Hammer and Nails
For this issue, I read John Casey’s 1989 National Book Award–winning novel, Spartina, a book that, regrettably, I’d never opened until this past summer. Joshua Bodwell, whose profile of Casey, “Beyond the Compass” (page 60), explains the decades-long gap between the publication of Spartina and last month’s follow-up, sent me a copy of the book: a secondhand paperback with the price—twenty-five cents—handwritten in pencil on the title page. (Such used-book store discoveries surely rank high on the list of life’s greatest small pleasures, just below receiving books as gifts.) I could offer all the reasons Spartina is a great novel, but a host of critics and reviewers more articulate than myself have already done so. Suffice it to say that I admire it for many of the same reasons I admire certain books by authors such as Richard Ford, E. Annie Proulx, and Richard Russo—it’s a book about a simple man, a fisherman, who is working hard and trying to do the right thing while making a complete mess of his life. Now, honestly, who can’t relate, even just a little bit, to that? But what really got to me about Spartina was the almost sacred dedication and the singularity of focus that the protagonist, Dick Pierce, applies to the fifty-foot wooden fishing boat he is building by hand in a ramshackle shed behind his house. Perhaps it has something to do with my small-town, bootstraps upbringing and the psychological pull to the land that goes along with it, but I’ve always harbored a feeling that what I should really be doing is working with my hands.
But, of course, I am—we are. And at the risk of sinking this metaphor, the things we’re building are capable of outlasting the strongest boats. I’m constantly inspired by the multiple acts of creation that are represented in this magazine. From Kevin Nance’s moving profile of poet and Poetry editor Christian Wiman (42) to Sophie Beck’s account of launching a lit mag (85) to the roundup of innovative presses and journals (68) that in turn are building better platforms for our work, this issue is the most beautiful construction site I’ve ever seen.
Whether you’re writing a book, an essay, a story, a poem—hell, even a single seaworthy sentence—or helping to get those things in front of more readers, never lose sight of the fact that you are building something important.