Booth never fails to present a beautiful product, and Issue 9 is no exception. In fact, it’s such a beautifully produced issue, I wrote notes about it in a separate journal, unable to bring myself to scribble in the margins and ruin a good thing. A green color scheme starts on the cover with art by Jillian Nickell—a house on a hill that’s actually a sleeping creature’s back—and carries through the entire issue. Even the inside cover flaps are donned with colorful art. Luckily, the editors put in just as much care in their writing selections, so readers guilty of judging books by covers will not be disappointed when they read the work this issue of Booth holds.
The issue starts strong with the winner and runners-up of the 2015 Booth Poetry Prize, first place Paula Brancato kicking it off with her poem “The only time I ever cried at the gym.” A yoga pose breaks down a wall inside the speaker, grief centered around a miscarriage finally surfacing. In bow pose, years of life and death unravel and she examines the ways family blood is carried on and dies in others.
Runner-up Rachel Contreni Flynn in “When I open the door a boy stands there” machine gun rattles through her prose poem, a boy with ill intentions appearing on her doorstep. The speaker juggles with the role of mother: the desire to find his mom (“Where is your mother? which seems the only thing to ask in trouble”), acting almost motherly as she holds him and brings him inside her home, and reflecting finally on being a mother to her own son who needs shielding from this strange boy who needs his own shielding and mothering.
An interview with Tim O’Brien breaks up the creative work, the conversation ranging from his experience as a Vietnam vet, to connections between golf and writing, ending with two pieces of advice for writers: be incredibly stubborn by writing every day, and read lots. While not the most original piece of advice to writers, O’Brien presents it with heart and gives his own unique twists.
Unique twists can be found in a lot of pieces of work in this issue. In his story “Everything Strange and Unknown,” Joe Meno seamlessly ties together humor and sadness. Paul’s wife has just left him for a ping-pong player (which no one can take seriously) and he now must bumble through raising his kids alone:
I try as best I can to keep it together. The kids are all good sports. There are three or four of them, and every one of them is a different age, if you can believe that. I make most of their meals in a blender. Sometimes it’s scrambled eggs; sometimes it’s just margarita mix. I try to be open to suggestions and not take their criticism personally.
Readers continue to cringe their way through an awkward sort-of date with Paul’s daughter’s music teacher, and it’s tempting to be another observer who finds Paul’s plight comical. But there are soft, bittersweet moments that reel back readers in and push them toward sympathy, like Paul’s daughter saying, “‘Daddy. You and I will always be best friends,’” after a breakfast of freezer-burned ice cream. The darkness and humor of Meno’s story continue through much of the writing this issue, either as standalone feelings or flawlessly blended like Meno’s.
Even the art carries this whimsicalness. Jillian Nickell’s illustrations can be found throughout the issue and I loved each one of them. The creatures pictured look as though they just stepped out of a dream: hedgehogs with crazy up-dos, a snail bravely riding a sailboat (a snailboat?), and an octopus on a bike with six pedals.
Issue 9 of Booth is as magical as Nickell’s creatures. Readers will walk away enchanted by the unique writing inside, with a new piece of art to add to their bookshelf.