As a teacher of writing and literature, I’ve often heard the student complaint: “Professor Vogtman, why is everything we read so depressing?” No doubt, if some of those students were to read the contents of Kelsey Review 35.2, our Winter 2016 issue, they may pose the same question. So many of the well-crafted stories, poems, and pieces of nonfiction we have in this issue deal with aging, death, and loss. Babette Levin’s piece of nonfiction, “The Visit,” is told from the point of view of a woman visiting her aging mother. Arlene Feldman’s short story drops us in a retirement community that is planning to kill the neighborhood deer. Tim Waldron’s “Sinjin’s Crossing” is a humorous jaunt through the life of an aging George Washington impersonator. Nancy Demme’s short story, “Sweet Pea,” gives us a glimpse into the mind of an aging woman sitting outside a hair salon. And Katie Zurich’s “The Wake”—well, you can all guess the setting and premise of that story, right?
The poetry we have to share with you is, as always, beautiful, but like the work above, certainly fits into our “winter” theme. A frequent (and welcome!) contributor to Kelsey, Wanda Praisner shares with us her poem “Elegy for My Son, Nine Years Later,” a stunning meditation on loss, using the natural world as metaphor. Beverly Mach Geller’s “Remembering My Friend Nane” might also be described as an elegy. Lavinia Kumar’s “February Morning” evokes human and animal loneliness, while Vida Chu confronts us with raw mortality with her poem “Dust.”
We are lucky to also have artwork, in the form of a photograph from area writer and artist Adnan Shamsi. The black-and-white close up of a cat reflects the stark landscape of the literature we share with you this issue, and the title of the work, “Rx for Allergy Prevention: Cat for Adoption,” adds a kind of poignant tug to what could just be a cute cat photo (which is what the internet was invented for, right?).
Getting back to the oft-uttered student complaint, however, I always feel a little shocked to hear it. Depressing? Well, sure, so many great works of literature deal with death, loss, mortality, suffering. These are the circumstances of being alive, I sometimes tell students, a statement that does nothing to brighten their mood. I am reminded of Japanese filmmaker Yasujirō Ozu’s movie, Tokyo Story, (incidentally also about aging, death, regret, family drama and all that good stuff) in which a character asks her widowed sister-in-law, “Isn’t life depressing?” (or “disappointing” in another translation), and the widow replies with an utterly beatific smile on her face: “Yes, it is.” This is what I’ll need to remember to tell students: Life might be depressing, but great works of art are not. Great works of art are the antidote.
And so, I share these pieces of prose and poetry crafted by talented Mercer County-area artists to bide you through the winter months ahead. Read. Re-read. Share with friends and family. Take this healthy dose of literature to cure you of all life’s ailments.