Welcome to TriQuarterly 154. We open this issue with a note of thanks to all those who submitted work for its consideration. I’ve been with TriQuarterly for several years now, and one of the great pleasures of my time with the journal has been in watching the volume of quality submissions rise with every year. 2018 has been no exception. We received so many high-caliber submissions that we actually had to revise our submissions windows in order to keep our response times in check. For editors, it’s a glorious problem to have—one that incites some impassioned debates at the editors’ table over what to publish, and one that allows us to look across the various contenders for themes and through-lines that can help shape an issue.
In selecting work for issue 154, we kept in mind our fifty-year-plus tradition of offering literary commentary on the political and social issues of the day. The poems, stories, essays, and videos in this issue come together to create a kind of literary time capsule, a collection of artistic responses to the all-too-many, all-too-familiar plights that remain so maddeningly present in our world. The work is honest and unflinching, demonstrating an ability to combine language, image, form, and subject matter in a way that produces a visceral response within the reader. I still cannot read Matthew Baker’s “The Visitation,” a story that sets us down in the middle of a lifeless planet inhabited solely by the ghosts of those who destroyed it, without aching at the heartbreaking resolve in its final lines. Or Gabriela Garcia’s “Everything Is Holding You Now,” without feeling the same “rock in [my] throat” that Jeanette (the main character) feels at witnessing the deportation of her immigrant neighbor. That rock remains in place throughout the entirety of the story as Jeanette, a recovering addict, struggles with how to help the young daughter the neighbor left behind, and it remains even now, after several readings. A warning: There is no shortage of fact in this fiction. These aren’t stories you will easily shake.
Also among the unshakable is LaTanya McQueen’s “Portrait of an American Male,” an essay that pieces together a series of found texts to expose the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing aspect of white supremacy in the United States. “He looks like any twenty-something or thirty-year-old,” McQueen quotes. “He is dapper, a buttoned-down millennial,” and we cringe at the realization of how frighteningly normal the face of hatred can appear. McQueen does not add her own commentary to the text and does not need to. We feel her anger at the injustice simmering just below the surface, rising as we progress from line to line.
The poets in issue 154 offer a wide range of responses to the cultural climate, sometimes within the same poem. In Carlie Hoffman’s “The Women of Highbridge Park,” the narrator’s emotions shift from beer-throwing anger to outright confusion over her own cultural identity within the space of a few lines. “Every day,” she says, “I begin to know less / about who I am to America.” For Kathy Z. Price (“And Gwendolyn Brooks”) and Jericho Brown (“Deliverance”), the contemplation turns transcendent. Price transports herself to a table at a poet’s café, weeping into a friend’s shoulder as the great Gwendolyn Brooks spits “ferocious red syllables” out into the crowd, while Jericho Brown imagines himself a sound. “Lord if I could / Become the note [Tramain Hawkins] belts halfway into / The fifth minute of the ‘The Potter’s House,’” Brown says, somehow taking us with him inside the note, allowing us to feel the resounding power of a song we may have never even heard. It is the ability to create that kind of writer-reader connection that makes the work in this issue so vital in these crazy, crazy times. We thank the contributors for tackling these topics, and we thank everyone who submitted their work for making the choice of what to publish so enjoyably difficult.