Peacock - Cover 6 - borderPeacock Journal – Anthology: Beauty First

[Volume 1, Number 1] – Inaugural edition.

Edited by W.F. Lantry

 


($9.95, paperback, 110 pages, with 5 photographs)





ABOUT PEACOCK JOURNAL

HOW WE GOT HERE

      I don’t know much. But I can tell you the exact moment when it happened. It was around ten fifteen on a Thursday morning in September. The 19th, as I recall. Kate and I were heading South on Route 29 rolling towards the Beltway. We’d just crossed the bridge over the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia River. And as we started up the hill, Kate turned to me and said:
      “You should start a journal.”
      Now, I’m no stranger to journals. I started one back in California. And I can’t even count how many times I’ve been faculty advisor to a literary journal, or nurtured one along in an unofficial capacity. I’ve even provided secret web space for one when the university administration shut it down. So as soon as she spoke, I saw the whole scene at once.
      But in spite of all that, when we got home, I posted a web query: “Should we start a journal?” The response was overwhelming. Many colleagues gave advice and encouragement. Some flat out said “No, you’ll go crazy.” A bunch of folks talked about money, and time, and stress. Others saw opportunity. It soon became clear most of the answers reflected the respondents’ own experience and proclivities. But Maryann asked the most important question:
      “Why?”
      The ensuing months were devoted to family issues and my own writing. So many things happened. All that time I kept Maryann’s question in my head, in spite of the whirlwind. Then, in the Spring, we were having dinner with a colleague. He waited until I’d had a couple Margaritas, then asked “What are you doing with the journal?”
      “Too much to think about,” I said. “I’d have to register a domain name, get some web space, acquire a wordpress theme…”
      “I’ll do all that,” he said, “you just think about the journal.”
      He did, I did. I thought and thought and thought… and thought about it. Spring turned into Summer, and Winter brought the largest blizzard DC had ever seen. I just wanted to fly South. And I still wanted to fly South when Spring rolled around again. Then Kate said “William, the domain name is about to expire. Get to work.”
      OK. But there was no way we were going to pay for a submission manager. I coded one instead, tweaking some plugins to do what I wanted. The delay had allowed technology to catch up to my ideas, and there was a brand new theme to help with layout. It was intended for daily newspapers, and had an integrated database. I figured out how to make everything work together, and set up both test and production sites. But the technology is always the easy part.
      Why? What was our focus? How were we different from all those other journals? What problems could we solve?
      You know what’s the worst? When you write something, and get it accepted, and then it takes three years for it to appear! Second worst? When you write something, send it off, and wait months for an editor to reject it. Third worst? When something finally gets accepted, and published, but the format is so unseemly you don’t even want to tell anyone about it. Fourth worst…
      So yes, there were problems to solve. And other things as well. I’ve always had a strong interest in aesthetics, and I’ve always been frustrated when I’ve asked others, ‘What are you up to with your work?’ and they’re reluctant to articulate their aesthetics. I came up with a tagline: Beauty First. And I thought about the VIDA numbers. About the doubts emerging writers have. And about the experience we wanted for readers.
      So it was June, and I was at a writer’s conference, sitting way in the back, coding on a laptop. Really, everything was ready, and there was no reason not to move forward. Then I heard the speaker say, “Most web journals don’t take advantage of the technology.” So I said, under my breath, Oh yeah, Quincy? Watch this! And before he was done speaking, I pressed the send button on our call for submissions.
      Then we promptly left for Panama for a month, and everything seemed so far away. We didn’t have much net access. We came home to a flooded email box. “William,” Kate said, “you need to pick an auspicious day for launch.”
      So I did: Monday, August 15th. A sacred day for her. And we moved forward together.
      There’s so much more to the story: the sudden success, tens of thousands of readers from well over sixty countries, more than two hundred fifty contributors published. But two things really stand out. First, early on, after I’d included an ‘Artist’s Statement’ to some photos of an artist’s paintings we published, Kate said, “You know, we should ask the writers for a statement on beauty. Nobody ever does that. People might jump at the chance.” So we did. That really opened the floodgates. It’s fascinating to hear what people say when they have a space to discuss art, beauty and aesthetics.
      Another thing happened early on: an old colleague sent a couple images along with his poems. And he had some quotes, and some references embedded in the work. And I thought we could do more than simply have a text reference to Charles Aznavour singing a song. We could include a video of him. Instead of just mentioning Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse, we could include a contemporary 18th century image. And since he’d said he was listening to a certain jazz musician while he was composing the poems, we could even include a recording of that so the viewer could read the poems in the same mindset the author was in while composing them.
      Yes, it took a little extra work (a little!). But it was worth it. When he saw the result, he could barely believe it. Here’s what he wrote to Kate: “I am deeply touched by the result. Reading (and listening) to my words is not short of ‘religious’: which is quite a step for a confirmed absurdist soul like mine. I feel as though I have finally found the artistic validation searched for by artists.”
      So that’s the answer to the ‘Why?’ question. We’re trying to treat people’s work with the respect it deserves. The respect they deserve. Which doesn’t always happen in the literary world. But we believe it should. And we believe there should be a place to go, a place of beauty and artistic peace. And people have responded.
      One last thing. Why a peacock? I’ll tell you a secret. The peacock is Kate’s favorite animal. We have three or four images of peacocks in our home—although you wouldn’t notice them if you didn’t know. On one of our first outings, she took me to Whistler’s Peacock Room, so it’s a fond memory. The peacock holds a strong position in world literature and art. And there’s another reason, one which I’ll keep hidden. You’ll figure it out soon enough…

