Gargoyle came into being in 1976. It was started to put light on “unknown poets and writers, and the overlooked.” It bravely began as a monthly, with not much more than a handful of poems, short stories and nonfiction and “graphics”; but it began with quality. For example, its first issue boasted a poem from the then-unknown budding young poet named Jim Daniels. It slowly grew larger over time until it became the huge beast of a literary magazine it is today. It has continued to have quality poets and writers.
This issue has a cool 450 pages of nonfiction, poetry, short-stories, and “art.” Three hundred pages are dedicated to fiction alone. There is more poetry than one might shake a stick at, with many different styles represented. One style seen often is a kind that is not very narrative, that a reader is free to interpret as he/she sees fit, and might want to read several times. The reader actually might simply want to enjoy the language, the metaphors, and not worry about literal meanings; simply take the poem in and ride it to its conclusion. Even the titles of some of these poems suggest the out-of-the-ordinary, intriguing, breath-catching, “what was that?” nature: “Syssigy” by Brenda Hammack, “Anorak Pop” by James Harms, “Doy Doy” by Anna Maria Hong, or “My Life as a Bull” by Nin Andrews, for example. “Syssigy” opens with:
The wise man held the sign:
a stake that sprouted lemur;
but no shade to speak of.
Could Leonora grasp suncross without consequence?
must she always be so cryptic no one cared?
There are also poems with very explicit messages, well-told, such as Carissa Neff’s “Physex”: “At sixteen, how I wanted / you, smart boy from Physics class.” Neff makes science terms both amusingly erotic and poetic. “If I Have to Leave” by Kathi Wolfe is soul-touching, beginning, simply:
I want to smoke
that last crumpled cigarette
at the bottom
of my black purse
beside the rumpled ticket
to To Catch A Thief.
Very quickly the poem becomes brave and haunting.
The nonfiction is so unremittingly bleak and pathetic that one might wish it were fiction. Abbie J. Bergdale’s “Stuck Town” describes a particular life in Charles City, and uses “ten lists.” Bergdale begins: “Charles City is the kind of place where: Every morning a rusty blue bus hauls illegal immigrants to the chicken processing plant.” Hers is a story not to miss. Shannon Willitts Falk gives a detailed description of “From Bail to Jail: What Happens In Between” in case people have illusions that jail is free lodging.
The short stories are amazing. “I Just Can’t Turn It Off,” by Ken Brosky deals with an Iraq veteran minus one leg. It gives three different endings in an unusual and creative way of dealing with a vet’s fragile reality. Stephanie Dickinson’s “When the Snow Leopard Stalks the River,” deals with a vet with post-traumatic stress disorder. She uses flashbacks strategically, leading the reader in slow-motion, steadily to a calculated conclusion. A common theme of a youth’s perspective of parents falling apart while youth reaches for adolescence is treated imaginatively in “Things to Do When It Rains,” by Christina Kapp. “Watching Russia” by Blair Braverman is as beautiful and serene as poetry; “Betty and Veronica” by Luke Geddes is perfect for those who thought they had left those comic strips far behind. “Adrift in the Global Village” by Fred Skolnik is a surreal, dreamlike story that is rather like viewing a Fellini film – if, or because, one can accept the irrational, one enjoys the human elements and the strangeness.
For a huge amount of high quality reading with lots of variety, Gargoyle comes through. If the story or poem one is reading doesn’t satisfy, just turn the page. An archive of its past issues is being developed on the internet, and a physical archive exists at George Washington University’s Gelman library, based in the D.C. area. One of its founding editors, Richard Peabody, still proudly and faithfully co-edits it. More than a survivor; Gargoyle is becoming a literary classic.