Image credit: Digital Media Database, www.genome.gov
From Tom Dooley, Managing and Fiction Editor
The artwork for this issue comes courtesy of Genome.gov. It struck me one day while looking at images identified as "in the public domain" that many of these graphics, while no doubt created for some strictly utilitarian purpose, are really quite striking. It was a pleasant surprise, once the issue took shape, to realize how many of the pieces we accepted have a scientific "flavor." As always when matching up images with print, I'm hoping not to be too "on the nose," but I also hope no images are too jarringly "out there" with respect to the prose or verse they accompany. With hopes for the best, I leave it to our authors and readers to decide how well the Genome images work.
As always, we have a jam-packed issue to unpack here, the specifics of which our outstanding cadre of editors will get into below. As they will discuss, our Spotlight Author is former contributor Don Thompson, whose novella Vanitas won him the honor, but whose three poems also featured would have put him in contention, too. Essayist Jalina Mhyana and poet Gary Dop were our runners-up, all three receiving cash prizes and as much glory as we can bestow.
I hesitate to say too much about the fiction section, not wishing to play favorites, and I know Anne will have more to say about it below, but I was struck this issue by two things: first, how long most of these stories are; and second, how so many of them seem to pair up and play off of each other.
I'm not sure what happened with the length. I'll admit I tend to be biased towards shorter stories, if for no other reason than it takes a heck of a lot of zing for a story to keep me and what I imagine to be the average web-surfer committed for double-digit page lengths. Most of these stories run about as long as the fiction one tends to see in print fiction publications, and none had any problems engaging me all the way to their highly satisfying conclusions.
As for the pairing, I don't want to oversell the idea—not every story has something significantly to do with another—but there are some striking ways in which these tales interrelate. I'll mention one pairing as an example: "Jack Strongbow in Love" and "Holiday Love Scarf" by John Givens and Siel Ju, respectively—whose protagonists do an amazing job of making one wonder how any of us ever manage to fall in love, while simultaneously demonstrating how it's possible for anybody to do just that. I invite readers and authors to make other connections and observations about this issue, as brief or as involved as you'd like. Email me your thoughts, and I'll post anything from single sentences to full-up analyses on our blog.
I have happy news regarding one of our former Spotlight Authors, Dolan Morgan, whose "How to Have Sex on Other Planets" appeared in the Oct/Nov 2011 issue. He has a debut book available from Aforementioned Productions. In an interesting marketing move, he says, "You'll notice too that there are numerous ordering options, some of which include 'two live goats' or the complete destruction of hundreds of copies of the book. That is, if you hate the idea of me having a book out, people can pay to have them eliminated from the world. Cathartic! You never know."
Finally, speaking of recognition and success, it's time once again to nominate stories from last year for the storySouth Million Writers Award. Fiction pieces with over 1,000 words from issues v17n1, v17n2, v17n3, and v17n4 are eligible. I urge authors and readers to do everything they can to make sure the MWA judges have a chance to read the great work we've featured in those issues. The deadline is August 1st. If you do nominate one of our stories, I'd love to hear about it.
Happy reading, and have a great summer!
From Gilbert S. Purdy, Review Editor
I am delighted to offer new reviewers and interviewers again. Thanks to Maryann Corbett (author of the poetry volumes Breath Control and Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter) for her review of the winner of this year's Hollis Summers Poetry Prize. We are delighted to have another new name in our pages, Paul Holler. His conversation with David Shumate (author of High Water Mark and The floating bridge: prose poems) introduces us to the thoughts of one of the better known prose poets today. Our thanks, as always, to Ann Skea for her insightful reviews.
I would like, yet again, to invite anyone who might read this to send along reviews of books, art, music, cultural organizations, companies and eventsólocal, 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 continue to expand 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.
From David Ewald, Nonfiction, Travel, and Miscellany Editor
I have quite a lot for you this issue. Last issue's spotlight author, Jascha Kessler, returns with a brief but pointed piece concerning the state of teaching in the humanities, as he remembers it even then ("Ein Blick Ins Chaos"). Former contributor Kevin Brown gives an amusing explanation as to why he prefers to remain disconnected in our very connected age ("Trapped in Our Cells), and newcomer Melissa Tombro recounts an adolescent experience unusual and striking for most teenagers ("The Antique Market"). Rounding out the nonfiction section is Peter Bridges, whose "My Family on the Waters" is held together thematically by, as one might expect, bodies of water; and the long-deceased father-son duo of Oliver and Henry Holt. I first encountered the Holts' Civil War "Correspondence" as an undergraduate at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and it's my pleasure to bring you the series of letters I had a hand in editing back then.
For Travel, Edward Irons ("Down Pansodan") and Piers Michael Smith ("Skin Games") take us to Myanmar and Lebanon, respectively, and prove that there's more to travel writing than the description of a place and its people. In "Life in the Infertility Belt," Michelle Shappell Harris combines research and personal narrative to tell a compelling tale of her time in Africa trying to "catch a pregnancy."
Finally, I'd like to bring special attention to the work showcased in this issue's Miscellany section. Spotlight Author runner-up Jalina Mhyana ("Ambidextrous Poesie") and former film critic Andrew Schenker (What Was Life Like on Planet Earth?: An Assemblage") surprise—even startle—and delight, and I encourage more work of this kind and quality from potential contributors.
