I’ve resided in a lovely small village in central Ohio for most of my adult life, and though I’ll shortly be stepping down as editor of this journal, Gambier will remain my home, at least for much of the year. These notes, however, appear during the depths of a long winter, so I’m happy to recall just how pleasant the summers may be. Life is surely more relaxed—when Kenyon College students depart, only a couple hundred year-round citizens remain. We know where each other lives, what car we drive—or bicycle we ride—what pet romps at the dog park. Gambier long ago refused the convenience of home delivery, so the quotidian ritual of running into one another at the post office, adorned with its fine Public Works of Art mural from the 1930s, continues to endure.
Like many villages across America, this one cherishes a bespoke celebration of Independence Day. By this I mean to suggest that each town has its own customs, its own flair and traditions rooted in the past. As you might expect, in Gambier’s case nothing is more central to its identity than a literary heritage that might be traced back a hundred years and more.
Gambier’s Fourth of July Parade, as in many towns around us, boasts fire engines of every vintage, sirens blaring and horns tooting, coursing up one side of our village center and back down the other, with firefighters and their families flinging handfuls of candy to children scrambling into the street and along the sidewalk. There are tractors too, old and new. A phalanx of other kids riding their bikes usually precedes a small squadron of horses and ponies. For many years the parade’s coup de grâce was delivered by a cohort of twenty or thirty mimes—yes, mimes. From far and near they’d journey to participate in a long-running workshop with instructors, including Marcel Marceau. Arranged in a complex, multifaceted, and evolving “float” that traveled slowly along the parade route, they’d pause briefly in front of the assembled crowd of fifty or seventy-five citizens to fulfill their elaborate, and entirely silent, performance. Sadly, that tradition ended some years ago when the group was barred from campus for late-night parties that were altogether too loud and rowdy.
Yet the literary aspects of the parade have only flourished. For the past thirty years, high school students in residence for two weeks have marched along, proudly clad in their KR Young Writers T-shirts. There were few of us in the beginning—and in those halcyon days I marched along with the twenty and then thirty young writers. More recently, the program has burgeoned, and it now welcomes more than a hundred students (in each of two sessions) of every stripe and from around this country and beyond. They bring an electricity and enthusiasm to Gambier and to this bucolic festival. Most, of course, have never seen, let alone participated in, anything like it.
Perhaps even more distinctively, our village council has also voted for over a decade to officially honor a poet laureate, who is publicly lauded before the start of the parade. On July 4, 2019, as a matter of fact, Gambier saluted someone who first appeared here as a Young Writer. Michaela Jenkins, hailing from the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts, won the yearly Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize some six years ago and thus received a scholarship to our summer program. To my immense delight, she returned a couple of years later to enroll in Kenyon. Having served for years as a KR associate and then an intern, Michaela graduated in May 2019, only to return once again in June and July to serve in helping run the same Young Writers program that had introduced her to us.
As our other poets laureate have done each year, Michaela composed a poem for the occasion and delivered it before a diverse crowd of villagers, Kenyon faculty, and those one-hundred-plus current Young Writers. On that warm, beautiful day, her poem struck me—and most everyone else—with its immediacy and timeliness. “american love poem” is raw and potent and powerful and very beautiful. I offer it here on the facing page, and am proud to do so.
On the Cover
Based in Milan, Italy, Emiliano Ponzi’s bold textured illustrations employ repetition, a judicious use of line, strong graphic compositions, and the use of conceptual metaphors to define and communicate the concept at hand. His illustrations appear in advertising, magazines, books, newspapers, and animation, for clients that include the New York Times, Le Monde, the New Yorker, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Penguin Books, MoMA, and Cartier.