Reviews of Lit Sites, Publications, and Places
     by Tim McGrath, Steph Henck, and THE BABE

Welcome to the nonesuch new column at WDS: "BODEGA: A 'ZINE AND LITERARY SITE REVIEW."  Find all you need to know here before pursuing pleasure.  Please send comments, rants, and opinions to the editor.

   - Reviews of Cosmoetica, Haypenny Review, Drunken Boat, and StorySouth

The use of the internet as a literary forum raises serious Constitutional questions about our right to tell people to shut up. Now don't get me wrong here. I love free speech. I deliberately fly a Soviet Flag on the wall above my bed, not just because it pisses off my wealthy Russian landlord, but because the Constitution tells me I can. But our founding fathers never foresaw the internet - and with registered web domains flying off the shelves at light speed, we have to step back and ask ourselves the question - does free web-based speech help or hurt the internet community at large? In the microcosmic time that the average person devotes to any given website before compulsively slamming on the BACK button to find a better, faster, prettier, more immediately comprehensive and instantly gratifying experience, when do we, as the writers of the web, need to shut up and put out? This week, Cosmoetica and Drunken Boat teach us to freeze, step away from the laptop and let the editorial heat raid our literary rantings.


"I have had a constant barrage of threats- death threats, threats of being blackballed in the publishing industry, legal threats, false claims of libel, slander, & racism, etc… As for these charges & rumors spread by this asshole who cravenly only refers to him/herself as pb- FUCK YOU! … My advice to pb and other pathetic wretches out there, is that the next time you decide to bully someone study your enemy well, because I won't stand for that, you lousy little shitballs!"

             From "Plagiarism & The Art Of The Smear"   by Dan Schneider

Meet Dan Schneider. Take a long look. Reread. Dan is not merely a single man founding, editing and writing a blog-ish brainchild called Cosmoetica. Dan is an epidemic. His website and others like it are a disease. Strap on your SARS-ophobic surgery masks and proceed with extreme caution.

As far as I can tell, Cosmoetica (along with its self-congratulatory, rhyming jingle "Best in Poetica") exists solely as Dan's testament to himself that he does, in fact, have an interior monologue. The above quotation appears, in slightly altered form, in a rather lengthy essay, written by Dan in defense of Dan against a charge of plagiarism - a charge which may or may not have been a case of Dan projecting his own feelings of cheater-ly guilt onto a conveniently anonymous (not to mention androgynous) he-she by the name of "pb." Just how lengthy (in number of words) was this essay? I'll give you multiple choices (just to add a brief moment of excitement to the tedious task of wading through Dan's brain) -

    A) 1
    B) 18
    C) 20 ¼
    D) 11,054
    E) Seriously, 11,054

When reading 11,054 words of a personal defense against plagiarism charges, one tends to ask if Dan doth protest too much…

After dedicating a long week of awkward, paper spilling subway rides to swallowing Dan's epic, literary motion to dismiss, one might find cause to peruse the remainder of Cosmoetica, in hopes of excavating some sign of meaningful literary thought or expression. Let's pick another essay from Cosmoetica's heavy catalogue of nonfiction. Again, multiples choices:

    Dan Schneider on Poetry How to Books
    Dan Schneider on Invisible Forms
    Dan Schneider on PoMo Filmmaking
    Dan Schneider on Poetry's Donny and Marie!
    Dan Schneider on William Carlos Williams' To a Friend Concerning Several Ladies
    Dan Schneider on Bob Kaufman's O-Jazz-O
    Dan Schneider on Mark Doty's Broadway
    Dan Schneider on David Lehman's August 15th
    Jessica Schneider on FemDogs
    Dan Schneider on W.H Auden - 9/11 Nonsense
    Dan Schneider De/Composes W.D Snodgrass
    Dan Schneider on PC Anthologies
    Dan Schneider on Robert Hayden

I felt that was necessary.

