“Late morning, and my sister and I have arrived,” begins Nancy Lord’s essay, “About a Moment,” the first line in the journal, an inviting opening, and a promise of not only what is to come in Lord’s piece – beautiful writing about a difficult subject, a visit to parents in a nursing home – but a great start to an issue that is replete with great starts (and great finishes). The other three essays in the issue begin with equally original and inviting leads (work by Timothy Irish Watt, John Gamel, and Kim van Alkemade).
The “Special Feature,” sixteen poems by Robert Davis Hoffman, begins, too, with a “dazzle” that lives up to its promise: “He dazzles you right out of the water, / right out of the moon, the sun and fire” from “Saginaw Bay: I Keep Going Back.” Hoffman is a Tlingit Indian from Southeast Alaska, a poet and carver who describes his artistic motivation as a desire to “connect to my past to my present . . . my art contains my ‘thought-conversations.’” Thirteen of the poems in this feature are published here for the first time. They are evocative poems, personal, but not confessional; intimate, yet also larger than self:
The living destroy the dead,
as the dead claim the living,
like going off in the distance,
growing smaller and vanishing,
like rituals without origins,
like this island that never was and always will be.
There are thirteen fine and sturdy stories in the issue, as well, also with strong, enticing leads. Stories with youthful characters predominate, though there are some hardboiled adult tales (Michal Czyzniejewski’s “Nectarine Pie,” for example). I liked best Katherine Karlin’s “Seven Reasons”: Rage, Opportunity, Futility, Fear, Fatigue, Humiliation, Regret. Her voice is smart and casual in a way that is both cautious, but carefully controlled, and these seven emotions/reasons are quietly overwhelming.
I was startled to find Laurence Klavan’s one-act play, “Simprov,” which follows the special poetry feature. A second special feature, to my mind. Klavan is an award-winning playwright of short plays whose “Simprov” is a play about life as a play. “I want to watch you being happy,” says Marjorie, a character “seeking escape and engagement in a realm beyond life.” Read this issue of AQR and then take a look in the mirror. You’ll see someone being happy.