New Pacific Northwest Lit Mag Reminds Readers of the Joys of Art for Art's Sake
On one of my recent visits to social media, the Internet informed me that I really must buy a certain T-shirt: a basic white crew neck printed with the words YOUNG ASPIRING ARTIST, with the word "artist" crossed out. In one version, the word “Astronaut” was scrawled underneath the crossed-out "ARTIST"; in another, it was “President.”
“Is it supposed to be like that?” I asked the Internet.
The Internet sneered. “Yes,” it said.
I felt a familiar heat climbing up my neck, and tried to calm myself. Too late, though — the Internet had seen the flush of shame and went in for the kill, listing all the reasons that art-making makes absolutely no sense. Apparently there are many sensible and financial reasons not to be an artist, so this took some time.
One thing I’ve noticed about the Internet, though: when it starts holding forth on things like this, it doesn’t seem to notice when I shut my laptop and pick up a lit mag.
The inaugural issue of The Timberline Review, with its unfettered love and enthusiasm for literature, is the sort of balm that helps to ease the sting of my Internet encounter. Take Brian Doyle’s introductory remarks, which set the tone for the issue and, perhaps, the journal: “It’ll never make any money,” he writes, “So what? It’s a village green for stories of all sorts, and stories at their best are food and prayers… Therefore this brave and foolish thing is something I salute and celebrate. It doesn’t make any sense. Isn’t that great?” You bet.
Doyle’s remark informed my reading of The Timberline Review, which is, in fact, very much like a village green: it’s alive with so many different voices and approaches to literature that it’s hard to tell where to start. There’s a generous scope here, and it seemed to me this journal was still joyfully exploring a wide range of possibilities for itself in the years to come. Did it want to be bold? Fun? Serious? Meditative? Experimental? This is not a journal preoccupied with strict thematic concerns or a lofty reputation. Rather, its selections show an obvious exuberance and authenticity that I enjoyed, even if I wasn’t always sure how the pieces in the journal spoke to each other or informed the larger whole.
The TimberlineReview is a publication of the Portland-area nonprofit Willamette Writers and the region was well-represented in the list of contributors. Yet this issue’s dozens of poems, stories and essays also included many contributors from elsewhere. That said, members of Willamette Writers get their submission fees waived (and all contributors get paid a little, too).
With forty-odd poetry selections, The Timberline Review supports poetry by making lots of space for it. The selections here skewed more towards free verse with narrative qualities over either traditional verse forms or heavily experimental pieces. Standouts in this poem-heavy issue included Jennifer Foreman’s poems, and a particular favorite of mine was “My Love For You.” This poem surprised me with its deep resonance, expressed as it was in the evident simplicity of childhood imagery: “My love for you doesn’t use napkins / it licks its fingers clean / grinning with pride / for what it’s just done.”
This is not a venue for tough, cynical poems; there was a lot of warmth in the poetry I found here, from the quiet spareness of “epilogue” by Andrew Michael Roberts to the intergenerational narratives of “Summer, 1971” by Jeffrey Alfiers and “The Europa” by Roisin Kelly. I was delighted by the sheer variety on display.
This issue contains nine pieces of fiction, including two Kay Snow Writing Contest winners. One of these awards was for YA / middle grade fiction; I don’t see much YA pieces in the lit mags I read, so was happy to find it here. Accessible fiction seemed to dominate the collection, but my suspicion was that the editors might be open to some nonlinear storytelling or experimental qualities as long as it served a larger idea. The Kay Snow adult fiction winner “Marcie’s Baby,” for example, employs second-person POV, lots of wordplay, and a fast-paced delivery to tell the story of Shiva’s birth.
The wonderful “Yes” by Margaret Malone, on the other hand, is a more straightforward narrative about a seventeen-year-old girl who accepts a marriage proposal from a twenty-three-year-old man and embarks on an ill-advised road trip with her new fiancé and his chain-smoking mother. The girl ponders, “I wonder if this is what it is like to be married, alone and obligated all at once.”
“When had it fallen apart?” by Jennie Kiffmeyer was a psychologically probing story about the last days of a teen’s life after a terrible accident told from the point of view of the mother. There’s a little bit of everything here in this collection of bold, messy, human stories.
Creative nonfiction selections ranged from short experimental essays to more plainspoken meditations on childhood. Robert Vivian’s “Read To You” opens the issue with a kind of breathless invocation told in a single page-long sentence: “May I read to you tonight, may I pour out my voice to you, lowering the sluice gates, opening the windows of my mouth and birds bursting forth in so many words and may I read to you.” I’ll end up quoting the whole thing if I’m not careful; I was very taken by this short essay’s whirling, evocative, unconventional quality. Barbara Lee’s “In the Shadow of Hanford” was another standout, though in a very different vein from Vivian’s essay. PNW locals will recognize the Hanford Nuclear Site for manufacturing plutonium for the Manhattan Project. Here is the story of a family of “downwinders,” those who were dosed with radiation via drifting emissions, told with an eye on both the personal and wider-ranging impacts of Hanford.
Snotty T-shirts on the Internet aren’t even half of what makes me grumpy on any given day. I’m thrilled that some folks decide to be astronauts, and as for presidential hopefuls — well, my opinions on that are more complicated. I’ll say this, though: that some folks feel moved to respond to life in art provides me with relief, and that someone is willing to put together a brand-spanking-new print lit mag in a world that brings well-established newspapers and magazines to their knees is remarkable. I even like the cover art: a woodblock print of a grand old tree from an earthbound viewpoint. It strikes me as both true to the PNW landscape The Timberline Review comes from and also gestures towards discovery, somewhere in the canopy. It makes me want to climb up, just to see where it goes.