Recently I’ve been thinking about what makes a place a place. And, additionally, what makes a sense of place (in writing) a sense of place, and not a sense of well… something else. It seems like there’s a lot of confusion about this.
And perhaps it’s confusion that we’ve invited by spending so much time trying to describe it on our submissions page.
But let me clear something up: a sense of place isn’t simply that which is derived from place description, or from “grittiness” or whatever that is. Place isn’t simply setting. Or the presence of down and out “blue collar” people.
A sense of place, I’d like to suggest, is in the entire world an author presents in her or his work. The total sense derived from rhythm, syntax and image. Take John Berryman’s Dream Songs, for example–a work not generally known for having “a sense of place” in the narrow sense.
Yet I’d like to argue that poetry that is located primarily in Berryman’s mind, in his memory, in his shame and in his triumph, is still poetry of place, even if that place is the surreal interior of the alcoholic poet’s brain: I am, outside. Incredible panic rules. / People are blowing and beating each other without mercy. / Drinks are boiling. Iced / drinks are boiling. The worse anyone feels, the worse / treated he is (Dream Song 46). Not only is Berryman located there, but we’re located there too.
It’s this same generous sense of place that I hope you’ll find in the pages of Issue 5. The narrator of Joel Hans’ “Darkest Spots in the Galaxy” swallows stars; St. Stephen ponders death in a haystack in a story by Annie Bilancini; Sam Martone meditates on a life of down.
Connor Towne O’Neill takes us to the last road on earth, and Sarah Pape pulls us toward a world where “The only world was the one with her bodily.”
Holly Painter gives us “English-to-English” translations from the Beach Boys’ repertoire; we have suburban sonnets by Ray Nayler; and Patrick Williams gets all “completely inarticulate.”
We hope you enjoy these pieces, and the places these writers inhabit–and we hope this summer sees you well.
Nathan Knapp & James Brubaker, June 2014.