The apocalyptic landscape of Adam “Bucho” Rodenberger’s “Trauerspielen (Mourning Plays)” is more reminiscent of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia than of Robert Browning’s or T.S. Eliot’s waste lands. All is not leached of color. All is not puckered with blight even if bird squawks fall preternaturally silent, even if fish have mysteriously abandoned water as if raptured without human notice.
Even when annihilation is not believed to be imminent, when planets are not in the process of colliding as they do in von Trier’s film, we (human thinkers and tinkerers) tend to preoccupy ourselves with the ephemeral nature of our own and our environment’s existence. As Joan Colby observes in the title to her contribution to issue 4 of Glint Literary Journal, “Everything Is Tenuous.”
But I begin this introduction with Rodenberger’s “plays” since his text exemplifies a certain concern with interstitiality that runs throughout our issue’s contents. What do I mean by this word, which spell check insists on underlining red, as if to rebuke me for indulging a lexicon of indeterminacy?
Interstitial means “in between.” It is also synonymous with liminal, a word that is often employed to describe threshold moments, twilight states of mind. At this point, I would like to direct my reader’s attention to the website for the Interstitial Arts Foundation where s/he may find a virtual compendium of defining essays on this subject. Here, multimodal artists may find theoretical support and/or inspiration for that creative, transgressive desire to defy convention, regardless of medium.
In one contribution to the IAF website, Barth Anderson explains the nature of interstitiality in a way that may prove helpful to Glint readers who encounter subjects and strategies that don’t abide by expectations. (This background may prove useful, for example, to orthodox Christians confronted with Frederick Pollack’s “Late Find at Nag Hammadi,” in which the Second Coming manages to upset even the devil’s preconceived notions.) According to Anderson’s IAF essay,
Interstitial art should be prickly, tricky, ornery. It should defy expectations, work against them, and in so doing, maintain a relationship to one or more genres, albeit contentiously. There’s a sense of playful disregard on the interstitial artist’s part, seeking not merely to create something new, but something that jars. The interstitial artist converses with that viewer who recognizes what genres are being addressed but who is seeking a different experience from the one they might have been anticipating.
Although I am comfortable placing Rodenberger’s “Trauerspielen” among the fiction links in our contents list, I’m less comfortable calling it a short story. Perhaps, I should call it a longer-than-usual prose poem that alternates between paragraph and stanza. We do have a number of relatively short prose poems (identified as such by their creator) in issue four. These selections (Kim Peter Kovac’s “Radium Girls,” “Gazelle Music,” and two of his “Three Poems from ‘Out of Robben Island’”) would not be out of place in well-known anthologies like David Lehman’s Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present.
Other contributions may appear more conventional. Andrew Genskow’s “Gravediggers,” for example, seems to fall rather neatly into the genre of the Southern Gothic only I kept sensing traces of the western dime novel as I read—despite the absence of horses and Stetsons. Surely, HBO’s Deadwood and Stephen King’s The Gunslinger are skulking beneath the surface of Genskow’s gator country.
Although interstitiality encompasses many vagaries of genre and form, I consider it a predominant theme of this issue’s artistic endeavor. In the philosophical language play of Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé’s poems, organism is composed with such “a multiplicity,” with “organs so diffuse / it seems lost in its miasma,” becoming “an animal soup,” where “cells like plankton” contain so much potential they could become “a punctured lung / or a cut ear or a lock of hair for a wig / or that wattlebird tail feather.” It is not surprising that bodies should become sites of instability.
And, thus, we come back to Rodenberger’s apocalyptic text where mysterious graffiti on a concrete wall informs: “This is where you became something else,” and, then, “This is where we tried to stop you.” The reader does not know who the “we” might be, but she notices the implied failure. Metamorphosis is not impeded, not defeated.
Art seems a natural locus for addressing changeability in its positive and negative guises as, regardless of medium, creative work often proves prone to shape-shifting, of forcing its own revision. One of this issue’s visual artists acknowledged the tendency art has for turning out to be something other than what even its creator expected. When composing the cover letter that accompanied her submission, Raechel Alexus Gasparac explained that the title of one of her paintings had once been “Zombie Man” until she’d realized its deeper connection with the death of her father. The image is now called “Cancer.” Any fan of Zombieland, 28 Days Later, or The Walking Dead will appreciate the psychological logic that prompted the title switch. Our morbid anatomy will make zombies of us all if we live long enough—or, so, we fear. What is cancer but a malignant metamorphosis?
Our contributors respond in different ways to the grief that follows encounters with mortality. Grace Maselli finds in a garlic bulb more than nutritional sustenance. Although the cloves have often been reduced to vampire prophylactic in others’ writing, Maselli does not attempt to fend off the dead in her essay. Instead, she inhales memory—acknowledgeing pain as well as pungency. A kind of synesthesia infuses her text as smell stimulates visions of photographs. In one: an uncle dying from lymphoma. In another: his family “climbing stairs on their knees” to visit the statue of “a saint said to save the dying.”
Yes, illness changes us as does loss. Age renders changes both external and internal. In Kathleen Jesme’s “The Dependability of the World,” clocks are only “devices that mete out / the hours and days the face of what is passing,” whereas the heart cannot “keep from announcing itself / now that it knows the number of its beats.” How does one cope with the foreknowledge that one will burn out eventually if not spontaneously? ‘To stop a fire I built a fire.” Jesme’s speaker draws on the firefighter’s “break” in an attempt to redirect, to control. Caesuras disrupt lines throughout the seven-part poem as if to demonstrate the pauses between heart beats. Or, perhaps, to situate gaps in the text like those paths foresters maintain in woodland to limit combustibility.
