Bombay Gin, the product of The Naropa Press and the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, continues its legacy of eclecticism and experimental genre-bending in the Fall 2011 publication. Before a word of text is displayed, there is a black and white photo of a woman, handsome in a neck tie delightfully draping dreadlocks. Friends and former colleagues at Naropa and the world of poetry lost Akilah Oliver in 2011. Eleni Sikelianos reflects on the memory of her friend, “She never settled on an identity handed to her, be it her name, her gender, her genre, her theories, her performances, her race—she made herself, from scratch.”
Bombay Gin, and this issue of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, hybrid text, translations, and reviews, is much like Sikelianos’s memory of Oliver. It is difficult to pin down an identity of each piece and, perhaps more so, the collection as a whole.
Early in the section of “New Writing,” poet Kathryn Cowles takes flight with her precision and her pithy observations in “I am on a plane.” Cowles reveals the beauty in simplicity, the loveliness of the uncanny: “I see the moon halved / in the sky in the late / afternoon the same day.” The position of this piece in the journal informs us that we are going to be traveling, perhaps in a plane, perhaps to a location without space or time, a dimension where experience is our impetus.
Sara Veglahn’s excerpt from her forthcoming book, The Ladies, suggests silence with gaping half-pages of white space, each section dedicated to its own page. After any break, the story, or poem, may end, doesn’t, then does, inspiring introspection and re-reading. But the reader is drawn to the chase, seeks out the white and words. “In the empty space between sound and color we ran reckless through the prospect.” The opening line of the piece is, again, a clever signifier for us as readers; we are going somewhere far away, some place familiar.
To accompany the text on this journey, the “New Writings” are bisected with original art by Allie McDowell and black and white photos by Theresa Karsner. One of the photos in particular, “Cycle of a Deer,” a dead fawn in a thicket of five-leafed ivy, head bent toward spine, prepares the reader for Sasha Steensen’s speculative tale of a girl raised by a deer mother, “The Girl & The Deer.” Steensen delivers a character born of nature, her mother made pregnant by the Sun-Father. After the baby’s birth, the mother “placed the baby in [ a] hole, atop the bed. She washed herself and her clothes in the creek, and she followed the creek back to the fields, and the fields back to her home.” Steensen’s concise prose has a muscular, yet tender, quality.
Travis MacDonald, in his conceptual poem, “342117067982148086513282306647,” addresses, body, form, God, and infinity. Perhaps just as interesting as the poem is the method by which he derived the text: “The text is composed solely of language borrowed directly and in strict numerical sequence from The Book of Genesis, The Origin of Species (Chapter 8 - Hybridism) and Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. Each selection is comprised of individual lines whose word count corresponds directly with a relative decimal point of pi to its first thousand places.” The language of explanation is nicely juxtaposed to a twenty-seven line poem with such oddities as:
If, in pursuance of our habit of
order, to show that there is
any degree of sterility, He
forth the living
his kind: cattle, and creeping thing, and beast
hybrid offspring, with
Bombay Gin is like wandering in a foreign city, a distant place between unfamiliarity and home. The hybrid genres and experimental prose forces the reader to explore their understanding of tradition. The strength in the language reminds us that all writing, no matter its shape, should be compelling, exciting and, simply, good.