Lit Mag Finds Sweet Spot Between Style and Substance
Puerto Del Sol has been in publication for 52 years. The winter 2017 issue is their publication issue and focuses on “exposing the nature of the writer as the producer.” Specifically in this issue, the editors asked contributors to address their process or the how that particular piece came to be. In a letter to the readers, the Puerto team says:
We are in a historical moment in which we believe it has become increasingly necessary to “write this down.” By the time these words are in print, we will be in arguably uncharted political territory, a territory that is potentially riddled with very tangible repercussions for artists and thinkers.
That underlying concern is evident in this issue, but the Puerto team does not shy away from addressing current political issues; they run towards those concerns by including writers, writings, languages, and interviews which many in today’s political arena would see as Others who do not belong in their vision of America.
Puerto Del Sol is organized by MFA students from New Mexico State University. The content of this issue leans towards poetry and fiction with more than half the pieces falling under one of those two categories. The journal also includes artwork, interviews and reviews as well as nonfiction essays.
Puerto accepts submissions of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, reviews, criticism, interviews, translations and artwork through Submittable. They accept up to three poems and prose pieces under 25 pages. They don’t accept previously published work, but they have no problem with simultaneous submissions. They are looking for work that “challenges and recalibrates the status quo (interpret as you will!).” The contributors are a mix of professors and students with practically all of the contributors having publishing credentials.
Twenty-two poems were included in this issue. One that stood out is Ösel Jessica Plante’s “Unfuckable Poem.” She writes:
How ‘bout we go out and dig worms
for date night, how ‘bout we throw out
the Ikea directions. All day I’ve been drinking
like I live inside a Sharon Van Etten song
In addition to the strong writing, the strength in this journal and the aspects that makes it stand apart from other journals are the authors’ notes on process. Ms. Plante shares she wrote this poem the summer she broke up with her boyfriend. Anyone who has ever been through a breakup can relate with Ms. Plante’s “feeling that we are un-whole, unholy, and the pain of vulnerability.” There is one poem entirely in Spanish in the journal and other pieces include anywhere from a sprinkling to prose heavily punctuated with Spanish words. Neither is a deterrent from enjoying the journal for a non-Spanish speaking reader.
One of those pieces with a heavy dose of Spanish words is Joseph Santanella Vidal’s “This Savage Tongue.” It is one of the 11 fiction pieces in this issue. Vidal’s story tells of a woman facing her own mortality alone and questioning where she belongs in regards to her heritage and home. He takes a somber topic and adds lightness to it with the protagonist’s sense of humor and her own struggle with not being as familiar with her native language as she feels she should be. The payoff moment resonates with the reader when the grandmother says, “Remember what I told you in the slaughterhouse.” The protagonist responds, “Don’t worry. I’ll protect this savage tongue.” At that point the reader knows regardless of what happens or doesn’t happen to the protagonist, she is okay. Her questions regarding where and how she fits into her family and her heritage are answered.
There are six nonfiction essays in this issue. All of which are more ruminative in nature. Nonfiction is often thought of to be on a spectrum balancing between journalistic reportage pieces at one end and lyrical essays at the opposite end. All of these essays lean toward the lyrical and nonfiction writers who tend to meditate on a particular topic, may find a home for their reflective essays at Puerto Del Sol. The essays also experiment with form.
One particular essay, “The Privilege Walk” by Rachel Toliver addresses both social justice and her own culpability of privilege in a letter format. Another essay, Jay Ponteri’s “Lady Mary’s New Curling Iron: On Unparagraphing” is a talk delivered at Columbia College in spring 2013, and the entire essay is one long paragraph. Finally Matthew Volmer’s “Note for the Annual Report” is a type of meta-essay on writing a report to submit to his boss proving he is earning his place as a university professor. And finally, Wendy A. Gaudin’s “The Women who Loved Beauty” explores the idea of beauty both how we define it and the impact it has on not only the beautiful but those around them.
There are a half dozen book reviews and two interviews. The interviews are with Kaveh Akbar and Brian Blanchfield. The interviewees are accomplished writers, teachers, and thinkers. Any interview they participate in would be excellent, what was evident on the page and made the interviews stand out though is the fact the interviewers allowed Messrs. Akbar and Blanchfield the space and time to explore and share their thoughts.
This journal is so well balanced. I can’t imagine it without artwork which is a mixture of paintings, drawings, mixed-media, photography, and lithographs. There is a fine line between style and substance. Puerto Del Sol hits that sweet spot. It is not only a beautiful journal to hold in one’s hands but it is filled with beautiful words and pictures. In the closing of the letter to the readers, the Puerto team gives a call to action, “We want you to read and read and read and read and write and write and write and write.” As long as spaces like Puerto Del Sol continue to exist, readers and writers can do just that.