Albanian poet Luljeta Lleshanaku’s poem, “After the Evening Movie,” ably translated by Shpresa Qatipi and Henry Israeli, is not part of the issue’s “portfolio” segment (“Captured: Writing About Film and Photograph”), but part of what editor Amber Withycombe defines as the issue’s “adventurous general work.” But, it’s clearly no accident that a poem about the movies opens this volume of what has been for as long as I can remember, in my view, one of this country’s most underappreciated literary magazines.
Lleshanaku’s poems are representative of the quality and character of much of the extremely fine poetry in the issue:
We hide beneath a suffocating embrace
simply to avoid speaking,
simply because we fear that we might have to tell a story,
a story whose ending we don’t yet know,
because we no longer hear barking in the courtyard.
Clay turns on its wheel
unable to realize
that it is history itself,
that same story
told over and over in countless ways.
I was especially taken with poems by Paula Bohince, Jonathan Weinert, Wayne Miller, and one of my all-time favorites, Eric Pankey. Theirs are poems in which language meets the world and the world meets language outside of the ordinary without straining to achieve eloquence or succumbing to easy and ordinary diction and imagery.
I liked very much in the “adventurous general” segment of the issue, a beautiful and worldly essay by Akiva Freidlin, “Mourner’s Kaddish in Mumbai”; a tender story, “Caregivers,” by B.R. Smith (another non-portfolio that also begins with a movie); an inventive prose compendium of visual imagery turned text from Galerie de Difformité, by Gretchen E. Henderson; a series of expertly framed black and white photos from Jessica Dimmock from “Paparazzi!”; a story/script-script/story, “The Cowboy’s Wife,” by Smith Henderson.
At nearly 300 pages, every piece distinct and distinctive, this issue of Witness seems to embody the final verses of Pankey’s “Cold Mountain Meditations”:
The distilled, absent subject shimmers, empty of itself.
As a dream relinquishes into language, into body,
As well, fills with wakefulness, the certainty of things
Unsettled by their names, by being named: breath-stutter,
Thaw-ice loose in the rapids, the cold stone-felt, permanent.
The present tense, endured, passes, remains tense and present.