March 20, 2015

Letter from the editor

Rebecca Starks, Mud Season Review editor-in-chiefIt’s been a busy month, anticipating the arrival of mud season in Vermont. Mud Season Review‘s first print issue is available now for pre-order. Featuring new poems by and an interview with Vermont Poet Laureate Sydney Lea, and an interview with Paul Bogard, author of The End of Night, it includes work by four fiction and four nonfiction authors, twenty-six poets, and five visual artists; four of whom debut in this issue. To purchase the print edition, and for a full table of contents,  click here; or stop by booth 1729 at the AWP conference, April 9-11. For a preview of the print content, we invite you to read and view this online issue.

Deirdre Lockwood’s poetry is hard to pull quotes from because it’s so musical, playing forward and backward, somehow both self-aware and self-contained. Her poem “Americant” feels like the key to the work in this issue: the cant comparable to the graffiti in Nance Van Winckel’s images; the political awareness mediated through language, appropriate to John Messick’s piece; and the intense lyrical subjectivity like that of Michael Minchin’s story. The cant of “Americant”—defined as “stock phrases made meaningless through repetition”—is the opposite of what we usually demand of poetic language. But here the blend of speakers shifts and then merges as the poet’s voice, until the hypocritical piety contrives to ring true at the end: to feel like atonement, even if it isn’t. At one: this our America, out of many one, with all that it has to atone for, all that the can-do attitude can’t.

“Either exist as you are, or be as you look,” two brothers quote Rumi to the American who has been traveling in Turkey for a month, in Messick’s piece, “Throwing Stones at Apple Trees.” The title comes from a poem by a poet whose statue the narrator later sees defaced on TV. Taking refuge in “driftlessness” as a balm for his personal troubles, Messick keeps rubbing up against his own ignorance: of languages, of context, of geography, and of the present tense of history. He comes to learn that his business hotel is a whorehouse, that there is a civil war in Kyrgyzstan, and that he is an American, considered alternately fortunate and responsible for others’ misfortune. He discovers that when it comes to what matters most in life, language can be both unnecessary and all-important: a fist slammed on a table—or a recited line of poetry—can communicate what must be communicated.

So Van Winckel describes the immediacy of graffiti. In her series All Along the Tracks, she adds tags and other graphic images to her photographs of train cars to create images full of contradictions, of “conflicting theodicies,” as she titles one of female and male figures in meditation, their backs to each other. A means of transport depicted as stationary, decoupled from motion; containers opaque to what they contain; the suggestion of old-fashioned sitting rooms overlaid with graffiti tags. Urgent personal expression asserts itself over decorous holographic façades and brute commercial forces.

The images capture what it might be like to fall in love while working in an Alaskan cannery, as Quinn does in Minchin’s story “In the Bodies of Beautiful Fish.” The rush of fish down the chute, ready for gutting, becomes an hourglass that he wants to slow down rather than get to the end of: “Strangely, he hopes the fish will never stop coming. Guts slide off his cutting board and down the drains onto the beach to be consumed by the rising tide or bears, whichever gets there first.” The lovers slide down their own chute, the steep sand bank, giving themselves over to the ritual that lets us know it will end, just as the rush of fish will, in obedience to the cycle of life. Ritual becomes a way of preserving, prolonging, and living in the present with the intensity of memory. It takes us back to the nuances of atonement, or reconciliation: reconciling us to the contradictions.

Rebecca Starks, editor-in-chief