Reviews of Lit Sites, Publications, and Places
     by Bodega Babe, Andrew L. Wilson and Staff

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.


When the Internet was shooting to the stars a few years ago, a number of literary editors decided to establish an online presence and promote their favorite kinds of writing.  Many of these e-zines were exciting or special, some notable, most doomed.  The longetivity of an e-zine tends to stand in direct ratio to its editorial pretentions.  Web publishing is so dismal and dismaying an endeavor that the idealists drop out quick, like bootcampers complaining of the mud and mosquitoes.  E-zines festooned with Web awards -- the SUV's of Web publishing -- guzzle so much gas it's hard to keep them going on the information superhighway (Sorry: I couldn't resist the opportunity to exploit a metaphor already so overused it got retired by universal consensus -- yet the "information superhighway" always gives me a stab of nostalgia, bringing to mind as it does that adorable child actress, Anna Paquin, accepting her Oscar in a cute beret.)  Our most recent Bodega column lambasted Pif for its consistently gauzy fiction and hyper-incestuous publication criteria.  Pif has been one of the most enduring and tenacious of the 'zines, although "twilight" is a term that might equally apply to its special brand of tripe. Here are reviews of two longstanding e-zines -- distinguished by Mandarin tastes, rather than slickly populist, Pif style ambition -- that still happen to be alive: one still smart and defiant,  the other gorgeous in parts but unmistakeably twilit. 

The Melic Review

Melic's founder, C. E. Chaffin, is the type of man who signs off his editorial notes, "Thine in Truth and Art," and his prejudice for high-falutin' language shows in the pocketfulls of poesy he bequeaths unto -- oh no, Jesus no, it's catching.  He looks very pleasant and companiable (see his photo in the "about the staff" section).  His wife, Katherine, also unabashedly amiable-looking (I'm never one to bash amiability), with a sunny late fifties Beave's mother/Betty Crocker vibe going, serves as Assistant Editor.  Laird Barron, Managing Editor, wears an eyepatch and appears easygoingest of all.  It's impossible to knock this.  I mean, do you want to knock it? 

There's elbow room on the Web for all kinds of literary achievement.  I didn't expect to like the poems on-in The Melic Review, but (confession) I liked some well enough to -- well, not to feel the itch to make fun.  Michael Gates' "Fa-la-la" has the minimalist feel of a Creeley ramble, its enjambments imparting rangy authority and plain-spoken charm.  I thought it got off to a bumpy start, with the verb "nictitate" jolting the reader's gums:

Red, green, red, green--
your lights nictitate like
arrogant cop cars,

But once the in-flight movie started I got hooked into the piece, and the conclusion -- once I realized the "suckling in the cow trough" Gates' mentions is Our Lord -- gave me a romantic-melancholy frisson

. . . that suckling in the cow trough,
who will someday wander 
the tepid Israeli hills

 in dusty sandals,
 knowing nothing
 of such nonsense. 

I thought "tepid Israeli hills" so much better than the usual cliched "settlement-crowned" or "army-fortified" Israeli hills.  Those dusty sandals synechdoche the Suckling perfectly.  (Query to Gates: Were the hills technically "Israeli" when He walked them?  Granted, "Palestine, the Imperial Roman protectorate" doesn't scan as well.) 

Under "Fiction" I found another piece I heartily recommend to Web Del Sol's Web-jaded readership: Michael Anguino's "Enigma Machine" sets out a number of startling definitions of "love," including these:

Love is a licorice-flavored liqueur, served in a dusty glass in a cold room.

 Love is a song by a one-hit wonder. The recording artist is completely forgotten, although his girlfriend was later successful on Broadway. An oil millionaire from New Mexico bought the issuing label as a tax loss.

 Love is a cat called Rascal, with white fur and a surprisingly friendly disposition.

I prefer the first of this series, but I understand the point Anguino is making with the others, too.  If a sewing machine and an umbrella met on an operating table, hugged, lunched at Spago and decided to write a movie together, "Enigma Machine" might well be it. 

Melic is weathering its twilight nicely. 

The Alsop Review

In the paleo era of Internet, Alsop was one of the top three web-original literary 'zines (along with Blue Moon and the now defunct Recursive Angel), scrambling for the heights of Internet literary respectability with the vigor of a Humphrey Bogart mountain-goating his way over boulders in High Sierra.   Though still clean and javascripted, this e-zine now has a boarded-up ghost-town feel to it.  The old masectomized nudes still ballet before us, the same beach chairs still longing for rump. Alsop's Events Calendar is eerily blank. Alsop was incorporated as a non profit corporation in 2001 -- yet it looks as if the onsite selections  haven't been augmented since 1999.  The site maintains a discussion area called The Gazebo, still functioning for its twilight coterie (now defanged), but otherwise the thing moans moribund.

Yet Alsop's fiction archive is a seam of gold-flecked prose.  I spent quality time with Claudia Grinnell after studying her haunting photograph for rather too long, admiring her imagery and laughing with delight at some of the sinuously written, semi-ribald passages:

He parted handfuls of her black hair, winding it tightly around his fingers into continuous, boundless circles. He bent over and smelled her pink  scalp, touched his teeth to it, breathed through his nose. There was some essence there, under the eucalyptus scent of her hair; there was some real vapor, like fresh olive oil on a hot stone. It was sacredness; no, it was perfect idleness, spilling into ever-widening circles. ("The Space of Birds," Claudia Grinnell)

Alsop also has the distinction of being the first Web-based magazine to publish a sheaf of stories by Dennis Must, author of the lauded story collection, Banjo Grease.  Must's working class heroes are the real item, and the stories are laced with such clamped-down hurt and fiery longing as to awaken in the reader's brain heretofore unknown regions of perception and emotional poignancy.  Most of these stories are in the gregarious first person, dealing confessionally with patches of life in the dead-end rural Pennsylvania town of Hebron.  Many writers can pull off a laconic swagger, yet few ever achieve Must's shorthand urgency, or manage his crisply offhand way of alluding to the Depths:

"The Post Office Cafe was where our old man hung out on Saturday morning. James and I thought he'd be lubricated enough by noon to answer our genealogical questions. Regaling several of his drinking buddies and Grace, the bartender, with ribald wit, Father greeted us amiably. His friends suggested we were damn near old enough to drink the old man under the  table. 

But drinking held no attraction for either of us." 

"The Scar" introduces us to two adolescent boys who've decided to amble across the tracks to search out the poorer relations they've heard so much about -- the ones their father sums up in the snarled insult, "Vipers."  The story encapsulates their adventure. Things get seedier and stranger as they make their way into Hebron's underbelly: a Baptist sanctuary resembles a "mechanic's garage" -- on the bulletin-board by the door is tacked a sheet of paper that reads: "Sin and Mary's Burden, Preacher Billy Leech. Pancakes & Sausage Following."  Then the road turns to gravel with a spilled-out culvert running beside it.  By the time they reach Grandma and Grandpa's house, they might as well be in the Sudan, and Must shocks the boys' (and the reader's) Calvinism with a shining erotic image: 

"Shoeless children attired only in underpants raced sinisterly in and out of the house, its door wide open to a black interior. Two teenage girls (we guessed they were all siblings) ran down to the water’s edge, taunting James and me to join them. The older, boyishly gaunt, flashed an obscenity while provocatively snapping her sister's dress above her head--she was stark naked." ("The Scar," Dennis Must

Warning: not all of Alsop's twilight is so brilliant.