A life has a remarkable durability and fragility. In this issue we mark the passing of Frances (Firth) Gammon, who was just short of a hundred years old at the time of her death. She attended the University of New Brunswick during the Second World War and was a member of the Bliss Carman Society, which was a group of undergraduates interested in poetry under the direction of Alfred Bailey. As a way of recording the poetry produced by their group, the members of society established a modest little journal, which they decided to call The Fiddlehead. Frances’ poems appeared in those early issues and she was one of the last alive who would have held that first issue in her hands fresh off the press. What would that have been like?
I have been the editor of The Fiddlehead for nearly twenty years, a long time by most accounts, and I have held a copy of that first issue in my hands many times, but the life breathed into it seventy-one years ago is for me an intangible figment of history. I am just happy bringing to life this issue marked by three insignificant digits: 267. Right now it is my favourite issue, handed down to me by Frances so many years ago.
And this issue is also a contest issue! It is our annual moment of celebration of all writing, presenting to you six new works that caught the eyes of our judges. Thank you, judges, for your careful work. Thanks to our fiction judge, Naomi Lewis, and our poetry judges, Lorna Crozier, Rae Armantrout, and Brecken Hancock.
The winner for fiction is Brent van Staalduinen for his story “Skinks,” told by a boy who relates most strongly to the man who lives with his mother. They enforce the idea that Jesse is not “Dad,” and as the story progresses the boy is bewildered by how he might lose Jesse. Naomi Lewis describes how: “The young narrator sees the world and his situation through a child’s naive eyes, focusing on details that seem significant to his developing mind, while the reader can see a tragedy unfolding in the background, between the lines. The author aptly demonstrates how a child’s need for love clouds the flaws of the adults in his life, and how he clings to innocence even in the moments when it’s falling away from him.”
The honourable mentions are Sarah L. Taggart for “The Way It Is in a Place Like This” and Cathy Kozak for “Dirty Girls of Paradise.” Taggart evokes the Nanaimo of the working-class young people who scratch a living in “shit jobs” and how they try to connect to each other. Lewis indicates how “The depiction of growing up in a small city that appears pastoral to tourists but holds its locals in an often tawdry vise grip rings true.” “Dirty Girls of Paradise” tells of what best friends can do to each other when they’ve both been belittled and hurt in ways they won’t admit. As Lewis puts it, “Best-friend love between two young girls, breathtaking betrayal with the intrusion of a man with bad intentions, the clingy grip of reckless adolescent decisions, all stand out in stark relief in this story,”
Michael Eden Reynolds is the winner for poetry. “False Dichotomy or Monocot” is a plosive and surreal exploration of identities that might or might not define us. Lorna Crozier talks about how she “delighted in the quirkiness and originality, both of which felt warranted, deserved, and not merely clever. I kept smiling as the poem unfolded another fresh image or idea.” Brecken Hancock speaks of how the poem “dizzies with surreal biology, elastic timelines, and the consequences of mortality on spiritual belief.”
The honourable mentions are “Made by Robots” by Jeff Parent and “Consumed” by Alison Goodwin. Parent’s rhythms and line breaks dazzle and surprise. They have that uncanny whip-fast motion of robots shaping pieces of metal. Rae Armantrout describes the poem as “an inventive parable about ideological manipulation,” in which commodities become “desirable by making the robots cute.” However, “the robots begin to resemble the workers they displaced.” Goodwin unfolds and folds within a sonnet a little Darwinian world of death and survival. Brecken Hancock notes how the poem “excavates an eerie other world that exists beyond our immediate sight. The poet contextualizes human experience as marginal, oblivious, and ineffectual in the face of forces beyond our notice or control.”
All of the work exhibits both durability and fragility in ways that compel the reader’s attention. I encourage you all to read and marvel.