Letter from the Editor, Grief

August 31, 2014 | By | Reply More

Published belatedly on August 31, 2014

Dear Readers,

If you’ve read at Open Mic events you must know the pin-drop silence after a serious poem, a sharp contrast from the laughter and applause that follows funny material. The quiet response is natural – but the reward goes to humor.

It makes sense that in community gatherings entertainment would be preferred. Yet, where is the community space for grief, not only grief for the loss of human lives, but other forms of grief?

This issue is different from the two prior ones in that I worked alone on it. We were between interns, and had not yet enticed our current managing editor, Kerry Holjes, to step in and bring her professional experience and, fresh and courageous eye, to When Women Waken.

If the issue wasn’t personal enough in theme, it became very personal when the whole editorial team was essentially me. I did consult with Kerry Holjes on several poems, and with Barbara Bos on several questions about the issue, but the selection is on me, as are any errors.

***

I will be surprised if another theme will mean as much to me as this one has. As the submissions came in, one or two at a time, it was as if they were from close friends whose news I had been awaiting. Many took my breath away, if not slipping tears down my cheeks. All moved me.

This is a lengthy issue, almost two hundred pages. The intent has been to weave expressions of grief from women around the world into a moving and refreshing issue that reaffirms what is important to us.

I expected to read of lost lovers, partners and parents, but not children who had died too young or the passing of siblings. Those pieces really gripped me.

I accepted entries that contributed to the theme of grief, in a variety of ways, some weighty, some light, but most of the pieces in this issue are intense. I chose several images that were softer and gentler, as a respite from the intensity, but some of the images are very intense. There was no limit to the number of pieces to be accepted, only that they would fit as part of the whole.

Just as many literary journals – true to their noble objectives – seek to be exclusive, to sift through and choose only the very best, as they define best, perhaps imagining that there is a universal “best”, we seek, just as importantly, just as powerfully, to be inclusive, choosing a blend of accessible, fresh, diverse, from different cultures, significant in some way. Different, yet worthy.

***

I am very grateful for the established and highly recognized poets who lend their credibility to this third issue of When Women Waken; I’m grateful too for the many who have not published before or barely published; grateful for the different risks they take in trying a new journal.

Among American contributors you will find an ethnically diverse representation: Chinese, Japanese, Indian and African American. We have a disproportionate number of North Carolinians because that is where I have the deepest reach through my network on and off line.

It is exciting to have a number of African American poets and writers in this issue: the award-winning poet Jaki Shelton Green, who will be inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in 2014; award-winning poet and traveling poetry teacher Glenis Redmond; Cave Canem Fellow Pamela Taylor; and award-winning short fiction writer Angela Jackson-Brown,  among others.

We have a range of countries represented, some by local nationals, others by expats.

In this third issue, we have contributors from Africa. It has taken about three years for Women Writers, Women’s Books (WWWB) to make stronger connections with women creatives on the African continent, and the journal has helped make that possible. In this issue we have a powerful piece by Florence Olajumoke Williams in Nigeria, “Violent Grief”, and there are others.

We also have contributions from Núria Añó, in Spain; Ni’mah Isma’il Nawwab in Saudi Arabia; Paula Dawn Lietz in Canada; Julie Davis in Australia; Susan Döring in Jordan; Zvezdana Rashkovich in Dubai, and many contributors in England, Scotland and Ireland.

Nettie Thomson from Scotland and Christine Elizabeth Murray from Ireland are two writers who connected with WWWB from very early on in 2011. Both have since published collections of their work. It’s rewarding to continue the relationship.

***

By way of disclosure, as managing editor of this issue, just as I have reached out to and invited women creatives I have not previously met, as well as those I am familiar with, I have also encouraged members of my extended family to submit. You may not believe it but it is harder to get friends and family to submit than it is to receive submissions from open announcements on the Internet. Those who respond on the Internet are those who are ready and motivated; friends and extended family are all in different places in their lives.

Extended family members’ contributions include photographs by my niece, a young teenager, Maria Sutherland whose mother is Chinese; my cousin, a talented writer and artist, Martha Lukens who has been a teacher in Liberia, where she grew up in a missionary family; my niece by marriage, Crystal McGaha, a talented young poet and an accomplished martial artist whose grandmother is Japanese; and my aunt, Camilla Trinchieri, who is half Italian, and who has been a pathfinder for me in writing, publishing a dozen books, some in English and some in Italian.

