Apr/May 2024

From the Editors

Photographic artwork by Kris Saknussemm

Photographic artwork by Kris Saknussemm

From Tom Dooley, Managing/Fiction

Eclectica heads into the summer of 2024 with a full head of steam, content-wise. As excited as I am about the work contained in this issue, though, I want to acknowledge bigger, more important things going on in the world than the publishing of a no-budget online literary magazine's 115th edition. Our hearts go out to the multitudes living with the hardships of war in Sudan, Ukraine, Yemen, Chad, Myanmar, Ecuador, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and of course, Gaza and Israel. Likewise the many refugees and forced migrants across the globe, many of whom have found their way to the US or are trying desperately to get to other places of relative safety and opportunity. The world, and especially the world of humanity, has never been a benign place for the majority of humans. What sets 2024 apart, if anything, is humanity's ever increasing ability to see and understand what our fellow travelers are experiencing—if we so choose.

A big part of seeing and understanding others has always been literature, and for the past three decades, the Internet. With all due humility, Eclectica has strived for almost all of those three decades to be at the intersection of literature and the Internet, and to be as inclusive of the world (wide web) as we can be. Here then is our latest attempt to be just that.

I also want to acknowledge Evan Martin Richards, our Poetry editor for five-plus years, who is stepping down after this issue. He's taking a new day job in the coming months, and his already full schedule is going to be even more full. As a result, another Eclectica jersey will be retired. Thanks, Evan, for all done for us—without pay or a parking spot! I wish you the best with all your future endeavors.

For those keeping track, after recent attrition, the Eclectica staff is now down to Marko Fong and myself. Marko was a big help in putting together the Fiction section—it's nice to have a second set of eyes and opinions—and he continues to put in work on all things prose: nonfiction, travel, miscellany, and reviews. If anyone is interested, though, we'd love to get more people involved. Joining us will get you minimal fame, no fortune, and as mentioned, no parking spot, but it's a community, and it's worthwhile work. If you'd like to help out in any capacity (poetry, reviews, travel, etc.), email me at tom@eclectica.org.

The art for this issue is provided by Kris Saknussem, whose photography has been featured in Eclectica before and is just the tip of his artistic iceberg. I limited my selections this go round to pieces generally showing the beauty of decay and corrosion. Insert metaphors as you will. To experience more of Kris's milieu, I recommend checking out his Lost Xplorers podcast and his Youtube channel (see his bio for more details).

The Fiction section happens to have twice as many entries as last issue, and I'm pretty excited about all of them. Mark Williams' "Stuckey" got my nomination for Spotlight Author. Like its protagonist, the story is unassuming but—perhaps especially in retrospect—worthy of respect. I certainly didn't expect to be as moved by the ending as I was. I also appreciated that the story is technically science fiction, but it's about as subtle an example as you're likely to ever find.

There are plenty of surprises in the rest of the Fiction section, including two stories more squarely in the "speculative" camp: "Drives That Are Not Towards Health" by Rachel Hinton and Lauren Mirzakhalili's "The Last Blue-Tailed Skink." Whether you choose to read the "aquatic" babies of "Drives" as metaphorical or literal will determine a lot about how you experience the story, but I think it works either way. Meanwhile, turns out a skink, indeed a blue-tailed one, is a real thing. I wondered at first if it was akin to a snipe, but at least on that level the story can be taken on face value.

While this issue in general features many authors new to our pages—and I'm grateful they're all joining our "extended family"—I'd like to give a special shout out to Jessy Randall, who first appeared in Eclectica just over 24 years ago, and who, with her story "My Mother and Your Mother" now joins an exclusive club of folks who have been featured in all three of our major sections: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Not to mention, this is her seventh appearance overall. Congrats, Jessy, and thanks!

The other four stories combine to deliver what I've come to love about Eclectica fiction, which is a wide variety of perspectives and narrative styles. While it's never my intention to find stories that interrelate in some way—as much as I love This American Life, I'm not trying to emulate their thematic approach—after the fact it's often interesting to think about how the Fiction section reads as a whole.

(Marko pursues a similar line of thinking in his note below, thinking about how people might try pairing some of our selections.)

"Jae Kim's Korean Market" is a multi-character study by AJ Francia, the three protagonists brought together by the place where they make a living as much as they each build a life. At the heart of the story is a stroke of good fortune the first protagonist, Hong, elects to keep hidden and mostly unexploited. The narrator of "Kitchenless Houses" by Bryan D. Price has no such community of place nor stroke of good fortune, but rather the opposite of both, leaving him isolated and adrift—not too unlike Yura Riphyak's titular rat and the character who makes eye contact with (and relates to) him at the end of "The Rat." Adam Mieczyński's "Irregular" reads like a memoir as much as it does a piece of fiction. It's certainly rich and lived enough to be "real," and his narrator could have wound up not fitting in anywhere as the title of that story might suggest, but for the influence and hidden "notes" of his grandmother.

Together, the eight pieces of fiction in this issue provide a richly varied picture of human existence, some stories hitting a more hopeful note, some less so.

Speaking of memoir, not to be outdone, there's more prose in this issue than the last as well, and I just want to mention one of the pieces in Nonfiction here: Paul Ongooguk's "The thing about aging: a flash memoir." I didn't know if there actually were such a thing as flash memoir when I first saw Paul's post on FaceBook, but I knew if there were, this would be a great example. Turns out, flash memoir is a thing, and I'm certain Paul's piece is a great example.

