David Wagoner’s “The Shape of My Life” got it right: “Three or four beginnings, four / or five middles, and two or three / regrettable endings”(except for the endings being regrettable – they’re not). This issue is all about telling a good story, beginning, middle, and end. More than a dozen poets, four fiction writers, and three essayists demonstrate the power of narrative, the rich possibilities of an original first line, and the satisfying resolution of a clever ending.
Shapely first lines include “Papá could break into any house in the neighborhood” (Vanessa Hua, “What We Have is What We Need”); “So much yourself that even the river is you” (Rachel Dilworth, “Credibility”); “The way a sentence is a story,” (B.H. Fairchild, “Wittgenstein Dying”); “The bearded men of Oregon are taller than most men.” (Jennifer Percy, “Unearthed”); and “In a time that couldn’t name its violence” (Anis Shivani, “To John Cheever”), among many others.
Middles are harder to quote, of course. Kevin McIntosh's story “May All Your Christmases” is clever and entertaining. Philips Heidrich’s essay “The Aesthetics of Water” has an especially appealing middle as the essay is not what it at first appears to be, starting off as a meditation on a landscape and turning itself into literary criticism.
As for endings, who is better at sustaining an edgy, cynical tone right through to the end than Dana Curtis (“Director Obscure”)? Elizabeth Edelglass draws a smart story to a perfect conclusion in “An American Divorce.” And Richard Lyons concludes his very fine poem “To Zbigniew Herbert” with what seems to me the perfect ending to end all endings: “An occasional noise interrupts; but that’s just / the present scratching to get in and hurry things.”