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A Read of Slag

Slag Review – a journal of art, literature, and metallurgy

Issue #8

Spring 2018

Slag, the material, is a by-product of steelmaking, a process that also renders an easy and accurate analogy for the work featured in Issue #8 of Slag, the Review. Not that the fiction and poetry is a junk by-product – far from it. But, thematically, many of the selections in this edition hang together as examples of a balance of process, between what becomes and what remains. That includes a recounting of experiences of emotional marginalization; sharp shards of disquieting imagery; and scenes that are peeled off the everyday yet still hang over it like a gauze of spectral light refracting on what is left behind.

In “The Man and His Till”, Annie Blake offers a mostly straightforward recounting of a college student’s part-time job and a study of her employer. It unrolls like the narrative is a finger slowly tracing the outline of a silhouette – until the almost literal explosion of colour at the anti-climax.

On the other hand, Brad Liening’s haunting, multi-part poem “Visible Cities” abruptly stands up a nightmarish metro-scape, where a city’s populace has been freed from the corporeal bonds of law and order, and where one may find oneself “holding a gun/and you’re waiting/for just the right moment/for your life,/your real one,/to begin”.

Somewhere inbetween is the quasi-inspirational “Rolling Your Guts”, DS Maolalai’s poetic exploration of how a wretched experience produces a more wretched (and wretching) by-product that the reader witnesses “propelled/by pressure from the centre”. But it’s one that also produces an ultimately regenerative wave we watch “returning to the sea”.

To dive back down the analogy-mineshaft, if metallurgy is the process the separates the more valuable metals from their basic foundational ore, the work within Slag neatly reproduces that cleaving, as the mystical and the spiritual are contrasted with the rote and the physical. It’s a process that deconstructs our reality, but also infuses it with more spirit, energy and mystery.

Join in here.

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A Read with Moonglasses

Moonglasses Magazine

July 2017 & September 2017

Reading Moonglasses Magazine is less like sitting back and cracking open a copy of Mad, or leaning forward to click through The Onion, and more like a night out at The Improv. You enjoy a series of comedic monologues that are slight on narrative and long on first-person-driven conceits. But the pieces that make up the latest issues of Moonglasses also have a literary virtuosity that makes up in appealing strangeness for what they might lack in straight-ahead laughs.

From the July issue, Ricky Garni’s “Since We All Die, Why Do We Have People Die (In The Movies)?” is a poem that rapid-fires its imagery, like Steven Wright on a PCP-laced speedball. “Insecta Dermaptera” by Kathryn Lee Wilgus (September) is a bit of Kafka-turned-John-Carpenter that is humour for the not-so squeamish. Kyle Hemmings’ “Notes on The Biography of E. H. Munch” (September) is more of a traditional parody, successful in both ridiculing intellectual pretention while, in turn, just goofing around in a Without Feathers-era Woody Allen mode.

The regular ‘Things We Wrote When We Had Acne’ feature is a bit of inspired self-curation, where grown-up writers dig into their personal vaults to offer up works they wrote back when, well, they had acne. Jared Moore’s tale of heroic video-game immersion, “Mortal Fury”, and Taylor Fang’s Shel Silversteinian “Food” are solidly juvenile yet charged with the pure, unbridled creative fervour that only youth can bring – and generally, wish to offer up to an unsuspecting audience.

If you want to spend some time examining life through a warmly-warped perspective like these ‘Moonglasses’ provide, put them on here.

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Literary Archaeology Pt. 3

A small blog advertising illumination of the outer fringes of literature lies, itself, dark – cobwebbed words – dust in the virtual essence…

…or something like that.

For now, until we get back on track, check out Cirque, Vol. 4. No. 1. It’s a self-described “Literary Journal For the North Pacific Rim”, published by Clock Point Press a-ways up in Anchorage, Alaska. There are stories, non-fiction and reviews, but the poems are the most noteworthy. They are crisply austere and cinched tightly with the kind of short, hard syllables that must reflect the landscape and rhythm of the lives of these poets (mainly Northerners themselves).

