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2020 (Volume 32)

It is 2020, a new decade, and I feel an unsettledness around me.  It’s more than that.  It’s a feeling of being on the edge, awaiting something.  We have so much happening – wildfires in Australia, the coronavirus spreading, an impeachment trial, an assassination of an Iranian general, the shooting down of a plane, the bombing of our base in Iraq, fear of nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran, distress about lack of cyber security, anxiety about terrorism and mass shootings, the rise of white nativism, and nervousness about the caucuses.  I keep hearing W.B. Yeats’s words from “The Second Coming.” “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” Yeats saw his Ireland being attacked by British troops and felt the beginnings of the rise of fascism.  I’m feeling things falling apart.  Yet in this unease, we are putting together a literary art magazine.

This disquiet is alive in many of our works in our 32nd issue.  Themes of violence and hatred are prominent.  In AE Hines’ “How Could He Do It?” we enter the point of view of a suicide bomber. “Imagine a young boy’s confusion: / how he too might be willing to slip / plastique into his waistband or strap a bomb to his chest….” In Alisha Goldblatt’s “Another Sunday Massacre,” the speaker writes, “He fired until the faces of the church were on the shoulders / of all those who came before…Would they were immersed in anything but blood.” John Sibley Williams’ speaker in “Emmett Till // Edward Hopper” says, “All sorts of men are tossed / over bridges after whistling a little tune.”

The tragedy of Charlottesville and the legacy of slavery are on the minds of our writers.  In Sean Lause’s “Charlottesville,” “The kid with an engine for a heart / has one dream alone, / to give misery its own name.” In her essay “The Weight of Treasure,” Sarah Curtis writes, “The day white supremacists terrorized Charlottesville in August of 2017, my family and I visited a gold mine dug by slaves.” She watches “the vile hordes of Nazis” on her news feed and reflects on slavery and how its oppressiveness and brutality still exist.  In Mary Fitzpatrick’s “Last Heat,” we read of the “footsteps of the runaway, the footfalls of her tracker, panting over the layered / Dead.”

Another theme emerges, that of being alone and disconnected from others.  In “The Machine in Our Pocket: Drinking Alone in iPhone World,” Phillip Hurst writes, “One’s state of being in the land of screens is predicated not upon knowledge of a shared human condition, but an illusion of connection.” In “Timeblind,” Carl McCarl shows how ADHD, diagnosed when he was 22, leaves him misunderstood, disconnected, and alone.  He feels the impact of this disorder when he misses a momentous event. “Then came the merciful forgetting, and the feeling passed with the hours.” In Carrie Callaghan’s story “Unconsummated,” we feel the pain of two lovers breaking up as one stays connected to another. “You’re not leaving him. We both know that.”

We also find themes of betrayal and guilt. In Christine Bagley’s
story “With Grace,” a woman deals with her husband’s infidelity.
“I see the question in his eyes.  Are you going to forgive me?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Then he stands up.” Guilt is also shown in “Lockdown” by Danielle Homes.  While Sharon, a teacher, takes part in a mock emergency drill, her phone keeps ringing from the nursing home.  She knows it’s about her mother, but she can’t go to her.

Jim Shepherd on “Why We Still Need Literary Journals,” writes, “Almost certainly more than any other media in our country, literary magazines model critical thinking and arrange an exposure to the unorthodox, both of which can provide inoculations against where we seem to be headed as a collective.” We hope The Briar Cliff Review can help to inoculate against the violence and angst in our culture.  Art, especially when it throws light on human truth, is cleansing.  Now, more than ever, we need that.

Our winning pieces are evidence of how art elevates us.  This year we had an abundance of submissions to our 24th annual contest.  We were wonderfully pulled and torn in trying to select winners from among so many powerful pieces.

Poetry editor Jeanne Emmons said, “Jed Myers’ winning poem ‘Call Them Swifts’ enthralls us with precise and jaw-dropping imagery and unfailing verbal music as it evokes the ‘elegant wreckage’ of Venice and the fusion of that landscape with a sense of an inescapable personal past.”

Fiction editors Jeff Gard and Amelia Skinner Saint said of our prize story: “‘Armageddon Tack and Feed’ presents a world of beautiful juxtapositions and transcendent human connections. The author deftly renders each character with crisp language and sparkling prose.”

Nonfiction co-editor Paul Weber commented: “Karen Holmberg’s winning essay ‘The Very Worst Ache / Is Not Knowing Why: Remembering Madame Cluny,’ explores the meaning that envelops the student-and-teacher relationship, capturing us with her poetic phrasing.” Additionally, co-editor Ryan Allen commented: “Karen Holmberg’s prose is poetry in form and in content.  A portrait of a teacher, a landscape of a student, Holmberg’s work is a masterful synthesis of image, character, and voice.”

Before I close, I have to point out our wonderful cover.  We are heartened by Iggy Sumnik’s Jellybean, a pleasing ceramic sculpture that reminds us of our childhood and makes us smile.  Art and literature does that for us.  It delights and elevates us through the words and images and lets us experience other worlds and events.  That is why this magazine matters to so many people.  It uplifts and sustains us in chaotic times.  Welcome to the works in this issue.


C0VER: "Jellybean"

Iggy Sumnik / sculptured ceramic


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Contest Winners




"Armageddon Tack and Feed"

Deac Etherington

Deac Etherington, Tumacacori, AZ, was a finalist for the 2017
Arcturus Award for Fiction, Chicago Review of Books, and the 2018 and 2019 San Francisco Writers Conference Fiction Contest.  His work has appeared in Projected Letters Magazine, The Baltimore Review, and he has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.







Karen Holmberg, Corvallis, OR, won the John Ciardi Prize.  Slate named her work, Axis Mundi, one of the ten best poetry books of 2013. Recent poetry and nonfiction appeared in Southern Poetry Review, New England Review, Black Warrior Review, and Tupelo Quarterly.


"Call Them Swifts"

Jed Myers

Jed Myers, Seattle, WA, is author of Watching the Perseids, The Marriage of Space and Time, and four chapbooks.  Recent recognitions include the Prime Number Magazine Award for Poetry, The Southeast Review’s Gearhart Poetry Prize, and The Tishman Review’s Edna St. Vincent Millay Poetry Prize.  He is the poetry editor of the journal Bracken.

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