If I had to choose a metaphor for the 2012 issue of Artful Dodge, I’d liken it to one of those brown paper grab-bags they sell at the dollar store. You know the ones—unmarked and mysterious, they could contain something awesome just as easily as they could contain something you could just as well live without. This issue is a huge literary grab-bag, containing a wide assortment of essays, fiction, poetry, and art spanning a varied range of themes and subject matter. Some of the work is surprising, gripping, and moving, while others, not quite as much.
The editors of this issue obviously spent a lot of time working hard to arrange the pieces. One of the strengths is how delicately and deliberately each piece leads into the next. There are graceful, nuanced transitions from work sharing just the smallest theme or subject in common. The presentation is expertly done with close attention to the smallest of details.
That said, the result of such careful arrangement is sometimes a piece of writing that, while making sense thematically, might not have found itself published had it not fit so well into a thematic sequence. For instance, while I was absolutely in love with Joel Lee’s fun and thoughtful essay “Self: A Musical” in which the narrator leads us through his life via his iTunes playlist, the work that precedes it, while also playing on fun and funky themes, doesn’t necessarily measure up.
Weaker pieces aside, though, there are many highlights. The issue includes a Q&A with former poet laureate Rita Dove as well as a visual art section dedicated to photographs of art found on eBay.
Another strength of the issue is the care taken to present translations, with each accompanied by an essay from the translator. I loved getting a glimpse into Alexis Levitin’s process and conversations with Rosa Alice Branco. In the essay accompanying her two translations, Levitin says, “Since the literal meanings of such constructions can sometimes be rather bizarre, I am grateful for the poet’s reassurance that what I am encountering is indeed deliberate, a stylistic liberty . . .” Both translations are carefully crafted pieces. My personal favorite was “Cloth Squeezed Tight against the Wheat,” a meditation that, as Levitin says, does get a bit too bizarre for literal interpretation, but the language is beautiful: “We take shelter under the awning / of a café, in the steaming tea cup where you sip me / in order to forget the cold. You come to the surface like a fish / from whom they have taken the sea . . .”
I was a little disappointed that the issue didn’t include an editors’ note; editors’ notes are a way to get context and insight into an issue. I would have loved to have heard more from the people behind the collection, their process, and their highlights. Overall, though, the issue contained many pieces I’m glad to have encountered.