A promising premier beginning with fascinating cover art – a “threadwork portfolio” by Lisa Solomon whose threadwork images appear throughout the journal – Marvin Bell’s moving “dedication poem” (“The Book of the Dead Man (Arroyo)”) featuring Bell’s signature anaphoric lines; a terrific interview with novelist Eric Miles Williamson, a graduate of the California State University system where Arroyo is published; five strong stories; and contributions from ten poets, including more work by Bell.
Williamson, author of three novels, a book of criticism, and recipient of many prestigious awards, is interviewed by the journal’s editor, Eric Neuenfeldt, and proves to be a gifted and funny storyteller. Readers unfamiliar with his work will surely want to seek out his fiction, always the mark of a successful interview. He’s frank (“the ‘workshop’ format, where people who haven’t yet mastered their art sit around a conference table giving each other bad advice”), realistic (maybe even optimistic) about the state of American literature (“in those small presses you’ll find that American literature is alive and thriving, more varied and adventurous than ever in our history”), and a little cocky (he answers the question what’s next with “I think I’ll have a cigarette and a beer.”). The interview is followed by an excerpt from his forthcoming novel, Out of Oakland.
The fiction in this first issue of the journal is especially strong, including novel excerpts from Sara McAulay (Steelwork) and Patrick Ryan (The Jade Fish of Perpetuity), as well as Williamson, and short stories from Richard Peabody and Stephen D. Gutierrez. The editors favor enticing opening lines (“The artist is drawn to the image of a mermaid’s purse.” from Peabody’s “Bottom Feeders and Prospective Memory”) and voices whose expression is immediate, real, and recognizable (“She thought he loved her. She was dumb enough to think he cared for and really cherished her, like in a movie or something that makes you feel good because the guy is all sensitive and shit,” from “Maria” by Gutierrez).
The same aesthetic, for the most part, governs the poetry selections. I especially liked a long poem by Patty Seyburn, “The Case for Free Will,” a poem in five sections, right-justified on the page (which seems like precisely the right and necessary choice) that begins: “When I was little, I thought the moon was Europe. / Or was like Europe. / Or would be like Europe, by the time I grew up”). More poetically poetic (a decidedly non-MFA workshop definition of which, I think, Williamson might approve) is Dan Bellm’s “Dream Song” (“O mockeries, I am not finished yet: / horrible shadows, that night does not forget”). And a wonderful example of poetry that turns personal narrative into effective verse by Trebor Healey, titled “Brine” (“Grandma called him Brine / in her winy old voice / And you call him the salt of the earth / or the sediment that fouled the sterility of suburbia”). This premier issue is the beginning of a fine stream (arroyo) of work and I can’t wait to see where it will flow.