The Winter/Spring issue of Gulf Coast is a pearl. This issue contains the 2011 Gulf Coast Prizes awarded to Brian Van Reet (fiction), Arianne Zwartjes (nonfiction), and Amaranth Borsuk (poetry), not to mention dozens of other poets, six other short fiction stories, and six nonfiction essays. This tome-azine also includes four interviews, seven translations, two reviews, and a collection of high-gloss color photographs including a centerfold of Cy Twombly work, which is also featured on the cover.
With the plethora of work in this issue, it’s difficult to decide what to zero in on, so I chose some with the coolest titles.
In “Live Nude Essay!” by Joe Bonomo, his medium becomes the message when he imagines the autobiographical essay like a thirteen-year-old boy adoring his older sister’s best friend: “I’m thinking of the clothed essay versus the nude essay. The clothed essay prizes craft and subtlety, evocation and song . . . The nude essay spreads its legs and the gesture of seeming confession is mistaken for content.” While Bonomo condemns the nude essay, he uses a section of the piece (a 20-line sentence) to demonstrate what he could have written about, from his first erection to fantasizing about his sister. By negating what he could have written, he shows us how the nude essay exposes but doesn’t reveal, bares but doesn’t disclose. It’s as if someone put E.M. Forster and a Hustler magazine in a blender and hit purée.
Graham Foust continues the strange in “OK Full Professor,” which will resonate with every graduate student this time of year. It begins: “I don’t mind your boring the fuck out of me. Backbone tucked behind the curtain of my lungs,” and ends with the beleaguered student gazing out the window at the spring trees.
We have all stared at leaves twisting in the wind, but Foust implores us to look differently, to manage the depth. Foust has two poems in the collection. The second piece, “Vicarious,” examines his thoughts on having children, and the inherent pain of responsibility.
In her personal essay “Sugar,” Chidelia Edochie takes the reader deep into her past, weaving between her father’s suicide and her online-dating-prostitution while attending NYU. She moves from sugar daddy to sugar daddy while examining her own obsession with money and her resentment for her neglectful father. “People don’t believe me when I say I did it purely for the money . . . We are not allowed to simply like money, not allowed to be willing to do whatever it takes to get some . . . without it being some character flaw.” Her prose is honest without implying guilt. Edochie informs the reader, matter-of-factly, and reaches her revelations with us. We don’t condemn her for her unsavory past but rather examine the price we pay for money, for love, for sex, for comfort.
This is more than just a solid lit mag, Gulf Coast reminds us that not only is the writing community in America alive, it’s thriving.