The latest issue of Versal establishes its strong character before you even open it up. Simply styled with Antoinette Nausikaä’s cover art, it states in black handwriting “I AM HAPPY” (followed by the date and location of the statement’s creation). There it is. A negation of the bland and normal, an embracing of the strangeness of human existence. Part of the cover’s beauty comes from its confidence—isn’t it a bit more difficult, a bit more unnerving to say simply, “I am”? It allows for the possibility of any (or no) emotion, any description, and in that sense it is universal. Fitting, since the journal prides itself on its trans locality, based in Amsterdam but spanning across nations. At the same time, however, the statement is personal, almost forceful.
You might think that I’m placing too much importance on what is only a small part of the journal, but I have my reasons. In short, Nausikaä’s piece wonderfully embodies the aesthetic and feeling of Versal, which is not always the case with cover art. The works inside its pages fall into that vast middle-ground between abstract and realistic. At times, I found myself reading a piece (especially of poetry) and being completely unable to wrap my head around it. Meaning: obscurity is not for everyone, but Versal seems intrigued by it. And it seems to work for them.
Several stories ascribe human thoughts and emotions to inhuman entities. Nate Liederbach’s “Demonstrum” features some sort of beast—a weird mix of claws, gills, horns, fur, a linen shroud, etc.—artfully describing its own downfall. The troll in Jacqueline Vogtman’s “Letter from a Suicide to a Troll” is more lover than monster as he re-dresses and spoon-feeds the narrator. In “The Reindeer Daughter” by Suzanne Warren, the humanization is a bit more vague; the narrator (the adoptive father) doesn’t exactly give us reason to believe Doris is more than an animal, but they have an affair nonetheless. “She was a reindeer, yes,” he says, “but she was beautiful.” The most far-fetched instance of personification (and what I would say is one of the strongest pieces in the journal) is seen in Carmen Petaccio’s “Tornado.” In it, the tornado writes a self-deprecating letter to the farmer it’s been pestering: “Hello. I am your tornado,” and “destruction is all I know.”
Other noteworthy pieces include Maya Sarishvili’s “[A friend disappears from you like this—],” Lucas Southworth’s “Marianne M. Masterson: A Well-written Author,” and Amy Mackelden and Laura Tansley’s “Chemistry,” which explores the chemical reactions between, around, and inside of people.
you at the peak of every nerve, every single one. And once you’ve
been there, to the edge of every ending, I am scarlet, I am violet,
I am yellow cut. And then completely colourless.
The entire journal is edgy (some of it over the edge), urgent (noticeable in the mostly first-person, mostly present tense writing), and evocative. It is not for those with a low tolerance for strangeness, but it is worth spending a little time on, worth getting to know a little better, like that odd but non-threatening neighbor down the street. You know, the one who lives alone with all the cats, but who you’ve heard has a fascinating backstory.