Wednesday, August 29, 2007

From the Newsstands: Poetry and Fiction from Versal no. 5

Begun "in the winter months of 2002, the cafes of Amsterdam," Versal is the only English language literary magazine in the northern European country, and one of the few in Europe. The magazine publishes an intriguing and highly literary blend of fiction and poetry, along with a good serving of modern art. According to its editors, Versal's name "comes from Shakespeare's cropping of 'universal' in a line from Romeo and Juliet. At first signifying the universal, 'versal' later took on a connotation of the rare and unique." The following are excerpts of poetry and fiction from Versal's fifth issue, which can be purchased at bookstores or directly through the magazine's website: (You can read an earlier Luna Park review of Versal 5 by Gregory Napp here.)

"Upon the death of his friend Halszka in 1986, Roman Opalka went back to Warsaw to find his work. After unbelievable complications with customs, the Polish administration only let him take out thirty paintings, thirty drawings, thirty books, thirty etc. His choice made, Roman Opalka destroyed whatever was left in a devilish and sensual rage.

In 1979, Alain Villar threw a small stone sculpture from his balcony. Then he finished it off with a hammer.

Raoul Hebreard carefully sawed up one of his sculptures in 1997. He then made shelves out of it.

In his garden, Simon Hantai buried the gigantic paintings he had made for his exhibition at the CAPC in 1981. Fifteen years later, he dug them up and reused certain bits and pieces which he called The Leftovers."

-from a piece titled "An Inventory of Destruction" by Eric Watier, translated by Simone Manceau


"Every train goes to the whisper plain.
On the plain, the bells ring with ten fingers.
Their flutey whispers can be heard in the queues.
The ringing of their wheels is the delicacy
that stitches the wind..."

-excerpt from the poem "Carnival" by Theodore Worozbyt


On our march to the sea we carried bottles of the rarest green glass, each one filled with dreams, the kind of dreams only happy dogs have, with muffled barking under breath and fragile paws running. The streets were full of the ghosts of all our dog dreams. We stuffed them into bottles and marched to the sea to toss them into the waves.


Once, three children sat in a circle, somewhere in the sand, dropping dreams into tin cans full of rusty rain. Speaking backwards to one another so no one else could understand, they took turns telling a story.

III. The Backwards Children's Story of Glass and Dreams, and of Armies
Once, on an island, was another, a smaller island. The first island was Glass, and held the second, the Island of Dreams, within. The Island of Glass was walls and shining, glittering tubes and pipes sneaking their way between buildings holding giant slick machines. The people who lived on the Island of Glass and worked the machines were all eyes to the ground, and spoke only in mumbles and murmuring gasps, as their bodies desperately tried to remember air. And when they slept, which wasn't often, their dreams were caught by a tube which was built into their brains, just behind the eyes, so that no dreamer on the Island of Glass ever saw their dreams before they were whisked out of the dreamer's head, and away from their homes, and over the city, where each person's tube met a larger crystal pipe which sneaked and snaked up and through the walls and onto the Island of Dreams...."

-excerpt from the story "The Backwards Children, and Their Dreams" by Charles Geoghegan-Clements

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Writer Grace Paley Dies from Breast Cancer at 84 Years Old

"This is a hard time for publishers, even the big ones, though every now and then one of them will find it possible to give one a one million dollar advance to a well-known money maker. It doesn't always work. The small and the not-so-small independent bookstores that civilized and improved our towns and cities have disappeared."

-Paley in her introduction to CLMP's 2005/2006 little magazine and press directory

Grace Paley, renowned short story writer (and essayist, poet, and activist) died yesterday(see NY Times obituary) in her Vermont home at 84 years old. Paley published many of her stories in small literary magazines, such as Fiction, The Noble Savage, and the New American Review, just to name a few. She was a master of the craft. (Click here for an insightful 1992 interview from The Paris Review, and here for an interview from PEN America.)

