The essay “One Letter Away” is included in the Three Nations Anthology from Resolute Bear Press, edited by Valerie Lawson. This lyric piece joins other essays, stories, and poems by writers from First Nations, United States, and Canada.
Lyric essays emphasize form, using structure, style, and systems to communicate their content. Scientists often say that “form follows function” because life’s structures evolved to suit their purpose or function.
The function of “One Letter Away” is to tell the story of transformation, the conversion of Maine’s North Woods from old growth forests to commodities of lumber, paper, energy; the damage and renewal of the Penobscot River; and the resulting impacts on human communities.
The this-to-that-to-this nature of the story fit well with a structure based on the word puzzle Doublets, also known as word ladders, ladderwords, stepwords, word chains, laddergrams, transitions, and transformations.
Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll invented the game: one word is changed to another by altering a single letter at each step to make a different word. The two words at the beginning and end must be the same length, and they should be related to each other in some obvious way. Carroll later added a rule that allowed a step to rearrange the letters of any word. The essay contains references to MacBeth by William Shakespeare, and the witches’ incantation that gave Carroll the name “doublets.”
The essay also plays off another level of connection to Carroll and his inspirations. As detailed by Mark J. Davies in Alice in Waterland, Carroll’s most famous work began on an 1862 trip on the Thames River with his friend Robinson Duckworth and Lorina, Alice, and Edith Liddell. The girls were daughters of the Dean of the Oxford college of Christ Church, where Carroll lived and worked. Alice asked him to write down the tale he told on that river journey.
Three Nations Anthology is available online and in local Northeast bookstores.