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Greetings from the thirty-second issue of the Bellevue Literary Review, my first issue as assistant poetry editor. As a former NYU Langone patient and NYU MFA student, I am grateful to join a journal that has explored the stories of medicine and literature as it has been intersecting the lives of medical professionals and patients alike for almost two decades. When I began reading submissions for the BLR I felt like I was a student again. This time, Leila Chatti invited me to question the presence of blood in the violent, peaceful, and intimate scenes she rendered in her poem "Blood: Hx." And through the poem "Back in the World: Commuter Student," JoLee Passerini taught me what it is like to return to school after a military tour overseas. From a couple’s bedroom to a bed in the ICU, these works of literature teach us that writing is not done solely to share oneself with others, or to commemorate a moment. Rather, great literature is meant to help us understand how it is to be another human.
Selected by Ha Jin for the Goldenberg Prize for Fiction, C.J. Hribal’s short story, "Do I Look Sick To You? (Notes on How to Make Love to a Cancer Patient)," explores how a man continues to see his wife as a dynamic person as they maintain intimacy during her cancer treatment. In "And It Is No Joke," which received the honorable mention, Conor Kelley investigates the complexity of options for healing, and grapples with creating space for both anger and humor.
In "Of Mothers and Monkeys," selected by Ariel Levy for the Felice Buckvar Prize for Nonfiction, Caitlin Kuehn considers her relationship to her mother during her mother’s illness, all while taking care of the research animals that are housed in the very same hospital. In "Jacket," which received the honorable mention, Jennifer Hildebrandt braids the mourning of the loss of her partner to cancer with the despair of not knowing the diagnosis soon enough. She offers a lesson in seeking solace, as she weaves these emotions through the wild landscape behind her home.
Hildebrandt’s search is echoed in "Poem for a Friend Growing Lighter and Lighter" by Abe Louise Young, which was selected by Kazim Ali for the Marica and Jan Vilcek Prize for Poetry. Young’s longform poem narrates the relationship between an able-bodied speaker and a friend diagnosed with a brain tumor. Here, humor is hinged to gravity and we are offered insight into the emotional impact of a slow death.
While Young’s poem places us in the present, "In the absence of birdsong" by Michaela Coplen, which received the honorable mention, gives homage to Đặng Thùy Trâm, a female Vietnamese doctor who worked in North Vietnam during the war.
We are also excited to honor Jennifer M. Lynch’s poem "In Patient," which received the Daniel Liebowitz Prize for Student Writing. The speaker of her poem asks us to “listen for the world alive in him” when listening for the malady of illness. From the perspective of a doctor, this poem might be a lesson in looking for the person within the diseased body. But to me this poem offers up a reminder that in order to see humanity in others we must listen carefully.
Other writings in this issue stride in this spirit of careful looking for humanity. "Wound," a short story by Aggie Zivaljevic, takes us to the former Yugoslavia and brings the loss of a mother into sharper focus. In "Walter’s Wreck," Amanda Irene Rush renders the uncertainty of what a person feels—or knows—after a traumatic experience. And in Gardner McFall’s poem "Brushing the Horse," we are shown how processing trauma can occur when our attentions are pulled elsewhere.
We are grateful to our contest judges, Kazim Ali, Ariel Levy, and Ha Jin. And we are thankful to the Goldenberg, Buckvar, Vilcek, and Oratz/Knapp families for sponsoring the BLR prizes. Writing that focuses on the intersection of literature and medicine can teach us how to empathize in a crisis, whether it is personal or political, familiar or foreign. Perhaps this literature can teach us how to be more compassionate to one another. Through inhabiting the minds rendered in these stories, we can also learn more about ourselves.
Assistant Poetry Editor