NFL fans who take pleasure in the arts will affirm that Green Bay has more to offer than the Packers. From the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay comes the Sheepshead Review, now in its 35th year of publication. Offering fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and a healthy serving of the visual arts, this publication arrives with the smell of a new book, bearing an elusive whiff of fresh bread. Bold graphics lead the way throughout, and not just in the pages designated for the visual arts; the hefty paper and 4-color format contribute to the satisfying feel of the journal.
Layout Editor Jake Jenkins and Creative Editor Matt Vanden Boomen have designed one of the visually strongest arts journals in the current landscape. The look of the magazine, black and white and red all over, contributes drama to the experience of turning these pages. The color palette provides a useful semiotic for readers wishing to go directly to the poetry section, for example, where white type ornaments solid red pages.
Two poems by Samantha Smrz appear 12 pages apart, indicating the editors’ decision to arrange poems according to some organic rubric, rather than the common practice of placing one poet’s works together. Smrz’s “O, Come now Sailor,” a wry yet lyrical love poem, reflects both classical and contemporary themes. Satisfactorily embodying the factitious concepts that can thwart young love, the speaker luxuriates in the sense that “you use such indecorous language / To say such lovely things,” yet admits that “We are both held so far from our minds / And so close to our love of things / We’ve forgotten we are the same.”
Instead of featuring just one, as is common among literary journals, Sheepshead Review in this issue confers space upon 16 different visual artists, most represented by more than a single work. Media and subjects range from “Lady Bug’s World,” a close-up photograph of the insect on a cactus spine, by Paige Konitzer (also represented with the poem “Face-Plant”), to a gory mixed media piece, “The Mannequin Murders” by Willy Conley, to the abstract “Emma, Ink in Water #4” by Cambrie Davis. The pastel “Coquette,” one of three works by Kerstin Torgerson that lead off the visual arts section, compels a second and a third look. It could serve as an illustration for Julia Maack‘s nonfiction piece “A Kept Man,” an account of her grandfather’s excursions into titty bars and his series of mistresses du jour.
Among the four short stories, two are quite brief, approaching the flash fiction category. Sarah Overland’s longer first-person narrative “The Iron Skillet” is a skillfully paced and progressively engaging recollection near the end of her life, voiced by a tiny woman who married a drunk in the 1930s and a bully in the 1940s, yet prevailed over all the challenges of her family life.
Elisha Wagman’s nonfiction piece “Entwined” reflects a strong narrative voice which remembers a relationship of over 30 years involving mental illness, unmarried pregnancy, suicide attempts, adoption, and, finally, redemption for the subject of the piece, though not for the narrator.
The emphasis on graphic design is not the only unusual characteristic of Sheepshead Review. The editors have chosen to omit from this issue a web address, other contact information, submission guidelines, background information on the journal for a new reader, and biographical sketches of the contributors. Granting them their creative choices, I searched for their web site. At the slightly out-of-date website, you will find all the information needed, including an explanation of the magazine’s title and an encouraging account of its resurrection in 2003 after dropping out of circulation for four years.
Since Editor-in-Chief Kelsey DuQuaine discloses that contributors to this issue include “UW-Green Bay’s students as well as artists and artists from across the world,” it appears that the journal has expanded the goal described on its website: “to produce one journal of creative work to showcase the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay students, faculty, staff and the Wisconsin community each semester.”
Hurray for the creators of the Sheepshead Review. Readers who solve the visual puzzle posed by the journal’s cover are rewarded by diverse, provocative and polished work. The magazine deserves a slot in the literary magazine playoffs, and has at least as good a chance as the Packers do to win out.