I confess I missed the first eight issues, but now that I’ve become acquainted with this unconventional journal, I’d recommend it, especially to readers who prefer a great, big messy read of a review to more slender volumes. Everything about this magazine is big from its oxymoronic title, to the type size of its 300 pages, to the startling amount of space devoted to this issue’s “featured poet,” Anthony Seidman – a whopping 60 pages. I’d venture to say that Seidman is the most widely published writer in the issue, though it would be impossible to judge based on credentials.
Skidrow Penthouse includes no contributors’ notes. Except for a page-long bio of Seidman, there is no bio data at all. This is not necessarily a negative. It forces me to take the work at face value, unless I recognize a name – Catherine Sasanov, Colette Inez, Philip Memmer, Charles Harper Webb, Philip Dacey, for example. But, I don’t know a thing about Edgar Cage (which demonstrates more about my limitations, I know, than his), except that I like very much his poem, “A Trace of Fear on the Bedroom Wall.” And I don’t know if Kenneth Frost is a teacher or a psychotherapist or a journalist (all professions that have appeared in contributors’ notes I’ve read recently), but I do know that I appreciate the poems he’s contributed, which are deft and clever.
Much of the work, both poetry and fiction, is edgy and a little raw, but not all of it. Sasanov, as always, is masterful in an understated way. Tony Gloeggler’s poem, “Spaces,” couldn’t be sweeter. (“The spaces / between the notes kept getting / bigger; and somehow I knew / Thelonius had made those places / so my mother could cry / and I could listen.”) The art, of which there is a lot, is fierce, more skid row than penthouse, but it suits the journal with its funky fonts and titles the size of small skyscrapers. The one drawback without contributors’ notes is that when I discover a writer whose work I did not know and want to read more of, I don’t know where to look for him or her, poets Terry Ann Thaxton or Dan Raphael, for example. Finally, I must say, since the journal’s title introduces the subject, that at $12 this is a lot of bang for the buck – probably not viable if you do live on skid row, but a definite bargain if you’ve got a roof over your head and money to burn.