June 20, 2015
Letter from the editor
In 1963 Eudora Welty dared to write her story “Where Is This Voice Coming From?” in response to the shooting of black civil rights activist Medgar Evers. In response to hate crimes during the last decade, poet Tracy K. Smith challenged herself to write “In Which the Dead Send Postcards to Their Assailants from America’s Most Celebrated Landmarks” to move from anger to a broader compassion, as well as a broader target. Events like this push writing to evolve, writers to grow.
Each in its own way, the work featured this month asks what will be left, after a certain scope of time, of our tragedies and our books, our bodies and minds, our constructions and quarrels? These pieces are swan songs for political change, physical books, loved ones, and regional landscapes.
The narrator of Srđan Srdić’s story “The Tale of How I.I. Settled the Quarrel with I.N.” lets us see only the part of his life and identity he isn’t bent on forgetting: “this act of forgetting was the priority of all priorities; the world will forget you easily, but how can you forget the world?” He spends his time relaxing, “stopping the flow of any thoughts, even those apparently innocent and harmless.” The phrase assumes a double edge when the narrator reluctantly agrees to spy on the last recorded conversations—like Krapp’s Last Tape—between two senile, former liberal leaders who failed to transform society because of a quarrel they can no longer remember. “Do you remember how it all started? No. And you? No. You’d dare to remember, if it was possible? I don’t know.” Is to remember to reignite, or is to forget to perpetuate–or is something beyond memory needed?
At the end of “Bookbinding for Amateurs in Autumn,” Tara Deal hears from “experts on the radio” that “the shape of paper will last forever and in a million years, you can still have it, to hold—some book like a brick of charcoal.” But, she adds, “the print will be long gone, of course, sentences served.” To live in the restricted time span of print, it’s more fitting to be an amateur, learning to wield a bone folder to put a new cover on an old book or create a blank book. Deal momentarily seizes up before accepting the risk writers take: “I don’t want to destroy the potential with something inconsequential.”
Sandra Kolankiewicz’s poems are also concerned with time and the quotidian, as the title “Chronos in the Kitchen” suggests. Her poems move in the breathless rush of the flipping numbers as she handles an old digital clock, accidentally mal-programmed to play the “dire” news for fifty-five minutes each morning: “We turn the square box/ in our hands, its numbers flipping, and we / wonder at the missing digital chips, the lack / of interfaces. Even when the sound is on / we can hear gears working, / undercurrent to the room, immortal.” The clock, like the news, has a life of its own and no user-friendly interface.
The clock bears a similarity to David Thompson’s deteriorating grain elevators and silos, rectangular prisms and cylinders stretching into the sky and clouds or out across a field, unpeopled but engineered to feed millions. These constructions paradoxically make me think of Schopenhauer’s gradations of the sublime: objects devoid of life, unable to sustain life, threatening life. And of Srdić’s characters who dare to remember at least this: “How was it for you to live? As if I lived. As if I actually lived. As if that were really me.”
Rebecca Starks, editor-in-chief