“William Edmund Evans’s fourth book of poetry continues his multivolume poetic response to his eighteen-year old son’s suicide. Written in the aftermath of his tragic loss, Southern Son is a volume of memorial and witness. These poems grapple with ineffable loss and the speaker’s attempts to integrate his son’s consuming absence into the family narrative. The speaker’s son, Ryan, committed suicide during his freshman year of college at Virginia Tech, seemingly because his longtime girlfriend, who he’d been seeing since he was fourteen, broke up with him. The event triggered his depression, and, although he’d struggled with depression his entire life, this time, people only noticed the abnormality of his breakup blues in hindsight. But the specifics of Ryan’s suicide aren’t the focus. Rather, poems plumb the morass that’s left behind for those who survive. Included is the family’s struggle to have their son’s service in a Catholic church, the effects of grief on relationships, and the emotional unmooring of his father, whose every moment ricochets between the harsh reality in front of him and the now-haunted memories of his entire past. Composed largely of narrative lyrics, this collection is confessional, searching the speaker’s interior thoughts and revealing uncomfortable truths about his life. Often, such confessions are heartbreaking. Other times, language is coded in symbolic personal meaning that obfuscates more than it reveals. Ultimately, the speaker’s vulnerability is the most effective lens, even if it’s complicated, as with frequent turns of anger and resentment toward his son’s girlfriend. In “Stories for a Child,” the speaker admits “pursing her his purpose / demonstrating how a man / excels for need of love” but also asks in “Box of Macaroni” if Ryan “hadn’t found his Beauty / one wonders what the outcome.” Equally loaded is “Strangers and Detective,” where the speaker states, “a man can only touch his boy’s / shoulders at a campfire / hug him briefly with brisk words / it’s customary.” This statement reverberates with the knowledge that the speaker’s relationship with his son wasn’t what it seemed and is now forever lost. In his search for figurative language that can describe the loss, the speaker breaks with expectations.
“Poems reach for the heroic—in diction, reference, or tone—even as they navigate quotidian settings, like dorm rooms, police stations, and graveyards. The living are elided, their names reduced to abbreviations. Only the dead are named. Similarly, italics are used to indicate speech, but the distinction between verbal act, thought, and quote isn’t always clear. Most interesting are italicized passages that appear like codas on the end of poems. These seem to come in the speaker’s voice, and they mix formal syntax with emotional vulnerability. A longer passage in this vein closes “Life by Life”:
”We are this forest cut to fringe a heart once growing wild my thriving oak is gone.
Cold space and time to see! beyond this galaxy a mercy dwelling there.
Be quiet now the wind will play, be restful child be still I have chimes to sing you home.”
“Perhaps internal monologue, perhaps public voice, these italics stand like epitaphs within the narrative, offering elegies, indictments, and tone breaks equally. Narrative, lyric, and elegiac, Southern Son spirals through the speaker’s trauma in a poetic cycle that’s unrelenting in its attempt to capture a life that’s already gone before the words hit the page.”
Letitia Montgomery-Rogers, Foreword Reviews, June 12, 2017