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FRONT COVER by Panteha Abareshi, Roses and Thorns 2017. INDIA INK, PEN, PENCIL, WATERCOLOR, WHITE INK, BRUSH MARKER. Courtesy of the artist.

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Volume 59, Issue 2

ON RARE OCCASIONS, academic conferences turn out as they should, and pilgrims making the journey find what they seek. The trek to the American Comparative Literature Association’s annual meeting is one I’ve made more times than I can count, in part because its seminar format—where participants assemble around a theme and meet as a group for two or three days running—favors such an outcome. This year, I fled to Los Angeles for the ACLA, during a week of so-called spring in New England, and found there a panel on poetry and public feeling, convened by Tristam Wolff and Lily Gurton-Wachter—one site where the call was answered.

On the second day of this seminar, the latter session leader began with a rumination on Blake’s second chimney sweeper poem, that song of experience where “a poor black thing . . . taught to sing the notes of woe” comments: “And because I am happy and dance and sing, / They think they have done me no injury.” Gurton-Wachter, in a problem-posing move worthy of Freire himself, focused our attention on a troubling existential claim: the sweep does say, “I am happy”—not “I was” (as in the previous stanza) or even “I seem.” How, she wondered, can we make sense of this claim? The word “happiness,” she reminded us, is related to luck and fortune, and likely borrowed into English from Scandinavian roots. We’re happy when fortuitous things happen.

That Blake’s sense of “happy” might bear a trace of its original meaning suggests his use of “injury” may as well; early on, this Latinate term was largely legal, “wrongful action or treatment,” “infringement of another’s rights.” As Nancy Armstrong and others have shown, English literature during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries called upon readers to sympathize with disenfranchised classes, to care about their rights and the wrongs done to them. A posttalk discussant emphasized the prescient presence of minstrel theater in Blake’s lines: a “poor black thing” said to “dance and sing” would soon take center stage across the Atlantic. What it takes for an object to become a subject, for “happiness” to become internal, or “injury” to be embodied are issues that Blake’s prophetic poetry envisions, and the centuries following have yet to resolve.

Just such a nightmare weighs on the brains in these pages, from Bob Hicok’s opening “artist’s statement,” where he’s “the lone yak forever surrounded by wolves,” to James Haug’s riverine thoughts, “a murky reflection of the heavens.” In our summer issue, people make their own history, but they do not make it as they please. Whether it’s Mhani Alaoui’s young Aya, who stands up to her “expat,” or Mirfet Piccolo’s protagonist, who fails to save his children from the fascism he chose to follow, or the dutiful sons tormented by their aging fathers in stories by Charles Swift and Dave DeRicco—in each case, history weighs on and frames the struggle. Whether it’s Sarah Rose Cadorette seeding hope in Haiti, Molly Quinn prompting a scene change in the psych ward, or Geneviève Piron recalibrating our compasses in Siberia, the lesson is clear: it doesn’t matter what happens to you, all that matters is what you make of it.

There have been better moments: Roger Mills recalls JFK’s tribute to Robert Frost (first published in this magazine, back in 1964), where our nation’s leader saluted the arts and pledged to support them: “If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.” Joel Westerdale also returns to Frost, demonstrating that the Good Green Poet’s most famous poem is best read as an exemplar of Nietzschean amor fati. One wonders, nonetheless, what any of these éminences grises would have made of Panteha Abareshi’s searing testimony to the contemporary experience of women of color, front and center in this issue. William Blake, perhaps, understood something of Abareshi’s message over two centuries ago: “God and his Priest and King . . . make up a heaven of our misery.” Time’s up, indeed.

