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Jane Armstrong



“Two negatives equal a great big negative.”  I remember this from 7th grade algebra.  Mrs. Edna Levine stood to the left of the zero on the number line she had drawn along the length of the chalkboard.  She tapped her veiny little hand on the -1.  “Negative one plus negative one equals negative two.”   

I stared at the negative side of the number line.  The other side of the zero felt familiar and safe.  The word problems were easy, all about addition.  More apples in the basket.  Trains traveling further down the track.  Joey hitting the baseball faster.  This side of the line suggested a world trickier and more complicated.  Quantities decreased.  Deficits created.  Energy expended. Clock hands turned backward. Hapless young mathematicians sucked into black holes! 

Nonfiction + Nonpoetry.  Do two nons equal a great big non?  How do we define that which is always defined as what it is not?

To the right of zero, we have “essay,” “hybrid” and “lyric”—positive terms, assertions of form in the absence of form.   But as the works collected here demonstrate, these terms describe forays to the left side of the number line, attempts to fill in the lacunae of memory, find the truth in untruth or half-truth, to compensate for the limitations of language and labels. In these poetic non-poems and narrative non-stories, we can see what I’ve always suspected to be true—the real action is in front of zero.

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