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The MacGuffin – Spring/Summer 2010

Curiosity got the better of me. Once I’d read the title, “Je Suis un Ananas” (I am a Pineapple) in the TOC, I had to turn to Libby Cudmore’s essay right away. I got doubly rewarded for my impatience. First, with Cudmore’s short, insightful response to “new media” (YouTube, Facebook) efforts to encourage a revisionist approach to childhood memories; and then by Colleen Pilgrim’s exquisite black and white photo, “Bog Trail,” which I had not expected on the facing page. The quality of Pilgrim’s photo sent me straight back to the TOC to look for other photos, and I was happy to find another of Pilgrim’s photo, and stunning images by Patrick Mog and Robert McGovern.

Curiosity got the better of me. Once I’d read the title, “Je Suis un Ananas” (I am a Pineapple) in the TOC, I had to turn to Libby Cudmore’s essay right away. I got doubly rewarded for my impatience. First, with Cudmore’s short, insightful response to “new media” (YouTube, Facebook) efforts to encourage a revisionist approach to childhood memories; and then by Colleen Pilgrim’s exquisite black and white photo, “Bog Trail,” which I had not expected on the facing page. The quality of Pilgrim’s photo sent me straight back to the TOC to look for other photos, and I was happy to find another of Pilgrim’s photo, and stunning images by Patrick Mog and Robert McGovern.

Two other provocative titles proved to be signs of great finds as well: Sean Trolinder’s story “Tuba Men Pride,” one of the best “teen-age boy stories,” I’ve read lately; and a portfolio of highly unusual poems by John E. Smelcer, “Poems from the Coldest Place on Earth: Introduction to Ahtna Poems.” The Ahtna language, an introductory note explains, once spoken by people in east-central Alaska, may be one of the oldest languages in North America. Fewer than two-dozen speakers of the language remain. Thirty years ago Smelcer learned to speak the language “from every single living elder who spoke any degree of the language.” He has published a dictionary of Ahtna and writes poems in the language, which he translates into English. In this region of Alaska, temperatures frequently fall to as low as seventy degrees below zero, so it should come as no surprise that cold, the natural world, and the Alaskan landscape are the subjects of Smelcer’s poems in Ahtna, like Late October (Uts’e’ Lkec’endeli Na’aaaye’):

The world begins to freeze
Ice forms at the edges of creeks. Beaver ponds
Ice over. Black bears and grizzlies and trees
Go to sleep. Everywhere, animals large and small,
Prepare for the long struggle to survive winter –
Their collective sighs turning into fog.

Luu yaen’ kuzdlaen.
Ten ghan c’elaex. Ten tsa’ ben.
Nel’ii’e’tsanni ‘el ts’ abaeli
naal. Hwt’aene, nunyae ce’e ‘el ggaay,
zaa zet xay na’dghi’aan –
niltatnet’an iits’ zdlaen ten aak’ caan.

There seems something inherently poetic to me about the effort to keep alive a language on the verge of extinction, and to do so through verse. Ethnolinguists say that hundreds of native languages around the globe are dying. I admire and appreciate The MacGuffin’s effort toward helping to preserve the Ahtna language.

The issue also features 15 other works of short fiction (no cause for alarm, most stories are 2-3 pages); poems from a dozen poets; and two essays in addition to Cudmore’s. A poem by Suzanne Roberts, “The Hutong,” is representative, rich in visual details manipulated deliberately, but gently:

Small shops sell pencils, rice,
haircuts, quivering prawns, rusting
car parts, green snails, lamps,
still flopping fish.

A billboard shows a jet slicing
through a cloudless, blue sky.
Next to the Chinese letters,
the English reads, London
has never been so close.

Much as I couldn’t stop myself from turning first to the French pineapple, I can’t refrain from closing this short review with the opening lines of Mary Jo Firth Gillett’s “The Pick,” given all that has happened since the composition and publication of the poem:

She’s not afraid to live alone near the Gulf Coast,
land of fire ants, scorpions, and reptiles large enough
to eat a man. Home of the bikers’ Sofftail Bar.

Yet another endangered reality. Poetry – and the publications that keep its heart beating – seem more necessary than ever these days.
[www.schoolcraft.edu/macguffin/]

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