Copper Nickel states on the submission page that the journal publishes no more than 2% of the submissions it receives. After careful study of its October edition, I can easily perceive the appeal: the value proposition of this particular journal exceeds the usual draws—presentation, print and polish. The journal is intelligent in a bold way, showcasing surrealist efforts in at least three of the prose included, and I cage the statistic in “at least,” because the classification “surreal” has been thoroughly extended by popular vernacular: sometimes an exotic dragon making a holographic appearance truly tests the limits of the term. (See Leslie Rakowicz’s short story “Celia,” for an illustration of same.)
Anne Valente’s short story “Dear Amelia” neatly complements Sarah Gerkensmeyer’s short story “My Husband’s House” in unexpected ways. Valente’s story concerns a development of a community of outsiders against a second-person narration of Amelia Earhart’s voyages. Her exposition is clean with all objects clear:
Our mothers evaded explanation. They left truth to hearsay. We’d heard all our lives about a tribe of Maine Black bears, a vicious clan hiding deep inside the woods. Part human, part ursine. Born of the same strands of American legend as the Jersey Devil, as Blackbeard’s ghost upon the shore.
The story is busy on several levels—the reader is curious as to what the symbolism represents, on how the frame of Earhart is ultimately positioned, on whether the intellectual drive is feminist in totality or if one is asked to peel back a separate layer, to find a deeper meaning in the wasteland of social abandonment. I like that the speaker oscillates between the third and second person and the way that the perspective itself permutes without losing the connection to the ideas and the plot development.
Gerkensmeyer’s story is also alive with nature; she weaves a complex tale of love, abuse, and loss in the throes of a twisted Ohio river. A young woman explores a sequestered fishing community and marries into it. Her husband disappears. And reappears. And the language is rich enough that the specific realities are masked—very much like real life, where the truths of our perception twist with enough stimuli.
While Gerkensmeyer’s storyline isn’t a direct parallel to Valente’s in terms of subject matter, both stories reach toward other ways of expressing vivid emotion in a way that the form and function are successfully married. In one sentence for Valente’s story, the fortunes and courage of a flight innovator are a framework for the maturation of identity. In one sentence for Gerkensmeyer’s story, a clandestine river community and culture is a slippery, piscine pier for a woman’s marital loss. Surely we can abstract the story and extract the narrative clinically just as surely we can lose everything. Pop cultural imaginings (Harry Potter, Twilight, American Gods) aren’t the only ways we can dream big. In Copper Nickel, these courageous writers have dared to resurrect strong stylistic innovations in the literary sphere.
Adam Sturtevant’s “The Pretenders” and Bradford Tice’s “Skin” both address classical themes with engaging twists. I liked an outsider’s look at depression; Sturtevant takes a simple story of a new mother who cannot feed her infant and frames it from the point of view of an actor who faces a new role as brother and uncle at considerable professional cost. In masterful strokes, Tice takes a simple story of a loss of a pet and a love affair and frames it from the point of view of a young man who the reader suspects to be very vulnerable because of the failure to marry his lover. And yet, again as I abstract these stories into suggestions of plot, I miss the brilliance of the narration, the pull of the stories that forces me to consider every word. These writers are economical with language, but their worlds are rife with possibilities.
The poets in this issue of Copper Nickel are diverse in voice, but each poet achieves an elegant intelligence that you might find mirrored in the prose. While I do not feel obliged to reach beyond my own level of academic preparation (one certainly can), I don’t lose anything in simply reveling in the mastery of language and interpreting the strength of feeling through a basic lens. I want a poem I can read on a city bus, something to carry with me through the rain. And while these are smart poems, they do not exclude the reader, in any way, shape, or form.