March 20, 2016
Letter from the editor
“Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry,” wrote W.B. Yeats. But how do we draw the line between self and other, when we are shaped by language? As artist Antonio Puri puts it, “My expression of the self continuously evolves in an effort to challenge perceptions and deconstruct identifying labels used by others.”
Puri’s “Birthplace” is “an abstract map” of Chandigarh, India; “the work’s gray palette reflects the ubiquitous concrete used in the city’s construction.” The addition of soil and string makes for a “complex layered topography, encouraging us to shed our notions of ‘home’ as being only one place.” To me these works are suggestive both of lichen-weathered rock and of the cosmos, its root word shared with cosmetic: the order that we recognize as beauty on a human scale, the mapping of constellations that orients us and tames the night sky.
Wendy Willis’ poems merge the domestic and the political, the personal voice with the rhetorical, the natural with the military-industrial complex—seemingly at odds with Yeats’ distinction about poetry’s source. In “Stitch”—evoking the stitch in time, what is unraveling, and what needs saving—each declarative sentence tries to stake out a claim, even as “the drapes of certainty hang / heavy and frayed.” In “Writ of Habeas Corpus”—that safeguard of the powerless against the powerful state—“The price of liberty is the color of algae, / and the earth stops turning in the hour / between dishes and pie.”
This mixing of domestic and planetary scales, and political and natural realms, also stands out in Gretchen Comcowich’s “Garbage Heap Wonderland,” as she revisits Leadville, Colorado, and the landscape of her childhood. The scale of time fluctuates— from geological to historical, from her lifetime to the shorter span of a dog’s life—much as the population, the water supply, and the fate of a place where living is “a gamble.” “Certainty,” she writes, “is for flatlanders.”
In Sam Gridley’s story, “How I Found God in the Laundromat,” a boy facing his Bar Mitzvah tries to make sense of what it means to come of age, to have his “heritage shape his character”—in relation to his family, his rabbi, the Torah, and the world he lives in. His motives are mixed—an embrace of his own hypocrisy, and a rejection of others’: “This was the year U.S. troops straggled home from Vietnam, and enough antiwar sentiment lingered in the air to make young people feel virtuous compared to our elders.” The process of growing up becomes one of internalizing external quarrels, and externalizing those that are internal.
Rebecca Starks, editor-in-chief