I cannot help but think of the religious significance of James Baldwin’s title The Fire Next Time when I encounter such imagery. A similar motif can be found in a poem composed by one of the two collaborative teams featured in this issue of Glint. Anne Barngrover and Avni Vyas remind us of the way in which bourbon can become “lighter fluid” as they contemplate the “Arson of the Old Year.” Fireworks replace prayer at midnight celebrations. The modern person can’t “mean / prayer the way serfs used to,” the poets tell us. Yet, a resurrection occurs in the poem as a “near-dead raccoon / shudders to life and then can’t stop bleating.” Such revitalization is epiphanic. The poem asks, “How many small animals / pray by the way of half-eaten flower, of half-drunk river?”
The protagonist created by this issue’s other collaborative team, Martin Ott and John F. Buckley, could probably answer this question. “Madame Leah Bears the Weight of the Zoonoosphere” as she is besieged by psychic communications from sloths, prairie-dogs, and howler monkeys. She drinks herself to sleep where she remains under the influence of animal kind, “pump[ing] her legs,” “chasing sticks and human femurs.” The constant onslaught of animal spirits leaves her envious of “Haitian voodoo / priestesses,” who are “ridden by only one loa at a time.”
Cross-species connections are also suggested by Miranda Barnwell’s “Cats Are Little Gods That Walk Amongst Us,” though the main characters tend to be more baffled than enlightened or possessed by the domestic pets that appear and disappear at various points in the narrative. When Seymour, a female cat, disappears into a gap in a hall closet at the beginning of Barnwell’s story, I was expecting a feline version of Charlie Kaufman’s Being John Malkovich. Would the closet portal take Seymour into some other dimension? Perhaps, she might find herself in Mr. Mistoffelees’ head? (For those who do not recall, Mr. M is the conjurer among the cast of T. S. Eliot’s Old Possums Book of Practical Cats.) I won’t spoil Barnwell’s mysteries by premature revelations. But I will say that human relationships are altered as if by intervention by deities of animal kind.
But, it is in estrangements between humans that many of this issue’s metamorphoses arrive. Sometimes, words are all that is needed to unsettle or transform our perceptions of reality. In his essay, “Abandonment,” Robert Detman expresses both repulsion and regret as he reconsiders the possibly pathological prevarications of a former college roommate. Ostensibly, Detman’s subject is the roommate’s disturbing tendency to distort all relationships—especially those with women—into lurid fantasies to be shared with anyone who will listen. By the conclusion of Detman’s essay, however, the reader finds herself remembering past acquaintances who have also become anecdote. How does the craft of writing creative nonfiction differ all that much from the deceptions or delusions practiced by Detman’s roommate—or by any of those storytellers from whom we have distanced ourselves because we distrusted, even feared their unreliability?
Detman’s roommate is not the only character in this issue to suspect duplicity and/or mystery whenever female bodies are concerned. In Zoe Gilbert’s “Earth Is Not for Eating,” a boy named Mouse can no longer recognize his mother as her belly grows to monstrous proportions. A friend convinces him that a fit of pica is proof of changeling status. In Jane Andrew’s “Night and Day,” a work of flash fiction, another female character withholds the secret of her impending sea change. And the artist Camille Claudel decides to break from Rodin, letting “the garden grow wild with mold” in Clarissa Jakobsons’ “Without Tears.” This poem is accompanied by a special section featuring Jakobsons’ Claudel-inspired artwork, which also revels in the flux that is implicit in feminine morphology. No wonder Pramila Venkateswaran’s speaker perceives her tongue as thorny as Saraswati, Hindu goddess of creativity, who is just as likely to inspire her to concoct “dirty limericks” as she is to generate honeyed lyrics where trees “bear[. . .] down like pregnant women,” and “sunshine [smears] like turmeric glowing on skin.”
With such changeability inherent in sexuality, it’s also little wonder that the protagonist of Robin Wyatt Dunn’s “Theater Academy” is such a Pantalone. He wants to be Priapus (a minor god with no need for Viagra), but remains as frustrated as the old fool of the staged commedia. The younger narrator of Khanh Ha’s “Of Dust and Butterfly” is similarly arrested by desire for a female he should not want, the young wife of the uncle who has enabled him to leave Vietnam in order to study in America. Both of these men operate in a realm of moral suspension. In the case of the first character, boundaries between theater and life threaten to evaporate as he practices a form of method acting. In the case of the latter, a dangerous intimacy develops following a storm. The atmosphere is thick with transgressive intent.
Finally, I would like to conclude this introductory essay to Glint, issue 4, by calling our readers’ attention to a special section of student work. Cameron Bass, April Love, Ashley Santos, and Victor Gabriel Sanchez are the winners of what we hope will be only the first contest for students of Fayetteville State University and the Cross Creek Early College Program. Although our contest guidelines did not specify a theme for submissions, I believe that similar strains of interstitiality may be glimpsed in the students’ efforts.
Although Bass titles his essay, “How I Failed to Grasp My Grandmother’s Death,” his words emanate with great lucidity from that liminal state to which grief casts us. In Love’s short story, “The Brave Ones,” college students long for a movement as transformative as an earlier generation’s Harlem Renaissance, but discover that desire itself can transform when love is found to be another word for bravery. In Santos’ poem, “Time Rumba,” dance erupts from the body’s strong pulse music—and, in Sanchez’ still photograph, “Shadow Dancer,” the ballerina’s toe-shoes prove a steady focal point against brickwork, her legs a white gleam in foreground as thin shadows taper behind her.
As for the rest of us, the writers and artists of Glint Literary Journal: we may not always appear quite so balanced as this ballerina; yet we continue to negotiate uncertain thresholds both before and behind us. May we do so with grace and audacity.