A quick glance at the Contributors Notes of the Spring 2009 issue of Third Coast reads like a promotional pamphlet for the country’s top MFA programs. Coast to coast, nearly every school is represented, the teachers of writing, the recent graduates, those still pursuing the elusive MFA or PhD. Yet, despite the ongoing rant that too many MFA graduates will inevitably result in the generic poem or prose, this issue serves as a glorious contradiction. Occupying nearly 200 pages of text, a total of 28 poets writing 36 poems, 15 prose writers writing 6 short stories, 2 creative non-fiction pieces, 1 play, and several reviews for a recommended books section, I applaud the editors of Third Coast for their wonderful diversity of taste, for their willingness to publish both the well established and the newly emerging, for their particular caliber of excellence. This issue provides a little something for everyone in pursuit of a satisfying read.
The two highlights of this issue are the two 2008 award winners for creative non-fiction and poetry. Scott Wrobel’s creative non-fiction piece “How Not to Write a Personal Essay for Freshman Composition,” is an unforgettable portrayal of teaching writing in our current more inclusive, more diversified academic community. As contest judge Patricia Hampl states, Wrobel’s writing presents “a pretty devastating picture of contemporary American culture.” Wrobel’s piece is a must read for anyone currently brave enough to forge through the teaching trenches. Likewise, Tyler Caroline Mills’ poem “Performance,” selected by contest judge James Tate, is stunning in its combination of playfulness and poignancy, in its lighthearted examination of the very subtle distinction between real life and the poetic sensibility.
For me, the fiction highlights were Brett Finlayson’s “City Love,” a likewise “devastating picture of contemporary culture,” but with a slight, hopeful note at the end, “Fashionista,” by Justin Jainchill, my all-time favorite, and “Stalin, Friend of the Sparrow,” by Michael Hinken. While Hinken’s story is notable for its absolute polish, for its completely believable ability to portray a time and place completely different from our own, Jainchill’s story sparkles for its unforgettable voice, for its quirky perspective, for its surprising and original reversals and turns.
In poetry, I liked Cheryl Clark Vermeulen’s “Complete With Blue Flowers” and Mary Biddinger’s “Saint Monica Composes a Five-Paragraph Essay on Girard’s Theory of Triangular Desire.” And, finally, Michael Patrick Thornton’s drama, “The Princess and the Bear,” is a powerful, intense, wacky, and inevitably heartbreaking portrayal of Mike, who is coping with his sudden paralysis, and whose cast of characters includes Mike’s spinal cord, Steven Hawking, Christopher Reeve, God, Jesus, and George Washington.