Issue 80 |
Winter 1999-00

Introduction to the Poetry

The millennial moment. We can't know what it will mean, though we'll live through it and be lived by it. But with the new millennium in mind, we've chosen for our cover
Strong Winds, a painting by the Minnesota artist Kate Borowske, seeing it as an emblem of the moment -- the poet, or fiction writer, holding on for dear life in the face of disquieting change. A sixty-nine-year span separates the oldest and youngest writers in this issue: the eminent poet Josephine Jacobsen, 91, contributes two poems, and John McManus, 22, publishes his first story. In between are writers from every generation, scattered across the country, some recognizable "names," others starting out.

No one can know what direction serious literary activity will take in the twenty-first century, but I feel confident that -- despite the quantities of mediocre, perfectly predictable poetry and fiction currently being written -- an enormous amount of energy and talent is "out there" ready to propel American writing into the new millennium with a whoosh and a bang. Although we resisted the idea of limiting the work in this issue to a millennial theme, some of the poems here do speak for the times in topical and provocative ways: William Heyen's "Respects," Bruce Beasley's "Mutating Villanelle," Christine Stewart's "Spider Time," and Frank X. Gaspar's "The Lilies of the Field," to name just a few. No school or style is favored. Rather, I looked for poems that I thought were most successful on their own terms, rather than ones that mirrored a particular style or aesthetic. We hope readers find the offerings diverse, the voices individual and distinctive.

Last spring, in a poetry workshop that I was teaching in Baltimore, I asked my students to write about some aspect of the approaching millennium. The resulting poems ranged from the apocalyptic to the anticlimactic, a "bang" vs. a "whimper." I was especially struck by a sequence titled "The Year Gains Speed" by Samara Kanegis, too long to reprint here in its entirety, but I'll quote its concluding lines:

Time is running out. . . . We mark off the days,

work frantically toward those various turning points,

beyond which everything is invisible and huge.

This is the future: we can only travel at warp speed

toward the vast, hideous, gorgeous unknown.

Vast. Hideous. Gorgeous. The world we are living in
is changing, the pulse of life increasingly impersonal, rapid, and isolated. It will be some years before we can put 1999 in any sort of context, literary or otherwise. But let this issue be a bridge between what was and will be, as we resolutely enter a new millennium.