Photograph by Rus Bowden
From Tom Dooley, Managing and Fiction Editor
In January, I promised to provide some context for the creation of each issue here in my editor note. It's April now, a few days away from my 45th birthday. In the interim between when I last composed one of these notes and now, I've had a few months to acclimate to a new job, one that has in some ways put me at or near the bottom of a new career ladder. These months have been hectic and stressful, with plenty of moments when I wondered why I hadn't just stayed where I was, where I had proven myself reasonably competent and had achieved a modicum of success.
The reason I decided to try something new, besides the vague hope of greater financial returns in some distant future, was that I found myself on the verge of... boredom? I'm loathe to use the word, it being an indictment in my mind of the person claiming to be experiencing it more than said person's situation—and the truth is, I wasn't bored in the true sense of the word, but I did have a nagging feeling I was getting too comfortable. Sometimes "comfort" is wonderful, but there's also something to be said for discomfort, too. Sometimes it's small and stupid stuff, like not knowing how to operate the copy machine. Sometimes it's really uncomfortable stuff, like having to forge new relationships with people and maybe not doing such a great job of it. These discomforts, great and small, provide opportunities for growth, but they also have a way of adding texture to one's days. Even the longest lived of us don't get much time to hang out on this planet, geologically speaking, and I prefer not to have too many of my days drift on by in comfortable mediocrity.
That said, I'm looking forward to a day when things return to a little more of an even keel. I'll look back on this issue and remember challenges faced (and perhaps not successfully met?) on multiple fronts. Each day, I'm struggling to be a good father, husband, landlord, employee, and on the margins of everything else, editor. Which brings me to the matter at hand. Our Spring, April/May 2015 issue, which features photography by Rus Bowden. The images you'll see throughout are actually a kind of thumbnail version. The original, full-sized photos may be seen on Rus's National Geographic page. I found, when selecting these images, that the abridged versions were compelling in their uniformity, brevity, and the mystery of what their square croppings withhold from the viewer. Believe me, a lot has been cropped, and I urge you to check out the actual photos (along with their illuninating titles) to get the full sense of Rus's vision.
Our Spotlight Author V.K. Reiter emerged from a closely fought dogfight with her fellow nominees for that honor. All three authors have contributed great work to us in the past, and I'm pleased to be able to give them the extra recognition they deserve. Ms Reiter's memoir shows us how learning to do something completely outside her comfort zone helped her to recover from a nearly fatal illness, and while there is never a shortage of cancer stories (Lorrie Moore's "People Like That Are the Only People Here" comes to mind), I found this one compelling and unique.
Speaking of things for which there is no shortage, Spotlight Runner-Up Rudy Koshar's "Saving Hermann Hesse" provides yet another glimpse of the awful episode in history spawned by Nazi fascism. Here again, the territory is familiar (The Book Thief probably being the most recent and similar narrative), but Rudy's take is different enough to be fresh, and the glimpse of pre and post WWII Germany is vivid and moving.
Marjorie Mir, our other Spotlight Runner-Up, writes about, among other things, Odysseus and William Blake—jumping off points for poets not unlike cancer for memoirists or the Hollocaust for fictioneers—and she, too, manages to breath life and originality into the proceedings. To borrow some language from her "Beams," these constructs are "whatever permanence/can be hewn, contrived," while the magic she and her fellow authors bring to them are the light that "surrounds,/fills fissures, flaws,/moves eaily, familiarly/from room to room."
That's probably enough waxing poetic for me. I'd rather you spent your time reading the source material. However, before I sign off, I want to pass on some happy news from two of our former contributors. First, Finishing Line Press is publishing Cat Dixon's Our End Has Brought the Spring, about which Laura Madeline Wiseman blurbed, "These are fierce poems, bristling with seduction, feminine power, and want." Second, "Yehudit," a story by Paula McGrath published in Eclectica in 2013, has become part of a novel, Generation, coming out this summer from John Murray Publishing.
Wishing you a happy summer!
From Gilbert Wesley Purdy, Review Editor
Thanks, as always, to Ann Skea for her many fine reviews, and welcome to Greta Bolger. I am pleased to mention that the review section offers reviews of eBooks for the first time this issue. I intend to do a collection of short eBook reviews each issue along with some insight and commentary about aspects of the electronic publishing world.
I would like, yet again, to invite anyone who might read this to send along reviews of books, art, music, cultural organizations, companies and events—local, regional, national, and international—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 Jennifer Finstrom, Poetry Editor
Happy National Poetry Month to all! This is one of my favorite times of year, and there are so many ways to celebrate and bring a bit more poetry into your life. And of course, I think that reading Eclectica's poetry section is a great place to start! While I am reading poetry year round, I like to focus on the work of poets that I know during National Poetry Month, and one of the books that I was enjoying earlier in April is Chameleon Moon by Antonia Clark. Clark is a regular contributor to Eclectica, and you can read a review of Chameleon Moon in the reviews section. Please check out the review and the book—both are fantastic!
