Well, this is our annual ritual, so to speak. The literature issue. And the theme is spirit. Geist. And we shall be blunt about it. For several years, we have enforced a self-discipline so that we must, at year end, after many meanderings and experimentations, land like an eagle with our talons down and gently lower our wings, look around, and claw down on the rock that we sit on – the rock of dis-spirit and dystopia – to counter it with the eagle eye of hope and vision.
Now if that sounds optimistic or overenthusiastic, we cannot be faulted. Our writers and readers, in our ever-intensifying literary world, do not give up. They have hope and clarifications to make. As stated in our invitation to write:
“The spirit is an indestructible state of non-being. It lingers on, intangible but sensorial. It is not always eternal, but when it is encountered, it is imperishable. Being restless, youthful, challenging … being pushy, being inspiring, remaining alive when death has taken its toll – that is spirit. Spirit is courage, guts, fighting the power, speaking truth to power. Spirit could be uncompromising, but it could also be compromising when necessary. Spirit is doing things quietly, unnoticed and yet invoking an indomitable energy for what you believe in.”
We have received an overwhelming response through poems, reviews, short stories, essays and personal reflections on life and staying alive, in spite of the divisive chasms that keep appearing amongst us. Nilanjan Dutta from Kolkata pays tribute to the life and words of Birendra Chattopadhyay, a prominent and much-loved activist and freedom fighter who continued to inspire youth in Bengal with his “death-defying” spirit from the 1940s to the 1980s. Addressing young poets, he writes:
“Teach us to be fearless, so that we
can cross Death now blocking our way in front.”
There are powerful and scintillating essays and poems by Cora Siré, Louise Carson, James Olwell, Bonnie Brotman Shore and Brian McDonough from Montréal. Our co-editors Maya Khankhoje and Jody Freeman are featured with an encompassing essay on the spirit of our time and a tribute to the enduring spirit of an Ojibwe elder; and Egyptian-American poet and aphorist Yahia Lababidi has shared with us extracts from his forthcoming book, Where Epics Fail, a book of concise meditations. Included also is an intriguing reflection by Montréal musician and composer, Antoine Bustros, on falcons (“Faucons”) as prey and preying. Then there are the extraordinarily haunting images from sculptor Madeleine Chevalier and photographer Anne Marie Noël. Not to overlook the indomitably spirited Veena Gokhale, writer and reviewer, who has written an essay on the intricacies of language, style and culture, and a film review of Mathieu Roy’s The Dispossessed (Les dépossédés).
There are several other essays in the pipeline, and a booster edition of the Spirit issue is in the works. This will include an interview with Helen Quewezance Cote from Saskatchewan, poems by Andrés Castro, a mentor for the PEN prison writing program, and a review of Naben Ruthnum’s Curry, Eating, Reading and Race, a book that “successfully marries erudite, penetrating, socio-cultural and literary analysis with a personal exploration of eating, reading and race.”
Spirit is keeping the essence of a subject alive. In war or peace, spirit is spelling out the truth. In controversial times, as now, spirit is uncovering the root cause, and not just playing around with exterior emotions, obvious fatuousness and surface volatility.
As we were preparing to go on-line with this issue to wrap up 2017 and bring in the New Year, we were hit with an emotional sledgehammer. Abby Lippman – a frequent contributor to Serai, a dear friend, comrade and longstanding Montréal scientist, a bio-ethicist, feminist, human rights activist and a constant presence in all weather on the streets of Montréal in protests against racism and discrimination – passed away suddenly. Our issue of Montréal Serai on Spirit is dedicated to this champion. The last two poems she submitted to us are featured here. She will rest in power, we are sure about that.