ummer is here with its roaring lawnmowers and humming cicadas; its fishing and swimming and car windows open wide; its ice cream and cantaloupe and air conditioners. All of that is here in these pages too, if you look, as is the bright blue sky over Moscow, over Colorado. Not far beneath, or maybe right alongside, are also so many losses—lost religions and lost beliefs, worlds lost to revolution, to pandemic, and to traumas of a more intimate kind. It becomes clear that the line between war and peace, health and disease, democracy and authoritarianism, is more porous and fragile than it might have once seemed. As one page turns to the next, this summer issue catches both joy and sorrow in its net of words, even as the sirens wail, and as life closes down and opens up again.
This summer issue also brings some significant changes for New England Review itself, as this is the last time—at least for now—that you’ll see two important names on the masthead: poetry editor Rick Barot and managing editor Marcia Pomerance.
During his seven years as poetry editor, Rick often compared the assembling of the poems for an issue to the organizing of a memorable dinner party, one that brings together people with different tastes and views, different styles of speech and dress, but all with something urgent to say. He wanted to represent the range of excellent new poetry being written today in the US, and to bring as many new poets as possible to NER—which is exactly what he did. In his first issue, Rick brought in twelve new poets, among them well-known writers Joan Larkin, Patrick Rosal, Arthur Sze, and Eleanor Wilner; relative newcomers Michelle Peñaloza and Austin Smith; and debut poet Luke Brekke, who went on to be a dedicated staff reader. Twenty-three issues later, that number has now reached three hundred. In the case of this, his last issue as poetry editor, the gathering is particularly large, serving as a celebration, a reunion, and a welcome to the twenty-one poets assembled here. As a poet, teacher, and director of the Rainier Writing Workshop, Rick says yes to many things in life, and we were lucky that one of the things he said yes to in 2014 was the ongoing conversation—about diction, craft, and why does it all matter—that has defined his role as poetry editor of NER.
Throughout this time, Rick worked with a group of talented and discerning staff readers who read thousands of submissions and brought him the ones they were most excited about. His most recent readers include Jessica Gigot, Quinn Lewis, Leah Osowski, Andres Rojas, Al Smith, and Sarah Wolfson. We owe a great debt of thanks to them for bringing their own sensibilities as poets and as readers to the process of discovery that’s at the center of our entire enterprise.
Marcia Pomerance came to NER as managing editor in fall 2013, just in time for our double issue with an extensive translation section titled “The Russian Presence.” This nearly 400-page issue brought its challenges by way of Cyrillic characters, a seemingly endless number of galleys, seventy-two contributors’ notes, and even issues gone astray in Siberia. It was like an initiation rite, a way of asking, do you really want to do this? Luckily, Marcy brought with her a steady supply of energy, great skill with words and the Adobe Suite, and a deep love for the work of literary publishing—all of it. No task too big or too small, whether it was digital—creating our first social media presence and a new series of author interviews—or physical—hauling books to conferences and to readings downtown. She brought a sharp eye to both the old design and the new, and found memorable art for dozens of covers. She loved the intellectual work—the reading, editing, and questioning of commas and word choice—as much as what I’d call the emotional work of publishing: every subscriber and every writer she spoke to knew they mattered and that she cared about their satisfaction. Changes in publishing came quickly and often digitally these past several years, and “I’ll figure it out” was one of the most hopeful, and common, phrases we could hear from our managing editor. More difficult to sum up in a phrase is the abiding, easygoing wisdom that Marcy brought to NER and that she brings to everything she does. Her calm and compassion filtered into all of her work, as it filtered through the atmosphere in our office. Marcy is leaving her role as managing editor, but she’ll bring NER with her, just as NER will bring Marcy—her work and her tangible and intangible contributions—into its next phase, whatever that might look like.
When I picked up that double issue with its vast range of Russian writers “from Pushkin to the present,” I was surprised to note that this issue also happened to contain an essay by Rick Barot. And three poets in our current issue—Jenny Johnson, Cate Marvin, and G. C. Waldrep—were also in that one. In his editor’s note Stephen Donadio pointed out the “more or less continuous Russian presence in NER,” so it is fitting perhaps that the issue at hand also has a notable Russian presence, with a translation of contemporary writer Yevgeny Bukhin, a new translation from The Brothers Karamazov, and a “Rediscovery” from Chekhov’s notebooks, not to mention the Soviet or Russian presence lingering within several other works. Looking back to that issue offers a sense of coming full circle, and points to the sustained relationships NER tends to have with its editors and authors past, present, and future.
What makes for great literature may not be a settled matter, but that it does matter is something all of us on the masthead can agree on. Both Rick and Marcy brought to NER that belief and brought their gifts to bear on NER and to every writer and reader they welcomed to the table. Priyatnogo appetita!