For a sense of what awaits between the covers of District Lines, flip first to the back of the book. There, tucked behind the book’s final poem, you’ll find the index of contributors, a long list of names paired with blurbs neatly summing each writer’s work and life. There are plenty of published authors, of course—it is, after all, a literary anthology—but there’s also a former warship driver, a high schooler, more than a few retirees, and one Leah Kenyon, who humbly explains in third person, “Aw shucks, this is her first published anything.”
It’s here, in this motley mix of voices, that you’ll find a clue to both the energy and the inconsistency of the collection. The folks at upper Northwest bookstore Politics & Prose have hand-picked the works in their anthology’s second volume from a crop of some 150 submissions. Of those, they selected a third, threading the group together with a focus on the particular District whence they came. And while there’s a polite gesture toward organization (the pieces are herded into four loosely gathered sections: Atmospheres, Constituents, Remembrance, and Transience), the stories, poems, and essays largely ignore their corrals, churning and bleeding into one another through both topic and style. Taken as a whole, the book evokes a polished college journal—a patchwork paired with the occasional image and even a typo here or there, but shot through, always, with the palpable passion of the writers and editors.
Any anthology defined by a place faces a particular set of dangers. Scenesetting can easily erode into simple name-dropping; retellings of local lore risk regressing into sun-faded nostalgia. And sure, the pieces in District Lines occasionally stumble into these traps, mistaking landmarks for plot devices, but to focus on those missteps would be to miss the point.
More importantly, the mix brims with talent. Majda Gama’s “P Street Beach Elegy,” a poem of idle mischief and drunken slurs, simmers like a humid summer day; its sumptuous stretched-out vowels beg to be read aloud. Gama’s keen ear is matched by Jeanette Quick in her tale of young punk love and growing pains, which summons from scabbed knuckles and half-chewed food an ache that’s hard to stomach in the best way. And, across town and time, Henry Morgenthau III’s memory of a meeting between JFK and Eleanor Roosevelt offers a glimpse of two icons who’re more awkward than you might suspect.
Then there’s Kenyon, the first-timer, who offers a charming account of her family’s grapple with a zucchini crop run amok. “What to do with such a surfeit?” she asks. “The sensible answer would be to bury it all in the compost heap and never speak of it again.” But no, her parents’ brilliant solution is a month-long zucchini-eating contest. Throughout the trials that follow, Kenyon lands her jokes with deft timing.
These are not masterpieces, exactly. The D.C. of District Lines is not the London of Dickens, nor the Dublin of Joyce. But then, it doesn’t mean to be, either. Think of the book instead as a collage of snapshots—some dull, some arresting, all of them working in tandem to turn a hodgepodge of stories into a portrait of a city we recognize.