Image courtesy of the British Library Photostream
From Tom Dooley, Managing and Fiction Editor
For many years I've subscribed to the theory that necessity isn't just the mother of invention, it's the impetus of the best kind of creativity. It may be possible to craft a decent story in a writers workshop or a poem while at a retreat, but probably only if the author arrives at said event with some item in her suitcase in need of unpacking. When it comes down to it, an artist requires a bridge between medium and inspiration, and that bridge is purpose. People who aspire to be writers look for something to inspire them. I would posit that people who are writers are inspired by the tasks they are driven to complete. Sometimes the task can be simple, bordering on mundane, so long as it requires something to be done. Many a nifty verse has come out of writing prompts and the kind of exercises to which our Word Poem section is akin. The Word Poem section provides an assignment, and as such it often kicks loose a poem the author would not otherwise have created.
Another belief I buy into is that written artistic expression is not so different, fundamentally, from the other obvious choices of song and dance, acting, painting and sculpture, but also cooking, landscaping, bricklaying. When we apply discipline and effort to creating something that did not exist prior, and we do so in order to fulfill some need—literally, and literarily, to fill a void—we are engaged in the same basic pursuit, whether the end result is a symphony or highway overpass.
I don't know how it is for everyone, but speaking for myself, and perhaps for many of you reading this (an elite group if there ever was one, to be so voracious a consumer of literature you are even seeking it out here on the quiet backstreets of the Internet!), said act of creation, and more importantly the invention of those necessities, in turn lends purpose to my life as a whole.
"Re-purposing" is a term often used on Food Network shows, and while it's a bit of of a two-dollar word, it does describe my favorite way to approach creation. Perhaps my proudest creative achievement is the dining table I built from dead trees salvaged from an abandoned housing subdivision here in Albuquerque. Those trees had served their original purpose and were on their way to a much less utile post-existence before they became the centerpiece of the King-Dooley family's daily life, where we eat our meals, play our boardgames, have our family talks...
Similarly, this issue is adorned with artwork salvaged from thousands of out-of-copyright books digitized by the British Library, available in open domain on their Photostream. The images have now been re-purposed, and another issue pieced and massaged into being, and ultimately, a variety of voids filled in a variety of ways. I'm grateful to the authors whose own re-purposings populated this issue, and to the co-editors who each brought their creativity to bear in making this necessity a reality, and to you, the readers, who just now are completing the circuit.
From David Ewald, Nonfiction and Travel Editor
Why read literature?
It's a question I've asked my students more than once. What purpose does reading, say, Shakespeare, serve in the second decade of the 21st century?
Jascha Kessler answers these questions and others in "...Leave Not a Rack Behind." Paired well with "A Belated Postscript to Some Obits for C. Page Smith," "Rack" ranges and ruminates deeply on questions of mortality and how art connects strongly to life—and, in this case, death. I'm not sorry these two pieces were snatched from the Nonfiction section and given the Spotlight: they—and their author—deserve it. I've been editing Jascha's work for nearly two years now; it's been an honor to do so. In that time I've encountered great writing. I'm pleased to say the best yet is here.
Not to take away from the other pieces, of course. In Nonfiction Jay Hansford C. Vest muses over the plight of tourists and encounters a protective spirit ("Into a Looking Glass Darkly: The Story of Red Blanket's Medicine"), while the late Sol W. Metzger delivers a lengthy but enthralling memoir of his time in Nazi Germany toward the end of the war ("The U.S. Military Government of Germany: A Personal Recollection"). The Travel section contains two stellar pieces—"Sweet Potatoes and Sugary Tea for Breakfast" and "Take the Train"—by Matt Savage and Ann Starr respectively. In the former the author journeys to an infrequently visited island in the Arabian Sea, whereas the author of the latter sticks to the Untied States interior yet still succeeds in portraying an experience foreign to so many.
From Jennifer Finstrom, Poetry Editor
Welcome to the spring issue, everyone! Depending on where you live, it might not feel like spring. Here in Chicago, spring finally seems to be getting close (and I hesitate to say that for fear that I'll jinx us). I'm starting to see signs of budding trees and even a few green shoots poking up from the ground, and that's certainly encouraging.
