Saturday, April 13, 2013

Free State Review

A new print literary journal is a rare thing these days it seems, with the lure of the internet growing ever stronger.  And it makes sense — web skills are not extremely difficult to learn, and the medium reaches so many more people than print can in this day and age.  So the launch of a new print magazine is, for me, simultaneously welcome and anachronistic (in a good way) (though they do have a website, here).  As someone who has edited a literary magazine in the past, I appreciate the attention to layout and the strong production values encompassed in the Free State Review issue one (including a cover painting by, but no poetry from, Mark Stand), which was sent to me recently in the mail.  The journal is based in the Annapolis, MD, area, but its contributors seem to be pulled from Anywhere, USA.  It is hard to distinguish a particular aesthetic focus or editorial policy, though the Editor’s Note states that “Every contributor centers his or her life around action — engaging the world, scratching surfaces.” I’m not sure exactly what that means, but it seems intentionally designed to lend itself to a broad interpretation.  Their website avers, “Our focus is place and experience. We look for authors who live the poem — story — essay before they write it.”  To me this implies that they are more interested in subject than language.

Thus, the FSR, as with any such journal that casts a wide net, with less of an emphasis on a particular poetics, is a mixed bag.  There is a lot of work here that I like.  Barbara DeCesare’s poem for Babe Ruth offers irony and imagism in lines like, “A thousand people swim dark water. / You take baseballs, glowing white, to the shore // and hit them, two or three hanging in the air at a time…”  Nikia S. Leopold’s “The Miracle” is a pleasant reflection on Italy, ending “We found a place / to lie together full length.... / I swear by San Gersolé / our murmurs / made that fountain weep.”  A couple of poets I liked happen to have been published by presses who have published me as well — Drucilla Wall’s “Laurel Oak” includes some strong nature imagery which is subverted by juxtaposition with technology and subtle humor.  Jessica Fenlon’s “seed station” subverts its imagism with popular culture: a cardinal is described as having a “tweed jacket [and] / feather mohawk.”  Edgar Gabriel Silex’s “Mother’s Day Poem” exhibits an interest in use of language more than some in this issue, as does Chris Toll, who, his bio note unfortunately states, recently died.

I can’t quite figure out why Tony Barnstone’s “Samsara” and “Wheel” are dubbed short stories in the Editor’s Note, when they appear very obviously in verse lines.  I’m all for blurring the boundaries of genre, but this didn’t quite seem to make sense — they appear as prosey narrative poems but would certainly read just as well as actual short stories.  On the other hand, I imagine Barnstone knows exactly what he’s doing and the matter is simply one of terminology.  Juliana Spallholtz’s “Strangers” works nicely as the prose-poem that it clearly is, its spare “sentences” emphasizing the piece’s sense of alienation.  Naturally, there are some pieces here that didn’t especially appeal to me, also.  Those who know me or read this blog know that I often tend to prefer work that is, as some might call it, “difficult,” and the Free State Review editors clearly are interested in more accessible work.  But this is a sturdy debut.  I would actually like to see the journal in future issues narrow its focus a bit, to foster more of a sense of identity for itself in relation to the type of poetics it is interested in, even if it were to veer further away from my own aesthetic concerns.

In any case, the Free State Review is an active force and is organizing a number of readings, including one in Pittsburgh on Wednesday 4/17 at the East End Book Exchange, Bloomfield (4754 Liberty Ave.), from 7:00-9:00 pm.  There will be four readers, and admission is free.  It promises to be a worthy event.

1 comment:

Nathan said...

Yeah, it's pretty good. I didn't see you at the EEBX event, it was freaking hilarious. Also, I just made this
so let me know about whatever publications/readings/awards/cool shit you have going on in future. & good luck putting Che's new book together, as he tells me you are?