It may or may not be intentional (though given this journal’s outstanding editorial management, it is likely to be deliberate), but the relationship between this issue’s cover and the poem “Desert” by Adonis, translated from the Arabic by Khaled Mattawa, is nothing short of exquisite. The cover photo is a 1938 “Night View” of New York City by the always-amazing Berenice Abbott. The Adonis poem begins: “The cities dissolve, and the earth is a cart loaded with dust / Only poetry knows how to pair itself to this space.” The poem and photograph are both, as they should be, impossible to describe accurately, except to say that each evokes a particular atmosphere that could not be a better example of the medium’s potential and success. “The city’s voice was too tender,” writes Adonis (such a beautifully translated poem). This is a long poem of shifting tones, expertly rendered, as Abbott’s photo is a composite of so many lights, creating one whole ultra-real vision.
These pieces are illustrative of the journal’s quality as a whole, which features the 2010 short fiction prize winner Megan Anderegg Malone, with finalists and seven other stories; three essays; and the work of a dozen and a half poets, including such notables as Ira Sadoff, Peter Campion, Doug Ramspeck, Rosanna Warren, Jane Hirshfield, Laura Kasischke, Natasha Sajé, and Franz Wright, among others. There are a few surprises, fiction from nonfiction master Scott Russell Sanders; a work of fiction based on nonfiction, “Yalla!” by Harriet Levin, based on conversations with the now famous “lost boy,” Michael Majok Kuch; and an essay on the filmmaker John Huston by Jeffrey Meyers.
Franz Wright’s prose poems stand in direct opposition to the mysterious and subtle tones of the Abbott and Adonis works, but are nonetheless representative of much of the work in this issue, and equally compelling. Here is an excerpt from “The Window”:
I know, it’s terribly mystical. So what. So is work; and work means something. It means that you do what you do, you do for someone else. You do it for someone who loves you, that’s all, someone who misses and needs you, if you are so blessed. I had my work—mine caused a little trouble, but I did it. I did what I promised. End of sermon. Can I ask you a question?
Can I ask you question? Have you read The Kenyon Review lately? Don’t miss it.