You’re idling in rush-hour traffic. Bored, and sick of hearing the same droning pop song for the fifty-seventh time, you flip through the radio stations and happen upon a song you’ve never heard before. The beat is good; the lyrics are fresh. You’re really in the groove. Bouncing head, tapping fingers, all that. You wait for the end of the song, desperate to discover the identity of the mastermind behind the creation. But the DJ cuts straight to commercial, and like me, you aren’t technologically savvy enough to own a robot-like phone that tells you what the name of the song is or who sings it. You’re stumped and annoyed, and you spend the next week humming the song to all your friends to see if they’ve heard it, too.
You’ve bumped into a mysterious little work of art that is unique and refreshing. If literary magazines were songs, Saltgrass would be the undiscovered hit you’ve been dying to memorize. It’s short, semi-sweet, and cheap, all good things when you want something new and different to read during a time of year dominated by summer fever, and its origins are provokingly aloof. I’ve looked at the website and Googled “Saltgrass” a zillion times, and still can’t figure out where this gem comes from. So be it.
This issue is primarily poetry with a couple of very short fiction pieces. If you’re looking for fiction, look elsewhere. It could just be this particular issue or the spatial limits of the magazine, but to me, the fiction was lost amid a majority of solid poems. These poems were pleasantly lyrical, the kinds you want read out loud and savor on the tongue. Here’s one of note by Lisa Ciccarello titled “(the shore in parts) sand & underneath”:
line of each sound, long around the O: pigment pressed in.
a chain appears from within the mouth. This is how we are bound.
made and made again: linked hair, braid he builds: hold still.
palm-pressed, a space for the back. Scissor-blade a hard knife; song
from the string, song sawed down into. Here I buried the mirror, here
the borrowed needle.
shore. the business of putting one grain above the other.
There’s a lot going on in this brief poem. Interesting punctuation and form, great images, big statements. But what I love most about this poem is the way it sounds. I’ve read it aloud and tasted its rhythmic, almost hypnotic flavor. Which is not to say it is a flowery, flowing poem. In fact, with the odd punctuation, short clauses and fragments, it is at times abrupt and choppy. It builds you up, and then makes you pause in anticipation. It is lyrical genius. Besides the sound of the poem when read, it’s obviously literally concerned with sound and music, as it mentions how sound forms on the mouth and how a song is made. It goes further to declare that we are bound to one another by words and songs. What a beautiful thing to say, not always pleasant as “Scissor-blade a hard knife” and “song sawed down into” seem to suggest, but beautiful. Of course, this poem may be about a particular, personal relationship, but it doesn’t need to be interpreted as such. For me, I see it as a universal relationship, as one relates to the world, sometimes scary, sometimes wonderful.
As Genya Turovskaya says in “The Present World,” “Songs create the world / annihilate it.” Isn’t that what words do? What these poems and stories accomplish? They create a reality, and can just as easily take it all away. But the work itself is as intricate and complicated as a song, or as any work of art. There is music in the written word that is waiting to be heard and savored, longing to be sung.
Saltgrass is a small journal. We all know the adage that good things come in small packages. This is a good thing. This is the kind of thing you’d like to take out and read in one sitting while lounging in your lawn chair, radio low in the background, sipping a cool drink. Don’t forget to sing along.