2022 (Volume 34)
Writer and cultural chronicler Joan Didion, who died on December 23, 2021, wrote in The White Album, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Didion had been observing and recording since her mother handed her a Big Five notebook and told her to write down her thoughts.
As we get ready to unveil our 34th issue of The Briar Cliff Review, we celebrate the stories this magazine has always told. We need stories to nourish us, to survive, especially in this age of political strife and the coronavirus variants ravishing our world.
This year we sponsored our 26th annual contest, and we received hundreds of submissions. It is always a joy for our editors to read these manuscripts, and of course, it is difficult to finally narrow down and select a winner. So many works are worthy.
Of Partridge Boswell’s prize-winning poem, poetry editor Jeanne Emmons wrote: “‘Nightswimming’ conjures up the response of African Americans to the creation of a segregated Black beach in Florida in 1949, imagining a ‘topia’ in which darkness is celebrated and reveled in, ‘an umbra blooming / the deepest indigo of our devotion.’ Boswell’s powerful imagery and music, along with the tone of passion and defiant joy, make this poem a winner.”
Fiction editors Jeff Gard, Amelia Skinner Saint, and Phil Hey said of Anna Round’s award-winning story “Glass” : “The distinctive voice and tender characterizations of this story struck us immediately, letting us know that we were in the hands of an expert storyteller. We loved the gritty realism of Anna’s story about two people who share a building and are brought together through a horrendous crime. It makes us question how well we know our neighbors, and how our everyday encounters might transform into something more intimate, given the proper circumstances. Eddie and Marissa are the kind of people we might overlook on the street, but they are certainly worthy of our attention.”
Of the winning essay “Everybody Smile!” nonfiction editors Paul Weber and Ryan Allen said, “The author Nancy Fowler conveys not only the psychological suffering of a daughter subject to abuse by her father but also the internal conflict of trying to maintain the appearance of a ‘normal family.’”
Every year, themes emerge from our stories, poems, and essays. This year the deterioration of the family is a recurring motif. In “These Tender Breakable Things,” Keilly Austin Ulrey writes, “You see dad receding into his bourbon, draining his collector bottles one by one until he has to settle for the cheap stuff found at the store because he’s too far gone to simply not settle at all.” This theme is also found in K. James D’Agostino’s “Claws of Midnight,” about a flood in Houston and a couple dealing with not being able to have a child. Husband Jon knows monsters are metaphors for their deep loss and grief. “The water conceals things…. In the water there are monsters of all sizes….”
In our poems we find another theme focusing on coming of age during adolescence and with it awakening and empowerment. In Ruth Bardon’s “Swimming Pool,” the young woman says,” I remember how strong / I was, slicing through a world / where I couldn’t even breathe, / and claiming it as mine.” In Maxima Kahn’s “Developing,” the young speaker roams the city taking photographs. Then, as the title says, she develops them. “I string the photos up like lingerie, / exposing my view, hoping to be touched / that intimately.” In Lyn Holmgren’s “Post-glacial,” the speaker recalls her adolescence. “We grew up swimming in the kettles that glaciers left,” and they shared sour peach rings and secrets.
Another theme deals with traumatic current or historical events and our response to them. The present can evoke remembrances of the past. In Ron Riekki’s “My Father Makes Apple Pie While the Capitol Is Stormed,” the speaker’s father is baking on January 6 but won’t look at the television. His wife comes over and hugs him. “She / has learned to do this, read about PTSD, understands / it, him, this moment….” In other works, we see the struggle to come to terms with historical atrocities. In Ronda Piszk Broatch’s “I Can’t Remember Not Wanting to Be Haunted,” she recalls her family’s experiences in Nazi Germany. “In a past life I was the hand-tailored wool coat made in Berlin / around my grandfather’s shoulders.” In Michael Pikna’s “An Uprising” the protagonist, once a prisoner at Mauthausen, is haunted by loss, guilt and rage, even while watching his son on the pitcher’s mound. “I quit my job in the quarry to work in the bakery making Horicke trubicky, slender confections that look like cigarettes. I thought that would be better, but now I rage at ovens instead of stones.”
The power of art to confront trauma is shown in William V. Roebuck’s “Break Up One’s Lines: Writing the Wrongs in a Life of Diplomacy.” He remembers the words, like a mantra, from “Lapis Lazuli” – “They…Do not break up their lines to weep.” In his diplomatic travels and experiences, those words had the power to keep him going in times of destruction and chaos. “The point was not to harden one’s heart and not care. It was to maintain enough distance…that one could focus on the diplomacy, the statecraft, the play so to speak, and not the offstage disturbances.” In Jeanne Wagner’s “Edgar Degas Paints La Coiffure,” she calls attention to the way in which the artist depicts pain and difficulty: “He knows how hard beauty works to express a self.”
In spite of the traumas of the past, hope is possible, and this is another theme emerging in this issue. “Sewing is about hope,” writes Theresa H. Janssen in her essay “Stitching Blind.” She takes out her Singer purchased in Toledo at a garage sale thirty years ago to make face masks. She reminisces about her great-great grandmother sewing gowns for debutantes after the Civil War in Austin, TX, and her mother, now legally blind, who can’t look over her work. She realizes that what she wants is to mend the world.
Lastly, our cover, Dan Howard’s Saga of the Secondaries, is vibrant with hope. What a burst of spring, with the deep pinks, fuschias, and purples. Welcome to our 34th issue.
C0VER: "Saga of the Secondaries"
Dan Howard / oil on canvas
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Anna Round of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK, is a British/Irish writer who lives in the northeast of England. She is a former winner of the Sid Chaplin Short Story Competition and works as a researcher.
Nancy Fowler of St. Louis, MO, is a longtime journalist who’s earned numerous accolades including Emmy and Edward R. Murrow awards. She currently lives in St. Louis with her wife and two cats, and is pursuing an MFA in creative nonfiction at Lindenwood University.
Partridge Boswell of Woodstock, VT, has published his poems in the Grolier Prize-winning collection Some Far Country and in Poetry, The Gettysburg Review, The American Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland Review, and Prairie Schooner. Co-founder of Bookstock Literary Festival, he is a facilitator for the Vallum Society for Education in Arts and Letters and a trustee of the Grolier Poetry Foundation.
William V. Roebuck of Arlington, VA, completed his diplomatic career in 2020, after 28 years of service in postings across the Middle East, including Tripoli and Baghdad. He served as U.S. ambassador to Bahrain from 2015–17. Roebuck was embedded with U.S. Special Forces, serving as the senior (and often only) U.S. diplomat on the ground in northeastern Syria from 2018–20, earning the State Department’s Award for Heroism.
Voices of the Great Plains
Christine Stewart-Nuñez of Winnipeg, Canada, was South Dakota’s poet laureate from 2019–2021 and is the author or editor of The Poet & The Architect, South Dakota in Poems: An Anthology, Untrussed, and Bluewords Greening. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in The Briar Cliff Review, North American Review, and Shenandoah, among other magazines.