—Jim Hicks, for the editors


Entries

Table of Contents

Introduction

An artist’s statement, Unto the breach, and The roots of geometry, poems by Bob Hicok

Split Screen, a story by Pete Duval

Sound and Fury: Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire,
an essay by Claire Chambers

In Every Room a Different Journey,
a poem by Ortsion Bartana, translated by Hana Inbar and Robert Manaster

“Come See Us at Kolyma!,”
an essay by Geneviève Piron, translated by Jay Milton

The Expat, a novel excerpt by Mhani Alaoui

If I Don’t Come Back, Don’t Look for Me,
a story by Mirfet Piccolo, translated by Anne Milano Appel

Down with Negroes! . . . And Others, a memoir by Gerald Williams

Barter, a poem by Peggy O’Brien

The Other Woman, a poem by Courtney Queeney

Sixth Year: Iron, a poem by Elizabeth Knapp

The President and the Poet, an essay by Roger Mills

Fiat homo: Redeeming Frost via Nietzsche, an essay by Joel Westerdale

Art by Panteha Abareshi

Some Curious End, a poem by Stacy Gnall

Self-portrait with Asian Carp and Mississippi,
a poem by Clayton Adam Clark

Iguana Iguana, a story by Rebecca Foust

Dreamgirl, a story by Judson Merrill

The Melting Children, a story by Max Berwald

Seedlings in the Bukhara, an essay by Sarah Rose Cadorette

At age 10, I showcase my ability by blowing spit bubbles,
a poem by Andy Sia

Impermeable Material Suit, a poem by Katie Willingham

Therapeutic Recreation, a story by Molly Quinn

Jersey Bruiser, a poem by H. R. Webster

How It’s Done, a story by Dave DeRicco

Boxes, a story by Charles Swift

On the Origin of Poetry and Notes Toward a Future Suicide,
poems by Jonathan Weinert

Dismal Levels, a poem by James Haug

Notes on Contributors

 

Contributors

PANTEHA ABARESHI is an illustrator and artist making pieces that accurately capture the realities of mental illness, specifically depression and anxiety, and represent struggle, confusion, and strength. She lives with Sickle Cell Beta Zero Thalassemia, a genetic disease that causes her chronic pain, and in 2014, the condition led to her hospitalization. Her artwork focuses primarily on Women of Color because it is vitally important to her to depict WOC with mental illness, WOC who are not driven by romantic or sexual desires, and WOC as subjects in contemporary illustration and art. She lives in Phoenix, AZ.

MHANI ALAOUI is a Casablanca-based writer and anthropologist. Her first novel, Dreams of Maryam Tair, received the Independent Publisher Book Award and the Indiefab Award. Her next novel, Aya Dane, is coming out in fall 2018. She is a professor of sociology and anthropology at the Casablanca School of Architecture.

ANNE MILANO APPEL was awarded the Italian Prose in Translation Award, the John Florio Prize for Italian Translation, and the Northern California Book Awards for Translation–Fiction. She has translated works by Claudio Magris, Primo Levi, Giovanni Arpino, Paolo Giordano, Andrea Canobbio, Roberto Saviano, Giuseppe Catozzella, and numerous others, and has worked with a variety of publishers and editors in the US and UK. Translating professionally since 1996, she is a former library administrator, and has a doctorate in Romance Languages.

ORTSION BARTANA was born in Tel Aviv in 1949. He’s a professor who’s taught Hebrew literature at various universities in Israel. He’s been the chairman of the Hebrew Writers’ Association and president of PEN Israel. He has published eleven collections of poetry, five collections of short stories, two novels, four books of criticism, and five books of literary research. His work has been translated into several languages and published in literary magazines and anthologies around the world. He has won the Prime Minister’s Award, Bernstein Award, and Brenner Award.

MAX BERWALD is a Taipei-based writer from San Diego. His fiction has appeared in Potluck, Blackbird, Shanghai Literary Review, Third Point Press, as a part of Tin House’s ongoing flash fiction series, and elsewhere.

SARAH ROSE CADORETTE'S nonfiction has appeared in publications such as Meridian and Cultural Survival Quarterly, and won Second Place in the 2017 Frank McCourt Memoir Prize. She is working on a book of essays about travel, relationships, the compulsions to know and possess, and international development. She also spends her time perusing “Missed Connections” and writing reviews of the best entries.