W.F. Lantry
Washington, DC 2017

 


INTRODUCTION

     … and then suddenly there was a pounding at the door of the bear cave. It’s a nice door, really, seasoned oak, well fitted, and carved by my own hands with intertwining figures, fashioned so one can get lost in the figures, contemplate their beauty, forget what one was doing, and wander away mindfully.
      But not this time. The handle turned, and there stood Kate, all dressed up. Heeled boots and peacock skirt. That dark blue blouse I love, with the ivory white buttons. She had something behind her back. A frying pan? At least she wasn’t swinging it. Yet.
      “William,” she said, “You need to write an introduction to our first print issue of the journal. It needs to be a thousand words, like a picture, and it needs to say what beauty is. We get all our contributors to send us their thoughts on beauty, and we publish those thoughts alongside their work. Now it’s your turn!”
      “But…”
      “But me no ‘buts,’ and excuse me no excuses!” The frying pan came into clear view. Cast iron, and heavy as a small cannonball. I’m always amazed how hard she can swing it. And when she makes contact… well, best not to think about that too much. “I’m going to sit right here until you’re done. Now get to work!”
      “Why should I write a description of the details of embodied literal beauty? I could just send them a picture of you!”
      “Nice try, you lazy mule!” The frying pan was in her right hand now. I could tell by her position exactly what arc it would describe. “Start writing.”
      So I picked up my wireless keyboard, placed it across my lap, and opened a wordpress page. It’s strange, I can’t write by hand anymore. At one point, I could only write at a large dining table, in ink on a lined pad, with books spread all around the table: dictionaries, thesauri, references. Those days seem distant now, almost quaint. Now I lean back in my reclining office chair, untethered keyboard in my lap, looking up at a 40 inch monitor. The only continuous element is the table.
      “Where should I start?”
      “Start with the most important thing, and work upwards from there. Write quickly, in order, of what matters.”
      “Fine. Nobody talks about Cassirer anymore, but he said beauty ‘arouses while it composes.’ Those two things at once. In its presence, whether we’re listening to a singer or reading a poem, we live in a heightened state. You’d think that would mean we were excited, or excitable. Agitated, even. But we’re actually calm and composed. Tranquil and serene. And it works for all kinds of beauty: when I look at you, I’m filled with passionate desire. But I’m also filled with a sense of peace and wholeness.”
      “That sounds limiting. It seems oddly specific.”
      “Oh, but it’s not. Beauty, by inspiring love and desire, connects all levels of the universe into an interlocking and organic relationship. When you sing, your listeners experience, through your voice, all the wonders of creation and the infinite. The beauty of your voice is like a door which allows them to pass through into an experience of the divine. And once they’ve gone through that door, they can move freely.”
      “So our experience of beauty is the experience of freedom?”
      “Exactly. Beauty is not some abstract ideal, it is the direct sensuous manifestation of freedom. The boundaries of experience dissolve in contemplation of the beautiful. It is produced by a free mind for a free mind. The philosophers called that the richness and freedom of spirit.”
      “But you never talk about spirit. You talk about physical form. And detail. And stop pretending: I’ve seen you nearly swoon over Dante’s extended similes. ‘Just as x, so y, and again z.’ You especially love it when they go on for an entire page…”
      “Yes. Because one thing is another, and is also another. Everything is interwoven. As for length, think about how much I love to watch you walking down a staircase: the movement of your form, the way your skirt billows, the liquefaction of your clothes. Don’t you think I want that staircase to go on forever? Even though I also love it when you get to the landing, and pause, and look back at me. To see if I was watching, and attentive.”
      “I would never do that!”
      “You do it all the time. And Simone Weil says it’s one of the greatest gifts we can give. Our attention. I read your motions the way a careful reader reads a poem. When you speak, I listen to your voice with all of my being. It’s not just because of your frying pan. We don’t get people to come to the journal by using frying pans. And yet they do come, and many of them are drawn back to it, returning almost every day.”
      “Yes, and they do so freely. But why?”
      “Maybe because something within us desires the serene calm of being in the presence of beauty. Not in some abstract sense: they find, in the works we select, the grounded presence of aesthetic features in lived experience. Think of how many of the stories and poems are about simply walking, cooking, gardening… these quotidian activities have fundamentally aesthetic features, a sensuous character, they are the poetic rhythms of daily life. And even their seemingly disordered practice approaches ritual, so they reorder both our days and the divine realm.”
      “Why do you talk so much about the divine? Especially now, when chaos and disharmony are suddenly so present in our world?”
      “Because that’s our job: to rectify the world. As below, so above. And artists and poets are the best hope for restoring harmony. You’re always asking why we do this, and that’s my best answer. We’re not expected to complete the task, nor are we permitted to lay it down.”
      “And what, then, should we keep in mind as we’re doing this?”
      “Compassion.”

