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Denver Quarterly – 2014

Unlike most literary journals, which separate their content into specific genres, the Denver Quarterly has a much simpler table of contents. The writing in this journal is lumped into two categories: “Work” and “Conversation.” The content of the “Work” section is creative work, e.g. prose and poetry, while the “Conversation” section consists of interviews, critical passages, and the like.

Unlike most literary journals, which separate their content into specific genres, the Denver Quarterly has a much simpler table of contents. The writing in this journal is lumped into two categories: “Work” and “Conversation.” The content of the “Work” section is creative work, e.g. prose and poetry, while the “Conversation” section consists of interviews, critical passages, and the like.

These two distinctive labels serve a practical purpose within the journal, but they also contribute to the journal’s aesthetic as well: the Denver Quarterly contains work that is interesting and daring, and, very often, work that doesn’t concern itself with something so unimportant as rigid genre distinctions.

Of course that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to tell poetry from prose—and, in fact, the poetry in the Denver Quarterly often announces itself as that, flamboyantly even, with widely diverse forms and styles. My favorite poem in this issue is the somewhat prosaic “Nothing Gives, Nothing Root” by Carrie Lorig and Russ Woods. The poem is incredibly clever and elusive, shifting and twisting from line to line, playing with language that is often dreamlike or surreal. The speaker asks questions such as, “have you ever screamed grass?” and, “who is a lion when she asks about the root of death?” Lorig and Woods seem to be masters of the pleasant surprise, and when I can put aside my stubborn search for linear narrative, I enjoy being taken by the poem’s many loops and turns of phrase.

Another strong piece in this issue is Ander Monson’s “The Problem with Memory,” a very short essay that examines the operation of memory, particularly in the context of a new company that is working on “advances in memory encoding, decoding, and accessing technologies.” Monson covers a lot of ground in a very short space, with a writing style that is difficult to describe or classify. The writing is exact, to be sure, but also lyrical at points and surprisingly abstract. I finish the piece certain that I’ve learned something about memory, though I’m not quite certain I have the vocabulary to articulate what I’ve learned.

Lyrical might not be the best word to describe J.A. Tyler’s story, “Our Mother, Remembering Our Father,” but it’s definitely clear that Tyler spent a considerable time crafting this story at the line level. The plot is relatively simple: a father leaves his family for the sea, where he is a pirate, and his wife’s distress is made only worse by the fact that her children seem destined to follow a similar path. The children are the narrators, and the story works with a not-quite-realist aesthetic that allows the mother’s breakdown to become a disintegration in the literal sense. The story is haunting, and that adjective, too, is literal: the mother begins to disappear as the fate of the family unfolds:

If we become pirates, Our Father will apprentice us. If the next time her returns to shore we are thick with buccaneer muscles and minds, he’ll see how ready we are to board that ship with him, and he’ll sweep us into his jolly boat, and we’ll sail away.

Our Mother, if this ever happened, we know the rest of her body would turn ghostly. Instead of only hands or feet or the crown of her head dissipating, it would be her entire body, turning see-through as rain, and we’d never see her again.

The work in the Denver Quarterly isn’t what you’d call “traditional.” The poems experiment widely with form, and there are no “epiphany stories” on the fiction end, no stories that are clearly and traditionally plotted and rooted in realism. Instead, the journal seems to offer a home for work that is not necessarily experimental, but eclectic and surprising, and yes, perhaps a little strange. And though each turn of the page may bring something surprising, those surprises are always rewarding.
[www.du.edu/denverquarterly]

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