Niels Bohr, we learn from one of the stories in this journal, hypothesized that “conscious observation could shift potentiality into actuality. If no one is looking, there is no event, only a swirl of probabilities.” This story, Reed Hearne’s “It Takes Two Entangled,” plays up the unwatched, the hidden, the discovered—be it a shrine behind the water heater or a shopping bag full of lingerie and blue plastic razors. Other stories here obsess over the act of perception itself, whether via a cat that takes drugs and stares at reproductions of Salvador Dali works or a visitor on a Kafkaesque journey through a foreign land or a call girl studying the specimens on show in a faculty gallery exhibit. Then there is Ken Saji’s chain of haiku, “Haiku on Haiku”:
These verses distill,
Enthrall, beguile, enrich. Kind
Of like a meth lab.
All the way down to
Those Japanese. So,
So smart. So, so, so, so, so,
So, so, so, so smart.
There are some funny moments in this magazine, but nothing breathtaking, haunting. Instead, the dominant tone is one of MFA earnestness in story constructions, frequent gimmickry in pinning a piece to some line of thought or the historical moment. “Despite all the attempts that were made to save it,” read one poem about protest, “the entire country of Iraq has been destroyed, / brought down to rubble, / turned into a dark and scary place.” In the story about the call girl, as she waits to be faux-raped, she rereads Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge and shudders with “the resonance between material and immaterial objects, a grating fusion and dissonance at once necessary and accidental. It was past and present colliding on the page, in the word.” There is a persistent sense, in this volume, of trying too hard, of aiming to hit the steps without actually feeling the dance one’s attempting to do.
Consider Yassen Vassilev’s “Amnesia During Meditation,” where the text becomes a rabbit hole, down into which we, the readers, go wading “in clouds under a rainfall of question marks” where “wax faces of hallucinogenic people drip / abducted in nirvana through opium and absinthe.” Shamans drums and such, “rods hit the glands of the gnosis / and the pulse of the universe echoes hypnotically,” though the poem, as a sort of blended free-association and surface reading of textbook Vedanta, disappoints, feeling uncomfortably like, as the poet says, a “text … without end and indefinite.”
Not that there aren’t highlights here: Elizabeth Alexander’s intricate “On Anzio Beach,” Edwin Wilson Rivera’s rollicking assemblage of vernacular—“Urbanology”—Steven Coatsworth on a kind of L.A. (“Tack one side of this memoria to the wall and run, stretched over sangre highways and desert cities, bake-and-broil skies, over dream fields and gravestones”) or Aaron Gilbreath on “Tijuana,” where a strip club stage is described as “Barely larger than a table at KFC,” lit by “a hot white light not unlike those featured in alien movie abduction scenes.” This is gringo perception, spun like carnival sugar: “I didn’t even want what was dancing naked on the stage: a sad, mascara-abusing woman, her flabby bronze backside lashed like Virginia ham by a single string.” But such moments are small rewards, hidden within the whole, a whole not worth the twelve dollar cover price.