W.F. Lantry,
Washington, D.C. 2017

 


 

List of Contributors:

 

Maryann Corbett : Disquiet    3
Mary Jane White : Letheís underwater light…    4
Janet Bowdan : Men in the Abstract    5
Aaron Poochigian : A Memory, Perhaps    6
Corey Mesler : Eucalyptus, I Calyptus, We all Calyptus    7
William Doreski : Not Drawing Your Portrait    8
Christine Potter : Zion Episcopal Church, 1962    9
Jeff Hardin : Coming Into An Inheritance    10
Rachel Dacus : Reaching the Apogee on an August Midnight    11
Alfred Corn : Peahen    12
Catherine Arra : The End of Night    13
Tobi Alfier : Madalena Castillo at the Feria de Sevilla    14
Britny Cordera : Musings of a Unicorn    15
Kathleen Kirk : Date with the Rain    16
Sandra Kohler : Equinoctal    17
Uche Ogbuji : Mysteries of Harvest V    18
Nadia Ibrashi : Rapture    19
Diana Raab : Venus Fly Trap    20
John Casquarelli : From Havana Dialogue    21
Julieta Fuentes Roll : Departure    22
John Francis Istel : Leaves of Words    23
Jonel Abellanosa : Otherness    24
Hedy Habra : Deeper Than Tattoo    25
Julie Kane : Pink Magnolia    26
Lana Bella : I Dreamed Where the Blue Siloed    27
Allison Grayhurst : Sacred Beginnings    28
Milla van der Have : We Lay Our Alms at Aamos Kirk    29
Clarence Major : Aesthetic Debt    30
Sneha Subramanian Kanta : Last Autumn    31
Michael T. Young : A Savor of Stars    32
Soodabeh Saeidnia : For My Son’s Birthday in Kyoto 2006    33
Paul Ilechko : Her Seasons    34
Carolyn Martin : Migration    35
DeWitt Clinton : In a Waiting Room…    36
Ailish Woollett : Morphology I.     37
George Held : The Ache of Fall    38
Karlo Sevilla : Late Afternoon at the Fish Pond    39
Jean-Yves Solinga : Great Blue Heron in Paris    40
Angelina Saule : Heartography    41
Ruth Asch : Willow    42
Danielle Hanson : Love Song    43
Annie Stenzel : Seasoned    44
Harry Youtt : Sometimes a Tall And Slender Palm    45
Jose Sotolongo : Winter Leaves    46
Jennifer Lunden : We Have Moths in the Pantry    47
Michael Ratcliffe : Contemplating the Grasshopper That Landed on My Knee …    48
Kim Bridgford : Why Sisyphus Isn’t a Woman    49
John C. Mannone : Butterfly Wings    50
Jesse Glass : Picture Postcard (1916)    51
Tricia Knoll : She Who Knits in the Buddhist Monastery    52
Sanjeev Sethi : Magnificent    53
Tikuli : Home    54
Sergio Ortiz : If Ulysses Should Die on a Tuesday    55
Samara Golabuk : Lie still    56
Sarah Sadie : Bachelard Writes of Houses, Bachelard Writes of Miniatures    57

FICTION

Susan Tepper : Uneven Like Islands    61
Susan Nordmark : Blue    62
Lana Elizabeth Gabris : Descent Ascent    64
Kirsten Milligan : Rare Specimens    67
Martin Golan : The End of Tina    70
Paul Beckman : Splinters    73
Kelly Cherry : Murray, the Short Order Cook    75
Kris Faatz : Night Roses    79
Norman Klein : Mysteries    82
Toti O’Brien : The Candidate    84