The American Dissident: Literature, Democracy & Dissidence

The Sun

Editor Sy Safransky. Issue 353. May 2005. 48pp. Stapled magazine. Canada $5.50/USA $4.95.
The Sun
POB 469061
Escondido, CA 92046-9061

The Sun publishes a mix of fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, and true stories that "strive to reveal universal truths; writing that avoids polemics in favor of real, honest voices." How can this statement not immediately turn off a politically conscious individual? It clearly implies that polemical writing is somehow not writing by real, honest voices. How absurd can one get? If anything, polemical writing is more real and honest that the bellybutton writing featured in this issue. Richard Johnson's letter to the editor nails it: "The cavalier dismissal of the environmental movement by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus in your February issue ["Death of Environmentalism"] pissed me off. They criticize Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn for being negative. Telling the truth about our history weakens democracy? Give me a break."
            Perhaps unlike most literary magazines, The Sun at least does have the courage to publish less than flattering letters to the editor. Most journals tend only to publish letters that act as congratulatory blurbs.
            The poetry in this issue is of the "filler" variety, quite lacking in bravado with regards the poet risking something personal by writing what he or she writes. How can poetry possibly ever matter when poets prefer wittiness, cutesiness and/or belly-button gazing to truth telling, standing on the edge, and risking by truth telling? The last line in Tom Hansen's "Jump-Rope Rhyme" illustrates why poetry doesn't matter: "Our heart's last home:/ the wind-whipped foam,/ the sweet, deep sea./ Tat tvam as/." Edwin Romond's "Quiet Side of the Moon" also illustrates it: "Tonight I long to fly to this side/ of the moon, leave around midnight,/ whiz past satellites and space stations/ and abandon depression in its shadow,/ [...]". Alas, poetry today seems to have become more and more relegated to mere "filler" item. The poetry appearing in The Atlantic Monthly and New Yorker clearly illustrate this sad trend. And it is sad because poetry could serve to shake things up, rather than merely providing a brief chuckle.
            Oddly, The Sun contains a section called "Readers Write on the Edge." Why oddly? Because the short essays contained in this rubric appear to have been written by writers not on the edge, or if they are, it is on the edge of the bellybutton (e.g., "estranged husband," "brother was drafted," and "partner has been stationed") and nothing more. The editor even permits anonymous entries here.
            As for the essays, Norman Fischer needs to learn the meaning of a hook sentence. Indeed, I tried to get into "The Religion of Politics, The Politics of Religion," but it just kept going on and on to where I did not know. So I stopped reading. The essay was clearly an intellectual exercise and nothing more. Hit me hard in the first sentence!  I don't have time to hunt for a good morsel buried somewhere in the middle or end of the piece. Hillary Grace's "The Last, Hateful Word" is another of those navel-gazing examples of writing that serves nothing except to get Hillary's name out there.
            The black and white photos in this issue are also of the "filler" variety, though the one by Bill Franson of a boy drying his hands below an electric bathroom dryer was certainly of interest. Photography, perhaps more than any other field of art, is the most difficult with regards creating engaged material. All art and writing is political, like it or not.  The Sun is clearly status-quo political. In fact, all the writing in this issue gives the impression of having been assigned by MFA instructors.
            Finally, editor Safranski notes he is holding two writing retreats, replete with workshops and author readings. Ugh. I wonder how much cash he'll reap and why the proliferation of such retreats. Our great writers did not need to attend such events.