Throughout these essays, which equal or exceed Plagiarism in length, Dan maintains an unearned tone consistent with the bitterness of a failed writer left to swim in a trough of his own unedited slop. The jealous-self-loathing-turned-desperate-externalized-resentment seethes in his impassioned bashing of Mark Doty's Broadway collection. His frame caption of "Mark Doty: Is He Dead Yet" implies a desire on Dan's part to see Doty stricken with the disease that provides the theme for so much of his poetry. By writing the opening line, "AIDS. Death. Suffering. Homosexuality. What's not to love about Mark Doty's bathetic (sic), overwrought, &- ultimately- lightweight- poems," Dan jumps on the banal stereotype of homosexual weakness and inferiority and establishes an anti-gay tone that becomes even more pronounced as the essay progresses. In fact, Dan restricts his actual literary critique to lines such as "If MD's poems were any fluffier they would blow away," and other prosaic attacks on the lyrical weight of the poems and the figurative weight of Doty's loafers.

Rather than to analyze the poems themselves, Dan prefers to list Doty's awards (the inclusion of the list, while an attempt at irony on Dan's part, backfires and leaves the reader saying, "Wow the only American poet to win England's T.S. Eliot prize for poetry! He must suck!") and mock positive reviews, adding his own italicized translation of the reviewer's supposed intention. After reading a dozen glorious reviews of Doty's work, a line like, "I cannot let this Rump Rider know that his kind gives me the willies! I'd look like a bigot," seems not only unintentionally ironic and ignorant, but merely silly.

Jessica Schneider, Dan's beloved, makes a brief appearance to rant about feminism and "ass kissers need[ing] to be ass kissers when they know their work is not good enough to stand on its own," whatever that means. If I'd wasted my time reading all of Dan's treatise on plagiarism, I might have found that the accusations surrounded whether or not Mrs. Dan Schneider needed her hubby to write her nonsensical essays for her. Her uninspired poetry fills pages and pages of amateur ramblings that could rival in volume. And by the same rules of, unless your sister or your wife has posted her poetry here, you can see fit to bypass.

Save for a brief dedication to Stephen Jay Gould, Cosmoetica lacks any redemptive quality. Raging bigotry, implicit sexism, anti-political correctness and plenty of fodder for Freudian analysis dominate this messy, unattractive website. Unfortunately, Dan is one among many. Unless Dan learns to suppress his messianic diatribes or hires an editor - we may be spending a long time asking, Dan Schneider: Is He Dead Yet?

Drunken Boat

"Well, well, well," the old woman said. "Come in, my little darling, come in."

            -- "Tradition" by Steve Potter

As though to relieve us from the reader-resentful world of Cosmoetica and its overwhelming flood of propaganda, misinformation and faulty opinions, the editors (ie. censors, fat-trimmers, extraneous-content watchdogs) Michael Mills and Ravi Shankar invited us into the fifth installment of the addictively sleek and streamlined - dare I say intoxicating… - journal that is Drunken Boat.

In "A Word from the Editors" on issue 5, Mills and Shankar express their desire to create a dialogue both within the world Drunken Boat and between the journal and its readers. Rather than alienate the reader, Drunken Boat embraces the relationship between art and its audience, understanding that without each other, neither would exist. This dialogue manifests itself in an efficiently produced, dense arrangement of art, prose, poetry and translation, all of which can be consumed in a matter of minutes or hours, depending upon the reader's willingness to slip into the world of Drunken Boat and engage in its dialogue of art and literature.

As a Drunken Boat virgin (or seasoned veteran for that matter), your immediate induction into the dialogue of form begins with an entrancing piece of non-literary graphic design. David Hirmes's "5 Meditations on a Pink Sun" depicts a series of nebulous magenta dots, which slowly pulsate in undulating expansions and contractions, each time leaving a sort of visual residue like a set of fingers flying across a computer screen. When I first clicked the link, the lethargically growing, shrinking, throbbing amorphous bulbs convinced me that I was, in fact, high. Like a stoner grilling a lava lamp, I found myself sucked into the rhythmic metamorphosis of the pinks suns. For almost thirty minutes, I studied the orbs, all the while engaging in a sort of visual perception game with myself - trying to discern Hirmes' programmed movements from the ones hallucinated by my own eyes. Through Drunken Boat, Hirmes engages in a very physical dialogue with his audience - one in which the art and the viewer collaborate to create something more visually stunning than the art alone. For a second game, one which might kill more than thirty minutes, try to stare at the designs for as long as you can without theorizing on Hirmes's use of vaginal imagery.

