I really like the way Main Street Rag fits in my hand; it's the perfect size for a literary magazine. It's also cool that MSR publishes letters from readers. In my experience, that's a rarity for a literary mag, but one that I think adds to the experience of reading a magazine. It's always fun to see what other readers have to say. Publisher/Editor M. Scott Douglass clearly puts a considerable amount of work into Main Street Rag, and marks each issue with his own “Front Seat” and “Back Seat” columns that bookend the contents. Not shy about veering into political territory, Douglass launches this particular issue's “Back Seat” into a commentary on American economics and class struggles, offering up his own solutions on tax issues (two options to choose from!). This sort of diatribe within a literary magazine may seem out of place to some readers, but I found it refreshing. It helps to project the image that MSR is quite comfortable in its own skin.
The feature this time around is Douglass's interview with fiction writer Michael F. Smith. In April 2011, Main Street published Smith's novella The Hands of Strangers, which received a starred review in Publisher's Weekly that subsequently led to significant interest in the book. This was Smith's first book, and it's clear from the interview that Douglass is nearly, if not equally, excited and pleased as Smith is with its positive reception. The interview leans topically toward Smith's experience with trying to get published and with working with Main Street, as well as an overview of the book's themes and Smith's creative process. Douglass seems genuine in his desire to help out emerging writers and is happy to see them move on to the next level of success beyond his own small press.
Poetry-wise, the issue wanders from among the constellations (Louis Daniel Brodsky's “My Own Cosmos”), through seasons both real and symbolic (Leonard Cirino's “Fitted to the Wind”), to the Mississippi River (Maureen Martindale's “The Precision of the Accident”), and beyond the clutches of this mortal coil (Ariana Nadia Nash's “You Say You're Looking Forward to Death”). I have a couple of favorites. “Tenses” by Diana Festa:
Love favors tact over honesty –
I look away from the road ahead, do not
The narrative of days cannot be rescued,
and I don't know how to deal
with remaining fragments.
And Jason Jones Sheppard's “Bluegrass”:
It's all about the grass climbing up
the side of a mountain
when the prickly banjo begins to speak
through its thin skin,
and the mandolin hints
that there may be magic here
left over from ancient times
hidden in the darkness of a cave
or buried beneath the velvet verdure.
Of the handful of stories in here, the stand-out for me was David Jordan's “You Never Can Tell,” which offers an evening's tale of late adolescence in all its confusion and paper-thin fragility. In it, home-from-college Ryan Dunn begins to notice his “safe” girlfriend's younger sister in a way he previously had not. You can probably imagine a number of colorful endings for this one. I was not quite expecting the one that showed up.
The issue closes out with a few pages of book reviews, showcasing a new novel from Michael Parker called The Watery Part of the World, and poetry collections from Stephen French, J.S. Absher, Lisa Fay Coutley, and others. Many of the poetry collections reviewed are first chapbooks, so kudos to the Main Street staff for promoting the work of new writers.