Volume 11 of the Chicago Quarterly Review, a bi-annual journal put out by Monadnock Group Publishers, is a good example of the way language can bridge barriers between people. Most of the pieces here deal in some way with the crossing of boundaries, be they physical, historical, mental, or emotional. The editors make note of this unofficial theme in a statement at the journal's opening. The work of the journal's eleven contributors is not separated by style; poetry and fiction are interspersed throughout.
The first story is "Negro Boy, 14" and its beauty and emotive power can't be stressed enough. The short piece chronicles the life of Emmett Till from the time he leaves his mother in Chicago until he is brutally murdered by two white men in Mississippi for whistling at one of their wives in a general store. The well-known facts are enough to evoke a sense of nausea, but the personality Fleming gives to the young boy adds a sense of humanity to a piece of history making it all the more disturbing.
Another high point is Carrie Messenger's "How the Romanians Ruined Christmas"--a story detailing the flight of a Romanian family from their chaotic homeland shortly before the fall of Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu. Told from the point of view of a young boy, the troubles of adjusting to a new place are made especially vivid as he and his two sisters struggle to adapt to their new lives. Messenger's prose enters the mind of an adolescent boy perfectly and the reader easily recognizes Gabitza's struggle with assimilation. The simple, almost comical way in which such a serious subject is delivered works well.
Unfortunately, not all of the stories are as effective as Fleming's and Messenger's. Deborah Guerra's short story "The Interview" isn't a bad one by any means. The content is there; the problem lies in the form. Written entirely in second person past tense, the prose gets tiresome (you did this, you said this, etc). Instead of the presumed intention of drawing the reader into this "every character", it does more to distance her than anything else.
Jody Azzouni's "Sirens" suffers from a more minor setback. The fundamental issue with this piece is in the delivery. The plot moves along as a rather innocuous story of a young boy's experiences with comic books, fairy tales, imagination, and his secret obsession with finding a mermaid (causing him to nearly drown on multiple occasions). The hammer blow comes in the end when swims to the bottom of the deep end of a swimming pool because he sees a "magical route" to another world. This, of course, is the filter which his arm gets caught in. The final sentence has him taking in a gulp of water. While the event doesn't come out of left field, there is little tension built into the story itself so this particular near-drowning (or actual drowning) comes as too much of a shock; not a good kind of shock, it feels like shock value.
There are only four poets featured in this issue and the two translated Italians are the strongest. A founding and leader of the Italian neo-avant-garde movement, Eduardo Sanguineti is a true wordsmith. The nine poems included are from his collection Il gatto lupesco, Poesie 1982-2001 and exhibit great attention to detail and deep pessimism. In "Untitled poem numbered 17," Sanguineti opens with the humorous and telling words: "we're all political (and animal too):/ this being granted, let me tell you how/ I hate the hateful politicians".
Sanguineti's countryman, and poetic predecessor, Camillo Sbarbaro wrote at a time when societal boundaries were being dismantled. World War I served as the final nail in the coffin of the "old regime" and the first poem from Sbarbaro's 1914 collection Pianissimo captures the fear, ambivalence, and alienation this change into the modern era would bring about. The narrator is one with a soul resigned to both pleasure and grief: "Instead we walk./ We walk you and I like somnambulists/ ...and things are/ what they are, only what they are./ ...The siren of the world/ has lost her voice, and the world is an immense/ desert."
Like Sanguineti after him, Sbarbaro presents a materialistic world without a soul. A world where joy and pain, emotions that make us human, have no affect on the mechanized modern man--a man so mechanized he looks at his alienated self with "tearless eyes."