For highlights elsewhere in the "Web Art" category - Emma Braslavsky's self-labeled "visual aphorisms" "Smell," "Taste" and "Touch" allow the reader to eat an apple, smell roses and mince garlic (without the inevitable body odor) through a sequential series of flash photos. Yum.

Literarily, Drunken Boat surprised me most with its translations - a category of prose writing often ignored by mainstream literary journals. As an American cursed with an almost parodically rudimentary knowledge of Spanish (como esta) and an equally amateur grasp on Arabic (kayfa haluka), I, like many of us, rely on adventuresome translators to dig through the cultures, literatures and traditions of distant lands and produce a hitherto hidden artistic treasure. Thankfully, Drunken Boat makes the fruits of these expenditures available to the e-public in small doses. While I may not purchase an entire volume of Turkish poetry, Unal Aytur makes two Levent Yilmaz poems - "Saturn" and "The Ultimate Land" - immediately available for my dilettante indulgence. William Allegrezza's translations of Guiseppe Ungaretti and Mark Spitzer's of Arthur Rimbaud prove especially interesting for any romance language faux-aficionado. Divina Commedia-style, both writers include the original Italian and French, respectively, along side their own translation, as if to admit their fallibility as translators and spiritual heirs to the original authors. The Poundian imagist poems of Ungaretti, all comparable in length to "In a Station of the Metro," lend themselves well to this type of linguistic comparison; we as readers (mono or multi-lingual in our own right) can use both the original and the translation to form our own judgments about the meaning(s) of the text. These non-self-indulgent, clean translations should be commended.

Despite some poetic misses, the prose and poetry sections of Drunken Boat #5 deliver as strongly as the less orthodox departments. In "Greta" and "Tradition," Steve Potter delivers a compressed and thought-provoking pair of fiction pieces emphasizing the pathology of what is left unsaid. In similar fashion, Vashni de Schepper creates the emotionally dense but verbally economical "Glimpse," which promises little more than its title - a momentarily voyeuristic view of a dysfunctionalfamily. In poetry, Sharon Dolin and Ian Randall Wilson (obvious literary exhibitionists) share their poetic visions as well as their voices, by providing audio recordings of their voices, thereby heightening the sense of an embedded artist dialogue.

Stacked with well-crafted writing and unpretentious photography and computer art, Drunken Boat proves a literarily and stylistically innovative journal of the arts. In fact the actual content of the journal could be overshadowed only by the physical design of the site - an efficiently minimalist arrangement which, although profound in its simplicity, dismisses the false portent of some other well designed sights. I could spend hours pouring over the content. I could spend days ogling the site itself.

In a world wide web of messy confusion, the meticulously edited world of Drunken Boat is a refreshing example of polished professionalism. While Dan Schneider tells us what he thinks and what he thinks we should think, Drunken Boat asks us what we think and how we think it itself thinks. Whereas Dan lectures to a silent e-class, Drunken Boat cultivates a dialogue-based relationship with the reader, where art and audience mingle in an artistically sound (and darned aesthetically pleasing) environment.

Drunken Boat teaches us to love our editors.

