The title page of this inaugural issue lists Mary Gordon, Paul Muldoon, and Michael Burke as the “featured contributors” – pretty impressive for the debut of any magazine. All the more impressive when we realize, though one has to read the contributor’s notes to figure this out, that The Round is essentially an undergraduate student publication. Nowhere does the journal announce affiliations, but several writers, all undergrads at Brown University, are credited with being co-founders of the magazine in their contributor’s note. The issue opens with a foreword by Gordon who compares the writing in this issue – at least in its aim to “invoke large terms” to Donne, Herbert, Dickinson, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Flaubert, Proust, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, both Eliots, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Auden, James, Cather, Faulkner, Welty, Porter, Trever, Coetze, and Morrison. This magazine’s work will remind us, she says, that “literature is beautiful and joyous and the place where we [are] reminded what it is to be most fully and richly alive.”
While I think Gordon’s claims for the work presented here may be overly generous, I agree that these poems, stories, and short dramatic works are inclined toward “large terms.” They are not small, narrowly focused exercises. Take, for example, Elizabeth Metzger’s poem, “The Turning Point,” which begins:
There’s something dread about living here
if the sky turns out a curtain.
This is the turning point I tell him
the loose gold threads behind it, maybe wires.
How did this come to be he says,
meaning how did I.
Or Daniel Loedel’s essay “A Defense of the Moment,” which considers the “language of greatness” and what makes some writer’s work enduring and while other work feels only of the moment. Or Daria Marinelli’s short, allegorical fantasy drama “Beforeward,” whose characters are “where,” “when,” “who,” “what,” and “how.”
While this work avoids, for the most part, easy-breezy tones and simplistic poetic solutions to complex human problems, it is, nonetheless, often not fully realized. The pieces sometimes read like young drafts of writing that has achieved a certain level of competence, but seems not-quite-ready-for prime-time. Excerpts from Alex Verdolini’s inventive fiction “Arabesques,” concludes “I wanted to give a few of these stories, these islands, to you. So that, on your way across the water, you will have a place to rest and watch the sun set on the sea.” I applaud Verdolini and her classmates’ efforts to broach “large terms,” appreciate the sentiment as well as the island metaphor here, and look forward to watching these writers develop.