I like your motto: Stories Poetry Interviews Essays & Such. “Such” being my favorite word, because it makes so many promises without making any promises, you rogue, you. I like your cover art, the black and white photograph of a young man all bundled up and reading in some other time. It’s nostalgic and comforting. I like that you are only eight bucks in the U.S., which is actually quite decent for a lit mag. I also like your editorial, thanks to Editor Euan Monaghan, which includes this little paragraph:
The only aim we’ve ever had for this magazine is to produce something worth reading, something that authors and poets will want to have their work printed in. If the content of this issue is anything to go by, I think we can say that we are succeeding. It’s a bloody good one.
That, my dear Structo, is a humbly confidant morsel, and it’s got you pegged. I struggled writing this review, mostly because I had to take copious notes in a tiny notebook. I couldn’t bring myself to dog-ear your pages, ink up your margins, or mar you in any way. You’re just too special for that.
Now, Structo, you happen to publish my favorite type of poetry, which is image-driven and saturated with humanity, which is to say emotional but also mundane. Quiet moments: a woman holding a pebble, a man looking out the window. Compiled, this is the stuff of life. Elijah Burrell’s “Social Networking Sights” captures this silent sentiment in one perfect stanza:
He imagines lamp-lit bodies of lonely people;
how they search the sidewalks for anyone they know,
or did; their steps like taps on keyboards after
long days; the alleys diseased with clicks of mice.
We could talk about Burrell’s endearing use of semi-colons, but let’s not. Instead, let’s discuss the fact that great poetry is often sad. Here, Burrell has mingled the anonymity of the interweb with the anonymity of city life. What we get is a somewhat universal truth. Life can be lonely.
But you’re not depressed, Structo, nor depressing. While many of your poems are downers, they’re beautifully written, so who cares? And then there’s “Sixth Graders Discuss Poetry,” by Heather Dobbins, a poem that illustrates your thematic versatility while maintaining your pledge to damn good writing. It begins: “A student asks me, Have you always lived on this planet? / I nod, scramble before the tardy bell to explain / a poet’s place in history.” And ends:
There can be
no human without earth, nor love without language.
She meets my eye, patient, asks me now,
Have you ever written a love poem?
As you know, all poems are love poems, or something like that, and what better way to prove it than this poem, with its rich images, from planets and books to sailors and mythological elements, all culminating with crayon drawings on classroom walls? It’s ambitious in the best sense and solidifies our humanity through time and place.
Phew! That was deep stuff. Your fiction is also deep, if the definition of “deep” is: fabulously written and also addressing human concerns, like debt and racism and sitting in traffic. “He’s a Bull,” by Robert Karl Harding is narcissistic and blasphemous (“Suck on that! says God”). In short: wonderful. And a trickster—Harding dangles possible stories in our faces and snaps them back. The story turns into a story about a man named Dean, or Dick, one or the other, or both. Damn you, Harding! Dick is a seemingly strong man (a bull) but one day breaks down and sobs and continues to have weeping fits until he admits himself into a special hospital and eventually tries to jump off a building. Interesting, right? But of course the story isn’t really about Dick; it’s about the narrator, who sees Dick’s story as a parallel to his inner turmoil. He says: “I am falling still, waiting to hit the rocks in the outer asteroid belt and re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, all my planets reconfigured.” I’m glad he carries is self-absorption all the way to the very end. Who doesn’t see themselves in every one else?
“Mt Prospect,” written by Benjamin Van Loon is another good one and an example of your willingness to publish flash fiction, a genre I am becoming increasingly excited about. So, thank you. This one depicts something we’ve all experienced while sitting in traffic: the desire to murder the person in the car in front of you. This funny little story (“I thought of bopping my horn, but if the man were dead, then I would always be the guy who honked at a corpse.”) ends in an unexpectedly kind moment between the narrator and not-dead driver, and we are urged to hold on to hope in a seemingly hopeless world.
Your interviews are very cool, too, and should not go unnoticed. Romping around in the minds of authors is a rare and fascinating experience. I especially liked “Word-infested Water: An Interview with Steven Hall” because he comes across as so natural and easy-going. He says, “I think there’s a sweet point between planning and understanding what you’re trying to do because if you don’t already believe the world you’re planning to write about, when you come to write about it then it feels fake.” For me, this boils down to some very keen advice that all writers should make note of: Don’t force it.
Aside from interviews, it’s hard to tell if you publish other types of nonfiction, although your website says you publish essays, and there are a few pieces in this issue that sound like creative essays but could also be fiction. Who knows? Maybe you could add genre headings to the contents page. That might help. Anyway, it’s difficult to find room for improvement, Structo, since you’re annoyingly awesome, but I have to give some form of criticism, you know.
Sincerely Yours & Best Wishes Forever,
p.s. I know I’ve expressed admiration for other lit mags in the past, but I want you to know that you’re special. I’ve never felt this way before. I think you might be the one. Call me?