Editor Sven Birkerts begins this issue of AGNI with “The Inadvertent Eye,” an interesting essay about Robert Frank, an essential American photographer. Those who carefully consider decades-old photographs will see much more than a simple collection of long-dead people in a long-gone landscape. To prove that Frank is a “master of moody vacancy more than of the crowded frame,” Birkerts does a strikingly close reading of a powerful photograph.
Charles Haverty’s excellent story “Excommunicados” transports the reader back to 1967. Lionel, a kid at a Catholic school, undergoes some coming-of-age upon meeting a classmate’s mother. The story avoids cliché, instead employing honesty to confront the changes that have taken place since the mid-sixties, both within the Church and outside of it.
The reader is transported again by Anis Shivani. “Manzanar” is an epistolary story consisting of journal entries by a Japanese man in a West Coast internment camp during World War II. The piece is notable for what Shivani provides, but is even more powerful when one considers what Shivani does not provide.
Two poems from David Bottoms tackle the same theme: the sad, inevitable aging of a father. Bottoms employs inventive language and observations to impart meaning to otherwise commonplace sights, including dismantled hearing aids and the ring on a night stand made by an empty water glass.
The issue’s art feature, “I’ll Tell What I Saw,” is a selection of digital broadsides done by Michael Mazur. Mazur illuminates passages from Robert Pinsky’s 2008 translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Mazur’s work is at its haunting best when he takes on some of the bleakness of Dante’s hell. Included along with the issue is a DVD featuring Good to Pull, a short film by director Robert Gardner that follows Mazur as he completes one of his etching and aquatint pieces.