Front Cover by Ben Sakoguchi
Pop & Me(above), The Money Belt (below)
Courtesy of the artist.
Volume 62, Issue 3
THOUGH UNFINISHED, the most necessary Kafka masterpiece today—as we slowly sort through where we’ve been for the past year or so—is surely “Der Bau,” first translated into English by Edwin and Willa Muir as “The Burrow.” Told from the point of view of a burrowing animal, what Herbert Blau has called the tale’s “manic intensity” is focused—as its original title suggests—on construction. In the seventies, Blau’s experimental troupe KRAKEN staged the story as a frenetic, constant work of building, or “burrowing,” and the latter word quickly became a term of art for his actors.
No one could miss how Kafka’s tale speaks to our plague year: “the most beautiful thing about my burrow is the stillness. Of course, that is deceptive. At any moment it may be shattered and then all will be over.” Isolation, gnawing worries, the obsession with (or invention of) enemies, the irrepressible drive to create, or destroy—what doesn’t sound familiar? Yet for Blau, the true moral of the story lies in what it teaches us about building—that everything essential begins within. Remember, the German master also argued that “If it had been possible to build the Tower of Babel without ascending it, the work would have been permitted.”
In surveying the pages that we offer this fall, it is indeed inner work—burrowing as the ontology of action, built in a place of absence—that unites this issue’s storehouse of pleasures. Flip a coin, then begin with an essay from an editor who practices what they preach: from either our own Q. M. Zhang, whose tribute to Hong Kong history stands as a memorial in prose, or NER editor Carolyn Kuebler’s multilayered, multivalent meditation on our year of crisis and kairos. Or start with another oddly resonant, odd-couple pairing: follow Christopher Schmidt’s lyrical investigation into the social and colonial history of color, and then take up the work of mourning with Laura Levitt, as she finds in Maggie Nelson’s words equipment for living in a post-trauma world. The abyss between then and now is also traversed in another pair of tales, a lyrical postwar fable by Seulmi Lee and a story of immigrant generational conflict by Jeannie Tseng. Two other stories came to us from other languages and countries—from Lana Bastašić, translated by Ulvija Tanović, and Kristian Sendon Cordero, translated by Bernard Carpinpin; oddly enough, both are war tales of children haunted by their fathers.
And so far I haven’t even mentioned the trenchant, timely artwork in these pages from Ben Sakoguchi! Or our new MR podcast series from Kym Newberry, for which you must stay tuned! Nathan McClain will suggest additional pairings among the poets. One last word, though, about the great German fabulist: in Kafka’s “Burrow,” ruminations and isolation seem to lead inexorably to increased obsession, madness, and ruin. As I’ve tried to suggest, in our own time, and in this issue, the tales we tell lead elsewhere: out into this world, then to the next—a place beyond loss, where each storyteller’s path inevitably intersects with another. Other worlds are indeed possible, yet it’s up to us to invent them.
IN EARLY JULY of last summer, Poem-a-Day published Toi Derricotte’s poem “Why I don’t write about George Floyd,” in which she writes:
Because there is too much to say
Because I have nothing to say
Because I don’t know what to say
Because everything has been said
Because it hurts too much to say
Derricotte’s painful, exasperated litany—interrupted primarily by an interrogative shift at the center of her poem, “What can I say what can I say”—acutely summarizes the lived and learned experiences of many over the course of the last year and a half. Any of these lines could have served as a mantra for us. What can we say? About structural racism and police brutality. About the global COVID-19 pandemic and the abdication of our federal government’s oversight or support. About our immense isolation and collective mental health decline. What hasn’t been said? Who couldn’t write our own litany in response to the challenges—visible, invisible—that have accompanied the previous year or, for many of us, much of our lives?
In this transitional moment—for the magazine, for our country—the Massachusetts Review aims to re-energize the spirit bolstering its work by further building on our legacy, which is to “[promote] social justice and equality, along with great art . . . aesthetic excellence as well as public engagement.” With the acute eye and poetic acumen of brilliant poet and writer Franny Choi, the journal will continue to feature poems that represent the freshest, original, and most exciting voices in contemporary poetry, and also strive for an even broader sense of representation in the field, across genre and aesthetic, work that embodies a serious commitment and attention to craft of writing and revision, the deep work of looking inward.
