The Labletter is the product of a small group of artists in Oregon who wrote together for ten years before inviting formal submissions. At its core, the Lab was a place where artists could experiment with their work and benefit from the group’s diverse mediums. The journal’s fourth annual issue stays true to its Oregon Lab roots—it is steeped in nature, whether captured by the photographer, the novelist, the poet, or the painter.
David Nakabayashi’s Winterstate series of oil and acrylic on canvas portray industrial structures in rural landscapes. The mostly blank terrains, perhaps reminiscent of Idaho, are crisp combinations of cobalt blue skies, bleach-white snow, and wheat-colored frozen ground peeking through the snow.
“Geese” by Catherine Grow also stays true to the rustic, country setting, as a girl reluctantly transitions to womanhood. Unexpectedly, this coming-of-age theme runs parallel to her father trying to keep geese off his neighbor’s land. The girl’s development and goose chase thread closer together as the story reaches its culminating point. A penultimate scene shows the young girl crawling through underbrush to catch the geese, which prompts her to notice a heavy ache in her stomach—a precursor to the arrival of her first period, which arrives later that evening in the shower: “Suds bubbled around the swells of my breasts, past my belly, and between my legs. Something tight broke loose inside of me then, and I lifted my face to meet the soothing jets of warmth: water and tears . . . ‘damn the geese, and damn being a woman.’”
In a series of black and white photographs, Cristine McConnell shares her obsession with the spiders living in her home. McConnell has documented over 30 species on film, 7 of which are featured in The Labletter. In her note, the artist stresses that these are living photos, that the spiders are not stuck with pins, their lives sacrificed for her art. The photographs, taken from a bird’s-eye view, are not dazzling—though they are detailed. Their most likely appeal is as a product of McConnell’s philosophy; they are a testament to her respect for the spiders’ lives, her fully embracing their cohabitation, and the obsession with them that’s grown out of this.
McConnell’s fascination with nature is mirrored and arguably surpassed in Caitlin Elizabeth Thomson’s two poems in which nature becomes home and houses become empty. “Home in Usk” describes a short moment of two people living in the woods exploring a long-abandoned home. But the couple, distant, even after blowing away layers of dust, retreats again. Similarly, “The First Night” questions what it means to live earnestly. What’s so fabulous about these poems is not in exactly what their asserting, but the scope of what Thomson is able to put forth so expressively in a handful of moments and gestures.
The journal’s only curve ball is its documentary photographs of the China Street Opera, which at first seem out of place among the rest of the journal’s selections. The photographs and author’s note were nevertheless interesting, and Julian Goldberger succeeds most notably in his tightly framed photographs of the Chinese actors backstage. Goldberger finds a backdoor into this ritual, and his images are stimulating and revealing. Equally unexpected was the interview with Donnie Mather about the Adaptations Project, which translates art of all types into theatre performances.
While I enjoyed reading the entire journal, the final poem “One Page,” by Peter Serchuk, stole the show. Making use of the deeply personal “you,” Serchuk’s speaker tells us to imagine we have one page to tell our story. The poem elusively echoes the speaker’s loss and regret, the product of a normal lifetime’s accumulation of mistakes:
word you hoped to say belongs
to someone else, and the one
light you hoped to follow slips
into a gown of fog.
Though his emotions pulse intensely throughout the poem, the speaker veils his specific experience. To us, he’s nothing more than a hazy portrait of a man approaching death. The language of the final stanza is truly stunning:
Tell me how you laughed and lied,
tell me how the world became
your lover, how every truth
you swallowed hypnotized your soul.
Imagine this is your page, not mine.
Please, tell me everything.
His ultimate call is to readers, to raise the mirror to ourselves before it’s too late.