CLAIRE CHAMBERS is a senior lecturer at the University of York, where she teaches literature from South Asia, the Arab world, and their diasporas. She is the author of British Muslim Fictions and Britain Through Muslim Eyes, and a collection of essays titled Rivers of Ink. She co-edited Imagining Muslims in South Asia and the Diaspora. She is editor (with Rachael Gilmour) of the Journal of Commonwealth Literature and series editor (with Shital Pravinchandra) of the Routledge book series Global Literature: Twenty-First Century Perspectives.

CLAYTON ADAM CLARK lives in Saint Louis, where he works as a public health researcher and volunteers for River Styx magazine. His first poetry collection, A Finitude of Skin, will be published later this year, and his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Washington Square Review, Mid-American Review, Cimarron Review, and elsewhere. He is studying to become a clinical mental health counselor at University of Missouri–St. Louis.

DAVE DeRICCO lives and writes in western Massachusetts.

PETE DUVAL is the author, most recently, of Strange Mercies (Working Titles/Massachusetts Review). His work has won the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Bakeless Prize and the Connecticut Book Award, and he was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award. He lives in Philadelphia.

REBECCA FOUST'S five books of poetry include Paradise Drive. Recognitions include the James Hearst Poetry Prize, the American Literary Review Fiction Prize, the Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Award, fellowships from MacDowell, Sewanee, and The Frost Place, and appointment as poet laureate of Marin County. Foust is the poetry editor of, and writes a weekly column for, Women’s Voices for Change.

STACY GNALL is the author of Heart First into the Forest. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Southern California and is a graduate of the University of Alabama’s MFA program in Creative Writing. Her most recent poems are either published or forthcoming from Colorado Review, Crazyhorse, New American Writing, and Third Coast.

JAMES HAUG'S latest collection, Riverain, has just been published by Oberlin College Press, in its FIELD Poetry Series. His graphic story “Cuba Hill Diary” appeared in the Massachusetts Review.

BOB HICOK began teaching in 2002 and received an MFA from Vermont College in 2004. His first book of poetry, The Legend of Light, received the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry and was named a 1997 ALA Booklist Notable Book of the Year. His other poetry collections include Animal Soul, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; This Clumsy Living, winner of the 2008 Bobbitt Prize from the Library of Congress; and Sex & Love &.

HANA INBAR and her co-translator, Robert Manaster, have published two books of translations: Ronny Someck’s The Milk Underground and Yossel Birstein’s And So Is the Bus: Jerusalem Stories. She is a native Israeli and the daughter of Yossel Birstein, a noted Israeli writer.

ELIZABETH KNAPP is the author of The Spite House, winner of the 2010 De Novo Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in AGNI Online, Barrow Street, Best New Poets, The Journal, Mid-American Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and River Styx, among others. She is currently associate professor of English at Hood College in Frederick, MD, where she lives with her family.

ROBERT MENASTER, along with co-translator Hana Inbar, has published two books of translations: Ronny Someck’s The Milk Underground, which was awarded the Cliff Becker Book Prize in Translation, and Yossel Birstein’s And So Is the Bus: Jerusalem Stories. His poetry has appeared in numerous journals including Image, International Poetry Review, Rosebud, and Spillway, and his reviews have been published in Rattle, Jacket2, and Rain Taxi.

JUDSON MERRILL grew up in Maine, studied literature and writing at Brown University, and received his MFA from Brooklyn College, where he also taught for several years. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in the Iowa Review, Chicago Review, Southampton Review, Unstuck, and others. He has been an Artist-in-Residence at Millay Colony, Ox-Bow, Lighthouse Works, and Guild Hall.

ROGER MILLS graduated from Amherst College in 1964. He served as an usher at the October 1963 Convocation for the Frost Library, where he heard President Kennedy’s speech. His career included a clinical faculty appointment at the University of Massachusetts Medical School from 1975 to 1988. He served as professor of medicine at the University of Florida, and as a staff cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic before joining Janssen Pharmaceuticals in 2005. In addition to numerous medical publications, he is the author of two nonfiction books: Nesiritide: The Rise and Fall of Scios and 240 Beats per Minute: Life with an Unruly Heart, co-authored with Bernard Witholt.

