Monday, July 30, 2007

Luna Park Goes to New York City

Luna Park editor Travis Kurowski and managing editor Sarah Lowery White are in Manhattan and Brooklyn this week for our first on the scene investigation of the little magazine world. Our first stop, of course, is New York City, easily regarded as the center of little magazine publishing. Among other things, we will be doing a feature on St. Mark's Bookstore (one of the finest little magazine providers in NYC), the fate of Gotham Book Mart, an interview with editors of the late nineties art journal Hootenanny, and a piece on Brooklyn's "secret best art magazine," Cabinet! We will also be doing our regular new issue reviews, founds, and the rest, so stay tuned for all the exciting things to come from the little world.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

My Hebraism to My Hellenism: A Note from Herbert Leibowitz Regarding the End of Parnassus, Cautious Criticism, World Poetry, and the Joy of Editing

[As many already know (if not, check out the news links in sidebar to the left), Parnassus is, after 34 generous years, publishing its final issue. One of the finest journals of poetry and poetry criticism n American history, Parnassus published some of the most fascinating thinkers of its day, such as Helen Vendler, Guy Davenport, Howard Nemerov, Carolyn Forche, Adrienne Rich, Donald Hall, and Ocatvio Paz, just to name a few. Parnassus editor, Herbert Leibowitz, was also, along with Stanly Lewis, the journal's founder in 1973. The note below, originally published on the journal's website, is both nostalgic and, in its way, incendiary; both mournful and proud. "Belletristic criticism" of the kind published in Parnassus is certainly missed by many writers and readers--by none more, perhaps, than Leibowitz himself. It's a tragedy such a fine journal must cease publishing. When such things need occur, one must reflect upon the state of artistic funding in the United States today. As stated in the Wall Street Journal, "Parnassus will be honored on Dec. 10 in a program at the Poetry Center of the 92nd Street Y." To purchase their final, 30th anniversary issue, go to the Parnassus website.]

Editor's Manifesto
by Herbert Leibowitz

As editor of Parnassus for nearly thirty years, I have stubbornly maintained that poetry criticism is an art, one requiring airtight argument, a passion for style, and even an entertainer’s wit and timing. A reviewer should, needless to say, be erudite and intellectually nimble, but also unintimidated by reputation and quick to point out such flaws as boring syntax and arbitrary line-breaks. Skepticism is all the more crucial nowadays, when books of poetry enter the world wrapped in a caul of blurbs.

Over the last fifteen years or so, as the prestige of high culture has steadily declined, the audience for belletristic criticism—as opposed to the jargon-riddled academic variety—has dwindled. Yet what I find perhaps even more distressing is the reluctance of poets to write honestly about their peers. Some poets, doves by temperament, are not suited to criticism. But many are simply too fearful. Looking warily over their shoulders, they mutter, “If I write a negative review of poet B’s book, he or a former student of his will pillory my own book when it’s published.”

This widespread timidity, this failure of nerve, quashes the frank exchange of ideas; it closes the valves of everyone’s attention like stone, to paraphrase Emily Dickinson. What should be a bracing intramural conversation turns bland, parochial, prevaricating. If reviewers, like a chorus of Pollyannas, hail nearly every poet as being worthy of a laurel wreath, why should we believe them?

Another aspect of this lamentable decline has to do with international poetry. Since the Fifties and Sixties, there’s been a sharp drop in the number of American poets who, falling under the spell of, say, Neruda, Celan, or Akhmatova, embark on a study of Spanish, German, or Russian so that they can read these poets’ work in the original, and perhaps even translate it. (There are, of course, some notable exceptions.) I’m not sure to what this should be attributed. Laziness? Lack of curiosity? I don’t mean to minimize the difficulty of mastering Czech or Chinese. Still, an intimate relationship with another language, particularly its music, can only enrich the poet’s art, as Ezra Pound, the model of a linguistic voyager (and voyeur), demonstrated.

From its first issue, Parnassus has paid close attention to international poetry. The late Donald Sutherland, endowed with an extraordinarily cultivated literary mind, served as our roving ambassador to the courts of St.-John Perse and Valéry, Lorca and Viceinte Alexandre. And we’ve been fortunate, over a quarter-century, to draw on other experts who could interpret, with flair and acute understanding, the poems of Basho, Hölderlin, Tsvetaeva, Cavafy, Apollinaire, and many others.

So when it came time to pick a theme for our twenty-fifth anniversary issue, the choice was easy: We decided on an international number, with a special section devoted to Arab, Hebrew, and Persian poetry—rich, ancient traditions all, and too little known to American readers. We believe readers will marvel, as we do, at the classic verse of the Sephardic poet Shmuel HaNagid, the Persian poet Attar, and the Arab poet Labid. These poems will linger in memory and, I hope, rouse a desire in the reader to investigate such exquisite work more closely.

For me, these years have been like a non-stop, racy, irreverent conversation—and sometimes a quarrel—in the Mermaid Tavern. Friendships have blossomed out of my marginal comments and, on occasion, my hectorings. As a devout letter writer, I’ve delighted in corresponding with writers in Wichita, Strasbourg, Jerusalem, and a thousand places in between. Occasionally the discovery of a good poem in the slush pile has made my day. (We editors all like to believe that had Emily Dickinson submitted her poems to us, rather than to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, we would have spotted and nurtured her genius; such fantasies help divert us from the dirt-in-the-fingernails task of weeding repetitions.) And perhaps most satisfying of all has been watching young writers metamorphose from talented apprentices to brilliant reviewers.

The Joy of Cooking and The Joy of Sex have been perennial bestsellers. A book entitled The Joy of Editing would sell maybe a dozen copies before being rushed to the pulping machine. But I would gladly write it. When I stumbled into the role of editor, I was only vaguely aware that Parnassus is a mountain in Greece sacred to the Nine Muses. I quickly learned that editing was a calling that demanded a steep levy of time, toil, and imagination. Lugging pork up Parnassus has been, at moments, a Sisyphean task, but mostly it’s been an exhilarating challenge, crowned by spectacular vistas. Parnassah, in Hebrew, means prosperity—by editorial prestidigitation, I’ve managed to marry my Hebraism to my Hellenism.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

New Issue Review: West Branch no. 60 (30th anniversary issue)

"I would have to find some way out of this life to trust it entirely,
and how far can you trust the unknown even to stay unknown,..."
-from "Trust," a poem by William Olsen

"The mind can imagine, in fact must imagine in order to know, but imagination can lead to betrayal."
-from "'Darkness Visible': Five Books of American Poetry," a review by Sarah Kennedy

West Branch Celebrates the Age of the Little Magazine

This 30th anniversary issue of West Branch is yet another slim, assured collection of writing from Bucknell University, largely serious in subject matter throughout, but never slipping into morose narcissism or undeserved sentiment. Instead, the writing largely consists of fairly even-handed representations of painful, complex human landscapes.

