Just Where is Zone 3 Anyway?
I have mixed feelings about Zone 3. Stories here range from standard character-driven pieces to more unusual and off-beat fare. The poetry represents a range of styles, from narrative to free verse to more structured forms. In general the writing is solid, and offers satisfaction for the full gamut of literary cravings.
And yet, I am deeply bothered by the fact that many of the contributors here are editors of literary magazines. We have Kyle Churney, editor of Blue Mesa Review; P. Genesius Durica, editor of Chicago Review; Kathy Fagan, editor of The Journal; George Looney, editor-in-chief of Lake Effect; Ander Monson, editor of DIAGRAM; Martha Rhodes, editor of Four Way Books; and Valerie Vogrin, editor of Sou’wester.
The practice of publishing so many editors raises some serious ethical questions. How can unknown writers' unsolicited manuscripts compete with those of other editors? The latter might be good friends of the Zone 3 staff, or even people who promise to return the publishing favor sometime in the future. Thus we have to wonder--Is Zone 3 really open to discovering new talent, as their website claims? Or is the journal simply a forum for editor cronyism?
To be fair, not every contributor here edits a literary magazine. But of those remaining, everyone either holds an MFA, is en route to obtaining one, or teaches in a university. Which begs an important question: For the writer who has no university workshop connections, and/or no certified degree, is it even possible to get published in this magazine?
This is not a phenomenon unique to Zone 3 of course. This little magazine is merely emblematic of larger trends in writing. These days, university affiliation is the wave of the literary future, and MFA’s are being doled out faster than you can say “toxic lending.”
Still, if there’s anything that will make an aspiring author feel that she doesn’t stand a chance in this insular network of the well-connected, it’s seeing a cluster of lit mag editors, MFA students, and university professors published back to back in a single journal. What and where, she might wonder, is Zone 3 anyway?
All that said, the poetry in this issue is quite good. Tara Bray’s “To The Ruddy Duck in Hard Times” is a sweet and inventive poem in which a “sorry girl needing work” addresses a duck, hoping to “share your warm blue possibility.” It’s a sad time indeed when we start looking to ducks for assurance about our financial future. Still, Bray’s poem, with its colorful motifs, is a lovely reflection of loneliness and hope.
Also notable is Tom C. Hunley’s poem, “What Can Be Said About the Beautiful-from-a-Distance Elegant Etcetera in the Broken Syllables of Our Imperfect Tongues?” Hunley’s playful narrative poem asks questions about language, naming, and what sense is to be made “in our lusts for lists and our need to name.”
Other notable poems include Jim Daniels’ “Making a Case for the Letter,” which explores the history of a friendship and the loss of a beloved through one single falling leaf; Martha Rhodes’ “Who’s Ill Now”; and Eva Hooker’s “All Through Mothering” and “And Someone Said about Ecstasy: It Is a Loneliness.” Both of Hooker’s poems are searing, resonant portraits of women’s bodies, and female emotional and physical experience in the world.
The fiction in Zone 3 is also strong. “The Concert Mistress Bows an A,” by Chris Israel Jr. relates a story of police corruption and racism in a small neighborhood. Israel makes this story unique by not focusing on any specific individuals, but by detailing the collective experience as it unfolds, as if the only real character is the juke joint itself. His writing is beautiful and evocative: “The moon…flattened her light on top of the…roofs, her light needles through the shotgun holes and cast herself onto the whole party.”
Also powerful was Margaret Holmes’ “Bird,” a story which recounts the relationship between Lucy, a young woman suffering from a severe social disorder, and Bird, a young man with crippling OCD. Their relationship forms, then unravels in a way that is both devastating and believable. I admired Holmes’ ability to portray the integrity of these characters, as well as their personal failings.