Possibly every reviewer has made a reference to the Pleiades constellation when reviewing Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing (& Reviews). The connections are hard to miss. Just as the constellation has many stars, some of which shine brighter than others, the journal is a collection of many polished works that resonate even if one has to examine them closely, as if with a telescope. The stars are also known as the Seven Sisters, and here the connection ends, at least for the Winter 2013 issue in which none of the pieces seem to be siblings but perhaps distant cousins of one another, at times a few steps removed.
The short stories in this issue are all of high quality, written with precision and timing, rising and setting along with readers’ expectations. Eric LaFountain’s “Eyes in Back, Eyes in Front,” is a heartbreaking story of a young boy who loves his Uncle Saba, a man sentenced to ten years in prison. The fear in Timothy’s second-grade mind is palpable on the page. Saba is his champion, the uncle who teaches lessons, “like how cheeseburgers from the White Hut tasted better with fried onions, or how the kids in his class who didn’t believe in Santa were just idiots.” LaFountain gives readers the experience with narrative skill and a voice that understands that families can be families in spite of what they do.
Heart wrenching in different ways are Jon Gingerich’s “The Tourist” and Jacob M. Appel’s “Marston Moor.” These are stories of people known to all as the family or couple who live on the street; inside of their lives, though, is torment and happiness, unrequited feelings and bitter truths.
Brian Jay Stanley’s metaphor-laden essay, “Odyssey of Desire,” first presents a thesis, his “realization that our highest happiness consists in the anticipation of happiness, not in the possession.” After numerous paragraphs with quotations scattered among them, he reveals that he is “becoming resigned—to desiring” and “settling into restlessness.” Reminded that he stated that his disappointments in life have not come from failing to get what he wanted, “but from getting it,” the reader may feel the same about reading Stanley’s essay.
The poetry in this issue is as stellar as the constellation, ranging from a powerful narrative poem from David Kirby about an encounter with Jesus and his dog to Frances Justine Post’s “Self-Portrait as a Pack of Hounds” that reveals the speaker in a plurality of a pack that is a poignant description of the self: “We slobber and peal down the trail. Our noses searching / for your pulse. Nuzzle, growl, we dig / and fight and dig, crashing through the brambles.” Her metaphor carries through each stanza, and the reader is right there to the end. Additional poetic highlights are Rebecca Hazelton’s “Book of Absence,” in which readers are invited to mourn the loss of a forest, and B.J. Best’s imagining of the love affair between “Ms. and Super Pac-Man.” These poems make picking up a copy of this issue worthwhile.
In the second section of this issue are the reviews of poetry collections recently published by small presses. Among the reviewed are prize winners and poets no longer with us, such as Hayden Carruth and Rachel Wetzsteon. Each review presents a collection with candid critiques and textual examples. Mark Halliday’s review of Wetzsteon’s two collections, Sakura Park (2006) and the posthumous Silver Roses (2010) is a tender look at the work of a poet in pain and sharing it in her poetry. All of the reviews are aimed at increasing the readership of poetry by showcasing the work of significant poets.
Although not every piece in the issue is as memorable as the next, the collective works in this issue of Pleiades are worth the time it takes to observe and identify as we might the constellations in the night sky.