Edited by Vivian Dorsel, published by Ledgetop Publishing, Richmond, MA, 2005
For her first entry in to the literary journal (of her own - she previously edited eight editions of The Berkshire Review for The Berkshire Writers Room) Vivian Dorsel has stuck to the tried-and-true methods of the past, publishing fiction, poetry, and non-fiction (and one interview by Frank Tempone) much as she had in previous years. The principal difference is the width of her focus - writers were sought from within the region as well as from very far afield. The resultant collection is rampant with talent. The book has an attractive feel about it. The full impact is a bit disappointing, however.
It's hard to say where things went wrong. So many of the writers bring interesting and unique points of view to their work in this journal. Even so it seems to bog down in self-importance. There is little whimsy, little humor and very little work that reflects a writer's vision of anything other than self. The two unique pieces in their own private categories are examples of what is wrong and right about this collection.
Tempone's "A Conversation with Jim Shepard" is a perfect case in point, a piece that should be about its subject but manages to be about the interviewer instead. Tempone teaches writing and mentors young writers at Word Street. In his lengthy intro to the interview he examines his perspective with a sentence "In studying Shephard's book as a writer, I was impressed by his subtlety in delivering the high emotion that always seemed to come when I least expected it." Tempone, himself a writer, confuses me with whose career is referred to in the opening phrase. Could he mean "As a writer studying Shepard's book..."? Could he mean "Studying Shephard's writing in this book..."? Or perhaps, "Studying Shephard as a writer, in this book...."? Tempone then imposes himself on the interview constantly. It's a poor piece, one that could have been interesting and provoked a lot of interest in Shephard's work and Tempone's own work but leaves the reader wondering why he bothered to read the piece at all.
Dorsel's own piece, "Upstreet", a long single sentence that opens the volume, is a brilliant if exhausting exercise in writer's ego. Fun to get through without getting lost, she manages to contrive a pathway through the mind of a memoirist who cannot end her thought anywhere near where she began it. Read it more than once. There are clues here to the working of a mind that manipulates readers subtly away from the point she seems to intend to a different place entirely.
The biggest flaw of the book is the almost determined sameness to the feeling of the material. There is little humor, very little whimsy, much that is turgid, tortured but not torrid. The best of the 54 authors are new voices to this reader, with a few pieces by more familiar writers making the volume a pleasure. Among the finest are prose pieces by Kenneth Rapoza ("Open Markets"), Jennifer Cooke ("After the Symphony"), Michael T. Salerno ("To My Friend"), Bob Gray ("Cadillac and the Professor")Joyce A. Griffin ("Bits and Pieces") and Gail M. Burns ("The Morning Walk").
Poets selected for inclusion include some well-known figures whose works don't seem to be among their finest. The best, I think, in this collection were by Bill Mohr ("In the Ocean of Nothingness"), Laura Shepard ("The Truce"), Aaron M. Beatty ("Road Rage"), Chivas Sandage ("Places You Can't Go) and Irene Willis ("Eggs"). It falls, however, to Loralee Moon with her poem "She" to sum up the content of upstreet, number one. Her poem ends the book and the final lines rather strangely sum up its strong points and its weaknesses:
"we are afraid we won't make the flight // we are afraid we have no wings // we are afraid we will fold in // we are afraid we will have to // go back."
It seems as though Dorsel and her editors need to go forward now and discover what they missed this first time around, new writers with new ideas and a new talent for expression. The work in the future needs a better mix of things, a stronger combination of elements. It is clear that new talent is out there, for there are wonderful strange new voices here, but the overall book is holding back on exposing more than a constant restatement of the depressing and demoralized. Onward and upward to number two!