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Seneca Review - Spring 2010

  • Issue Number: Volume 39 Number 2
  • Published Date: Fall 2009/Spring 2010
  • Publication Cycle: Biannual

Full disclosure: I read this issue and am writing this review while recuperating from surgery to repair a fractured hip. So, this issue’s focus on the corporeal (Special Double Issue: The Lyric Body) is of particular interest. Of the body, editors Stephen Kuusisto and Ralph James Savarese say they present “a form for engagement" that "is always political…and always lyrical, whether we see it that way or not.” If lyrical means poetically inspired, and political means engaged with the world, then I would say their choices for the issue are, indeed, lyrical and political. And they’re also quite wonderful.

The issue features many stars and familiar names (Adrienne Rich, Gregory Orr, Sam Hamill, Susanne Antonetta, Jennifer Finney Boylan, Ilya Kaminsky, Floyd Sloot, Mary Doty, Rafael Campo, among others) and many less familiar, though no less worthy of attention, writers (Ona Gritz, Susan Neeley, Barrie Jean Borich, Katie Ford, Jane Bernstein, among others). A number of these writers have written beautifully in other publications (including books) about related or similar matters as those in their work here (Skloot, Borich, Campo, Bernstein), but when it comes to the body, this repetition (or is it obsession?) makes a kind of lyrical and political sense. Indeed, we can never escape our embodiment.

There isn’t a poem, story, or essay I would not recommend. There are a few standouts, though: Rebecca Epstein’s “My Last-Ditch Attempt,” a manic little essay about mania; Katie Ford’s poem, “Remedies for Sorrow” (“The soldierly ready / of human sadness; it must, by nature hover”); Susanne Antonetta’s essay, “Dis,” about a struggle with lithium; an essay by Barrie Jean Borich, “APOCALYPSE, Darling.” Borich has an appealing voice and is smart storyteller. She favors family tales (her in-laws this time around), and she’s one of the few writers who make me question my firm belief that stories about one’s family don’t interest anyone except, well, one’s own family. And this poem, “The Iridescence of Life,” by Melanie Almeder, inspired by a photograph/collage of Binh Dahn, clearly both lyrical and political:

O gray and lopsided moon, above your face, the wings,
this room – moon that shone on the gutted heaps
of the Khmer Rouge’s labor – if there’s grace left – please,
let there be grace left – then let it utter its syllables here,
and unhinge the dear wing of your face.

Finally, more overtly political in theme than many of the works in the issue, and less overtly lyrical in language, but sublimely lyrical in intention, is Amitava Kumar’s diary/essay, “Tortured Body" which are "entries from a teacher's diary kept during Bush’s war on terror.” If every student had a teacher like Kumar there would certainly be considerably more lyricism and less terror.

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Review Posted on July 29, 2010

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