October 20, 2015
Letter from the editor
“What repurpose flies from my fist,” James Reidel writes, of using a croquet mallet to hammer in tomato stakes. But the question extends to his poetry, as his language straddles a metaphorical past and quotidian present: Homer shimmers behind happy hour, the garbage bins rolled out to the street become the tiller of a boat. “Curb Appeal” explicitly peels back the layers of history: “The paint peels, / Which blister in great petals and dogears, / Which unfold on closer inspection to reveal an older layer of color, / That someone else got it right—”
Robert Zurer’s Hieronymous Bosch-inspired paintings similarly overlay older texts—Plato, Dante—with a contemporary sensibility. Our gaze is directed by the unwilling or oblique gaze of the paintings’ figures, their obtunded touch, their forced hearing, their reluctant connection, seeming to resist the reading of the unconscious.
In “Whacking a Doe,” Alexander Barbolish is struck by the inconsequentiality of pulling a trigger, in the context of hunting, and by the psychological consequences of this “before” and “after”: “Taking a life takes something out of you, not in the moment of the act itself, but later…” His struggle with the inadequacy of the language used to talk about taking a life reminds me of what Elena Ferrante says about writing, in her interview with The Paris Review:
“The most urgent question for a writer may seem to be, What experiences do I have as my material, what experiences do I feel able to narrate? But that’s not right. The more pressing question is, What is the word, what is the rhythm of the sentence, what tone best suits the things I know? … Literary truth is entirely a matter of wording and is directly proportional to the energy that one is able to impress on the sentence.” Barbolish tries to confront the language that fails—there’s a failure of truth, in the language he and others use, that he wants to set right.
“I took in a refugee.” In her short story “Brother’s Keeper,” Sandra Hunter seems to hear that statement as comparable to Barbolish’s “I whacked a doe,” in the way it obscures a complicated clash of motives and psychic states. Hunter finds the lyrical rhythm needed to portray the dance of points of view: the refugee Elijah’s thoughts of the past, his host Indira’s thoughts of him. “There is no this and after and then,” we read of Elijah. “It is all now.” Underneath the false reassurances of that now is the story that matters to him, the one that can still be gotten right.
Rebecca Starks, editor-in-chief