If ever there were reason to reject the age-old adage never judge a book by its cover, this issue of Pleiades would be it. Amy Casey’s marvelous “upended,” an acrylic on paper, which reflects her perception “of the nervous state of the affairs in the world,” certainly upends that advice. Casey’s images of a world suspended make me believe there are wonders, marvels, and fresh perspectives ahead, and this is absolutely true. Tom Fleischmann’s essay, “Fist,” is one of the riskiest pieces of creative nonfiction I’ve seen in a long time, a meditation on fists that is linguistically and sexually provocative, without being forcedly edgy, odd, or experimental.
The fiction is particularly strong this issue, with solid, engaging stories by Gary Fincke, David Yost, and Ihab Hassan, and a fine translation of short fiction by Ukrainian writer, Effim Yaroskevsky, translated by Dinara Georgeoliani and Mark Halperin. Yost’s story, “Irregular Pasts: Stories in 12 Tenses,” is of particular interest for its clever structure.
It’s difficult to single out strong poems with so many equally worthwhile contributions, but there are indeed a few standouts: “Notes Toward a Social Realism” by John Isles; Kristin Bock’s “Before Poetry;” and a portfolio of poems by Laura Jensen, part of the “Unsung Masters” series. The portfolio includes thoughtful short essays by Martha Collins, Katie Peterson, Joseph Campana, Jacqueline Lyons, and John Gallaher. I found Jensen’s work uneven (a euphemism, I suppose, for I liked some of it but not all of it), but the work is deceptively simple and I found myself becoming more engaged and impressed with each new poem in this small collection. “Window Views,” a poem in six parts (“Egret Window,” “Earthquake Window,” Owl Window,” “Moon Window,” “Goodbye”) is particularly fine. Finally, Shpresa Qatipi and Henry Isareli contribute translations of two wonderful poems by Albanian poet Luljeta Lleshanaku, especially good was “The Mystery of Prayers”:
In my house praying was considered a weakness,
like making love.
And like making love
it was followed by a long night
so alone with the body.
Fully a third of the nearly 300-page volume is book reviews, largely of books from better known or major presses, but not exclusively. Books from Mid-List Press and Backwaters are also included in the mix. For the most part, these reviews are substantive, well written, frank, and useful, reflecting an intelligent balance of analysis and opinion.