Lit Mag Offers Celebration of Literary Craft
The Winter/Spring 2017 Issue of The Southampton Review is dedicated to “the visitation of the muse to writers and artists,” and it reads like a celebration of craft, rich in form. In addition to the usual fare of creative nonfiction, poetry, and fiction, this issue offers glossy art and cartoon portfolios, craft essays and humor pieces, an adapted short screenplay by Helen Schreiner, and a writers panel from the 2016 Southampton Writers Conference, moderated by novelist Jessica Soffer.
According to Editor-in-Chief Lou Ann Walker, the art in this issue was selected for its “emphasis on story and the fantastical form,” including the curious cover image, Corinne Geertsen’s “Stopping by Woods,” of a rickety UFO and a girl dressed in a cloud. The image hints at a playfulness, which this issue delivers on with Douglas Lawson’s short story, “Love in a Kitchen Garden,” about a hermit with Extreme Chronic Irritability who battles garden gnomes come to life, and Jenny Allen’s satirical, “My New Unguenteur,” boasting a beauty product that blends with the vapors of your dreams and only costs $13,000.
Several pieces explore the writing process itself, like Michael Maslin’s brief, ten-panel “A Cartoon about Writing about a Cartoonist,” which opens on his 1999 decision to write a biography of famous New Yorker artist Peter Arno. As the title suggests, this piece focuses not on Arno’s capacity to “graphically report” his times or his “unbelievably graphic life,” but on the challenges and anxieties Maslin faced as he shifted from the comic form to biography and the fifteen-year process of writing the book.
Time as an element of the writing process also features prominently in Martha Cooley’s nonfiction essay, “Translating Tabucchi in Switzerland.” Cooley, a native English speaker, describes her experience of collaborating with her Italian husband Antonio Romani to translate the works of Italian writer Antonio Tabucchi, whose stories are “all about time,” in Switzerland, famous for its time pieces. According to Cooley, the work of translation is a type of dance between languages, one that “begins not with speech but with silence.”
While Maslin and Cooley examine the process of writing, other pieces look at language itself, such as Grant Snider’s “Adventures of the Ampersand,” an origin story of sorts, in which Ampersand, the product of two letters’ love, must find his place in the world, and Daniel Menaker’s funny, language-loving essay, “The African Svelte: Ingenious Misspellings That Make Surprising Sense.” Menaker, like Maslin, is a former New Yorker staffer, and while working as an editor there, he fell in love with errors in usage referred to as sveltes that are “aesthetically, often visually, even philosophically pleasing to the mind’s eye and the eye’s mind,” as in: “The zebras were grazing on the African svelte.” As Menaker notes, what makes sveltes so funny is not the fact that they’re wrong, but that despite being wrong, they feel so right.
The works of eight contemporary poets are published alongside “The Indications,” an excerpt from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and Carl Sandburg’s “Languages,” from his 1916 collection Chicago Poems, which likens language to a river, “crossing borders and mixing,” and eventually dying like a river. Also in the issue, Percy Bysshe Shelley claims poets as “the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” and Sir Philip Sydney argues that “of all writers under the sun the poet is the least liar.”
These essays, originally published in 1840 and 1595 respectively, sit nicely against Mitchell King’s poems, the most electric of the issue, which explore the meaning and purpose of poetry in contemporary times. In “The Psychic Hotline,” “The psychic shares / the same space as the poet then, living between the words artist and scam,” and in “Dolly Parton Signed This Poem”: “A poem is a / zinger, a stab-wound, a band aid and each morning we wake / up writing, hoping to find that, yes, there is still more to love.” The pieces in this issue intersect and collide in surprising and satisfying ways, collectively offering a message to creators to press on, no matter how hard it is, how long it takes, or what it is we face.
The issue closes with “Hexagon,” in which Billy Collins admires the “six-sidedness” of his pencil, preventing it from rolling off the table, “finding an open window / and vanishing into the clouds,” calling back to Geertsen’s cover image.
Altogether, this issue feels like a carefully curated meditation on its theme and a lovingly created offering to the muse, if not a bit too tame, lacking in pieces that excite form. Of the nine fiction offerings, the most experimental play with point of view. In “Initiation,” Caitlin Mullen captures the frat boy mentality deftly using the collective first, and in “On a Good Day,” a Taiwanese writer who goes by the singular Jeordie uses second person to place the reader into the mindset of a man who has made the decision to die but can’t quite follow through, drifting from one suicide scenario to the next: “You are not sure whether time is passing by or running you over.”
While The Southampton Review may not be the venue to submit your more experimental pieces, it isn’t a mere playground for the pedigreed. Despite the big names and New Yorker references, contributors include both established and emerging writers, making the journal an excellent place to see your work next to that of literary legends.