The Journal is published semi-annually by Ohio State University. A journal of “literature,” entries are not classified by genre, so it can be difficult to know if prose pieces are fiction or nonfiction (though I sometimes wonder if we really need to know the difference), but the journal would appear to include poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and reviews. The most immediately recognizable names this issue are Elton Glaser, Renee Ashley, Denise Duhamel (whose “Backwards and Forwards” was co-written with Amy Lemmon), Patricia Lockwood, Jesse Lee Kercheval, David Wagoner, and Nance Van Winckel, but most contributors are widely published, many in fine and prominent journals.
The work in this issue is characterized for the most part by a sense of immediacy, a kind of in-the-moment presence, firmly rooted in place and time, as in Kercheval’s “Thanksgiving Day”:
I’m drinking coffee in
The Corner Café at the
Field Museum waiting
for 11am, the time of
our tickets for the Tut-
And as in the Duhamel/Lemmon poem:
Hannah could spell her name forwards or backwards,
even after a night of longnecks at Otto’s
or smoking reefer with her sis, both of them blotto,
playing Racecar with their empties, nicking the baseboards.
And Martha Silano’s “I Live on Milk Street”:
Via Lactea, to be exact. Once it was the path
To Zeus’s palace, then a creamy cul de sac; now
they just keep widening and widening. Its origin?
On that the jury’s still out. It could have been paved
by the Holy People who crawled to the surface
through a hollow reed…
Prose is equally grounded in place and time, work with a strong sense of narrative unfolding in an immediate, visible scene, as in Efrem Sigel’s personal essay “Soup Kitchen, Mishna, Yoga, Kavannah” (at least I think it’s an essay): “Today: roast chicken swimming in gravy, mashed potatoes, peas. If the potatoes are pasty and heavy, I choke up on the long serving spoon so as not to aggravate a nagging case of tennis elbow. The gravy requires my complete attention; it can easily slosh over the edge of the disposable Styrofoam plate.” What I appreciate most here is a casual, almost superficial beginning that leads to a discussion of some importance and seriousness. I trust Sigel from the get-go because I appreciate the detail, but I grow to appreciate him and his story more as the essay progresses.
Dawn Lonsinger contributes two of the more unusual and original poems to the issue, including “Untitled When the Artist Was Dying”:
the unspooling is only
visible if held up by
straight lines, attached
to ceilings, kissed.
your friends will buy
the most extravagant
desserts, bring hem
to your house, hold
your hypothetical hand.
And I liked very much another poem with an art theme, Patricia Lockwood’s “Homonymous Bosch Adds a Saloon-Door Hinge”:
To the panels he is painting, and bursts through them ready
to lay down laws: “When a door is built to swing, its surroundings
must be locked instead,” he shouts, and makes his way to the corner
where a one-eyed stray cat crouches. He cuts a broad brush
from the tail, ties it to his finger, and begins, all the while
screaming unprintables. “You must capture the natural world…”
I do not know if unprintables is a Lockwood invention, a Bosch invention, or a reference to something else I do not recognize, but I am pleased to find a phrase I do not recognize, followed by the pleasing sound “capture/natural.”
And speaking of the unrecognizable, Elton Glaser’s “Actual Mileage May Vary” may sum up the journal’s strengths and keep us on the lookout for future issues: “Words waiting in a notebook, the rain dripping through / The sycamores, can’t say yet what they mean.”