Editor Paula Buck opens the issue with an interesting comment about us living today, "not [in] the age of the individual writer, but, in keeping with Whitman's democratic vision, the age of the literary magazine--manifestation of a rich, collective multiplicity that is racial, ethnic, aesthetic, intellectual, and political." Certainly there is much to be admired in the lit mag enterprise today and in history. Almost across the board these magazines place artistic and humanitarian motivations leaps and bounds ahead of commercial or capital ones. As Buck herself says, this therefore results in magazines more diverse than mainstream commercial glossies, and therefore perhaps also more of a creative and literary endeavor--one never of individuals talking in the dark to themselves, but instead of conversations, groups, influences, and community. Though one would never demand for every little magazine to be diverse in a politically correct sense (where diversity is forced upon them, rather than found within them), it is heartening to be able to rely on little magazines to represent a diversity of interests. And, what is perhaps most endearing of the little magazine genre and all independent artistic community productions, if a particular interest or voice (or collective interest or voice) is not available, a reader can rest assured that some university writing program or driven young publisher will somehow create extra hours in their day in order to soon make such a venue available in the lit mag world.

This issue of West Branch does not trumpet its 30 year achievement, as many magazines do by publishing old archival letters, essays from writers about the magazine's history, or other such things. It is instead a quiet, considered celebration at West Branch, consisting only of another issue, more good writing.

Beginning with the cover painting, "Jenny's Fan," by Harold Reddicliffe (pictured above), there are many fine pieces in the issue, which will give the reader pause (again, one of the qualities of little magazines: they are mostly enjoyed at a slower pace than the larger mags, every description and brush stroke savored, every photograph and poem pondered over as though foreign riddles). The most stunning is James Doyle's poem "Looking Forward to the Twentieth Century," a dryly comic musing on the future and our lemming-like reaction to its approach. Yet, one must make it to the center of the issue to find the poem (page 59, to be exact), where many of the issue's finest pieces are to be found. This brings up the question of publication order when it comes to putting together the issue--as a slow, but beautiful piece of writing by Pablo Medina and some other less captivating poems keep a reader from coming sooner to these more powerfully engaging works, to such lines as "He is an artist of loneliness," or "The sand/ a little queasy under all the tripods/ that snap impromptu farewell pictures."

But none of the issue is lacking in achievement; every piece is proficient and well-crafted. Unexpectedly perhaps, some of the best writing in this issue comes at the very back of the book, in two poetry reviews by Matthew Ladd and Sarah Kennedy. Both reviews have a common theme: poetry's response to human suffering. Ladd takes on political engagement in contemporary poetry and Kennedy looks at the serious turn American poetry seems to have taken. Each review is an insightful look into the nature of poetry and its engagement with today's violent world. Though poetry literally makes nothing happen, as Auden said, Kennedy and Ladd look at just how much poets struggle with the world's misery and their possible powerlessness to change it. But, our reviewers seem to say, poetry can still inform and move us. While discussing Aleda Shirley's book, Dark Familiar, Kennedy writes, "It is a right conclusion for this book, but readers who are faint of heart about the condition of our country and our world should enter it with caution."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

From the Newsstands: Memoir from PMS poemmemoirstory no. 7

The following is an excerpt of a memoir from the most recent issue of PMS poemmemoirstory, a literary journal based out of Birmingham, Alabama that publishes only writing by women in the three genres of its title. Though fairly young (now on their seventh year), the journal has so far been quite successful, and it is often excerpted for the Best American series. All seven of the journals covers have the same haunting monochromatic design as the most recent issue's cover (at left), done by Caroline Davis. Issues are 7 dollars, are distributed by Ingram and DeBoer, and can be purchased on More information is available at the journal's website:

Patricia Brieschke

Cracking Open

Four decades ago, when I was young and stupid and didn’t know a baby from a wormy kapusta, according to my Polish mother, I gave birth to a tiny damaged boy on my kitchen table. Just out of high school, I was working in a fertilizer factory, going to night school, and writing frantically in my spare time to reshape myself in the image and likeness of George Eliot. But she never had children. Nevertheless, I figured since an infant is small and portable, it wouldn’t interfere with my plan for the contemplative literary life. The day I decided to go off the pill, John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged a bed-in for peace in Amsterdam. One thing I knew with missionary clarity: This baby was my olive branch to the universe. Unlike my mother, who produced misfits who could only hobble and crawl, my child would be so loved he would soar. Our bond would heal every rift, every schism, every abuse. My husband, Matthew, an Irish boy who had been dismissed from his religious order at age 20 for chugging brandy in the Christian Brothers winery, was another hobbler and crawler. He wrote me poems, I gave him sex—an elegant but sparse compromise.

I registered at the Chicago Maternity Center for prenatal care: two rooms over a store facing the Maxwell Street Market. Toward the end of the pregnancy, I made weekly bus trips to the Center, where a volunteer palpated my belly to the crooning of Muddy Waters. I prepared my supplies for the time of delivery: a two-foot-high stack of newspapers, a large plastic sheet, a dime for calling the Maternity Center, a strong electric light, and a kettle for boiling water.

Giving birth was like my first accordion lesson. When they put the bellowy instrument in my lap, I didn’t know where to put my hands, how to hold it. I had no idea how to have a baby, so I sat on the beat-up couch in our third-floor flat on Ainslie Avenue, crossed my legs and asked Bernie, a pink-faced intern, “Okay, what do I do?”

Maybe we should have read a book,” Matthew said, gathering up empty beer cans from the coffee table.

Bernie took one of Matthew’s poems that I had framed from the wall. I read a few lines before he hung a makeshift IV from the nail. A small bright delighting thing / A dark deep beckoning / Embodied twilight turning day to night. My baby, a small bright delighting thing, felt huge inside me: a nuclear fission ready to break upon the world. I pressed my thighs together to hold back the dribble of green water that had been leaking for a couple of days. The baby was still head up and had no intention of turning and preparing for descent.

Oxytocin dripped into my veins. Bernie’s partner, a small Filipino woman, boiled water, spread my stack of Chicago Tribunes over the kitchen table and floor, and swung a 100-watt bulb from an extension cord above the table. Matthew tamped his pipe, composing a poem in his head. “Change into something comfortable and crawl up on the table,” Bernie said, as he unpacked his doctor’s bag on the kitchen sink, clanging shiny tools on paper towels. I grabbed an oversized Beatles t-shirt. The Filipino woman helped me maneuver the IV tubing as I hoisted myself up on the table. Earlier, I had been paying bills there, flipping a penny to decide who would get paid—Con Ed or Ma Bell. Envelopes scattered on the floor. Would Bernie and the Filipino woman ask for money?

Perfect control. Nobody will see me flinch. I lay on newsprint, naked from the waist down. Not a telltale sound or revealing grunt. My belly heaved. Muscles closed around the baby like a slow glacier. I controlled the pain by imagining an advertisement for a Burberry raincoat permanently affixed to my back thigh. Finally, I began to crack open: one centimeter, two centimeters...six, seven. After several hours and a few choruses of “don’t push, don’t push, don’t push, okay push,” two little legs dangled out of me. “Where’s his head?” The kitchen was eerily quiet. I heard the baby cry inside me. He didn’t want to be born.

You must move bowels in 24 hours,” the Filipino woman said, lecturing me about hemorrhoids and sitz baths. Bernie called for backup to figure out how to get the rest of the baby out.

