Issue 403 | Correspondence | The Sun Magazine


These days, as we pinch every penny and examine every expense, many might view a magazine subscription as unnecessary. Last night I reread my copy of Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook and copied down these insightful words: “Poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.”

I thank The Sun for providing much-needed sustenance to my soul on a monthly basis. I’ve just renewed my subscription and will pinch pennies elsewhere.

Caroline Dederich Encinitas, California

I was so enraptured by your newest anthology, The Mysterious Life of the Heart, that I read not only the bios at the end but the back cover, the spine, and the copyright information.

Lori Chamberlin Western Springs, Illinois

I don’t like the cover of The Mysterious Life of the Heart. The cute couple in the picture looks young, hip, and progressive: happy ending; not mysterious.

Susan B. Ruddy Baraga, Michigan

I was startled by the extreme reactions, in your April Correspondence, of Jimmy Stout and the White Lotus Reading Group to “I Am Not a Sex Goddess” by Lois Judson [January 2009]. I remember exactly where I was when I read Judson’s essay: at a church-leaders conference, lying in a hotel bed next to my husband and winding down from the day’s meetings. When I came to the line in which Judson asks her partner if he would like her to put her finger in his butt, I burst into laughter — wonderful, belly-clutching, tears-streaming-down-my-face laughter. We rarely get such a candid glimpse into a couple’s private life, with all of its messiness and joy.

The conversation between the author and her partner is honest and real — apparently too real for some readers. To all the “spiritualists” out there: you cannot separate the body from the spirit. There are things we can do to debase ourselves, but what I read in Judson’s essay was not debasing to her or her partner. In a committed, monogamous relationship, sex is never pornographic or dirty.

Pam Cochran Findlay, Ohio

I strongly disagree with the readers who viewed “I Am Not a Sex Goddess” as pornography. I applaud Lois Judson for writing about sex openly, with humor and acceptance. She shows a refreshing respect and curiosity for a person with a lifestyle different from her own. A healthy sex life does not preclude a healthy spiritual life. I wonder what made this story more “pornographic” than stories depicting rape or molestation of children, which have also been published in The Sun. It must be that butt plug.

Zoe Aquino Watsonville, California

I was surprised by the offense some readers took to “I Am Not a Sex Goddess.” What is degrading about pleasuring oneself in the privacy of one’s own home? Is a person “deviating from the beauty of the cosmic plan,” as the White Lotus Reading Group says, if she devotes her life to ministering to the needs of the sick and, at the end of the day, uses a vibrator to achieve orgasm and release? On the contrary, I recommend that Lois Judson retrieve “the Rabbit” from the dusty box under the bed and give it a second chance.

A. Fitzgerald Lewisville, North Carolina

When I finished Poe Ballantine’s essay “The Fine Art of Quitting” [April 2009], I wondered: Is this the kind of material I want to be reading at my age (seventy-eight) — young people smoking pot and guzzling beer? Then I remembered myself at that age. We didn’t smoke pot — though we probably would have if we’d known about it — but we did smoke Pall Malls and Lucky Strikes and drink beer. And, like Ballantine, many of us quit college to make our own way.

Ballantine’s reflections made me think of writers like John Cheever and John Steinbeck, and painters like Modigliani and Picasso: boozers all, great artists all. I am not saying that drinking, smoking, or substance abuse is a prerequisite for creativity, but it is common.

In time some of us who made our own way became writers, painters, or musicians. We still drink sometimes, though now it may only be a glass of wine as we contemplate our past.

I’m no longer young or pretty, and I’m certainly not rich and famous, but I still like to know how others see this world, even if their vision is blurred and they make their way with stumbling steps.

Shirl Brainard Albuquerque, New Mexico

I thoroughly enjoyed “The Fine Art of Quitting,” by Poe Ballantine. Somehow he always manages to strike a chord in me with his writing.

I’ve gone to many therapists over the years, trying to sort out life or come to some kind of understanding of the world, but to no avail. Then I get The Sun in the mail, and I sit down and just feel a part of it all.