(Paley photo by Karl Bissinger; from book jacket for Paley's book of short stories, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute)

Friday, August 24, 2007

Found in Hanging Loose: Art by Zevi Blum / Poetry by Writers of High School Age

"During the day
we have impromptu ice cream parties on the screen porch
to catch the sugar while it's frozen."
-from "Summer," by Clare Jones

In a very general sense, what gets published in literary and little magazines (artistic publications with a vision apart from the popular or commercial) are literary and artistic works of the circus--works on the outskirts of the larger culture, in tents along the side of the road, pulling carts full or trinkets and whistles, wearing scarfs and outlandish hats; wanting badly for their fanciful productions to be heard, seen, enjoyed (wanting, really, only to entertain), but content enough to go on performing either way, whether people stop to watch or simply continue on to other, more practical, destinations. Where would we be without such distractions of the spirit, such waylays to the everyday, light fantastic adventures of the imagination?

At least for now, such questions don't have to be answered, as there thankfully exist literary magazines, circuses, street artists, high-flyers, tightrope walkers, and the carnivalesque etchings of Zevi Blum. This month, Blum's work can be found in quality reproductions in the latest issue of Hanging Loose magazine, published in Brooklyn, NY. The issue contains a wealth of work by Blum, whose etchings fill the front and back covers, in addition to more etchings on eight color glossy pages inside.

Blum's colorful etchings (each seemingly composed of a hundred pastel shades) revel in the unusual and unordinary, and in doing so they are satires of the modern world, where the unusual is so hidden that it's oddity is multiplied to an absurd level when it finally reveals itself. The theme of all Blum's etchings is, according to Oxford Gallery's James Hall, "that of human inventiveness gone awry," and so they are cousins to such works as Alice in Wonderland, Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel, and the paintings by Brueghel the Elder or Hieronymous Bosch. They are the sort of works that excite language in the mind of the viewer--words such as fantastic, trippingly, arabesque, vaudeville-- but do not, in themselves, cry to be interpreted. Like the circus itself, the only desire of Blum's etchings is to entertain; to entrance the viewer through humor, mystery, and fantasy; to disorder the mind towards enjoyment. (But, if you still want a lucid and penetrating interpretation of Blum's work, see James Hall's aforementioned essay on Blum's website.)

Blum is a proficient and practiced artist; born in 1933, he has taught at both Ithaca and Cornell and shown his artwork in many galleries. And such training in his craft is evident in the patience and skill it must take to create his intricate and imaginatively detailed artworks. Some artworks give us the opposite reaction; not one of admiring the studied ability of the artist, but instead causing us to marvel over the raw inventiveness of youth. Also in the recent issue of Hanging Loose, is some unexpectedly powerful poetry from young artists in Hanging Loose's ongoing series, "Writers of High School Age." All of the poems featured in this section are moving works filled with touching and absorbing poetic language and unique images. Sure, they might not compare to a "Sailing to Byzantium," but they have their a distinctive flair of charisma and energy that one can only find in the young. The poems seem fresh and internal--internal in that studious unaware quality of monks and artists, a quality that come naturally to the majority of those without yet 30 years into the world.

Above all, the poems of these young writers is memorable. Some, due to their subjects, publish themselves in readers mind more surely than others, such as Naomi Forman's lesbian-tinted prose poem, "Summer Lovin'" ("I shiver in the dry heat of our cruel Arizona July"), or Rosetta Young's poem of youthful compartmentalization, "When We Were Countries" ("The broken kind, with borders like horseshoes"). But none of the poems are as powerful as Clare Jones's piece about the aching humid heat of a Louisiana summer, "Summer."

"The AC shuddered, sighed, and passed out last week," Jones begins her poem, "curled up like a cat in the ducts and died." The writing continues to evoke suffocating feelings of entombment in the unrelenting hot. In her poem, Jones captures a truth about living in a humid southern climate: when the summer heat is at its peak, it saps not only people's strength, but it also dulls the edges of their thinking. Jones writes: "I can't remember--/ about the way you said.../ I've lost it now." There is a stifling quality to the entire poem, as though the voice is trying to make it through the subtle summer madness to the fresh air of autumn. The voice shifts constantly between "we" and "I," as though the narrator is struggling to be heard beneath the communal suffering of the weather. She calls a last time, "wake up," only for the unflinching heat to instantly reply, "dissolve," because, in end, the heat "leaves not a trace behind."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bernhard DeBoer, Little Magazine Distributor for 60 Years, Closes Down

The following is a memo quoted in full from Faye Kosmidis, owner of Bernhard DeBoer, announcing that they will be closing:

August 20, 2007

Dear Gentlepeople:

With deep regrets, I am sorry to inform you that the changing economic climate in our industry has forced us to close our doors after 60 years. We appreciate your support and loyalty over the years and wish you luck in your future endeavors.


