Heartbreaking Works of Staggering Prettiness: A Lit Mag Explores Pleasure
The front of this issue of The McNeese Review reads: “The theme of this volume in which our contributors tried to respond through a variety of methods both subtle and not so: 'Pleasures'.”
From the get-go, I took pleasure in:
1) How pretty the front and back covers are. Classic. Three colors (black, white and a pale-pale blue) and some drawings. Nice font.
2) How the paper feels. I don't know what it is, but the paper feels better than any other paper I've felt in a lit mag. It's like, smoother, or something. Some kinda magical sea-glass paper, I'm telling you.
3) The Editor's Letter. It's just pretty. I made my first little star in the margin, right next to the last paragraph of the Editor's Letter. It reads, "But as the new editor of this journal, it gives me pleasure to slide this collection of others' work across the table to you, watch you lift it like a fine fiery drink and hold it curiously to the firelight."
Isn't that beautiful? The Editor's Letter was one of my favorite things about this magazine.
This issue of The McNeese Review slides poetry, nonfiction, fiction, photography/art and interviews across the table to us. There are lots of translations included. And by lots, I mean five. But that's a lot considering I usually only see one or maybe two in other literary magazines.
In a poem by Caleb Curtiss called “Bob,” he writes “(calves drooping over the sides of his boots, scrotum like an airplane pillow.)” And when I read those sorts of things, I know I'm dealing with some real writers who know what they're doing. Those lines paint such a vivid scene, I had a hard time getting them out of my head. In “Augur of Latitude”, Brent House writes, “& a curse of acclimation shall come your blood shall set as blackstrap molasses your mouth will not taste peach muskmelon or pear in season.” Such deliciousness to read aloud. I could taste the words in my mouth.
I also loved “The Echo of Wonder” by Louis Jensen (translated by Thomas E. Kennedy.) Seven little sections of wonder that revolve around death, the ocean, falling in love, birds, trees, forgiveness and summer. What else is there in this life? He covers all the bases, beautifully. “In The Heartland” by Cheryl LaRue is another beauty, as is “Desert Deep” by Casandra Lopez. There's a poem about Elvis and there's a poem about Judy Garland and there's a poem about autumn. I can dig it. Bunches.
Thomas E. Kennedy translated some of the poems included in this issue, contributed a nonfiction piece called “I Should Have Been a Taxi Driver” and he is also interviewed in the issue as well. I enjoyed “I Should Have Been a Taxi Driver” and reading about his take on poets/poetry and the role that poetry took in his life growing up. I love reading about writers/their childhoods and what got them to where they are. Kennedy speaks of his mother's love of poetry. He writes “Perhaps the idea formed in me as a child, with memories of lines, scraps of poetic language in the mouths of my parents. To rebuff an unwanted embrace in the kitchen, my mother would quote Coleridge, declaiming mock-seriously to my father, 'Hold off! Unhand me, graybeard loon!'” He also quotes “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot. Reading this piece reminded me of being in college again, in a good way.
In another nonfiction piece, Sonja Livingston writes beautifully about sad, beautiful things. What else can we ask of a writer? She writes of a child who begins weeping after hearing Mozart played in music class. “It's just so pretty, she said, the music is very pretty.” Livingston writes of her experiences counseling children, their stories. I love her use of language. One paragraph begins “What exquisite lies they tell, little girls. What perfect fictions.” And this on sorrow: “But of course, sorrow has been with us long before Middle English or any English, before the human condition was made into noun or a verb, from the moment the heart leapt like a fish inside the first human chest.” This was a heartbreaking work of staggering prettiness and smallness, of staggering tragedy and sadness.
Andrew Touhy contributes three flash pieces of nonfiction, one of which is only ten words long, twelve if you include the title “Sudden Memoir.” Each piece is placed across from a page that contains one small black and white photo.
In fiction, “The Irritable Recluse” by Tim Peters and “Couch People” by Amelia Gray are the experimental pieces. Peter's piece is handwritten, complete with doodles and Gray has contributed a two-character play. I didn't really “get” either one of them but I'm not a huge fan of most experimental work so feel free to nevermind me. I'm okay with not getting things. None of the fiction knocked my socks off, but the poetry and nonfiction were lovely enough to make up for it.
On the whole, The McNeese Review seems to have a little something-something for everybody. Lots of professors are included in this issue and a few first-timers, too. I'm always stoked to see a list of contributors that includes first-time publications.
Closing out the issue, there's an interview of Saundra Beasley, "On Pleasures" by Amy Fleury. Amy asks, "What pleasures would comprise your perfect day?" Saundra Beasley answers, "A lazy morning of waking up with my love; indulgent food such as pork ribs and french fries and collard greens cooked down with vinegar and hot pepper; a few hours of reading in a rocking chair; a little poem drafting; finding a hideaway spot where there's a blues band so I can dance those calories away, flask in hand. So I guess I could also put it this way: my perfect day takes place in Mississippi." I enjoyed reading that little paragraph at the end as much as the little paragraph at the end of the Editor's Letter. Pleasurable indeed.