Mythium – Literary Journal of Poetry & Fiction

Mythium ? The Journal of Contemporary Literature and Cultural Voices Vol. 1 #2 2010
edited by Ronald Davis and Crystal Wilkinson

I’m enjoying the creative writing in this journal. But first I have to say something about the cover. It looks like a sales receipt from shopping at a grocery store for cultural concepts. Voice, Ability, and Relevancy are the most expensive items on the list. Apples are the least expensive, and Acceptance was rung up ($2.95) but voided. The cover itself is an interesting, playful, and thought provoking poem, even down to the 6% Fable Tax.

The first poem in Mythium is Men Who Give Milk I by Nikky Finney. This poem mesmerized me. I’ve experienced many moments like the one Finney describes, we all have. She brings this particular man, in this particular moment, alive with rich meaning and wonder.

Just a few days after reading the poem, I heard Finney on Accents discussing her forthcoming book Head Off & Split. She read this poem, Men Who Give Milk I, and discussed how she came to write it. Poets save these precious experiences until the moment of ripening when a poem is written. Many of the poems Finney read from Head Off & Split are the fruit of careful observation, patience, and hard work.

Live on Sunset Strip for Richard Pryor (1940-2005) is Adrian Potter’s eulogy for the genius comedian. Potter first praises Pryor’s …use of performance / as a confessional… ? and for his crooked smile and open heart. ? He captures what made Pryor’s brand of comedy unforgettable. He wasn’t delivering jokes, but finding humor in the muck and mire of life. Watching and listening to Pryor’s stand up, he seems less like a comedian and more like a performance artist who delivers revelations disguised as jokes ?.

Potter extols Pryor’s decision to refrain from using the N-word, praising him for the transformative journey from one who practically patented the pimping / of the N-word for comedic purposes ? to one who taught us …that the influence of a word / comes not from our intentions, or its definitions, or from its use or abuse, but from an understanding that its power can be felt most when we decide to never say it again. ?

Mythium is not only a journal of poetry. After reading Finney’s poem, I turned to the fiction section and read Salvia, Salvia, a story by Juyanne James. At the top of a page was an epigraph from Kafka, preparing me for a strange world with which I would be familiar but not understand. The epigraph also suggest the taste of freedom that we are all salivating for.

Salvia, Salvia is a story of a woman who grows into her freedom, who becomes her freedom. The opening paragraphs cover the span of time between her infancy and her adulthood. The story itself narrates the specifics of her maturation. But specifics…she had plenty. ?

The details of her youthful, growing-into-a-woman years ? are given as purely visual elements. Sight is a tool of aggression, first wounding her and then being wielded by her as she finds her place at the back of the class room. Her eyes slap ? against the people who populate her world. As she matures, her body becomes something that offers visual stimulation. But the very qualities of attraction mask her fine and graceful figure. ? Seeing and being seen create their own power relationships.

When she reaches full womanhood, she puts away childish things and cocoons herself up in her house. There is nothing to see of her. She becomes the sounds of roaming feet and moving furniture. But the absence of the visual creates a stronger attraction from the community. People become preoccupied with her and strain to listen for sounds of her with something more than curiosity.

When she undergoes her transformation she has become something that unites sight and sound, mother and father, history and future. The woman’s transformation is performed by the language as well as described by it. James’ careful descriptions and fluid pose sustain tension throughout this story.

In My Country by Tony Robles tells of a Salvadorian immigrant who must dispose of the belongings of an elderly man, and in the process discovers his own belonging.

Earlier this year, Robert Pinsky gave a talk at the Key West Literary Seminar on Modernism and Memory ? admonishing modern writers to consult our ancestors without worshiping them. This is a maxim Pinsky says he learned from a Zulu man, but he also quotes the psychoanalytic writer Hans Loewald approximating the same principle:

The transference neurosis, in the technical sense of the establishment and resolution of it in the analytic process, is due to the blood of recognition, which the patients unconscious is given to taste so that the old ghosts may reawaken to life. Those who know ghosts tell us that they long to be released from their ghost life and led to rest as ancestors. As ancestors they live forth in the present generation, while as ghosts they are compelled to haunt the present generation with their shadow life. ?

p. 249 Papers on Psychoanalysis

Pinsky calls this the modernist principle ?. He says, If we are ambitious in our art, we must consult our ancestors and not worship them. ? Robles’ main character, Marco, endeavors to turn a ghost into an ancestor with a significantly American complication that the man who became the ghost is not Marco’s familial ancestor.

All we know about the man whose ghost Marco encounters is that he lived in unit 403 for 20 years, he was African American, and he was a dancer. We also know that he did not have regular visitors because his corpse wasn’t found for several days.

Marco treats the ghost with the tender respect that befits an elder. He brings the ghost a glass of water, but pauses in front of a house plant with green and reddish leaves. Before bringing the glass to the ghost he pours water into the dirt and places the plant on the window sill. The water belongs to the living, the glass belongs to the dead.

Through his respect for the living and his attention to the dead, Marco is able to lead the ghost to rest as an ancestor. We learn from our ancestors and incorporate their life experiences into our own; Marco learns from the man’s life as a tap dancer. He gets a new feel for his legs beneath him.

There is much more in Mythium than I can write about here. I’m going to re-read Plantain Leaf Baby by Makuchi. There are more poems for me to explore and several non-fiction pieces. Mythium is published biannually in cooperation with Wind Publications. I have plenty to enjoy before the next issue arrives in my mail.

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