This lovely little literary magazine doesn’t look like it could hold as much purely spectacular writing as it does, but don’t be fooled by its 50 pages. This speakeasy means business. Composed primarily of poems, with one short story, the editors have chosen wonderful explorations of emotions, both joyful and sorrowful, both reminiscent and forward-looking.
The first example of finery is Charles Israel Jr.’s “VFW Night.” The winner of the journal’s 2008 Flip Kelly Prize for a Single Poem, it features Israel Jr.’s escapist grandfather, whose refuge is five miles from his home. This writer’s pen framed perfect imagery in saying, “At the VFW there’s dancing and Sinatra / on the jukebox. One night a month the men / hire a lady singer. All the wars of / the last century can hide in the rose of her alto.” Seriously, I loved this poem, and I am not surprised that it’s a prize winner.
From the VFW, we skip to the sole story, Jeffrey Wallace’s “Shells,” and to narrator Jimmy’s grandmother’s grave. As Jimmy speaks to the reader, it is a moment one rarely finds in literature, a kind of transcendental experience: “I want to talk to her as I’m standing on her grave. I want to say something meaningful, like you see in movies, but it’s cold. It’s Christmas Eve, nearly thirteen months since she died, and I can’t help but feel that I’m a spectacle even though I’m by myself.”
And from elders, we skip to the young, and B.D. Feil’s “Austin Kraemer is Stealing Home.” Austin, the author writes, runs with, “steady / goodwill of an honest face / should count for something / on the basepaths and usually does.” As the parents watch from the stands and cheer on their brave son, Feil writes that they “live on the hope he generates / with his two deliberate legs.” In these five lines, the writer manages to encapsulate the combination of pride and hope with which we infuse our children. It’s a fascinating display.
As a mother, I know the exact feeling of which Michael Young writes about his son in “Stepping Out”: “that’s what I want to teach him. // the necessary pause – not hesitation, / not even patience – but simply / waiting for the eyes to adjust // before stepping out.” It’s wonderful, really.
It is for these nods to the past and the shielding of our eyes toward the horizon that Plain Spoke deserves its place amongst bigger and flashier magazines. One must remember that great things can be found in small packages.