A Public Space publishes lots of up and coming literary stars and this issue seems particularly packed. A swift survey of the bios gleans that only one of the contributing writers in this issue is sans book, while the others have a title or two in print or one forthcoming from a major house or a well-respected small press. With regards to A Public Space, amateurs need not apply.
The superstars deliver, however. Starting with Noemie Goudal’s delicate and striking photograph gracing the cover, this issue is solid front to back. I found something I could admire and appreciate in every piece. And while there are a handful of gorgeous poems here, they didn’t move me like the prose did.
The issue opens with A Public Space’s standard “If You See Something, Say Something” columns, which introduced me to the writer Tom Drury, who has two pieces in this issue. His opening short piece is a conversation between two teachers in the faculty lounge, where they’re discussing the evolving nature of what’s “appropriate.” Drury grabs the opening slot for fiction in this issue, as well, with his story “Joan Comes Home.” Though the plot of this story—a successful actress/truant mother comes to take her son away from the father who has been caring for him—is certainly moving, the source of the story’s originality resides in its structure. Never settling on one point-of-view, Drury moves around the subject of return and departure, giving us angled and skewed scenes on his scenario.
The centerpiece of this issue for me, however, is Sharifa Rhodes-Pitt’s “Here is the Evidence.” Rhodes-Pitt does what all good writers should do: she makes you interested in her subject. She makes you want to become as engrossed in it as she is. Using the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture as her literal and metaphorical center, Rhodes-Pitt surveys the intellectual—both folk and academic—history of Harlem. Taking Arthur Schomburg’s words—“History must restore what slavery took away, for it is the social damage of slavery that the present generations must repair and offset.”—Rhodes-Pitts captures the personal stories of her neighbors while also investigating Harlem’s larger history of death and renewal. This essay is the longest in the issue and contains multitudes—my pen was out for the entire reading, marking passages both informative and stylistically stunning.
The issue is rounded out with Sarah Manguso’s lovely essay on why she enjoys singing in choirs, and Antoine Wilson’s story “Panorama City,” a taped monologue of a dying father’s words to his unborn child, offers some advice about trying to make people happy: “expectations… should be met, not exceeded or fucked with in any way.”
The closing essay is by John Haskell, whose work I’ve been fascinated with since reading his collection I am not Jackson Pollack, a strange collection that blurs the lines between essay and fiction. The piece he has here is called “The Persistence of Muybridge” on Eadweard Muybridge, the pioneering photographer who proved that all four of a horse's hooves are off the ground at the same time during a gallop. Haskell starts by confessing that he has been trying to write about Muybridge for more than six years, but the more Haskell has looked into the photographer’s life, the more frustrated he has become since Muybridge seems so “controlling and unconnected…to the world and to me.”
By “not changing [Muybridge’s] life, but by altering certain details,” Haskell believes he can push Muybridge in a more “emotional direction” to discover the man’s desire: “Desire is the emotion that draws us into each other, and with it there’s pain and without it there’s nothing.” Bumping up against the realm of fiction, Haskell begins to insert himself into the narrative of Muybridge’s life, trying to find his subject’s true desire. In the end Haskell’s measures fail; Muybridge “knows a camera is watching him, and I am that camera, and like a camera all I seem able to do is observe.”