As his bio mentions, I had the good fortune of being a student of Paul's when I was in a graduate-level teaching certification program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Paul had several gifts, one being he embodied the thoughtful, charismatic educator who made you want to absorb what he had to offer. Another was his facility with metaphor. It's no surprise he was able to capture an entire life in a few simple sentences and analogies. Taken out context and on their own, these sentences and analogies might not knock anyone's socks off, but in context and in concert, I think they combine to become the metaphorical equivalent of un mot juste. Somehow, in two paragraphs, we have a memoir, and a moving one at that.

There's a lot of surprises and delights besides the ones just mentioned. I urge whoever is reading this to take the opportunity to discover and enjoy them.


From Evan Martin Richards, Poetry

This spring issue features the poetry of Jeff Hartnett, Robert Pfeiffer, Ankush Banerjee, and spotlight runner-up Clay Cantrell. In "view from the valley floor," Hartnett delivers an ode to the land and a tale of displacement. Pfeiffer, too, renders a sort of displacement with a reflection on the social connections of past technology. Banerjee investigates grief, memory, and masculinity in "(3+1) Men Versus Grand Narrative." Closing the section, Cantrell's "Limping Home" enmeshes the American pastoral and the contemporary existential, touching on death, addiction, destruction, and nature over four parts.

In the word poetry section—poems all required to contain the words "ever," "rise," "run," and "green"—we have a strong showing from Oreste Belletto, A. J. Bermudez, Joyce Brinkman, Elizabeth Bouquet, Diane Raptosh, Alyssa Troy, and Meghan Kemp-Gee. I encourage you to read through to see where the prompted words took these poets, and if you'd like to try out the challenge for next issue, the words will be "albeit," "machine," "castigate," and "busty."

As you have read, this will be my last issue as Poetry Editor. I took over the role at the start of 2019, a time that now feels very far away. I edited my first issue, Vol. 23 No. 1, with my predecessor and friend, Jennifer Finstrom. In that issue, Jennifer contributed a word poem titled "I Confide in the Snow Queen about My Divorce." I'd like to borrow (and greatly misuse) a line from that piece: "I am knitting something with these poems." Knitting seems to me an apt metaphor for the editor's work of reading, admiring, arranging, and shaping. I could never have imagined the journey, poetry and otherwise, that has unfolded over the last five years. I'm grateful for and humbled by all I've experienced within and between the pages of Eclectica.

I want to extend my thanks to Tom for giving me the opportunity to contribute to such a unique and wonderful journal, and to Marko Fong, Stuart Ross, David Ewald, Gilbert Purdy, and Jen for serving as co-editors with me. More than anyone, I'd like to thank the readers and contributors that are the lifeblood of Eclectica and have kept the journal running for near three decades. I wish all the best of luck, and I look forward to reading the next issue!


From Marko Fong, Nonfiction

As someone who's spent years sending my own writing out, I've often tried to ferret out the reasons different submissions get taken. I've now spent some time on the other side. Obviously the quality of the writing (highly subjective) and choice of subject remain major factors. Maybe less obvious on the submitting side, how different submissions fit together plays a significant role for me when I discuss what take for the next Eclectica issue with Tom. Personally, I, as the chooser, often think about the ways different pieces in an issue can speak to one another.

I have to confess, however, that I suspect hardly anyone reads online content like that. Much of the time, it's the authors and the authors' friends reading their own piece and quite possibly not much else. I confess again: I suspect this because I've sometimes been guilty of doing the same. That said, I'd like to play lexical sommelier this time and suggest some pairings in this issue.

Sohana Manzoor's "Trailing the Red Fox" examines a childhood memory from Bangladesh and its implications about the natural world, predators and prey, the wild vs. the domesticated, and the human role in all of it. It's a thoughtful, gentle portrait of a South Asia most Americans don't know. D.M. Spatchek's "Idiots in India" is told from the point of view of American tourists in South Asia, and it offers a purposely politically incorrect take on the shock of confronting mass poverty. At times, it's profane, disarmingly honest, funny, yet somehow moving in the end. In a way, a perfect counterpoint for the story of the red fox.

For some time, there's been a lot of talk about abortion with less and less reflection about what trying to carry a child to term can be like for a woman. Melissa Matury's "Barren" is an unexpectedly funny take on hysterectomy and a woman who wants to keep her child-bearing parts after removal. Over in fiction (yes, fiction), Rachel Hinton's "Drives That Are Not Toward Health" took me a few reads, but I ultimately took it to be a more painful exploration of a miscarriage mixed in with a meditation on the matter of just when the fetus crosses over from being more like a "guppy" to "mammal" to "infant."

Eric Rasmussen's "Dance Floor Rapture" plays out like a latter day I Love Lucy episode where a wedding reception descends into chaos. David Guaspari goes to Lucille Ball's hometown Jamestown, New York, to visit the National Comedy Center while arguing that comedy (sitcom and standup at least), like jazz and rock and roll, might have a claim to being a distinctly American art form.

Bruce Holbert's "Horse with No Name" is a memoir about a lifelong friendship between two writers of distinctly different temperaments. The writer's own horrific firsthand experience with death when both were teenagers plays against the friend's death much later in life. When reading it, it occurred to me that lifelong friendship is arguably one of the most profound sorts of "home" any of us can enjoy. Said Ibrahim's "From Baledewyne to Dadaab" explores the refugee experience. At 21, he's a Somali refugee who's spent most of his life in a Kenyan refugee camp, an astoundingly large one that's more permanent than transitional for many of its inhabitants. In his very direct description of his life, Said makes it clear he's still searching for a sense of "home" around which he can build a future. At a time when so much is being made of the dangers of immigrants to America, Said tells a different sort of story, a young man who's simply looking for a way to go to college so he can find his own home in the world. Finally, Paul Ongtooguk takes an even more unusual approach by looking at the inevitable presence of death as a kind of "home."

Whether you choose to read all of these pieces, just one of them, or a pairing or two, I hope you'll enjoy.