4 November 2022
One deep pleasure for me this fall has been the full return of in-person readings. My first words here expressed my central belief that “a print periodical is capable of cultivating communities in ways no other medium can.” The years since, spent working for the Review, have not so much confirmed this as sharpened the landscape for this ongoing inquiry about literary community, enabling me to think about its particularities with more intention and at greater length. What happens when GR readers congregate, or bump into each other, at a reading, a bookfair, a writer’s conference, or class? What happens when one who decides to subscribe at an event reads along issue after issue? What about the literary periodical sets it apart from the communities built by readers of novels, fans of tv shows, and newspaper subscribers?
Within this deep pleasure is the richest of them all: to see our interns at these events. Our internship program is part of the university experiential learning program. It is a year-long course for third- and fourth-year undergraduates that provides them a robust pre-professional experience, walking them through every department in our office. When I have had the opportunity to talk to them, I frame the program as “getting to know literature in the flesh.” I start by asserting literature’s superlative capacity for otherworldly pleasure, given that its aesthetic experience is more mediated from the senses than any other art is, if not completely so. This, I feel, makes the production of literature much murkier, much more remote from the layperson’s imagination than, say, what the uninitiated has in mind going into her first art studio visit, or stepping onto a film set for the first time. But literature too is art made out of matter of the phenomenal world, in a way, and out of myriad points of contact between flesh-and-blood people, absolutely. Literature is not an Athenian brainchild. And—dare I generalize—there is one stage of development in literary citizenship that requires a full-on immersion into the embodied spaces and processes that make literature work and matter, whether they are readings, classes, writing circles, conferences, and/or the publication machine.
So the deep pleasure comes from seeing interns attending readings as committed members of a literary community—not only paying attention with a sort of voracious hospitality, but, moreover, staying afterward, en masse, and chatting things literary and not. After the Valerie Boyd memorial event, graduate editor Nathan Dixon and I nattered on with a trio of interns about the occult and zodiac signs. After the Douglas Kearney event, I talked with a couple of other interns about marriage and other shenanigans. Before Doreen Baingana’s reading, an intern who is minoring in computer science decoded Marylyn Tan’s programming poem for me. Inspired, I’ve reminisced with others in the office about our respective moments of “starting to go to readings,” that year, or two, or three, when our calendars became, all of a sudden, full of literary events, official or not. Those were heady times. As I have said previously, we generally consider literary journals as the lifeblood of the literary world purely in terms of publication—that is, journals publish work that will eventually end up in books. But, as the proactive, collective form of directed reading in print, the literary periodical can be considered the lifeblood for literature in terms of people too, I tell myself, as I see this group’s literary commitment, enthusiasm, and idiosyncrasies grow and grow, collectively and individually.
Some highlights to point out in this issue. At the risk of sounding braggadocious, I believe that the publication of a long story by Yukio Mishima, one of Japan’s most important twentieth-century authors, is a notable event. Here we begin the two-part publication, translated by Paul McCarthy. There are also two essays in this issue, one by Jenny Johnson and the other by Julie Enszer, that focus on the American poet Adrienne Rich, which presents to us a conversation about poetic address, literary life, and political literature. We have the winner and featured finalists of the 2022 Loraine Williams Poetry Prize; congratulations to them! And there is an occult spirit sweeping through The Georgia Review. Singaporean poet Marylyn Tan just read here, in Athens, Georgia, and there is a strange coincidence in this issue. I queried Denise Ferreira da Silva for the art folio when I learned that this brilliant theorist of raciality has a robust art practice. I did not anticipate that Tarot cards would be important to this work, which makes the art folio pair uncannily well with Laurence Ross’s essay on the “Star” card that was already slated for this issue. Tan’s account of her occult practice in her award-winning debut poetry collection, Gaze Back (available in our GR Books series), strikes a resonant tone with Ross and da Silva:
In the book, I utilize witchcraft and occult (literally, “unknown”) technologies as a vehicle to explore new ways of manifesting the embodied, esoteric desires of the self, whether because or in spite of the systems of hierarchy we are made to operate within. . . . The occult, for me, provides a rejection, or at least a counterpoint, to tradition and orthodoxy that frequently incorporates the historic marginalization and submission of women. In this manner the avenue of witchcraft is utilized as a way for women to create paths towards agency and power in a patriarchy where men monopolize access to most of the resources.
The occult is foreign to me, but has been fascinating me, and I am feeling swept hither.
From around the office:
• I am excited to say that the inaugural Georgia Review Prose Prize is open until 15 January. The judge is Jennine Capó Crucet. The best short story and essay will both be published. The overall winner, chosen between the two, will receive a $1,500 honorarium and an expenses-paid trip to read with Crucet at the 2023 Smithsonian Asian American Literature Festival in Washington, D.C. The runner-up will receive a $600 prize. We invite writers of all backgrounds to submit. More details are available on our website.
• This spring we will be at both AWP in Seattle and the Dahlonega Literary Festival in North Georgia. If you’re around, swing by and say hi!
• I am pleased to announce the publication of Tripas by Brandon Som in the GR Books series.
Back to Marylyn Tan’s reading—she rocked the house. Tan has already made an indelible mark on Anglophone poetry, being the first female winner of Singapore’s preeminent English-language poetry prize for Gaze Back. Moreover, it is recklessly feminist, unapologetically queer, and absolutely committed to literature as a call to arms. As she says in her author note, and repeated in the Q&A, she wanted to write a “dangerous” book. As we learned, the National Library, Singapore, has cataloged this book of poetry as reference material to bar patrons from taking it out of the building. During the Q&A, a young attendee asked Marylyn, “where do you find the courage to write like that?” I forget Marylyn’s response, actually. The question itself is what I find so touching. It came from a non-Asian person who was wearing a smock that displayed, prominently, their affiliation to a local Christian group to a poet who just spent eight minutes reading a poem that relentlessly critiqued the figure of Christ. (The questioner was obviously a good listener, though, as they understood how the poetry enables one to think with and against Marylyn in various ways.) My imagination could not have anticipated that question. It appeared all difference between the interlocutors, and yet, one through the body and words of the other has been able to think anew—even if it is again—about courage.