Dispatches | February 22, 2007

Our Editors’ Prize issue is about to happen.  We have the cover.  We have the contents. We have just about everything finished, with the exception of the last, dirty job of proofing and correcting. 

And we have the theme.  Or should I say, we have the un-theme. 

As we complete each issue there comes a point when we see that there’s a common thread running through most of the contents.  It’s not a theme so much as a kind of unity by default.  We don’t pick the themes. They somehow pick us (it’s a little like adopting stray animals-you sometimes get better ones that way).  This time it was the paradox of loneliness in love that surfaced as the un-theme of most of our selections: “I love; therefore I’m abysmally lonely.” “I don’t love; therefore I’m also abysmally lonely.” “I’m lonely, so I love, and then I find out that the object of my love isn’t who I thought, and that makes it worse than before. Help!”  Forgive me for making light of what really is serious in our contents (and for most people).  It’s the absurdity of the problem that invites humor-and much rumination, apparently, because we also read for this issue a lot of love-and-loneliness submissions that we didn’t accept.  Writers seem to care about this frustrating paradox.

Here’s a glimpse of some of the good writing about to go to print (it should be out next month):

From Cynthia Coffel’s prizewinning essay, “Letters to David”:

Some people can anticipate the endings of things, I suppose; they hear the swell of violins before the crackling film fades black, notice the long shot of the coming snowstorm signaling that the heroine is about to meet her match, change her ways and lose what little bit of optimism is left to her. In those early days I didn’t see any endings. I thought it would always be David and me together against the world-not in the same state, maybe, but in the same spirit-working against all that was cruel in our country. David isn’t the man I left behind, exactly, or even someone I vaguely wish I’d married. Instead he’s the one I associate with my youth . . . .

From Jonathan Fink’s poem “Captive”:

When Rodney said,

You’ll never understand because you’re white,

I did not answer him (it was a statement not a question)

and for three more miles we did not say a word.

The track to which we both returned, the lanes

expanding outward so that runners staggered at a race’s start,

reminded me of how we dropped ball bearings in a tank

in physics class to study how concentric circles spread

through water from the single motion of the bearing.

True enough, I’d thought in class, but force is never isolated . . .

And from the prizewinning short story, “Creve Coeur,” by Jacob M. Appel:

At that moment, the girl — the most alluring creature I’ve ever seen — stepped angelically into our artificial winter. She wore a low-cut white sundress and tiny white sneakers.          

“I’m looking for Mr. Dortmund,” she said. Her voice held just a hint of drama, a dash of New England royalty, as though she’d learned English watching Rosalind Russell movies. She also had a desperate force about her, like a talented actress holding together a very bad play . . . .