Most moths are thin, tiny, and fly towards illumination and pollinate. When the 25-page softback-pamphlet from County Cavan, Ireland landed in my mailbox in Albuquerque, I was intrigued at the journal’s similarity to its namesake. Upon first flip through The Moth, it’s clear they take their art seriously—a photo of gold fish bowl with a bullet hole by Robert C. Jackson entitled “Rotten Escape,” Pat Perry’s “In the Yard,” ink sketches, Diaz Alamá’s haunting portraits of stunning muses and Wen Wu’s cover art, “Wild Swan,” which captures the profile of serene femininity—prepare the reader for a look into the finer side of life. The detail, delicacy and craftsmanship of the selected art, supported by the power of the prose, make it clear from first glimpse, The Moth is not just another freebee-wannabe stacked-by-the-coffee-shop-door listings pile selling ad space and flavor-of-the-week. This tiny journal is flying towards the light.
The first, second, and third place Moth Short Story winners are published in this issue. I would not have wanted to be the judge, as the stories are superb; in fact, as good or better than anything I have read in The New Yorker this year. Marc Philips’s “Pyjama Squid” is a tight dysfunctional family saga, told with economy and distance, with lines like, “That’s when he slept with Mom” tacked onto the end of paragraphs that jaw drop then force the reader to sit up and read like a detective. Not a word out of place, a hard-working orphan, an exotic squid that kills all around it without touching it, and the looming presence of the military life, all swim in the same small-town aquarium; Marc Phillips’s writing is excellent.
In “December Swimmers,” Paul Lenehan examines the relationship of a father and son through the daily ritual of finding peace in the cold Irish “snotgreen” sea. A lyrical story that dives deep and surfaces with such gems as: “A swimmer without a witness is a swimmer lost at sea” and “When I see a swimmer, I paint a drowned man.” Likewise, Richard Newton’s “Pride Goes,” is full of powerful prose; “Death is the prick in the balloon.” Or “These people, even including Bright, have this urge I don’t understand to celebrate the sunset.” “Pride Goes” portrays the life and hierarchy of a Botswana zoologist’s camp catering to tourists and scientists who want to be close to “nature.” Narrating the death of his predecessor, the newly hired maintenance man gives a crystalline insight into the inhumanity of humans who trade places with the animals they observe. The ending is fantastic, an image, so central and magical, that cannot be forgotten; but it will not be spoiled here.
The Moth includes ten pages of poetry and two interviews. While the interviews are thin and feel hasty, the poetry is strong and diverse. The selection is sound-driven and international. The poems are entertaining, but when placed beside such powerful fiction, they remain in the shade. Perhaps this is the result of publishing prize winners alongside general submission.
Another aspect of The Moth that is rare and unique: it is focused on text and the text alone. There are no contributors’ bios, no author photos, no extraneous information about who published what and where. There is no cult of personality that surrounds so many contemporary reviews. The reader feels as if they are reading a carefully curated selection—blind. In my opinion, a beautiful relief.
To sign off on a contradiction, if you want to read more about the history and founding editor’s romantic backstory, The Irish Times published an excellent profile in August.
The Moth, thin and beautiful, illuminates and pollinates.