JAY MILTON is a US-based translator who has lived, among other places, in Argentina, France, Italy, and Switzerland. He has never been to Siberia.

PEGGY O'BRIEN is the author of four collections of poems: Sudden Thaw, Frog Spotting, Trusting Ice, and Tongues (forthcoming in 2019 from New Island Books). She is also the editor of the Wake Forest Book of Irish Women’s Poetry and the author of Writing Lough Derg: From William Carleton to Seamus Heaney. She spent half her teaching career at Trinity College, Dublin, and the other half at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

MIRFET PICCOLO graduated from Birkbeck, University of London. There, she completed her first collection of stories, The Last Men on Earth (unpublished in English). After returning to Italy she wrote a second collection (in Italian), Se non torno non mi cercare (If I Don’t Come Back, Don’t Look for Me), earning a commendation at the Premio Italo Calvino XXIV edition. Her stories have been published on Nazione Indiana. Il disordine non va in scena is her first novel.

GENEVIÉVE PIRON directs the Smith College Program in Geneva. She is the author of Gulag, A People called Zek (dir.), Léon Chestov, philosophe du déracinement and L’utopie au quotidien: La vie ordinaire en URSS 1953–1985.

COURTNEY QUEENEY'S first book, Filibuster to Delay a Kiss, was published in 2007. Her work has appeared in American Poetry Review, The Believer, Black Warrior Review, McSweeney’s, the New York Times, and other journals and anthologies. She lives in Chicago.

MOLLY QUINN'S fiction has been published or is forthcoming in the Iowa Review, Kenyon Review Online, Post Road, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. She’s currently working on a collection of short stories set in a psychiatric hospital, which draws on her experience as a registered nurse. She lives in Minneapolis.

ANDY SIA is a Bruneian of Chinese descent. His poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Colorado Review, Meridian, and Missouri Review. He recently earned his BA from Colgate University.

CHARLES SWIFT is a writer and professor who lives with his wife in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. His first novel is The Newman Resident.

H. R. WEBSTER holds an MFA from the Helen Zell Writers’ Program. Her work has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Ninth Letter, Seattle Review, and Ecotone.

JONATHAN WEINERT is the author of In the Mode of Disappearance, winner of the Nightboat Poetry Prize, and Thirteen Small Apostrophes, a chapbook. He is co-editor, with Kevin Prufer, of Until Everything Is Continuous Again: American Poets on the Recent Work of W. S. Merwin. He received a 2012 poetry fellowship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Recent work appears, or will soon appear, in Plume, Pangyrus, Southwest Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Louisville Review, and elsewhere.

JOEL WESTERDALE is chair of German Studies at Smith College. He is author of Nietzsche’s Aphoristic Challenge, a study that questions the mature Nietzsche’s guidelines for reading his own earlier works.

GERALD WILLIAMS is an editor, writer, and translator (French, Dutch, German) living in Manhattan. Essays, short stories, and poems have been published in the Massachusetts Review, Harvard Review, New Letters, Callaloo, Beacon Street Review, the California Quarterly Press, Bieler Press, Coffee House Press, and Michael Coughlin Publications. He was editor at the Olympia Press (Paris, New York, Amsterdam) and Dutch-English translator at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. He has translated four art books for Harry N. Abrams (NY). His chapbook, Blowing Up Hitler—a biographical poem on the first man to try to kill Hitler—is Google accessible. Out of print, copies are still on sale here and in Germany via Amazon. His essay "The Astounding Power of Penmanship" is due out this winter.

KATIE WILLINGHAM is the author of the poetry collection Unlikely Designs. She earned her MFA from the Helen Zell Writers Program, where she was the recipient of a Hopwood Award. Her poems can be found in such venues as Bennington Review, Poem-A-Day, Kenyon Review, West Branch, The Journal, Reservoir Lit, and others. She can be found most of the time in Brooklyn, NY.

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