Hayden’s Ferry Review announces itself immediately as an important publication, and not just because of its justifiably stellar reputation. This twenty-fifth anniversary issue boasts a top-shelf list of contributors, and the journal itself is heavy and substantial in the hand. This issue puts a special focus on the “artifact,” an object with “unique meaning both within its context and apart from it.” This focus is explicit in the issue’s reproductions of artifacts from notable writers, but is also implicit in many of the poems and short stories that fill the rest of the pages.
What do we gain by seeing a page from Aimee Bender’s dream journal and her subsequent notes that would become her story, “The Rememberer”? What about a scribbled notebook draft of a G.C. Waldrep poem? This peek behind the curtain offers us insight into the creative process. Writers can’t expect to train themselves to think in the exact manner as Michael Martone does. Writers can, however, push themselves on a similar path of development.
Liz Prato’s “This is Your Birth Certificate” represents a slightly skewed take on the personal memoir. Prato annotates her own birth certificate, an artifact that was issued to her adoptive parents and features a birthdate that is off by seventeen months. Prato’s longing to understand her origins comes through in her comments. She points out that she was called by a different name for her first two months, a name that is on the original birth certificate: a document she is not allowed to see. Prato’s choice to cast the annotations in the second person creates a slight narrative distance, but reinforces the deep emotional implications of her adoption.
Nick McRae considers still another kind of artifact in his poem, “Psalm 137.” The author laments that the artifacts of manhood and boyhood have changed in the past several decades. So few Americans know what it is like to scour the woods for escaped winter calves or to dress their own deer. (Perhaps someone should create an app for that.) Where, McRae asks,
are the children who squatted by creeks
in dark pine thickets, hovered over the waters,
dragged their fingers through loose silt,
feeling for the delicate forms of crawdads and tadpoles—
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
who, bodies light and scrubbed red, dozed through hymns
and sermons on thick-aired church days and woke
to the sobs of old women while the organ droned?
The titular allusion is an apt one; nostalgia is one of humanity’s only true constants.
Translators have a job that is both difficult and fascinating. In a brief interview, Jay Rubin discusses his English translations of Haruki Murakami’s short stories. The Murakami short stories that follow the interview earn an additional layer of enjoyment when you know how hard Rubin labored to translate not just words, but shared experiences.
Michael Leone’s “Personal Statement” is a story in the form of the personal statement. The character P. Jonathan Scudarro is hoping to earn a grant from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Instead of proving his worthiness, Scudarro provides an autobiography that is extremely entertaining, but not very persuasive. Scudarro surely would be among our greatest scholars if it hadn’t been for misfortune: “Unfortunately, in a calamity of epic proportions, the treatise that I spent over ten years researching and writing perished in a thunderstorm, and the one extant final copy was innocently donated to Goodwill by my girlfriend (probably my ex by now, but I hesitate to characterize her this way).”
This issue of Hayden’s Ferry Review offers great value, holding an awful lot of work between its covers. The pieces incline toward the higher end of the literary spectrum and particularly reward second readings.