Isotope (literary nature and science writing) has made some attractive changes. Perfect binding, expanded contents, recycled paper (for nature and science writing!), pleasing coated paper that really shows off the artwork. This issue’s art portfolio (and the cover art, too) is stunning: impeccable reproductions of paintings by Deborah Banerjee, “The Edge of Sight: The JPL Paintings.” JPL stands for Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California where the painter lives. The tension between Banerjee’s still life oils and the concept and imagined vision of propulsion, the spacecrafts’ raison d’être, is both restrained and explosive. The relationship of spacecraft to space (background) is fascinating and entirely unique from painting to painting. The painter’s explanation/description of what she has attempted to do is as beautifully composed, and as interesting, as her paintings.
Banerjee’s work is matched in quality and interest by the issue’s contents overall, which includes an interview with biologist and creative writer John Janovy, Jr. and excerpts of his prose; several nonfiction pieces; contributions from a dozen poets; a short story; two brief meditative essays of sorts, called “mythologies”; and what the editors label a “soliloquy” by physicist Robert Davies, “Finding Words” on global warming (ostensibly). In actuality, the soliloquy is about the public’s discomfort with or lack of understanding of scientific concepts and terminology. If we had more access and exposure to the work of biologists and physicists like Janovy and Davies, our ability to understand the sciences and appreciate their meaning in our everyday lives would certainly be better.
This issue also offers up Isotope’s award winners in nonfiction and poetry, including a touching long poem about first love, “First Lessons in Beekeeping” by Laura-Gray Street.
I liked very much a fluid translation from the French of an untitled poem of Lorand Gaspar’s (translated by Daniela Hurezanu and Stephen Kessler), which begins:
there still was this patch of fallow land
where things grew according to their own laws
wild grasses and trees as we say
shrubs and paths with no credible goal
Susan Leigh Tomlinson’s “Pentimento” (non-fiction award winner) and Daryl Farmer’s “Because the Stars We See Are Not the Stars That Are There” are terrific personal essays that merge the writers’ personal experiences and observations with larger concerns about how we take in the world around us and show it to others. “One value of a landscape,” Farmer writes, “is in the way that it awakens a deeper sense of connection to ‘what is there about us always.’” I think this is, in fact, the value of art in many ways, too. Isotope succeeds in artfully recreating nature and showing nature as, naturally, art.