Catch Up’s cover art bucks the usual trend of staid literary journal cover art. This issue features a lurid red, blue, and purple drawing by contributor Max Bode of a menacing figure with its head ringed with dynamite and its gloved hands holding detonators. So, the cover made me think more underground “litzine” or comics anthology than literary journal. However, I found, on the pages within, the work of some very widely published writers. Mixed in with this literary work are a few comics, including a nice series from Box Brown on Andre the Giant’s interactions with various cast members on the set of The Princess Bride, presumably from the comic biography of Andre that Brown is currently working on.
The other comic in here that I thought was hilarious was “Nice Guy Sub” by Max Bode (former art director and cartoonist at The New Yorker). It’s a deceptively simple series of panels about a grumpy submarine and its various encounters at sea, primarily with other watercrafts. Bode’s genius lies in his ability to create a distinctive and amusing persona for Sub using a minimum of text and design. I’d love to see a whole book of these strips, although Max’s website indicates that he has a lot of irons in the fire, and I didn’t see “Nice Guy Sub” book in the list.
Catch Up is strong on poetry. First are a series of prose poems from Hannah Gamble called “From the Farm Records (June-July 2005).” These do appear to be actual notes and observations from living on a farm, much of them reflections on the narrator’s interactions with the various farm animals. From “Cows II:”
It occurs to me that I best like animals when I expect nothing of them other than that they keep breathing, in other words, co-existence. When I have to make them do what they don’t want them to do for their own good, I am irritated with them, and may hurt them in ways that their brains do not allow them to resent me for. I will never have children.
Bob Hicok’s epistolary poem “Dear Kitty” is written from the perspective of a narrator standing outside of Anne Frank’s house, feeling reluctant to enter:
If I imagine rooms
the size of a glove box, or a rose
carved in a floor board, or that she touched herself
here, in a hall in my thoughts in the dark,
but didn’t write that down, didn’t cry out
or ask paper to remember, my mind grows backward
into time, and the winds that come to blow me away
find I am rooted with more cunning purchase.
Matt McBride’s poem “Structure Fire” is short yet violently descriptive:
A throat of smoke opens,
pulls itself through itself
and the orchestra watches,
holding their aluminum violins.
Some of the other poems in the issue seem less literal, and perhaps less accessible, but still beautiful in their language. For example, Lytton Smith writes in “Your Light Experience:”
Colour did not exist for you and does
blurred at the edges. The sound of an emergency,
voices passing the open window, and you are
no longer sure what light is as it surrounds you.
My favorite poem in this issue was Tom Hunley’s “No One to Ask for Directions.” I read this poem as a meditation on the world’s vastness and the sometimes unknown differences between its inhabitants, both animate and inanimate. The narrator is in a reflective, wondering mood. For me, the most poignant lines appeared in the poem’s center: “Some people live with songs lodged in their throats. Others / let the insides of their fingertips itch / with chords they will never play.”
There is considerably less fiction than poetry in this issue. A couple of these pieces warrant a mention, though. Matthew Baker’s story “Shovel + Face” is essentially a crime story set in recent times, yet told from a point far in the future. Baker establishes a unique cadence to the story through his curious use of language in the narrator’s explanatory notes, such as in this description of the character Z:
Z had not eaten in hours. Her organism was sending her pain/desire data in multitudes. Her brain ached. Her arms felt weak. Her stomach desired salt, mayonnaise, and Wild Berry Pop-Tarts. Also: the mother of Z had once again forgotten to feed Z her medicine (pink pills that could be obtained at the supermarket [and that were believed to improve mental focus and agility] in exchange for paper banknotes). Thus: Z was feeling slightly, a little bit, on edge.
Lastly, Lawrence Osborne’s story “The Wave” relates a grim series of events experienced by a British entomologist collecting specimens on an island off the coast of India. I don’t want to spoil the story by giving away more details, but I will observe that Osborne displays a keen perception of the complexities of human nature. I’m still thinking over some of the themes he explores in this story.
This issue of Catch Up contains almost 200 pages of quality writing and comics. Now only in its second issue, Catch Up shows great promise for the future.