Front Cover by Toyin Ojih Odutola. What Her Daughter Sees, 2018. PASTEL, CHARCOAL, AND PENCIL ON PAPER. © Toyin Ojih Odutola.
Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Volume 60, Issue 1
AT TIMES DESPAIR is hard to resist. Last semester, for instance, at the very moment when my students were reading Nunca más—the report by the Argentine national commission on the disappeared—along with testimonials about the war crimes committed by the military dictatorship, the citizens of Brazil elected a new president who describes the two decades of similar rule in his country as “glorious.” What’s past is prologue, indeed. In this country, as I write these lines, the Bolsonaro rhetoric of violence, racism, and fear is being offered as justification for a government shutdown, as if political debate, democratic power-sharing, and international law were simply obstacles to circumvent, not categorical imperatives. And, even worse, an elected member of the U.S. Congress has asked, in an interview with the New York Times, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive?” Calling such language obscene, of course, would have been more precise, and everyone knows how. As many commented after Charlottesville: we’ve been down that road, and we know where it ends.
The cycle of a quarterly, however, is such that, though we go to press for this issue during the shortest, darkest, and coldest days of the year, by the time you read my words it will again be spring. Therefore, like Rui Cardoso Martins in his story published here in a translation by Maria João Medeiros, let me begin by noting that “I have an idea hanging from my head. It’s been out there for ages. Everything suggests it’s a bad idea.” Dictator-envy, racist fear-mongering, the war of each against all: these are all very bad ideas, they’ve been out there for ages, and we need to find our way past them. I actually have a suggestion on that score too, in part borrowed from Cardoso Martins, but let me first tell you a bit about what we’ve put together in these pages.
Though I’ve been doing this work for close to a decade now, it never ceases to surprise me how, even when we don’t begin with a theme, each issue still hovers around one or two or three ideas—a product of the times, of the hivemind of authors and editors, or simply spun from the air itself. In this issue, it’s animals, food, and love (if not all three at once). You will understand, of course, how one of these often stands in for another: in Caio Fernando Abreu’s visceral story “Beyond the Point,” for example, passion is as much animal as human, a thing of bodies, elemental in nature and driven by libido. In contrast, Charlotte Delbo’s “February”—published here for the first time in any language—portrays similar loss as a world out of joint, an order of the cosmos, not a product of the spirit. Then again, in her “Inner Switzerland,” Delbo’s award-winning biographer Ghislaine Dunant finds her way back by reconnecting with her past, and also through a chance encounter with something wild and free, very much like a soul.
As the Danish scholar Sune Borkfelt notes, “using the very term ‘animal’ to bundle together all other species is perhaps exactly the most extreme example of generic naming . . . And the exclusion of ourselves from that same generic term, by viewing the word ‘human’ as an opposite to it, is as arbitrary as would be the exclusion of any other species.” Certainly this lesson is some of what Jim Daniels’s father-and-son poem “Natural Selection” would teach, though David Roderick’s “Ballad of the Wild” may offer a necessary counterpoint, as it reminds father and mother, “My songs aren’t for you.” Lorraine Boissoneault’s spec-fic tale of loss and reparation imagines a direct collision between non-human animals and that state of exception we tend to reserve for ourselves. Fantasy is, of course, only one way of naming how we experience what lies beyond our experience. Jennifer Gibbs, in a very different yet similarly devastating record of loss, tracks what it means to be “ahead of the grief curve.” Gordon Lish, too, though he would not want our sympathy, rues the loss of “a bounded span of possibles,” and we mourn as he does. Not every page, of course, will ever follow a single flag, or even several; each literary magazine also has its longue durée attachments.
Thus some of what you will read here is what the Mass Review has always championed. Jim Smethurst’s disposition of the Amiri Baraka/Ralph Ellison debate takes sides in order to elevate the discussion, and thereby demonstrates how cultural studies happened here first—in Afro-Am, long before any Brits ever played the blues. No one should need reminding that category distinctions, including those between human and nonhuman animals, is what has always fed the fire of race hatred. The high art of Toyin Ojih Odutola leaves no room for any of that: blackbeing-there is the philosophical a priori of her work, her spaces inhabited with density and definition that cast no shadow and require no further illumination. A pair of poems by Teresa Cader, as well as an essay by Amanda Minervini, offer lessons we have forgotten and are therefore doomed to repeat: waking from such nightmares is surely the only cure for history.