My son wasn’t exactly what I had expected. A blob of protoplasm, shiny and translucent. But he was my first wonder of the world, my Grand Canyon. When Bernie cleaned him off, his skinny legs twisted around themselves like Gumby. He looked more poultry than baby, but the most exquisite chicken I had ever seen. For a moment, I thought there must be something wrong with him. But what did I know. The only baby I remembered clearly was my youngest brother, and I never really looked at him, just plotted how to dispose of him. My baby was perfect, if a bit crooked.

In the days that followed, I became sweet with curiosity about this new little being, in the larger scheme of things nothing but a speck of dust on the earth, but for me, a reason for living. I nuzzled his swollen belly against mine, cooed over his soft crown and doll fingers, drank in the perfume of yellow diapers. Little caterpillar. It was now my life’s work to protect, honor, and celebrate this delicate creature. Snail without a shell. After two weeks, I was in love. We were a team: I gave him life, he gave me breasts.

The name on his birth certificate was Beckett. Matthew rejected my choice, which was Oliver. Reminded him of olives or liver. But it didn’t matter what anybody else called him. Ollie and I formed a secret bond. At night in bed when he whimpered, I whispered his name. His fish mouth, heat-seeking and hungry, clamped on to me. My mother called in her blessing: “Now you’ll know heartache. May your child do to you what you did to me.” You had only weak tea in your breasts; mine are filled with crème fraîche. I would do motherhood right, and love my Ollie better than all the Polish mothers of the old neighborhood, stuffed into their Goldblatt housedresses.

During our two-week checkup at the Maternity Center, I ran into Dvorah, whose prenatal visits had coincided with mine. “He’s beautiful,” she said.

You don’t think he looks like a chicken?” Ollie and I were so tightly swaddled in my Madonna and Baby Jesus fantasy that I half wanted a reality check.

All babies look like chickens.”

When the doctor held him up, his legs didn’t uncurl. “Dislocated hips.” There’s nothing wrong with my baby. Maybe he looks a little funny, but Matthew and I aren’t exactly centerfolds. A common mixed-breed girl: Irish milk skin dinged with acne, Germanic chin, and Polish thighs, too lavish for their petite frame. A dreamy Irish boy, bone skinny and delicate. Ollie’s one of us. “Take him over to Children’s Memorial,” the doctor said. “They’ll snap his hips into place, and he’ll be good as new.”

I zipped Ollie inside my jacket, snuggling his tiny ear to my heart, as the bus dodged potholes down Lincoln Avenue. My mother cautioned me: “When I was eight, Pa took me for my first streetcar ride. I woke up in Cook County Hospital without my tonsils. My sister Josie was supposed to get the operation, but she run away.” A few years out of Poland, they believed they’d be kicked off relief if someone didn’t show up. Does Ollie’s doctor need to fill a spot on his docket? Get a grip, you’re not an immigrant. I was clumsy at nurture. He was my practice case, and I might as well have been in a foreign land....

(for the rest of Brieschke's story, check out PMS poemmemoirstory no.7)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Found in Ninth Letter: Poems by Wayne Miller

"the men repaint the chapel ceiling,
and I imagined they were painting

the ceiling of civilization, imagined
their work would fill in the blue"
-Wayne Miller, "The City, Our City"

More and more, cities define us. More and more, in books and magazines, one can read pieces on the new urban sprawl, the conflagration of slums, the mallification of America--of megacities and concrete jungles. Since the industrial revolution, we have to a greater extent pumped ourselves into these gridded landscapes; abandoning our rustic rural homes we romanticized in Pastoral and Georgic poetry, we added ornamentation and life to these urban dwellings.

Long has the literary mind been attracted to urban spaces. Baudelaire, most famously, saw worth in wandering aimlessly about their streets and alleys--even going so far as to create for Paris its own poetry, rougher and more explicit than those which came before, illuminating the unique and yet uncharted experience of city living.

In four new poems in the newest issue of Ninth Letter (vol. 4, no. 1; spring/summer), Wayne Miller expresses the both attractive alienation and nostalgic longings that modern and historic cities can provide. "I arrived on the City's/ surface," the second poem, "The City, Our City (X)," begins, "as a freckle arrives/ on one's skin." Miller's poems are gorgeous, magically brutal depictions of "The City." The City of Miller's poems is not New York, Chicago, London, Paris--or if it is any of these cities (perhaps Berlin?), or any city, the location is well shrouded in specificity, antithesis of any generally labeled location (such as the label of "Baghdad" to the average American voter). It doesn't particularly matter which city The City is, as it encompasses the human questions and observations found in the inhuman immensity of any city: "who/was there in the room behind me,/ and what did they see through me?" And, from within the city, there is constant ruminating about what lay beyond--the churches, wandering cows, pickups revving their engines. These things beyond the city seem half understood by the people in Miller's poems. While inside, "they loved the City for its details/ more than for its Grand Design."

These four poems--"The City, Our City (VIII)," the aforementioned (X) of the same series, "I've Heard That Outside the City," and "The City, Our City (XIII)"--are like small, personal essays of a city by a narrator who is able to feel every sidewalk, shop door, and eave of the place, "like an empty sportsfield/ sprouting wings." It is a haunted place, filled with a history of violence alongside pedestrian activity. We are attracted to it, Miller seems to say. We are caught up ceaselessly in its endless machinations. And, outside the city? "Out there, the cupped light/ of a house, or a bar, is the light/ of the entire world."

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Big List: Literary Magazines, part 1

Luna Park Big Lists are theme-focused lists of little magazines. Some examples of future Big Lists could be: literary reviews, poetry only journals, little magazines beginning with the letter W, literary magazines based in New York, American literary magazines based anywhere but New York, art zines, online humor magazines, etcetera. Our Big Lists are an attempt to get magazine names out there, as well as to find new ways to look at the little magazine world.

Our first big list covers literary magazines--little magazines that primarily publish creative writing. It will be in posted installments, as the information keeps rolling in, and as we devote more time to research the nooks and crannies of the genre. (Will it be 3 installments? 5? Don't know. Please check the sidebar for updates.)

Now, there are already a number of websites online that serve as databases for writers to find out what magazines they can submit to, and there are even a few (though not many) that seem tailored to readers looking for a new read. What hopefully differentiates Luna Park's Big List of literary magazines from those is that we only want to revel in the sheer amount of literary magazines being published. To revel and enjoy, even in the titles: Apple Valley Review, river styx, Tin house, Zyzzyva. We hope you enjoy all the similarities and differences in the magazines that follow--the great catholic world of literature, come one, come all.

(Please click on a name below in order to link to their site, or, if a site is not available, to other information regarding that particular magazine.)

