In this era of short attention spans, multi-tasking, split screen viewing, fast food, speed dial, and the quick fix, I admire Northwest Review’s daring: this issue features three very long short stories (Charlie Smith’s “We’re Passing Through a Paradise” is nearly 50 pages) and a lengthy essay by poet Eavan Boland (just under 20 pages). The work of 15 poets rounds out the issue.
Boland’s essay, “A Lyric Underworld: A Story of Translation,” is the highlight of the issue for me as a lover of translations and a reviewer of poetry and poetry criticism. I have noted in a number of recent reviews that translation is the hot topic of the moment in literary journals, it seems, and for once I’m not sorry to see something become trendy. As it happens, I have just read the book of Boland’s translations of German women’s poetry, which is the subject of her essay, but I would recommend “A Lyric Underworld” to readers less invested in translation or in this particular work of Boland’s. What she has to say about her relationship to translation or the art itself goes well beyond the personal story she recounts or my own interest, and she is a gifted essayist.
Readers now accustomed to very short stories or sudden fiction may resist longer works, but these stories from Kevin Canty, Constance Christopher, and Charlie Smith are highly satisfying and worth the attention. These are solid traditional narratives, stories told by confident voices with a clear sense of direction; purposeful and careful plotting and, despite their length, without excesses. By no means does this suggest that they are without highly original appeal. Here is the opening of Smith’s story: “‘Why would you leave me now?’ Alice said, speaking from her mental bomb crater, completely unrevulcanized by the shock treatments, which as I understood them were supposed to make a victim happy about her situation, or at least not as concerned.” And here is the beginning of Constance Christopher’s “Headhunter”: “Sister Rose had christened me, as she had the others, in the river instead of the Pacific Ocean, because it was fresh water. She named me Ariadne because my hair was golden-red and because, like the Cretan queen, I was deserted on the shore.”
Poems in this issue include work by a number of prolific, well-known names (Sandra McPherson, Ira Sadoff, Dan Bogen). I was surprised and delighted to see a poem by Marilyn Chin, a talented poet whose name I had not seen in any TOC for a long time. I had remembered her idiosyncratic and laudable gifts correctly, as demonstrated in “Formosan Elegy:”
You have lived six decades you have lived none
You have loved many and you have loved no one
You wedded three wives but you lie in your cold bed alone
You sired four children but they cannot forgive you