The Scope of Women's Lives: A Lit Mag Explores
The 2012 summer edition of Calyx features fiction, poetry, and artwork, as well as creative nonfiction, interviews, and reviews of both fiction and nonfiction works. The bulk of the journal is devoted to poetry, but the fiction and nonfiction pieces are strong enough as works of art to stand out among the poetic abundance. The artwork this summer ranges from oils on canvas to photography to found object and digital images, providing an eclectic spread for readers to enjoy.
Although Calyx is known as a feminist journal, when it comes to describing the scope of the work to be found here, such an umbrella term falls inevitably short. Indeed, not only are the more classic issues of feminism at the forefront—motherhood, daughterhood, love and sex, the body, and women in the arts—but also the work featured in this edition deals intimately with issues regarding class, culture, race, ethnicity, and heritage. For instance, Maureen Epstein’s piece “Tangi” deals at length with a Maori funeral ritual. Here, the belief that “the spirit of a deceased person lingers on earth for three days before departing to the next world” is paramount.
It should be noted that the majority of the fiction and nonfiction pieces are relatively short, ranging between 1 and 7 pages roughly. The only exception to this is the opening story, Vanessa Hua’s “Just Like Us” which is a first-person narrative about a mother and daughter in the midst of extreme poverty, set in an American trailer park. This story is yet another example of the journal’s stunning dedication to publishing works which provide political and social commentary while maintaining the high level of artistic merit that readers expect from a good journal.
Some other things to keep in mind about the prose featured in this edition, outside of issues regarding theme, are questions regarding form, language, and style. Though most of the prose pieces here are of a naturalist, realist style Calyx also features work that pushes the boundary of form. Allison Green’s “Ratification” is told in essentially numbered bullet points to tell the history of feminist movements in the U.S. Additionally, “Plots for Sale” by Linda Elin Hamner, which brings the writer herself into the space of the piece and additionally relies upon characters from the history of literature to build its story.
Many of the poems are anecdotal and take the reader deep into the private, confessional space of the poems' personae. “Growing into Love” by Marilynn Talal, composed of six tercets, relates the experience of a father's illness. “Human Weather” by Laura Jean Baker is an intimate retelling of an upbringing in the Midwest, using vivid imagery and lyricism: “we loved to our dew point / honeyed our moon / and kneaded our naked bodies / into the wholesome shapes of babies”.
One thing I loved about the poems here is that the writers were not afraid to get politically and social heated in tone, something which many poets these days avoid. For instance, when Kendra DeColo writes about strippers in her poem “God Must Be a Capitalist”: “it rips my goddamned heart out, watching it unfold as it must / Every night, the story of her naked life”. It is certain that the editors of Calyx are not afraid of political art, something which is deeply refreshing in a culture in which most writers only skim the sidelines of political activism in their art.
The poetry selection for this summer's edition of Calyx is bifurcated between work that is heavily structured and work that is much more experimental in form. “Loons,” a poem by Susan Nisenbaum Becker, while deeply lyrical in language and word choice, is still made up of rigid structure composed of five tercets. Similarly, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo's “Frida's Monkey Nurse” is made up of eight quintets. By contrast, “Shell” by Julie Lein is a poem composed some times by paragraphs, sometimes by stanzas, and sometimes by words which spill all over the page. One thing to note- nowhere in this summer's edition was there a poem with a strict rhyme scheme, and in that way the poems can be considered to be largely “free verse”.
For anyone looking to submit or subscribe to a female-empowered journal, Calyx is a great option. I would like to emphasize, however, that this journal is not only a journal about woman’s struggles but about struggles in the lives of many different kinds of people, whether women, immigrants, the very poor, or writers.