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Polaris - 2010

  • Issue Number: Volume 54
  • Published Date: 2010
  • Publication Cycle: Annual

Polaris has always been about undergraduate writing, specifically the undergraduate writing of students at Ohio Northern University. The issue I reviewed, however, offered a slight twist on the focus. Editors Brian Hohmeier and Andrew Merecicky explained that “for the first time in the over fifty years of our history as a magazine, the staff and editors were pleased and excited to open up submissions to the global undergraduate writing community.”

Undergraduate writing is akin to minor league baseball, and I’m thinking particularly of Class A ball. I don’t mean that to sound as dismissive as it might. There’s a Class A team in the town where I live, and I attend. Most nights I see a fair to decent game of baseball, even if there are quite a few rookie-level errors.

I teach undergraduate-level writing at a community college. I also advised an undergraduate literary magazine for five years. I’ve seen a lot of undergraduate writing, which is to say—extending the metaphor above—that I’ve been to many minor league games. I always attend such games with the expectation that I’ll likely be disappointed at times, but also with the stubborn optimism that I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

I can say this much. The game I saw over at Polaris Field…it was good game of baseball/writing (oh, hell, I’m a little lost now, too).

Let’s forget the errors, I just want to talk about the game highlights.

The opening of Anna Mirzayan’s poem “I Will Search Out Your Shape” cracks like a line drive and let me know that I was about to read a really striking poem: “I will search out your shape—/ your parted mouth, the red esophagus, / a tongue limp with hunger / like the heavy sound of a bell.” The rest of the poem makes good on the promise of that beginning.

Experimentation in writing is often hard to pull off. When it does happen, though, it’s like watching an effortlessly executed double play: as beautiful as it is difficult. An example is this excerpt from Wendy Xu’s poem “System for Looking Ahead”:

It is a matter of the heart’s unwillingness to cooperate / the heart of the matter
Body slips up against a calloused hand, the dream where because I have you
I forget how to grieve for you. October designing our destruction. Meteor
From light years above—away / the astronaut reports. Those stars are not those
Stars. Light from a thousand dead suns / parting gift

Keep an eye out for Xu. I suspect she’ll be called up to the majors.

In my town’s minor league park, they provide entertainment between the innings. Sometimes it’s just as good as, if not better than, the game. This issue of Polaris is similar with its inclusion of over a dozen stunning undergraduate visual art pieces. Ironically, some of the most intellectually-pleasing prose was to be found in the artist statements.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t good prose from the writers themselves. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the essays, Max Ogles’s “Wordsworth, the Essayist: How Things Work,” didn’t end up in a textbook about essays. In the essay, he provides an intriguing study of the essay—a very misunderstood genre. Ogles writes:

For the sake of these misconceptions, I submit an explanation of the essay as simply as I understand it: the essay has the variable, versatile properties of water. It spreads itself to the limits of its container—an exploration, an observation, or maybe a critique—splashing to fill its boundaries and swaying to the rhythm of the author’s voice. An essay has no rigid formula, process, or structure. It trickles, drips, sprays, splashes, flushes, gushes, freezes, soaks, seeps, spreads, shivers, pa-lunks, and waves.

If that’s not a homerun bit of writing, it’s at least a triple—another of this issue’s really memorable moments, among many.

When the games in my town are going really well, I sometimes look up and am surprised to find that I’m in a minor league ballpark. I can say the same about Polaris. Sometimes I found myself thinking, “Wow, this was written by an undergraduate? Incredible.”

Having dedicated themselves to undergraduate writing for so long, the editors at Polaris know what they are doing, and what they are doing is providing a dignified and handsome forum in which to celebrate undergraduate writing.

Thanks, Polaris. Great game.

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Review Posted on August 29, 2011

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