Haypenny Review

     Review by Steph Henck

Haypenny isn't even in the dictionary. Where Haypenny should be is hayrack-"a rack from which livestock feed." Next to that is Haynes, Elwood who invented one of the earliest American automobiles. Hmmm. There is no reason for its name and certainly no Jerry Maguire-type mission statement that reveals its purpose on an Internet that is like an overstuffed burrito, inundated with literary websites. But Haypenny is like one of those necessary ingredients to festive Mexican food. More like salsa or sour cream than rice or beans, this manageable little site has five features that do not bombard the senses with wordy prose overload. Besides the refreshing fiction (a tangy, fruity salsa perhaps?), Haypenny doles out a healthy installment of what they call Fact-Snacks. These little tidbits of entirely useless information will do nothing for you except make you interesting at cocktail parties (if that). The staff describes them as "tacos for the body." Who knew Ronald Reagan had three nipples? Seriously.

There is no boring prose. Nor are their boring titles, styles or formats. Make it interesting or be gone. A case in point would be Jeff Hayward's "An Open Letter to the State of Mississippi (by Oscar the Grouch, Trapped in a Soon-to-Erupt Volcano)," where the reader is invited to join Oscar and some figgy pudding in their plea for escape from their subterranean hell. My favorite one of the bunch is Dennis Proctor's deranged stroll down memory lane, "Remember Chillin' in the Car You Spent All Day Waxin'?" A simultaneous testament to water balloon fights and perverted family members who take you shopping for pornographic kites. Remember the time you convinced your step mom that you had mastered Islamic alchemy? You'll never forget the gleam in her eyes when you assured her that you had transferred the negative vibes from her loveless marriage to a gigantic piece of tin, which you planned to transmute into gold, if she would only shut the fuck up once in a while. With Proctor we fondly remember those game shows where you get 'slimed' for a wrong answer and the surprise birthday parties for celebrities who never show up and so you play Strip Uno instead. Good times.

Although a few of the essays have a bit too much flour on the tortilla, the fiction here is worth the read and the easy-going and flat-out-funny tone of the site makes it worth the trip. Besides, isn't it worth checking out the place where I learned that Chicago is the earwig capital of the world?

StorySouth Review

StorySouth is "all about the writing." No fancy web designs of glittery visual gimmicks to distract you from this southern belle of fiction and poetry. Designed to showcase the works of writers who represent a 'new south' where international and regional combine, the fiction and poetry of this genteel site represent all facets of the southern experience from a good 'ol Baptist sermon to the stifling heat to love dripping in the Alabama sweat and humidity.

The feature is Chris Wilson's "The Dry Season," a story of the lonely and the laughable that takes place during a sweltering southern draught. Written in diary form, Israel (Iz) and his brother prepare for their father's funeral by constructing a life-size puppet of their father that is a green monster with eight arms. Meanwhile, their mentally challenged brother James befriends an old man named Simon who can't speak but merely emits hideous hacking and gurgling sounds from his throat. The Krishna-esque puppet creation even has a cameo:

Woke with the dull terror that he would forget my eyes.
Left crumpled under a tangle of broken limbs-it is a pity to be reincarnated as an octoped. What sort of karma engenders that?
It is wonderful to be blind.

While Wilson's multi-armed creation gives us a new way to talk about death and funerals, the story's tone and plot still have a twinge of a What's Eating Gilbert Grape aura to them. Despite this, Iz's voice shines through real and sometimes flat-out funny:

Also, a lot of the things I hear James say aren't really IQ 56 sort of things. They're at least IQ 90 things to say, to wager a guess. But I guess we'd have to truck James and his new friend up to Virginia if we wanted to know for sure.

But the real belle of this ball is the poetry. It captures that 'southern experience' so well that you can almost smell the kudzu and hot fireworks. Nathan Parker's "My Young Brother" gives us one of these southern moments in a nutshell:

My young brother with mint eyes
And hair buzzed for summer
Got stuck under a mean old lady's fence.
Her mastiff ripped at his little feet.
She stood at the window smiling
With a double-edged bloodstained walker.
It was hot and rain fell in muddy drops.
A cluster of chocolate chips
Melted in my pocket.

I'm not sure whether or not Krishna-like puppets are part of the southern experience but the fact remains that even if you don't understand the criteria for what makes someone a 'new south' writer (like myself) ya'll should still come on down.