States that Matter, a review of The Best of Tupelo Quarterly edited by Kristina Marie Darling

By Miriam Calleja

The Best of Tupelo Quarterly
An Anthology of Multi-Disciplinary Texts in Conversation
edited by Kristina Marie Darling
$27.95, ISBN: 978-1-946482-78-5, Paperback, Jan 2023

Understanding the invisible threads that connect the pieces in an anthology requires a reflective dive into the sensitive parts of ourselves that resonate with someone else’s creativity. The commonalities of various writers and artists and the reason they have been chosen to join this collection might be vast and might be one. Taking a look at what Tupelo Press choose to publish and at the work of the editor, Kristina Marie Darling, patterns of liminality certainly emerge. We may perceive a strong sense of hybridity where artists veer out of the norm because their pieces demand it of them.

I gather the clues as I read. When I think of the word understanding, I think of a rhythm in my body that matches someone else’s. For a moment, we both resonate in the same patterns, something clicks into place. It is fleeting, just like we can know a person only so much and only for a moment in time. The relationship we have with a poem, a short story, an essay, and an image also feel like a chemical one. Our brains access those deeply hidden parts of ourselves that aren’t always available. That is to say, understanding is a breaking in and a breaking through, a time of alignment.

Because of my background in science, I can’t help but think of outliers or hybrid pieces as part of the natural cosmos of creativity. In nature, elements obey certain rules and fit into criteria which help us understand and determine how they would react under different circumstances. However, many exceptions also exist, with some chemicals even having differing interactions with us as humans. As a writer, I think of the compound caffeine first. I know that most people need to stop their intake of caffeine as a certain time of day in order to get a good night’s rest. Others take a cup of coffee before bed, and they sleep fine.

The varying effects of caffeine boil down to genetics, with some people having receptors that are more inviting for caffeine to bind to. The same chemical in two vessels (where, here, the vessel is a human body) has different results. I apply this concept to the pieces in The Best of Tupelo Quarterly. How would the pieces read differently when they are free-standing? Still, their hybridity sticks and stands up to my test. 

I’m particularly struck by some of the essays, and sucked into the worlds of the Collaborative and Cross-disciplinary Texts. One difficult week, I distract myself with the section Literature in Translation, and find myself drawn into and fascinated by something I’d scarcely every thought about. Something inside me glows through the darkness as I make my way through Experiment One: Seeing Through by Andrea Chapela, translated by Kelsi Vanada. I am reminded of a familiar joy, the joy of entering another’s particular world and how art performs this small miracle on us over and over, saving us when we need saving.

You are almost solid, but only barely.

This translation resonates with me right now because I am also in a transformation caused by being in a different continent. Like the protagonist, I feel made out of glass. I keep a lot out, I protect, I am resilient. I am fragile, almost liquid. My flexibility is my forte. And then,

where is the equilibrium when you’re no longer part of your childhood bed, or your girlhood—or part of the rooms in the countries you choose as resting points?

For a moment I am joined in understanding, reading the line over before I cleave myself from the page, and move on. Have I changed from reading this line? From comparing myself to glass that is neither solid nor liquid but has properties of both? In another translation, this time The Possibility of Love by Helena Granstrӧm, translated by Kira Joseffson, I underline another few lines. Again, I stick myself to these words and for a moment I am alone with them, elevated into a new resonance.

If I was the one who had caused this rift in the universe, then I had to be the one healing it. Heal it, how could I heal it?


Reality was not whole and I would never be able to heal it.

Is this book speaking directly to me? Has the universe transpired so that I could read lines I needed? Unlikely. The universe tends to chaos. But have we, as readers, not all had these thoughts one time or another? Closing a book and looking around us suspiciously… is this someone’s idea of a joke?

As a poet, my ultimate aim is to connect to my reader, so that I may get close to causing a moment of understanding, a resonance, a tapping-into of the unsayable. As a human, I feel nourished when art is not only allowed to break the mould, but it is celebrated for doing so. The rules of the universe only help us understand a fraction of what is happening to us. The neat boxes of physics rules have allowed us to progress as a race and to make our own lives easier (if not more complicated). And yet there is a yearning for those other states of matter that we have not been able to pin down.

And perhaps, this is what the magic of understanding is. Science and medicine seek truth. The fact that they are dynamic and every-changing is innate. They carve their way to the best solutions even if this means going against their own (previous) rules. And so, is understanding evanescent? And is this characteristic what makes resonance so all-encompassing and fulfilling? 

Every day a thousand things can go wrong, and every day almost none of them do. The world, as told through pieces like these ones published by Tupelo Quarterly and edited by Kristina Marie Darling, can also be so full of wonder and curiosity, when art is set free. There is so much to know. It is delicious in there.

About the reviewer: Miriam Calleja is the bilingual author of poetry collections Pomegranate Heart(EDE Books, 2015) and Inside Skin (a two-book series in collaboration with a lith photographer, EDE Books 2016). Her most recent poetry collections are Stranger Intimacy (Stamparija Reljic, 2020) and the collaborative art book Luftmeer (2021) published in Maastricht. Holland.Her work has been published in translation in the collection Wara Settembru(2018, Slovene Writers Association) and in the collection Anthology of Young Maltese Poets(Vakxikon, 2019).