7 Poets in the River Styx Literary Magazine

7 Poets in the River Styx Literary Magazine

River Styx originated in St. Louis poetry readings, but the journal of what is now a not-for-profit organization came later, in 1975, though the journal stayed much associated with readings and music thereafter. The website offers samples of work published in the print journal, and these make a welcome change from the norm: original, unfashionable and often witty pieces. River Styx has also been rather successful, publishing many names who went on to become household names on the poetry scene, with poems that subsequently appeared in The Best American Poetry, Best New Poets, New Stories from the South, and Pushcart Prize anthologies. It sponsors two competitions a year for poetry and microfiction.
I feature work here that exhibits a good vein of humour – lacking in many professional journals – but would add that it’s also a rather knock-about and quirky humour.  The same observation applies to the verse: it’s good to see traditional forms being used in light verse again, but the meter can be rather approximate or clumsy.
The first piece, Song of the Jellyfish by Lee Upton models itself on Edward Lear’s The Jumblies. It can be read at:

The first stanza sets the pattern:

If I’m sap in a bladder or a
bubbling rain cap, or a frisked canopy,
I gargle through the deep in a superior sieve.
And I don’t care a fig who goes extinct.
I’m not evolving anymore.

Subsequent stanzas consider the unchanging nature of the shark, the lack of brainstem, of nerves and anything indeed that human beings might achieve.:

I bear myself. I cope.
The world can end, and I’ll fend for myself.
What do I care about what they do next door?
Be human, as if I care.
I’m not evolving anymore.

Rachel Christilles’ Hormone Apocalypse is much wilder and funnier (

Maybe it rains down as a pack
of popular eighth-grade girls
from 1984

And the 80-odd line poem goes on to irreverently picture their appearance and habits:

meteoric hips wiggling
to Duran Duran on a silver boom box,

these girls were raised on Just Say No,
They are praying for the algebra
teacher to die, for you to break
your leg before dance team tryouts.

They’ve traded training bras
and holding hands at recess
for senior-boy lust, but what they know
about sex is a pebble in the sea,

strawberry-scented heads bent over
Chapter 8 in the health book,
breathless for the revelation-
urethra, ovaries, fallopian tubes, penis-

And so on, ending in the obsession of the period:

driving you to the bunker
with their mix tapes, their squeals,
ending it all in the sweet ash
of a high-estrogen mushroom cloud.

That playful black humour continues with Richard Cecil’s My Place in Hell (http://www.riverstyx.org/content/pdf/RS85_Cecil.pdf)

“Where would you put yourself in Dante’s Hell?”
I ask my Classics students every fall.

The students oblige, imaginatively, and the professor is asked for his choices:

But as a teen I let myself go wild,
wallowed in both gluttony and lust
and felt the icy thrill of the Treacherous
by dating my best friend’s steady on the sly.

But now it’s avarice:

                        No meretricious
Hypocrites or Thieves, just honest Misers
converted into hearty exercisers
working out in Hell’s health club for free-
a fairly pleasant sort of misery.
Beam me down there, please, signor Dante!

William Greenway’s Self-Deliverance (
http://www.riverstyx.org/content/pdf/RS85_Greenway.pdf) is much darker.

May cause stomach irritation.
– side effect of a successful lethal overdose
of barbiturates from a manual on euthanasia
and so while you wait in the long queue
for the ferry across the Styx,
do you ask if anyone has Tums?

We visit the Plath, Sexton and Berryman suicides, and are asked:

And we, the failed ones who flail on,
delaying from moment to moment
the inevitable, undignified descent,
bow our heads in shame at what
we have lived to gain, even
the precious pain of body
and soul, which they,
in the thirteenth circle,
now cry for.

R. S. Gwynn’s Evergreen has its tongue firmly in the cheek (

In the heart of Alabama there’s a town called Evergreen,
Where the women all are toothsome and the men look fairly clean,
And a cheerful smile greets everyone and no one’s soul is mean
In Evergreen.

Honest, homely, middle class America: the pictures all too good to be true. The eight stanzas are neatly turned, and that very skill surely pleads that enough is enough. Or is it? The last stanza runs:

You will hit the road at sunup with a smile upon your face
As you merge into the fast lane and accelerate your pace
On the interstate toward Greenville, an entirely different place
From Evergreen.

Michael Lavers’ Grandfather Sonnet (

is also an ambivalent piece. It steers uncomfortably close to amateur poetry, opening with:

When all the cows were fat and in the barn,
when the hinges of the weathervane stopped crying,

And so on, through the usual happy images of hay, sun, honest toil, sweet water, sleeping children, and the far off barking of coyotes and wolves, to end -uncompromisingly – with:

It’s then I wish I could have closed the day
with you, alone, not knowing what to say.

Rose Kelleher’s Hiding is also a sonnet (http://www.riverstyx.org/content/pdf/RS83_Hiding.pdf)

but the love-making is far from sentimental generalities:

It’s loud enough to make the rafters ring,
that crack! of hide on hide. They slam together,
beating time, a steady, startling
tattoo on untanned skin by well-tanned leather.

But it’s not the physicality the poem probes, but the metaphor ‘whose gentle tenor hides / behind the ruddy face of something else’:

one act of love that hides inside another.

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