The subtitle of Palooka seems to indicate that editors Nicholas Maistros and Jonathan Starke have something of an outsider’s mindset. This “journal of underdog excellence” contains work that, according to Maistros, responds to the “storms” we experience in “different yet collectively elemental ways.” From the journal’s colorful and playfully disturbing cover art to its entertaining contributors’ notes, Palooka turns the difficult trick of making itself accessible to a wide range of audiences without talking down to them.
This second issue of Palooka contains works in a wide range of forms. In addition to the standard short stories, poems, and nonfiction essays, the reader will find Francis Raven’s extended graphic nonfiction essay in which he describes the process by which he helped his friend find an apartment in New York City. Instead of merely snapping pictures of the apartment, Raven documents the neighborhood in which Brett, “the type of friend that you can’t meet later in life,” may live. During the bus trip, Raven sees graffiti in the bathroom that urges readers to “run with scissors” he also finds a postcard in a local coffee shop that provides evidence as to how the neighborhood has changed. The tall woods and lazy green hills in view have been replaced, just as the coffee shop is so new that it is a bodega on Google Maps’ Street View. The places in which we live, it seems, are altered in ways both large and small.
The editors juxtapose a fourteen-year-old’s playful photograph with a reproduction of a mixed media piece that combines acrylic paint, a page from a music score and a quote from Goethe. This piece depicts two women in gowns painted in expressionistic style; one is dancing (seemingly blindfolded), while the other seems to be watching indignantly. Above the dancer is Goethe’s request: “Please send me your last pair of shoes, worn out with dancing as you mentioned in your last letter, so that I might have something to press against my heart.” The sheer variety of forms presented in Palooka may make the publication an interesting gift choice for a friend who might not be sure if he or she likes literary journals.
“Cat’s Eye,” a story from Kelly Morris, is as engaging as it is brief. The story’s first-person narrator (of ambiguous gender) recalls the turning point in an adolescence buoyed by contemplation of a clear night sky and complicated by an alcoholic father and self-injury. Morris deals with questions well, answering the important ones and leaving the interesting ones open to interpretation. The narrator and a friend recline on a blanket and debate the nature of the universe for months, sharing bug spray in the summer and hot chocolate in the winter. The relationship and its focus on the stars clearly help the narrator understand the world to some necessary level of satisfaction. However, on the night the narrator’s father finds out about these trips, “it ended.” Morris allows us to wonder what “it” was and what it represented to her narrator.
Anyone who has ever been in a relationship will understand Joe Havasy’s comic, “A Scientific Fact.” One heartbroken bird sadly speaks of love to another heartbroken bird who sadly says “no.” The quick resolution of the dead romance will awaken the lonely teenager in all of us.
Editors Maistros and Starke experiment in the best of ways. Like the journal’s namesake, Palooka enters the ring with honest intentions and doesn’t let up until the final bell rings.