Big List #1: Literary Magazines, part 1
(Sub-title: All the Lit Mags We Could Hobble Together During Our First Week Online)

971 Menu
Alaska Quarterly Review
Alligator Juniper
American Short Fiction
Antioch Review
Apple Valley Review
A Public Space
Arkansas Review
Atlanta Review
Beloit Fiction Journal
Beloit Poetry Journal
Black Clock
Black Warrior Review
Burnside Review

Chicago Review
Cincinnati Review
Clackamas Literary Review
Colorado Review
Copper Nickel
Cream City Review
Fiction International
Five Points
Florida Review

Georgia Review

Georgetown Review
Glimmer Train
Gulf Stream
Hanging Loose
Harvard Review
Hayden's Ferry
Hot Metal Bridge
Hunger Mountain
Idaho Review
Indiana Review
Iowa Review
Iron Horse Literary Review
Kenyon Review
KGB BarLit
Laurel Review
Lilies and Cannonballs Review
Louisiana Review

Marlboro Review
Massachusetts Review
Mid-American Review
Midway Journal
Minnesota Review
Mississippi Review
Missouri Review
New England Review
New Delta Review
New Orleans Review
new renaissance
New York Quarterly
Ninth Letter
North American Review
Notre Dame Review

One Story
Paris Review
PMS poemmemoirstory
Poetry East
Portland Review
Post Road
Quarterly West
Quick Fiction
river styx
Saint Ann's Review

Snata Monica Review
Seattle Review
Sewanee Review
Small Spiral Notebook
Southeast Review
Southern Quarterly
Southern Review
Story Quarterly
Tar River Poetry
The Journal
The Literary Review
The Little Magazine
The Little Magazine (Asia)

The Pinch
Threepenny Review
Tin House
Town Creek Poetry
Tuesday: An Art Project
Virginia Quarterly Review
Washington Square
West Branch
West Wind Review
Willow Springs
Yale Review

[Did we miss your magazine in this installment? Our apologies. But that's why this is only part 1! Please send your magazine's information to, or go ahead and send a copy of your magazine to the address above left (so we can have a chance to review it in the future) and we can then put your magazine in Literary Magazines, part 2, coming soon.]

Friday, July 13, 2007

From the Newsstands: Poetry from VOX no.3

The following is a prose poem from the third issue of VOX, a journal from Oxford, Mississippi dedicated to "the new avant garde." As journals go, VOX is relatively new--only first appearing online in March 2005 and in print in April of the same year--but the content is more than competent, sometimes even stunning. Overall the issue reads like a collaborative modern re-envisioning of late 19th century French Modernism. This latest issue of their journal even begins with a quote from the last page of Rimbaud's Season in Hell, seemingly to express something of the journal's aesthetic vision: "One must become absolutely modern." VOX is a nice new addition to the world of literary magazines. The editors of VOX are Louis Bourgeois, J.E. Pitts, and Max Hipp; cover price is $6; issues are distributed through Bernhard DeBoer, or can be purchased online directly at

The Feast of Holy Innocence

by Mitch Cohen

The meal, we were told, would be glorious; each course brought tableside on the backs of bent and naked Africans. Under domes of gilded silver easily matching any of Europe's cathedrals in brilliance lay the smallest and rarest of creatures, slaughtered in their infancy and grilled to perfection; these, we understood to be delicacies. Wine flowed mercilessly and laughter, affected and glaring sharp, grew and leapt in the hall, resplendent and lit as it was by tallow and spermaceti candlelight, a thousand flickering points of light. The meat tasted well of death on my tongue, but I chewed on regardless, as did those on my either side, forcing our throats to swallow and partake in these riches.

When once the floorshow was long done, dancing girls clearing pancake from bruises behind the thick velvet boundary and hidden from our view, the maniacal ringleader uncapped and pissing in pain in a pot past the stones which slowly killed him, the pathetic clowns succumbing to their own brokenness, and sweet, pungent, tobacco smoke rose to heaven from mouths and pipes and cigars as from censers, the lights came on and it was time, they said, for all of us to go.

Outside, in the biting cold, despite a thousand years of protocol, there was no one to bring around our cars, and flames just over the wall somewhere lit the night sky like pyres. I feared for my life. While no one in the group—standing in the unforgiving wind, carrying upon it the burning stench of flesh—was surprised, the sense of shock amongst us was palpable. How could it be, how in Heaven’s name, we cried aloud to one another, how in the Name of God and Heaven and all that is Holy could this ever be?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Commentary: Big Postage Increase for Little Magazines

According The Nation president, Theresa Stack--as well as according to about half a dozen other emails Luna Park has received from U.S. editors and publishers--the July 15th United States postage rate increase will aversely affect small magazine publishers. Below is a letter she wrote for the May 7th issue of The Nation, and which has been (as she seems to have wanted) already disseminated widely across the internet. Stack's letter is signed by many of the most well-respected people in publishing, and was sent to the Chairman of the Postal Board of Govenors, James C. Miller III.

In addition to the letter, you can listen to a July 9th NPR piece on the rate increase (which often quotes from Stack). The NPR piece seems to takes an unbiased look at the rate increase. Along with showing USPS's need for the increase, it also explains that the increase was drawn up--not by the USPS--but by Time Warner, and that Time Warner's plan will cause small print run magazines such as the American Poetry Review to suffer larger rate increases than large print run magazines.

NPR also reports that, due to such concerns as Stack's, a hearing on the rate hike may happen, but possibly not until October--months after the July increase goes into effect. Please read on...

"Disseminate Information, Protect Democracy
[posted online on May 8, 2007]

NOTE: The following is a letter drafted by Nation President Teresa Stack and signed by her and her counterparts at more than a dozen independent journals to protest a sharp increase in postal rates that will adversely affect small publications. To learn what you can do to help, go to

The Honorable James C. Miller, III
Chairman, Postal Board of Governors
U.S. Postal Service
475 L'Enfant Plaza, S.W.
Room 3436
Washington, DC 20260-3436

April 18, 2007

Dear Sir,

We write to you today on a matter of great urgency. The recent decision of the Postal Service Board of Governors (BOG) to accept the startling periodical rate recommendations of the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) undermines the historic foundation of our national mail system. These new rates will have grave consequences for disseminating the very type of information our founding fathers strove to protect and foster when they first established the public postal service.

As the publishers of small magazines that focus primarily on politics and culture, we share a common mission of providing the information necessary to a flourishing democracy, whether from the left, right, center, religious or secular point of view. We struggle, many of us on a weekly basis, to inform the national dialogue in a way the founders believed absolutely essential to the health of this country. As journals of opinion and ideas, we do not do it for the money--there are far more lucrative businesses--we do it because, like the country's founders, we believe it to be a public good (unlike the mass circulation glossies, which are the primary supporters and beneficiaries of the new rate design).

As you know, the United States Postal Service (USPS) had proposed a rate increase for periodicals of about 11.7 percent in May of 2006, an increase which would have affected all periodicals more or less equally. While this would have been a very large increase, small magazines were budgeting for and preparing for its implementation in 2007.

Instead, in its February, 2007 decision, the PRC recommended a version of the Time Warner (the largest publisher in the industry) rate proposal that had previously been explicitly rejected by the Postal Rate Commission and strongly opposed by the USPS, and that had a disproportionately adverse effect on small national publications, while easing the postal burden on the largest magazines. The PRC ignored its own precedent and instead accepted a proposal from a segment of the industry that not only fundamentally changes the historic ethos of our postal system, but does so in a breathtakingly short period of time.

While in theory interested parties could participate in the rate case between the USPS recommendation and the PRC decision, and those (unlike us) with very substantial resources did, it was impossible for us to judge how the Time Warner plan would affect individual small titles, and frankly, most of us did not think an industry-generated plan that had previously been rejected would be chosen over the USPS proposal. After the dramatic and unexpected PRC decision, there was an industry "comment period" of only eight working days. This was an impossible amount of time for small magazines to digest changes so complex that to this day there is no definitive computer model to fully assess the actual new charges.

