2021 (Volume 33)
We survived 2020, and The Briar Cliff Review emerges stronger than ever. In times of turmoil, we turn to the arts to find solace and safety. As editors, we saw more submissions this year than ever before. People stayed home because of the pandemic, and they wrote, painted, sketched, and submitted their works to us. “Art has always been the raft onto which we climb to save our sanity,” wrote artist Dorothea Tanning.
We cling to what keeps us invigorated, what sustains us. We keep composing in our writing groups, doing Zoom meetings, reading and connecting with characters in novels and memoirs, and entering contests or submitting to magazines. It’s what has kept us going.
In January I finished reading Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine deKooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art. In this book Mary Gabriel writes, “The work of artists … during troubled periods throughout history, acted as a kind of beacon, a ping from the hidden depths reminding those who searched for it that, all evidence to the contrary, civilization had not perished: If there is art, there is hope.”
This year we “shout out” that hope is alive and is reflected in the many works in our 33rd issue. In the fall we celebrated 25 years of sponsoring our poetry, fiction, and nonfiction contest, and we read the abundance of entries with eagerness and joy.
Poetry editor, Jeanne Emmons, said, “John Blair’s award-winning poem ‘Burning’ is both profound and beautiful even as it laments the destruction wrought by human greed on the environment. Tying the devastation of forest fires to both Christian and Vedic mythology, the poem swims in mystery as it grieves over the tragedy of the human condition and our propensity to bend the gifts of fire and consciousness toward desecration.”
Fiction editors Jeff Gard, Phil Hey, and Amelia Skinner Saint said of the winning short story, “In ‘The Icon Painter,’ Tim Bascom offers a glimpse into those who have been silenced by society. Zauditu, an Ethiopian immigrant, must guard a Willem de Kooning painting, which serves as an unusual antagonist and a catalyst for her hidden talents. Zauditu’s flashbacks of her life as a secret icon painter in Ethiopia and her evolving interactions with de Kooning’s painting form a dialectic about art, perseverance, and collaboration.”
Nonfiction editor Paul Weber said of the winning essay, “In ‘Guilty Bystanders,’ Jacob M. Appel recounts his observation of a seemingly trivial intrusion by an adult into a children’s activity. He deftly uses his reflections on the event to invite the reader into broader, ethical considerations.” Our other nonfiction editor Ryan Allen wrote, “Appel’s ‘Guilty Bystanders’ dances in the most precise and measured movement of image and voice, character and story, and forces us to contemplate the ethical spaces within ourselves and in our relationship to the world.”
This year we have a new section called Voices of the Great Plains, which showcases works about our country’s vast middle section – that great swath of grassland from Montana and North Dakota down to the Texas panhandle. We launch this section with a personal narrative “Flies” by Sean W. Murphy. As he drives towards Badlands National Park, he feels “the broad expanse of prairie coasting out into the blackness,” and he says he’s “been thinking about the Lakota Sioux all day … I feel the tug, through unknown ancestors … ”
In this issue themes emerged illustrating nature and its strange wildness and destructiveness. In “Derecho,” Rustin Larson shows us the fierce storm that went through Iowa in July. “Pelicans flew backwards … Electrical lines danced and sparked on the lawns.” In Julia Levine’s “April in Community Park” she is with her dying friend and sees “a violence in the viridescence / finches returning to blaze the boxwood.” In “Bloom” Ann Hudson reflects that she failed to “cut back / its two broken branches’ and now she can’t tell the dead from the living.”
A common theme is loss and lack of connection. Michael Moos’s speaker in “The Necessity of Beauty” walks early. “The deer are gone” and he muses on “learning to live with loss.” Destruction and disconnection are evident in the essay “Without Words.” Author Allison Macy-Steines recalls her sister who lost her voice due to viral encephalitis and a genetic disease. “She was trapped inside her own silence for nearly 13 years.” Years later, the writer refrains from speaking for a week in order to connect with her sister and realizes the power of silence and the meaning of her humming.
In her essay “Ephemeral Does Not Mean Impermanent,” Sarah Lass asks, “What is it to be human, after all, if not to grapple with the essential incompatibility of our collective character, to be driven by connection forged by loss in a world in which everything, ultimately, passes?”
Themes of what is ethically and morally right are evident in many works. In “Empathy Lessons” Diane LeBlanc looks at George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police officers who are supposed to save people, and she moves into the essay trying to understand if empathy can be taught.
One of our stories, “Moonlight Over Nuremberg” by Kathy Bergen, depicts two soldiers during the Nuremberg trials. The words of America’s lead prosecutor ring in their ears. “The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored because it cannot survive their being repeated.”
Before I close, I want to highlight our cover sculpture, Masked Consciousness, a cast-iron masked face by Christopher Meyer. In this mask Meyer shows us an anguished look with eyes closed. Years from now we will look back and remember wearing masks when we left our homes. No one will forget the feel of the mask slipping from our noses, the smell of our own breath, and the sound of our muffled voices as we talked. The masked man reminds us of this difficult time, but surely he will open his eyes again when the pandemic has waned or ended. Art reminds us there is hope and joy in our future. May you be uplifted as you leaf through our 33rd issue of The Briar Cliff Review.
C0VER: "Masked Consciousness"
Christopher Meyer / cast iron
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Tim Bascom of Topeka, KS, is the author of four previous books, including Climbing Lessons: Stories of Fathers, Sons, and the Bond Between, plus two prize-winning memoirs about his childhood in East Africa: Chameleon Days and Running to the Fire. His fiction has appeared in Fiction Southeast, Mainstreet Rag, and Lalitamba. His essays have won prizes at The Missouri Review and Florida Review, being selected for the anthologies Best Creative Nonfiction and Best American Travel Writing.
Jacob M. Appel
Jacob M. Appel of New York City, NY, is the author of four literary
novels, ten short story collections, an essay collection, a cozy mystery, a thriller, a volume of poems and a compendium of medical dilemmas.
He is a physician, attorney, and bioethicist based in NYC.
John Blair of San Marcos, TX, has published six books, most recently Playful Song Called Beautiful (University of Iowa Press, 2016) as well as poems & stories in The Colorado Review, Poetry, The Sewanee Review, The Antioch Review, New Letters, and elsewhere. His seventh book, The Art of Forgetting, is forthcoming this spring from Measure Press.