If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred. -Walt Whitman
My body is like breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I don’t think about it, I just have it. - Arnold Schwarzenegger
We live in complicated times, and recent current events seem to be kaleidoscoping into an ongoing shuffling and reshuffling of those complexities. Uncertainty and fear permeate our current cultural landscape, and as we’ve watched this issue take shape what we’ve found is an impulse toward grounding. Many of the pieces in this issue strip down their subject matter and inhabit physical forms. Bodies recur as ground-zero, where we grapple with issues of identity and sexuality, whether the larger world supports or denies us support in our grapplings. Sustenance, too, shows up again and again, reminding us all to stay fed and feed our communities how best we can in the midst of our world’s challenges. Our own community at Gulf Coast is growing staff as we welcome Digital Editor Georgia Pearle, and Art Editors Rachel Cook and Maria Luisa Minjares to the fold.
“How can one write from experiences that are marked as unintelligible, or unspeakable.?” This question rings throughout Ching-In Chen’s roundtable on trans poetics and throughout the issue as a whole. The difficulty to put language to experience is one that permeates the issue as well as a desire to push against language hegemony.
The translation in this issue is full of the body as landscape. The translated language becomes the transformative platform for a new landscape, the way the body becomes the wall that bounces the echoes of time. Laura Cesarco Eglin’s Portuguese translations of Hilda Hist’s poems show the body in between languages, “Tento prender teu corpo Tua montanha, teu reverso.”,”I try to capture your body your mountain, your reverse.” Carina De Valle Schorske’s translation of Marigloria Palma’s work asks us to “Prolong our flesh with clocks and nerves,/ with the hammer’s keening, the love of native species,/ the sympathy of shoots and stems and leaves.” Regardless of linguistic differences, the body remains a constant.
Carmen Maria Machado’s short story begins with this image: “my mouth fills with the dust of the moon.” In language languid and ever-searching, she brings us into relief with the pull between desire and need, sustenance and grief. Machado’s narrator asks, as so many of us ask and are asking, “Will I ever be done, transformed in the past tense, or will I always be transforming?” The speaker of the penultimate paragraph of her piece tells us “I will curl into her body, which was my body once,” and we are reminded of the history that shadow and haunts us. Our special features section brings the question of history back into the fold as we include a conversation about with George Saunders about his novel on Abraham Lincoln. Saunders discusses Lincoln and the relevance of time, “whatever the afterlife is, it has a lot to do with this moment right now.” This idea shapes time as anything but a line.
Leila Chatti asks us to consider the ways in which apparently small, interior calamities grow and telescope out as we encounter time and the wider world, writing, “I was young enough to think anything/ that bled was a wound. The Moon/,” and Sam Sax tells us, “There is nothing innate in the brain/ about love or the objects we lust after,” much as we may want to make the intrinsic and extrinsic illuminate ever greater meanings as they collide in our lives.
The art in this issue of Gulf Coast focuses on the object. The definition of object ranges from something material that may be perceived by the senses, to something mental or physical toward which thought, feeling, or action is directed, or something that when viewed stirs a particular emotion. The word can be thought of as thing unto itself—äbjekt—or an action—?b?jekt—depending on the inflection of your voice. The slippery nature of the word relates to the meaning of the artwork discussed in this issue of the journal and the way these artists think about materials, things, objects, whistles, diamonds, human ashes, records, and sounds. In our current political climate, the value of certain objects—art and literature—is constantly being questioned, and it is at this cross-roads that these artists, Jamal Cyrus, Dan Graham, Jill Magid, Liz McCarthy, and Pauline Oliveros, are crucial. Their work and the words penned about them carefully consider the meaning of the art object and how its specific material can invoke profound meaning about the world. How a diamond can be made from human remains that also represents an archive and legacy of an artist, how the legacy of Al Green's finding faith materializes itself in the classic southern dish of grits, or how a clay whistle can be both a playful toy and a mechanism for bringing people together intimately enough to kiss. Each of these narratives unfold in the pages alongside the literature in the issue in haunting ways, revealing how artists and writers are considering being present in today’s society.