Though death – “the leavings of stories,” say the editors – is the theme of this issue of The Los Angeles Review, the work is quite lively, nevertheless. The relationship to the general theme is expansively considered, beginning with the reprinting of a poem by Judy Grahn (also the subject of a special feature essay) on the infamously dead Marilyn Monroe.
(Does reprinting a poem keep it from dying? I hope so. I hadn’t seen work of Grahn’s in ages and am thrilled for this revival).
I’m not sure I would recognize the announced theme in all of the work included here, had I not been looking for it. And I’m not sure that it matters. Work that stands out for me, more alive than dead in every way, are poems by Michael Meyerhofer, Tziano Fratus (translated from the Italian by Francesco Levato), and Ewa Parma (translated from the Polish by Linda Nemec Foster with the poet); nonfiction shorts by Jeremiah O’Hagan, an essay by Barry Lopez (also given new life as it is a reprint), short fiction by Eric Magnuson, “Clearly into Five O’Clock,” a great depiction, and for that reason upsetting, story about office work; and interviews with poets Lucia Perillo and Ching-In Chen (also a writer of “metafiction”) and fiction writer Michael Czyzniejewski.
It is appropriate that the editors equate death with “the leavings of stories” as storytelling is the journal’s driving force. Much of the poetry is narrative in nature, short nonfiction works are propelled forward largely by narrative impulses, as well, and short fiction is well rounded and fairly traditional in shape.
Finally, in honor of the dead, I must note the inclusion of a poem by Primo Levi, translated by Harry Thomas, “Il Tramonto di Fóssoli” (“Sunset at Fossoli”), written in 1946, which quotes a number of lines from Walter Raleigh’s translation of a poem by Catullus. Fossoli was a detention camp for prisoners destined for deportation, men, women, and children who may or may not have known that this stop was, essentially, a dead end, a death sentence. Levi opens his short poem: “I know what it means not to return.” I was grateful to find this beautiful poem here, truly the enduring embodiment of the phrase “the leavings of stories.” And, however deeply sad (or because of it), the poem is a vivid reminder of the power of art to sustain us, along with the memory of those who have left.