When I received phoebe, I was struck by the name. Phoebe was one of the Titan gods and for some time was in control of the Delphic Oracle. She’s been called Goddess of Wise Counsel, Thoughtful Replies, and Snappy Answers. What a great name for a journal! I though with glee. I began reading with an earnest hopefulness that phoebe would turn out to be wise, intelligent, and quirky. Was she ever!
The poetry in phoebe is colossal, by which I mean exceptional and demanding. Image-driven, mysterious, and contemplative, they urge you to slow down.
I could spend a day or two just pondering some of the more bizarre images. Take, for example,
sullen mermaids, angels washing
their underwear, the sea rising, trees
singing as they die, & feathers.
These lines come from an untitled poem by Emily Carr. It’s gorgeous and odd, a mixture of heaven, earth, and ocean. These are images I could never dream up, and yet, Carr places them neatly on the page. Forgive me, Carr, but what I get from these amazing images is a mixture of joy and pain, ordinary and extraordinary. For me, this poem is about the delicate balance of life, the sorrows we endure, and the hope we have for the future.
A second, shorter poem that is just as lovely and slightly more accessible is called “Your Name: An Aerie.” Written by Aran Donovan, it’s the winner of the Greg Grummer Poetry Prize. It begins, “I make a nest for your name. I weave / around it needles, pine, the down of a vest.” The gesture of creating a nest to cradle someone’s name, someone’s identity, is heart-warming. The unique images make this poem so much more than a kind of love poem. It’s both tender and raw.
After you’ve spent some time digging around the poetry in phoebe, don’t put your shovel away. The fiction is equally fascinating and less abstract. One story, called “Today is a Fish” by Rachel Khong, is about a neurotic woman who dates a drunken fisherman. Nothing much happens, but the writing is fabulous, and the story depicts a sense of loneliness and longing.
Another interesting story, Samantha Erin Tetangco’s “Asking For It,” is about a transgendered couple living in Albuquerque. Dust becomes a symbolic third character, a lingering heaviness that makes it impossible for the couple to shake their pasts.
Lastly, the story that moved me most is called “Good Morning Beautiful,” by Roya Khatiblou. It’s about Arsham, an Iranian pre-med student attending Loyola in Chicago. He’s lonely and alienated, doing poorly in school and almost starving as he tries to stretch out his student loans. His landlord, Lenny, is a bit of a mess as well. From a terrific stench in the hallway, they deduce that the elderly woman next door has died. Lenny wants to look for money in her apartment before calling the cops. Arsham is appalled, but he needs that money, too. What happens in the final scene is both macabre and inspirational.
After reading the magazine, I’m totally down with the title. Phoebe is not only a Titan among journals, it’s down-to-earth and intellectually stimulating, a difficult combination to achieve. I don’t know how the journal really got its name, but I know one goddess who’s softly chuckling her approval.