This is one gigantic Happy Meal of an issue! Or maybe it’s more like Cracker Jacks—that surprise at the bottom of the box that sweetens the whole crunchy-munchy experience. The editors call these goodies “Supplements,” but they are integral to the whole gestalt. The magazine comes shrink-wrapped with a motel key-fob, a pink striped birthday candle inside a small seed envelope, a postcard with an illustration of a take-out dish of “Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato Combination,” a “Newspoem” by William Gillepsie on a skinny folded sheet, an enormous “Corn in the USA” diagram, and a variety of other illustrations, texts, and diagrams on different types of paper stock, which adds to the tactile/sensual pleasure of print. The Art Director’s note explains: “By unwrapping the contents of this issue, you have dislodged the original cover design and set in motion an unpacking of parts that together create a kind of landscape within which the stories, essays, and poems can situate themselves.”
Unwrapping the contents is just the beginning! The bound portions—nonfiction, fiction, and poetry—of Ninth Letter are just as curious and tantalizing. To go along with the motel key, there’s Mary Miller’s terrific story “Eureka, CA,” which begins, “It was the second to last motel room in Eureka, California. The first one smelled like gas, and Alice refused to stay there.” There’s Graham Arnold’s equally successful story, “Sushi For Fish,” with an opening worth unwrapping:
As a boy I fished Tama river. I pulled from that river the catfish and rainbow trout, sometimes carp. I pinched the hooks from their mouths and dropped the fish back in by their tails. It was a Saturday in fall and the shores were empty.
There’s Jenny Hanning’s prose poem, “Litter,” urgent and insistent: “Our mother prolific, mother of all that crawls, and giving birth as nature dictates—in a litter for Survival’s sake.” There’s Margot Singer’s essay, “A Natural History of Small-Town Ohio,” which demonstrates her decidedly big-town talent; the essay begins: “Like the rest of us, you come from elsewhere: on a wagon train across the Appalachians on foot like Johnny Appleseed, on an airplane, in a beat-up car.” There’s Michael Czyzniejewski’s “The Amnesiac in the Maze,” a story in short bursts and fragments with an impossibly compelling opening: “He doesn’t know how long he’s been in the corn.” There is an accomplished essay about the Day of the Dead by Jane Downs, and wonderfully original poetry from Catherine Pierce, Carol Guess, B.K. Fischer, and D.A. Powell, among others. There’s a total Cracker Jack of a surprise story called “Ghost 7, Prince 9” by Jedediah Berry, and a quirky novel excerpt from Roy Kesey.
Check into a motel with that key—or any key you need—and plan to stay awake all night reading!