We now know that small titles will be devastated. According to an analysis done by McGraw-Hill (but not, inexplicably, by the PRC or BOG)and presented to the Governors in its comments, about 5,700 publications (almost all of small or medium circulation) will incur rate increases exceeding 20 percent, with another 1,260 publications seeing increases above 25 percent, and hundreds more incurring increases above 30 percent. Some small magazines will no doubt go out of business. Some will be forced to produce a lesser product to pay for these increases. Meanwhile, the largest magazines will enjoy the benefit of much smaller increases or in some cases (1,260 publications) actual rate decreases.

Journals of opinion, all of which struggle financially, will be hard hit. The American Conservative's postal costs will increase by 23 percent, and The American Prospect's by 21 percent. The American Spectator's rates will go up 18.5 percent, The Nation's and Mother Jones' by 18 percent, National Review's 16 percent, Commonweal's 15 percent, World magazine's 23 percent, In These Times 20 percent, and so on.

These increased rates will also raise the barriers-to-entry for prospective new publishers to such an extent that they will all but kill off the launching of any new periodicals, unless associated with the largest conglomerates, for the foreseeable future. This is a measure therefore that destroys competition in the periodical market and locks in the privileged positions of the largest firms. While it is understandable that Time Warner would relish the idea of making it much more difficult for new competitors to enter publishing, there is no reason to think that it is in the interest of the American people or the market economy. This is an issue the BOG and the PRC have not considered at all, yet the implications are certain to be grave.

To make matters even worse, the PRC-recommended rates also, for the first time in recent history, will charge editorial content based on how far it travels in the postal system, not by virtue of the oft-rejected zoned editorial pound rate but by virtue of a shift in weight-related cost recovery to the various container charges, which are themselves heavily discounted for those who can drop ship (generally the largest mailers). This preference for the dissemination of editorial content has existed since our country's founding and seems to have been summarily dismissed by the PRC, and then by the Governors, with little thought as to its future impact.

Since its inception, the United States Postal Service has recognized small magazines like ours as serving a vital function to the American political system. And while the realities of the marketplace have no doubt required some adjustments to postal costs, the PRC's new rates turn the ideals of Jefferson and Madison on their head: we will now have an entirely cost-based system. Cost-averaging for the periodical class was dismissed. Incremental implementation of higher rates was rejected. Small mailers were told to change their editorial (just a simple "business decision") or to co-mail or co-palletize (even while the BOG recognized the implausibility of these options for many titles, not to mention the demonstrated inability of the market to handle even all current co-mailing requirements).

Even if the argument can be made that a cost-based system trumps all other interests, the USPS remains in effect a government monopoly. Small publishers were totally blindsided by this decision. We are, for the most part, small businesses - to raise costs so dramatically without our input and with no recourse is devastating. No trade organization or high-priced consultants and lawyers defended our interests. Comments on how these changes would affect small titles were heard only from companies that could afford to provide them, via expert testimony and top-notch legal advice. No one from the PRC even analyzed the effects these new rates would have on the thousands of magazines like us, at least as far as we can tell. No one considered how a small business would accommodate a 30% increase in one of the most expensive, if not the most expensive, items in its budget. This rate case process was unorthodox and unaccountable to the very industries most affected.

Instead of the preference periodicals were entitled to throughout this country's history, the PRC has adopted the most burdensome requirements for magazine mailers, with the most complex rate structure of any class of mail and surcharges for containers not found anywhere else in the postal system. What is the justification for changing a historically preferred mail class into the most bureaucratically burdened and cost-based of all mail classes in the span of a single rate case? Periodical rates ought to be the least cost-based, because it is a class that exists for content. It appears as if the PRC and the BOG have in fact completely dismissed the ideals that the country's founders articulated when they instituted the national mailing system, ideals that have been eloquently defended in every past rate case.

In accepting the Time Warner rate plan, the PRC and the Governors have allowed the cost-based proposal of one of the country's largest mailers to trump all public and small business concerns. Small magazines that have historically contributed to the diversity of voices and opinions and have an out-sized effect on our public discourse (versus their relatively small circulations) are now potentially silenced so that the likes of Time Warner can mail People more cheaply.

We appreciate that costs increase and mail technologies change. However, the mail system is a public system, and the dissemination of small magazines remains a public good. Accordingly, any changes should be implemented gradually and on a cost-averaged basis so as not to threaten the very existence of the small magazines that have always been considered, at least until this latest rate decision, absolutely essential to a vibrant democracy.

We would ask that:

1. The Board of Governors moves quickly to delay the implementation of these new rates, allowing an additional period of public comment and

2. A full assessment and justification of the new rates and their impact on the public good is completed. And if the new rates cannot be adequately assessed and justified at this time, that the decision of the BOG is revised and the new rates revoked.

3. Whether it exercises its right to file another case under the old reform law, or whether it moves right to the new law's provisions, the Postal Service shifts some of the added burden from the smaller circulation publications that manage to survive until then.


The American Conservative, Ron Unz, Publisher
The American Prospect, Diane Straus Tucker, President and Publisher
The American Spectator, Alfred Regnery, Publisher
Columbia Journalism Review, Evan Cornog, Publisher (added 4/20)
Commonweal, Thomas Baker, Publisher
Foreign Affairs, David Kellogg, Publisher (added 4/23)
Harper's, John R. MacArthur, Publisher (added 5/4)
In These Times, Tracy Van Slyke, Publisher
Mother Jones, Jay Harris, President and Publisher
Ms. magazine, Katherine Spillar, Executive Editor
National Review, Jack Fowler, Publisher
The Nation, Teresa Stack, President
The New Republic, Elizabeth Sheldon, Publisher
New York Review of Books, Rea S. Hederman, Publisher (added 5/3)
The Progressive, Dennis Best, Associate Publisher
UU World Magazine, Tom Stites, Publisher (added 4/20)
Washington Monthly, Nicholas Penniman, Publisher
World, Nick Eicher, Publisher
YES! Magazine, Fran Korten, Publisher"

New Issue Review: Post Road no. 14

Based in two literary hot spots, Cambridge and New York, started in 2000 by Jamie Clarke and David Ryan, and now captained confidently by Mary Cotton, Post Road is one of the hippest young literary magazine around. Not that it's fluff. It is very much art. It is, more exactly, a little magazine put together by people who are very excited by literary magazines and what goes into making them, something certainly not always the case. Post Road is a good example of the results of passionate editing and staff work and a seemingly constant effort to make their issues, well: good looking and new. And their newest issue, Post Road 14, continues to express the keen talent of the people at Post Road for publishing art and literature that wakes you up from your usual reading experience.

