Welcome to BWR 47.1
Who knows when or how this issue has made its way to you, but we hope that you are doing okay and welcome you to BWR 47.1.
Let us begin with what comes last in the issue: a first-ever for BWR, in a guest-edited section by one of our heroes, Renee Gladman. Renee gives her own introduction to the portfolio of work she selected, but we wish to recognize that the theme of afterwords, which she chose months before the global pandemic and this round of protests, resonates incidentally with the moment and with the unthemed material featured in the rest of the issue. The concept contains within it a reminder that the work never ends—not the work of thinking and creating after a manuscript is completed and a book goes to the printer, not the work after the immediate threat of an illness recedes and vulnerable people continue to struggle, not the work after coverage of demonstrations wanes and injustice persists. Pieces in this issue are part of that work.
“Do tales have ends?” asks a character in Silvia Park’s “Purge.” “No,” pieces in 47.1 might respond. In their undoings and re-doings, these poems, fictions, essays, and hybridities suggest the ongoing, continual qualities of stories and traumas. “The History of Gynecology,” about the tortuous experimentation on Black women in the development of the speculum, leaves us without a period’s full stop, reflecting the abuses’ continuation into our present. K. Henderson’s chapbook also refuses to conclude tidily and instead gives us an intriguing footnoted replay of its opening pages. Shannon Sankey’s “Rot” and “Poem Ending with a Line from Wang Wei” each offer resonant endings, with the intolerable normalcy we return to in that “terrible lamp” and not the finality of sorrow but the sorrow of finality: “It is sad to walk in the house and shut the door.” This poetry warns against complacency and forgetting, and the stakes remain high.
Indeed, death and loss permeate this issue, as they do this world. Izzy Casey’s “Elegy,” that afterword to life itself, shares a form with Nome Emeka Patrick’s direct address to a mother’s ghost and Cynthia Parker-Ohene’s “Then I Will Speak on the Ashes.” “When I saw the sun flicker like a dying lightbulb” casts about for meaning in spite of it all and conducts a preemptive inventory of things lost as the planet dies. “I’m going on,” the speaker tells the silent listener, “because to be blunt, / so does the index.” So, too, does the “you” of “Sofia Winter,” even in the poem’s dismal sparseness, over a street with “potholes to hell.” In its dark inversion of the nursery rhyme about a fly-swallowing woman, “I Close God’s Mouth with One Finger” gives an ouroboros of life, death, and rebirth.
Similarly, “The Nipple” takes a preexisting creation (in this case, Philip Roth’s The Breast) and achieves transformation. Whether through this story’s queer, feminist refiguring of heterodomesticity or “100% Mammal”’s final transgressive gesture, writing in this issue recognizes our troubled inheritance and puts forward alternative visions. The narrator of “The Nipple” experiences a pain, “which as usual is everywhere though nowhere I can put my finger on.” In “chin-halmoni (not memories, just history),” Betty Kim pursues the origins of pain in her family’s past and ends with a look to the future: “i will ultimately emerge from all this fuckery,” she writes, “and die / dignified on my deathbed.” In such ways, this issue reshapes received reality for particular selves and sidelined identities.
One of the very best tools for reshaping is also one of the first things inherited—language. Some contributors to this issue appear outside their original language, in translation, but also deliberately subvert the practice and make its futility their very subject. Others use code and “inside jokes,” parody and satire. They present the ghost stories, bird poems, and fabulism you might expect from BWR but also—and as always—so much more. We see dynamism and play but also surprises within prayerful repetition and quiet. These pieces contain numerous tiny rebellions against normative notions, values, and syntax. From disenfranchised positions, characters take action for the sake of survival. They provide counterweights to cultural hegemony, colonial plunder, and the western gaze.
While we remain apart from one another, we are thrilled to have these creators sharing this space and invite you to enter and share it, too. Thank you for supporting our contributors and us, and thank you for reading. Stay safe and well, but riot if you have to.
September 6, 2020