This issue begins with Catie Rosemurgy’s poem “Things That Didn’t Work.” Delicate. Restrained. Precise: “Picture frames. Targets. The psychological / boundaries described in books. / Any shape or line whatsoever.” And, fortunately, not a predictor of what lies ahead in Seneca Review. There are certainly pieces here that might not have worked in less capable hands. But the risks have paid off and the work is strong. In particular, I appreciated what Laura Brown-Lavoie accomplishes in “Bricklaying,” an essay that merges biblical language, fragments of fairy tales, poetry, political commentary, and the poet’s lyrical diction in prose-poem like paragraphs separated by sets of empty brackets. The piece is about (if it is fair to say that it is about anything) how we create, and while I’m not always sure I follow its logic, I want to see it through to the end.
Dan Beachy-Quick’s “The Laurel Crown” is tremendously successful. A poetic essay in six parts that explores the concepts of beauty and desire in Greek mythology as they relate to the meaning and purpose of poetry: “Poetry is birthed from such awful realization . . . a fact that denies that fact of one’s own being, that says the self, even the godly self, is not self sufficient unto itself. Poetry is a form of desire devoted to the impossibility of its own fulfillment.” I doubt that I’ve ever read a truer definition of poetry.
Another successful hybrid sort of piece is “Days Like Grass,” a travel memoir/prose poem by Teddy Macker, short bursts of narrative and lyrical insight recording a journey from Baltimore, Maryland to Carpinteria, California. Macker is a wise observer, and his prose is appealing, even winsome. Less inventive, but no less satisfying is “Borne Along,” autobiographical narrative from Timothy Irish Watt, whose prose is highly unusual and tremendously engaging: “Now let me remember all the open-eyed days of my life on the road, all my wonder before the prairie, its grain, our stars, this living, a praising and a lamentation, a lull, left-off, sung up from the wince, off-sprung to be believed.”
Another highly successful effort is “REM/EMR/ANCE” by Derek Owens, a photo essay that is part personal and family story, part scientific/philosophical exploration of the concept of recovered memory, part poem on the relationship of language to memory. A piece like this might have turned into a gimmick, but Owens is patient with his own material, is not interesting in impressing me with his cleverness but in moving me with his skill and insight. And I am, indeed, moved. Work like this reminds us of the sheer power of language, the potential hybrid forms have to help us go beyond the ordinary, and the power personal stories can have when they reach beyond the narrow confines of their own emotion.
Finally, there are strong poems in this issue, too, including work from Mrigaa Sethii and Kisha Lewellyn Schlegel. Editor Davis Weiss tells us in an editor’s note that next up is a double issue that will “address matters of disability and difference.” Given the editors’ skill at selecting work that takes risks with purpose, not simply for risk’s sake, I look forward to the work they’ll choose on these themes.