As is typically the case, our regular poetry section and the Word Poem Special Feature showcase both new and returning voices. I think that the Word Poem always provides such a great opportunity to write something unexpected. I know that when I am working with the four words, the end result is often a poem I didn't know was there. Sarah McPherson is a new voice in the Word Poem section, and her "Hindsight is Heinz 57" had that quality of the unexpected: the poem takes place in a Wendy's and a swimming pool, and McPherson writes, "And maybe this isn't a poem about the / smoke but about non-smoking laws ruining / chicken sandwiches everywhere or / maybe even a poem about sunlight." I never know what any of the poems I read will reveal, and they become so much a part of what is constantly with me when I'm putting together an issue's poetry section.
This issue's Spotlight Runner-up, Marjorie Mir, is a previous contributor to Eclectica, and my main take-away from Mir's three poems has to do with where we stand when we are looking at something rather than just what we are seeing. One of these pieces is an ekphrastic poem, and in "Sunlight and Shadow, 1884, William Merrit Chase," Mir leads the reader through the painting and takes us to what was happening before the action was stilled: "Before she left her chair to rest, / they drank, ate bread, / spooned honey from a patterned jar." And she goes on to give us the scents in the air as well, further expanding the painting's world by telling us how "The air smells of his smoke, / coffee, honey, trees' leaves and bark." We learn more about the inhabitants of Chase's painting as well here, and this discovery and sense of endless possibilities is one of the elements I like best about ekphrastic poems. Another of Mir's pieces takes us into The Odyssey, and she writes about the poem that "[i]t interested me to bring forward as narrator a character who is alluded to but doesn't appear in Homer's epic." The character Mir is bringing up here is someone who sees Odysseus as an old man—Mir's poem tells the story much better than I can, so please take a look!
(As an aside, for other ekphrastic work in this issue, see Kenneth Pobo's two poems.)
Again, happy National Poetry Month, and I hope you enjoy the issue!
From Anne Leigh Parrish, Fiction Editor
I've been wrestling once again with what makes fiction great. This is a personal issue, since I've embarked on another novel and am fighting pretty strong headwinds. Is the prose what grabs us? The plot? A charming, quirky, often unpredictable character we can't help falling in love with? Each of these in an element, one thread, which writers must work and work well. Ultimately, though, it's how the words make us feel that matters most. And we don't have to feel uplifted, necessarily. It's okay if we're a little upset, downcast, or even temporarily desperate. As long as we're moved in some substantial way, that's what matters.
Leah Erickson's "Heartbreak Lake" isn't just moving. It's beautiful, haunting, delicate, and supremely well-nuanced as it blurs the line between reality and fantasy. The protagonist of "Falling Woman" by Elizabeth Hogan, on the other hand, stays firmly in the world of harsh facts, seeking safety and sanctuary, and manages to find both. Two pieces of flash fiction, "Angels" and "The Cruel Month" by Alex Keegan, give us the anguish of loss and disaster in words so powerful they border on exquisite. Linda Griffin's novella, "Starbucks" introduces us to a man finding a part of his family he knew nothing about only to discover that the one person he left behind is the one who matters most. "My Bad" by Robert Marshall gives us, in a few well chosen words, the jaded life of a close friend listening to yet another break-up story in a way that feels intimate, as if we're sitting at the table with them. The protagonist of Veena Muthuraman's "A Festive Suicide, Attempted," has ruined the lives of his family, yet receives genuine attention and caring when it's thought he's taken his own life. Humor takes center stage again in "Finding The Foot" by Warren Buchanan, as the narrator learns a valuable lesson in how to move on from heartbreak. Next we visit an insidious world of religious fanaticism and the dangers therein with Chikodili Emelumadu's "Light and Light." The terror of being a child in the hands of a dangerous, unstable parent is fantastically portrayed in Jason Lee Helm's evocative piece, "Goodbye, Kate Shelly." Parents and children are explored from a different angle in the stunningly subtle and sad "The Inside, The Out" by Heather Steinmann. Our Spotlight Runner-Up's story is a piece of history so well rendered, it's like entering a time machine and standing in the crowd watching one more Nazi atrocity in Rudy Koshar's thoughtful and unsettling "Saving Herman Hesse."
Fiction that moves you, and makes you feel any one of a number of powerful emotions: that's what it's all about. And what we have for you once again in the pages of Eclectica's Spring edition.