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Toad Suck Review – 2011

Dubbed “The Transitional Issue,” this first issue of Toad Suck Review, based at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA), follows the demise of the Exquisite Corpse Annual, which ended when founder and editor Andrei Codrescu retired. The team at the helm aims to carry on the Corpse‘s “experimental sense of humor and international enquiries” while at the same time staying true to its central Arkansan roots. With gaping shoes to fill, the Toad Suck crew delivers an impressive first shot of literary whiskey.

Dubbed “The Transitional Issue,” this first issue of Toad Suck Review, based at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA), follows the demise of the Exquisite Corpse Annual, which ended when founder and editor Andrei Codrescu retired. The team at the helm aims to carry on the Corpse‘s “experimental sense of humor and international enquiries” while at the same time staying true to its central Arkansan roots. With gaping shoes to fill, the Toad Suck crew delivers an impressive first shot of literary whiskey.

The contents are divided under anything-but-standard headings: High-Octane Poetics, From the Blood, Arkana (a section devoted to Arkansans), Non-Nonfictions, and Critical Intel, among others. On the pages within, Poet Laureates mingle with new and emerging writers. Lawrence Ferlinghetti makes an appearance, as does David Gessner and C.D. Wright. Norman Shapiro translates Surrealist Jacques Prévert. Amazing woodcuts from Argentine artist Alfredo Benavidez Bedoya appropriately illustrate the far-out excerpt from David Grandbois’ strange and dreamy book The Hermaphrodite.

A frenetic assortment of poetic forms and styles jigsaw themselves together under the category of High-Octane Poetics. Ferlinghetti’s offering is a long conversation between “Cristo on the Cross” and Socrates:

SOCRATES: Hola, J.C.! Que tal? Qué te passa? What in the hell are you doing up there?

CRISTO: Y tu? What are you doing down there?

S: I don’t like to be hung up on anything—

C: It’s an acquired taste—

There are visual poems from Jack Collom and Alice Notley. Toshiya Kamei translates Mexico’s Letitia Luna, whose poem “Wounded Days” is dark and powerful from the first stanza:

Tonight a foul smell fills the air
it’s surely the smell of a dying country
as in those days of corruption
when my childhood was a flock of swallows
and my sick father
was never the same

Toad Suck devotes one section of this issue to Artists in Residence at UCA. One such artist is the respected Arkansas-born poet C.D. Wright, whose new book One with Others consists of one epic prose poem (based in part on true events) depicting a march by black citizens after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death and what happens to the one white woman named V who participates in the march. This feature on Wright consists of a review of One with Others, an interview, and an excerpt from the poem.

I was also pleased to find an interview with David Gessner, having just last month reviewed and enjoyed the latest issue of Ecotone, the journal that Gessner founded at UNC Wilmington. Gessner is another current UCA Artist in Residence. The interview unearths some of Gessner’s motivations behind starting Ecotone and his experiences with publishing the journal. Following the interview is an essay from Gessner about dolphins off the Carolina coast, the hazards they face, and the traditional fishermen that share their territory:

My initial reaction to seeing these animals near my home was an almost aesthetic one, like oohing and ahhing at a particularly pleasing painting. But dolphins are not paintings, and they are not symbols of my attempt to find a home. They are creatures with individual personalities who mourn for their dead and unborn, and who chafe against being trained, and who have names for each other, and who lived long before I did.

Under the fiction umbrella, there were two particular pieces that hooked me. The first was “Jason Williford,” an excerpt from Kevin Brockmeier’s new slipstream novel The Illumination. It’s a haunting excerpt that left me craving much more:

His scar began to send out circles, a slow wave of them, traveling across his chest and stomach as his wound throbbed with pain. Fascinated, she pressed her palm to the spot and watched the light radiate past her fingers.

The other fiction I found alluring was the piece “Everything in Threes” by William Lychack, a somber three-part meditation on an aging monk’s yearning to visit home one last time:

Is a wound for you to look at her like this, your mother, can feel that deep tug in your stomach to see her here, a fish hook swallowed and set deep, and a steady pull of her past you, woman floating toward the open gate behind you.

This was one of the best first issues of a literary magazine that I have read, and I look forward with eagerness to the future of Toad Suck Review.
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