September 20, 2014
Letter from the editor
The harvest is in, and from our bumper crop of 640 submissions for the inaugural issue, we’ve had the task of choosing just four to represent our vision for Mud Season Review. As editors, we feel both humbled and inspired to be connected to this broader world of writing and art. We also feel pride in our choices: these selections stood out to us instantly and unified us as readers and editors. (Note to submitters: we are still considering a number of the other submissions for future issues.) Beyond our regular submissions, we received 40 Feedback Requests; the fees from these have put us well on our way to funding our first print issue, due out in the spring. Just as important, taking the time to evaluate and articulate what is working well or less well in pieces helps us become better editors.
In thinking about the challenge of editing, I returned to one of my favorite books on writing, Stephen Dobyns’ Best Words, Best Order. I was struck anew by a quote he brings in from Chekhov. The only task of the artist, Chekhov says, is “to know how to distinguish important testimony from unimportant.” The same could be said of the editor.
Craig Reinbold’s essay is explicitly about this: how do you recognize important testimony, and once you do, what do you do with it? What gives you a right to share it, and how do you give it meaningful expression? As Reinbold puts it: “When does the telling begin a healing? When is it just raking up muck?” The dilemma reminds me of something one of James Baldwin’s characters in Another Country thinks, after someone shares a terrible secret but without opening himself up to it: “Perhaps such secrets, the secrets of everyone, were only expressed when the person laboriously dragged them into the light of the world, imposed them on the world, and made them a part of the world’s experience.” How do we squeeze enough from that “expressed”?
What I find so compelling in the work of our three featured authors is the way that they have written their way into discovering something important to them or to their narrators. It’s clear that these pieces were not written with the end already in mind, but were written towards finding a temporary staging area: where birds rest on their migration, or where materials are organized for the next project. A place of inspiration.
In one of David Biespiel’s recent essays on poetry in The Rumpus (collectively titled “The Poet’s Journey”), he writes: “If you refuse to see what your materials represent, if you do not admit to yourself whether your materials rise to beneficence or lurk with the opposite, if you protect your imagination from the nature of actual fleshy life, and if you gloss over and seek to vindicate your experiences, then you will struggle to understand your materials…. On the other hand, if each time you write a poem you accept both what you are capable of loving and what you are repulsed by both, and both equally as vivid sources of your imagination, then you will be ready to write from an inspired place in your consciousness…”
The protagonist of Barbara Harroun’s story is confronted with this choice in life. His mother tells him: “You need to learn to approach what you fear, approach what you find repulsive.” And he rises to the challenge. He learns to identify the love behind the discomfort, the discomfort that love can be. There is something almost excruciating at moments within each of the works in this issue—something exposed. Like “the nipples touching the nipples” in Biespiel’s poem “Morning Prayer”: “I could be the one who listens to your robe at night / Softly sweeping against the floor, / you naked in front of me, / Your God naked behind you.”
The same is true of Sheri Wright’s photography, which doesn’t shy away from brilliance, from vivid, gorgeous color, from showing the beauty of what time has done to material. The philosophy driving her art is surely the root of all good art: Look again. At anything we might think at first to disregard, look again, look with an eye for a story. Look with an empathic, humble, patient, rigorous, challenging eye. Notice where things might have begun, how they have changed, and where they are now. And where they might migrate next. I hope you will grace the work in this issue with such a look.
Rebecca Starks, editor-in-chief