Gulf Coast, published out of the University of Houston’s CWP, focuses this issue on transformation. Strangeness slithers through these pages as bodies, ideas, and objects transform. In Gulf Coast, the fluidity highlights what is most stable: the search for human intimacy and connection.
Andrew Mitchell won the 2016 Barthelme Prize for his story “Going North.” A couple traveling by car notices a truck following them. This frightening situation becomes a literal nightmare, as the concrete details of the story—the truck, the couple’s Buick, the 911 operator—twist and transform. Images flow into images and nonsense becomes the norm: “it takes me a moment to realize the red truck isn’t actually a red truck, no, it’s our kitchen table, and on this table Collin maneuvers a toy truck.” Mitchell enhances the dreamlike fluidity of his prose by forgoing quotation marks around his dialogue and removing paragraph breaks. The narrator is the only piece of the story that remains constant as she grapples with her relationship to her husband, her father, and her son. The stability of the narrator amidst such transition and upheaval allows her strained and traumatic relationships to come into full relief.
In Nicholas Wong’s poem “That I Say Nationalism is a Tote Bag and I Carry it with Me is Neither a Hyperbole” addresses bodies and transformation through personification and the transformation of ideas. Wong presents nationalism as the titular tote bag, but also as a woman. It’s as if the narrator is in a relationship with the ever-changing ideas of nationalism and duty to one’s country. Nationalism becomes something to wear, something to inhabit, someone with life and vigor and opinions he struggles to reconcile with his own: “we live / together, but we live far apart.” The power of Wong’s poem lies in his ability to address broad political issues through ideas and bodies in flux.
In her story “Eight Bites,” Carmen Maria Machado’s narrator undergoes weight loss surgery but finds the results create an unrecognizable self. Machado begins her themes of transformation and transition through her description of Cape Cod in winter—the off season where, “a second town had opened up, familiar and alien at the same time.” Through her setting, she creates a world where speculative elements sneak up on you. After the narrator’s surgery, her body and self literally separate; in transforming her body through surgery, she has created a new body: “I can hear her gurgling underneath the floorboards. She sleeps in my bed.” The interactions between these two bodies is a terrifying personification of self-hatred and a quest toward self-love.
Ching-In Chen leads a roundtable on “Trans & Genderqueer Poetics,” which features trans authors Ryka Aoki, L.G. Parker, Kai M. Green, and Trish Salah. Chen begins the roundtable asking for introductions, but specifically for each person to talk about their identities and lineages, broken down into “as writers/poets, teachers, cultural workers, community organizers, or whatever other lineages you embrace.” The openness of this introduction allows each person the space to expand on their identities and all the ways they are transforming. Again and again these authors express that the identity they most want to represent is human. Through their humanity, they disagree with one another, especially in regards to the matter of a trans aesthetic (and if such a thing exists). Kai M. Green posits a trans* consciousness, “that holds at its core the radical potential of undoing and (re)doing differently everything.” In Chen’s roundtable, transformation moves far beyond a discussion of writing and trans identities, and becomes a discussion of our relationship with ourselves as we teach and learn from those around us.
In Gulf Coast, bodies and ideas move in flux. In this state of continuous transformation, the only stable piece is the humanity in the poetry and prose. Strangeness highlights a shared human identity and a shared desire for connection.