The two poems by Doug Blakensop, in particular, seem to have emerged, sharply formed, from the frozen native, soil. Kaija Klauder’s zen vision of winter is like something akin to a Northern Riprap. And there is also a fine, chilled reminiscence by Patrick Lane that shines like diamond ice.

Travel North a while, via http://www.cirquejournal.com 

 

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A Read of Taylor Jr.’s An Age of Monsters

An Age of Monsters by William Taylor Jr. (short stories, Epic Rites Press, 181 pages)

The stories collected in The Age of Monsters are as unadorned and straightforward as the blue-collar characters that inhabit them—characters who, in turn, inhabit  cheap bars, motels and other dives across the US.

Focusing on self-destructive behaviour and self-destructive relationships, violence and art (sometimes all at once), the sparse narratives move via casual conversation, anecdote and reminisence with the barest momentum, rather than ripping along any well-plotted arcs. But that cautious pace just reflects the subject matter at hand, and Taylor certainly makes some subtle lyric twists along the way. These twists ensure that, while the stories are true to his character’s lives, they are never mundane.

Take “The Bastards Were Everywhere and Would Endure”, where the mantra-like repetition of a single epithet (“bastards”) imitates the violent cycle of reflection and frustration that grows throughout the story. Taylor gets his ideas across by building a visceral anger and tension through the main character, rather than by cheap exposition. Although the story ends with a desultory sigh that lets the air out of the tension rather than blowing things up in a satisfying conclusion (“The bastards were everywhere and would endure, but we do what we can”), this drifting end seems to be the existential point Taylor wants to make.

In the “Lives of the Poets II”, he juxtaposes the simple task of having a chapbook’s galleys approved against an increasingly absurd series of requests by the editorial team. The well-meaning publisher and editor try to give the poet and his work a ridiculous image makeover (essentially ‘Beating’ him up), which allows Taylor to examine honesty in art; that is, that sometimes resistance to selling out comes more from circumstance than virtue (this is a makeover that would never quite take). It is a biting bit of self-referential humour from Taylor, who notes:

 “I have nothing against poets…I came to San Francisco to be among them. But it’s generally a good rule not to trust anyone who introduces themselves to you as such. Or has it written on their business card. It usually just means they’re unemployed, self-obsessed and have no skills that make them useful in the everyday world. Of course, I wrote poetry, too.”

Taylor has a few other tricks in his pen. The extremely short “My Hemingway Dream” lulls like a passage from a dream journal, but accretes a surrealistic quilt through patches of violence, comedy and absurdity (and stands the indulgent memoirist style on its head). The title story is a dark, cheeky quip that takes inspiration from and pays homage to past creepy pop-culture clowns (see: Krusty or Shakes). Taylor also gives us an anti-Bonnie and Clyde in “The Legend of Eddie and Lola” where, rather than going off with guns-a-blazing, the characters “argued for a while about whether or not they should wear masks…But what kind of masks? Ski masks? Nobody skied much in Kansas and Halloween was months ago”.

Like Eddie and Lola, the rest of the characters in Monsters largely go nowhere and grow little, and the stories tend to end abruptly. But the effect of that brusque dismissal is to allow for quiet reflection on the lives of the lowest of the low, rather than as a simple punch-line outro.

Momentum or no, Taylor’s manner of spicing up his examination of the everyday makes us feel like we’ve still travelled a ways and met some interesting locals.

Meet the locals at http://www.epicrites.org

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New Year’s Resolution (Part 2)

Further to our New Year’s Resolution to catch up on some reading, we’re into the latest from PigeonBike Press: Gizmo by Rick Stansberger. Gizmo is a quieter affair than some of the more in-your-face work the press is becoming noted for. Stansberger delivers a long, episodic narrative poem built from an album of rural, turn-of-the-twentieth-century characters. He utilizes very loose free verse that is loyal to the moods and dialogue of the characters woven into the poem, rather than any hard and fast, predetermined lyric mode. That may not sound like a revolutionary concept, but underlining the main narrative is an edgier subtext about how technological progress is both an enabler of new wonders and destroyer of what we’ve long held precious. Stansberger’s measured approach makes for a subtly compelling work that only deepens the further you read.