A perusal through the issue is like reading The New Yorker dipped in a Delillo novel and served with sides of Rain Taxi and VF Proust Questionnaires. Read a list of electric blurbs by literary recluse (and genius) Thomas Pynchon: "Mind-warping in its vision, absolute in its integrity, Arc d'X is classic Erikson--as daring, crazy, and passionate as any American writing since the Declaration of Independence." Read a new twist on J.M. Barrie's original Peter Pan in a brief review by Mary Gaitskill: "I recommend it somewhat incidentally as a book that doesn't condescend to young children, who (being human themselves) know in their hearts every horrible thing that human beings are capable of and every sadness that human life entails." Read a candid and self-conscious interview of Amy Hempel by Adam Braver: "I feel uncomfortable with everything about writing. Really, I resent the fact that I've published X number of stories now for more than twenty-five years and I still feel stupid when I sit down to start something. And I think I would--but at the same time I think I wouldn't--trust the feeling that I knew what I was doing, that I knew my way around, because that would suggest to me just what you're saying; well, if it's obvious, I must not be thinking." Check out poetry by Elliot Liu ("as paragraphs collapse/from the margins in, the rebels/are proving too literate"), a discussion of food and literature by Irina Ryan ("Soviet poetry, too, tried to convince the general public that their stomachs were more filled than they actually were"), an arrestingly blunt new story called "Marge" by Michael Lowenthal ("He tippytoed nearer, his mouth up in my face. I saw a smear of Hershey's on his teeth. His breath was like the Y locker room at closing time: bleach trying to hide a human stink. I made a guess about what he had swallowed") and color images of captivating installations and paintings by a talented array of artists. The issue is packed with poetry, fiction, reviews, and essays, most of which prove to be more than well worth the read. The end Questionnaire in this issue is with satirist and short story writer George Saunders. On being asked what reception of his own work has surprised him, Saunders replies, "I'm always surprised that 'Hamlet' is so widely believed to have been written by Shakespeare. I worked really hard on that one, for like a straight month. And this was before computers, so I had to write it with a quill pen. And I don't even know French, so had to write the whole thing using a French-English dictionary."

At a $10.99 cover price--dollars less than a Murakami paperback or tickets to the movie--Post Road 14 is a good investment, if only to be reminded of the eclectic space where writing lives.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Found in Fence: Fiction from Ken Foster

"I was thirty-four years old when I adopted my second child, at a pet store on Highway 41. I had only gone in for some Kibble, for Max, and was looking at a few chew toys."
-Ken Foster, "Feral Children"

The power of fiction is due to language's birthplace in metaphor. Because language itself is a web of allusions and references, so is a story. When a single word can seem slightly magical in its ability to mean a variety of things at once--seeming then to allow us a fleeting glimpse of the fabric of life--a story, as it is language embedded with character, plot, and setting, is that same magical quality to the power of a thousand. In a good story, instead of only glimpsing the fabric of human life, we can feel as though we are looking at that fabric head on, even if only for a few lovely moments.

Ken Foster's brief story "Feral Children" from the most recent issue of Fence is one of these stories. (Foster is the author of, most recently, The Dogs Who Found Me, and the issue of Fence in which his story appears is vol. 9 no. 12, pictured at left above.) Foster's simply told story of another universe where people adopt and care for feral children (as opposed to dogs or other animals) is a story grounded in metaphor, though it is not a traditional allegory. It is the unique sort of allegory that makes the reader pity the characters in the allegorical representation as much as they pity the reality the allegory is understood to represent.

"Feral Children" begins with the narrator going to a pet store and adopting his second child, Dora (a possibly skewed allusion to another caged woman, Ibsen's Nora). The narrator then engages in a hilarious conversation with an overly pushy and opinionated woman with the Humane Society, who are at the pet store to "set up their cages and lure people into adoption." The narrator ends up taking Dora home, where she and Max get along swimmingly: "Max was older, but could barely outrun her, and every time she came close to catching up, Dora let out a quivering yodel of a war cry. Finally they collapsed together beneath one of the overgrown shrubs."

As with all great fiction, simplification drains it of its mysterious power. Basically, "Feral Children" is the heartbreaking story of a man who adopts feral children and keeps them as pets at his home--a behavior, though at first sounding strange, even mean, is a normal behavior in the world of the story, something everyone does in the same way we keep our pets on leashes or lock them up in our cars as we "run" into the store (fiction, it has often been said, makes the strange familiar, the familiar strange). Foster (a last name that seems a too perfect allusion to child foster homes) forces readers to look nakedly and truthfully at their relationship to pets, at what pets represent to us beyond the joy they bring. What are our responsibilities, and when is our good judgment not enough? He seems to pose the question: How differently would we treat our pets, our "best friends," if they looked just like us? And then, what about pets that bite, feral pets? What about feral children?

...But we don't want to say any more about the story, as it is only 4 and a half pages in its entirety, and every bit of it is an eye-opening, wonderful reading experience. Every piece of "Feral Children" seems to have that quality Francine Prose once described as a definition of a good story: it feels as though the top of your head has been lifted off. It is a cross between Borges, Carver, and Hempel, all at the top of their form. The best thing Luna Park could tell you about "Feral Children" is to read it. The tragic ending will revolve in your mind for days like a haunted ferris wheel. And you will look down on your pets as they have always looked up at you, with new, curious eyes.

Monday, July 9, 2007

From the Newsstands: New Fiction from Mississippi Review vol. 35 no. 1&2

From the Newsstands is a section of Luna Park featuring work from just released or soon to be released issues of little magazines or journals, online or in print. As this section is an attempt to showcase these magazines as well as generate interest in them, specific information about the issues and where they can be purchased or accessed will also be provided.

The following is a story from the most recent issue of Mississippi Review, vol. 35, no. 1&2, spring 2007, $12.5o; Frederick Barthelme, editor. This is their annual MR Prize issue containing the poetry and fiction prize winners, along with several runner-ups in each category. Mississippi Review has been published steadily since 1971, and is available in some bookstores, through DeBoer and Ubiquity distributors, and directly through their website (linked above).

In Madrid, at Kiko’s

Elizabeth Hille

After my father’s funeral I left Ohio and went back to Madrid. Days later we had another party. Kiko and Christina sat on the mustard-colored couch I’d pulled from our street. It didn’t have cushions, so we used folded blankets instead, but they weren’t fluffy in the same way. High or not, the two of them looked like creamy dark-haired elves. Kiko’s decaying flat was where the three of us lived then, and he’d painted each wall a different, bright shade. For all the parties I decorated the large cold rooms with candles. Everyone had taken something different, and we were waiting for it to come on. For us, it was mostly Ecstasy. I’d never had this opened feeling in the Midwest, but in Spain I felt more allowed. I could call myself anything and no one would know the difference. Confidence, I dimly reasoned, might be geographic. I was somewhere around twenty-four, five.

People were in groups of two or three, and I inserted myself near Kiko and listened to his jagged Spanish accent, hoping for the good feelings to start. Sometimes they didn’t. Our friends mixed, mine trying to speak Spanish, theirs English, and all the people were dancing in a harmless friendly way. Months later Kiko’s liver got really sick and I’d left, but the entire time I was there I loved Kiko and Christina fiercely and easily in that non-exhausting way love often works when you know you’re going to be attached to someone only for a short time.

Quickly I found there was one man at the party I hated. He was British, and all his stories were about how much money he spent. “Kiko, okay,” he said, “stop holding out and give us more.” The man’s eyes were already shaking. Kiko didn’t speak English, so I translated as he studied the Brit. Kiko gripped the Brit’s wide shoulders so he’d relax and I told him, None left. The Brit’s eyes blinked so fast they seemed to curl inwards until finally someone offered him another bump. I hated him because he kept saying everything was just so crazy and his tongue would dart out the side of his mouth. When he moved out on our small balcony I wondered what would happen if I shoved him off. It wasn’t that far of a drop. I got a drink, which scattered my hate for a little while, but it all came back together later.

