hat is it about March and madness, the way the words ring together and continue to make their way into our idioms? Is it because by the time March arrives we in the northern hemisphere have reached the end of our patience with ice and darkness? Is it because March so often fails to deliver us to spring, as promised? Madness and March are forever together in part because of Lewis Carroll’s famous March Hare, a character likely taking its cues from the old British phrase “mad as a March hare,” which derived from the antics of the hare in spring, when its courting and mating maneuvers are said to look like boxing matches or erratic, scrambling chases. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable links this phrase to the notion that “hares are unusually shy and wild in March, which is their rutting season.” It’s well known that rabbits and hares, who live on every continent except Antarctica, devote an inordinate amount of time to such rutting, making them the symbol of fertility to the Celts, the Aztecs, and ancient Greeks alike. These days and in these parts, the phrase “March madness” is most often heard in reference to the National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament, but surely the reason the phrase rings so pleasingly is because of its long association with the March hare, its sexual profligacy, and that endlessly confounding tea party in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Which also involves the Mad Hatter, another character arising from a popular phrase (“mad as a hatter”), the contested origins of which have more to do with beavers and the tremor-producing chemicals used to felt their fur for hats than with spring or hares, though beavers too display memorable antics in March. Their behavior, however, being more about hard work than copulation, makes them considerably less appealing and “mad” seeming. March also has the lions and lambs of its weather patterns, but the “in like a / out like a” phrase always feels more like a cliché to me, less literary than March and its madness, or even “beware the Ides of March,” which characterizes this rough time of year with an appropriate sense of foreboding. Tim Hayward’s hare, on the cover of this issue, has had a beckoning pull on us here at New England Review headquarters since last summer when we first encountered it, but it wasn’t until we were able to associate it with March—and this March issue—that we thought its “unusually shy and wild” appearance might make it appropriate for a literary journal the way an equally appealing lion or a lamb would not.
Madness and spring may go together, and the hare may be a way to suggestively invite a reader inside, but there’s no direct correlation, of course, no seasonal instinct behind the creation, selection, and presentation of the work here. The poems and stories, the essays and translations each speak on their own terms, with urgent seriousness or necessary laughter, some going down easily, perhaps, and others requiring more patience and perseverance on the part of the reader, who we believe will be justly rewarded. Much of the hard-won beauty in this work is the result of putting pressure on language and stories, and on our assumptions and ideas, and each piece went through a period of gestation and labor on the part of these writers, each independent of one another and indifferent to the time of year that it might make its debut to readers. Even so, as spring emerges from the darkness of the winter months, from the off-and-on freeze of our rivers and sidewalks and into a period of surge and flow, I can’t help but imagine the muddy, sun-warmed days ahead in which all of this work will finally emerge into the light of your, the reader’s, attention. And I can’t help but think of all the ways in which this issue brings its own rain and rhythms, its own irrepressible energy through the power of words alone.
These past couple of months New England Review has been experiencing another kind of stirring beneath the surface, a period of renewal and reenergizing, as we’ve welcomed a new managing editor, Leslie Sainz, to our small and closely intertwined staff in Vermont. She joined us in December, the darkest month, making the long trek up from Miami, Florida, and immediately began to apply her glimmering energy and tenacious intelligence, and her fierce determination as a poet and editor to the project that is NER. This is the first issue to benefit from her focus, not only on each page of the journal but also on so much that happens beyond the page—working with student interns, tending to and enlivening our social media and website, and imagining what’s next. As managing editor Leslie is necessarily attuned to literary intricacy and innovation, but she also finds joy and satisfaction in getting the footnotes arranged elegantly at the bottom of the page and finding the right color for an Instagram post. With her background in editorial and outreach work at various literary journals and organizations, from the Miami Book Fair to Hub City Press, West Branch to Devil’s Lake, Leslie arrived with a suitcase full of skills and ideas, which will come to bear in ways we have not yet imagined. In a conversation just posted in our website’s Behind the Bylines series, poetry editor Jennifer Chang asked her some penetrating questions about her new poems and new role at NER. There Leslie describes the push and pull between her writer and editor selves, the trust she places in our readers to engage with complexity, and her approach to syntax and space in her own work. In these words, and in the conversations we’ve had so far about everything from a post-COVID-19 reading series to the care and intention behind each published work, I hear the rumbling and pinging of ice breaking on a spring lake. Certain seasons are just like that: conducive to metaphor, conducive to change.