Editor Robert Stewart's interview with Renée Stout — reproductions of her mixed media assemblages, paintings, and sculptures appear on the cover and on sixteen pages within — is reason enough to look at this issue, but, not the only reason. Poems by Sherman Alexie, Simon Perchik, Diana O'Hehir, short fiction by Lance Olsen, and essays by Janet Burroway, and Jodi Varon make spending time with the most recent New Letters especially worthwhile.
Stout approves of NL's assessment of her work as "gritty" and "edgy," though the word "political" does manage to work its way into the conversation. Often, it's her combination of language and visual images that makes the work gritty, or edgy, or political. In the interview, Stout talks about her alter egos Madam Ching and Fatima, about a job painting signs and how that influenced her work, and about her artistic vision: "Part of me feels like my art should be about self-examination, and then I also want to record what I'm observing outside of myself. So there's a balance. I want to know, ‘Where do I fit in this?’"
Six strong poems by Sherman Alexie open the issue, and I am drawn to the work "Avian Nights," with its verses like "The starlings don't understand synonyms." Diana O'Hehir’s poems are two of the most affecting and effective imaginable. "Without," influenced by a news photo of a woman whose hands were amputated in a civil war begins: "Last night I dreamed my hands were back / I held something between them." Lance Olsen's story "Sixteen Jackies," picks up where Warhol's famous "Sixteen Jackie's" leaves off. Simon Perchik, who never disappoints, is at his best here: "The moon behind the moon / works its tides / the way you rotate this switch // and the wall still warm / dims…" Burroway is always edgy and political on some level, and her essay here about "high" and "low" culture is, as always, thoughtful and satisfying reading. Varon's essay is an outstanding example of the way in which a writer can integrate personal or family story, history, and social observation, in deft and agile prose. [New Letters, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 5101 Rockhill Road, Kansas City, MO 64110. E-mail: . Single issue $8.00. http://iml.umkc.edu/newletters/] - SR