Letter From the Editor
The story goes that a woman once asked Monet what “understanding” she was to derive from his paintings. He responded that she didn’t have to understand, but only to love. That’s the way I feel when I gaze upon the paintings of this issue’s guest artist, William Powell, one of America’s foremost landscape artists and color theorists. His “Bear Country” is a real place in the Sierras, (“…at the end of the road along upper McGee Creek Canyon between Bishop and Mammoth,” says Mr. Powell) and—as far as I know, apart from his public website—makes its debut in these pages. It contains much to draw the eye, but I could stare at the water alone, and the rocks beneath it, all day. How does one execute rocks under water in oil? He’s got a video at his website that shows you how. For sale, that is. I’ll confess to being an amateur dabbler in Mr. Powell’s craft, and owe almost everything I know to a man I’ve never met. (Personally, I should say. He’s very gracious about answering emails.) I own about half his videos but not even a quarter of his books because he’s written so many. Give me time. When my wife asks what I’d like for Christmas, I have a ready reply.
I’ll have to say we’ve been incredibly fortunate in the quality of artists to have graced these pages. The standard won’t be easy to keep up, but we’ll try. I expect some of them to make return engagements. It’s not as though they stopped painting after appearing here. Anyway, my thanks to them all for agreeing to join us.
The Monet story reminds me of Flannery O’Connor’s response to that college girl who asked, similarly, “just what enlightenment” O’Connor expected her to get from her stories, to which O’Connor advised that she “forget about the enlightenment and just try to enjoy them.” This confirms my suspicion that the initial and driving impulse behind the artistic act is one of gratitude, a big ‘thank you’ for the gift of creation and of life. The artist wants to make something beautiful to share. He derives great pleasure when you inform him that it is indeed replete with that quality. Not all such thank-yous are worthy of public consumption unless the craft of the medium in which it is rendered has been, through long labor, moderately well-mastered. But the gratitude itself is always worth something. I used to be puzzled by nihilistic novelists who took three hundred pages to demonstrate that there’s no point to it all. In the very effort of putting words to a page, they seem to give the lie to their own conviction, for in that effort they too pay homage to creation, as a thing which, though good, must travel in company with evil. The nihilist will conclude that the evil outweighs the good, such that, as evidence of the world’s ultimate indifference to human love, it is the defining quality of the universe. But in so concluding, he must make us love his characters, experience the pathos of their lives, care deeply for the movements of their souls, and weep in despair at the resolution to their forlorn destinies. In short, he must spend a lot of time drawing sense from what he finally believes is nonsense. Behind the hopelessness, he must have seen something beautiful, mysterious, or noble—something that needed dealing with, and the paying of a tribute.
A good example might be Mr. Hemingway himself. In this issue, Ward Scott—novelist, essayist and teacher—takes us into the world of “The Killers,” and reveals how Hemingway constructs a meeting between those eternal antagonists, good and evil—only one of whom is a willing companion—and the paralysis that often afflicts the former in the confrontation. You can run, but you can’t hide, Hemingway seems to say, but we’ll let Mr. Scott have the last word.
I doubt if many of us have seen much good in the recent economic crisis, but you’ll see it in Paul Cella’s riveting explication of the arcane, incredibly complex financial securities arrangements that almost brought our nation to its knees, and which has in fact, his title claims, taken us “From Commercial Republic to Plutocracy.”
In fiction, Jeff Trippe tells a story of a man, a woman, and a baby. What could be more normal, or hold more promise, than this trinity of humanity’s foundation? Read and find out.
We welcome three new poets (new to this Review, that is)—Daniel Janeiro, William Straney and Bill Daugherty—and two who make a return: William Mickelberry and Thomas DeFreitas. This editor is—that’s right—grateful, for all of them and their distinctively arresting voices.
Lastly, Lydia McGrew offers an appreciation of Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead. Hers is the sort of criticism so often missing from the modern scene, that which elevates the work rather than the arbiter of its worth. It is that sort which displays a wonderful sympathy, without itself being sentimental, for the book’s language and characters, so that when she finds what she thinks a flaw in the protagonist’s (Ames’s) doctrine (he’s a preacher), her empathy for him remains, allowing the critic’s own humanity to shine through. Some minds are so dogmatic that they can’t find beauty in the weaknesses of others, but Mrs. McGrew’s, like Ames’s, is not one of them. And that’s all fiction is about, finding the beauty in the soul’s struggle behind the curtain of sin and the certainty of the grave. Her critique, in other words, is no less a gesture of thanksgiving than any of the other works in this issue.
I read somewhere to let the evil of the day be sufficient unto itself. The nihilist is right when he opines that we’ll all be carted to the cemetery forthwith, but I also suspect that, like the rest of us, he is grateful for having seen the light in the interim. I’ll try to remember to say a few thank-yous before the first shovelful of dirt comes down. But I’ve a reputation as a procrastinator, for which my wife often rewards me with an observation no less timely for being well-worn: “Better late than never.”