25 Years of Outstanding Literature
In a climate when many literary magazines lack staying power, Hayden’s Ferry Review’s 25th anniversary issue is cause for celebration. Across 300 pages, “Regarding Artifacts” puts the past into conversation with the present by playing off the idea that any archive can be mined and remade to create new works of art. Though this issue contains a measure of thematic control, it nevertheless applies pressure to the borders of the known world. Fragmented visual and literary artifacts turn the cliché that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts on its head by suggesting that parts carry more meaning than the whole.
The cover image, a still from David Maisel’s “History’s Shadow,” was created by photographing x-rays of artworks from antiquity. The resulting picture is a ghostly hint of the original that teasingly flirts with what can and cannot be seen. Maisel’s excavation of hidden secrets within an object returns as a motif throughout the pieces that follow. In Kris Sanford’s series of photographs entitled “Cropped,” heads and torsos are cut out of the picture to reveal the potential for queer relationships. Pictures of women standing casually with their arms intertwined or playfully holding each other in old-fashioned bathing suits intentionally fragment the familiar until a shared lesbian history emerges.
Much like Sanford’s photographs, Karen Biscopink’s poems are “versified erasures of letters” from her family’s archive. She captures the hidden frailty latent in familiar pleasantries: “Feeling great— / Everything is / fine, don’t / get in a big hurry, just say a prayer, / all right?” Of course, art created by subtraction is not a novel technique, but the skill exhibited by Sanford, Biscopink, and others is what makes Hayden’s Ferry Review one of the best literary magazines today. The polish on these stories sometimes hides the deeply unsettling nature of many of the pieces. Notable poems by Melanie Jordan, Gregory Donovan, and Elena Tomorowitz explore past and present with haunting beauty. One stanza in particular from Jordan’s poem “Germination” narrates a feeling of loss by describing how Mary Shelley kept “her husband’s heart / in a portable writing desk when / that’s all she had left.” The heart, both a piece of the body and the soul, speaks to the ache that lingers after reading these poems.
The works in this issue sometimes manipulate fragmentation, and other times emerge from the unintentional decay of time. Cynthia Hogue’s “Interview with a Samizdat Poet” is a versified copy of an unpublished interview with the Russian poet Olga Sedakova. The original 1999 interview was lost when two tape recorders broke during the interview, forcing Hogue and Sedakova to use a third. Even after ten years of struggling to transcribe the tape, Hogue writes, “none of it could save the interview, which remained music to my ears. Untranslatable.” Hogue frames her poem as a series of excerpts “sometimes creatively completed or (mis)quoted,” and it reads as a poetic tribute to her subject. The poem echoes the feeling of reading at the edges of their conversation, leaving the reader to wonder what else might have been said that day: “Everything could be written down / because you would understand, / although perhaps differently, / how the meaning of words survives their context.” I have been calling the interview a “poem,” but the editors include the poem with “Translations” in the table of contents. Subtle editorial choices such as this invite conversations about the instability of genre.
The translations here invite enquiries into the collaborative process between the original writer and the translator. Whereas some literary magazines may have one or two at most, this issue has six writers in translation, providing a depth of talent and perspective not typically found elsewhere. In their introduction to translated vignettes by Tony Duvert, S. C. Delaney and Agnès Potier ask “How much, if any, of the pieces’ bitter essence—for their vision is profoundly bitter—belongs to the storyteller, and how much has been slyly injected, beneath that vocal skin, by Duvert?” The translators probe the writer’s skill, but lurking behind this question is its corollary: how much of the prose is created by the translator? Hayden’s Ferry Review does not shy away from this question, but tackles it head on. In “On Translating Haruki Murakami,” an interview with Jay Rubin conducted by Hayden’s Ferry Review editor Adrienne Celt, Celt asks Rubin to clarify a previous statement that “what readers in English encounter is not truly Murakami’s work, but … an interpretation.” Rubin reply, that “some pieces more heavily dependent of knowledge of the culture are less susceptible to effective translation,” confirms that translation is always the result of a close collaboration between the writer and the translator.
Given that this is an anniversary issue, most of the contributors are well established, an unfortunate consequence that leaves me to wonder how a newcomer would approach the topic of “artifacts.” But the high quality of this issue is as much a product of the organization and layout of the magazine as it is the resume of the writers. The poetry and nonfiction selections in this issue are stronger than the fiction pieces, though Victoria Lancelotta’s story “So Happy” rises to the challenge. But for the most part, non-fiction selections by Liz Prato and Robert Leonard Reid are the highlights of the prose pieces. Still, Hayden’s Ferry Review draws you in by promising and delivering greatness. In the closing words of Reid’s ode to musical improvisation, “Echoes of the Creation,” “Come in, friends! Gather round. I have a story to tell you.” With any luck, Hayden’s Ferry Review will continue to tell stories for another 25 years.