Apr/May 2006 Book Reviews

Five Quick and Dirty Lit Site Reviews

by Scott Malby

Identity Theory

So, you're young, in college, intelligent, addicted to computers and the web. If you're involved in an English-related major, you start your own literary ezine. Hey, through interviews, you get to establish contact with successful people you admire. But how do you know when your site is hot? One way is to count the number of people willing to commit free time to working on it and, interestingly enough, those people can now be thousands of miles away from each other. Identity Theory is a winning example of this formula. It was started by Matt Borondy in 2000, and is sophisticated, spoiled, charming, hip, funky, totally self-aware and sometimes weighty. This means the 20- to 30-year-old age group. Identity Theory emphasizes unique takes on both literature and culture. The principle of its organizational structure seems to be archival. You'd have to be addicted to it in order to encompass it all. Like a benign virus, it has tentacles touching everything from blogs, dogs, art, fiction, poetry and music, spread out in a never ending series of windows. While it is self indulgent, its design and overall conception is remarkable. Interviews and commentary represent its main strengths. It is nothing if not contemporary and does what an intelligent zine can do best: be quick to add its contribution regarding developing literary and cultural trends. At times, I think of Identity Theory as a gold-plated kitchen sink.


If you're committed to what you're doing and willing to put in a lot of time, you can create something both memorable and important without having to spend a lot of money. Our notions of the terms “publication” and “readership” are undergoing revolutionary changes. Today, if you're a writer on the fringe of traditional publishing you can make a little niche for yourself on the world wide web. Some of these little niches are growing sizable reputations and Octopus is a case in point. It is fresh, idiosyncratic, unique, impressive and so far, unpredictable. It's a place where the high mixes with the low creating a new form of hybrid, at once both familiar and strange. Zachary Schomburg edits the zine and Denny Schmickle is responsible for its design. A large number of people now appear to be involved with it who believe in approaching things at a slant. I wonder if that's the way an octopus feeds? Octopus has great reviews and excellent critical essays. It may be a real octopus as it changes in format and content. When I write about a literary site, it's because I believe it to be excellent in more than a couple of ways and although the quality of the work may fluctuate a little, Octopus takes risks. It entertains as well as informs.

Get Underground

Get Underground is at times winded and raw. That's okay with me because it's a lot of other things as well. One of the most endearing features is its counter-culture posturing. Its beat is alternative politics, the environment, music, fiction, art, rants, and performance poetry. A wonderful sort of mayhem regarding everything in general characterizes it. The polite New Yorker, Mathew Shehan, has a column there which is always interesting and, incidentally, becoming very mainstream. This decidedly post 90's mag was created by Shlomo Sher and Mike Sonksen in 2001. It has now grown in vision and content due to the contributions of its volunteers and staff. Progressive resistance to all things entrenched and static could be said to reflect its mantra. Entertainingly, it represents a below ground, main stream vehicle for alternative voices. It is bold, shock wave, honest, sexually un-traumatized and remarkably youthful. If this zine is any indication, activism, individual responsibility and a reaching for community are alive and well on the internet. Even dead hippies would be comfortable with this site.

Silliman's Blog

No current review of literary sites on the internet would be able to ignore the importance of blogs in terms of impact and innovation. Ron Silliman's site is a case in point. It is dedicated to a unique take on poetry and poetics; you might call it post-Wittgensteinian. Language itself takes center stage as the focus of post-modern explorations into theory, literary art and ruminations on individual poets. With over 24 books to his credit, Silliman has been a force in American language poetry for over 40 years. His comments are always pertinent, enjoyable, and opinionated. Don't ignore the links to the other blog sites he provides either. Silliman's writing exemplifies what a blog can do best, and in his case, it provides a glimpse into the mind of a knowledgeable and acute thinker. The posted comments to Silliman's site are often fun to read as well.

Pedestal Magazine

To be a success at the literary game requires more than talent and nowhere is it played more entertainingly than at Pedestal Magazine. Its editor has created an excellent site which obviously has taken commitment, single mindedness and planning. Much of the work profiled is by well established writers who are remarkable in their own right. Through networking, a reciprocal and influential relationship has been forged that furthers internet publishing. Is it healthy? I don't know but it's certainly interesting to observe. Pedestal Magazine is well organized, pleasing to the eye and sometimes jarring in terms of the juxtaposition of its creative material. Its editor is discerning, however, one gets the impression that Pedestal is willing to publish secondary material of otherwise very talented and successful individuals. The zine features poetry, fiction and interviews. The December-February issue includes an interview with Robert Pinsky and while the site takes public persona-making seriously, it manages to do a host of other things quite well. I recommend it.


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