To launch their inaugural issue of Memoir, a literary magazine devoted to prose, poetry, graphics, and more, the co-editors, Joan E. Chapman and Candida Lawrence, write competing columns on the definition of memoir. Chapman brings a postmodern reading lens to the genre, delighting in the shifting self and the instability of memory, while Lawrence focuses on a good story carried by a strong voice. Taken together their viewpoints create a solid definition of the complex genre and provide the perfect starting point for a magazine devoted solely to memoir in all its forms.
Because Memoir is so focused in terms of genre, it is able to offer readers infinite variations on the form. Poems like Sharon Fain’s “Losing the Drought,” narrated in the first person, have a stronger presence on the page because readers read through an autobiographical lens. So that lines like
Drought came at the right time,
matched me year for year,
father buried, daughters grown,
the city burning and this body,
once lavish and wasteful
in its affections, subdued
refer to Fain’s body, as well as to the landscape around her.
Prose selections can move forward in linear ways, but they can also be much more playful. The centerpiece of the issue is Norman Solomon’s “Obstinate Memory,” excerpted from Made Love, Got War, a rumination on memory, writing, the Iraq war, and his own childhood. Even more fascinating in terms of form are Martha Christina’s “With and Without Michael” and Ruthann Robson’s “winged taxonomy,” two essays that rely on a fractured narrative line to get at difficult truths. The debut of Memoir – full of cutting edge responses to an evolving genre in the midst of its boom – leaves readers wondering why anyone didn’t think of this sooner.