BY EUGENIA LEIGH
It’s hard to be human today. Granted, I suspect being human has always been more difficult than not. Wars are not new. Pandemics are not new. Natural disasters, injustice, people in power abusing their privilege—all of it older than the wheel. True, then, is the flip side. For millennia, humans have survived that which has tried to destroy us, that which has destroyed our neighbors, our families. As a species, we have fought, loved, and found ways to create value in our small, uncertain lives. Even during the worst of times.
I am, like many millennials, a jaded, wretched nihilist for the better part of my day. But then, at 3PM, my son comes home from preschool. And suddenly, I want—no, need—our existence to mean something greater. I want to choose joy. But more than that, I need to believe that the joy I choose matters. That our attitudes about the world and the ways we relate to each other matter.
But how do we find meaning when the world is in flames? How do we remain human when our humanity is being threatened? These questions resound in the ether of Issue 42 of The Adroit Journal. While the speakers and characters in these poems, stories, essays, and interviews don’t claim to have the answers for enduring in the face of chaos, they show us what it looks like to try.
Many of the voices in these pages embody the art of dialectical thinking—holding opposite realities together at once. Raphael Jenkins’ poem, “Our Resemblance was Once Where the Similarities Ceased,” resolves, with radical acceptance, the discomfort of taking after someone we’d rather not become: “It suits me to be okay / with this. I am, & I am not.” Isabel Prioleau’s elegiac sonnet recognizes the many contrasting facets of grief: “I tear up. Then I tear up // the town.”
Nandita Naik, winner of the 2022 Adroit Prize for Prose (selected by Kali Fajardo-Anstine), draws us into a world literally in flames as she contends with the futility of survival: “I reused, reduced, recycled. I converted my existential despair into an urge to compost. And what did it do? The fires will burn anyway.” Yet even amid that pull toward nihilism, even at the world’s end, the woman at the center of the short story confronts her desire for agency. In Ethan Luk’s “Portrait of a Twink as a Vermeer Sitter,” recipient of the 2022 Adroit Prize for Poetry (selected by Arthur Sze), the intimacy between two strangers is simultaneously impermanent and worthy of preservation for posterity. Even the endearing, anxious anthropomorphic dinosaur at the center of Will Ejzak’s short story, “Theodore,” wrestles with his, well, humanity.
This issue is packed with writers you love and new talent you’ll want to follow. We have excerpts from several highly anticipated forthcoming books—pieces that demand empathy and command respect as they reimagine old narratives of dehumanization: two powerful poems from Rio Cortez’s Golden Ax, two dynamic pieces from Jenny Xie’s The Rupture Tense, plus a heartrending excerpt from Lynn Melnick’s memoir, I’ve Had to Think Up a Way to Survive: On Trauma, Persistence, and Dolly Parton.
Melnick’s voice appears again in a conversation with Executive Editor Heidi Seaborn in our Enlightenments section, where you’ll find additional interviews with authors of recent books—Erika Meitner, Richie Hofmann, Julie Carr and Lisa Olstein.
Longtime readers of The Adroit Journal will notice our Prose section has multiplied into separate Fiction and Nonfiction sections, jointly edited by our Prose Editors and Content Editors. And prepare to be stunned across genres by our winners and finalists for the Adroit Prizes, which recognizes talented writers in high school and college.
Alright. “It’s late in our season of waiting,” as Michaela Coplen writes in “Rings.” As you enter Issue 42, I hope you stay present to the questions that roil in our guts on those good days when we want to live and not just exist. Consider this one from Tishani Doshi’s poem, “Wasps at the Faucet,” as a start:
This is your husk of time, decide.
In the scattering between thirst
and death, what will it be?
Eugenia Leigh is a Korean American poet and the author of Bianca (Four Way Books, 2023) and Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows (Four Way Books, 2014). Her poems and essays have appeared in numerous publications including The Nation, Ploughshares, Poetry, The Rumpus, Tahoma Literary Review, Waxwing, and the Best of the Net 2017. The recipient of Poetry Magazine‘s 2021 Bess Hokin Prize as well as fellowships and awards from Poets & Writers, Kundiman, and elsewhere, Eugenia received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College.
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