The Summer 2018 issue of Kestrel is particularly focused on the theme “Love, Labor, and Loss.” In the Editor’s Note, Elizabeth Savage introduces work that “indicate[s] the unwitting effects and lessons of labor. . . . what counts as labor [ . . . ] —work valued for what it created or for the wages it earned.”
In David Salner’s “The Code of the Road” we hear from the laboring traveler of the 1920’s:
The morning before I’d had my knees in a beet field, weeding in the mud, and I’d spent the afternoon sweating in a barn, the chaff from the work spiraling in the air, hovering around me as I restacked bales and swept up.
Eric Waggoner provides us with another, rural, perspective and an attitude in “Butcher’s Dog”:
“You want something to drink?” my grandmother would ask when you visited her in her modest home. If you responded in the affirmative, she’d say, “Well, you know where the refrigerator is.” This was how we expressed care and concern: roundabout, by pointing to what you might need instead of getting it for you. If you really needed it, better you know the path to satisfaction yourself than rely on the generosity of others.
There are many fine examples in each of the genres of the Appalachian work, the traveler, the homeless, and life’s seekers. In the poetry selections, there are such new and refreshing pieces by established writers, including Liane Norman with “Shakespearean Actress Spreads Her Legs”:
The New Yorker reports that Dame Harriet Walter,
a British actress, had the idea that women should play
all the roles in Shakespeare—the opposite of
Shakespeare’s time when men played men and women.
Walter sets the plays in a women’s prison,
actors playing prisoners playing Shakespeare.
The examples here don’t always remind you of the labor theme, but I do want to give you a feel for the quality of the artistry and imagery the issue offers, even if they veer off theme.
There’s Robert Cording’s “Little Did I Know”:
His singing voice—a deep baritone
that belies his slight, wiry body and which
I have never heard or even suspected in the twenty years
I’ve known him—rises up through the floorboards
to where I am sitting wrapped in a blanket.
It’s difficult to keep choosing from among more than two dozen poets, especially when many of them so well represent the regional flavor provided by Kestrel. Some, of course, are more obvious than others; for example, Doug Van Gundy’s “A West Virginia Prayer”:
Save us, O Lord, from this other god: the one
of the heavy weather and flood-waters floating
our furniture away, the one whose angels
are indistinguishable from our meth-martyred
children, the one who blesses the well-intentioned
oil & gas companies who have found a way
to further destroy your creation, our home.
Interspersed with the literature are several photographic series reinforcing the theme, and which not only entertain but also comment on the American way of life, including Jim Ross’s “Berkeley Springs Annual Apple Butter Festival: A Photo Series” and Daniel McTaggart’s series “Route 857, near Fairchance, PA October, 2013.”
Perhaps this issue will mainly speak to the ‘older’ reader, or those who left non-urban lives behind and seek a chance to remember simpler approaches. In any case, this issue of Kestrel rewards time spent with memories.