Halloween, All Saints’, and Don’t We All Love Books?

Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved Halloween. Growing up it might have been that it was a two-punch holiday: dressing up and getting candy one night and then staying home from school the next day for All Saints’ Day, which used to be a holiday in the predominantly Catholic New Orleans area and which also happens to be my birthday. A kid couldn’t ask for more. Even as I got older and the All Saints’/birthday holiday disappeared, I still relished dressing up and going  to Halloween parties and reveling on Frenchman Street. Now that I have a five-year-old, the Halloween parties and Frenchman Street have also disappeared for me, but I have a new experience: seeing the holiday through my daughter’s months’ long anticipation and then our excitement as we walk the haunts of our neighborhood in search of candy she brings home, only to turn around and give it out to kids who come to our stoop. (She is an incredibly kind spirit.)

We’ve always been the type of people who make our own costumes. Saints games we’re usually sporting something made of forgotten fabrics, helmets, baubles, glitter, and spray paint. Halloween begins weeks in advance and involves cardboard, fabric, contact cement, and more paint. The last two years my daughter has gone as Trudy Triceratops and Tiny Pteranodon from Dinosaur Train. Heads built atop bike and football helmets, horns, tails, wings, and two-clawed feet proved to be challenges for my daughter’s father, but he surpassed them with tremendous success. This year, I suppose because she sees both of her parents working as writers and voracious readers (which she, too, is), she has decided she wants to dress as a book. We are somewhat stumped as how to proceed, but with only a couple of weeks left, I have no doubt her father will build it, and she will, once again, be the marvel of the neighborhood.

Obviously despite my long-running joke, “Reading’s for suckers,” I’m thrilled that my daughter loves reading and writing, and creating in general, as much as she does. Where would I be without readers? Where would any of us be? I love books and I love reading. I consider myself fortunate because the job that provides my living is also one that brings me tremendous joy (perhaps I should not let my boss see this). One aspect of this job and joy is the publication each quarter of some of the finest writing being made today. I read David Wojahn’s “Body Politic: To Ezra Pound in Purgatory” more than a year ago and placed it alone in the autumn issue, waiting to see what would keep it company. With Wojahn’s ten-page exploration of the Cantos, Mussolini, and bin Laden holding court, it finally felt right to feature the public-space art of MOMO that I had for so long wanted to showcase. His massive geometric paintings, spanning walls, bridges, sometimes multiple buildings, set an order and beauty on what otherwise might seem devoid of those very traits.

Other works soon came, including the 1963 National Book Awards Revisited special nonfiction feature, with essays from Chris Bachelder, who also introduces the feature, Ramona Ausubel, and more. A mixture of stories from Jerome Charyn, Jane Delury, Michael Knight, and Lori Ostlund, among others, range from dark comedy to outright tragedy, coming of age to developing a maturity.

Several of these prose writers—Chris Bachelder, Jane Delury, Michael Knight—can be heard in our audio gallery this season, along with numerous poets: Lynn Domina, Cathyrn Essinger, Alice Friman, Barbara Hamby, and David Kirby. The Hamby/Kirby poems are a special treat because Hamby’s poem, “Twelve Jesus Night-Lights,” from this issue and Kirby’s “A Really Good Story” from the winter 1997 issue both include their beloved child Ian. Kirby’s poem has been a favorite of mine since I first read it back in the 1997 issue, and when I read Hamby’s poem I thought it was terrific. Then I realized it, too, includes Ian. I thought how lucky we are because we are a journal and are able to present this ongoing conversation between texts separated by more than fifteen years. The audio gallery also includes an excerpt from David Wojahn’s poem.

And so back to the effort to balance the heavy nature of Wojahn’s poem. I searched for pieces that perhaps addressed lighter topics. Looking at the table of contents now I see maybe that’s just not in me. We do have a tremendous variety of poems with twenty-eight poets and forty poems in this issue, but every writer is truly skilled, and even the lighter topics—such as Thomas Reiter’s “First Practice,” about a daughter’s T-ball experience—are handled with reverence. School is addressed from both the perspective of the student (granted, looking back as an adult) in Bobby C. Rogers’s “I Will Not Talk in Class,” where writing is used as punishment (whoever thought that was a good idea?), and the teacher in Gary Fincke’s “According to Ibid,” a poem that every teacher can appreciate and find laughter in. In contrast are Margaree Little’s poems. New to our pages, her work was so gripping that we decided easily to run a set of three related poems that start with the finding of a body. Shortly after we sent the issue to the printer we learned that Little had been awarded a Rona Jaffe Foundation prize for poetry.

There’s lots of beautiful poetry in addition these. Tributes to writers and sons and mothers and fathers and grandsons and friends, memories of not-so-wonderful mothers and awful rented houses and disappointing anonymous encounters, and more. I could go on but this is already quite long and there’s other work to do: a new season of poetry to read, winter poems to edit, and the many other tasks of this job that brings me joy.

By the time this blog is posted next week, I have faith the Saints will be 6 and 0. Tonight and tomorrow I will continue to work with my daughter on the Halloween cards she is making to give out along with candy. Practicing her cutting and writing, she is making cards that say boo in orange and black—four a day so that she can have more than one hundred for the big night. She’s a New Orleans child through and through and is hoping Drew Brees will come to the door so she, dressed as a book, can give him a card with candy and say, “Boo Dat!”

What we do to our children.

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