Writing of Witness
And I just stare.
The cover art for the winter-spring issue of Rock & Sling punches me in the gut with its mission to witness. All of the pieces in this journal don’t make strict allusions to Christianity or religion per se. Rather, the pieces chosen range from personal passions, realizations, or struggles to the effect of faith in one’s life. It remains a journal of witness, and inside, under a tidy definition of the word, the journal promises to promote pieces that focus on getting down to the nitty-gritty of experience, because, as the mission says, “the word witness means to testify: to tell the truth.”
Truths like Mandy Iverson’s nonfiction piece “Bridging Blue Lines,” which explores her passion with water—boats, sailors, location, whales—and her relationships that developed because of it. It’s one of my favorite pieces in this issue because of the self-deprecating sincerity with which Iverson admits to wanting to be impetuous and wanting something akin to romance in her life. “This is how it always is,” she writes. “Someone tries to give you direction and all you see is chaos.”
Iverson jumps around in her life’s timeline, connecting the dots of water-related goals, like finding surfers, her boyfriend thinking he’s a whale, looking at the sea with her father, and she moves easily from her at different ages with her retrospective-perspective, almost disdainfully, though always nostalgic, always seeking truth as in her line, “[w]e’ve built a little world in the middle of a great big one.”
Addie Zierman’s “Here Comes the Dark” is an amazing essay close to the beginning of the journal, that really challenges one’s faith versus one’s own perspective. Zierman’s candid about her hollowness, her feeling of uselessness as she strives to continue those prayers, those readings. There are snapshots of her losing herself, so quick and spiraling that when she finds herself in the doctor’s office, it’s a heroically hollow moment: “depression is a wily bastard, hard to pin down, particularly when you’re lying.” But as swiftly as she spirals out, she captures the path back through routine, through a quick pace that doesn’t gloss over but resembles the pattern and hard work necessary.
I found the nonfiction to be the stand out in this collection. With the ultimate goal to promote stories of witness, that’s not that surprising, but what is disappointing is the restrain in which it publishes nonfiction and fiction pieces as opposed to poems. There is three of each, whereas the poems dominate.
Most of the poems are free-verse, first-person and range from thankful imagery of nature to more contemporary scenes of personal motivation, like in Marci Rae Johnson poem “Ghazal for Amy Grant,” where the narrator freely admits that “[a]t 15 I had done nothing worthwhile for the kingdom/of God, though I earned a million points in Pac-Man.” The piece is achingly familiar, for any of us who felt inspired by an artist but felt stumped at just being an admirer.
There are also poems in search of control or overall faith such as John Ballenger’s “In Defense of the Earth’s Capacity for Production.” It’s a small piece that explores the simple, natural order of animal behavior: “the beetles and flies arrive and if their tiny mouths were capable/of forming the words they might, half-drunk on moose blood,/sing the praise of a world capable of such making.”
One of my favorite pieces, which is classified as a poem here, is the “Dear Russel Nakagawa” series written by Jeffrey G. Dodd and sprinkled throughout the journal. The narrator first begins his one-sided correspondence with Russel Nakagawa because of a yard-sale purchase of The Beatles “Abbey Road” vinyl, which the narrator finds to be scratched, deeply, among other things, and of course, Russel’s name being on the cover prompts the narrator to start his passive aggressive, sarcastic attack. With how the letters are spread out in the journal, the tension just builds and the comedic timing gets better.
In the same way, the journal sprinkles out the series of “Heavy Man Hears His Kid Say the F Word,” a cheeky three-piece art series by Scott Kolbo. The journal does accept art pieces, though this issue only showcases Kolbo. He’s responsible for the cover and six other pieces in this issue, and a lot of the pieces provided emphasize movement and action. In his artistic statement, Kolbo admits to focusing on the slapstick or comedy, the “broken moments where grace becomes visible.” His pieces add lightness to the weight of some of the poems and fiction.
The three fiction pieces are conventional. They surround a single narrator. Vic Sizemore’s “A Prophet of the Most High” follows a young boy. It’s actually an excerpt of a novel, and it carries the tone of a small town in the same way that Jessie van Eerden “Beulah House” follows an older man in a similar small town. Sizemore’s piece remains inside a little boy’s head, inside his house, reaching out through this narrator’s limited world by what he sees out the window. And van Eerden’s narrator has more mobility and a clearer view of the townspeople’s morals. It’s unfortunate that the journal has so little fiction that these pieces with similar environments can run together for comparison.
I really appreciated the manifestos that close off the journal, particularly David Wright’s “13 Dubious Contentions About Faithful Writing,” where Wright shares such nuggets like “whenever you feel tempted to use the word ‘soul’ […] use the word ‘belly’ instead” or his own views on the relationship of fantasy and Christianity. It follows in the same way that I appreciated the nonfiction more, the contrast in tone to the other works makes these pieces—this one in particular—stand out.
In the contributors’ notes, degree, previous publications, or vocation doesn’t distinguish the showcased writers. Instead, they show a range of approaches towards faith in their work. Not every contributor shares, but the overall affect simply emphasizes the journal’s mission to witness, showing the variety of lenses they’ve compiled.