Volume 17 | 2021/2022
Letters from the Editors-in-Chief
Spring 2022 Issue | Daniel Boyko
As I write this letter for the third and final issue in Volume 17, like Hannah, I feel compelled to look back almost two years, when my school first went virtual due to the surge of Covid and its overwhelming global pandemic. At the time, I—along with many of my peers—believed we’d be back in school within two weeks, at most a month. In reality, I didn’t set foot back in the building again until September, 2021—nearly an entire year and a half later. I went from being a sophomore, an underclassman who was only starting to grasp this strange thing called high school, to a senior, with my junior year seemingly vanishing into the void that was quarantine. My story is similar to many across the country and world, who faced similar circumstances, along with many who faced much worse. These have been a rough past two years, marked by nearly unimaginable tragedy and uncertainty, a future where no one has any real answers.
This is not to say there haven’t been some bright spots along the way. The world, in some ways but certainly not enough, has been brought together to fight a common enemy. More personal to this community, many editors (including myself) were given the opportunity, especially when quarantine first began, to invest more time into this wonderful organization. To review more submissions. To create new projects, such as the birth of our Junior Board and the Writer’s Block Party. To create our first-ever virtual Literary Salons. Just a few weeks ago, due to new CDC guidelines, I was in a school classroom maskless for the first time in over 700 days, along with many of my peers. As one of my friends put it, It felt like we won something.
And yet, and maybe this is the cynic in me, it feels like as soon as we take one step forward, we take two more back. The current Russo-Ukrainian War has led to further tragedy, with over 2.5 million Ukrainian refugees fleeing their homes, the largest refugee crisis since World War II.
With everything currently happening, with everything seemingly falling apart, it perhaps shouldn’t be surprising, then, that many of us have turned inward. In part, to escape. But also to confront ourselves through self-reflection. Maybe to reveal our anger or sadness at everything that’s happening, everything we’ve been robbed of, maybe just to feel some gratitude for what we do have. Maybe just to get a better sense of who we are—to confront our identities, to reckon with self—and how we belong in this ever-changing world. We certainly see that in the pieces present here. In Jessica Wang’s “Snake-people,” animalistic otherness is employed as a metaphor for racial discrimination. In Dana Blatte’s “Naturalization Test,” the immigrant speaker reclaims a sense of belonging. In Corina Yi’s “24-hour bathhouse,” readers receive a profound reflection on isolation, innocence, and interacting with one’s familial history.
After reading these pieces, you come away feeling that you better understand the voices of these speakers and narrators, that the authors came away from these beautiful creative writing works understanding themselves better, too.
But Polyphony isn’t just an opportunity for growth for our submitters. It’s also an opportunity for all of our editors, our consistently dependable, awesome staff, to become more confident, wiser, more sure versions of themselves. After all, that’s what happens when you deeply dive into editing and commenting on the pieces we receive, when you’re confronted with editorial challenges like reviewing a genre you’re unfamiliar with, or a piece with techniques you’ve never heard of, or learning to find strengths in a piece where you feel nothing goes right.
Maybe I’m selfish, but that also perfectly reflects my experience. Three years ago, I discovered Polyphony Lit as an admittedly hesitant freshman with an interest in editing. Unlike our current application process, which consists of a formalized training program, at the time all that was required of me was to provide a set of sample commentary on a given submission that would later be evaluated to determine if I was ready to join the staff.
Here’s a little secret: that first set of commentary, I completely botched. I had no idea what a “speaker” was, or how to find and detail imagery and tone, or how to provide feedback not related to grammar. And it showed.
In fact, I was asked by then-Managing Director billy lombardo to work on another set of sample commentary before joining—a relative rarity at the time. After reviewing the feedback given to me, I submitted a second set of commentary. I didn’t yet know it at the time, but I was already engaging with Polyphony’s cyclical editing process: upper-level editors provide feedback to lower-level editors on their commentary in addition to providing feedback on submissions. The result? A supportive environment that fosters growth for everyone. Ultimately, I was given a chance to join as the lowest-level editor, despite, as billy phrased it, the slight “reluctance” of the evaluators.
I’m now an Editor-in-Chief. Self-motivation combined with this vibrant editorial cycle has allowed me to learn so much about creative writing and editing—how to both construct and destruct a piece, how to approach it with an open mind for improvement regardless of its surface quality. It was a difficult, often humbling process, but I’ve now been fortunate enough to watch and partake in this organization’s evolution under unprecedented circumstances and to work alongside such incredible people. This is to say, Polyphony Lit is a tunnel you can escape to, but it’s also a tunnel you come out of feeling like a new, improved version of yourself. And I know that among an organization of hundreds of eager, literary-hungry editors, writers, readers, and thinkers, I’m not alone in this belief.
Thank you to all of those individuals who came together with their energy, passion, patience, Discord-savviness, and Submittable-know-how to make this issue before you a reality.
Polyphony Lit and this Volume, in particular, mean a lot to me. I hope you’ll come to feel the same.
Winter 2022 Issue | Hannah Ramsey
At the time this issue was beginning to be finalized, we had just surpassed the one-year mark of our upending by the pandemic; pivoting to online schooling, social distancing defaulting to the new modus operandi, and grappling with socioeconomic disparities in accessibility to various forms of healthcare, technology, and education are among a few of the many struggles that come to mind when I think back to this time and what we endured. Undoubtedly, the previous year brought with it an incredible amount of suffering in the face of uncertainty.
Yet, as time has passed, humanity has proved its capacity for resilience. Online educational programs, Polyphony one among them, increased their offerings to ensure interactive learning could continue via a digital format. The vaccine roll-out and distribution allowed for loved ones to reunite after months of quarantining. Organizations joined forces to ensure that the needs of those from underserved populations were met. An incident that started as a moment of international conflict transformed into personal and political reckonings that, in many ways, collectively moved us forward.
