Glossy, heavy, and floppy, with a wingspan of seventeen inches and a page count of 310, Hotel Amerika, from a physical standpoint, is a struggle to read. The cover image, a sullen self-portrait by Canadian photographer Kourtney Roy, taken from her Autoportraits series, reimagines Snow White as a 1950s school dance wallflower, setting the mood for the eclectic mix of poetry and prose that follows. Roy’s wider body of work, available through her website, is an intriguing retro tour of America’s (and the wider world’s) physical and psychic landscape. The issue’s fare travels from earnest examinations of the past to experimental and sometimes wacky projects. As with most journals, there is a range of quality, inventive, and charming pieces counterbalancing a number of stiff essays and several poems that read like uninspired dialogue camouflaged by line breaks.
The issue’s fourth poem, “Compound” by George Drew, is concise yet powerful, describing fall, the changing colors of the leaves, and tourists who flock northward to see them. Drew writes:
[ . . . ] all we see
is green giving way to black, the true hue
of the world the world doesn’t want to see.
October, and the blackness bludgeons light.
In a strong yet disturbing poem titled “Resuscitate,” Amy Monticello writes about a favorite student whose eagerness and arrogance reminds her of herself, the ways that boundaries between teacher and student had shifted in the past, could shift again. “You, who would not imagine,” she closes, “how I could claw your back and crack your ribs, make you rail for the air I thieve from the lungs of your twenty-two-year-old body.”
“The Club, Houston” by Benjamin S. Grossberg is one of the most captivating poems in the issue, creating a surreal landscape in a few short pages—“a young man, twenty-three, naked, glides / in a clear pool, his body nearly fixed in aspic”—and populating that world with men drinking in the early hours, a stylized thriller element to the whole scene, which is made all the stranger by the half-obvious mystery of the single male voice calling out from a steaming shower, over and over, “Yes, thank you, oh god thank you.”
Also intriguing are Alan Chazaro’s “Remembrance,” in which he writes, “Back / near the hotel, graffiti / spirals like ivy on dead walls,” and “Tryst in Downpour” by John Sibley Williams, who offers these words: “All / I ask of night is captured in the slow / circle stars trace into a torn vellum / sky.”
A more traditional piece, the essay “After Italy” by Anna Monardo, thoughtfully explores three generations of failed marriages—from grandmother to granddaughter—showing how two people can be together yet apart, and how divorce can be final even when the separation isn’t. In a scene where the author is waiting for her own small wedding to begin, summoning up visions of the friends and family elders who weren’t invited or couldn’t make it, Monardo imagines her ancestors saying to her, “Bella, you can be married or not, but love will have its way with you in ways you can only glimpse while you stand there sunk up to your ankles in the muck.”
In contrast to the steadiness of Monardo’s story, Jennifer Quartararo’s “Three Months” pings the reader from place to place in short vignettes about travel and relationships, broken up here and there by abstract and jarring thoughts: “Will my fingertips turn to rose petals? Will they fall off one by one?” The chronology is off, scattered like the notecards Mary Robison used when writing Why Did I Ever?, and the result is a charming piece that ends without the sense of an ending, with the implication that there is more, that a life is being lived somewhere entirely off the page.
The Spring 2018 issue of Hotel Amerika is a complex destination: the carpet is a little garish, the bed is a little dusty, and someone’s left a half a tube of toothpaste in the bathroom sink—and yet the towels are fresh, the neighbors are quiet, and the bedside bible’s been swapped out for a book of poetry. Ultimately, it’s the quirks and positive moments that leave the greatest impression, the art and writing that strives to make something new or to say the words everyone else held in. It’s this kind of work that’s worth coming back to, someday, one day, hopefully soon.