Curious Oddities and Odd Curiosities
What Black Warrior Review's website will tell you is that it's a literary magazine out of the University of Alabama and that it publishes a mix of established writers with new writers, and that the editors welcome submissions year-round. But what their site won't tell you--though you might be able to guess from the artwork--is how versatile, eccentric, experimental and playful the journal actually is. To get this kind of knowledge, one has to read the journal itself. The Fall/Winter 2009 issue is a great place to begin.
In the best of the work here, writers reveal myriad stylistic possibilities for narration. Alice Hammond's "Tuesday's Child" is a story. About a man. Tormented. Alone as his wife gives birth and then the baby does not make it. Fear unraveling inside him. Him watching his wife, not sure if she's made it. His silent screams. His heat. Him breathless and "Light backing away from the curtain edge." A harrowing piece.
Janice Lee's "A Man Who Is a Red Tree" is a daring story--something to show high school students to break them out of the Intro-Body-Conclusion mold of essay writing. This piece of nonfiction, which contains no capital letters, uses striking poetic language and soothing repetitions to tell a story of a daughter's relationship to her immigrant parents. "what i'm trying to say," Lee writes at the end of yet another beautiful paragraph, "is that for an immigrant, or for a red tree, there is always a performance quietly occurring."
Along this arboreal note, Peter Markus's "What This All Used to Be, or Where Now All We See Are Trees," is not for readers ADD-at-heart. His writing is lovely and fresh, yet will require the kind of attention demanded by tricky riddles. The story begins with short one-line sentences, "See the boys go. Hear them tune. Here they come now." Then the sentences grow longer and more developed--"At night Jane waits for You and Him to ride by her red house on blue bikes that make the dark turn on and off like a blue light." Later, there are no paragraph breaks at all. Two more traditionally narrated stories include "What Can Be Learned," by Chloe Cooper Jones and "Viewer, Violator," by heavyweight Aimee Bender. According to the contributor notes, "What Can Be Learned" is Jones's first published story. A hearty congratulations to her. This is a mesmerizing, heartbreaking story of a young girl who is caught in the crosshairs of her mother's self-destructive depression and her father's abandonment. Maggie is seven or so years old, and the story is through her point of view. Yet it is never precious. On the contrary, there is a rugged precision to Jones's writing that lets you lose sight of the child-as-narrator in much the way Maggie's mother seems to lose sight of Maggie. Reader, be forewarned--when Maggie curls her pet kitten to her chest and tells him, "Shhh, you're okay...You're the best, Banana," you might become uncontrollably weepy. But only for a minute. This story's ending will knock and shock that sentimentality right out of your system.
For a good laugh, "Viewer, Violator" is a delightful story written from the point of view of a museum guide elaborating on the history of a particular painting. The artwork, which looks amateur, actually has a canny life of its own. As you read this, you will wonder about the power of art to work like Rorschach blots upon its viewers. You will laugh at the idea of your own boss losing her mind. And you might even begin to believe in ghosts. Or maybe you will simply laugh more over the prospect of your boss losing her mind. In front of museum security.
There is a wealth of poetry in this issue with a full range of forms and styles. Claire Donato's "Foreplay Heart" is a fun surrealist prose poem divided into three paragraphs. "Wear self-adhesive material and rub the family car of three young children," Donato writes. "Reach into dirty dishes, then part the automobile." Are these lines taken from different media and employed here as a collage poem? Is there a message here that Donato is trying to impart in these bizarre phrasings? Do we need to know, or can we just enjoy the music? You decide.