The poems in this issue beautifully enact the work of “inward-looking” even as they engage current news cycles or elements of the natural world—Eugenia Leigh’s poem associatively leaping from the all too familiar “fires in the news” to the inner devastation of the speaker’s tumultuous childhood via memory, the “bulwarks in my brain,” set loose, or one of Jane Huffman’s three poems in the issue, each with its own winding, complex syntax and lineation, interrogating her speakers’ complicated inner lives, which reveal an ever-strange and increasingly muddled interiority. In one of Kevin Prufer’s two poems in the issue, his speaker recounts and juxtaposes the history of a particular boy and family during the destruction of Pompeii against his own childhood, evaluating that which is worth saving, can be saved, or may be beyond saving. Virginia Konchan opens one of her two poems in the issue directly detailing her speaker’s early secular and religious work experiences, which in turn explore excess, submission, desire, punishment, and obedience. And that’s hardly scratching the surface of the poems assembled in our fall pages.
If what William Butler Yeats once said remains true, that “Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry,” then what follows these remarks is among the highest expressions of poetry today. “What [else] can we say”?
Thank you, and please enjoy.
Jim Hicks and Nathan McClain,
for the editors
Table of Contents
Pretty Good Year, a poem by Virginia Konchan
Stripes, a poem by Pam Baggett
[I remember partially], [I couldn’t drive], and
[There was a clearance], poems by Jane Huffman
Fugitive Reds, an essay by Christopher Schmidt
Postcards from Camp, art by Ben Sakoguchi
Finding Myself in Reading The Red Parts,
an essay by Laura Levitt
Liaison and In the Museum of Manufactured
Response to Absence, poems by Angie Estes
Me, Myself, and Mole, a story by Seulmi Lee
In the Library at the End of the World,
a poem by Julia Thacker
Anxiety Meditation, a poem by Alex Mouw
Phone Home, an essay by Natasha Lvovich
A Humility Essay and Toward Tenderness,
poems by Carly Joy Miller
The Loudspeaker, a story by Fran Yu
Cannibalism and The Eruption of Mount Vesuvius,
poems by Kevin Prufer
Indifferent Limbs, a story by David Ricchiute
Santiago’s Cult, a story by Kristian Sendon Cordero,
translated by Bernard Capinpin
The Aftermath, a poem by Esteban Oloarte
Deaths of Disparity, an essay by Amy Shea
Talking Politics in Syria, a poem by Seif-Eldeine
The Tender Soul’s Guide to Midwestern Middle-Class
Midlife Dread, an essay by Laura Bernstein-Machlay
Psalm, a poem by Virginia Konchan
Notes on Contributors
PAM BAGGETT is author of Wild Horses (Main Street Rag, 2018), which received an honorable mention for the BrockmanCampbell Award. Other awards include the Ella Fountain Pratt Emerging Artist Grant, Artist Project Grants from the Orange County Arts Commission, and a 2019–20 Fellowship in Literature from the North Carolina Arts Council. Poems appear or are forthcoming in Asheville Poetry Review, Cider Press Review, Gulf Stream, Nimrod, and Tar River Poetry.
LANA BASTAŠIĆ is a Yugoslav-born writer. Her first novel, Catch the Rabbit, won the European Union Prize in Literature in 2020 and has been translated into fifteen languages including English (Picador UK and Restless Books). Her last book is Milk Teeth, a collection of short stories published in Serbo-Croatian in 2020. She is one of the founders of Escola Bloom School of Literature in Barcelona. She is based in Belgrade but spends most of her time on the road.
LAURA BERNSTEIN-MACHLAY teaches literature and creative writing at a Detroit-area college. Her work has appeared in many magazines includingThe American Scholar, Hotel Amerika, Into the Void, Michigan Quarterly Review, and World Literature Today. Her full-length collection of creative-nonfiction essays, Travelers, was released in 2018. She is currently at work on a novel.
BERNARD CAPINPIN is a poet and tran slator. His translations have appeared or are forthcoming from ULIRÁT: Best Contemporary Stories in Translation from the Philippines (Gaudy Boy Translates, 2021), The Arkansas International, The Washington Square Review, AGNI, and elsewhere. He was one of the winners of the 2020 Words Without Borders—Academy of American Poets Poems in Translation Contest. He lives in the Philippines.
KRISTIAN SENDON CORDERO is a poet, translator, and a filmmaker from the Bikol Region. He has authored and edited twenty books of poetry, fiction, essays, and translations in Bikol and Filipino. He has received the 2017 Southeast Asian Writers Award from the Thai Monarchy and was appointed as artist-in-residence in the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He has recently been named as the 2022 artist-inresidence of the Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Study in South Africa. He runs an independent bookshop called Savage Mind: Arts, Books, Cinema and serves as a deputy director of the Ateneo de Naga University Press.
ANGIE ESTES is the author of six books of poems, most recently Parole (Oberlin College Press, 2018). Her previous book, Enchantée (Oberlin, 2013), won the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize, and Tryst (Oberlin, 2009) was selected as one of two finalists for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize. Her second book, Voice-Over, won the 2001 FIELD Poetry Prize and was also awarded the Alice Fay di Castagnola Prize from the Poetry Society of America. Her first book, The Uses of Passion, was the winner of the Peregrine Smith Poetry Prize. A collection of essays devoted to Estes’s work appears in the University of Michigan Press Under Discussion series: The Allure of Grammar: The Glamour of Angie Estes’s Poetry.
