Travis Laurence Naught
The title Skidrow Penthouse evokes images of grit. A cover photo featuring bird heads and faceless, female nudes immediately confronts readers with the promise of grit. The 200+ pages of varied writing paired with black and white art neither disappoint, nor fall short of those gritty suggestions. The entire volume is a pleasure to navigate, but the words are not always nice. The title Skidrow Penthouse evokes images of grit. A cover photo featuring bird heads and faceless, female nudes immediately confronts readers with the promise of grit. The 200+ pages of varied writing paired with black and white art neither disappoint, nor fall short of those gritty suggestions. The entire volume is a pleasure to navigate, but the words are not always nice.
“Lilith” by Rosalind Palmero Stevenson offers an engaging bit of friction to start the issue off. The described relationship between a security guard and a fine art sculpture at the Met drew me right in. I specifically love the following passage of dialogue supposedly spoken by the sculpture, “Darling, she says to me, I will take you traveling. [. . .] Pack your good things and take them along, we might stay a while, there is so much to see.” I knew that the rest of the publication I was dealing with was going to be held to a higher standard.
“Succubus,” as translated by Arturo Mantecon from Leopoldo Maria Panero’s original Spanish, struck me with its accessible, adult interpretation of Greek mythology. Poetry is too often celebrated for muddled connections and wordplay, which can be fun and is represented well in the issue, but lines like, “Then you will know of the sea / that wide grave in which the Kraken swims,” and “that one is embracing the devil / that woman, the beggar’s alms” are what I yearn for.
Several authors were represented by multiple acceptances in this issue. Guy R. Beining has ten poems in these pages. Enough to fill a chapbook! It is nice as a reader to be able to feel like I’ve gotten more than just a sneak peek at the writers’ work in scenarios like this. When I finished reading Paul B. Roth’s seven poems in this issue, I had to put the book down for a bit so I could process the outstanding work I’d just read. The two that stuck out most to me were “Coupling” and “Hand on the Door.” There is intrigue laced throughout Roth’s words, especially highlighted in these lines from “Hand on the Door”: “So relieved no one’s attempting to share your silence after all, you fall back to sleep unaware and without hearing your lock click quietly open.”
Silence is a major theme moving through the poetry in this issue. Even a poem included by David Chorlton is entitled “Silence.” Chorlton, in his other entry, “Creation Stories,” speaks along the same themes with the following lines, “[. . .] which did not exist, and when the talking / ended there was a silence / which begged for the story to begin again.”
My particularly favorite piece of longer form writing in this issue goes to “My Personal Odetta” by Spiel. It is likely a piece of nonfiction about a strong, heterosexual, black folk singer in American history and her intense friendship with a homosexual man. The majority of the words take place at a 1960s, ribald party. Several huge names are dropped, including Bob Dylan, and the words truly drew me into a high of what it must have been like to be there. The story ends with the narrator admitting how excited, sexual preferences aside, he was to have been there.
Artwork is sprinkled throughout the pages. It is always good for me while reading to have a break between words, and these black and white images left me fulfilled. They popped up about every eight or ten pages and were mostly comprised of what appeared to be sketches and paintings. A couple of photographs of sculptures also were included. Big shout out to Alois Nozicka for the photograph titled Kostrc. It features torn, tattered wicker that inspires all sorts of possible stories in a creative mind. Bravo.
Long story short, you have to check out this issue. Several of the poems and stories that I did not mention were carried by surrealism. I understand that some people have a love/hate relationship with what might be deemed as nonsensical groups of words formed together, but I found them tame enough that they did not disturb the more accessible pieces of writing I so loved in these pages. Skidrow Penthouse for the win!