Exit 7 is as beautiful, bizarre, and bewitching as its cover suggests—a man standing amongst seaweed near the shoreline, with flippers for feet and a fish’s head who appears to have emerged from the sea, a whole new creature. Exit 7 is a whole new creature, glistening and brilliant.
I know you’re all waiting for me to say that Exit 7 “blew me out of the water.” Clichés aside, I was thrilled with this magazine from beginning to end. I wasn’t expecting much from a first issue. There are so many first issues out there, and many magazines just don’t succeed. Exit 7 is a rarity. Its poems, stories, essay, and artwork are excellent.
The front and back covers, and the collection presented mid-magazine, consist of Maggie Taylor’s superb antique photographs overlain with strange, interesting objects. Her “Girl with a Bee Dress” is sad and defiant (the girl’s expression is open-eyed and almost quivering-mouthed), hopeful (she’s holding a bright pink flower), scary (she’s wearing a dress of bees!), and slightly embarrassing (they begin to fly away, threatening to expose her naked body). All of Taylor’s pieces hold a whimsical, yet threatening, quality. They go against nature, and that’s unnerving but somehow spiritual.
Next, Exit 7 is predominantly poetry. My copy is riddled with pastel flags sticking out at all angles. Technically, we’re talking about free verse poems, great images, fabulously quotable lines. Thematically, anything goes, but I find it interesting that many of the poems are directed at the readers with an instruction-like quality. For instance, “When you meet a man who puts you in your place / with just his eyes, stick around for what he has to say” (Micah Ling), or “Open the window to hear the ocean” (Christopher Louvet), or “Grow a sweet potato and tell me there’s no god” (Nathaniel Perry), or “Curl inward, become a log” (Erin Keane). Not all of the poems have this instructive tone, but they do force the reader to participate, not just observe. I have so many favorites, but I really enjoyed the three prose poems by Melanie Braverman from The World With Us In It that ended the magazine The second prose poem is about ghosts and begins:
The ghost in the closet is scarier than the one in the bedroom, a sensitive friend says one night over Irish beer. Why shouldn’t it be, cold where the winter wind pours in, bits of insulation leaking from the pipes? It’s dark in there and now it’s full of shoes, the last place I wanted to clean before we moved in, pulling a skeletal mouse from the shelf and cryptic metal street signs and hangers reduced by rust.
I like this poem because it is all at once weird, sad, funny, scary, and personal. The moments are ordinary, joking with friends, moving. Yet, the interior landscape is desolate, bleak. Later, Braverman says “What will we do with our ghosts?” like someone would say “What will we do with this mess?” after a child’s birthday party. Our figurative ghosts are real and alive, and take up space in our lives.
There are two fiction pieces in the inaugural issue of Exit 7. “Shocks and Struts,” by Jim Ray Daniels, is about two brothers who get mistaken for each other. Bobby, a recovering alcoholic, has pulled his life together, but Steve is still drunk and fumbling through life. Bobby is frustrated and annoyed with Steve, but he also sees himself in his brother—which makes it hard to let go of their relationship.
“The Postmaster’s Dog,” by Jeff Wallace, is about a lower class girl, Jenny, who finds a dead dog in the woods and confronts the owners about it. The postmaster’s wife denies the dog is theirs as they have already replaced the dog with a newer, livelier model. Although the postmaster’s family seems to have the best of everything, Jenny realizes that money isn’t everything. Both stories are equally good and suspenseful, both dark and hopeful.
There is one essay in this issue, and it is top-notch. Greg Schwipps’s “An Essay in Five Parts” is formally titled “Some Comments I Had Prepared in Case You Asked About the Line in the Acknowledgements Page of My Novel Where I Mention That My Folks 'Were the Kinds of Parents Who Thought Crows Made Good Pets, and I Owe Them a Great Deal For That,' But Then You Never Asked”
Um, yeah. How could this essay not totally rock after that introduction? Okay, here’s a quote to win you over: “You stroll around the farm and even mow the yard on a riding mower with a giant crow perched on your shoulder. You are some kind of half-assed Hoosier pirate.” This essay is laugh-out-loud funny. It depicts the life of Joe, the family crow, from the time the Schwipps rescued him from his nest until his disappearance, when “You look around his hanging flower basket nest and find only one clue: a perfectly clipped flower, left on the concrete below, like a message or a symbol.” Joe’s loss is sad. You’ve spent the entire essay cheering for Joe, desperately desiring your own crow, mentally beating the other kids who think your family is odd, and then you lose the crow. You lose your childhood, your innocence. “You spend the next few years of your life growing animated at the sound of the crow’s caw, listening for one that sounds almost human.” We’re all waiting for the return of something great, are we not?
In conclusion, Exit 7 is surprisingly awesome. Its inaugural issue blew me out of the water (there it is, folks). Amazing poems, stories, essays, and artwork. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next year!