edited by Charles Theonia
In an Instagram story, a poet freaks out about tiny mushrooms appearing overnight in a potted plant. In the very bad show about witches, a bowl of oranges disintegrating into mold is a warning of the danger of being undisciplined, rather than an opportunity to open objects up to the world around them. Emily Dickinson, perhaps admiringly, describes the mushroom as both the “supple Face” of Nature and an “Apostate” to its laws. Many find fungi unnerving: they are both of nature and resistant to our modes of classifying it (a state of being, as any trans person knows, rigid taxonomists will take as an opportunity to alarm themselves).
Here are few of the many things I love about mushrooms: they pop up unaccountably fast, re/emerge in landscapes damaged by war and industry, digest outside their bodies, dissolve hair and plastic. Fungal spores float long-distance, arriving across oceans. Growing out of rot, mushrooms tell us what’s happened and, through decomposition, renewal, and transformation, what could happen next. They can reproduce by combining a spore and part of their own body! They’ve reorganized my relationship to rain.
Last summer, like many of us looking for ways to occupy ourselves apart from others, I started teaching myself to identify mushrooms and slime molds in the park. Since I approach editing as an occasion for collaborative learning, and I’m more aware all the time of how little I know on my own, I invited the contributors to this issue to look into their interest in the forms and methods of mushrooms (the fruiting bodies of fungal systems), mycelia (the underground information network composing the “wood wide web”), lichens (a plant-bacteria-fungus throuple), and slime molds (“pseudo-fungi” that David Quammen refers to as “either or neither” for their taxonomical slipperiness and their dual existence as both individual organisms and the collective bodies formed from what Octavia Butler calls “itselves”). In these pieces, rock-eating lichens generate poems from debris. The singular plurality of a slime mold undoes our edges. An interstellar mycelial network offers a model for accepting that the capacity for being apart is a necessary condition for coming together. Spore dispersals trace lines of inheritance and germination: one teaches us to forage, one creates the environment for our impossibility, one shows us how to metabolize our surroundings to remake ourselves.
—Charles Theonia, Guest Editor
"HIS PUCKERED HOLE A RING OF SMOOTH PINK GILLS GASPING FOR FAME AND DECOMPOSING FAUNA"
"The public becomes enamored with
P. polycephalum as a problem-solver; the
public demands a new problem for every problem solved."
"Energy, it turns out, is at the heart of machine learning models of language. It takes energy (in the form of computation) to train the models, of course, and energy to assign probability to a sequence of tokens. But energy—in the form of heat—is also an important metaphor in how programmers use language models to generate text."
"Imagine a tiger is sitting in the room with you, ready to kill you at any moment. She sits there for days, weeks. Maybe she only rarely reminds you of her tigerishness: sometimes she growls, let’s say; sometimes you hear her claws catching on hooks of fabric."
Charles Theonia is a poet, teacher, editor, and fungal enthusiast from Brooklyn. They are the author of art book, Saw Palmettos (Container, 2018), and chapbook Which One Is the Bridge (Topside Press, 2015).