I can’t really think of any topic more important right now than this issue’s theme, “the dynamics of wealth and poverty.” Editor Ann Neelon reminds us that the theme, in and of itself, assumes an awful lot: “The assumption is that there IS a dynamics of wealth and poverty – i.e. as opposed to a rigid inherited class structure” (I’m inclined to believe the latter is more accurate), and she is, with good reason, concerned about the disturbing statistics in the region where the magazine is published: “Kentucky is the fifth-poorest state: 23 percent of the poor are children, 30 percent are African American, 27 percent are Hispanic and 30 percent have less than a high school education.” She wonders where all the money has gone. And she is convinced, nonetheless, that the poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in this issue “will help us to…redefine ourselves in the wake of our incursion into near-apocalyptic economic territory.” I hope she is right, but if she is not, it won’t be for lack of originality, creativity, or insights.
I was moved by Michael Campagnoli’s poems which center on a consideration of the “chosen” and the “unchosen” when it comes to matters of class (“Back / to the stares of the anonymous and unchosen.”) I was impressed by the frankness of “The Real Estate Renaissance,” a personal essay by Re’Lynn Hansen which considers a privileged childhood in smart, tightly composed fragments. Karen Holmberg’s slave narrative in the form of long narrative poem, “Black Pansies,” is a deft and emotionally charged, but restrained, composition. Bombay-based fiction writer Murzban F. Shroff’s story “Faces of a Tycoon,” exhibits a kind of deceptive easiness in the telling: “If only everything were a matter of commerce,” it concludes.
Lorri McDole’s “Going for Broke: An Alphabet of (No) Money” is a highlight of the issue, an abecedary of going-broke-ness that is utterly heartbreaking, highly original, and tremendously satisfying. I would let McDole regale me with any tragedy she cares to. She is a gifted writer in whose hands even profanity has the tinge of gold. A novel excerpt from Bev Jafek, “The Anarchist (from Jarina and Pavel)” has big emotional payoffs. And translations of Russian writer Andrey Dmitriev’s fiction by Heny Whittlesey remind us that the issues of poverty and wealth transcend culture.
The front and back covers are marvelous photographs by Richard R. Sitler, a returned Peace Corps volunteer, who photographs the poor “because it is they whom I lived amongst and worked with.” You cannot tell his subjects are poor from these portraits, only that they embody a kind of intense engagement with the world (and the camera).
Several slender and quite lovely poems by Mercedes Lawry are an exquisite balance to the more strident (though no less necessary) works. Here is “Parallel Living”:
Some people are dying.
What about the lessons of stones
or empty shoes?
Daylight is a concept, irregular at times.
Breath, cough, low hum.
There is no test, music or silence.
The first sentence went awry.
There was a wound.
It was entire.
Dare I say it? Riches abound here.