From Jennifer Finstrom, Poetry Editor
Welcome to the summer issue, the third of volume eighteen! As always, I'm pleased and excited to bring some great work to your attention. Whenever I'm putting the poetry section of Eclectica together, I find myself looking for connections between poems, and they always seem to be there. Often, these connections are thematic or topical; sometimes an image seems to appear in poem after poem. In the case of this issue, it's a little more than that. For the first time, two poems with the same title have been selected. I find this fascinating, and the two poems, both called "Memorial Day," are actually the first and the last of the poetry section, providing bookends for the work within. The first "Memorial Day" is by Mark Magoon, a poet new to Eclectica. I had a difficult time deciding which poem would begin the section and which would end it, and in the end, I made my choice due to the last lines. Magoon's poem leaves us with "Time, on any visit, is beaten down to death. / That's why the bodies are buried at hilltop. / Things always come up." I liked how the image of things always coming up led into the poetry section, for things always do come up in poems, often when we least expect them to. The second poem of this title is by Robert Okaji, also new to Eclectica. The final line of this poem, "I found nothing to hold but the darkness," entered into conversation with the final lines of the other "Memorial Day" in an interesting way. Just as things are always coming up in poems, the darkness that we are sometimes left holding is often extensively peopled and not necessarily the darkness of nothing—we are always left holding something when it comes to poetry. Keep these two poems in mind as you read through the others, and also note that, as we move into the holiday weekend, there are two Fourth of July poems here as well: Magoon's "From the Fire" and Spotlight Runner-up Gary Dop's "Starting at Noon on the Fourth of July."
And that makes a nice segue to talk a bit about this issue's spotlight work. Gary Dop's three poems are quite brief—none of them reaching 20 lines—but each vividly encapsulates a memory. The images in these poems are what remain with me after reading them: in "Iowa Summer," it is the "chips and / cherry cola from the corner sundry / and that Styrofoam airplane" that stay with me. In "Starting at Noon on the Fourth of July," I clearly remember the neighbor "who speaks only to his garden, which / grows raspberries, corn, and wild grudges." And in the final poem, the shortest, "Father Drives Off in the Buick," I think that many readers would retain an image of "the crystal bowl / of jelly beans" that "swim like rainbow minnows around / his hand." Please check out and appreciate these lovely, vivid poems as you peruse the summer issue! The other Spotlight Authors' work shouldn't be missed either—look for Spotlight winner Don Thompson's novella and three poems (my favorite bit from the poems is from "Wait": in speaking of a stone, we are instructed to "pick it up and hold it / gently, as if it were a heart, / and then toss it as far as possible") and a fascinating work of miscellany from from Jalina Myhana called "Ambidextrous Poesie: Ekphrasis in the Venetian Renaissance." I hope that you will all enjoy these wonderful and varied works!
Before I close, I'd like to extend some congratulations and tell you about an exciting accomplishment of past contributor Mihir Vatsa. Vatsa's poetry collection, Painting that Red Circle White (Authors Press 2014) is one that I can't wait to read. When I asked him about this collection of 37 poems, Vatsa told me that "[i]t takes the title from the Konar poem [Vol. 17, No. 4] at Eclectica." The book is "divided into 4 parts. Elephants, Konar, and Going to the Rain [poems appearing in Eclectica] are in it as well. There's a personal narrative for preface about my relationship with the English language." I hope that you will check out Vatsa's collection—I just love his work. And I also hope other past contributors won't be shy in sharing good news—we're always glad to hear about the wonderful things that you're doing!
Happy summer reading to all!
From Anne Leigh Parrish, Fiction Editor
Our fiction line-up this summer focuses on love and connection, those fundamental human needs, and where so much of our earthly effort is made. Here you'll find strong bonds, loose ties, odd coincidences, uncanny circumstances. Courage in the face of adversity, shades of madness, and grim acceptance run through these marvelous stories and do what art must—let us recognize ourselves and our own hearts.
The narrator of Jim Gish's "Alice, how can I tell you?" sees, yet doesn't see the unhappiness under his own roof, and through his sometimes narrowed view we get a full picture of people struggling to hang on. A break-up ritual is replayed between a man and a woman in "Monsters Aren't Polite" by Ali Al Saeed, with a new, unexpected, and potentially divesting twist. Longing and loss are beautifully highlighted in the lives of a father and son in "At The End Of The World" by Reid Douglass. Joanell Serra explores the nature of suspicion when her protagonist asks how well he really knows someone in "Poppy's Got Priors." In "Inadequate Vessels" by Jeff Ewing, a man loses his passion for his work, a woman he cares for, and finds himself responsible for grave harm. Loneliness is brought to the level of science in the fascinating piece, "Philosophy of Simplicity," by G.D. Hazelwood. Loneliness, to the point of becoming unhinged, is also presented hauntingly by Anne Fox in "The Nature of Things." Fans of crime stories will enjoy the odd coincidences that bring members of a small town together in "A Very Complicated and Massive Suburban Drug Operation" by Alex Norica. If your taste runs to fantasy or fairly tales, you'll really like the canny heroism of Mary Thaler's protagonist in "The Island Lovers." The title character of "Jack Strongbow in Love" by John Givens finds himself out of his depth and disarmed by a strange woman with a host of self-esteem issues. Single life may have its charms, yet we're always really looking for "the one," that unique person who makes us whole, according to Siel Ju in the elegant, spirited piece, "Holiday Love Scarf."
These stories remind us that we're never really alone, even when our relationship to one another is tenuous and difficult. Maybe the takeaway here is that we're always connected with someone or something, even as we're tempted, and sometimes do, let go.