A Puzzle of Mismatched Pieces
PageBoy Shows All the Other Literary Magazines How It's Done
Anybody with access to a photocopier and a single, mysterious-sounding word—Indigent, Thrust, and Crabby are still available—can slap together a literary magazine. Some of Seattle's fleet of new magazines, like the spartan online journal Spartan, demonstrate a clear mission. Others, like The Monarch Review, take a flood-the-zone approach, leading readers to wonder if the editors reject any submissions at all.
Of all the magazines in the city, PageBoy demonstrates the most editorial control, and volume 13, which was published just before Christmas, is the sharpest volume yet. It should be supplied to everyone who even considers launching a literary magazine, to demonstrate exactly how this sort of thing is done.
PageBoy editor Thomas Walton seems to instinctively understand that the intent shouldn't be to create an overview of a scene or discipline or moment in time. (The exception that proves the rule here is the magnificent third issue of Filter, which was about as comprehensive a look at Seattle's literary talent as was humanly possible.) Instead, PageBoy 13 looks like a mess of different styles and lacks a theme, which is exactly as it should be.
The magazine opens—to begin a tour—with a sparse poem. It gives way, like some loose strands of cobwebs around a door frame, to a short, entertaining story from Kevin Sampsell about a couple engaging in a public sex act. From there it's back to poetry, written by Sierra Nelson, including a very funny map of imaginary constellations: "Unicorn./Flock of Bats./The Sit-Up./The Dishwasher and the Too Big Platter"). Nelson's clever riffs give way to facing-page translations of poems by Cuban poet José Kozer. We bounce around like that, from paragraph-thick poems by Sarah Galvin (originally published on Line Out, The Stranger's music and nightlife blog, as "Midnight Haiku") to a long and informative interview with self-taught photographer George Ciardi about his long-exposure photographs of abandoned factories at nighttime. (Ciardi's full-color photographs are on the cover and bound in the center of the magazine; they feel like complements to Kozer's eerily abandoned poems about "A blank opening, marble, and then a field/of snow, just a field/of snow.")
After the gaudy nothingness of Ciardi's nighttime wanderings, PageBoy gets serious, with new work from Bill Carty, Rebecca Brown, and Paul Nelson. Then the volume closes with an acrid, uncomfortably hilarious interview with Gertrude Stein's great-granddaughter Barbara. The younger Stein does not want to discuss the elder, but she doesn't want to discuss anything else, either. Of her earlier books, Stein says, "I suppose they are what they are," and when pressed about what they are, she responds, "Books, I guess." Steinian!
You'll probably walk out of PageBoy not quite knowing what just happened. There are certain institutional similarities to the pieces—a lack of a baroque quality to the language, say, or a dry, observational sense of humor—but the differences are bigger, more varied. By the finish, you have no idea who you were just talking to, and you're not quite sure what was said, but you can't stop thinking about the conversation.