- Editor’s Note
The redbuds are blooming, a row of pink clouds alongside the parking structure. Beyond them, a different tree, the buds of which are pulsing orange in the afternoon’s light. And beyond that, the Red Cedar River and the ducks. A small circle of student writers is trying to hold class outside, out there, one of those groups that appear at some point every April, trying to push spring beyond where it really is, the ground not yet warm nor fully dry. Heads are bent; hands keep slapping papers that the wind keeps ruffling. That’s what we are looking at outside the windows of our corner office as we put the finishing edits on this issue of Fourth Genre, the first for this editorial team.
All over the walls are poster-sized sticky notes with charts and plans for staffing the journal’s table at the annual AWP conference in Chicago, and alongside them, notes about queries from authors, photos they’ve sent us, amusing cover letters, and tiny purple post-its with reminders in the imperative voice. On the south-facing windowsill, one of the rosemary plants has all but dried up, and two or three oddly named succulents are barely clinging to the soil.
Both the view out this window and my sense of the essays you’re about to read bring me back to an ongoing conversation that’s been unfolding in this room over the past eight months—a conversation most frequently urged on us by Katie Livingston and Ana Holguin, two of Fourth Genre’s outstanding editorial staff this year. This conversation among ourselves and with the submissions [End Page vii] we’ve received over the year has been about the ways texts are embodied, the way texts work themselves out in and on our bodies—their bodily-ness. It has to do, for instance, with the way I can’t bring myself to spell that word as my dictionary and spell-checker push me to—bodiliness—because it’s just wrong, forcing my eyes to cross, just too hard to distinguish among too many up-and-down lines, all aligned. The way Sharon Dolin’s essay of aphorisms teaches us to read its breaks and multiple starts, its short breaths, its amalgam and piling up of voices and forms and abbreviations. The way Paula Marafino Bernett’s essay teaches us to tune our ears to other voices, refuses until the end to tell us who’s speaking. Or the way Brenda Miller’s story about getting ready for bed can’t help at one point or another make you not only reflect on your own bed, but also remember it in your body. And of course the way in which Rachel Pollock’s investigations and description of the effects of boiling tar on human (and other kinds of) skin—an essay whose physicality both intrigued and repelled us when we first read it—raise questions about what it means to be a body.
The way where I sit when I read these essays—the colors out my window and whether my neck aches from leaning over in a broken chair—shapes how I read. We are readers, it’s fair to say, that care about making this transaction—writer to reader, editor to writer—rooted in good relationships. Rooted, too, in a healthy respect for the bodies that live, produce, and consume texts, and transform them, too, into more words. Texts are, we say, one way we touch one another, and thus we care about the relational nature of reading and writing.
Most of us who write also read like addicts: we’re driven, voracious, unable to get enough of that felt experience of a carefully crafted text. One piece doesn’t do it, nor the next; we keep plowing through for the promise of the piece that draws us into its linguistic frame, keeps us there, then spits us out again, chewed, changed, expansively awed. Draws us imaginatively, yes, but also in breathing, in cringing, in exclaiming, in reaching out to someone else.
In one way or another, all these essays make clear that as writers and...