It has now been 40 years since the University of Southern Maine began publication of its literary and arts journal Words and Images. Celebration is imminent — the release party is scheduled for May 7 at One Longfellow Square, at 7:30 pm, and will include readings and local bands — for a volume that veers often into whimsy and playfulness with forms.
As immediately as its formatting is the impish ingenuousness of this year's Words and Images apparent. The table of contents is designated by the heading "This is Where We List the Stuff in the Journal, and Let You Know Where You Can Find It;" its page numbers ascend to 104, after which pages are identified as "Infinity," "Infinity+4," and "The End of Time." And if you haven't paid sufficient attention to the contributor names in "This is Where We List...", you just might be taken in by the tongue-in-cheek "Notes From Out Contributors" (by Dan Moreau) which follows it.
Like Moreau, many of the actual contributors cavort freely with form. In James McKenna's movies-as-biography poem "Family Films," he heads each section as one would an entry in a filmography (Singin' in the Rain (1952), 102 min., / dir., Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen) before proceeding with a corresponding autobiographical retrospective. In Mark Melnicove's "A 4X4 (Four Words Per Line, 4 Lines Per Stanza) Exposition of Bern Porter's Appropriated Photographs," (which alternates pages with six of the late Maine artist Porter's unpublished photographs) "exposition" is the operative word. Melnicove's short stanzas deliver straight biography of Porter's life and process, critical exegesis of "found art," and philosophical musings on the nature of "appropriation" in art: "We 'take' photographs, we/"Capture" images, we "frame"/Them. The photograph is/Larceny in broad daylight."
Further attention to the perplexities and nuances the creative process are found throughout this year's Words and Images. Particularly acute is Gibson Fay-LeBlanc's eerily lovely poem "Maker." In it, he quotes Blake as an epigraph ("Did he smile his work to see?") and goes on to tell of a ventriloquist who has finished his new dummy, only to find that he had crafted a "version of himself." How frightening it is, "when/a stage voice and your own are so/close one forgets the separation/once so clear."
Regular features of Words and Images include the annual contest, this year the "Dos Cosas Award," and what is designated as "An Interview with a Noted Author." This year, it's with novelist Salvatore Scibona, National Book Award finalist for his debut novel The End (Graywolf, 2008). Speaking with Jill Jacobs, he discusses writing and publishing processes, and has some particularly insightful things to say about his approach to writing foreign language dialogue. Allan Peterson won the Dos Cosas Award for "Inexhaustible Rooms," a poem of the lush sensual possibilities inherent in limited means: "It is suggested that Vermeer painted/in only five rooms," he writes, and goes on to say, "It could happen here as well. ... impasto and swash, never exhausting variety."