As always, you can grab one at:

http://pigeonbike.blogspot.com/p/pigeonbike-store-buy-print-titles.html

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New Year’s Resolution (Part 1)

Acting on our New Year’s Resolution to catch up on some reading, first up is Fluorescent Stilts For Your Uncle. Despite the new name, Fluorescent is actually the second year of the Epic Rites Press serial Tree Killer Ink, now under the editorial blade of poet Rob Plath. It may be an indie press review by another name, but this magazine is still stropped to a fine edge, with rattling (both sonically and through the use of cudgel-hard imagery) works of poetry like John Sibley Williams’ “Bone” or Plath’s own blood, sweat and blood lyrics. Based on a read of Fluorescent’s first two issues, Plath certainly isn’t trying to smash the frame of this publication so much as tug at the edges and widen the angles, with, say, some fairly substantial prose from the usually stripped-to-the-sinew John Yamrus here, or a bit of trippy surrealist blues from John Macker there. The artwork adds just the right (blackly) comic relief as well.

The continued growth and expansion of this review will be worth watching in 2012.

Only available through subscription, you can catch up yourself at:

http://www.epicrites.org/tree-killer-ink.html 

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A Read of Phillips’ The Underbelly

The Underbelly by Gary Phillips (novel, 152 pages, PM Press)

Part comic noir, part off-the-cuff socio-economic commentary, this short novel by Gary Phillips presents a quick but engaging tour of the dirtier Los Angeles streets and some of the characters who prowl them. The book portrays the city with a hybrid gritty/stylized realism in a slightly skewed, almost out-of-time continuum that seems inspired by Phillips’ background as a graphic novelist.

The vehicle for the journey through the titular underbelly is Magrady, a sometimes homeless Vietnam vet who is struggling against the requisite demons from his past – including flashbacks to the war, substance abuse and guilt for having abandoned his family – and a sudden, more pressing problem. Someone is trying to set Magrady up for the murder of Savoirfaire, a street enforcer with whom Magrady had recently battled while preventing the thug from collecting on a dubious debt owed by one of the vet’s buddies.

The initial confrontation between Magrady and Savoirfaire sets the mood and tone for the book. It takes place in the middle of this anti-heartland: “smack in the middle of L.A.’s Skid Row” as Phillips describes it, which “[u]nlike the street’s more notorious incarnation in Manhattan…didn’t boast of edifices as testament to giddy capitalism”. “The bailout around here,” Phillips notes pulpishly, “was of the cheap whiskey and crack rock variety, the meltdown a daily occurrence.”

Magrady – dry for several months at this point and eager to continue his progress back into the world – sets out to track down the real killer with the tenacity of a Phillip Marlowe. And from here, Underbelly presents Magrady’s struggle to redeem himself in the eyes of society, his family and himself. This is standard stuff, but Phillips’ description of Magrady’s journey, with its simple, but dark, tone, is absorbing. His prose illustrates L.A.’s underground in crisp blacks and whites that are nestled in shades of gray as well. Some scenes could be straight out of a 1970s exploitation flick, but then the present suddenly intrudes in iPhones and Information Age allusions.

The book’s most poignant moment comes when Magrady, having pursued a lead far away from his home base and unable to afford a ride back into town, must spend the night outside, back in the real underbelly. He has to dig out “some greasy and musty clothing tatters” from a cardboard box in an alley and use them “the best he could like blankets” to sleep “under the Sixth Street Bridge with several others.” It’s a point at which he could easily be dragged back under.

But he rises again, dusts himself off and sets back to work, this recent descent only increasing his determination to climb out. And while a mystical flourish near the end of the book seems a tad tacked on, the redemption and resolution a bit rushed, and the character’s tenacity slightly problematic (Magrady’s interior monologues are pretty mundane for someone so conflicted and driven), the dark corners his path takes us into are enough to keep you turning the pages – especially if you like them pulpy – as much as the actual mystery.

Descend into it from: http://www.pmpress.org/content/index.php

 

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