Take it all in. Allow the air waft through your lungs like the wind commandeering the sails of a ship in search of a direction.
Heave that sigh. As you’ve borne witness to an especial year, riddled with the fever and the fervour of wars, coups, and the hunt for the self among the scattered fragments of our existence.
Because that’s all we can do now. To be alive and to live; to tell stories and weave new histories.
The Shallow Tales Review is all about stories. Poetry, fiction, essays, one-act plays, photographs—stories. And the stories we publish are bested only by the incredible voices, the voices matched only by each contributor’s devotion to language. Language, thus, is the centre of everything. And I find language very interesting. There is a finite number of letters, finite number of words, and all we do is manipulate them within a certain boundary to create new stories, new meanings. For every theme that has battled its way from the editorial desk onto publication, meaning has been crucial to it. Meaning here, consequently, translates to unity among the slew of accepted works, each churning a parallel undercurrent unbeknownst and unplanned by the writers or us, the editors.
Issue forty-two presents twelve contributors (and the interviewee—this time, the Booker Prize-shortlisted novelist, Maaza Mengiste), using language in riveting and resplendent ways. Displacement is our theme and boy, does it fit! Without being hyperbolic, this issue captures a literary flowering. Whether you’re being drawn into the vivid and vital narrative of Rutendo Chidzodzo’s God Resides inside a Warumart, or being caressed by the honeyed storytelling in Deming by Cynthia Chukwuma, or you pause your breath and marvel at the wondrous magnificence of Junaid Ahmed Ahangar’s “Landscape of the Partisan,” or you eventually manage to scoop the near-photographic rendering of the daily lives of a dense neighbourhood in Jimoh Abdullah’s “Ajegunle,” the sleuth-eyed observer will surely notice that a more or less sour and sordid idea and material is delineated and presented as a wholesome confection by each writer and poet. A jardinière of creativity. And yet, the glue across all these pieces is their reach to hold and then pour out, to exposit and define displacement, in the very many ways allowed with language, with voice, with story.
Leo Tolstoy asseverates in War and Peace that the world is a binary: “there is all happiness, hope, light; the other is where she is not, and there is dejection and darkness.” I find this quote necessary for the subject of this issue which each work treats in their own way. While there is the ready tincture of war and its inevitable corollary of dispersion and scattering and division and separation, including and not limited to the physical and psychological, among the poems and fiction in this issue, the few without such obvious markers tell it differently. Ewoenam Akahoho agrees and even submits to Tolstoy’s assertion, expressing in the poem, “To My Little Boy,” that “a man’s mind never desires to be / crippled by grief, pain or anything unsweet.” He adds, going further, that “wherever destiny’s shadow falls, / we will go.” Here, the narrator is preparing their child to shift to a new place where he’ll become accepting of both hope and dejection.
In “A Portrait of a Group of Girls,” Khaloud Al-Muttalibi feeds us with the character of Zhiyan reliving the horrors she experienced in ISIS-occupied Tal Afar. In Al-Muttalibi’s graphic poem, terror is “incarcerated in such a small space” to emphasise how war comes and sacks the peace and tranquility of a place, rending innocence from children. What is particularly interesting to me in this poem is how Al-Muttalibi’s Zhiyan is revisiting war in the time of peace. It is a pointer to Tolstoy’s aforementioned masterpiece which can be summarised as: in the time of peace, everyone prepares for war; in the time of war, everyone prepares for peace.
Similar sentiments of losing one’s childhood to war are shared by Maaza Mengiste. In our interview with her, she says that as a child she was trying to answer, in adulthood, the questions she asked when she was a child. A child is eager to process and understand the sudden change in the normal workings of their society, but can’t. And so, they must postpone such reasoning even as they find meaning in the dissipation of their environment and must store the new experiences, new unwanted history deep within their recesses like a cache.
Dmitry Blizniuk’s “When You Are Dying” is a fitting title not just for the poet’s current reality of living in Ukraine and having to deal with the offensive from Russia, but it does scour the very subject of displacement vis-à-vis human existence. Death is portrayed by Blizniuk as a dissociation of the body from the mind, each part working independently before, in the process of, and after death. The words in this poem only assure as much as they can but is more adjacent to the inevitable blight that comes to all humans. Blizniuk states, resignedly: “It’s so easy, so monumental to think ahead / about what happens when you won’t be able to think ahead,” and all I can think of right now is death, binaries, deracination.
It is indeed fascinating how every contributor in this issue has an interconnectedness in both tone and atmosphere. There’s no wishful thinking, no glorification about the mundane quests for satisfaction, no maudlin expressions of happiness. Rather, they are treated as footnotes. The place is the place—the place of happiness and pain and hope and despair all come together to tail humankind’s existence. There is indeed that pessimism that mirrors Thomas Hardy’s surrender that happiness is “an occasional episode in the general drama of pain.” Binaries. Displacement.
Finally, dear ardent reader of The Shallow Tales Review, as you can see and read, we have cooked. Gather your friends and bring your noses closer and sniff in this aroma. Ready the serviettes. Get your chopsticks and spoons and forks and knives because this issue is finger-licking, lip-smacking good.
Chidiebube onye Okohia,
Poetry Editor, The Shallow Tales Review