Which leads me, in my usual roundabout fashion, back to where I began, and the story by Rui Cardoso Martins, “Animal Stomach.” Though it’s now been nearly thirty-five years, and I’ve long since lost my lecture notes, one of the moments from the classes of Gilles Deleuze stuck with me and seems relevant here. The French philosopher noted that, from a topological point of view, the idea that we ingest food is only approximately true. When, after all, does food really enter into the body? Much of it, even once it is brought into the mouth, even after mastication, travels through us, through tube and cavity, never passing into or permeating, until eventually it is once again expelled. At no point, it could be argued, is such external matter ever truly internalized.
What if, at the end of the story, we are never fully human, nor non-human animal? What if such distinctions are less what we’re about than that very lining itself — that animal stomach which takes its energy, its life-force, from the in-between matter, not from the distinctions and separations it leaves behind? What if, in other words, cannibalism was not the other of civilization, but instead its essence? What if the other were most welcome, the changing same, the essence of desire? What past, then, as prologue?
by Caio Fernando Abreu, translated by Bruna Dantas Lobato
by Gordon Lish
by Amanda Minervini
by Robin Myers
by James Smethurst
by Geoffrey Brock
Table of Contents
What Is the Cause that the Former Days Were
Better Than These?, a poem by Chris Forhan
February, an autobiographical sketch by Charlotte Delbo,
translated by Cynthia Haft
Gravedigger, a poem by Kristin Robertson
Thoughts & Prayers and The Second Time,
poems by Teresa Cader
Food-Wrapping, nonfiction by Yasmin Azad
Recent Work, art by Toyin Ojih Odutola
Postcards from Babel, a poem by Samuel Beckett Taylor
Boy with a Ball, a poem by Slavko Mihalić,
translated by Dasha C. Nisula
Sandhya’s Station, a story by Geetha Iyer
An Inner Switzerland, nonfiction by Ghislaine Dunant,
translated by Kathryn Lachman
Self-Portrait With & Without, a poem by Dana Alsamsam
South Belknap, a poem by Steven Cramer
Natural Selection, a poem by Jim Daniels
Collateral Damage, a story by Marta Orriols,
translated by Mara Faye Lethem
Quills, a poem by Joshua Michael Stewart
Animal Stomach, a story by Rui Cardoso Martins,
translated by Maria João Medeiros
Handfishing, a story by Christy Crutchfield
Butcher Block, an essay by Kevin J. Kelley
Hit and Run, a story by Lorraine Boissoneault
Recollection, a poem by Casey Patrick
The Neighbor’s Dog Would Not Stop Barking,
a poem by Elena Karina Byrne
Great White, a poem by Cody Kucker
Lost Flavors: Climate Change, Poetry, and
New England’s Apples, an essay by Adam W. Sweeting
In Which I Try to Leave My Husband, But
Cannot Find the Words, a poem by Jackie Craven
Ballad of the Wild, a poem by David Roderick
Notes on Contributors
CAIO FERNANDO ABREU was one of the most influential and original Brazilian writers of short fiction of the 1980s and ’90s, and the author of twelve story collections set in and published during the military dictatorship and at the height of the AIDS epidemic in Brazil. He has been awarded major literary prizes, including the prestigious Jabuti Prize for Fiction three times. He died of AIDS in Porto Alegre in 1996, at forty-seven.
DANA ALSAMSAM is the author of a chapbook, (in)habit, and her poems are published or forthcoming in Bone Bouquet, Gigantic Sequins, North American Review, Tinderbox Poetry, Fugue, The Boiler Journal, Salamander, BOOTH, and others. She is a Lambda Literary Fellow in the 2018 Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices. A Chicago native, she is currently an MFA candidate and a teacher at Emerson College.
