Versal is true to its etymology. The word is related to the Latin vertere (to turn). This work will turn heads and turn your expectations upside down and inside out. You can turn some of the phrases over and over in your mind as you ponder their meanings. The work turns away from convention. There are surprising twists and turns. If you’re not into inventiveness or writing that is deliberately edgy and unusual (odd even), you may want to walk away. If this kind of work excites you, you’ll find something to interest you at every turn. Every time you turn the page, you encounter a unique turn of phrase.
Produced in Amsterdam, Versal’s contributors come from around the world, but write, with a few exceptions, in English. Their work embodies what editor Megan Garr refers to as translocality (a turning away from traditional notions of place or home?). It is difficult to categorize this writing because it works deliberately to defy categorization. In the poetry, this is done primarily through inventive and original syntactical arrangements, and in the prose by a combination of quirky voices and images that border on the fantastical, decidedly foreign, surreal, or intimate in a way that can feel voyeuristic.
Turning now to examples of syntactical innovation, take Lizzi Thistlethwayte’s untitled poem:
block all bad pages
weep haul weep haul
through the scratch and the song thrush
lay you down yourself
tight to the sea bed
Or the conclusion of “Transcript,” a poem by Kathryn Cowles:
Or these excerpts from Albane Gillé’s prose poems, translated from the French by Jennifer K. Dick: “a man doesn’t run he trips over his feet his shoes something isn’t going right down these it is not solid enough” and “with his bent body it’s been so many winters in the same year that he no longer laughs in his room locked tight on the white wall he wrote we shoot the horses.”
Or the opening lines of Rob McLennan’s “Another (Short) History of L.”:
at whatever attempts you’ve made,
the riverbed hands
the smell becomes new from small places.
And for prose examples, Joel Fishbane turns a short story into a faux theater review in “Marriage Not Worth Price of Admission”: “When we first meet the two protagonists in the appropriately titled The Marriage of the Theater Critic to His Wife, they are grunting through an orgasm on an uncomfortable mattress in a dreary studio apartment. We aren’t quite certain whose orgasm it is, but it hardly matters: this orgasm, like all the ones in their marriage, is completely fake.”
There is Lehua M. Taitano’s story “Suit,” which turns away from its opening hint at humor to reveal a deadly serious subject: “I’m the guy on the corner in a gorilla suit, holding the silly sign. It’s not what you think. I’m a Sri Lankan ex-paramilitary child soldier. Female. You do not need to know the details. It has been many years. The suit is hot.”
And there is Augstina Bazterrica’s “Roberto,” translated from the Spanish by Laura L. Chalar, a short first-person satire about sexual abuse/intimidation among school children, which begins: “I have a rabbit between my legs. It’s black. I call him Roberto.”
Versal, as it happens, also refers to the “single, individual, rare.” And this certainly turns out to be true.