Marilyn Nelson’s new autobiographical collection, How I Discovered Poetry (2014), explores the transformative possibilities of language and perspective. Young “Marilyn,” whose family moves across the American South, West, and Northeast through transfers of her military father, views the world through dislocation and movement. In “Just Pick a Name (On the Road, 1956),” the speaker connects her own development with the enlarged landscape: “The sky seems to be bigger in the West. / I’m growing bigger inside to take it in.” Movement allows her to think about the possible effects of language on the people she encounters: “What if I left a note in a mailbox / out in the boonies, far from any town, / that said, I know it’s hard. You’re doing fine. / I wonder: Would that make things different?” Language also inflames and aggravates in Nelson’s poems, as the child encounters white children in new locales, some of whom attack her with racist words. But at the heart of this beautiful collection is the possibility that language can offer comfort, especially to a girl who finds a home in poetry by reading to her dog from her father’s college anthologies and taking poems to bed with her. We have all had the experience of reading a text that feels like it speaks directly to us, a whisper in our ear that offers the reassurance, “I know it’s hard. You’re doing fine.” Poetry like Nelson’s allows us to recognize our kinship with others, whether imaginatively through literature, or through personal memory, or through the connections it permits us to make with the people in our life.
I like to think of the Quarterly readership through connectedness, as I imagine us engaging a shared intellectual life by reading the essays in each issue. This issue offers five essays that link us intellectually. Susan Honeyman’s “Escaping the Prison-House: Visualcy and Prelanguage in Sheldon Mayer’s Sugar and Spike” explores the restraints of language and literacy in the popular comic. Honeyman concludes, “Mayer heightens his reader’s appreciation of the comics medium as one in which visuals can communicate extralinguistically, and thus more expansively than through verbal means.” Issues of language also concern Ann González in “The Popol Vuh for Children: Explicit and Implicit Ideological Agendas.” Exploring adaptations of the cornerstone Mayan text, González [End Page 185] outlines the various governmental and cultural investments in translating the text for young people. She finds an upswing of current interest in the book, and while the Guatemalan educational authorities have embraced the Popol Vuh, it is significant that “indigenous Guatemalans have reclaimed it as part of their growing movement to define their ‘mayanidad’”
Sarah K. Cantrell examines Philip Pullman’s landmark trilogy through an ecocritical lens in “Letting Specters In: Environmental Catastrophe and the Limits of Space in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials” By examining the concept of limitation in the series, Cantrell is able to argue that “Dissolving the barriers or boundaries between one world and another causes limitless environmental chaos in all ecosystems.” Navigating boundaries also interests Heather Snell in “Outward Bound: Adventures in Cross-Cultural Reading and Global Citizenship in North American Young Adult Literatures,” an article that offers a critical (and welcome) look at the constraints on popular approaches to difference. Snell concludes that “young adult novels are increasingly connecting their negotiations of diversity to discourses of cosmopolitan empathy and global activism in which whiteness is the default subject position.” Finally, we offer “‘as natural as oak growing’: Child Voices, Agency, and Empire in Rudyard Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill,” by Johanna Brinkley Tomlinson, a piece which examines the implications of serial publication of children’s texts within adult periodicals. Tomlinson argues, “In reading Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill with attention to its presentation of empire and child voices, we find the figure of the child providing a means to question imperial history, as well as a vision of possible, if contingent, agency for the child.” As we join together to read the exciting essays in this issue, we build further connections between our own intellectual interests and the contributions of others...