Stuck on the Moon

If you tried to go to Cafe Septieme for dinner two Thursdays ago--well, first of all, you couldn't, since there wasn't a seat anywhere, and second of all, even if you had found a seat, it would have been somewhat distracting to talk or eat or think or drink, what with all the commotion. That Thursday was the launch party of (and live reading for) the new literary journal Cranky, and both--the party and the journal--can be taken as fresh evidence that this city's pool of poets and writers is uncontainable and expansive, large enough to fill any new space.

Abundance of work doesn't necessarily indicate an abundance of ideas, of course, and unfortunately a certain sameness of mood and meaning links many of the pieces (mostly poetry) in this first issue of Cranky. Maybe it's possible that a community of writers engenders sameness--most of the contributors know each other through colloque wheel, the monthly reading series that Cranky editors Amber Curtis and Amanda Laughtland curate--and, given that the issue doesn't have a theme, it's interesting to notice that so many writers trot out the same battery of props: In fewer than 70 total pages you will find four separate pieces set at the beach, eight pieces about birds, four pieces that employ the word "stone," six that employ the word "moon," nine that employ the word "tree," and three instances of "pool" (including Stacey Levine's singularly inventive permutation, "poolish"). Such repetition is, the Levine example excepted, deadening--here we go, another poem about the moon--and it suggests that groups of writers may encourage imaginative similarities, which is to say, imaginative failure. I've mentioned the nine invocations of "tree," and that's not counting all the twigs, branches, leaves, and oaks.

Another bad habit: The editors (or this community of writers) tend to thrill in the abstract moment, and then--reductively, murderously--proceed to overexplain it, thus you get phrases like "branches across the/clouds could have/been antlers," which is competent and somewhat compelling, followed by, "Of/course they were/just trees," which is trash. Another poet writes, "The living/room ripples with dark stripes/and taut brown muscles," which is terrific--we've been in those living rooms--but then, in the next line, so as to be literal, fills the living room with tigers.

"It's exciting and brave and wonderful" to start a literary journal, one of the poets said at the reading, and that's true, but, it should be said, only a few of the pieces in the journal can be similarly described. The moments that work contain new thought and the odd turn, as Stacey Levine's story here contains so many new thoughts and odd turns ("each evening is tin-blue, tamped-down"; "after an event comes a mineral silence"; "I lose my own shape when her needs are unclear"). Levine is also in the new Monkey Puzzle and in the newly issued The Clear Cut Future, and it occurs to me that she, as an altering but unfaltering presence in local publications, is a welcome repetition.

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