The editors of South Loop Review invite “essays and memoir, lyric and experimental forms, non-linear narratives, blended genre, photography and art . . . personal essays and memoir with fresh voices and new takes on presentation and form.” I reprint the description for emphasis. The magazine is not feigning interest in the experimental. Rather, essays appear (in Micah McCrary’s case) as meditations on color through a list format, toy with a redline feature as a method of managing conflicting emotions (as in Adriana Páramo’s case), and explore what one might term the “meta-essay” through the careful tides of stating and redacting comments about what illness can signify (see Vicki Weiqi Yang’s essay).
In a nod to innovation, I’ve taken three especially courageous examples and distilled them for your review below.
The first example: Micah McCrary’s essay “[Red]” uses a numerical format to discuss a plethora of topics that are all connected thematically. He wraps and unwraps the significance of color and the color red explicitly to craft an insightful and daring memoir. Example: “25. To compare then, is to understand.”
To take what could be construed as a “list poem” out of context risks the impression that the work might be more abstract than it is, but in many ways McCrary grounds the essay in unobtrusive signals. For example, the reader quickly becomes aware that the essay crosses genres—his essay has the richness of poetry, the insight of a foreign correspondent (somehow more formal than ‘witness’) and the framework of multidimensional art. But it is this fluidity that allows him to segue between objects as grounding as bicycles and gods and monsters and the cascade of analysis such as #25 above. I enjoyed his employment of the infinitive here: “2. It was the first of many things . . . The first of things that helped me to travel through childhood.” That childhood is to be traveled through is as apt as his employment of Wittgenstein’s “Remarks on Colour,” which he weaves though in yet another dimension: the ‘impersonal historical’ made personal through its employment in a memoir.
The second example: Adriana Páramo’s essay “Dear Sister” narrates the story of a young woman, wrecked by a form of post-partum malaise, who is betrayed by her husband and sister while she is seeking to tend to her baby. The narration becomes increasingly complex as the sister’s sexual identity emerges and the husband is incarcerated for charges unrelated to his infidelity. Páramo does a fine job telling the story, but it is in a typographical departure that she achieves the finest ruse. She uses the redline technique to mask and seek to remove feelings that perhaps might be interpreted as cold. In this way, she illustrates the necessity of her own silence, by silencing a few key phrases in strategic places. Example:
I gave it a shot, then I gave up. I divorced him. You came out of the closet (and yes it did and still does make me super cool, thank you very much for being a lesbian.)
The third example: Vicki Weiqi Yang’s “Field Notes on Hair” is a wonderful wash of language—the author qualifies her narrative and its components with careful incision. In fact, she achieves a critical voice with the very first footnote in her very first clause: “After the brain thing, the world became divided spatially and temporally.” The footnote is: “Among friends, I almost always refer to it as such. To do otherwise would endow it with undue weight.” Next paragraph, “I suppose I should say now that this isn’t a sob story.” Her precision can veer into dark humor such as when she describes the viability of a will or whether hair is a living organism. And to tie it altogether brilliantly, she ends with a few broken phrases: “But I won’t dye. A strand here, a strand there. Like so many reminders to live with authenticity.” Her final word is surgically precise for this piece because she spends so much energy eking out an authentic statement in the memoir’s entirety. Her effort is a chiseled Nabokov.
South Loop Review is composed of many innovative efforts in what one might view as a utilitarian climate where the economy of language and minimalist realism are king. Such a journal is indispensable regardless. The editors are to be congratulated on their fine selection and their daring decisions—to see a platform for literary experimentation in such a lovely compendium is refreshing and arresting.