Monday, August 13, 2007

New Issue Review: Black Warrior Review vol. 33 no. 2

"People always look twice when you peel out in a hearse."
-from "Horizontal Accidents," by Michael Salisbury

Black Warrior Review's latest issue (volume 33, number 2) is the most visually appealing issue yet to be published by Tuscaloosa's University of Alabama graduate student run literary magazine. In this and the previous issue, editor Molly Dowd and company have made a turn towards the stylistically hip in their design choices, each issue looking more and more like the cover of a new indie album from The Decembrists. A painted bridesmaid's dress by the endlessly talented Nicole Barrick hauntingly adorns both front and back covers of the issue (shown at right). But it is not only on the outside that this issue is visually pleasurable, but on the inside as well, as it is filled from cover to cover with experimental (in form and content) and emotional new writing--all of it much deserving of all the praise it gets and, as is more likely for literary magazines, doesn't get.

The literary magazine is, by definition, an undefinable publishing venture. It is a large step away from the mainstream, a departure from the expected. It is a thing that "makes no compromise with public taste," as famously announced by The Little Review in the 1930s. Due to the fact that they are not pandering to taste or current assumptions about good writing, some literary magazines can be difficult to parse through, not simply due to their sometimes difficult subject matter, but also because they are most often trying new things, publishing new authors, and willing to publish art and writing in an aim to alter the public's appetite as opposed to solely appeasing it. Then there are some literary magazines like this issue of BWR that not only affect to change the way we read, but to also satisfy our literary appetites with a four-star meal of pure enjoyment.

It could be said as plainly as: this issue of BWR crackles with talent and stunning new writing. Everything in the issue is a pleasure to read, from Chirs Bachelder's postmodern take on the art of adaptation in "Otherwise Faithful," to Lily Hoang's brilliant and eerie channeling of Donald Barthelme, Beckett, and Borges in her story of astronomers, "Personal Equation," to mystifyingly original new fiction by Deb Olin Unferth, to poet Stephanie Bolster's beautiful and intelligent chapbook, "Life of the Mind" ("once there were/places to discover"), to more otherworldly enticing art from cover artist Nicole Barrick (such as Summer Camp at left), to Leslie Jamison's funny, heartbreaking, engaging, and smart essay on and defense of the sentimental, the sacharine, to, to, the entire table of contents. Through an act of assured editing or an astounding array of confident submissions, not a single piece of writing misses.

A rare thing in the little magazine world, this issue of BWR never slackens its pace or level of quality, never tempting the reader to skip over a boring section, never to flip past a stilted poem that maybe made it in because of the author's name, nor to skim through a dry piece of fiction that made it into the issue because it was the best thing the editors received. Through luck, hard work, or both, BWR (and Ms. Dowd) should be recognized for putting out a fine issue that--in the manner of early issues of McSweeney's or nearly any issue of the late Grand Street--extends the exciting and innovative publishing possibilities available in (and perhaps only in) the world of literary magazines.

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