This issue is dedicated to Hayden Carruth who taught at Syracuse University where the journal is produced. “It has never been our intention,” say the editors’ notes, “to explicitly define ‘upstateness’ in so many words…but it does seem to be true, in a purely ostensive way…that our editors in each issue have helped communicate a vision of our region that is more vital than perhaps even those of us who live here would suspect.” Upstate is, in fact, they conclude “a state of mind.” Evoking that state of mind is the work in this issue of nearly two-dozen poets, nine fiction writers, a dozen nonfiction writers, a short drama, two dozen visual artists, a handful of book reviewers, and Mary Gaitskill, who is interviewed by Jennifer Pashley.
Pashley says that every upstate New Yorker has a Mary Gaitskill story, and I don’t doubt it has something to do with her philosophy of life (“much of our lives are absurd”; “reality is very surreal”) and people’s fascination with what Pashley defines as Gaitskill’s stories of sex and difficult relationships.
Interviewed, as well, in this issue is photographer Lida Suchy, on an exhibition of more than 100 photographs she produced of members of a Ukranian-American Community Choir. Suchy is a fascinating interview subject who discusses motivation, technique, and outcomes with sophistication and grace. Some of her striking portraiture is included.
In fact, the visual arts are a magnificent and abundant component of the journal: mixed media work from Allyn Stewart; digital video images from Yvonne Buchanan; sculpture from Ann Reichlin; drawings from Donalee Peden Wesley; and mixed media works from Paul Faranacci, among many others. The reproductions are outstanding from video stills, to silver to jewelry, to color photographs, to lithographs.
A highlight for me is a series of black and white photographs by Neil Chowdhury “India and ‘Little India,’” motivated by the artist’s isolation from India while growing up in the US. In 2008, he spent many weeks in Mumbai photographing vendors and casual laborers on the streets and the results are striking, clear-eyed photos of exceptional quality.
There is much to admire in the literary contributions, as well, including work by the prolific and highly acclaimed poet Lyn Lifshin, whose “Nights It Was Too Hot to Stay in the Apartment,” demonstrates her supreme skill at creating an atmosphere in verse; Jennifer Duffield White’s story “Tales from a Life on Fire,” for its lyrical prose (“Last night I dream of butterflies riding the humps of camels through the desert. Today, I burn.”); Angela Cannon-Crothers’ story “The Intuitive’s Guide to Cloud-Reading” for its unexpected appeal as a mother/daughter story (with the odds stacked against it, given the prevalence of family tales); a poem by Carl Dennis, “Above the River” for its ability to create poetry of overtly political themes; and the prison writing introduced by Doran Larson for giving voice to the often voiceless, among other works.
I was happy to find a review of a new anthology of women’s writing from francophone Africa (Nancy Keefe Rhodes reviews A Rain of Words, published last year by University of Virginia Press), a long, respectful review that provides an exceptional overview of a book that fills a gap in world literature. If anything, reviews should introduce us to works we might not otherwise encounter and let us know what is happening outside of the covers of the texts with which we are already familiar and comfortable. Come to think of it, that’s part of Stone Canoe’s strength, too.