Faye Kosmidis

, Bernhard DeBoer, Inc.

In Praise of Pushcart: the 2007 Pushcart Prize XXXI, Best of the Small Presses

"She's holding a rabbit,
wearing a flowered dress
that melts into a background on flowers."
-from "Portrait of Her Mother as the 19th Century," by Keith Ratzlaff

Here's an excerpt from editor Bill Henderson's introduction to the 25th anniversary of the Pushcart Prize as he reminisces about the Prize's origins: "Twenty-five years ago, Pushcart Press threw a party for the first Pushcart Prize at Manhattan's Gotham Book Mart. All of the 70's literati showed up to sip white wine from plastic glasses and wish us well. I am looking now looking at photographs from that gathering. In one, I am standing near a young John Galassi--now head of Farrar, Straus & Giroux--and poet John Ashbery. In another, Francis [sic] Steloff, nearly 100 years old, founder of the store, laughs with Nona Balakian of the New York Times. Harold Brodkey had just entered the room behind them." All that was 31 long years ago, and times have inevitably changed. The 2007 Pushcart Prize XXXI Best of the Small Presses was released earlier this year. Ironically not long after its publication, the Gotham Book Mart, where Henderson describes the original launch of Pushcart Press has this same year auctioned off its stock of books and shut its doors for what is sure to be its final time.

Bill Henderson. The name means a lot to nearly anyone who has spent a good amount of time writing, editing, or reading little magazines, as his Pushcart Press publications and annual Pushcart Prizes have for over thirty years strived to bring more attention and recognition to the world of little magazine publishing. Something of an everyman's George Plimpton (of similar Plimptonian verve and devotion without the luck of Plimpton's moneyed birthright), rumor has it that Henderson continues putting together each collection of Pushcart Prize in "a small hut in his backyard, heated with a space heater, a testament to his astounding dedication." And, as he states in the introduction to the newest Pushcart Prize edition, Henderson only recently got over a bout of cancer--it's a three page introduction, most devoted to writing, a paragraph to the loss of his dog, Lulu, and only this to his own cancer infection: "I received a diagnosis of cancer, since purged." That's putting literature (and pets) first.

Originally beginning his career as a literary writer (his first novel published under a pseudonym), Henderson soon moved on to publishing a well-received book about self-publishing (including pieces by Anais Nin, Richard Kostelanetz, Gordon Lish, and more), a venture which, in the pre-internet world of the early 1970's, was a much more underground affair. This book on self-publishing--The Publish-It-Yourself Handbook--was Pushcart Press's first book, which in 1978 had already sold 22,000 copies. (The name Pushcart Press Henderson has credited to George Plimpton and his Fifth Avenue Project Pushcart protest, which was an attempt to bring attention to "publisher's ineptitude in getting books around.") It was the enthusiastic reception of the Handbook that led to the development of an annual prize anthology by Henderson: the Pushcart Prize series. As is apparent by the list of some early supporters of the anthology--Anais Nin, Buckminster Fuller, Charles Newman, Daniel Halpern, Gordon Lish, Ishmael Reed, Joyce Carol Oates, Leslie Fielder, Paul Bowles, Paul Engle, Ralph Ellison, and Reynolds Price--such a publication was much desired.

And it still is today. Only last year the Pushcart Prize series was awarded with both the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Lifetime Achievement Award and the Poets and Writers/Barnes and Noble Writers for Writers Prize.

