Arroyo Literary Review, published by the Department of English at Cal State East Bay, takes advantage of its geography and the demographics of the San Francisco area to establish its identity as a multicultural literary feast. This issue features several international contributors, including writers associated with Peru, Japan, India, and China. Sixteen poets are represented—only three with a single poem—poetry translations from the Chinese and the German appear, and award-winning translator John Felstiner is interviewed. Four short stories ring changes on themes of love, creativity, and the absurd. The compact size and the feel of the cover communicate accessibility and quality. There is really nothing about this magazine not to like.
The editors devote a page preceding the list of contents to The Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary’s definition of arroyo: "(in the southwestern U.S.) a narrow channel in the ground that is usually dry but becomes a stream after heavy rain.” The image both represents the magazine’s interest in poetry and evokes in the reader endlessly bifurcating impressions of the ability of artists to wring meaning from experience.
Willy Lizárraga’s short story “True Artists Only Have Impossible Loves” communicates the writer’s exuberant joy in language, as in these two descriptions: “the only lesbian fundamentalist-professional-illegal-alien-Marxist-Freudian trombone player in the world” and “Brendan MacMurry carrying his contrabass on his back while riding his bloody Harley and eating a carne asada burrito with extra cheese and guacamole.” He finds the opportunity to take a sideways swipe at creative writing classes by having a character say that the classes produce “bad writers who write well.” The work is an elegy to San Francisco during the 1980s, when the city appeared to be built “entirely of uninvited fears and broken dreams.” Lizárraga’s first-person narrator allows that perhaps “that’s why [he’s] a writer, to get even with time.”
In his interview, Felstiner offers unambivalent opinions about the art of translation. Although he acknowledges that being “bilingual is asking a lot” of a translator, he adds, “I’m not always happy with what one sometimes sees [such as] three-person translation—poet, language expert, translator.” (The success of Coleman Barks’s renderings of the poems of Rumi, based on translations from the Persian by John Moyne, has made the 13th-century mystic the best-selling poet in America today, but perhaps Felstiner would allow this exception.) Felstiner reveals that his translations from the German of Jewish poet Paul Celan, who survived the Holocaust, are intended for readers who “care about the essential existential challenge of articulating the unspeakable.” His translation of Celan’s poem “Deathfugue,” placed by the editors on pages facing the original in German (“Todesfuge”), retains some German phrases in the English version. The decision to focus on the challenges and practice of translation adds depth to the magazine’s focus on diversity and internationalism.
Heather Altfeld contributes four poems, including the epistolary monologue “Scheherhazade,” from her upcoming manuscript Letters to My Father, The Vizier. An excerpt from “The Desk of the Night-Clerk: Confidential” echoes elements of Whitman’s wide-ranging compassion and imagery, but experienced through a postmodern acidity:
gavels the long blond table of saints
for the man down the block, who is bashing
his girlfriend into asphalt in the rain . . .
Included in this issue of Arroyo Literary Review, elaborate wood engravings by New Hampshire artist Beth Krommes invite the reader into tenderly rendered landscapes, domestic scenes, and imaginary vistas. “Over the Town” recalls Marc Chagall as it clearly represents Krommes’s unique vision. She has illustrated children’s books, winning a Caldecott Award in 2009, but her works offer substantial visual pleasure to adult viewers as well.
While Arroyo Literary Review showcases talent in the Bay Area, it also solicits unpublished work from writers and artists throughout the U.S. and world. This fourth annual compilation offers so many delights that readers should anticipate great things from next year’s issue.