Fifth Wednesday Journal is a most impressive magazine. Each beautifully-designed issue contains about 200 pages of poetry, prose, and black-and-white art and photography. Its editor, Vern Miller, has advanced degrees in both business and German Language and Literature, and FWJ, as it likes to be called, is the splendid result of these two passions. Guest editors in poetry and fiction oversee each issue. “Impressions,” the photo-and-art center section, is arresting and often brilliant. Interviews with a poet and a fiction writer, along with a number of book reviews, round out the journal.
This issue’s guest editors are the poet Michael Anania and the fiction writer Carolyn Alessio. The “Poetry Around Us” department features an interview on the creative process with poet Elise Paschen, and “Taking the Fifth” (FWJ’s “soon-to-be-iconic” interview series) an interview with Stephen Dixon. In addition, FWJ conducts an outreach program “to increase the use of literary magazines in classes devoted to teaching literature and creative writing” (see website).
FWJ is a journal worth stopping for, and a glance at the contributors’ bios indicates why. Among the award-winning graduate students in art and creative writing stroll such luminaries as Charles Wright, Marvin Bell, and Dianne Wakoski, and among them all, none is less excellent than the next, clearly vindicating FWJ’s subtitle (or motto): “Defining literature. In real context.”
For example, the central scene in Charles Lamar Phillips’s “Postmortem Literature,” a farcical look at grad-school angst and politics, steps outside its heretofore-straightforward narrative voice to give us lists: “Some stuff Bobby Duncan [our protagonist] thought that night…Other things he noted… [and] a few observations he made too and questions he asked of himself,” as well as “A dozen things Claire Sibley said to Bobby Duncan that night.” These lists propel the story forward and upward, and when the narrative voice resumes its more linear trajectory, we are miles ahead, ready for the scathing—but utterly trustworthy—plunge into real life Bobby Duncan and Claire Sibley have to take.
And then, just after, we read what I assume are excerpts from Marvin Bell’s forthcoming book from Copper Canyon, Vertigo: The Living Dead Man Poems:
The dead man’s way of writing is a new wrinkle on old parchment.
Like you, he was looking for a word in the water, a rune, a code, a clue
of any kind when he wised up
His daytimes and nighttimes are preparations.
For him to know means less to him than to know he does not know.
Death is a mystery. Bell takes us to its very edge and makes us believe we can meet it.
Similarly, Maura Stanton’s “Black-Eyed Peas” behaves like one of those films where for a time you follow one character and then you shift to another apparently unrelated one—until suddenly their paths intersect and a story begins to take a shape. As you keep watching, complex interweaving of relations and disconnects come clear, but only as a function of interstices you have to fill in. This fine piece ends with Sally “[tweaking] up a space between two slats of the blinds […] that was her life out there, smothered by blackness, unless she could illuminate the shape.” Illuminating the shape is what Stanton has done. Read it and wonder!
The interviews are similarly outstanding. Stephen Dixon and FWJ play with the whole question of interviews, since Dixon was a “brash” interviewer before he became an experimenter in fictional structures. The reader can hear the laughter and the deep respect as the conversation moves from typewriters (Yes! Dixon uses a typewriter!) to writer’s block (“the only ‘writer’s block’ I knew was the one on Seventy-Fifth where I lived”) to living with a seriously ill spouse in the midst of producing books.
If I were an educator, I would strongly consider taking advantage of the outreach program FWJ is inaugurating. This journal is gorgeously produced, profoundly conscious of talent and depth, and clearly intentional in its brilliance. I’ve mentioned only a few of this issue’s many, many fine entries. To read them all, your day, your week, your season will be better for it.