I distracted myself by talking to a beautiful boy with dark wavy hair, a round kind chin. He reminded me of someone, but I couldn’t think who. David was his name. The last syllable pronounced closer to a th: Davith. We tossed that back and forth. I’d never known American could be considered exotic, but for some reason it was, and I thought it better not to question it. This helped me be bold in Spain in ways I wasn’t in the Midwest. I never thought I could choose before. Davith took my hand and pressed it into his. I could tell he took care of things. He had green-hazel eyes with little lines and when he opened his mouth to speak I saw it was big and gentle. It seemed like a safe place to crawl inside . He’d probably like it if I did some damage too. We both knew what would happen.

“I sell restaurant supplies,” he said. It took me some time to understand because I didn’t know the word supply in Spanish, but it didn’t matter, because anything he said sounded like seduction.

“I teach English,” I said.

“You told me,” he said. I looked around, searching for something else to say.

On the corner table sat untouched plates of jamón serrano, sweaty Manchego, chunks of bread. Of course no one was eating. Kiko had asked why I wanted to put the food out in the first place. I told him it’s polite to have snacks, but he was right, the pink thin slices of pork looked sick. I broke free from Davith to quickly transfer all the food into the darkness of the kitchen. No one should have to look at it. I shoved everything in the corner. I turned and watched a group of three people firmly reach for each other until they formed a kind of knot. Their heads leaned in as they whispered their secrets. I stood some ways away and strained to hear what they said. They radiated absolution, but I was scared to be too near. Months ago, in Ohio, I’d insulted my father as he drove me to the airport, trying hard to strip him of his dignity, and then I’d stolen some of his money. Then he died.

I was rescued from the kitchen by a thin couple who’d been eyeing me. I let them talk me into the empty white room. Both of them wore black and had square-framed glasses. They said they studied semiotics and giggled. We tried to talk about that, but it went nowhere. Their attention was excessive and hungry, and I let them devour me with it. They wanted to do something that night that both of them could share, talk about later. I liked their focus and was flattered to participate. They asked what Ohio was like as their fingers kneaded mine. Not everyone owns guns was all I could think of to say. Only maybe half. They asked me about fatness and TV shows, and I babbled in a frivolous way so none of us would pay too close attention to where everyone’s hands were. We had a little show going. Some people glanced in.

“Well, there’s lots of space for graveyards,” I said. This stopped them, so it could have been I didn’t know the word for cemetery. The whole time their eyes kept meeting, but missing mine. Loneliness started hammering at my chest and I couldn’t catch my breath. Something wasn’t working and their hands felt cold and rough. I gotta go, I told them, and left them there to gnaw on each other.

I stopped in our tall yellow hallway. The walls were crying, but not sadly. I ran my hand down the soft painted stucco and hundreds of years came off under my nails. In my mind, my future stretched out before me like a sun-soaked highway. Before, I didn’t mind waiting to find it, but now it’s all I thought about. I was trying to get one of those yellow, haloed moments that just opened up and I didn’t care where it went. Like the time I was with my first love on our cozy damp futon, exhausted and sore. I was twenty and amazed at the beauty of his chest, the wood paneled walls, and how sweetly the room smelled of us. It was late afternoon, humid in Indiana, and we were naked, eating cereal and drinking wine. I’d just won a game of gin rummy and he leaned in to kiss the long scar on the back of my calf, a leftover from falling on a broken gin bottle at one of my parents’ parties. My dad had quickly poured whiskey on it to sterilize the wound. My first love ran his lips over my puffed-up scar until my whole leg started to glow. I walked differently, stronger and more tenderly after that. Where was he now, with his wet yellow mouth?

“I need more,” I said into Kiko’s pointy ear when he walked by.

“None left,” he answered. “You always want,” he said. A wave of broken grins sailed across his lovely jaundiced face. I pinched him, he hugged me. We had something. Small, beautiful Christina came over, and we all laughed about nothing. We gripped hands and a swell of euphoria welled up, then broke, and I felt so flooded I thought I might drown. I rooted in my brain for a word and hallucinated love. I whispered my idea to angelic Christina and she congratulated me on my syntax. My Spanish was so much better when I was high. What I imagined fluency would feel like, sentences spinning out of me carelessly.

Soon they moved away to talk to other people, and the familiar restless itch began to eat at my stomach. I looked around at what I could do. Some people I knew were dancing. They pulled me into their hot sweaty circle, and I let them wrap their snaky arms around me. The Brit ran his sarcastic hand through my newly short hair. Christina had cut it with meat shears. This is how it looked, blunt and staticky, when I stood next to my father’s casket. It’d been months since I’d seen him, but he was serene in a way that was new. He didn’t look like himself, and I wanted to close the casket because it seemed profane that everyone should be able to look at him so openly. I tried, but the fat hand of the funeral director stopped me. No, no, his shook head said. After, I got drunk in honor of him. I think we all did but I can’t remember. Then there was yelling, and I used my free ticket back to Madrid.


In the spirit of things, I folded into the mass of dancing people. Arms and faces blurred into a mosaic of strange fellowship, an attempt at family for the evening. I looked around Kiko’s bright blue living room, at all these strangers whom I wouldn’t know next year. Dancing next to all of those people I realized there were only two, maybe three, that I’d miss, but that’s probably how it is everywhere. Who misses everyone? There’s always a hierarchy of missing. Someone passed me a joint, other people were doing lines. I danced with the Brit, found out he was a friend of a friend, his face a smeared smile under his beard. I forgot I hated him until he grabbed my head to kiss me. A gesture of goodwill or beauty, but I didn’t like it. He reminded me of no one I’d ever known. His English accent disgusted me. It was so arrogant. Who was he to judge? He kept talking about how Americans were Britain’s children and so that made me, in some confused and stupid way, his long-lost child.

“But I’m older than you,” I said.

“I mean figuratively, you know, symbolically,” he said.

“Look,” I said, “come this way.”

We went into my room and shut the door. I didn’t like him, but I let him kiss me, put his fingers inside me. He tasted angry, and his tongue jerked in and out of my mouth. I slapped him for fun. He turned his head so I could hit the other side. I smacked harder and we laughed. I’d forgotten his name. He pushed me on the bed and unbuckled. We could communicate easily.

“This is repulsive,” I said, but I was smiling. “Does this mean we’re still related?”

“Come to Daddy,” he said.

I pushed myself off his chest. He thought I was teasing, saving some for later. But it was just that I was reckless, bouncing my desire off someone to see if it would stick, have any effect. If it wasn’t in this country, it was in a bar, at some other party. I’d put anything in my body to see if it turned into love.

“I know this game,” he said happily. I left him there with his pants down. I searched him for any kind of shame, but left disappointed.

I fled into the bright green dining room and found Davith talking to a Spanish girl. I slipped my hand into his and her smile didn’t falter. She carried herself like a float queen. Her long hair fell in perfect curls, and she smelled like flowers. I couldn’t help touching her. Her smile said, Please don’t. At that moment I wanted nothing more than to impress her. Underneath us, most of the old parquet tiles were broken. I flipped one over with my shoe to show them the cool, packed dirt. This is where I live, I said. They laughed at my gurgled sentence, thinking me cute. Then they said something I didn’t understand. I stood there with a nervous smile until Davith pulled me into him. Proof that something I had he wanted.