YASMIN AZAD was born and raised in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Since moving to the United States in her twenties she has lived in the Boston area, where she worked for many years as a mental health counselor. She is currently working on a memoir, Stay, Daughter, about growing up in a traditional Muslim community that had to confront the challenges of Westernization and modernity. “Food-Wrapping” is an adapted excerpt from that memoir. Another excerpt from the same memoir, “Swimsuit,” was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Solstice.
LORRAINE BOISSONEAULT is the author of the narrative nonfiction book The Last Voyageurs, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Chicago Book of the Year Award. She works as a journalist in Chicago, writing for Smithsonian Magazine, The Atlantic, Chicago Magazine, Playboy, and others. Her short fiction has also appeared in Literary Laundry.
GEOFFREY BROCK is the author of two poetry collections, the editor of The FSG Book of 20th-Century Italian Poetry, and the translator of numerous volumes of Italian poetry and prose. He teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Translation at the University of Arkansas, where he founded and edits The Arkansas International.
ELENA KARINA BYRNE is the author of three books, including Squander. She is a freelance professor, editor, poetry consultant/moderator for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and Literary Programs Director for The Ruskin Art Club. Her publications include the Pushcart Prize XXXIII, Best American Poetry, Poetry, Paris Review, American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, Verse, Poetry International, The Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day, Black Renaissance Noire, and BOMB. She just completed Voyeur Hour: Meditations on Poetry, Art, & Desire.
TERESA CADER is the author of three poetry collections, Guests, The Paper Wasp, and History of Hurricanes. Her awards include the Norma Farber First Book Award, The Journal/Charles B. Wheeler Poetry Prize, the George Bogin Memorial Award, two fellowships from the NEA, and fellowships from the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, and the MacDowell Colony. Her poems have appeared in AGNI, Poetry, Ploughshares, FIELD, Slate, Harvard Review, Southwest Review, The Atlantic, Plume, and many other publications. Her work has been translated into Polish and Icelandic.
STEVEN CRAMER is the author of five books of poetry, most recently Clangings. His poems have appeared in numerous journals, including The Atlantic, Paris Review, and Poetry. Recipient of an NEA fellowship, and two fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, he founded and teaches in the low-residency MFA program in Creative Writing at Lesley University.
JACKIE CRAVEN is the author of the poetry collection Secret Formulas & Techniques of the Masters and the fiction chapbook Our Lives Became Unmanageable. Her poetry has appeared in journals such as Columbia Poetry Review, New Ohio Review, River Styx, and Salamander.
CHRISTY CRUTCHFIELD is the author of the novel How to Catch a Coyote. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Tin House, Mississippi Review, Salt Hill Journal, jubilat, and other journals. She recently received a fellowship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and serves on the
editorial staff of Juked. A native of Atlanta, she writes and teaches in western Massachusetts.
JIM DANIELS'S recent poetry books include Rowing Inland, Street Calligraphy, and The Middle Ages. In 2017, he edited Challenges to the Dream: The Best of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards. His next collection of short fiction, The Perp Walk, will be published by Michigan State University Press. He is the Thomas S. Baker University Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University.
CHARLOTTE DELBO charlotte delbo (1913–1985) was well known in France for her role as secretary to Louis Jouvet, director of the Théâtre de l’Athénée, and for her resistance against the German occupation during World War II. She and her husband, fellow resistance fighter Georges Dudach, were caught by the German police in 1942. He was assassinated and she was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Ravensbrück. Her writings about her husband, comrades, and time in Auschwitz are widely known. Her later work turned toward her disillusionment with Russia and the Communist Party after 1959; she was also active in many political struggles, including the Algerian war against French occupation.
Novelist GHISLAINE DUNANT was born in Paris in 1950. She is the author of L’Impudeur (1989), which was published in an English translation by Rosette Lamont. La Letter oublieé (1993), Cènes (2001), and Un effondrement (2007), for which she received the Dentan Prize in Lausanne in 2008. Her most recent work, Charlotte Delbo: une vie retrouvée, earned the Femina Prize, France’s most prestigious award for nonfiction, in October 2016.
CHRIS FORHAN'S most recent book is a memoir, My Father Before Me. He has published three books of poetry—Black Leapt In; The Actual Moon, The Actual Stars; and Forgive Us Our Happiness—and has won an NEA Fellowship and two Pushcart Prizes. He lives with his wife, the poet Alessandra Lynch, and their two sons, Milo and Oliver, in Indianapolis, where he teaches at Butler University.
