The debut issue of the Bellevue Literary Review was published in the Fall of 2001. The attacks of September 11th overshadowed much of the production of that issue, and indeed the birth of the BLR. As both a hospital and a literary magazine, all of us at Bellevue were intimately involved in ways large and small. Many of the Editors and Board Members were directly involved in the medical care of victims and families. Others were at or near the World Trade Center at the time of the attacks. Photos of the missing lined the walls of Bellevue for weeks. Lack of mail halted delivery of proofs for the BLR.
Now, one year later, the effects of that day linger, but have been filtered through various idiosyncratic and personal experiences. At the Bellevue Literary Review, we debated how a literary magazine—one based in a hospital—should handle the anniversary of such an event. Rather than create an a priori structure, we decided to see what our writers would offer, and then allow the issue to take shape. A call for manuscripts related to September 11th yielded hundreds of replies, so many of them heartwrenching to read. They easily could have filled the entire issue, but it seemed—as in many other cases of literature—that less would be more, and we decided to make only one section of this issue devoted to September 11th. We received dozens of eye-witness accounts—people walking to work, people watching from their apartments, people out buying groceries. It seemed that it would be impossible to do justice to a recounting of the events, since there were thousands of individual lenses on that day and choosing two or three would seem to slight all the other, equally compelling, perspectives. Similarly, fiction that used the attacks as part of the story, as a dramatic canvas, felt too uncomfortable to use—not yet, or ever, at least for those of us living in New York.
It seemed that poetry, often thought of as the least linear genre of writing, felt the most appropriate. The tragedies of that day remain so illogical to us, so impossible to integrate, that poems, with their small but carefully wrought images, seemed most palatable. None of the five poems published herein attempts to amalgamate the whole event; they only dust off and illuminate one small speck. And perhaps that is all we can absorb at a given time. We do, also, present two prose pieces that each offer unique perspectives, without the hubris of “doing it all.” In Visual Anguish and Looking at Art , Carol Zoref delves into the vexing issue of the witness: how does the eye recover from what it has seen? And Stephanie Hammer, in Il Faut, offers a delicate meditation about efforts to heal.
We are pleased that this issue of the BLR offers a wide scope of writers and writing styles. Mark Rigney has us peering over the shoulders of a motley cast of characters in The Facts, as the events of a particular Saturday morning are recreated. The doctor-patient relationship is the theme of several stories in this issue. In The Caves of Lascaux, Miriam Karmel makes us privy to the tangled emotions of the doctor facing a dying patient. In How to Visit a Healer, Jeanette Brown brings us the wry eye of a skeptical patient seeking alternative medicine. Robert Oldhsue, in his debut publication, The Mona Lisa, opens the door to the humor and sadness that can be seen in a long-term care facility.
The human senses are often muses. Eric Jones, in his essay In Between Time, meditates on the perception of time as instigated by pains in his ear. Cortney Davis, in her poem Ear Examined, illuminates the beauty of that ear, as viewed through the otoscope and the heart. In Sight, by Lee Martin, the fading of vision, and the promise of its restoration, parallels a family’s history of love and loss. The poem Sentence, by Barbara Lefcowitz, dissects this very image of vision fading.
Relationships to parents are enduring sources of inspiration to writers. In the poem Bellevue, Julia Alvarez recalls a mother’s threats when home life became too chaotic. Michael Collier, in his delicate poem How Snow Arrives, reflects on the powerful but almost evanescent links between generations. Ray Gonzalez, whom we are pleased to publish again in the BLR, offers a singular view of family in the poem, The Song. In the essay Sweet Blood, Pappi Tomas is bound to his father by the intimacy of genetics and disease. In the poem Jim & John, Matthew Thorburn explores the extremes of such family ties.
I hope you find this issue of the Bellevue Literary Review illuminating and thought-provoking. The ideas and perspectives herein are diverse and often unusual. You may find yourself rereading several of the pieces, uncovering subtle layers each time. If the pages of your copy become frayed and bent at the edges, the spine lax from use, then we have achieved our goal.