“I like folksy vulgarity. I don’t say that because ‘folksy vulgarity’ is a good way to describe the contents of this issue of Bat City Review. I say it because one of my favorite scenes from a novel takes place in Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel,” writes Alen Hamza in the editorial preface. And thus begins the Fall 2014 issue of Bat City Review. “I like folksy vulgarity. I don’t say that because ‘folksy vulgarity’ is a good way to describe the contents of this issue of Bat City Review. I say it because one of my favorite scenes from a novel takes place in Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel,” writes Alen Hamza in the editorial preface. And thus begins the Fall 2014 issue of Bat City Review.
The journal’s editor-in-chief continues, describing his favorite scene in Gargantua and Pantagruel. Hamza points out that this particular scene made such an impression on him that he was able to recall it in vivid detail years later. With a bit of irony, Hamza tells his readers, when he reread the scene, he realized that he has remembered the scene incorrectly. But that the scene—correct or incorrect—had a certain staying power for him. It’s as if the scene itself didn’t matter—the only thing that was important were the effects of having read it and having remembered it. From Hamza’s description of his experiences with the literary piece, the reader sees that time and environment, being and experiencing, real and not-real, are inexorably intertwined.
The more I considered Hamza’s turn of phrase—folksy vulgarity—the more I became convinced that it did, in fact, get at the heart of the framework for Bat City Review. I read the phrase as a sort of gesture toward the staying power of a sort of folk mysticism. This almost absurdist-magical-realism is a perfect description for the underlying themes and contributions in the volume’s collection. While the journal might not claim to be a publication specific to those genres, all of the pieces—and the artwork—juxtapose the surreal with the mundane.
The poems and prose of this issue of Bat City Review show that an otherwise routine world can be brought to life through a particular parsing of syntax or moment of unexpectedness. Roger Reeves, for example in “Dear Desdemona” tells the reader he is busy “drilling for tenure.” In his “Weak Light and Hooves,” Reeves pulls together phrases that seem to draw their power directly from the Book of Revelations, “It was as if the ocean had given up its dead. It was / As if the dead had given up their dying for fire. And death.”
Although it feels disingenuous to the rest of the brilliant contributions to the journal to pick a favorite piece, “The Glory of Russian Costume,” by Deborah Flanagan resonated with its matroiska-like layers of symbol and meaning. The (very) short story weaves together a series of scenes from the history of ballet in Russia, before, during, and after the Revolution. “The soles of her feet will always hold stories,” the audience is told after reading about the flight of Bolshi’s prima ballerina in 1917. But most interesting is Flanagan’s use of dress, costume, and the performance of historical narrative. And this intersection of elements is where the audience feels the possible creep of magical realism into the story:
As a small child, Maya Plisetskaya goes to the theater with her mother to see her aunt dance. Her mother is arrested on their way. She’s left all alone in the theater with a big bouquet of Crimean mimosas.
The different ballet scenes are sets that come and go. In one scene, Lenin is the primary performer, in the next Stalin. The Khrushchev. Brezhnev closes. There is a historical sequence that Maya Plisetskaya inexorably intertwines within. Between these historical spaces is where one encounters the ballet dancers that come and go. There is a performance happening in the piece and requires you, the reader, to be part of it.
The sketches and poems are interspersed with art by Becca Midwood, Jonathan Webb, Hui-Ying Tsai, Mykola Zhuravel, Virginia Wagner, and Mimi Kato. All pieces in the Fall 2014 issue of Bat City Review occupy the interesting space between real and not-real, but never fail to hold the attention of the reader.