This issue’s theme is “Celebrity Houses. Celebrity Politics,” framed by an essay of the same name by Daniel Harris, who has written widely on popular culture. Harris explores the blurred lines between celebrity as a Hollywood-esque phenomenon and celebrity in political life (stars who become spokespersons for “causes,” politicians who flaunt their looks, wealth, and social lives as if they were stars of stage and screen). He considers the relationships between Republican ideology and our fascination (obsession) with the Hollywood elite, a link that is falsely depicted as antagonistic – and more dangerous than it at first appears.
This first issue of 2010 features three other essays; the work of six poets (all quite different from each other, no cookie cutter approach to poetry here); five short stories; and a small section of writings about France. The Robert K. Merton essay in which he first coined the term a “self-fulfilling prophecy” is this issue’s “From Our Archives” presentation. Several reviews round out the issue.
Barbara Sjoholm, an accomplished and widely published travel writer, contributes a lovely essay, “How the Fisher Came Back Home.” Mathew Clark’s “Phantasms of the Living,” which recounts the experience of encounters with the paranormal, offers all the pleasures of fiction, with all the intrigue of the mysterious-but-true. Jeffrey Meyers examines John Huston films based on the work of Hemingway.
The fiction is well-rounded. Appealing, rich stories told in natural, inviting voices. I liked especially a story, “Miss Fabiola,” by Peruvian writer Julio Ramón Ribeyro (1929-1994), beautifully translated by John Penuel, which begins: “I learned the alphabet at home with Mom, in a notebook with red and green squares, but the person who really taught me to read and write was Miss Fabiola, the first teacher I had when I started school.”
Poetry this issue reflects an eclectic and generous editorial stance. I was especially taken with Jeanine Webb’s “Winter Night Grievance,” a lovely re-imagining of ancient Chinese poetry:
Weary of my diminutive
beasts, I have ridden over
nine hundred mountains
to be with you in the fog
past yellow cranes
and white rivers
past hermits and bureaucrats
all alike scheming for a meal.
In sharp contrast, there is “The School of the Arts” by Adrian Blevins, with its long, prose-y lines. Similarly, though, his poem, too, makes reference to the politics of the times it references:
My father said the most wicked among us were the petty bourgeois
and the Republicans of the black lakes of all that filched money
and me sometimes how it felt
when I was a kid in Daddy’s slapdash house of divorce and dejection
with no way of knowing what kind of girl to be
and the point is Daddy didn’t know either
Jacqueline Osherow’s “June 2008: Dream Snapshots, Tel Aviv,” a long poem in 12 sections, is a splendidly composed work of slender lines that balances poetic and ordinary language masterfully.
The section on France almost seems like a small bonus, alongside an issue already rich with fine poems, essays, and stories. Paul Christensen’s essay “My Longing to be French,” is particularly pleasing. He has a natural and believable voice and a delightful style that draws the reader to him instantly as if he were telling us something in confidence – and we want to hear what he has to say. I liked, too, Joan Frank’s “France: The Cake Frosting Country,” the essay as clever as the title. Hugh Graham’s essay on Baudelaire and Stewart Lindh’s essay on Barthes are instructive, without being pedantic. Lindh’s style is personal and easy-going. I didn’t think I could stomach one more essay about Barthes, but this one changed my mind.
In his “Editorial,” Robert S. Fogarty categorizes the Harris essay as “thoughtful, timely, and provocative.” I would say this is true of the issue as a whole – a highly satisfying chapter in this reliably appealing journal’s history.