Upon reflection, I have come to the conclusion that what allows for humanity to overcome such extreme hardship, as was the case with the pandemic, is inextricably related to our ability to harbor hope. This ability to hope despite circumstantial evidence pleading us to do anything but is, I believe, facilitated by our inborn desire to create and express. Through artistic freedom, we fashion the futures we want for ourselves through narrative, while concurrently retelling the stories of our past. We can bridge the gap between imagination and actuality, ultimately imbuing our lives with new power as we overwrite narratives of sullen defeat with those of heroic completion.
During this past year and a half, the need for essential service workers became more apparent than ever, and it is my belief that artists happen to comprise part of this group of essential workers. Through their creative endeavors, they help us not just cross, but transcend boundaries that once kept us confined by situations initially deemed hopeless. The writers for this issue of Polyphony undeniably belong to this cohort of artists, and for their work, I thank them.
Yet it is not merely the writing of literature that provides us with these stories. The rereading, analyzing, and refining of those stories in order to elucidate connections, emphasize revelation, and epitomize the essence of hope is equally necessary. Without the amazing staff of editors at Polyphony bringing their unique perspectives and valued critiques to each submission we received, the completion of Volume 17 would not have been possible, nor would it have been produced with the same degree of thematic coherence and emotional poignancy it exhibits. I owe my gratitude to their work for the magazine and their willingness to support Polyphony’s mission of sustaining a place where young writers’ voices can be synchronously heard. To the Polyphony staff: thank you for creating a space of togetherness that was a source of solace for so many high school students this past year. Your work does not go under-appreciated.
While the pieces in this issue bleed with remnants of the aforementioned hardship we have cumulatively experienced over the past several months, they also possess something distinct that I only recently was able to identify, rather uncoincidentally at the onset of winter: grief. As the fall has faded out, and barren trees have begun to all but replace the autumnal foliage so characteristic of the season, there is a trace feeling of loss that seems to have permeated the air. This feeling compels me to breathe in the ephemerality of life and hold it, knowing I have to take my next breath and yet not wanting to exhale what currently is for fear of what it may become. In this stillness, the losses incurred throughout the year crystallize, filling me with an urge to savor the present, even while reminiscing on the past.
Such a theme of loss and grief, with its associated wistful nostalgia, cannot help but accentuate itself throughout this issue. Whether it be the bittersweetness of migrating to a foreign environment in an attempt to re-envision the concept of home, such as that featured in Cathy Miao’s “Roots”; the pursuit of a love that stipulates a sort of self-transformation and loss of identity, as seen in Karma Abboud’s “From One Shut-In Heart, to Another”; or the unanticipated death of a close friend, as is the case in Thea Rowan’s “(auto)nomy”, the notion of giving up what is familiar, whether by choice or obligation, is laden in the voice of each speaker and narrator, confronting the reader with what they, too, have had to or must eventually let go.
Yet, with this loss of familiarity comes the birth of another era brimming with the opportunity for change. There is space to re-examine established patterns and re-define what normal looks like. Perhaps this has never been as important as it is now, where we exist not in a post-pandemic society, but instead inhabit a world that is continually reinventing itself to mold into a new sort of normal.
I hope you find pieces of yourself in this issue and that, with each loss grieved, you are filled with the wonder that comes only from knowing the realities that reside in you which have yet to be lived out.
Fall Issue | Danielle Sherman
As editors we are taught to find the “thread” of a piece: the subtle undercurrent of a work, the secret message it is trying to send. When searching for the threads of this Fall Issue, I found motifs of birds and water. This was unexpected, and I started to wonder what those patterns mean for the issue as a whole—why those symbols specifically? What are they trying to tell us?
I think the answer lies in another aspect of the issue, which is that the progression of the pieces’ subject matter and language reflects a gradual transition of summer to fall. Autumn itself is a time of transition: green leaves turn red, high temperatures slowly drop, and many students are now returning to physical classrooms for the first time in years. Birds and water represent that very same shift, strange as that may sound; there is a suggestion of flightiness and fluidity in such ideas, something between freedom and shapelessness. Consider the transformative power of rain in “Falling Water” and “Countdown in the Sky”, or the evolutionary nature of birds in “The Science of Peregrination”. These threads imply volatility, realization, metamorphosis—in short, authors are writing about change.
This makes complete sense given everything that has happened over the last year. Between the pandemic and social movements, change—and all the challenges that come with it—have risen to the forefront of everyone’s life. This has only increased the value of writing as a vessel of self-expression, as well as spaces like Polyphony Lit that give authors a platform to voice whatever beliefs and emotions have surfaced during recent events. Pieces like “The Underground” and “God Shed His Grace on Thee” speak to the way our high school writers have observed and responded to this time of change.
Polyphony Lit has undergone significant changes in its own right: changes in submission platforms, in leadership, in the educational opportunities it offers. While the recent societal developments may feel overwhelmingly stressful, I believe the changes in Polyphony Lit have counteracted those detriments by building a community that is stronger, more engaged, and more collaborative than it has ever been. During a period of isolation, our editors began to work closer together in teams; when personal interaction was at its lowest, our volunteers facilitated salons, contests, and classes that connected each of us all the more.
And so this Fall Issue is a culmination of that community effort toward meeting change head-on and embracing it with all the compassion, thoughtfulness, and eagerness that makes Polyphony Lit what it is. I could not be prouder to have served such incredible editors, authors, and staff; I could not be prouder of this issue. As you read it, keep in mind birds, water, and the turning of the seasons—let them change you how they will.
Danielle Sherman, Editor-in-Chief