This year's edition of the Prize is another collection of outstanding work by some of the worlds best authors, all published in little magazines and small presses. In its pages are such pieces as: Benjamin Percy's often commended and fascinatingly powerful story "Refresh, Refresh" (from The Paris Review), an homage to Thom Gunn by Philip Levine (from The Georgia Review), a call to environmental awareness by Wendell Berry (from New Letters), a heartbreaking piece about our relationships to pets by David Schuman (from The Missouri Review), and a mournful, and simply described poem by Lisa Olstein (from Crowd). In its nearly 500 pages of writing, Pushcart Prize XXXI continues to be a steady testament to, as Sven Birkets, editor of AGNI, recently wrote, why we need little magazines "not less as time goes on, but more." "Because they are not essentially playing the for-profit game," Birkets goes on to say about the little magazines, "they can hew just a bit closer to their own self-originated standards. They represent literature and opinion in repertory, talents en route, freeze-framed; they are a staking of bets on artists and artistic tendencies by editors who dream of eventual vindication." In many respects, Pushcart was created to be that vindication. And it remains so.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

New Issue Review: Versal no. 5

[Review by Gregory Napp]

For those unfamiliar with Versal, it is a beautiful publication, the brainchild of an active group of poets and writers who found themselves in Amsterdam in 2002. It is Netherlands’s only international literary journal. It is an independent annual, available at select bookstores in major cities around the world, as well as online at The editorial team, led by American poet Megan M. Garr, includes Anna Arov, Prue Duggan, Kate Foley, Robert Glick, Terri Hron, Cralan Kelder, Kai Lashley, and Mirabai Lacazette de Monchy.

Versal’s latest volume, its fifth, maintains the consistently attractive design that made the previous annuals so pleasurable. Here, on page after page, work is presented so as to hit the eye directly, barely encumbered by titles and authors, which live on the outskirts of the frame, allowing us to experience the whole according to whim, so that leafing through the issue is like dining à la carte.

That would seem to suit Versal’s objective perfectly. Volume five makes accessible distinctive work by fifty writers and artists hailing from all over the planet--a little taste of a lot of things--heartening success for an international journal that, as editor Megan Garr writes in the issue’s introduction, aspires to the achievement of a “comprehensive (read: exhaustive) literary community...where aesthetic mastery and diversity can exist simultaneously and over a wide (literal/figurative) geography.”

The issue is devoted largely to poetry and includes work from some notable poets who have had limited exposure in English (which is reason enough for some of us to look for a copy) as well as a contingent of more familiar poets, including a number of American and British ones, but about a quarter of the issue is short prose--a healthy dose, even if these authors are not quite as diverse in terms of nationality. Except for Billy O’Callaghan, whose touching piece of Irish experience is, at six pages, the longest work in the issue, the prose writers are Americans.

But, of course, Versal’s geography is both literal and figurative, and the artists, writers, and poets here certainly present a range of styles and concerns of a breadth not attributable merely to nationality.

A glance through the issue reveals a number of translations, the first of which is of a list compiled by French artist Éric Watier, of destructive acts performed by artists against their own works, called “An Inventory of Destruction.” “Raoul Hébréard,” one line reads, “carefully sawed up one of his sculptures in 1997. He then made shelves out of it.”

Another translation, an interior-monologue vignette by Enes Kurtović, a poet born in Bosnia, winds its way among day-to-day concerns and intruding cultural ephemera, all subtly shaded by the speaker’s underlying concern that something in his day, somewhere, has been left undone.

“Four Henrys,” a stark, surreal piece by Tsead Bruinja, takes Henry Kissinger (or, rather, four of him) as its central figure and “our eternally burning world” as its subject, beginning: “four tight-suited henrys lie with their bellies / on a chair swimming through the air.”

And the work done in English is equally various. The contributors’ notes reveal diverse backgrounds, as well as a broad array of publication credits, confirming Versal’s commitment to bringing new voices in addition to more established ones. The work is quality, and its selection indicative of the editors’ keen desire for “work that is urgent, involved and unexpected.”

A tiny sampling reveals songs of objects to other objects, some of them just barely enigmatic; hypnosis; a field guide to lying still; disembodied heads; unaided flight; word experiments. But there is also no shortage of realism. O’Callaghan moves us with his piece on the death of an Irish grandmother, whose songs have made of her a living history; there is “Little Red Books,” a poem where the children must chant, Long live Mao!; and there are others. Fifty contributors.

Fifty contributors in only one hundred and eleven pages--it is another testament to the balance of its design that this volume feels rich but never crammed, but it is also testament to the selection of work. I have been trying not to use the word eclectic to describe the contents of the fifth issue of Versal because I do not want to conjure the idea of a hodgepodge. The issue is eclectic, but it does not feel like a hodgepodge. I have compared it to dining, and it is tasty. A different way of putting it might be to say that in this issue, as in the past, the journal’s lack of formal/aesthetic restrictions, in tandem with its innovative design, has allowed it to express an organic blend of disparate flavors.

