What struck me first about Hotel Amerika was its gorgeous design and layout. Its pages are taller and wider than most journals – it looks and feels like a trade magazine. Prose is printed in two wide columns of text, while poetry roams freely across the page.
Lovers of poetry, both prose and more formal verse, as well as aficionados of the first-person essay, will find a lot to sink their teeth into here. Of its 119 pages, nearly all of them are devoted to either poetry or essays. The space allotted to fiction is considerably slimmer, coming in at some nine pages. Kelly Cherry’s experimental “Beginning as Other,” in which the narrator imagines her life as different beings, reads as much as poetry as prose. Jason Skipper’s more traditional, but no less powerful, “Girlfriend in Lights,” portrays an adolescent narrator who becomes fascinated with a young woman who moves in with his family to escape an abusive boyfriend.
Anyone who’s lived poor in a big city will identify with Sonya Huber’s essay, “Anointing of the sick.” In it, she relates her trying post-college life in Boston where she cleaned her therapist’s office in exchange for discounted sessions.
The large-page format of Hotel Amerika lends itself particularly well to photography. Joanna Frueh and C. Jill O’Bryan’s “Intimate: a photographic series” combines 1950s Hollywood glam with brooding film noir undertones.
Poetry ranges from the free-wheeling and experimental to more narrative poems, like Mark Irwin’s “Lucky Boy,” which describes the speaker’s first day of work selling newspapers. But after selling his first paper, the speaker throws away his bundle and trades in his money for some rare Buffalo nickels, which, in turn, he sells to a coin shop. Later, having treated himself to a cheeseburger, the speaker emerges from the restaurant and sees this striking image: “The Place was called Lucky Boy, / and as I left, there he was, huge, on top of the roof, / freckled, smiling, holding a tray of something up / to the sun, his legs crossed, running into the blue.”
So pleasing to the eye is Hotel Amerika that once you pick it up, it’s hard to put down.