Editors Nicholas Maistros and Jonathan Starke introduce their new journal: “we’re determined to find those writers and artists who are flying under the radar producing great works that are going unnoticed by other journals.” The journal’s title comes from the world of prize fighting; its tagline is “a journal of underdog excellence.”
I am not sure any writer wants to be classified as an underdog, no matter how overlooked she may feel. Nonetheless, debut issue underdogs include five fiction writers, five nonfiction writers, five poets, the work of one graphic story creator, and two visual artists. While the editors clearly have a generous editorial vision that allows for a variety of styles and approaches in all the genres represented, Palooka writers have in common a talent for the vivid presentation of the details of daily life and for depicting the objects and scenes of American life with almost uncanny accuracy and immediacy. Here, for example, is an excerpt from Amy Bernhard’s moving essay “Who Will Claim Us?”:
Westfield is not one of those malls with perfume counters and old men getting massages and fountains shooting water toward the roof. It is cloudy and low-ceilinged and smells like feet. You can see from one side to the other.
And here is an excerpt from Dustin M. Hoffman’s story, “Scratch”:
The next customer files forward, crowds Morris aside. Morris nabs a dime from give-a-penny-take-a-penny to scratch off his ticket and reads the instructions: Scratch to reveal your lucky safari captions. Match any animal to one of your three lucky captures, claim bounty shown. Find the giraffe, win three times the amount. He dons his imaginary safari cap the color of sand and takes aim with the dime—his long-barreled rifle that funnels at the end, like they used in the old days to shoot elephants. He captures a cobra, hippo and lion. But nothing matches. They all escaped. A loser. He’s even further from being able to afford eggs.
Equally rich and precise in detail, and moving for its understated nostalgia, is a personal essay about her “faceless” Russian past, “Memories of a Faceless Country,” by Natalia Andrievskikh. Another essay, “These Days in Borderland” by Alex Park, is successful, as well, for its smart pacing and rich details of an account of a visit to North Cypress with a college roommate from the region.
Poems are similar in approach, demonstrating a sense of immediacy and offering vivid detail. These include Deanna Dueno’s “The Hairdresser” and Ryan J. Browne’s “Theory of dog days,” which begins:
The conifer’s roots bust like knuckles
against the open face of the dug pit
that’ll be filled in again with those bulls
whose eyes retrograde across the night
sky like slower moons. Their tongues lop,
still lovely. One’s been broken first.
Chrissy Spallone’s graphic story, “A World Without Surprises” has a satisfying old-fashioned comic book feel to it. Palooka, underdogs or not, is not (happily) without surprises.