I sensed what Anis Shivani’s argument would be in his essay, “Why is American Fiction in Its Current Dismal State?” before I flipped to it: lack of risk-taking fiction. Shivani’s tone in the essay is not sad, which saves the essay from becoming victim of its own subject. His attacks are scathing – “Fiction writing is the way it is because America has turned it into the last great Fordist model of production.” Elsewhere he argues that “the decline of American fiction is a sign of the decline of elite liberal consensus. The vacuum in political ideology is being filled today by an anti-politics, of personality and charisma…” Shivani’s essay is timely. Good fiction is in danger of being drowned out by rigid traditionalists and what Reginald Shepard calls “doodlers.” Shepard is the author of the other great and scathing essay in this issue of Pleiades. In “One State of the Art,” he does for poetry’s sake what Shivani does for fiction’s – makes a blanket statement against most poetry being published in journals and anthologies, with a strong set of arguments to back it up. Like Shivani, Shepard doesn’t hesitate to call a spade a spade: “Much of the work of the self-identified avant-garde feels like aimless doodling – there is little sense of urgency or necessity… gestures of rebellion are rehearsed, fueled more by a smugly self-righteous sense of superiority than by a will to change either the self or the world.”
Writers, poets, balladeers, beware… there are discerning readers out here, say these essays. Good for Pleiades, then, that this issue contains one of the most interesting quartet of poems, Catie Rosemurgy’s “Miss Peach” series, which has the lines “…So I met him. / I met the hell out of him,” and, “Call me tired, / but the world is hardly a stage. It’s too cluttered / with trees. Especially the budding ones. / They always steal the dying scenes.” Gibson Fay-LeBlanc’s poem “The Academic’s Prayer” contains the delicious rhyme, “Make me tenure-track. I can explain: / the streaking incident was after seven beers. / I’ve leered a little at first-years…” And this is only the basement of this skyscraping issue. Check it out for the poetry and fiction the aforementioned essay authors would be proud of.