Our Perceived World: A Lit Mag Explores Multiple Dimensions
Salt Hill has been around for more than fifteen years and is affiliated with the Creative Writing Program at Syracuse University. In Issue 29's Letter from the Editors, Rachel Abelson and Gina Keicher describe the issue as “evidence of how capricious and flimsy our perceived world is, how gray and clouded the separation between phenomenological reality and the science fictions looming behind it. Or in front of it. The fantasies stuck between its dark manner.”
Issue 29 showcases a cornucopia of styles and forms inclusive of prose poems, free verse, persona poems, short (but not sweet) fictions, interviews, and translations. Narrators in this issue appear to move toward abstract ethers more so than epiphanies. Word play and mental games dominate over conventional beginnings and endings, yet perhaps this has more to do with the issue theme of “out-there dimensions.”
Gale Marie Thompson opens the issue with a selection of poems that question “Natural Philosophy and Natural History,” and which set the tone for what’s to come. Yet the exploration of existence as expressed in the opening editorial letter divert from the finer sciences to those personalized by human and animal experiences.
This is the case in Patrick Haas’ poem, “Oxen on the Last Day,” where readers become part of a ceremony that is both natural and brutal in its tradition as “they will follow their heads down / knowing they will / never rise again, dreaming…. ” Human and animal beings are paralleled, experiencing life and death together where
… we’ll shew the past
from our minds
with light, keeping
the no-time of toil
like they used to
In a sea of experimental and/or scientific suppositions, a few traditionalists stand out. Poet Dolly Lemke offers crisp images and succinct diction within a more formal approach. Her poem, “New home,” contrasts light and dark, space and texture, as the speaker is both lost and found in a salt mine, where others are “more tolerant” even with “their expired skin / raw from the dust.” Lemke takes the reader deep into the mine where life exists and yet does so on another level, buried under the world we know.
The otherworld experience that makes up Issue 29 of Salt Hill is not limited to external spaces. The inner world of self is explored often, as in J. Robert Lennon’s short story “Strawberries.” Here we follow the narrator’s struggle with identity, memory, and depression as she feels her life slipping away even while not recognizing it as her own.
This issue of Salt Hill also offers a dynamic visual package. Within the pages of it its neat near-square presentation, most poems and stories fit on one single page and even those that do require turning the page use space with care, sparingly, with the authors balancing the subtly of white space. While submissions of up to 7,500 words are accepted this issue shares many shorter, snappier pieces often with untidy endings.
The artwork for both the cover and the contents strike a discord at first glance, with their rawness against a more polished selection of literary contributors. Yet the selected graphite and pencil sketchings, ink drawings, and comic strips hint at the otherworldliness of the issue, and grow in significance as the theme takes hold. As an example, a series of work by artist and software developer John Slocum were inspired by mathematician John Horton Conway’s “cellular automaton Conway’s Game of Life, which is a zero-player simulation game that artificially emulates the evolution of life.” The resulting series is “Game of Life Extrusions” and their grayscale pixilation appears as architecture and vegetation simultaneously, as machinery coming to life. Such visual accompaniment to the issue responds well to the attention of “how gray and clouded the separation between phenomenological reality and the science fictions looming behind it” are.
Overall, the impressive lineup of contributors lends to an eclectic mix of experiences, demographics, and aesthetics. Geographically, Issue 29 spans the globe with representation from Italy and Germany nestled alongside works showcasing New York, Mississippi, and Washington. A skim through the list of accomplished contributors reveal a few academics, a number of editors, some notable award-winners, and a well-published grad student or two, yet there is a distinct lack of ‘new’ writers with not a single debut made in this issue. Rather, contributors list off lengthy resumes of books and short works in well-respected journals such as Columbia Poetry Review, Harper’s, Third Coast, Denver Quarterly, The New York Times, and The New Yorker. That’s not a bad thing for readers, but it may be more intimidating to newbie authors hoping to make an entrance.
Even so, Issue 29 should provide some optimism for writers and artists seeking an eclectic venue, as this issue demonstrates the breadth of what editors find appealing ranging from the avante garde to the more traditional. Would-be contributors should have a look at the generous sampling Salt Hill provides online, to best determine fit. Issue 29 has several pages available in a free issuu.com preview, inclusive of visual, poetry, and prose selections. For that matter, the Salt Hill website is fairly indicative, visually and textually, of their desired aesthetic and tone so a quick glance at more than the guidelines will help prospective authors and artists determine suitable submissions.
While Issue 29 is dominated with perceived and imagined worlds, editors seek nonfiction that “pushes the boundaries of the genre, making use of the techniques of fiction and poetry to tell a true story.”