Welcome to Stone Canoe Number 4, which once again offers a compelling mix of the best writing and visual arts to come out of Upstate New York. The selections of the visiting editors, as you will see in their remarks below, reflect a strong awareness of an evolving aspect of our mission, which is “in considerable part the reviving of the placeness and thereness of Upstate New York,” to quote The Washington Post writer Henry Allen. It has never been our intention to explicitly define “upstateness” in so many words—an enterprise doomed to failure, as any writer who has tried it will surely agree. But it does seem to be true, in a purely ostensive way—by pointing us to this story, this essay, that poem, or that piece of art—that our editors in each issue have helped communicate a vision of our region that is more vital than perhaps even those of us who live here would suspect. To think that we are actually “reviving” something may be a bit presumptuous (though there are certainly those who think that the regional arts scene is in dire need of resuscitation). What we can do, though, is to offer a useful contribution to the conversation about what is important about where we live—and connect our readers, no matter where they may come from, to voices they may never have encountered otherwise.
Rap artist Kanye West recently shared the following with his fans: “I am a proud nonreader of books. I like to get information from doing stuff like actually talking to people and living real life.” The irony here is that he said this while promoting his own book—thereby assuming others would like to read about HIS real life, not having actually met him. So on some level he must recognize, as Dave Cowen so wittily observed in his New Yorker response to West, that all of us wish at times to imagine “how people in a different time, or a different place...or other people I don’t know...talk or do stuff. How they really live, you know?” The diverse and often haunting voices that you will encounter in this issue will, I hope, help satisfy this seemingly universal urge. As E.C. Osondu has said, Stone Canoe aspires to be “regional in focus, global in scope.” Not all of our content is for the fainthearted—readers may encounter the voice of a prison inmate trying to retain his humanity in an impossibly cruel environment, the voice of a woman struggling to cope with the pain of divorce or the loss of a child, or an artist’s graphic representation of outrage at the institutional hypocrisies of church or state. Those readers who persevere, though, will hopefully gain a deepened understanding of their own surroundings, as well as of how the local and universal are inevitably intertwined in any serious search for meaning.
Words increasingly compete for our attention—apparently about 100,000 are consumed daily by the average American outside of work, according to a recent University of California study. Television accounts for 45 percent of those, computer 27 percent, and radio 10.6 percent. This would seem to leave room for only a scant few words ingested from other reading materials of all kinds, not an especially encouraging scenario for those of us who still believe in the power of books. Complicating the situation is mounting evidence that even the most avid book lovers are beginning to explore new ways of getting their content. Jeff Bezoz, CEO of Amazon.com, predicts that within a year or two, e-book sales will outpace traditional book sales. So, like it or not, if our primary mission is to reach the greatest number of appreciative readers, we must also begin to look at alternative ways of getting their attention. We believe (or perhaps, more accurately, hope) that there will always be some demand for the handsomely produced traditional book. However, beginning with Stone Canoe Number 4, we will also make each issue available on the web, through our home page, www.stonecanoejournal.org, in a format that is as user-friendly as we can make it in the virtual environment. We will also begin to produce alternative versions of the journal that will be downloadable to a reader’s preferred mobile device, whether it be to a device like Kindle (Amazon) or Nook (Barnes and Noble) or some variety of smart phone. The web-based version will be complete with all the art, with pages that flip realistically and can be zoomed in on or printed. The downloadable version may for the time being be limited to text only, depending on the limitations of the devices used, but this will change very soon as manufacturers continue to improve their products.
I also want to briefly mention Stone Canoe’s recent foray into virtual reality, with our creation of both an art gallery and arts journal in Second Life—a fast-growing web-based 3D virtual community with sixteen million members worldwide—another way of extending our reach and finding new, even international, audiences for our artists and writers. Those readers intrepid enough to join Second Life (www.secondlife.com), create an avatar (which is quite easy to do), and explore this virtual world will find a surprisingly robust and lively arts community there—over 2,000 virtual galleries and several hundred poetry clubs, as well as music and live theatre. Standing Stone Gallery—our virtual gallery in Second Life—is a beautiful space, both in form and function, designed by two recent SU architecture master’s graduates, Laurie Swartz and James Utterback, with multiple rooms for large and small artwork, a virtual bookstore, and a space for hosting literary events and readings. This spring, Standing Stone Gallery will display the work of those artists featured in Stone Canoe Number 4, as well as a virtual version of the SU College of Visual and Performing Arts’ most recent M.F.A. show. Also, readers can view our Second Life arts journal, Vitruvius, at www.vitruviusjournal.com, to see the format that will be used for the upcoming e-version of Stone Canoe.
All this experimentation is exciting and at the same time quite daunting for those of us trying to peer into the future of publishing and ensure that we can find a receptive audience for our wares. It is encouraging, though, to hear news of a parallel cultural trend that seems to be in our favor. According to Vanderbilt University’s Stephen Tepper, all signs point to a 21st century in which increasing numbers of “non-professional” citizen-artists are interested in making art themselves, or at the very least finding ways of getting more actively involved in the arts, as a way of “co-authoring” meaning in their lives, and seeking out communities of like-minded souls with whom to share their discoveries. So we’re cheered by the prospect of being sought out by growing numbers of like-minded souls, who will discover, through as many channels as possible, what Stone Canoe has to offer.
Editor, Stone Canoe
Since there was no a priori definition either for upstate poet or upstate poetry, as editor I found myself first relying on the little biographical notes accompanying each submission: surely it would be easier to define the poet than the poetry. I learned thereby that some poets were born upstate, while others have had upstateness thrust upon them, either by the formative experience of having come here to attend college, to teach in a college, or to find another kind of employment. Still others married into upstateness.
