Chelsea Hickock, editor of Hayden’s Ferry Review dedicates this issue to ego. As Hickock explains, writers must be gutsy to believe that someone cares enough to “sit down with our words for hours at a time and live inside the worlds we create.” For all the ego these authors must have in their words, the heart of this issue is told through silences. It takes ego to believe what you write matters, but it takes greater ego to believe what you write will be heard in a pause and understood in a lack of words.
Emily Geminder utilizes silence visually in her poem “Because We Never.” The narrator struggles to come to terms with losing their virginity, as well as their understanding of sex and rape. Geminder begins her poem with a series of negative phrases, beginning with never: “never in cars never on a dare never in the back room of / somebody’s basement.” Each phrase is separated with extra spaces, serving as additional line breaks and silences as the narrator searches for words. “because a year before it happened the thing that could / never happen [ . . . ] there / was that girl in our town there were five guys one from / our school whispers they held her down.” This is a poem you fall into and keep falling as you trip over line breaks and the visual holes in the poem. Geminder’s silences are just as poignant as her words.
MR Sheffield’s nonfiction essay “The Blood Museum” is another piece that searches for words. Narrated in the second person present tense, the narrator is in the hospital, drugged on medication and going into labor. Sheffield’s prose takes on a harrowing and relentlessly paced rush of giving birth. When a nurse draws her blood, she describes how “it is not that bad it is the worst pain imaginable it is something you dreamed [ . . . ] something to describe like a dream it is a dream it is not a dream.” By describing through similes and direct contradictions, Sheffield exposes the fact that sometimes there is no right word to uncover. Instead she highlights the imperfection of our language to convey meaning.
“With Your Hands You Strip Water,” a poem by Gemma Gorga and translated by Sharon Dolin, looks beyond definitions to rewrite reality between lovers. The sensuality is subtle in this prose poem, the peeling off clothes a gesture toward greater understanding. You are “unfastening reality button by / button, to undress completely until you stroke the slow delight of real skin.” Through second person, you are strange and delightful and questing after something you don’t have words for. Though “it will be impossible to tell what / every single thing is beyond its tired dictionary definition” still you try. The quest is impossible, but Gorga’s poetry and Dolin’s translation keep this piece alive with movement and possibility.
Alexander Weinstein writes fiction disguised as nonfiction in his story, “Understanding Great Art and the People Who Make It.” He describes the lives and art of two fictional artists as if they were real people with real revolutionary careers. The piece is wondrously funny for misinterpreting the artists’ motivations. Kouyes seeks art that breaks the barriers between galleried art and everyday life by filming his day to day actions. But the art world does not believe Kouyes when he quits his artistic profession, and artists record him daily for years. Though Weinstein’s narrator keeps an academic distance, the emotional plight of his character shines through. “Kouyes brilliantly reenacts the struggle between the artist and the public through fistfights, which erupt with increasing frequency between him and videographers.” The narrator’s obliviousness and academic bent make this a funny story, just as much as a tragedy. It’s not a lack of words, but the wrong words and the wrong analysis that drive Weinstein’s work.
This issue of Hayden’s Ferry knows the importance of silence and purposefully wrong words. Perhaps this is the greatest test of a writer’s ego: when the words halt, stutter, or appear to fumble, will the audience remain? For these authors, yes. The pauses, silences and seeming mistakes are searches that always add, never subtract, from the author’s skill.