|Oct/Nov 2005 Book Reviews|
Do electronic magazines named after their originator represent a shameless case of self promotion? Not necessarily. Though poles apart, Alsop Review and The Laura Hird Site are interesting examples of zines engaged in the promotion of literary excellence on the web. The problem is that literary excellence is hard to define because it depends on the taste of the individual defining it. While The Laura Hird Site is more dynamic, funky, forgiving and techno savvy, Alsop Review shows an unerring instinct for significance. It is all about poetry and evidences a contemporary, collegiate sort of feel. It is rich and relevant in terms of its product but a little smug. Allow yourself some time to explore its offerings. You will be rewarded. Online since 1995, it has become something of an institution. Alsop Review is more like a wonderful book than an ezine. It is well organized and showcases poetry collections, columns, magazines, competitions, the Alsop Review Press and its contemporary sister site, the Gazebo. Unfortunately, it appears to exist in a time warp. If it varied its cover page, it might give its returning readers the clue that it updates its pages. One gets the feeling that there is a committee mentality in place. Some of its columns aren't that hot, but its poetry certainly is. The poets profiled are eclectic with most well along in their professional careers. Material accepted seems to be by invitation only. While bookish, staid and self important, you can forgive a site almost anything if it consistently delivers the goods. The Alsop Review certainly does that.
Scotland is undergoing an artistic literary revival. It has a unique identity that is now asserting itself. I'd like to think part of the reason is due to the internet. The Laura Hird Site is a case in point. While the site certainly promotes Laura Hird, it does a number of other things quite well. People are paying attention to it. The reason is that the site provides a "new wave" sort of outsider triage point regarding a wide range of fringe-oriented poetry, links and writing activities. It is sassy, opportunistic and opinionated. It offers short stories, poetry, event schedules, film reviews, music, and a little of everything else that might be said to provide a wired, mud-wallowing experience. It delights in criticizing mainstream publishing, but who doesn't? The site shows a penchant for the erotic and weird. Laura Hird as a writer is talented, though perhaps not so much of an outsider having been interviewed by the Barcelona Review. This site should not be missed, though. It is well designed, quick loading, and fun to muck through.
The electronic magazine Mad Hatter's Review is relatively new. It provides a joyful, youthful, flashy, amusing and sometimes awkward experience. It was voted lit magazine of the year by The Laura Hird Site. Zines come and go. I hope this one lasts so that I can see what it develops into. The art work borders on the astounding. Some of Marja Hagborg's cartoons were a riot. Mad Hatter's Review suggests elements indicative of what digital literature may become if it is not overwhelmed by its own self importance or inundated by corporate flatulence. Mad Hatter is also pixel crazy. Those with slower computers may experience a little frustration in trying to download the material. Navigation through the site could be improved. It provides poetry, short stories, rants, drama, reviews and more. It is a little mad. The writing profiled was rough at times, but more than enough talent was in evidence. What I most enjoyed, besides the exuberance, was how apt the name of the ezine was in mirroring its material content. This site could turn into something big.
The Melic Review bills itself as a site that emphasizes meaning, economy, lyricism, innovation and clarity. It is run by C.E. Chaffin, who identifies himself as a manic depressive psychiatrist on disability and exhiled to Mexico. His staff page is a little embarrassing, and because of it, lots of fun to read. Well, if Chaffin were a horse, I wouldn't shoot him, but I would call into question his comment that, "...he is a happy horse, with three young fillies from previous stud duties and a beautiful new mare." The site offers poetry, fiction, criticism and light verse. It believes itself to be influential. I've had indications that Melic might know just what it's talking about in that regard. A tri-quarterly, it publishes new issues on the first of April, August and December and offers good, state of the art, reliable poetry. The Melic Review is often edited by guest reviewers, and I get the feeling that Chaffin is less interested in the site than previously. The summer 2005 issue didn't impress me, but I've been very impressed in the past. Melic offers a six week tutorial in poetry led by Chaffin for 300 bucks. If anyone has taken the tutorial, let me know what you thought about it. The most interesting aspect of the journal is C.E. Chaffin's poetic theorizing. It's a hoot! My favorite Chaffin quote is, "I believe poetry is often an outlet for those who suffered a pre-verbal developmental insult." Good for you, C. E. Chaffin! I've always thought that poets were a little sick in the head.
2River is a site you don't want to miss, especially if you want to visit a site other poets visit. It can be said to reflect the current baroque American canon regarding what a poem should say and look like. It loves convolutions and abhors directness. Each poem printed there tends to be a good one. Rhythm and sound is secondary to the importance of image making which must evolve through every line. I've never come across a less than professional poem, but after reading a number of them, they lose their individuality. 2River is published four times a year, likes short to medium length poems, and tends to be fashion conscious though consistently excellent. Its palette favors confessional innuendos applied to a canvass filled with arty, muted adjectives. Generally, it is a place of quiet, reflective discoveries. 2River also publishes chapbooks. It provides for great navigation, and you never have to worry about getting lost. The editors are committed to excellence. I believe that 2River is a work of love. The editors are knowledgeable about what they like and pursue it with a vengeance. Here, everything is secondary to the poem itself.