The other day we received a letter to the editor written in verse. Or perhaps it was a poem entitled “Letter to the Editor.” It is sometimes hard to know how to categorize things. This is particularly, perhaps increasingly, true of prose. Is it an essay, memoir, work of fiction? In one sense it hardly matters, and yet people are accustomed to writing in a genre; publishers, colleges, prize- and grant-giving organizations insist upon it. One of the contributors to this issue asked specifically what we would call her work. “I’ve been wondering what rubric my piece will go under—it’s not fiction, yet ‘essay’ isn’t right either. Do you use the ‘personal history’ rubric? I think that might be most appropriate.”
We don’t, but if we did almost everything in this issue could go under it. Robert Boyers’ story, “An Excitable Woman,” and David Rompf’s memoir, “Blood, Time”—the mother/father pair with which we open—are certainly examples of personal history, though I could not with any certainty vouch for whose history they might be. Susan Rubin Suleiman’s thoughts about old photos, Judith Azrael’s memories of Greece, and Kyoko Mori’s discourse on knitting are all highly personal pieces, while also being about something other than the writers’ lives. The same may be said for Patricia Vigderman’s “What It’s Like in Ohio,” David Slavitt’s tribute to Thomas McAfee, or the poems by Jacquelyn Pope and Carol Frost. Even Christopher Lydon’s piece on talk radio in Jamaica has a lot of Christopher Lydon in it. Perhaps it would not be unfair to say that this is what we’re doing here: archiving personal history in pictures, poetry, drama, and prose.
But personal history is “embedded” in public history, and so there is an aspect of the journal that reflects, quite independently of any editorial design, the world in which we live. It is not altogether surprising then that we should also find an undercurrent of violence in this issue (which “went to bed” as we went to war) that was neither intended nor foreseen. I think, for instance, of Owen Doyle’s Heraion, a new Medea play; or of the extracts from Don MacDonald’s graphic novel, “Machiavelli,” which initially appealed to me as much for its cognitive dissonance (Machiavelli in comics!?) as for the brooding chiaroscuro of its drawings; or even of Ellen Driscoll’s striking black and white collage, which, in a more peaceful time, might have seemed a less cataclysmic image.