Foreword | October 08, 2011

Much of the writing in this issue calls to mind the laws of motion in human life: the power of momentum, mass in motion, as well as friction and inertia in forming the legacies of our lives.  What we inherit and how we are acted upon by the world can sometimes influence our direction and fate as much as free will.  Kerry Hardie’s short story “Kristin’s Uncle Otto” describes an Irish woman painter who has long been in love with the Kristin of the title.  A gifted artist herself, Kristin has moved in and out of the narrator’s life, acting as a catalyst in the formation and dissolution of relationships around her.  Kristin’s apparent carelessness toward others is in part the legacy of her Uncle Otto, descendant of a Nazi sympathizer and a similarly hard individual.

In “Dishonor,” Jerry Gabriel’s protagonist is Phillip Dante, who has been discharged from the army for beating up a fellow soldier in Iraq.  Driven by a restless anger that is only partly related to the war, he briefly visits his mother and then finds temporary housing with a cousin, until a falling-out between them sends him traveling again to find his former fiancée, who married someone else while he was in Iraq.  For Philip, rage is a chronic itch that sends him ricocheting from one destructive action or relationship to the next.  His “dishonor” doesn’t signify the category of his discharge from the army; it’s an internal state he seems to have little choice about: “It was something much deeper that was the matter, something so far down inside of him, he was starting to see he might never quite be able to get an angle on it. Whatever this thing was, it was in there, like an abscess beneath his skin, growing, somehow still unchecked.”

The fleeting nature of recognition for talented writers is the broad theme of Peter LaSalle’s story.  It narrates crucial passages in the lives of three playwrights, who in their youths once spent a long evening drinking and talking intimately about the theater and their aspirations.  Each of the playwrights leaves his personal legacy on the New York theater scene.  For one, it’s his premature death that enables a myth about a lost play he wrote that everyone says would have made a lasting impact on American drama; for another, it’s his persona of brilliance, hard-drinking and partying as a young lion of the 1960s theater; for the third, it’s the steady, faithful labor of the New York artist who never gives up hope of writing a masterpiece.

Stephanie DeGhett’s “Balsalm” is about not having a legacy—about being young and rootless and trying to create an identity and a life.  Abbie is a young woman abandoned by her boyfriend in his hometown in Maine.  She has grown up in foster homes without family traditions.  She particularly dislikes Christmas because it reminds her of her past and all the Christmases spent not belonging to the family who was fostering her.  After her boyfriend vanishes, however, Abbie takes a job selling Christmas trees during the cold Maine winter.  She has always wanted her own private forest, and in the winter landscape, surrounded by the balsam trees, she finally has her own solitary place.

Burt Kimmelman’s memoir “The Carroll Capris” is about his growing up in South Brooklyn in the 1960s and being initiated into the extreme hostility of the neighborhood.  It is a place of gangsters and street and domestic brutality.  Though he participates himself and welcomes the physical violence of football, Kimmelman always has a sense of not belonging.  “The violence around me,” he says, “was most affecting when I was not involved in it, when I was only a spectator.”

In “Dancing for the Bomb” Iraj Isaac Rahmim describes his experience as an Iranian Jew who has lived much of his life in the United States.  The essay moves from his life in Iran in the 1970s and the widespread feeling then of Iranian inadequacy on the world stage to his return there after having lived in the United States for many years.   Despite the massive cultural and political changes over a quarter century, Rahmim finds that the old Iranian insecurity is still present.  Putting his experience in the broader context of the relationship between the Middle East and the United States, he notes that “The fatalistic sense of being inept and under siege by powers beyond our grasp or influence is not unique to Iranians.”

Shara Lessley’s poems are from a new manuscript titled “The Explosive Expert’s Wife.” Lessley writes about moving to Jordan and her struggles and anxieties in coming to terms with her husband’s profession.   She uses a variety of strategies in these poems, including rhyming couplets, as well as leonine and internal rhymes that are skillful and unobtrusive behind her straightforward diction.   The legacy of her and her husband is an appointment to a post.  He has a duty to fulfill, and while there is prestige to his work, it is also a tremendous burden and responsibility.  While Lessley tries to maintain a normal domestic life, her husband is a kind of superhero in constant danger of blowing up.

Amy Newman’s poems are also from a larger book project, in this case dealing with the lives of famous poets.  She mixes details and anecdotes with a fleshing-out of the poets’ personae, as well as moments that may be fictional or even surreal.  Newman’s images are gorgeous and transporting, while her language is scientific, almost clinical, yet somehow lush, as she imagines “American poetry as a kinetic diorama, the poets moving toward or away from epiphanies, navigating among odd, compelling moments, secret histories and unexpected correspondences.”

David Wagoner writes in his brilliantly pared-down style about a number of oddities—including circus animals and his fascination with people staring at things.  As usual, Wagoner plays with reasoning and accepted wisdom, as in “On Being in One Place Too Long,” in which he responds to Seneca’s adage that “there is no such thing as a favorable wind for a man who doesn’t know where his ship is going” by arguing, “But if that man doesn’t care/where he’s going, isn’t each shift, each turning/of baffled air over waver a fresh beginning of a journey somewhere stranger, more surprising,/ and a cause for singing?”

Adding to her series on fringe artists, Kristine Somerville explores the history and proliferation of urban art, presenting the vibrant, energetic work of Banksy, Miss Buggs, Dan Witz and BTOY, a few of today’s most important practitioners of the medium.

Speer Morgan

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