JANE HUFFMAN'S poems have appeared in POETRY, The New Yorker, The Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. She is a 2021 Gregory Djanikian Scholar, and she was a 2019 recipient of the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. Jane is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is founder and editor-in-chief of Guesthouse, an online literary journal.
VIRGINIA KONCHAN is the author of three poetry collections, Hallelujah Time (Véhicule Press, 2021), Any God Will Do, and The End of Spectacle (Carnegie Mellon UP, 2020 and 2018); a collection of short stories, Anatomical Gift (Noctuary Press, 2017); and four chapbooks, as well as coeditor (with Sarah Giragosian) of Marbles on the Floor: How to Assemble a Book of Poems (University of Akron Press, 2022).
CAROLYN KUEBLER'S writing has appeared in The Common, The Literary Review, Rain Taxi, and The Little Magazine in Contemporary America. She lives in central Vermont where she edits New England Review, serves as a justice of the peace, and is the mother of a teenager who reads books.
SEULMI LEE was born and raised in South Korea. Her short stories have appeared in the Antioch Review, Meridian, Black Warrior Review, Pleiades, and Shenandoah. “Me, Myself, and Mole” is a standalone chapter from her first novel, 8 Lives of a CenturyOld Trickster. The novel is inspired by the life of her great aunt, one of the oldest women to escape alone from North Korea.
EUGENIA LEIGH is a Korean American poet and the author of Bianca (forthcoming via Four Way Books, 2023) and Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows (Four Way Books, 2014). Her writing has appeared in numerous publications including Ploughshares, The Nation, Pleiades, Waxwing, and the 2017 Best of the Net Anthology. The recipient of fellowships and awards from Poets & Writers Magazine, Kundiman, Rattle, The Asian American Literary Review, and elsewhere, Eugenia received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College.
LAURA LEVITT is professor of religion, Jewish studies, and gender at Temple University where she has chaired the Religion Department and directed both the Jewish Studies and the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Programs. Levitt is the author of The Objects that Remain (2020), American Jewish Loss after the Holocaust (2007), and Jews and Feminism: The Ambivalent Search for Home (1997) and a co-editor of Impossible Images: Contemporary Art After the Holocaust (2003) and Judaism Since Gender (1997). Levitt edits NYU Press’s North American Religions Series with Tracy Fessenden (Arizona State University) and David Harrington Watt (Haverford College).
NATASHA LVOVICH is a writer and scholar of multilingualism and creativity. Originally from Moscow, Russia, she teaches at City University of New York and divides her loyalties between academic and creative writing. She wrote a collection of autobiographical narratives, The Multilingual Self, and the list of her creative publications is steadily growing. Her work appeared in journals (Life Writing, New Writing), anthologies (Lifewriting Annual, Anthology of Imagination & Place), and literary magazines (Post Road, Nashville Review, Two Bridges, bioStories, NDQ, Epiphany, New England Review, Hippocampus Magazine, Jewish Fiction); one of her CNF pieces has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her creative innovations include mixed-genre pieces focused on art and exile. Her essay on surrealist painter and multilingual writer Leonora Carrington is forthcoming in the art review Full Bleed. Natasha Lvovich is editor-in-chief of the new Journal of Literary Multiliingualism, published by Brill.
CARLY JOY MILLER is the author of Ceremonial (Orison Books, 2018), selected by Carl Phillips as the winner of the 2017 Orison Prize for Poetry, and the chapbook Like a Beast (Anhinga Press, 2017), winner of the 2016 Rick Campbell Prize.
ALEX MOUW'S poetry, nonfiction, and scholarship have appeared or are forthcoming in West Branch, Colorado Review, Ruminate, Twentieth-Century Literature, and elsewhere. He is a PhD student in English and American literature at Washington University in St. Louis.
ESTEBAN OLOARTE is a Mexican American poet and psychogeographer. Transistor, his first book, is forthcoming from Broadstone Books. He currently lives in Mexico City.
KEVIN PRUFER'S newest poetry collections, all from Four Way Books, are Churches (named one of the New York Times’ ten best poetry books of 2016), How He Loved Them (long-listed for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize and winner of the Julie Suk Award), and, most recently, The Art of Fiction: Poems. He directs The Unsung Masters Series and teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston.
