Monday, May 22, 2006

tnr # 37
Walter L. Maroney

The Fall 2005 issue (#37) of the the new renaissance (tnr), an Arlington-based periodical with a long history of presenting excellent work by a wide range of international artists, makes for a fascinating, if ultimately saddening, read. Over the years, tnr has carved a niche for itself, by bringing together a diverse mix of visual art, poetry, prose fiction, lead articles, and memoirs. Given such an eclectic range of media and content, the challenge for a journal as ambitious as tnr is to impose some sort of order on the material, or, more precisely, to order the chosen material so that it speaks to the reader as more than just a well-selected miscellany. tnr tends to achieve that goal by arranging its pieces thematically, so that, if read cover to cover, the reader may come away with an approximation of the experience of having read a novel: the whole is intended to deliver a message that amplifies the substance of its parts.

This issue for example, is dominated by thoughts, meditations and evidence of loss. It opens with a lead article co-written by H. Gyde Lund and Ashbindu Singh, that is part personal observation and part a statistical compilation about the rapidly increasing deforestation of the planet’s rain forests. A salient quote:

The number of species of birds alone in one square mile of the Amazon rain forest is more than the combined species in all of North America (Gore 1992). Destroying the rainforests is comparable to destroying an unknown planet – we have no idea what we’d be losing. Yet if deforestation continues at its current rate, the world’s tropical rainforests will be wiped out within 40 years.

Well, that’s interesting, arguably true, and certainly disturbing; but in the context of an arts journal, it seems a little inexplicably reportorial. Until, that is, one begins to read the ensuing stories and poetry. The rainforest meditation, for example, is followed by two poems by Daniel Tobin, the first a vision of a wasted western mesa that ends with the native leader Black Elk in a vision quest, imagining lost animals. The second, modeled after Munch’s The Scream, transfers that wasteland into the mind of a man, head shaped like a light bulb, while boats move in the distance toward a vanishing point.

From there, tnr takes us on a wide ranging journey across continents and into souls. The theme is constant: that we have no idea what we are losing; and yet we go on, doing all the things that cause our loss until our losses are staring us in the (sometimes screaming) face. One story, Louise Berchine, by M.E. McMullen, deals with an adolescent crush, minutely remembered by the now mature narrator with a compulsive personality disorder, that ends with the seemingly ordinary observation that the girl, the object of all his internalized affection, simply “grew up, moved away, met a nice guy, married him, had three kids that she drove to school in a new silver SUV.” But that ordinariness takes a sudden turn into pain in the following sentence:. “She never once gave a thought to her brother’s buddy for the rest of her life, but he thought about her every day …. Tough duty.” This piece finds an odd resonance with the story, Obsession by Bruce Douglas Reeves. In Reeve’s story, an apparently aging man ruminates, over a distance of decades, about his seeming friendship with an English family in post-war London. He is smitten by the wife and, for reasons he never discerns, she allows them to have a one-night affair shortly before he posts himself back to America. This quiet story is a gem of things left unsaid, and the reader comes away understanding that the narrator has never understood anything about the woman, and her war-bruised family, and pitifully little about himself - - losses perceived and unperceived.

There is a story, Greetings From Portugal, by Kenneth Rapoza about a young Portuguese student, on fellowship at an American university, whose guilt at having a barely consequential affair with a fellow student is so great that it reaches across the Atlantic to touch his fiancée; a devastating memoir Graves in London, by Barbara Honigmann, translated from the German by Lauren Hahn, of a woman’s lifelong struggle to understand her Jewish refugee mother’s adamant refusal to address her own past. This journey ends at the unmarked site of her grandparents’ graves. Four poems of Liu Yung, translated by Julie Landau: one starts with an image of boredom at a window that morphs into a cry of regret over giving up a woman years past; another, written while in exile, that is all of a moment, observing how “last nights third watch rain/Did add one more cool day to this uncertain life.”[1] An essay by Norman Ball on Keats’ “When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be” that closes with a crushing invitation to “join me, dear friends in never joining anyone again. Together we can honor Keats’s memory, relegating togetherness to the dustbin of history.”

All in all, tnr #37 is a powerful collection of works, of which I’ve cited only a selection that do in fact deepen and enrich each other by spinning a hundred different skeins on a similar subject: the world, our lives, their fragility, all refracted through a plethora of souls. Makes for a pretty remarkable read – and a tough duty.

Ibbetson Update/ Walter R. Maroney


Walter Maroney is a lawyer, poet, short story writer occasional storyteller and (so far) unpublished novelist. He lives in Manchester, New Hampshire with his wife and two sons.

Naiad by Marina Tsvetayeva of the name Father Neptune for the god called ??????-????, instead of some phrase closer to the Russian’s sound of “Okeana” for Ocean.

1 One further note: tnr adopts the practice, which is often not done for reasons of space, paper and money, of printing translated works in their original language. This is a profound gift, which allows readers with facility in one or another language to consult the artist’s original phrasing when working one’s way through a translated piece. A small pleasure, maybe, but a genuine bonus, as well. This reader, for example, spent an enjoyable few minutes debating in his head with Karen Braucher and Laura Weeks, their choice, in translating the poem

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