If you’ve not yet been introduced to Saranac Review, consider this your opportunity. Published by the Department of English and its Writing Arts Program of SUNY College at Plattsburgh, I’m not sure what preconceived notions that might give writers and readers, but my first response after reading a good chunk of it was ‘surprising variety.’ Many of the works were surprising—either as non-traditional in their form or in leaving me pleasantly surprised by the feeling of satisfaction at the close of my reading.
The publication’s genres are labeled (thank you!) and grouped, which had me jumping back and forth to break up my reading, sometimes losing track, sometimes re-reading, but never sorry for the added exposure to the works. Of the poetry, with often several to enjoy from each poet, Ruth Bardon’s works were an apt opening to the section. “Strange” and its repetitions drew me in:
Strange is the hook-up.
Strange is the particle.
Strange in the hometown.
Strange is the new wound.
Strange is learning to walk in those shoes,
Learning to talk as if you were someone else,
Pretending to love someone else.
And Bardon’s “Love,” which is anything but a clichéd treatise on this oft poem-worn emotion. Scott Andrew Christensen’s works resonated, each of the four poems so different in style and affect. His short-lined stanzas create unique emotional imagery, as in this stanza from “border”:
too many dogs, here
the marrow of dreams.
the Spaniard jokes
of the coming night’s
hunger, soon abandoned
to entertain aloneness.
Saranac Review poetry editors welcome all forms, narrative and abstract, prose, free verse and formal. A key feature among them is their strength, either in the visual imagery or in the feelings the reader is left with by the poem’s end. Several works in translation by Marianne Koluda Hansen (trans. Michael Goldman) each left me feeling that dull ache of emptiness that hopes for something to resolve it, her “Little red riding hood” taking readers through several vignettes, such as:
tell me something sad
tell me about the time
my dad and mom were poor and
my dad had said
that my mom should meet him
because he had a
surprise for her
and she thought she was going to
get new shoes
because the old ones were almost worn out
but actually they were going
out to eat
at a restaurant
And as a mythology scholar, I appreciate the editor’s poignantly humorous selections, like Barbara Elovic’s “Eve’s Version,” which I will add to my collection and share with students. Its colloquial tone is a favorite approach of mine, and begins:
He’s off chatting with God
but when God’s too busy
doing God knows what
then Adam tells me how lonely he was
before I came on the scene.
Of the prose, Karen E. Bender’s fiction “The Cell Phone That Would Not Stop Ringing During High Holy Day Services” slips into the surreal as church attendees’ phones all begin to ring and won’t stop until the members answer them and help the callers deal with their feelings over difficult life issues they have faced. Now, rather than being mad when someone’s phone goes off at an ‘inappropriate’ time, I think they should answer it.
Jonna Carter’s “How To Choose” begins: “You are not alone. Half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unexpected. You may be feeling an unpleasant mix of anxiety, excitement and disbelief. Before you make this important decision, ask yourself the following questions…” And then goes on through a litany of 50 questions, some more scenario, some humorous, some gut-wrenching, and some politically charged. Carter, whose bio indicates she is a parent, avoids patronizing clichés with strategic and carefully crafted rhetoric:
27. Do you want vomit in your hair?
28. Are you ready for war?
29. Do you have a good answer for questions like, “Why do leaves turn different colors?” and “What is a penis?” and “Why can’t I have a sip of that stuff you’re always drinking?” and “Where’s my other mitten?”
30. Can you live in the moment?
31. Do you like hearing hilarious shit on a daily basis?
32. Do you like to laugh?
33. Could you ever forget?
Saranac Review editors choose a blend of long and short works, again here, the strength of imagery and emotion is a prominent feature of each. “Boy, Dog” by Kathryn Kulpa is just three pages, but adeptly recounts the terror of the bullied boy, opening with: “His fingers hold tight to the chain-link fence. Maybe if he let go they’d still stick there, glued by frost. . . Courage consists in hanging on one minute longer.” And the tenseness and anxiety only grows deeper with each paragraph. Peter Orner’s “Jackie’s House” is just over a page long, but portrays the lifetime of growing complications between adult and children’s relationships with one another as dementia, and inevitable death, enter in.
Melissa Cronin’s nonfiction “Reaching for the Keys” more concretely examines this entrance of dementia and the responsibility it places on adult children. Cronin’s perspective is utterly unique, having survived an accident in which an 86-year-old man drove his car through a farmer’s market, striking 73 pedestrians, and killing ten. Cronin was one of the survivors. After her recovery, faced with her own father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and his stubbornness and cantankerous temper, Cronin is faced with a difficult and personally wrenching decision to make about his being able to continue driving. She recounts:
“I can’t wait for other people to take me places,” he yelled. “I want to be able to get in the car whenever I feel like it, go wherever I feel like going in the moment.”
I flinched, as if he had just slapped me to consciousness. His response whiplashed me six years into the past: wheelchair bound, and dependent on other to drive me to doctors’ appointments and physical therapy.
Cronin’s experience is one none of us should have to experience as she did, yet her decision with her father is one many of us share or will in our futures, and should learn from her example.
There is much more to consider in this issue of Saranac Review, and none that I would point to as a weak link in the chain of the editors’ selections. I can only come away with appreciating that Saranac Review is a powerfully satisfying read, and believing that, for writers whose works can stand up to the rigor for quality these editors clearly demand, there should be great satisfaction in having been chosen for publication.