Kathy Jones Binghamton, New York

In the March 2009 issue the note about the cover tells me the photograph was taken “in Gros Jean, Haiti, an agricultural village of mainly carrot growers,” and that the “villagers there are some of the most fiercely proud people [the photographer has] ever met.” I’m left to assume that this “fiercely proud” person on the cover is a carrot grower. Just as easily, he or she (I can’t tell whether the person is a man or a woman) could be a carrot: that’s how distant and objectified the photo description is. There is nothing in the note, nor in the rest of the magazine, that enlightens me about Haiti or carrot farmers there. I’m a fan of The Sun, but I’m not a fan of this insensitive practice of featuring unidentified ethnic people on the cover.

B.K. Loren Broomfield, Colorado

Regarding your March 2009 cover note: Did you learn your politics from Rudyard Kipling? The editors’ cultural imperialism is surpassed only by their thinly disguised racism. Poverty does not make people “fiercely proud”; it just kills them. In the future your magazine covers will be used in schools to illustrate racism. That will be The Sun’s lega­cy. Wake up and smell the fair-trade coffee, morons.

Tony Horn Seattle, Washington
Ethan Hubbard responds:

Obviously there’s not enough space in the “On the Cover” note to provide an overview of Haitian history, nor a thumbnail sketch of the town of Gros Jean, nor a description of how villagers grow their crops of carrots. As far as not naming the woman on the cover goes, I never got her name. Sometimes, because I take hundreds of pictures, this happens. I believe, however, that a strong image can speak volumes.

There are many economically poor countries whose citizens are equally bereft of pride and spirit. Haiti is not one of them. In my sojourns to sixty-two countries, I’ve found Haitians to be the people with the most self-esteem, courage, and pride. Perhaps this stems from the fact that the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804) was the most successful slave revolt in history; or that Haiti was the first independent, postcolonial, black-led nation in the world; or that Haiti was the first country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery. Simply put, Haitians are a proud and courageous people.

Wendell Berry’s essay “Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer” [March 2009] inspired me to think about all the things my computer has done for me. When my children were small, it allowed me to work from home and keep my job as a part-time children’s-book editor. My computer helped me to raise my children the way I wanted to, not to mention saving me (and the environment) countless hours of commuting time. It also provided me with intellectual stimulation and a lifeline to adults when I might otherwise have gone crazy from changing diapers and soothing tantrums.

I love my computer — though, admittedly, I might feel more like Berry does if I, too, had a wife to do my typing for me.

Nadia Higgins Minneapolis, Minnesota

I was excited to find a kindred spirit in Laura Esther Wolfson [“Proust at Rush Hour,” March 2009]. In my twenties I, too, read all of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past while commuting via train. Like Wolfson I recall rereading sections to refresh my memory. I think Proust is best appreciated this way.

I doubt I would ever have gotten through this and many other classics without the escape from the world my commute provided. Now that I am a widowed grandmother, I can enjoy a good, long book anytime. I find reading the classics brings me great solace. The authors and their characters are like old friends.

Martha Jamison Providence, Rhode Island

I resent the intrusion of the Dog-Eared Page in The Sun. Are there so few submissions from today’s authors that you have to dig into yesterday to print “works that have deepened and broadened our understanding of the human condition”? Why fill a precious page with a piece we can access ourselves with an Internet search or trip to the bookstore? I want to read writing that comes from the heart and soul of the living moment, seen through the eyes of modern writers (even goofy Sparrow). I feel like this blast from the past is cheating me out of a poem that will never be published. We already hear from past writers in Sunbeams every month. That’s plenty.

Pat Daly Largo, Florida

A friend gave me three years’ worth of his Suns as a Christmas present this winter. I had never read your magazine before, and I was stunned by what I found. The writing, the sheer placement and use of words, is so fine that at times I would hardly care about the sense of them.

Today I have just read the veritable prose poem “Cherish This Ecstasy,” by David James Duncan [July 2008], which pierced me as deeply as those wild birds pierced him. Thank you for the richness you have brought into my life.

Cecilia Lieder Duluth, Minnesota
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