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Parcel - Spring 2011

Parcel is a corporeal labor of love, a treasure for the reader who yearns for the simplicity of words on paper. This edition is dedicated to those "with a love of the elegant, tangible, hand-delivered book." When Heidi Raak, owner of The Raven Book Store, and Kate Lorenz, Kansas kindred spirit, became a team, they wondered: could they produce a gem of a journal, crafted to arrive at each reader's door, a ready-to-open-present?

They could.

Parcel is beautifully designed—it practically glows in the hand. Entranced with the art, poetry and prose, I read this journal in one sitting. I used bookmarks; it is too well-crafted for crunching corners. I absolutely fell in love with Jeffrey Koterba's "Little Twister," a fabulist tale, where the reader from the first line, just believes: “As kids, it never occurred to us that capturing a tornado was in any way cruel, no more than, say, harboring a butterfly or a praying mantis.”

As a child, I was always delighted with tiny, fleeting beings. I wanted to love them at home. My ornithologist father made sure hapless baby birds were returned to the wild. Why? Naming a sparrow "Jenny" meant an assured demise, in less than a day. In Koterba's child-world, children hunger to capture and adore miniature tornadoes:

Our greatest satisfaction came from snagging those half-pint twisters with our bare hands, the fat brown cylinders vibrating and shaking between the cages of our palms and fingers. The tickling sensation made us giggle, made us temporarily believe that these frantic things could be tamed. Or maybe one day, they might even grow to love us.

Koterba's reality is so familiar. Mothers worry how the magical entities survive; they berate the would-be-loved captors and appeal to reason and practicality: "They need hot and cold air at the same time, I think." But children want things, and in "Little Twister," holding onto miniatures is all the rage. Tiny tornadoes are collectibles. They are expensive in the "pet stores," but purchased, after wild-caught specimens shrivel to nothing. However, once one child names his catch, the others are forever touched. The final lines in Koterba's piece are ethereally placed. It's an exquisite rendering of another world, on another plane, but readers will be enthralled, as I was.

Matthew Nienow's "Eclogue at the Edge of Darkness" is a dreamy reportage of experience, and the reader is obliquely addressed. The narrator is located in a garden:

Where every living thing was named:
                                 Deadly Nightshade.
Prickly Pear. Virginia Creeper. Morning Glory.
We rolled Chamomile between our fingers.

Here is a blissful examination, an explicit noticing, as the narrator and "J," venture further and further into the green nightbird heart of the poem: "& the night was a song / we were trying to learn. A few birds trilled / from a cedar. A street lamp buzzed on."

There are hushed conversations, as though they are churched. The explorers identify with growing bodies, like and unlike theirs. I am quite taken with the line “& The Way We Were was the song of the moment.” In this piece, the reader is admiring "cedars," framing “a greenhouse with a whole room of cacti.” The snapshot-in-time quality of the piece is tender. Outside of the glass, one thing, inside another, quite safe and saved for another evening. Everything in order. Waiting.

In "The Narwhal," Peter Longofono brings to life "the unicorn of the ocean," as these behemoths are described. Here on the page is the rarest of whales, hunted legally only by the Inuit. This is a brief but thoroughly captivating glimpse:

The infinite machine that it is,
                    blubber and groin,
sputtering ecru: tainted ivory,

The poem is a flickering view, all that should be seen, if these private animals are to thrive. I can feel oceanic cold here, as waves roll on, on, and over “A briefcase full of water.”

"Cloud Lot," Daniel Coudriet's poem, won my allegiance on first read, with this trenchant opener: “Playing lawndarts with lit matches / Keeps me from writing letters home.” Lines like these are an adrenalin shot; specificity, originality, and quirkiness light up the page. Coudriet's facility with language is exacting, wholly memorable. Who could fail to be marked by: “A cumulonimbus / is climbing my pantlegs.”

Frightening or sweet? The "coldfront" described might spawn cumulonimbus clouds, a warning of storms with supercells. This poem isn't all about weather, though it's a run of synesthesia, a delight, as the reader finds: “Night closes like leaves swarming / my shoes.” "Cloud Lot" is best enjoyed when read out loud, then quietly, then carefully, to someone you love.

Michael Martone's homage to Philo T. Farnsworth is a wackadoodle, historical prose-poem defense of the man who essentially formed the idea of "video," at age 14. He went on to refine his genius notion of manipulating the electron beam to produce everything we experience today as "television." There were challenges to his historic mind's discovery, but U.S. Patent Claim 15, found Farnsworth the inventor extraordinaire.

In "Test Pattern," Martone, in a brilliant near four-page accretion of fact, begins with: “Philo T. Farnsworth, the inventor of electronic television, on his knees.” The reader follows Farnsworth through every nuanced refinement of Philo's creation, as he tinkers with and surveys his history-making design. Toward the end of Martone's piece, the reader is right there, as “Philo T. Farnsworth feels his eye scan the surface of the screen as the screen is scanned 60 times a second by the 25,000-volt electron beam that he invented, that he is now (this night, this early morning) deflecting, deflecting to bring the Test Pattern into focus.”

Readers will long remember Farnsworth's contribution, a refined light in America's homes. In "Test Pattern," Martone's goal is to remind us all: remember the man, too. Farnsworth said: "I give the credit to God." The U.S. Patent Office, in Claim 15, gave credit to Farnsworth, too.

Parcel is a lovely well-wrought inaugural issue. As its creators hoped, it is special, non-digital, and gorgeous to behold.

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Review Posted on May 15, 2011

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