JENNIFER GIBBS is an award-winning playwright, performer, and screenwriter. Her plays have been presented nationally and internationally. She wrote her first book, Marigold, about her experience of serial grief. Raised by back-to-the-land artists in Iowa, Gibbs can operate a backhoe. She now lives in New York City with her husband and eight-year-old son. Her play Immortality (Edna St. Vincent Millay) is forthcoming from the Massachusetts Review’s Working Titles.
CYNTHIA HAFT has written on Judaica, Jewish law, and subjects pertaining to Holocaust commemoration, history, and compensation for victims. She is the author of The Bargain and the Bridle: The General Union of the Israelites in France, 1941–1944, and currently works to gain compensation for Jewish victims of the Holocaust in greater Hungary. She met Charlotte Delbo early on and became her goddaughter. Haft has translated many of Delbo’s works, including the play Who Will Carry the Word? She currently lives in Israel.
GEETHA IYER received an MFA in Creative Writing & Environment from Iowa State University. Her writing appears in Orion, Gulf Coast, Mid-American Review, and The Account, among others. Recognition for her work includes the O. Henry Award, the James Wright Poetry Award, the Calvino Prize, and the Gulf Coast Fiction Prize. “Sandhya’s Station” is part of the novel-in-stories Resident Aliens. She grew up in the United Arab Emirates and presently lives in Panama.
KEVIN J. KELLEY grew up in the high desert countryside of Idaho. His writing has appeared in Entropy, Eastern Iowa Review, and Thin Air Literary Magazine. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Wyoming, and he currently teaches and writes in Denver.
CODY KUCKER'S poetry has most recently appeared in Carolina Quarterly, Albatross, Tishman Review, Natural Bridge, and CALLIOPE. He received his MFA from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and currently resides and teaches high school English in northeastern Massachusetts.
KATHRYN LACHMAN teaches comparative literature at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of Borrowed Forms: The Music and Ethics of Transnational Fiction. Among her other publications are the co-edited volume Feasting on Words: Maryse Condé, Cannibalism and the Caribbean Text, and numerous articles and book chapters on African and Francophone literature. She is currently translating Ghislaine Dunant’s acclaimed biography of Charlotte Delbo, Une vie retrouvée.
MARA FAYE LETHEM'S writing has recently appeared in the New York Times Book Review, BOMB, and the bestselling A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader, edited by Maria Popova. Her forthcoming translations include novels by Patricio Pron, Max Besora, and Marta Orriols.
GORDON LISH hastens to declare he is not the author of the repeated, and deformed, quatrain that appears in his entry. His most recent book is White Plains: Pieces & Witherlings. He resides in a city, where he divides his time between envying and resenting.
BRUNA DANTAS LOBATO was born and raised in Natal, Brazil. A graduate of Bennington College, she received her MFA in fiction from New York University and is currently an Iowa Arts Fellow and MFA candidate in Literary Translation at the University of Iowa. Her stories, essays, and translations from the Portuguese have appeared in Harvard Review, Ploughshares online, BOMB, The Common, and elsewhere. She is a 2018 Public Space Fellow. maria joo medeiros is a writer, scriptwriter, and translator. She coauthored The Regicide Dossier and wrote Portuguese Oracles of the Twentieth Century. She translated Daniel Defoe’s The Political History of the Devil and Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince. She also republished an 1877 Portuguese gothic novel, Henriqueta —A Hero of the XIX Century, and is currently developing a documentary on the subject.
RUI CARDOSO MARTINS is a writer, scriptwriter, and playwright. He has twice won the Grande Prémio APE, the first literary prize in Portugal. He is the author of the novels Glad to Die, Let the Invisible Man Pass By, and The Bone of the Butterfly. His play Última Hora (Breaking News) is in production by Teatro Nacional D. Maria II, Lisbon. As a journalist, he went to Sarajevo during the war in 1993, and witnessed the first free elections in South Africa in 1994. He writes comedy and drama and has been translated into several languages.
