From the Editors: Chad M. Crabtree & Meredith MacLeod Davidson

December 15, 2023

Hell: A Refresher

It is with a mixture of pride, excitement, and genuine relief that we present the latest issue of Arboreal: “Fresh Hell.”

We generated this issue’s theme from a favorite quote by Dorothy Parker. The witty American satirist was reported to exclaim “what fresh hell can this be?” in response to things as innocuous as the ringing of a doorbell—a quote summating the feeling of profound punishment when confronted with yet another matter to deal with after being sufficiently worn down by those that came before. What we didn’t realize when we settled on this theme was just how timely it would become.

Due to circumstances befitting our theme, we were forced to delay the issue. During the months of preparation for this release, our team faced a steady stream of “fresh hells” of our very own. From mundane disruptions to profound personal tragedies, life echoed art in a way that felt uncannily on-the-nose.

Yet, here we are, and it’s precisely this navigation through hardship and absurdity that imbues this issue with a unique depth and resonance for us. As our team managed a seemingly never ending onslaught of “fresh hells,” we felt an earnest camaraderie with this issue’s submitters and contributors, all of whom reminded us of the vulnerability it takes to translate even the most quotidian of life’s inconveniences to the page or the canvas—to say nothing of the courage and skill required to alchemize these “hells” into something funny, beautiful, or even hopeful.

Approaching the theme with a blend of severity and humor, the works you will find here exemplify the broad spectrum of this experience: from the everyday annoyances that nibble at our sanity to the agony of reckoning with tragedies, personal and communal.

In “Frequent Flyer,” Suzanne Allen starkly juxaposes the mundane against the anthropocene, as the poem’s speaker muses among the claustrophobic wreckage of airplanes:

                                                                                 An old
             friend gave me a box of chocolates and some
             new pants. I dress as the world ends. I want
             to call my parents.

Whereas in Steve Petkus’s “Exhibit A,” our speaker makes the best of a bad situation (helping someone take a constipated iguana to the vet):

             For the ride home,
             she climbs in back to sit near
             the puffy thing. Suits me:
             I can stretch my leg across the seat
             and drive with my left foot, if I want.

Jennifer Blackledge’s “Love Poem” resists love poetry itself, announcing, “Hold my beer: I’ll blow this all up.”

The protagonist of Charlotte Suttee’s short story, “We Have Always Lived in the Chestnut Tree,” navigates (with disgust) the detritus of love all around them—especially in sacred and contained spaces—questioning the annoyances of the profound and the mundane at once: “How long ago had I lost this place to the lovers? How long have I marinated in the humidity of their breath and sweat?”

And then we have Ruth Towne’s “M@rcɘl Jɘ@n’s Mannequin,” in which the speaker resolves meditations on the untimely ends of other writers with a stunning—and surprisingly hopeful—self-correction: “And I was right earlier when I said, It’s a lovely day.”

In curating this collection, we’ve come to appreciate the therapeutic potential of sharing and reflecting on our “fresh hells,” reminding us that moments of levity can often be found amidst chaos.

As you explore the issue, we hope you find not just entertainment and artistry, but also a sense of community and resilience, a touch of humor to soften the edges, and perhaps a fresh take on your own hells.

About Chad M. Crabtree

Chad M. Crabtree is the Editor-in-Chief at Arboreal Literary Magazine, which he founded in 2022. He received his degree in English and Political Science from the University of Oregon. While Chad has had a successful marketing and editorial career, he takes far more pride in his work on Arboreal. Away from work, he enjoys discovering new music and savoring great wine, particularly Pinot Noir from his native Willamette Valley. Arboreal aside, his most recently published work appeared in The Hyacinth Review.

About Meredith MacLeod Davidson

Meredith MacLeod Davidson is a poet and writer from Virginia, currently based in Scotland, where she lives with her partner and cat. Meredith has work published or forthcoming in Cream City Review, Poetry South, Lone Mountain Literary Society, and elsewhere. She serves as senior editor for Arboreal Literary Magazine, reader in fiction for The Maine Review, and as co-editor of From Glasgow to Saturn, the literary journal at the University of Glasgow, where she recently earned a Master of Letters in Creative Writing.