Who or what has saved your life? The inspiring shimmies of fairy godmothers and godfathers on the dance floor? Someone offering a place to crash when you were adrift in an unknown city? A friend once told us that books and libraries had saved her life. Not that they made her feel a little less horrible, but that their comfort and instruction delivered her from the edge of a terrifying emptiness. We believe her. We don’t pretend that life or art exist without shadow. Since the release of our last issue, the bathroom graffiti down the hall from Gulf Coast no longer contains advice for mending a broken heart. Over the fall and early winter, several different hands have written, “Black lives matter,” “#MuslimLivesMatter,” and “all lives matter.” Work such as L.S. Klatt’s poem, “Big Sur,” takes on greater valence in the context of the American zeitgeist, repeating “Let’s not get killed” three times in eight lines. War, prisons, urban decline, the metaphorical burning of an uncle’s chicken shed: all of these things are here, breathing in this issue, and there is no pithy rejoinder to “all lives matter” except to say, “Yes.”
We’ve also identified a palpable anxiety over the state of the printed word. Now and again, folks talk about the book, with its breakable spine and quaint pages, as if it has already gone the way of the dodo. For some, the object resting in your hands is an anachronism, an obsolete holdover from previous centuries, a technological vestigial tail. Please don’t misunderstand us; we have no desire to marginalize the internet. GC Online and other online journals satisfy our need for poetry and prose in ones and zeros. We too gaze into the mirrors of our iPads, tablets, and phones and blush. We are made giddy by flicking our fingers over a news article: Behold hundreds of words fleeing beyond our device’s rectangular frame! But if, just now, you are holding this newest issue of Gulf Coast, we suspect you take silent pleasure in the feel and heft of its letterpressed cover, the rainbow colors popping out of our Art Lies folios, and the singular smell of glue and paper inside the spine.
We are not alone in our obsessions. This winter, nearly 35,000 people attended the LA Art Book Fair. Lovers of art, books, and art books swarmed around stalls of zines, the wares of independent publishers, and antiquarian book dealers. Though Gulf Coast does not fit precisely into those categories, we can safely say that every issue of the journal pays homage to the beauty and possibility of printed and bound matter. This Summer/Fall issue takes that reverence to another level by paying special attention to the book in form and content. With a dazzling letterpress cover designed and produced by Spindletop Design and Workhorse Printmakers here in Houston, we tip our hats to a long line of artists and technicians who have realized the book’s physicality and beauty. Art Lies Editors Raphael Rubinstein and Lauren Greve have brought us artists, such as MANUAL and Pablo Helguera, who challenge us to rethink the book as art object and to consider the library as a place for art installation.
Libraries and museums, the palaces of books and art, invite us into a conversation capable of interrupting the complicit silence in ourselves: When we have broken that silence on the page, could we not do the same in our families and communities? The roundtable featuring early-career poets of color urges us to open our doors to visitors we have not anticipated. They urge us to reconsider form and subject and tradition and self so that we become fearless and capacious students of the world and all its creatures. Chitra Ganesh’s installations and drawings also contain multitudes in their reimagining of mythology, narrative, desire, and paradigms of power. Our inaugural Gulf Coast Prize in Translation, which we have begun in order to further legitimize the work of translators and translation, not only complicates language dominance, but it gives our readers access to work that operates outside of English and American tropes. Whether or not you speak Korean, Spanish, Turkish, Hebrew, or the English represented in this issue, we hope your eyes and ears will delight in the polyvocality they bring Gulf Coast.
Spring is almost here, or so our senses tell us. Despite the cold, fruit trees have started to blossom. Lime green auras surround the branches of deciduous trees. Birds, busy and high up, at their work. So are all of the authors and artists represented here. So are you, our readers, in the fullness of your lives. In the fullness of Venetian glassblowers, Vespas, reunions, EMTs, radios, old photographs, the loss of someone—ecstasy and doubt mingle in us and in this issue and that is just right.