One of the giants in Croatian literature of the second half of the twentieth century, SLAVKO MIHALIĆ was born in 1928 in Karlovac, Croatia. He moved to Zagreb, where he worked for a newspaper and published his first book of poetry, Komorna muzika (Chamber Music) in 1954. He authored over twenty books of poetry and established several literary journals, including Most (Bridge), which brought Croatian literature to international readers. Translated into many major world languages, he won numerous literary awards, among them City of Zagreb, Matica Hrvatska, Miroslav Krleža, Goranov Vjenac, and others.
AMANDA MINERVINI holds a PhD in Italian Studies from Brown University. Born and raised in Italy, she started her graduate work thanks to a Fulbright fellowship that allowed her to earn an MA in Comparative Literature at UMass Amherst, with a focus on Italian, Anglo-American, and French literature. Her book The Saint, the Duce, the Pope: Religion and Politics in an Age of Crisis, is forthcoming from Peter Lang, UK.
ROBIN MYERS is a New York–born, Mexico City-based poet and translator. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in the Harvard Review, PANK, Sixth Finch, Beloit Poetry Journal, Narrative Magazine, and Washington Square Review, among other publications. She is an alumna of the Banff International Literary Translation Centre, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley.
DASHA C. NISULA is a professor emerita and Lee Honors College Fellow at Western Michigan University. Author of four books, her translations have appeared in An Anthology of South Slavic Literatures, and in such journals as Modern Poetry in Translation, International Poetry Review, Colorado Review,and American Journal of Ophthalmology, among others. A member of the American Literary Translators Association, she lives and works in Kalamazoo, MI.
TOYIN OJIH ODUTOLA creates multimedia drawings on various surfaces investigating formulaic representations and how such images can be unreliable and socially coded. She has participated in exhibits at The Drawing Center, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art; Brooklyn Museum; Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis; Studio Museum Harlem, among others. Her works are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Baltimore Museum of Art, New Orleans Museum of Art, the National Museum of African Art, and many more.
MARTA ORRIOLS lives in Barcelona with her two children. Her debut novel, Learning to Talk to Plants, is forthcoming in French, Spanish, German, and in English from Pushkin Press.
CASEY PATRICK'S poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in The Pinch, Passages North, RHINO, Green Mountains Review, and others. She has received fellowships from Vermont Studio Center and Hub City Writers Project, and was selected as the runner-up for the 2018 Pinch Literary Award in Poetry and finalist for the 2018 Brittany Noakes Poetry Award. A graduate of Eastern Washington University’s MFA program, she is working on her first collection.
KRISTIN ROBERTSON is the author of Surgical Wing. Her poetry appears recently or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, Southern Review, Threepenny Review, Gettysburg Review, Harvard Review, and Prairie Schooner, among other journals. Winner of the Laux/Millar Poetry Prize, she has received scholarships from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Squaw Valley. She is an assistant professor of English and creative writing at Tennessee Wesleyan University.
DAVID RODERICK is the author of Blue Colonial and The Americans. He is the program director of Left Margin LIT, a center for literary arts in Berkeley, CA.
JAMES SMETHURST is professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is the author of The New Red Negro: The Literary Left and African American Poetry, 1930-–1946, The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s, and The African American Roots of Modernism: From Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance. He coedited Left of the Color Line: Race, Radicalism and Twentieth-Century Literature of the United States; Radicalism in the South Since Reconstruction; and SOS—Calling All Black People: A Black Arts Movement Reader.
JOSHUA MICHAEL STEWART has had poems published in the Massachusetts Review, Rattle, The Good Men Project, Salamander, Brilliant Corners, and many others. His first full-length collection of poems, Break Every String, was published by Hedgerow Books in 2016.
ADAM W. SWEETING is the author of Beneath the Second Sun: A Cultural History of Indian Summer and Reading Houses and Building Books: Andrew Jackson Downing and Popular Antebellum Literature. He is an associate professor and chair of the division of humanities at Boston University, College of General Studies.
SAMUEL BECKETT TAYLOR is the author of two books of poems, Body of the World and Nude Descending an Empire. He is an associate professor in the MFA program at Wichita State University.