Letter from the Editor-in-Chief
“What, indeed, is there? There is a pen in my hand; a star in the sky; a hole in the carpet; a pain in my tooth; a ringing in my ears; a song in my heart, a redness in the sunset; a discussion in Congress; unrest in Ireland; a need for action; a duty to try; a possibility of success; a difference in size. Which of these are not ‘parts of the world’?
The irreducible variety and plurality of ‘what there is’ seems incontrovertible.”
–Reuben Abel, Man is the Measure
From chaos we are all born. I imagine a swirling mass of dust in a storm or particles of natural debris that get moved this way, that way, by currents underwater. This churning mixes without intent, random pieces responding to random forces. Maybe chaos looks like thunder and lightning, sounds like music too complicated to understand; maybe it’s knowing everything all at once or thinking all your thoughts all at the same time.
Chaos breaks order apart. In destruction comes creation as the parts of the previous order that remain, as if attracted by magnets, pull together to remake and renew.
Destruction and creation: It is in that phase between them that the chaos can most clearly be known. Perhaps, like the blood that runs through our veins and carries all the information our bodies need to know to all of our distant parts, chaos is life.
As writers we dip our pens into the chaos every time we try to imagine an unknowable or wordless thing. We give this cloudy thought a shape inside a word and hope to freeze-frame the action on the page to study it and know forever—or at least for a little while. But if we are lucky, the chaos still churns wordless inside this word form and will cause an effect in the reader, a chain reaction of more thinking and creation. It is an experience that defies language, squeezes in between language, and leaks through the cracks that letters make. Is what you feel a little unknowable? Good. You are part of a quiet and beautiful storm of creation we all share. The artist makes form from chaos. Gathers it, shapes it and lets it go into the world to do its butterfly best.
But art cannot predict its own form. Undirected, the particles make a loose agreement to gather, driven by positive and negative attraction and the urge to penetrate and consume and destroy—until they pile up in exquisite failure and create in Latroya Lovell’s “The Storm in the Dream.” What was one moment’s demise, is another moment’s happy accident. Happy accidents occur in the heaps of scraps obsessively collected and curated by the famous artist in Sean Everington’s “Joe Newman.” Joe knows nothing is lost and everything is useful. He has thought long and hard about the decisive moment of creation. Or, witness how food and culture mix under the sun on a Brooklyn sidewalk to create something uniquely New York. Ingredients to inquiry: Where does it all come from? asks Jessica Sennett in “Seafood in Chinatown.”
Every year on 12th Street we step out into the unknown. While we think we might have an idea about what is going to happen, we never really do. Nor should we. New faces, new technology, new students with new ideas (or new students with old ideas within new veins) keeps the mix current and constant. In the four years I’ve been on 12th Street I have gone from Reader to Editor in Chief. The experience puts me at a certain advantage when it comes to the task of overseeing the journal, but it in no way prepares me for what’s to come. Every year is different and terrifying in its own unforeseeable way. This year especially so. Just when I thought I had the hang of this thing, we go online only and make the journal new again.
We value the printed word and stand firmly in our printed roots. 12th Street ran from 1944 to 1950 during prime post war New York City literary years. It was then resurrected in 2008 and in print for eight issues. Now in 2016, we go online to see where the page ends and where the screen can take us next, and ask, where is our next unknowable destination?