friend Precious Bryant. In other words, he knows the lay of the land. It’s no surprise then that this debut comprises ten adaptations of classic, if obscure, folk and blues songs. If Fussell wears his numerous influences on his sleeve, he also manages to craft his own sound (aided by a crack Nashville band). When he sings old words we believe him: “you don’t believe I’ll fight? You can meet me tomorrow night / and we’ll bout it out on the battlefield.”
A few weeks ago the Lambda Literary Award finalists were announced, and we’re thrilled to see among them the names of so many poets of the South! We especially want to congratulate OA contributor Jericho Brown, whose long-awaited second collection, The New Testament, Lambda describes as “masterful.” Also great to see is Arkansas’ own Sibling Rivalry Press, which placed not one but three titles on the list—including the soon-to-be indispensable literary anthology The Queer South. We recommend reading it alongside that other game changer, The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South.