Garbanzo is out to break some rules. I find this refreshing in the relatively staid world of literary magazines. Perhaps it’s my background in zine publishing that makes me sympathetic to those willing to buck the trends. First of all, this inaugural issue comes handsomely clothed in a silkscreened dust jacket. How many lit mags have you seen lately with a dust jacket, silkscreened or not? That’s what I thought. Garbanzo is also bound with fancy rivets and includes an attached ribbon bookmark (a thoughtful and handy feature). On the inside there are a few fold-out pages, and even some handwritten poems that nicely break up the otherwise printed text. So, this is a nice-looking publication, a labor of love. I can’t help wondering how long the editors will be able to maintain this level of quality for their limited run print editions (they also publish a digital version), but I will suspend my doubts for now.
Another way in which Garbanzo sets itself apart from the rabble is with a sharp focus on the writing, not the writers. It accomplishes this in a couple of ways. First, titles and bylines appear at the end of each piece, so unless you peek ahead you don’t know who wrote it (there is also a table of contents, but it’s buried in the back of the journal). Second, the bios are unconventional to say the least, and while they may tell you something about the writers, it won’t be the usual stuff, e.g. no previous publications or awards.
The content of this first issue is divided into sections: arrival, soak, rinse, departure, and coda. Parts of it read like a dreamlike sequence, where it almost seems as if the writers are all continuing a single story by one narrator. I noticed that many of the pieces (poetry, fiction, and nonfiction alike) were written in first person singular. I’m not sure if that was a conscious choice on the part of the editors, but it contributed to the commonality between pieces that I felt as I read. I confess that the issue started out a little slow for me, but I warmed up to it quickly. Some of the earlier pieces were a little too out there for my taste. However, there is an eclectic mix to satisfy a range of readers, from traditional realist fiction to less classifiable chunks of prose.
In “Iowa,” we read Danielle Kral’s gripping tale of an odd marriage gone awry and the devastating effects on the two daughters who sprang from it. Greg Miraglia’s “Searching” gives us the words of a despondent narrator at sea: “I am sailing and searching the seas. The wind wails and the waves rock up and down, back and forth. I am looking for land, but each bunch of dirt brings disappointment. I like land.” Steven Ray Smith’s cryptic poem “Into the Loblollies” also caught my attention:
When you said a good word about me
I was famous on the drive northward.
But once into the loblollies,
spent fuel and groggy,
my evolution from failure regressed.
Alana Eisenbarth’s haunting “The Sound of Resilience” is one of the fold-out poems: “Angel of the silo / a grey plea in winter / finite beauty // clutching axe and spade.”
There are other fine pieces of writing in Garbanzo. Many of them are short, only a couple of pages or so, making it simple to pick up the journal and read through just a few at a time. The print is a bit small (minor gripe), but that did afford the editors the chance to pack an overflowing cornucopia of literary goodness into a still compact publication. I’ll be looking out for a second issue.