Guest editor Nanora Sweet defines this issue’s special section on Writing/Politics/Status/Gender as “driven by gender in a political year…a body politic(s) knit tenuously together by that most gendered set of relationships, of family.” Her selection of family-themed poetry, fiction, and essays is largely of work I would describe as affable without being cloying, sometimes deceptively casual while possessing deeper implications, and eminently readable.
Sweet’s fiction choices are noteworthy for their intriguing and inviting openings, in particular stories by Brent Krammes (“Edgar’s Last Color”); James Black (“Hibakusha”); Emily DiFilippo (“Ciudad de Mexico, Summer 2005”); and Justin Herrmann (“Crayon Way Outside The Lines”). It’s hard not to want to read a story that begins, as Black’s does, “Jamie Mallory’s father has been dead four years by the time Jamie starts noticing him everywhere: the supermarket, the Laundromat, the Seven Eleven.”
Essays, too, are extremely approachable and inviting, even when on such difficult subjects as a confrontation with a Holocaust denier like David Meyer’s “Breendonk.” J.T. Bushnell’s “Runner” can certainly keep pace with other work in the very specialized genre of literary sports narrative, and the title alone of Annette Gendler’s “Betty Crocker in Bavaria and Other Lives” is worth its weight in brownie mix.
Poems by 25 poets reflect an eclectic editorial vision, though these diverse poems have in common ease of reading, even when serious in tone, diction, and perspective. Here, for example, are excerpts from Greg Nicholl’s “In This”:
You name the two wisteria planted
alongside the porch
characters from a sitcom,
one Lucky, one Squat.
Lately you have been naming everything –
the glass ink-well on my desk unhappy
to be just an ink-well.
Me. Create a word
only you know the meaning of.
Return the void I cannot carry.
I must single out Barbara Crooker’s “Frida Kahlo Speaks.” Kahlo is the subject of so much speculation and fictionalization (I want to recommend Kingsolver’s recent The Lacuna, a novel based on the biographies of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, among others). I have read countless poems and stories based on her life, and Crooker’s is among my favorites: “There are two Fridas, the one you want. And the one you don’t.” And who can resist Jennifer Bullis. Her title: “Some of what I am about to tell you is true” (“The dirt in my house incites me”). If at least some of what writers in this issue of the magazine have to say is true, then it’s all worthwhile.