In Poetry and Prose, the Relevance of Story

by Bob Mustin

Susan Coyle, Jane Mary Curran, Bob Mustin

From left, Susan Coyle, Editor's Choice for fiction; Jane Mary Curran, for poetry;
Guest Editor Bob Mustin

When I was offered the opportunity to guest-edit this issue of The Great Smokies Review I was, on the one hand, curious and excited. On the other, I rolled my eyes a bit, braced for student-quality writing. Was I wrong about the latter! Reading these pieces of prose and poetry has been one of the greatest enjoyments I’ve experienced in quite a while. In the prose, there’s mature technique, there are unique voices, and there are some great, well-crafted stories. And the poetry. I began my own writing journey as a poet, gave that up long ago for prose, and as I read these poetic pieces, I found myself glad I don’t have to measure my own poetic skills against them.

Postmodernism keeps telling us that every prosaic telling, every poetic pronouncement, is all about the author. And, somewhat paradoxically, that there is no real nonfiction; everything is subjective and fictive. Because of this, I think, in MFA curricula and other writing programs, young writers are learning technique and its conceits to the detriment of story. And so as I read these excellent short stories, nonfiction pieces, and novel segments, I found myself looking for the best examples of that which has always made creative imagining relevant: story.

While I had some difficulty deciding among five of these prose pieces, I kept coming back to Susan Coyle’s, “The Shortcut.” This story, which reminds me a great deal of Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” teases us on, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, into a young woman’s tendency to make bad decisions, leading her, as in many of O’Connor’s stories, to learn from baleful experiences.

Carl Sandburg has written that “Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.” This aptly describes Jane Mary Curran’s poem, “Digressional in the Confessional.” Her bon mot at the bottom of her poem submittal claims an exploration here of a new voice, and I have to congratulate her on this brave and eminently successful experiment. My jaw dropped during first reading of this poem, at the music (or dance) of it, the sly repetitions, the edgy assertion of life’s meta-view, her poetic vision, and each succeeding reading reinforced that first one.

There are no losers among the eighteen submittals I read; each displays unique talent in point of view and expression from those perspectives, thus each gains its own degree of accolade. I can only urge each writer on to make more and more of the talents expressed here. There are no perfect novels, short stories, essays, memoirs, or poems. But that’s the challenge, isn’t it? To use our individual talents to chase that elusive ideal for the sake of unearthing, bit by bit, the magnificence of human experience.

Bob Mustin had a brief naval career and a longer one as a civil engineer, and was a North Carolina Writers Network writer-in-residence at Peace College under Doris Betts' guiding hand. In the early '90s, he was the editor of a small literary journal, The Rural Sophisticate, based in Georgia. His work has appeared in The Rockhurst Review, Elysian Fields Quarterly, Cooweescoowee, Under The Sun, Gihon River Review, Reflections Literary Journal, and in electronic form at, raving dove, Sport Literate, The Externalist, Language and Culture, and R.K.V.R.Y . A fictional biography, The Eagle of the East, concerning a real combatant on the eastern front of WWII, will be published this year by Omonomany Publishing. Bob invites you to enjoy his blog, Gridley Fires.