Such cases are clear-cut: if you have been here for any of the above reasons, you qualify as an upstate poet. Other asserted connections were more tenuous, and this has led to some perhaps arbitrary judgments: the writer whose only claim to being an upstate poet, frankly admitted, was an interest in the years that the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith spent in Central New York was denied entrance, as was the poet who claimed that he had been conceived during his parents’ honeymoon at Niagara Falls. Not only is such an assertion impossible to prove, but it is one that, if accepted, would have resulted in an unmanageable torrent of submissions. On the other hand, a poet who spent two summers in a Syracuse University dormitory as part of an NSF program for high school students, was admitted, perhaps because I read his poems before reading his biographical note.
So much for the qualifications of the upstate poet: what about the poetry itself? The work submitted to Stone Canoe was distinguished, like our apples, by abundance and variety. Luckily for us, there is no Upstate New York School of Poets whose beliefs or practices would mark their constituents as members of a group. In technique, the poets ranged from free to formal, with many interesting gray areas between; I’ve included what I believe is a good representation of that range. Here, the reader will find everything from the confessional lyric to the third-person narrative and the essay in verse.
There are quite a few poems in this issue of Stone Canoe that could have been written nowhere else but upstate: I think, for instance, of Carl Dennis’s “Above the River” and Berle Jones’s “Frozen Apples and the North Wind.” Despite their stylistic and thematic differences, both are intensely concerned with local lives and places. The reader will notice, however, that there are also poems, like Juliana Gray’s “Nancy Drew, 45, Posts on Match.com,” and Robert McNamara’s “Rome’s Freud” that might have been written by someone with no upstate connections at all. In that case, we should be grateful to whatever currents bore such poets to or through the region.
What more is there to say? Like Robert Frost’s “North of Boston” and Gary Snyder’s “The Back Country,” upstate is not just a place: as Wallace Stevens said, “We live not in a landscape, but in the ideas about a landscape.” Upstate, in other words, is a state of mind.
Poetry Editor, Stone Canoe 4
Not all of these stories are Upstate New York stories, but I’m consistently surprised by the way setting and surrounding infuses a writer’s work, world view, tone and language, from living here, in the weather, driving the I81 corridor, the Thruway. We live in an unpredictable place, a place of extremes: stark beauty, harsh climate, intense color, dramatic landscape. These stories reflect that in their very bones.
Fiction Editor, Stone Canoe 4
In this Stone Canoe one will see work by artists who are clearly working in—and out of—the Upstate region. The familiar forms of rural vernacular architecture and domestic objects and tools infuse Jeremy Randall’s ceramic work. Emily Farranto’s recent paintings of deer in snowy woods seem to resonate Upstate New York infused with an unsettling Coen Brothers-like sensibility. Both artists are originally from Upstate and left (Randall has returned, and Farranto can’t quite stay away); their work seems to represent a return home—but with some discomfort. Home is not what it used to be. They are changed, and their home has become a site for investigation.
Stone Canoe also includes artwork that seeks meaning by extending beyond Upstate. Angela Kelly returns to her childhood home, Belfast, Northern Ireland, with GPS coordinates and family photos. Neil Chowdhury returns to his father’s home, India. Allyn Stewart, raised in a military family that lived all over the world, “returns” to sites of war, particularly Bosnia, and juxtaposes this content with found nostalgic ephemera. Christopher Gianunzio tries to find a place to return to in his quest to find his birth parents.
There are artists who turn to contemporary culture and treat it as a place or destination. They critique it, embrace it, and mine it (extracting valuables from it, and/or lacing it with explosives). These artists include Paul Farinacci, who with dark humor presents scathing commentaries on the cultural institutions of religion and education; Greg Johnson, who paints icons of popular culture on trash surfaces (Shrek smiles at us from a ratty cardboard ground); Peter T. Bennett, who constructs an armor for the artist based on a variety of historical narratives, including post-war Atomic Age toys and the armor of feudal Japan; and Jennifer Pepper, who is preoccupied with giving form to language—often organizing randomly occurring fragments of found or overheard language into seamless wholes.
Domestic spaces occupy Ann Reichlin, Suzanne Proulx, Megan Muldoon, and Anne Cofer. Reichlin, in Translucent Home, deconstructs and reconstructs the architecture of the house itself, while Proulx uses the house’s detritus to make her darkly humorous Dust Bunnies. Anne Cofer’s weighty forms recall domestic processes: folding, pressing, stacking, and hanging out to dry. Megan Muldoon examines the kitchen tabletop in the tradition of the still-life painter.
Dorene Quinn, Yvonne Buchanan, and Sheila Smith all address landscape. In Tree Skin, Quinn literally takes nature onto her person by constructing a tree bark second skin—a mask to don as a way to reenter the natural world? She raises questions about the human relationship with the “wild.” Buchanan maintains her distance from the Upstate landscape—experiencing it from a moving vehicle and through a camera. She analyzes our assumptions about and experience of landscape by revealing the fragmented ways we experience those forms: fragmented by time, movement and a narrative overlay we each provide. Sheila Smith embraces the idea of landscape as a vehicle for narrative. Her wonderfully strange paintings are based on the Upstate landscape and its occupants.
One’s sense of self is ultimately an assemblage—personal meaning drawn from a range of experiences anchored in places. In selecting work for Stone Canoe, I found myself drawn to creative work that shows evidence of sustained interest in the investigation of what it means to be human in relationship to place.
Visual Arts Editor, Stone Canoe 4
Stone Canoe by Tom Huff