Cross-Training: An Online Journal That Excels in Many Genres
With over a decade under their belt as promoter of art and its interpretations, The Adirondack Review, first established in 2000, likes to dabble in a little bit of everything. Each issue features fiction, poetry, book reviews, translations, photography, artwork and on occasion, interviews and essays. In short, AR has a soft spot for the limitless breadth of creativity. As a result, each issue’s roster feels diverse in voice and approach--muscular in both genre and execution.
AR’s approach is an example of the subconscious threads different artistic stylings conjure when placed in close proximity. Perhaps this is best illustrated on TAR’s index page for their current issue. Each genre’s contents are separated and accompanied by either a photograph or piece of artwork. This “pairing,” so to speak, almost serves as an abstracted sampling of what each genre contains; where, without having even read the accompanying short story or poem, you’re already contemplating how the artwork amplifies the title published alongside it. It’s a happy accident of sorts, an exercise in the value of letting variations of art coincide.
Normally, I skip around when reading a literary magazine, often tucking into an intriguing poem midway through, but I’m actually quite happy I read the first piece featured, “Virgin and Egos,” a short story by Marshall Moore. The story is humorous and vulnerable in all the right ways. Its protagonist, an unnamed man, who had his heart broken early on by his childhood dog, breaks open a strangely desensitized but wholly empathetic world of “sugarcoats,” that is--a contracted relationship breaker-upper (I wonder if such things exist on Craigslist...).
Moore blends witty humor and a wistful splash of romantic pandering here. Among my favorite lines: “I don’t like the term sugarcoat.” “It’s the oldest profession.” “I thought prostitution was the oldest profession.” “Men had to break up with their girlfriends before they could go to the prostitute, right?”
The ending, too, has a neck-breaking wit; one that some might find too indulgent, but to me, the ending (and no, I’m not giving it away) feels like the perfect amount of Are you kidding me?! and--for lack of a better phrase, Sucks to be you.
Similarly, Brent Holt’s “Disappearaphernalia 2” works well because of its awkward, yet amusing, rendering of a family of masturbators. Clearly, Holt knows the weight of a first line: “Pearl is at wits’ end, taken there because everyone around her is always masturbating.” Okay, you got me. Now tell me more.
Just as intriguing as the narrator’s pre-teen plight is Holt’s use of third person omniscient. The story’s point of view keeps us from passing judgment on what would be an otherwise melodramatic retelling of a quirky family & the moody daughter caught in the middle of it all. Holt is smart to let someone else tell the story. Pearl’s character and her masturbatory family are a strange combination of good intentions and guffaw-inducing sexuality.
Riveting, too, are the poems selected for this issue. Among them includes a featured assemblage of poet Tryfon Tolides’ work. Tolides poems use domesticity as a landscape (“cleaning the yard”; “the sound of the stove/and of the juice cooking”) but traverse the interior life and come to such stripped, bold offerings of solace as in his poem, “After,” the final line concluding: “Happiness is not complicated.”
Karen Skolfield’s poem, “The Sound Under the Car Can’t Be Good,” begged to be read, and re-read and re-read. I was more than happy to oblige. The situation is a strange one-- imagining the sound of “a wad of plastic bags melted to the exhaust” as reminiscent of “not children in distress, but children/wanting to be noticed.” A disturbing revelation even further complicated by the speaker’s willful ignorance:
...I drive slowly, the hands tiring, the hands giving up hope,
even resting sometimes, children’s hands, palms that will bruise the next day, a reminder of a woman trying not to hear.
Overall, it seems AR feels so whole because its contents weave a varied tapestry of consequence, and what it means for each writer. There’s room for the exploration of consciousness in Homa Zaryouni’s translation of Bahram Sadeghi’s “An Unexpected Guest in the Big City,” where third-person and first-person repeatedly coincide.
You’ll find, too, fiction that straddles the line between prose and poetry, as artfully rendered by Shoshana Sumrall Frerking’s “Cell Songs.” A fourteen-line story about a father and his ill son listening to the son’s bone marrow recording, and their disparate interpretations of the son’s fate.
Not every literary magazine can afford to spare space for more than one piece by a contributor, but thankfully--as a digital compendium, AR can. (I say “thankfully” because AR doesn’t just highlight the same instincts or devices an artist can offer.) Allison Wilkins’ two poems, “Girl Who Tells Stories to Dogs” and “Summer of Ticks,” of course, appear next to one another, but they’re delightfully different in discourse and form. I love seeing writers flex their muscles. Wilkins utilizes the oft-debated prose poem form to chronicle dog as superhero, her use of anaphora evocative of a child’s insatiable energy while simultaneously reminding us of a child’s inability to focus on one thing very long. Alternatively, “Summer of Ticks” features a more abbreviated syntax, in turn elevating Wilkins’ imagery:
are car-smashed around every curve.
Brains pop out of their tiny gray skulls. My body becomes something other than a body.
AR’s book reviews include fiction and poetry, written by both AR staff and other non-affiliated contributors. I’d venture to guess that this issue’s book reviews are a fairly accurate indicator of what sort of work AR prefers aesthetically. One review, written by Jason Thornberry, discusses Sandy Cohen’s Revelations, a novel about newly-widowed Manny and his newfound companion, Abis--who, we are told, is in fact Manny’s “other self, his unconscious.” This novel seems ot unlike AR’s featured translation, “An Unexpected Guest in the Big City,” in its tinkering with the reliability of narrator.
Daniel Howell’s review of Major Jackson’s Major Jackson, Minor Irony, was among the more compelling reviews. Howell organizes his review around Jackson’s voice-- literally and figuratively, arguing the importance of “hearing the marriage [between] what we call ‘voice’ in writing with the ‘voice’ that his mouth and throat” make. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a review that uses a poet’s voice so attentively to enter a series of poems. Intriguing, to be sure.
AR also sponsors a prize: the 46er Prize for Poetry. This year's deadline is December 31st , and the winner will receive a $400 and publication in AR’s forthcoming summer 2012 issue. Get revising, poets!