blackbird online journal Spring 2008  Vol. 7  No. 1
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A joint venture of the Department of English at Virginia Commonwealth University and New Virginia Review, Inc.

Copyright © 2008 by Blackbird and the individual writers and artists

ISSN 1540-3068


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Larry Levis

   Larry Levis
  Carol Houck Smith
   Carol Houck Smith
spacer Lee Smith
    Lee Smith
David Roby
   David Roby
  Sarah Vap
   Sarah Vap
  Constance Adler
   Constance Adler
  Jennifer Kwon Dobbs
   Jennifer K. Dobbs
 in the Arabian Gulf

Frequently questions arise about the Blackbird aesthetic: what do we look for in work, what do we decry—do we adhere to a defined manifesto, or allow ourselves to drift with prevailing winds of taste? Most often, we answer those questions with questions ourselves: what do you garner from reading us, what have you noticed? Occasionally, as we read through what we’ve chosen, we run across some of our own preoccupations and predilections with a sense of surprise.

This fall, as we witness another year slipping away with the fading cacophony of political advertising and the dependable startle of scarlet in the maple leaves, we discover the method in our madness revealed in a line from Larry Levis’s “Elegy With a Bridle in its Hand,” reprinted here in our annual Levis Remembered Reading Loop: “Deity is in the details,” the poet asserts, “& we are details among other details & we long to be / teased out of ourselves.”

The engagement of detail in stories and poems is the substance that gives them the heft to catch our attention and to hold us—no shock there, since that does describe how we read. The deity is the truly catchy bit—the indescribable, untranslatable spirit entering the machine of words to breathe life into the maker’s creation, the artful assemblage that lures us to return to listen again, again to be released into the larger self.

Among the many telling details in Lee Smith’s story “Fried Chicken” is a recipe that leads us into the broken heart of the “mother of the murderer” teaspoon by teaspoon, while in David Huddle’s “The Way of the Blue-Winged Wangdoodle,” Eve’s deep confession is that she finds comfort in the smell of her cocker spaniel’s paws. John Allman’s narrator in “Dear Sis,” strikes us with a horse “falling back like something Biblical,” while Constance Adler’s nonfiction draws us in with the seductive elegance of smoke and fire in postapocalyptic New Orleans—then snuffs it out.

Jennifer Kwon Dobbs makes room in her poetry for the imprisoned Josephine to write to Napoleon, recalling theatrical “mock trials featuring Saturn stamping his writ on a pig,” while Sarah Vap searches for the truth of children beyond a “winterpond’s peaceful dose of sleep, / or Faulkner’s rosary” to discover it in “the gular pouch of their hearts . . . clacking in their sky.” Jeanne Larsen’s lengthy poetic meditation, as it tries to reach beyond the nattering commentary of the ego’s internal pundit, depends, in the end, on such small moments in the floating world as the “sound of the footpad cat.” Terri Witek gives us a “suspended glass silo” as she informs us on “How to Lure a Lizard into a Bird Feeder.” Matt Donovan is this year’s Levis Reading Prize winner with his book Vellum, and the Levis Remembered Reading Loop features poems from that volume, which so often involves a dramatic expansion of the ecphrastic into the meditative, along with two new poems, “swaths of this unfamiliar world / unharnessed from regret.” David Roby’s play Arts and Science provides a character consumed with attaining the perfect body, whose obsession has led him to a doctor who practices “medicine for the sake of art,” a mad scientist whose body-sculpting minions he turns into “Walking Works of Art.”

Manal Al Dowayan, one of four artists featured in “Self-Representation in the Arabian Gulf,” has photographed Saudi Arabian women of importance, but “at the same time, each photograph has a piece of traditional jewelry placed in an obstructive and unnatural way, questioning cultural traditions that prevent Saudi women from expanding their roles in society.”

The “deity is in the details,” yanking us up short to take notice, like the wind tossing blades of grass in a field before the storm. Bruce Weigl invokes the “quarrelsome” robin whose nest has been emptied in the storm, while Betty Adcock holds out to us a found elk antler, chill to the touch, yellowish, “ribbed with shadow,” and yet she affirms: “Who can say it is not alive, this knowledge and map / of the country of going away?”  

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A Conversation with
Matt Donovan

Carol Houck Smith: Editor Extraordinaire
& In Memoriam

Levis Remembered
  Reading Loop  audio icon
A Reading Loop featuring poetry, essays, & audio by and about Larry Levis

Adcock, Almeder, Beasley, Boruch, Couch, Davis, Donovan, Elbe, Howsare, Jensen, Katz, Lee, Ostashevsky, Parks, Shumaker, Smith, Svalina, Titus, Tynes, Wheeler, Wilkinson. Winter, York

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Recent Books

Million Writers Award
for best overall online publication goes to Blackbird for having seven of their stories selected as notable stories of the year.

Lynda Hull
John Allman
Lee Smith
Camille Zakharia
Claudia Emerson
Norman Dubie