***

Every contribution deserves a paragraph, if not five, about why it was chosen for this issue. In that direction we invite our contributors to include a note about their work, and some do. It’s  a practice I would very much like to encourage the notes, or backstory, just as songwriters do when performing their original work, telling the story of the birth of the song, its history and personal significance.

In this issue I would like to single out a few pieces to bring to your attention.

Ellen Lieserson’s piece, “Mabel Ellen’s Slippers” is only the second poem she has published in her life: Ellen’s first poem was published when she was 16 and now she is sixty five. The poem is about the loss of a sibling, her mother’s sister when her mother was a little girl. Right around the time this poem was published online Ellen’s mother passed away, making this poem a significant honoring of her mother’s life.

Vivian Fumiko Chin’s essay “You Take This Form and Fill it Up” is a fascinating piece: disorienting, funny, sad, choppy. At first read I was on the fence: it’s not your regular essay or short story. Was the disorientation due to lack of skill, or, as it turns out, was it very intentional, giving the reader a first-hand experience of the strange worlds of grief and the English as a second language? Once I’d confirmed the author’s intention, I felt this was a valuable piece, taking us into a world that we could experience.

Deborah McCullough’s essay at the end of the issue, “Where Hope Goes to Die – An American Desert” is very poignant. She includes photographs from desert crossings in the Arizona desert, and shrines to those who lost their lives trying to reach a new life in America. Her work is particularly relevant in these times when over 50,000 Central and South American children are in custody centers after crossing US borders.

***

I have a personal request for this issue (and really, for all of our issues). I invite you not to second guess our choices, but instead to ask yourselves what you can learn from each piece about grief.

How does it make you feel? How does it fit in the collection?  How might the writer or artist have been empowered by being included? How might the writer or artist empower others by being in this collection?

Also consider questions like these. How do you feel about creative work that isn’t “perfect” or breaking new literary ground? Does art have to be perfect to be looked at, to be valuable, to be worthy of highlighting?

Every submission is a mirror in which we see ourselves as much as we try to see the work of the artist, poet and writers.

***

Lastly, as an international journal, drawing contributions both from those who have doctorates in English, certificates in editing, as well as from those for whom English may be a third language, or fourth, we see many variations in English usage.

If we’re looking to assess what’s correct by American, or English, or Irish, or Indian, or Australian or South African English standards, we’ll have many differences.

Add to this mix the permission that creatives have to shape language freshly, directing us out of convention and habit into intentionally new ways of combining and phrasing words, and it becomes hard to assess what’s what. We accept that it is a little messy, yet we also feel that there is value in this.

Though I am a native speaker of American English, several factors make my own English an unreliable standard. My mother’s first languages were three: Spanish, American English and Italian. In addition to her influence, over one third of my education was in foreign languages / schools: French (four years), Chinese (two years), with Arabic, Italian, Spanish and Latin thrown in. Each one of us can only work with what we know, and what we know to research and ask about. As I am hearing frequently these days, “It is what it is.”

In a diner in Sedona, Arizona in the late 1990s with a woman whose first language was Spanish, I listened to how she didn’t dare show the stories she wrote about her life because her English wasn’t perfect. As she talked with her Spanish accent and phrasings, I welled up with tears. Think of all the stories that lie hidden behind the curtain of shame because the speakers are not native speakers of English. I want to hear those stories, don’t you?

So let reading these issues be about reflecting on what we can draw from the pieces, not about finding the next master of English or art, not the next superstar. Let it be about enjoying the variety of voices and expressions on the theme. And,  if you do find a writer, poet or artist whose work moves you, please take the time to visit the Grief issue at www.whenwomenwaken.org and leave a comment for her. Reader feedback is one of the finest gifts that we can offer those who expose their vision, their hearts and souls through their creative work.

With life-threatening global concerns before us, gross imbalance in wealth distribution, recessions around the world, wars, epidemics and climate change threatening the life we know, I hope that dipping into literature and art may restore our souls to refuel us for another day on the front lines where ever we are. No matter what is before us, let us remember to nourish hope, intelligence, imagination and compassion.

 

Anora McGaha, Founding Editor

When Women Waken

North Carolina, USA

August 30, 2014

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Category: Grief, Letters from the Editor, When Women Waken Literary Journal

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