DAVID RICCHIUTE is the author of two poetry collections, Uncertain in the Worst Way (Main Street Rag Publishing, 2020) and So Everyone Else Will Know (Aldrich Press, 2018). A line volunteer at the Northern Indiana Center for Hospice Care and the Beacon Children’s Hospital Ronald McDonald House, his fiction and poetry appear in NOON, Tampa Review, The Louisville Review, and The American Journal of Poetry, among others, and his nonfiction in the Journal of Applied Psychology and Journal of Experimental Psychology. Born in Rhode Island, he has taught at the University of Notre Dame and University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and lives now in Indiana and Kentucky.
BEN SAKOGUCHI was born in 1938 in San Bernardino, CA. During World War II, his family was incarcerated by the United States government because of their Japanese ancestry, so he spent his early childhood confined to a camp at Poston, AZ. After the war, the Sakoguchis returned to San Bernardino, and with considerable difficulty, reopened their small grocery business. Ben attended public schools, including San Bernardino Valley College. Moving to Los Angeles and UCLA, Sakoguchi earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, teaching credential, and in 1964 a Master of Fine Arts degree. He stayed in the Los Angeles area, accepting a teaching position at Pasadena City College, where he was on the ArtDepartment faculty until his 1997 retirement.In nearly six decades as a professional artist, Sakoguchi has shown his work in numerous solo and group exhibitions, primarily at schools, museums, and other non-profit venues within the United States. He has been awarded two National Endowment for the Artsfellowships, and in 1997 participated in the LilaWallaceReader’s Digest Fund’s Artists at Giverny Program. Sakoguchi has also received grants from theJ. Paul Getty Trust, the California Arts Council, and the Flintridge Foundation. His (2021) solo exhibition at BelAmi gallery in the Chinatown district of Los Angeles featured the multi-painting work, “Chinatown.” A chronicle of the Chinese American experience, “Chinatown” referenced the Chinese Massacre of 1871, just blocks from the gallery’s location.
CHRISTOPHER SCHMIDT is the author of The Next in Line (poetry) and The Poetics of Waste (criticism). Recent writings on Brazilian art and culture have appeared in Fence, Denver Quarterly, and ArtMargins. An article on Elizabeth Bishop and landscape is forthcoming in Modernism/modernity.
SEIF-ELDEINE is a Syrian-American poet with a degree in Middle Eastern studies from Tufts University and an MFA in poetry from Lesley University. He has been a finalist for the Fine Arts Work Center Fellowship, the Etel Adnan Poetry Series, and the Marsh Hawk Poetry Prize. His work has appeared in Poetry Daily, Star 82 Review, and Typehouse Literary Magazine. You can find his stream of consciousness poetry at patreon.com/Seifeldeine.
AMY SHEA has a PhD and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Glasgow, where she has written a collection of essays titled Not All Deaths are Created Equal. Her work has appeared in the Portland Review, Spry Literary Journal, Fat City Review, From Glasgow to Saturn, and Sociology of Health & Illness. As an avid hiker, she likens her doctoral experience to that of her climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro.
ULVIJA TANOVIĆ works as a translator and interpreter between English and Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian. She has been translating fiction, poetry, and nonfiction for twenty years, including writings by Aleksandar Hemon, Hamza Humo, and Dr. Seuss. She is a founding member of the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Bosnia and Herzegovina and has mentored young translators at the University of Sarajevo.
Twice a fellow of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, JULIA THACKER has also held fellowships from the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe, the Corporation of Yaddo, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her poems and stories have appeared or are forthcoming in AGNI, Bennington Review, The New Republic, Poetry International, New Directions, The Pushcart Prize anthology, and others.
JEANNIE TSENG holds an MFA from Columbia University and an MSc from the University of Chicago. Her first novel, an intergenerational story about women in science, was a finalist for the Eludia Award. She was nominated for the PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers, and received an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train’s Emerging Writers contest. A former biology teacher, Tseng has also taught creative writing to middle schoolers and undergraduates. An immigrant twice over, she was born in Taiwan, grew up in Toronto, and now lives in New York City with her husband, twin sons, and one very energetic dog.
FRAN YU is a Chinese writer who works with words, images and ideas. She has an orange cat, and graduated from Hampshire College where she studied political theory, psychotherapy, and writing. She is currently an MFA student at the Pratt Institute in NYC. She is working on a new collection of work experimenting with diverse ways of truth telling with generosity, compassion, and tenderness.
Q. M. ZHANG is a writer, teacher, editor, and founder of MemoryWorks, a creative research and writing practice for individuals and communities trying to trace their own pasts and write their own stories in the face of historical omissions and intergenerational silences. Her book Accomplice to Memory, a Kirkus Best Indies Book of 2018, combines memoir, historical fiction, and documentary photographs to explore the possibilities of truth telling across generations and geographies. She is an associate professor emerita of cultural psychology and creative nonfiction at Hampshire College and prose editor at the Massachusetts Review.