Reading the work for this issue has also helped to brighten up some of the gray days that we've been having here. I'd like to look first at Spotlight Author runner-up Ruth D. Handel's four poems. There were two things that I noticed initially about this group of poems. One was Handel's use of intertextuality in referencing other poets and other works, and the other was how deeply patient her voice is when it comes to leading the reader through what was happening or being described. To say a bit more about intertextuality, Handel's references to Wordsworth (in the epigraph and within the poem in "Confessions That in Certain Instances Leaping Up Describes My Heart"), Rilke (in the title and within the poem in "On a Line of Rilke"), and Frost (in the final lines of "No Border Is Perennial") reinforces something that I have long liked to think about regarding poetry, and that is the idea that it can be seen as one long ongoing conversation across time—and that time, in fact, because of this, becomes less of a bridge to cross. There may be additional references in these poems that I've missed, of course, and that is another reason I love to think about intertextuality. Even if an allusion or reference is missed, the work can still be enjoyed. However, recognizing a line or a name leads to even greater delight on the part of the reader.
I consistently like to say something about the Word Poem special feature in my note, and this issue is no exception. In an email from Antonia Clark (see "How I've Known You" and "Habitude" in the Word Poem section), she writes about her experience with this special feature:
I often start with an existing poem draft—perhaps something that's not quite working. Finding ways to use the given words always takes the poem in a new and unexpected direction. And the poem always seems the better for it.
I was so pleased that Clark thought to mention this to me in her email, especially as I have heard other Word Poem contributors express that same idea in the past and have often found it to be the case myself. Another work that I would like to mention in the context of Word Poems is Elizabeth Kerper's "Elegy for Keith," which appears in the regular poetry section. If you look closely at Kerper's lovely poem, however, you'll see the four words from last issue's special feature (middle, never, coerce, and skull). What I particularly want to leave you with here is that if you, too, have tried a Word Poem in the past but didn't get it quite where you wanted by the deadline, by all means think about sending it! I would still love to consider it and see what our four pre-chosen words have helped you to create.
Here is one final note regarding our Spotlight Author and runners-up. In addition to reading Handel's beautiful poems, please do check out the work of Jascha Kessler, this issue's Spotlight Author. His piece, "...Leave Not a Rack Behind," in the nonfiction section, provides a close and attentive look at both age and great works—and where they intersect. Our second Spotlight runner-up is Reed Fauver, whose piece "Saying Goodbye to the Dentist" can be found in the fiction section. This story takes place within a letter ("Letter #8," the first page tells us)—epistolary stories are one of my favorite things, and this one in particular is well worth the read! Enjoy the issue, all!
From Anne Leigh Parrish, Fiction Editor
What does spring mean to you? That depends, I suppose, on where you live. Here in the Pacific Northwest, spring means flowers and a whole lot of rain. In western North Carolina, Asheville, to be specific, where I recently visited, spring means warmth one day and snow flurries the next. One thing holds true no matter what part of the planet you call home: spring means starting over, looking ahead to milder days, and a most welcome change.
Change is the focus of Indira Chandrasekhar's story, "Polymorphism," not necessarily change for the better, but as something to be managed, restrained, perhaps surrendered to. "The Water Will Be There," by Benjamin Soileau, gives us a young narrator whose strange encounter with an uninvited visitor brings into question what he assumed was true about his own past. A young, ambitious musician goes through countless changes as her career moves forward, culminating in the ultimate transformation that defines every life in Kathryn Buckley's "Everyone Loves You." Then we move to a world that has yet to take place, where the chances for any unexpected change or outcome is skillfully minimized in "You Have Now Eaten Thirty-Four Spiders" by Sean Gill. Sudden, tragic change, and slower, unhappy progressions, come together beautifully in Nancy Stone's "Angeline," where boundaries blur between life and death, past and present, illness and health. In prose that's stark but never barren, Mathew Allen shows us a man moving on and trying to make a new life for himself after an unwelcome change of heart makes both necessary in "Yearlings." We close with Reed Fauver's "Saying Good-bye To The Dentist" and the story told in a letter the narrator writes to someone he hasn't seen for years about an event that happened even longer ago.
Change, transform, evolve, progress—all these words underscore that no matter how much we may wish it, life cannot stand still, and neither can we. The stories in this issue of Eclectica remind us that as we move through time, we have moments of understanding that might, given an open spirit, bring both revelation and enlightenment.
From Gilbert Wesley Purdy, Review Editor
I am delighted to offer a multi-title review and brief memoir from Phillip Larrimore. He does particularly fine work, and I thank him for agreeing to publish in the Review Section from time to time. Our thanks, as always, to Ann Skea for her insightful reviews. I would like to invite anyone who might read this to send along reviews of books, art, music, cultural organizations, companies and events—local, regional, and national—and cultural crit pieces on the same. Feel free to do so as a one-off or more or less regularly as works for you. I look forward to expanding the Review/Interview Section, during the months ahead, to include a wide range of lively, insightful (even quirky) cultural crit. I hope you will stop by to read and/or submit.