Reading the Harvard Review was a pleasure. I could read this journal anyway I liked. I could freefall, flipping forward fifty pages at a whim, and know whichever piece I landed on would catch me. The obvious wow-factors include Spain’s poet laureate, Vincente Aleixandre; Antoni Tàpies, a Catalan painter whose work has been displayed at the most prestigious museums around the world; and Charles Simic, a Pulitzer Prize winner and MacArthur Fellowship recipient.
But the Harvard Review strikes a balance where most well established journals don’t. Alongside these extremely accomplished artists are pieces by young, burgeoning authors. Sophia Veltfort and Mark Chiusano, noted by the editor as young 2012 college graduates, write with poise and insight beyond their years. Veltfort’s essay “Missing” timelines the search for her sperm donor father that preoccupied her youth. The essay maps her lifelong feeling of loss with honesty, and the essay quietly builds to an unlikely source of resolution.
Chiusano’s short story “To Live in the Present Moment Is a Miracle” is reminiscent of Knowles’s A Separate Peace. Chiusano, a recent Harvard graduate, has produced a cleanly written story of a friendship where most things go unspoken. The story moves quickly toward a puzzling, unexpected goal, and Chiusano leaves us with a peaceful image of the pair running over the frozen Charles River with the film of Boston sliding by them:
He was ahead of me. There were the train tracks; up at the top of the little mountain the castle was blinking, an antenna hovering above, some of the windows lit, full of the warmth of other people, their books and lights and extra sweatshirts . . . I started running to catch up. I’ve always felt that you run faster at night, that you’re counting lampposts, or the trees, or the number of manmade objects stuck in the ice flow, as if to say we have been here. We must have run for miles . . . The air bit the back of your throat. The surface was always solid. The skin on your fingers got dry and white. The ice cracks in the night sound[ing] like conversation.
Filial love, a look at parents from children age six to forty-three, seems to surface and resurface endlessly in this issue. Karen E. Bender’s “The Visit” explores the ultimate disappointment of a middle-aged woman trying to understand the ebb and flow of her parents’ aging process. Honor Moore’s poem “Story” encapsulates what seems like the scope of an entire life in the description of one, heart-wrenching moment: a son handing his father over to death, as he holds his hand and stares out the window. And a five-year-old is put in charge of her grandmother who has Alzheimer’s disease in Artress Bethany White’s poem “Geneva Could Have Walked to Switzerland.” The Editor’s note adds that in poems by Mark Jarman and Charles Simic “mothers and especially fathers keep surfacing like finbacks from the psychological deep.”
Anne Shaw’s poem pushes us beyond living relationship and poignantly walks the razor edge between life and death. The only experimental poem in the collection, “Consumption” haunts us with images of coffins and graveyards.
Whole generations collect.
in their plots like children tucked in bed,
Do the dead bear witness
The pleasure of Shaw is that she weaves the living and the dead in such uncannily vivid details that she creates a world hard to emerge from. Jeremy Allan Hawkins evokes similarly eerie images, connecting the anonymity of wartime deaths to the speaker’s childhood games of playing guns with his best friend.
In addition to poetry, fiction, and essays, this journal has impressive visual artists. The longest spread pays tribute to Antoni Tàpies, the Catalan painter who passed away recently and whose lifetime works have been displayed around the world. Tàpies collection is beautifully balanced by New York based painter James Nares whose abstractions have an astonishing sense of movement.
I spent two afternoons curled on my couch wrapped in the pain of children missing their fathers, friends fighting to communicate. I obsessed over the uncanny, the sinister, and the foreign and watched narrators chase and pull away from those they love. These voices of the Harvard Review cohere and lead to an excellent collection.