BY GARRETT BIGGS, MANAGING EDITOR & DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMS
I don’t know how to answer simple questions anymore. More than once over the past year, I have been asked “how are you?” and I’ll find myself embarrassed. I’m well, I answer, immediately tripping over myself to revise and amend the previous statement: I’m well but 400,000+ Americans are dead. I’m well but unemployed at the moment. I’m well but democracy is crumbling around us. And how about you?
The problem is, I’m not lying. When I say I am doing well, it is not out of reflex. It isn’t necessarily a performance. At times, it feels insensitive in the face of so much collective trauma to do anything but commiserate in despair (and believe me, I’ve been doing plenty of it), but I have to admit that over the last year, I haven’t only felt despair. I have, on occasion, felt something closer to solace.
Some of us may already know that the elegy—and forgive me, as a fiction writer, for stepping out of my usual lane—traditionally contains three movements: First, the speaker laments the loss of a loved one. Then, this lament is compounded by the elevation of the dead (usually in the form of lyric praise). And finally, the speaker reaches acceptance, ending the poem in a moment of solace. Unlike most other forms, an elegy is an elegy not because of how it is said, but because of what it is trying to say. The elegy is a shapeshifter; begin to look, and you’ll find it everywhere.
Adroit 36 is a brilliant collection of work—elegiac in its nature. It “offers itself like a vista” as Angelo Nikolopolos writes in “I Have Looked”: a poem that like this previous year is not lacking in loneliness and trauma, but also flashes with humor and hope. And while it is elegiac, Adroit 36 is also well aware that the movement from a lament to acceptance is not always a quiet thing. Look no further than D.A Powell’s “Elegy On Fire” wherein fireworks break “into a thousand threads cascading / over the fields of Troy” or Steffi Sin’s “Gwah Ju” wherein her narrator’s grief makes language itself disorienting: “I do not have the right to read. I look right at the picture of Yeye, and I wish to write myself right and give Yeye a goodbye I want to remember as our last.” This December, we were shattered to learn about the passing of our former prose editor, Anthony Veasna So. In his memory, we are republishing our 2019 staff spotlight on his work; I implore everyone reading this to pre-order his debut story collection Afterparties (due August 2021 from Ecco Press). He is dearly missed, but it is a solace to know that his humor and light lives on.
We have so much to lament, but this can’t be an elegy if there is no consolation. Adroit 36 is a collection of writing both hopeful and loud in its grief. Not just in spite of everything, but within its churning, I think you will find this issue well. My hope is that it finds you the same.
Garrett Biggs is managing editor of The Adroit Journal. His fiction appears in Black Warrior Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and The Offing, among other literary magazines. He lives in Denver, Colorado.
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