Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

Guest Post: Donna Seaman

By Jane Ciabattari

NBCC member Donna Seaman, the first book critic to guest edit the TriQuarterly, sends us this excerpt from “Strong Medicine,” her introductory essay to TriQuarterly #133. (The cover is by Chicago artist Jayne Hileman.) 

My respect for the mystery implicit in creativity runs high, so I decided not to interfere with the process in my role as guest editor for this brimming issue of TriQuarterly. I did not name a theme, or assign a topic. Instead, I sought out writers who see life whole, who are curious about the interconnectivity and complexity of existence, and who care, deeply and unabashedly, about the world. When asked what I was looking for, I simply said, “strong medicine.”

Medicine, the dictionary tells us, is not only “a substance or preparation used in treating disease.” It is also “something that affects well-being,” and “magical power or a magical rite.” Good writing is a tonic. The work of inquisitive, imaginative, unfettered, and courageous observers, thinkers, and dreamers provides succor. Heat and light. Food for thought and balm for pain. Lucid and compassionate literature breaks the isolating fever of the self.

Clarion writing is strong medicine for what ails us, and the list of our disorders, our follies and crimes, is long and harrowing. The suffering we cause and endure is beyond diagnosis; our destruction of the living world is suicidal, malignant, terminal, evil. Yet we do try to make sense of our perversity, our brutality. We do learn; we do change. And it is the stories we tell that alert us to our maladies and suggest modes of healing. Without stories, chronicles, and poems, we would have no clue to what goes on in the minds of others, no insight into how other people live and define life. Right and wrong are embedded in stories; the great, glimmering web of life is best traced with words; the symbiotic relationships that make possible this planet’s mantle of green and intersecting family trees of creatures great and small, marine and legged, are best revealed by those who have a gift for precision and metaphor, for finding words for the beauty and wonder they discern everywhere they look and listen.

Writers cross borders between the past and the present, the wild and the cultivated, the personal and the universal, the actual and the imagined, the rational and the incomprehensible, the horrific and the sublime. The creators take risks, and we the readers take chances as we accept each infusion, elixir, shock, or shot.