We went to sit on the stained mustard couch, and I felt his muscles tense and give under my hands. The music was going and everyone had crowded into Kiko’s blue room.

“You’re beautiful,” Davith said, as if he meant it.

“Say something else,” I replied. He spoke in long sentences, and I translated them in my head.

I avoided the eyes of the Brit, but then looked at him when I kissed Davith. He stared and licked his lips. He was letting me know how wrong I was and that he liked it. He didn’t have to say anything. This warmed my chest in a cold red way. The skinny couple laughed in the corner, but not mockingly. Kiko and Christina danced together. Other people were smoking, drinking orange juice, conjugating verbs. Everything seemed to be turning out okay, or at least not horribly.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered into Davith’s ear, but he didn’t know what I was talking about, and I wasn’t sure either. But I knew I was. All I wanted was for him to forgive me, but he refused to understand. Anyone could baptize me, maybe even in the bathtub. Then all I’d have to do was let the dirty water circle down the drain. It could be that easy. Christina might do it for me, but she was busy. I almost asked the Brit, but then I heard him say the words so crazy to the beautiful Spanish float queen and I abandoned my plan.

Sometime later I led Davith to my bedroom. It was so effortless. He was soft and big and surrounded me. I felt small under him. He hugged me, pushed my hair off my face. Something shifted in my spine and my face was falling down. I felt leaden. Things started. He responded and we got into my bed, but I was so wound up I could barely breathe. I heard my housemates laugh in the other room. The Midwest and its long flat roads were far behind me. My father was dead, and I was more glad than not but I wasn’t thinking that then.

“Spain is beautiful,” I said in Spanish.

“Why did you cut your hair like that?” he asked.

“I like it,” I said. No way was I going to sleep with him now.

I watched the light creep in under the French doors, trying to make its way across the old ceiling. Davith started rubbing my back, trying to get me to breathe, calm down. I felt his skin on mine, but he could have been anybody. He was soft and too gentle. I wanted passion! I wanted him to rip my clothes off. Cover my mouth and hold me down like that other one did. Instead, he kissed my body up and down, curled around me. I’d just learned that in Spanish you say me voy when you are close to coming. I wanted to go, but he wasn’t going to take me anywhere. The light finally stuck itself onto the old faded ceiling, behind both French doors. Davith thought I was cold, so he hugged tighter. I think there was more speed in my pills than MDMA. It took me years to unwind.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

How the Paris Review Made Popular Literature, Literature Popular

Why choose for our first little magazine essay to feature The Paris Review, a magazine which receives more press coverage than any other literary magazine in America? Why give yet more attention to the magazine that was first published in 1953 and in only five years Time Magazine was already calling it "the biggest little magazine in the world?" A magazine that by its fifth year had already landed interviews with Hemingway, Faulkner, and Thurber? Well, exactly because of these reasons, actually. Because, through all controversy (and there has been some) and advantages (some there to) that have been given and gotten by the review throughout its 54 year history, The Paris Review seems to deserve nearly all the attention it gets. Though not the longest running literary magazine in America (see Sewanee Review, Poetry, North America Review, and Yale Review), The Paris Review is the most recognized literary magazine foundation America has.

It is not an exaggeration to say that nearly every literary magazine editor in America today would cite George Plimpton (the magazine's editor from its inception until his death in September of 2003) and The Paris Review as major influences. There are only a handful of people working in the arts over the last century who garnered this sort of across-the-board respect. From the beginning--with a first issue including E.M. Forester, William Styron, Robert Bly, George Steiner, current U.S. poet laureate Donald Hall, Terry Southern, and many more--the magazine has been able to both publish the best literature available and to somehow also say what that literature--what literature itself, in some respects--is. William Styron and Donald Hall both worked on the magazine and many of the others were close friends with Plimpton and the others. Whether they realized it or not fifty years ago, when many of the review's founders were recently out of ivy-league universities, over the next half-century The Paris Review was to become not only a recorder of what Styron called in the magazine's first issue "the good writers and good poets, the non-drumbeaters and non-axe-grinders," but it would also come to designate just what good writing was.

In Paris, 1953, George Plimpton, Peter Matthiessen, William Styron, Harold "Doc" Humes, John Train, and a few others put out the first issue of The Paris Review. From then on, Plimpton, along with anyone he could persuade to help him, constantly pushed to keep the review alive, the subscriber numbers (the only true sign of health for a literary magazine) up. Rumor has it that it was not uncommon to have a conversation with Plimpton end by him pressing into your hand what he called "the Editor's calling card," which was none other than a subscription card. "No harm in filling one out," he would say. He seemed to have had an a priori sense that the work was worth it, that keeping a literary review alive, after five years, after ten years, after twenty, was a worthwhile thing to do in the world. And what is perhaps shocking about this attitude for Plimpton (and since he was in many respects The Paris Review, it became the magazine's attitude as well), was that Plimpton came from a family of privilege. And he was very successful in his life at other things besides running a little journal. He was in films. He wrote well-received books. He hung out with stars. And still he spent long hard hours promoting, editing, organizing, budgeting, and fundraising to publish a small short story and poetry magazine in Paris, and later from his small apartment at the end of 72nd street in Manhattan, overlooking the East River. One can only wonder how much passion and persistence can drive any project, or if Plimpton was just the right person at the right time.

On September 26, 2003, George Plimpton died soon after The Paris Review fiftieth anniversary issue had been completed. On the issue's cover is a drawing of a large horse carrying a small man who is politely tipping his hat. In the last Paris Review preface he wrote, Plimpton ended with a cheery encouragement, congratulating "the horse and its rider." It was almost too perfect. Could he have known somehow? (Similarly, Charles Schultz died soon after he had finished the final planned strip of his comic, Peanuts, which ran in newspapers the day after his death.) The horse was the magazine, taking up half the cover image, and the small man sitting atop of it was Plimpton, gently doffing his hat, forever confident and genial, trusting the horse, riding along until the very end.

Today, after a bit of struggle in the transition, The Paris Review is in the new and, it seems, very capable hands of editor Philip Gourevitch (author of We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families), along with a recently acquired board of directors. So far the magazine's quality has not slackened, though Gourevitch has shifted the format away from the magazine's traditional focus on fiction and poetry, and added more journalism, non-fiction, and photography (we are, it is true, living in the age of image, and the new graphic literary journal certainly reflects that fact). Also the magazine has adopted a larger, flatter format. If the magazine will last another fifty years while continuing to uphold the standards of the first fifty, only the future can tell. So far, contrary to Brigid Hughes understandable criticisms, the issues are consistently fine. The new summer issue treads both old and new ground, with an interview with Norman Mailer, poetry from Baudelaire and William Carlos Williams, fiction by Andre Aciman, and photos from Raymod Depardon. And it would be a shame to miss a new story by Benjamin Percy (2007 Plimpton Prize winner) in the spring issue. Percy, first published on, consistently represents the wilderness and mystery of Oregon with the intelligence and delicacy it deserves, a landscape largely non-existent (except in some stories of D'Ambrosio) in modern American short fiction.

[From everyone at Luna Park, though we never knew George Plimpton in person, we knew him as we could through his collaborative work. He is missed.]