Gregory Napp is a fiction writer and editor of the online flash fiction site 971 Menu.

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.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Found in The Georgia Review: Essay by Albert Goldbarth

"Everybody's backed by a second narrative. Everybody's nickname is Ace."
-Albert Goldbarth, "Everybody's Nickname"

"We can rig a supernove in a super laptop jiffy."
-Goldbarth, "Budget Travel Through Space and Time"

According to poet Albert Goldbarth, we are double. The spring issue of Georgia Review (vol. 61, no. 1), contains an essay by Goldbarth that is an addictive blend of the pulp science fiction works of Ace Books, Allen Ginsberg's Howl, life in Midwest cities, cognitive neuroscience, and a woman named Gaea. The essay is both a nostalgic reminiscence of Ace Books' double novels and an inquiry into how our lives are always bifurcated--or, as Goldbarth puts it, how they are always "backed by a second narrative." Using Ace's double novels as his primary canvas, Goldbarth paints a convincing landscape of the multiple world in which we all seem to live. (And the essay is sectioned off from the rest of the magazine, printed in full-color, on glossy, and with the essay's own cover page--Georgia Review obviously sees they have something special here.)

From the start, Goldbarth's essay crackles with linguistic vigor and an obvious love of pulp writing. The work begins with quotes from covers of some Ace books: "
MAROONED ON A WORLD OF MONSTERS! SHOWDOWN ON THE SUN'S LAST PLANET!" Goldbarth's appreciation for the zany plot manipulations and punchy titles of Ace books is infectious. Along with a penchant for outlandish other-worldly language (also apparent in his book of poems Budget Travel Through Space and Time), the writing of Goldbarth the essayist has, luckily, much in common with Goldbarth the poet--so we still get such lines as "What thin spit and ephemeral synaptic flimmer bind these halves together," metaphors such as, "If she were the earth, then she had two orbiting satellites: my eyes," and nicely extended conceits, such as the driving one of mankind's essentially dualistic life, from brain science to personal narratives to the literature we enjoy.

Reading Goldbarth's essay about these thirty-five-cent sci-fi novels from the early American 20th century--novels unabashedly titled
The Dark Destroyers, and with cover blurbs like "NO PLACE ON EARTH TO LIE DOWN!"--it is difficult to tell exactly how serious Goldbarth is being and how much he is just having a good time. Not that it matters, and maybe that is some of what the essay is driving at: it is in such fun-books, genre fiction, tall tales, that we can see much of our own psychosis and narratives written back at us bald and alive.

Goldbarth's main point is compelling and difficult to miss: we lead multiple lives, often unnoticed or unappreciated by us. "The brain is butterflied into its left-right hemispheres:" he writes, dovetailing an appreciation of Ace double novels to the dual nature of the human brain. "Sometimes, in a certain aspect, they work with a uniform will; at other times, these wings have seemingly landed here, each from a different world, and become hinged arbitrarily." Goldbarth mentions often (in relation to himself and others) how we tragically disregard our other selves ("
A CHASE THROUGH ALTERNATE WORLDS!"), sometimes at our own peril.

And, on top of such a swashbuckling-wham-banging ride of an essay, Goldbarth also includes an illuminating and fascinating story about how--thanks to Allen Ginsberg and his muse, Carl Solomon--some of the beat writers were first published by none other than Ace Books. Goldbarth describes his own youthful reaction to these long lost gems of pop-literature: "...almost all 262 of the gaudy lilies published as 'Ace science-fiction-doubles' were gilded with lovely, punchy, overly zaftig descriptions. '
PRESENT AND FUTURE CLASH IN A WORLD OF THE PAST!' You betcha. Resistance was futile."

At the end of the essay, there is the sudden desire to wish that this was only a first chapter to a longer book on the world of pulp culture, fiction, and doubleness by Goldbarth. Maybe (hopefully) there is more to come on the subject. For now, we are left with this, engaged once more to see our lives, not only in the canon taught to us in school, but also in those works of fiction which captivated our youth: "I look at that earth, through time and wine and a thousand compounded emotions, and I look until there are many earths, or anyway many planets, zooming amazingly through the skies of those books I used to read for just thirty-five cents. In one, the aliens clobbered us. In another, we emerged triumphant. Whoever the 'aliens' were by then--whoever 'we' were."

