I’m not easily distracted by bright, shiny objects, but it’s hard not to skip right to Harry Gamboa Jr.’s fotonovela (photo story). The fotonovela is a two-dimensional take on the popular, highly successful, and always melodramatic Latin American telenovela (soap opera). Aztlángst – which, I think, is Gamboa Jr.’s invention and probably means Azatlán-style anxiety (Azatlán is the Chicano term for the US states that were once a part of México) – is a narrative that unfolds in black and white photos of various dimensions with text-box dialogue. The story is introduced with the cast of “actors” and a photo of a man face down on the sidewalk who turns out not to be dead, as one might suppose, but has collapsed in response to financial disaster (the angst in Aztlángst). “The entire system is based on panic,” Serpiento says when he’s told, “Whatever you do, don’t panic.” What is there to panic about? Bank swindling, living beyond our means, gangs, vigilantes, corporate socialism, dirty bombs, no credit, possessions repossessed, and rich war profiteers, all in four pages. The photos are hysterical; the text is an entertaining combination of irony and melodrama. I can’t wait to read the next installment (this is No. 1).
There are a number of other bright, shiny attractions in this issue, most notably the titles of many of the poems: “After Reading a Book about Diego Rivera until I Fall Asleep, I Eat Lunch with Him and Frida behind My New House” (David Domínguez); “Automatic Autobiographic Automation” and “Buy Juan Get Juana Free” (Paul Martínez Pompa); and “Conversations w/a woman who speaks in metaphor” (Carlos Martinez). There’s also Urayoán Noel’s “ME, O POEM! (A CAMEO POEM), close to 60 short lines in upper case letters, a combination of tech speak, Spanish, English, invented phrases, and exclamation points and question marks.
There is a kind of shimmering energy in nearly every piece in the issue. Taut rhythms (“He maps the stone with the quill of a quetzal: 39.705°-105.08°” from John-Michael Rivera’s prose poem, “This is not mano…a conversation with René Magritte”). Language that lures and seduces (“María to Mars-ico / with her mouth // factory sealed” from the Martínez Pompa poem mentioned above). Tender, lyrical impulses (“Here, an open drape / parted by fingers of wind.” from “House without Doors,” by Carolina Morales). Smart, tense timing (“Carmella Santiago begged her husband not to pull the trigger. But when he did, she fell in love with him all over again” – the opening lines of “The Lamentable Inauguration of the Honorary Santiago Freeway, short fiction from Aaron Michael Morales). No point in trying to top that line! Morales gets the last palabra.