I usually try not to pigeon-hole magazines into a theme, but with this issue, it’s difficult not to do so! Clearly, there is a bird theme flapping its wings in this issue, from the multi-media “Penguins” cover art, to the more than a handful of stories that were cleverly pecked and then nestled together in this charming and diverse journal. And it just so happens that many of my favorite pieces of the issue were the ones which involved birds.
In poetry, Robert Cording’s “Pelicans” is pensive, introspective, and philosophical as he describes an evening of good conversation and drinks in the sunset with friends, which eventually turns stale and boring as his attention is turned toward the view of pelicans dancing on the water and setting off into the pink sky. Who hasn’t been silenced by the beauty and mystery of nature at some point in their lives? Cording is able to reach the human psyche in a very delicate and understated way through this poem as he writes, “I felt like a child in hiding, / alone on the deck, made fearful and alive / by the darkened Gulf, the stretch of the beach / now entirely empty.”
A quirky and humorous piece is “The Muse of Work” by Ellen Bass. As Bass writes, she wishes for a muse like Greek poet Sappho’s lover. Bass does her best to imagine this beautiful woman, but good-old Mom keeps barging in:
When she opens the door, a flurry of spring,
apple blossoms and plum sweeps in.
But I’ve been assigned the Muse of Work.
It turns out she’s a dead ringer for my mother
as she scrambles the eggs, sips black coffee,
a Marlboro burning in a cut-glass ashtray.
Bass is lighthearted and a bit ironic as she admits that she still cannot control what inspires her poetry.
The immediate fiction standout was William Kelley Woolfitt’s “Crow.” A touching and poignant love story about a little boy who grew up with a crow as his pseudo-sibling, he writes, “Crow did fly at six weeks, but not away. He pecked the door if he wanted out, the doorbell if he wanted in. He learned to talk before me. His first words were in, out, food, water, sky, crow, boy. Those became my first words too. He called my parents by their first names. So did I.” Woolfitt creates lovely and haunting imagery, reminiscent of Poe’s “The Raven,” but a younger, more innocent version, perhaps intimating what the raven’s baby story might have been. This story was a pure joy to read, and I reread it several times, each time falling more in love with it.
Another strong fiction piece was Spencer Wise’s “The Farm,” in which the main character, Dean, takes a road trip to his girlfriend’s childhood home, a farm in Maclay, Georgia. It’s a hilarious retelling of the city slicker who makes a fool out of himself with the rugged ranchers on a working farm, but this one involves a future father-in-law, which makes it all the more laughable. About his girlfriend’s dad, Dean says, “He sits there gently rocking with an Old Testament dignity. His cologne smells like horse leather. I want to burrow my head in his shoulder and sniff him forever.” Now, who wants to sniff their girlfriend’s dad forever? That’s the absurdity I’m talking about. Wise creates a sweet and believable dichotomy between city Jews and country Christians as he gets to know the family he may marry into and gathers insight about his own family, too.
This issue’s feature was Collaborations, and one piece that struck me as a stroke of genius was Allen Ginsberg and Kenneth Koch’s “Woody Woodpecker Goes to Paris.” It is almost unbelievable the talent these two men have. This piece came about from a live poetry stand-off in which Ginsberg was to play Woody Woodpecker, and Koch was the city of Paris in a blank verse drama. The most endearing parts of the improv drama were the ones in which they fell out of character and teased each other about their respective writing styles: Koch says,
He cannot keep away from certain rhymes
Although he should be speaking in blank verse.
In truth he is only a bird
And birds aren’t very good at poetry
But he is very good, I think, in song
Won’t you sing something, woodpecker, for me?
He puts Ginsberg on the spot to sing a woodpecker song, which is the perfect conclusion to a charming and quirky bird-themed issue.