Introduction: “Place as Palimpsest”

As I write the introduction to this special folio on “Place as Palimpsest,” I am visiting Verdun, on the banks of the Meuse River in northeastern France. The fields and forests in this region are still scarred in places with the depressions of World War I trenches. “Nature transcends time” reads a sign at the entrance to a memorial garden in the center of town, though the varieties of roses grown to commemorate the people and events of the War are hybrids—colors and blooms cross-bred through human design. Is that nature?

Through “Place as Palimpsest,” I invited submitters to explore the shifting boundaries between the natural and built worlds, and to turn lenses on the tracings and erasures of those worlds’ previous incarnations. I asked writers to show us what changed and what remains. Where are the hauntings? How long does something persist in the landscape and how much longer does it reside in memory? 

The pieces that comprise this folio are wildly different from one another, and represent the amplitude afforded by the framework of place. Above all, they are works that moved me, making me more aware of the complexly layered nature of our surroundings.

Here’s what’s inside: six of Paul Doherty’s 100-word memoirs anchored by descriptions of a childhood in Arlington, Massachusetts; a poem from Alexandra Teague about slabs of melting Arctic ice on display as art in London; a swirling Beijing cityscape in verse by David Huntington; a Missoula, Montana kingfisher relocated as an urban dweller described in prose by Marina Richie; a story of commuting animated by a matrix of city signifiers from E. Shaskan Bumas; the surreal archeology of an English village in a poem by Sam Kemp; Lois Roma-Deely’s lyric meditation on emptiness from an overlook in Bryce Canyon, Utah; a haunted New York neighborhood in a poem by Cal Freeman; a genre-bending, time-bent memory of living in the Ukraine by Ashley Keyser; a poem uneasily balancing presence and absence by Gretchen Steele Pratt; and an excerpt from a memoir by Paul Mariani showing superimposed views of tragedy in New York City.

Happy traveling across time and place.

Suzanne Matson, folio editor