Call AGNI brain food. This issue is full of literature that is not meant for mere entertainment; it’s meant to be digested. “215. Philosophy is to the intellect what art is to the imagination; philosophy is—and ought to be a kind of art.” Parallels can be drawn to Issue 63; in addition to the art of story, this journal uses words to exalt all art. Vietnam and other wars are referenced in several pieces, and traditional themes like parents’ deaths are juxtaposed with a Slovenian parable, reservation blues and renderings of bats and witchcraft. The artistic references, especially in A.P. Miller’s “Blessing the New Moon” can be daunting more than esoteric—the contributors imbue so much passion for art that it never waxes on artistic pretension. Not art for art’s sake—art for sustenance and at over 250 pages it’s quite a helping. Paul Eggers’s “Monsieur le Genius” is, for instance, about a chess player who initially fools Burundi officials into believing him to be a master chess player. The insistence of the official to maintain the comic masquerade is undercut by the Hutu-Tutsi war that is spilling over the border from Rwanda.
Other fictional pieces, like Phong Nguyen’s contrasting account of adolescence from the battlefields of Vietnam to the classrooms of America, reads like non-fiction. It’s no surprise that AGNI is genre-bending. “Let’s call it a story about someone who’s struggling to write a biographical essay,” Joan Wickersham tries to understand her father’s suicide. There is a series of essays from Charles Bardes, M.D., that enlighten the pathology of medicine. There are poets, some whom I had no idea what they were talking about but I really enjoyed rereading, like Robin Ekiss, and others like Alpay Ulku, Leland Kinsey, Donald Platt and Kurt Brown that must be revisited, sat with, and accompanied by. AGNI is a work of art, challenging, redeeming, disconcerting and welcoming. [AGNI, 236 Bay State Road, Boston, MA 02215. Single issue $10. www.agnimagazine.org] –RT Duffer