Alfred Hitchcock once said: “No film is complete without a MacGuffin” because that’s what “ . . . everybody is after.” A MacGuffin, which is a literary device originating from Victorian England, is an object that moves the plot forward in a work of fiction. The MacGuffin, which is a literary magazine published out of Schoolcraft College in Michigan, is an impressive collection of poetry and fiction for your reading pleasure. The collected works of this issue explore a wide range of voices examining the human experience. Editor Steven Alfred Dolgin says: “I have long believed that there is a correspondence between our internal, subjective landscape and that of our external, objective landscape. The selections in this MacGuffin issue do nothing to deter from that perspective.” The landscape within this magazine is vast and exciting to explore.
The feature poet of the current issue is Alexander Payne Morgan, who won first-place in the Detroit Working Writers’ annual MacGuffin Poetry Prize. Morgan also received an honorable mention in the 18th National Poet Hunt Contest in 2013 and first prize in poetry in the Springfed Arts writing contest in 2015. What I found most interesting, though, is that this poet is a retired industrial mathematician who wrote a mathematics textbook. The 12-year-old inside of me still cringes at the sound of numbers speaking to each other in that cryptic language of equations and formulas, but I love how Morgan weaves together the precise and subtle beauty of mathematics with poetic verse. For example, the speaker in “The Mathematician’s Daughter” helps his daughter study for a math test:
Only in the hurricane of her next day’s test
will she let me talk prime numbers,
logarithms, triangles and surds.
This poem reminds me of my own late-night math sessions with my father as a child. I would squirm and complain while my father glared at me over the rim of his glasses and would not let me leave the kitchen table until I finished my homework. The speaker in Morgan’s poem is much like my father who tried his best to open my own eyes to the joys of playing with numbers: “Caught in the arc of my own persistent heart, / I long to find the formula / to make her faint with joy.”
The subject of fatherhood appears again in Diana Dinverno’s poem, “The World Spins.” The speaker of this poem is a child who sees their father standing at a window while skating outside. The passage of childhood condenses in tightly written stanzas as the speaker skates into the future:
Ice dust patterns appear as I press forward,
cut and circle the rink, resolve
to race into darkness.
When the sky glitters, the empty
window tells me what I now know is true—
I can outdistance the blue.
There’s no going back.
My two favorite short stories in this issue are “Rebuilding” by Margaret Karmazin and “Leticia Comes Clean” by Joan Wilking. Both stories feature snarky protagonists, but with one huge difference: One is living and the other is dead. The narrator of Karmazin’s story, Victor Hartmann, begins by telling us straightaway that he is dead: “I know I’m dead, though occasionally I forget. It’s hard to keep command of the situation and things can fade in and out, but if someone could ask me about it, I’d manage to collect my wits and say yes, I am dead.” This spirit is lingering in an old house that is occupied by an estranged married couple, their angst-filled teenage son, and a cat, who is the only member of the family who can see Victor and not care at the same time. Aaron, the head of this family, plans to rebuild the house Victor had built during his life, but Victor is not impressed with Aaron as he tells the contractors that he doesn’t think there’s electrical wires in the walls: “Yeah, dumbass, there IS electrical in there. Hope you feel its effects.” Victor’s spirit wanders the home as he internalizes his inability to move on, but then the plot gets more complicated when his presence is noticed by the family. The other short story by Wilking features a snarky cleaning lady who is not afraid to defend herself from an abusive client: “When Walter called her a black cow, that was the last straw. Leticia hauled off and punched him square in the nose.” Leticia plots further mischief against the racist Walter by using his dog and clever use of pottery. It is a humorous story, but lying underneath the surface is an allegory for the inequality against African Americans.
Hitchcock defines a MacGuffin as a “mysterious” object that moves a plot forward. However, there is no mystery in this magazine. Only great writing. Your library will be more complete with The MacGuffin resting on your shelves.