July 20, 2016
Letter from the editor
By chance the work in this issue centers on what it means to be a link in the generations, and how that meaning finds its expression in the urge to make art: to write a song or poem, tell a story, or capture the image of a deteriorating photographic slide.
In his nonfiction essay “A Song for the Beautifully Useful,” Barry Maxwell writes of the moment he first grasped what art—in this case music—could do: “I can only speculate that I must have dialed into an instant of readiness, hungry to imprint on the finer facets of a deeper world. I felt observed as I listened, intimately tested, as though the song sensed me there as its audience, and had chosen me alone as its witness. It was my first experience of how music could not only communicate a danceable beat or an engaging melody, but could also evoke emotions where there were none, and raise them like sympathetic vibrations across space and time, resonating with equal depth at both ends of the conversation.” It is that mention of feeling observed that becomes so significant for him, as he describes elsewhere his sense that family members pass by each other the way a driver might pass a lineman on the highway. The weight of the essay is carried in the details he once observed and now sympathetically preserves.
Even as they concern themselves with other things on the surface—the Romantic impulse, his mother’s neighborhood, a kitten, a pony at a fair, the mating calls of bullfrogs—Bruce Alford’s poems are centered in the loss of his parents. The motif of the “O” repeats—love, its loss, circling about, looking for rest. The poems show this same circling, as we arrive at lines where we can rest, momentarily: “So many of us are falling from our horses.” Or: “Don’t worry so much, what people think.” Or: “Something rides in my chest whenever he passes.” Alford draws on disparate sources, but what might seem like contradiction—as the story of Nietzsche weeping to see a horse abused in “The Retourné”—resolves itself in a turning away from self-pity that allows, or is enabled by, becoming more attuned to animals, more in touch with the natural world.
In Caitlin Hamilton Summie’s story “Sons,” the narrator realizes that to leave his father, by leaving the farm, is to become estranged from his own son before he has been born: “This is what kills me, deep down. Not that my childhood is slipping away, or my way of life. Not that the last tangible evidence of my past is up for sale. What kills me is that my son will never know what the seasons smell like on a farm. My son will not know in his bones how a farm works. My son will not understand me. // We are two families now, the family that farmed, and the family that will not.” Only stories can hold them together: the stories he will ask his father for, the stories he begins to shape for his own son. “I tell Smulan that as I watched my father walk away, I knew how I would remember my father: half eaten by dusk, halfway back to the house, half with me and half not.”
Artist Ken Hohing says of his “Deconstructed Memory Series”: “The yellowing and cracking of old heirloom photos from atmosphere and handling can act as a patina that is not unlike the patina the mind casts over our memories. Fact becomes irrelevant in the story-telling process as our versions are handed down through the generations.” The original images—of the inhabitants and surrounding farmlands of Okku Silvertown, (aka America Town) in Kunsan, South Korea in 1975, a town with a shameful history sanctioned by the U.S. Armed Forces and South Korean government—have been edited “organically,” as he says, by the effects of mold following Hurricane Sandy flooding. In several images, facial expressions have been lost. The effect is to accentuate what remains: the proximity of bodies, the suggestion of familial embrace and human connection.
Rebecca Starks, editor-in-chief