Turning Points and Reversals: An Excellent Journal That Will Make You Think
The Antioch Review, founded in 1941 by Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, tickles my intellect. It feels academic, which does not necessarily mean stuffy, arrogant, or boring. Instead, it is concerned with finding meaning, making universal connections, and striving to connect the personal, cultural, and historical experiences of humanity. A big philosophical task that can, at times, be difficult to both write and read. The Antioch Review begs me to think in a way most other magazines do not and urges me to use my noodle. The spring issue begins with the editor’s introduction, which defines literary concepts and introduces the works, examining the idea of reversals, of writers finding moments in their personal and public lives where life and culture stop and pivot. In fact, editor Robert S. Fogarty’s introduction is spot on and eloquently summarizes the major themes of the issue.
While not every nonfiction essay gripped my attention, most succeeded. As Fogarty mentions in the introduction, the essays are centered around reversals, or as I think of it, turning points. In “Broken Parts,” Patricia Foster is at the turning point of a previously unidentified illness. In “Detroit Wrecks, 1982,” Peter Stine is at the turning point of a failing marriage and career. In both essays, we see visions of Detroit and a nod to current economic times. Overall, the essays use these turning points like a dot on a map, a place to begin looking. The essays are a mix of personal, travel, cultural, and historical observations, which leads me to believe that The Antioch Review is less concerned with form or style than with deeper meaning.
My favorite essay is “Landslides” by Maraya Cornell. Unlike most of the contributors, who are well-published writers, seasoned professors, editors, literary award winners, NEA fellows, and even Pulitzer Prize nominees, Cornell, a writer and exhibit developer for museums, is a fairly recent MFA grad, and this is her first literary publication. Score one for lit mag newbies! Most creative nonfiction essays focus on the self and the writer’s experience with the world. Cornell’s essay, on the other hand, is like a character study. Cornell describes her neighbor, Anna’s, Oma (grandmother). While Oma was a nature-loving woman who taught Anna about the universe, she was also a German woman who sided with the Nazis during World War Two. How do we reconcile these two sides of Oma? Perhaps the reversal here is internal. Perhaps the reversal is in us, the readers, who instantly fall in love with Oma only to find out she was a Nazi sympathizer. Cornell ends the essay with:
In the usual order of things, the ground we stand on vanishes rock by rock, bit of dust by bit of dust, so we hardly notice it’s happening. We know that the earth will be cracked open, that majestic peaks will be leveled, that ocean shores will be hoisted into mountains, but we don’t really believe it. The ground makes such a slow somersault, it’s easy to imagine that it’s not happening, to pretend that the land isn’t always sliding, to dream that we have something firm under our feet.
I think the real message here is that nothing is simple. Nothing is what it seems. There is both dark and light in us, and in the end, we are but specks in the universe. Do we even matter? Whoa, deep thoughts, right? Read on with care.
In general, the poems in the spring issue of The Antioch Review seem to be concerned with language and meaning. They vary in length (eight lines to four pages) and are free verse. The first poem, “SHIRT,” by Warren Slesinger defines the word shirt.
shirt (sh.irt) n-s 1. An
article of clothing with
a buttoned frontal open-
ing, two sleeves, a collar
and tail for tucking into
your trousers; thereby,
covering your buttocks
The form of this poem is creative. Here, we see a dictionary entry in poem form. Furthermore, we begin with a literal definition but delve into something more personal and cultural. There is something strange about the “covering your buttocks / and genitals” lines, as if you couldn’t do this without a shirt. You can, but this definition makes the shirt even more necessary. Further in, “One’s / most prized possessions,” reminds you that for some people a shirt is one of few items they may possess, and is therefore sacred. Even for those of us who have many shirts, the one we wear today is much needed, for without it, we are immobilized. Maybe I am reading too much into it, but it seems to me that the third definition drives home this point. “Keep your shirt on,” an often-heard colloquialism, usually means wait or be patient, but here it is meant to protect the wearer from further injury. Slesinger is manipulating the definition of the word shirt. This manipulation is a turning point. The power of words pivots and strengthens.
The fiction is this issue of The Antioch Review is stellar. I kept thinking wait, is this fiction or nonfiction? and flipping back to double-check. Three of the four stories are written in the first person and just seem, well, true, like listening to a long-lost relation after an unexplained absence. Where have you been? Well, listen, I’ll tell you, they say. These are stories of ordinary things happening to ordinary people, until you realize that ordinary is meaningful. Ordinary is spectacular. “Bringing Up Baby” by Maura Stanton is about a writer visiting Venice. She happens upon a man with a baby. His wife is lost, and the woman ventures out with the man and baby in search of the wife. The man gets lost. The woman ends up alone with the stranger’s baby. Probably doesn’t happen every day, but it’s believable and intriguing. The story reminds me of a modern-day odyssey, a quest in which the journey is more important than the destination and each choice is a potential turning point. During the journey, they travel in circles, they lug the baby carriage around and around, and the carriage gets heavier and heavier. Sounds like a metaphor for life to me. In the end, all is well. Mother, father, and baby are reunited. The woman leaves contented, even joyful. It’s a reminder of the journeys our lives take, and the rewards.
The Antioch Review is a high quality, academic-minded magazine. When submitting, be sure to read the magazine first, as suggested by the editors. Generally, this guideline irks me, especially if there are no samples up on the website. So, I have to buy all these mags just to find out if I should submit? But in this case, I think it’s true. The Antioch Review is diverse. As long as your work has substance, you have a chance.