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I have wanted, for a long time, to write about a particular bridge because I have hated it, and this project became an exorcism of my negativity and frustration. The Fore River Bridge is a drawbridge (really a bascule bridge, replaced by a vertical lift design), separating the towns of Weymouth and Hingham, and it is the commuter’s nightmare. It does not cross a mote, connect a castle, or aspire to symbolize anything beautiful and lofty. When it goes up, it often opens at the height of rush hour. For at least twenty minutes, we are stuck in our cars while an oil tanker makes its way from the harbor through the narrow channel, delivering fuel to holding tanks on the other side. We can get out and look at the water, the passing tanker, the other drivers, but the experience is an enormous inconvenience, and it seems that the twenty minutes lost are never regained.

Eventually I learned that this is not the only drawbridge in New England, that there are more, perhaps several, on the North Shore, and that the patterns of the New England coast require many such bridges to carry cars between communities where inlets and marshes and other coastal irregularities make driving in a straight line over solid ground impossible. Since I began work on this issue, I learned that the state of Michigan, too, is full of small drawbridges, bascule bridges, and vertical lift bridges to accommodate the uneven coastline of the Great Lakes. In my perennial naiveté and pastoral isolation, I had no idea!


It was with delight that I received submissions to this issue, in which many poets and writers demonstrated their obsession with bridges. Some worked for lyrical intensity, among them Michael Burch, who considers the bridge his most fruitful metaphor, inspiring drafts over the course of many years. Julia Budenz taps into classical treatments of the bridge as connector while K. E. Duffin found the subject of a series of paintings on the Hiroshige Bridge in Japan a way to create a unique perspective. I was amused by the play on words presented by Richard Fein in his “Abridged Version” of history, and Susan Mahan’s poem about her experience with the bridge in the dentist's office. Ruth Arnison recorded dialect and a child’s curiosity about the appropriate bridge for engaging in play. My own series of poems combines the lyric with the journalistic and refuses to conform to one poetic style. Marge Piercy describes how her memory of a particular bridge evokes the ever-present spectre of war that we cannot seem to free ourselves from. I was reminded of the tapestries at the Philadelphia Museum of Art where Constantine triumphs over Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge, whose arch shows the expanse of the river beyond, a vista empty of combatants and, perhaps, an image of future peace.

Recently, over the radio, I heard a politician narrate a fairy tale about two bears on a bridge that captured for him the challenge and solution a bridge can represent. As the bears approached each other, the bridge was too narrow to let them pass each other, so they met in an embrace. Each shifted his weight, and slide his feet, and became engaged in a kind of dance until he had moved 180 degrees. Once they had reached the position to cross to the other side, they dropped their arms, saluted, and moved on. What had transpired to discourage them from confronting each other by force until only one was left standing? Was it the close proximity of one to the other? Did a conversation take place? Clearly, the expanse of a bridge, real or metaphorical, allows for transitions and transformations to occur as no other form can.

Joyce Wilson
July 2012

Favorite poems on bridges:

    William Wordsworth, “Composed upon Westminster Bridge”
    Walt Whitman, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”
            (in anticipation of the Brooklyn Bridge and Crane’s poem)
    Hart Crane, “Proem: To the Brooklyn Bridge”
    Thomas Hardy, “The Harbour Bridge”
    Marianne Moore, “Granite and Steel”
    Richard Wilbur, “A Simile for Her Smile”
    Alfred Corn, “The Bridge, Palm Sunday, 1973”
    G. C. Waldrep, “Hymn to Railway-Bridges” (The Threepenny Review, Winter 2012)

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