A new season, a new issue of The Manchester Review, and this year a new editor. Which, as it turns out, is me. I’ve had some big shoes to fill. Lucy Burns, the review’s last co-editor, left to complete her PhD and John McAuliffe, the review’s head editor, will be on leave until this August. But I’ve had help: from the wonderful poet and teacher Frances Leviston who acted as poetry co-editor, from Marsha Courneya who assisted with fiction, and from Lucy who, among many other things, assured me that there is no button on the review’s site that would make the sun fall out of the sky – at least not one that I’ve found yet. Keep your eye on the sky.
I came to Manchester from Iowa City, Iowa, and before that Toronto, Canada. Manchester was named a UNESCO City of Literature not long after I arrived, and I’ve quickly come to see why: the city’s literary community is diverse, vibrant, and proud. Part of what makes the community so vital is that it is continually reaching outside itself to bring in authors from around the world, and in this sense The Manchester Review is a reflection of the city in which it is housed. This is important work, not only for the city but because literary borders between countries can be remarkably un-porous.
Dead writers travel well, but the living ones that make it ‘across’ tend to be limited to prize-winners or the few authors whose work has been optioned for movies or television series. This means much good work does travel, but is not much use for a sense of what’s going on in literary communities outside our own. In Manchester we are lucky to have the Manchester Literary Festival to help with that work, and to have publications like The Manchester Review to do some of the traversing for us. Readers need more writers just as writers need more writers to see and test the limits of what is possible.
A famous poet who recently visited Manchester spoke about the necessity of addressing the potential global catastrophe that climate change represents. She spoke, too, about how in the face of such potential catastrophe, issues of identity and gender were signs of dangerous fracturing and fractioning come to bear at the wrong time. The idea here being that the latter is somehow decadent in the face of the former. The arts, as this thinking goes, must speak to those issues that are most pressing or risk irresponsibility. Perhaps. But I don’t think so. In the face of politics and policies that would marginalize and re-marginalize those most vulnerable parts of our society, expressions of interiority are inherently political acts. They are responsible to the act of expression itself. One of the best things that art can do is custodian vulnerability, just as we are at our best when we safeguard the vulnerable. We need all voices on deck and to celebrate those voices.
We have a lot to celebrate in this new issue of The Manchester Review. Fiction from Scotland, Ireland, Japan, Germany, and the U.S, new poetry James Galvin, West Virginian poet Justin Wymer, and Canadian poet Michael Prior, among many other fine writers. Many thanks go to Gabriel Altrows, the Toronto-based artist who provided the original artwork for each of our writers. It is also a real pleasure to have new poems from D.A. Powell in our new issue, who I once had the pleasure of sitting with by a river and talking at length about birds.