The annual Fineline Competition issue is always one of my favorites. The contest is open to entries of prose poetry, sudden fiction or non-fiction, or other “literary work that defies classification” (500 words or less). There’s a kind of freedom in the “sudden” form that seems to bring out the best in writers of all types. This year's first-place winner is MFA student Ryan Teitman who creates a little museum of oddities, “The Cabinet of Things Swallowed,” that ends in a surprise or, more accurately, in the promise of a surprise. It’s the sense of promise that I appreciate most in these short works. Take, for example, the start of J.L. Conrad’s “Meanwhile,” one of the Editor’s Choice winners: “My dreams inscribe for me a world in which.” Or Editor’s Choice winner Alan Michael Parker’s opening line in “Our New System of Government”: “We believe we were misinformed.” The editors received nearly 2,000 submissions for the contest. I’m clearly not the only one who appreciates the form.
The magazine’s regular non-fiction entries are excellent examples of short forms as well. Sue Allison plays with numbers in her brief “Taking a Reading.” Jim Dameron (“In Praise of Bad Reception”) considers the meaning of words and phrases of importance in his family, especially as his father ages and is “forgetting the words he used to stumble over.” Ryan L. Futrell begins his sudden non-fiction piece with a promise much like the ones quoted above: “Sure, there are things in this life that cannot be explained.”
This issue also features another section of award winners from the 2007-2008 Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ Intro Journals Awards, honoring nonfiction and poetry by students enrolled in AWP-member programs. Jenny Linscott’s (University of Mississippi) essay, “Monsters of South Dakota,” is a tender family farm story. Aaron Rudolph’s (Texas Tech University) poem, “Unrecorded,” is precisely what it says – a record of the unrecorded (“This about that day / we lived between our best and our worst”), which makes it, in many ways, an archetypal poem, a poem that explains all poems.
Translator Ned Condini introduces us to the work of prolific Italian poet Carlo Betocchi (1899-1986) in Translation Chapbook Number Forty-Six, “Stumbling into Divinity.” Condini provides a helpful introduction to Betocchi’s work and the originals appear alongside the translations, which are fluid and engaging (“lenti como l’autunno sui campi, / o limo del paradise che c’impanii!” – “Steps slow as autumn in the fields; o lime / of paradise that coaxes us”).
Mid-American Review contains many fine poems, as well, including new work by Rita Dove, Alison Stine, and Rane Arroyo; and four strong, approachable stories, including an unusual contribution by Sumanth Prabhaker, “Girl with Two Hearts,” which is especially appealing for its understated tone.