Reviews of Lit Sites, Publications, and Places
Bodega Babe, Andrew L. Wilson and Staff
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.
TWILIGHT OF THE ZINES-#1
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
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.
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
who will someday wander
the tepid Israeli hills
in dusty sandals,
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.
In the paleo era of Internet, Alsop was one of the
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.