Monday, August 6, 2007

From the Back Issues: New York Quarterly no. 59, William Packard memorial issue

Little Magazines, Little Books
by Travis Kurowski

"The New York Quarterly is an amazing, intelligent, crazy, creative, strange, and indispensable magazine. William Packard surely must be one of the great editors of our time."
-James Dickey

"Civilization is individual," said Ezra Pound. William Packard quoted this phrase of Pound's to end an essay on the state of American poetry, which was republished in the 2003 New York Quarterly memorial issue (pictured right) dedicated to Packard, the magazine's founder and longtime editor. Packard's essay was written largely in reaction to the increasing number of graduate writing programs throughout the U.S., and how these programs seemed to him to be growing more impotent and false. Packard was a creative writing teacher himself, and so certainly did not condemn the entire field. But true, riveting art, Packard asserts in the essay, comes from within. This is certainly true to a great extent, but it is also true that nearly all artistic production in the world is collective; one need only look at art galleries, theater productions, book publishing, carnivals, architecture, and throughout the publishing history of literary magazines such as the New York Quarterly.

When I bought issue 59 of NYQ (Packard memorial issue; cover: all black, three solemn pictures of Packard's face in the center; back cover, only: In Memoriam, William Packard, 1933-2002) four years ago from Powell's Books, I was largely uninitiated in the world of literary magazines (I had maybe flipped through an issue or two of The Paris Review). I did not conceptualize any sort of ontological difference between the magazine I had purchased and the shelves of literature--of books--that filled the next room. Both were literature in the Poundian sense: "Writing filled to the utmost with meaning." It was this issue of the NYQ more than any other other little magazine I can recall that embodies how Jonathan Lethem once memorably described Boston literary magazine, Post Road, saying, "I keep them lined up on my shelf like little books, because that's what they are." Like little books. He could have said, like small gifts, tools, references, companions. What differs a little book from a big one? How do we treat them differently? I treated that issue of NYQ how I treat so many little magazines now--the same as when I was a teenager I kept copies of Hemingway, or how I treated the novels of Philip Roth during those first confusing years just out of college. I behaved towards all these things as though they were something to be prized. For weeks I carried issue 59 of NYQ in my shoulder bag, showed it to friends at parties, lectured my poor friends about it, bought people copies of it as presents, and then, at home, stuck it onto the piles of books which lined the walls. Instead of treating the issue as a magazine, as a compilation of disparate elements, I treated it as a book--which, then, is what it was.

The issue begins with new editor Raymond Hammond writing about Packard's funeral, and, at the same time, he is writing proudly about the future of NYQ (the magazine had folded for a while during the previous years when Packard was sick). Next, is a reproduction of one of NYQ's famous craft interviews, this one with Packard himself. Then more Packard, even some of his poetry ("i am always elsewhere/ always anywhere/ but where i am right now"). What is shocking--what I remember hardly noticing my first read--is how almost seamlessly, with no editorial force, the issue transitions perfectly into the usual NYQ fare: ribald, alive, shouting, moody, cacophonous poetry--which, to a young man fresh out of college (me), seemed a breath of fresh air. A breath of real writing. Of the underground literary world I imagined existed, what Henry Miller called the writing from the streets, and not "literature" as taught in school. The New York Quarterly seemed the opposite of school. The opposite of debt. The opposite of capitalism, checking accounts, petty jobs, rejection slips, and so many often trying things. (I had as a young man a dream of starting my own journal of the "real" writing out there, the stuff that wasn't getting published but was 100 times better than that found in the New Yorker, and this, I thought, thumbing again and again through NYQ's pages, was it. It was already here.)

I have since changed my ideas about writing, literature, youth, age, responsibility--about even the New Yorker. But I haven't lost my initial feelings for this issue of NYQ. Fresh out of college with a writing degree, the issue felt alive in ways some other books feel like, well, pressed paper: useful, but overall inert. There was a life to this issue commemorating a man's death. Holding the copy now, cover scuffed and pages creased, it still feels that way, like it did. Like the sharp end of youth.