Issue #19

April 20, 2016

Letter from the editor

Rebecca Starks, Mud Season Review editor-in-chiefIt has been a busy mud season, winter at last giving way to spring. The work featured this month is a foretaste of our second annual print issue, which will be out in early May. If I had to trace a theme through such an eclectic collection of work, I’d hazard the very broadest: looking backward. And then I’d note a sub-theme: awareness of the collaborative nature of art.

Lisa Beech Hartz’s ekphrastic poems depart from paintings—in which we are often focused on a figure—to inhabit what is left out of the painting: the circumstances of the painting, the psychology of the painter or figures, and the living scenes themselves. Her poem “Child Playing” restores to its scene the sounds, the scents, even the three-dimensionality of putting something into one’s pocket. In “The Goldfish Window”—what better symbol of the possible inversions and layers of looking than a goldfish in a bowl—Hartz writes: “An unseen bird flits from the shadowed camellia.” This is what her work pursues: the unseen birds.

The photographs of artist Sonja Hinrichsen’s Three Gorges show people interacting with her installation that sets viewers in a complicated relationship to a spot on the Yangtze river, recently altered through the construction of a dam that has increased the flow of the river. Hinrichsen notes: “Despite the inundation of cultural heritage sites and of traditional villages and towns – forcing millions of people to relocate – tourism agencies predict an increase in tourist numbers.” Viewers, as if from the prow of a ferry, face their own shadows cast upon the natural beauty of the scene. We, as viewers, viewing them from behind, add another layer of looking.

In Hinrichsen’s Wyoming installation, she paints arrangements of stones—with a nod to indigenous cultures’ symbolism—with phosphorescent paint so that they glow at night like a hovering reflection or an inversion of the starry sky. The effect has something in common with the featured fiction piece, Evan D. Williams’ collaboration with artist Meredith C. Bullock. “An Unknown Place” unsettles a contemporary narrative by juxtaposing it with foreboding, even apocalyptic, images, and interspersing it with all-caps quotations drawn from the ancient Sumerian text, the Instructions of Šuruppak, a collection of fatherly aphorisms recorded on cuneiform tablets around 2600 BCE. As we read, we aren’t sure where to look: at the farmer’s fence posts, at a fatal accident, or at the stars.

In Melissa Wiley’s “Healing Waters”—which wound more than they heal—the narrator tries to distract her mother, who is scarred from a mastectomy, from noticing the narrator’s father as he looks at other women’s breasts. Years earlier we’ve watched the narrator refuse sympathy as her mother tries to compel her to look with her, to listen over the phone to her recounting of the tragedy that has struck a neighboring family, a death caused by a tornado that narrowly avoided her parents’ home. The narrator’s hard stance, her insistence on self-absorption doesn’t easily yield. Yet there is a suggestion of rapprochement, even of blind love, in the final line: “By the time we turned up our driveway, our breaths had hardened into something nearly solid, into crystals so clear at the windows’ edges we could see nothing through them.”

 

Rebecca Starks, editor-in-chief