7 Edgy Delights in the Small Press World

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Originally, this post was a gushing love letter extolling some (but not nearly enough) of the virtues of the seven incredible pieces of work that follow. And while the intensity of my admiration burns on, I’ve edited the post to spare my writer-crushes a bit of embarrassment; but more importantly, I wanted to give you a better sense of what it is about each piece of work that speaks to me. Hopefully, this will help those of you considering submitting your work to us here at Change Seven. It’s still pretty clear I think these writers rock, though. Read on.

  1. Pretentious Bullshit: An Un-MetaModernist Manifesto” by Jason Lee Miller over at my new favorite online journal Revolution John. What I love about Miller’s piece is its nerve. It’s clever as hell, and that’s fun to read, but it’s the sheer guts of the essay I found most engaging. And by guts, I’m not referring to the chutzpah it must’ve taken Miller to call another writer to the carpet the way he does, although that too is thrilling to watch. What’s truly  gutsy about this piece is the challenge Miller sets for himself as a writer to build this carefully constructed argument. It has risk written all over it. And when it to comes to writing, as with most things, risk makes things more interesting. Speaking of interesting, if you haven’t checked out what Sheldon Lee Compton is up to at RJ, you’re missing out on some of the most exciting writing I’ve seen in ages. Seriously, that place will blister your brain.
  2.  “8 Simple Rules for Fucking the Mother of My Children” by Barry Graham. Okay, so this is also over at Revolution John, and it was actually published back in September. But I didn’t come across it until recently. Not this week recently, but it is the single most resonant piece of work I’ve had the happy fortune of stumbling upon lately, and I want everyone I know to read it. Because it’s beautiful. Why is it beautiful and resonant? Let me see if I can briefly explain. This story maximizes on what I call pity and fear. All my favorite stories contain these opposing forces. Fear pushes us away while pity draws us near, and this really stirs up our emotions in a way that makes the experiences we read about feel as if we’ve lived them vicariously. The result is catharsis, what Aristotle and others  have referred to as a purging or cleansing. We’re left feeling as if we’ve witnessed something we shouldn’t have, something that haunts or otherwise lingers in our minds. Flannery O’Connor calls it a “brush with mystery,” and by that I think she means that while we can’t exactly put our fingers on what it is that makes something true, we understand that the veil has been pulled back and we’ve been shown a glimpse of something mysterious about the human condition. I tell my students the way to do this in their own fiction (or nonfiction) is to give their characters something to regret, an “if only.” Another way is to enact a measure of cruelty on a character. This is what Barry Graham does. He first elicits fear with that scary title and the scary language that pretty much runs throughout the story. But then he draws you in close, and to see how he does that, you’re just going to have to go over and read the story yourself.
  3. Three Poems” by Laura Jean Moore over at [PANK]. What is it about Laura Jean Moore’s poetry that speaks to me? It’s difficult to parse out, but I’ll give it a stab. I’m not a poet, and my understanding of the more formal aspects of poetry is limited. Sometimes, I can recognize one or two formal elements, and when I do, I appreciate them. But what I mostly respond to are elements shared by all the genres: precision of language, relevant details that evoke the senses and stir the emotions, voice, and if one is available, story. You’ll find all this, plus a playfulness of form, at work in Laura Jean Moore’s poetry. Check her out. I’m sure you’ll become a die-hard fan like I am.
  4. Three Poems” by Timothy Schirmer over at FRiGG. Timothy Schirmer’s poems do all the same amazing things Laura Jean Moore’s poems do — there is fresh, sharp language and images and so forth — but they strike me as being just a skosh more narrative. Schirmer really draws us way down into some pretty big stories, using dialogue and description and building characters much like a prose writer would do. Head on over and read Schirmer’s work yourself. You can thank me later. By the way, is FRiGG not the most beautiful magazine out there? Absolutely stunning art, and not just a little of it.
  5. The Boiler. Okay, so I’m still thumbing through this beautiful new online journal founded by some smart young turks at Sarah Lawrence. It’s actually not so new as it’s been around since 2011, but it’s new to me and it’s lovely. Bookmarking this one. Perhaps I’ll elaborate on it another time.
  6. A Lover, ” a delicious little flash by A. W. Marshall over at Vestal Review. I’ve become quite enamored with flash of late, and this one has all my favorite hallmarks. David Gaffney describes flash as “… nimble, nippy little thing[s] that [can] turn on a sixpence and accelerate quickly away.” I’ve been teaching this form the last couple semesters, and one of the things I love most about it is how it borrows and blurs the lines of poetry and fiction. Every word matters, and while poetry is also concerned with precision and power of language, it is not confined by word count. A poem can take all the time it wants, whereas a flash is strapped to do its magic lickity split. And it is magic that the best pieces of flash perform. There’s a sleight of hand going on in flash because while all the elements of fiction are present, some remain unwritten. Certain things are hinted at or implied, and much of this is done with metaphor and imagery, just as in poetry. But a successful piece of flash should offer up the same kind of resonance a longer piece of fiction would. That is, it should end as Janet Burroway suggests all good fiction should end: in change, whereby our capacity for empathy has been enlarged. And if “A Lover” isn’t enough of a weird little sawed-off tale to make my heart pitter-patter, this description of Marshall’s work-in-progress sealed my writer crush: “For the last four years he has been writing a novel about a hybrid man/rabbit living in 1850’s California called HENDO.” ❤ Sigh…
  7. Gumdrop” by Chelsea Laine Wells over at The Toast. (Or maybe it’s The Butter; I’m confused?). Either way, this story burns itself all the way down. The storytelling is bold and needle sharp, but nothing is overdone. Nothing is exaggerated, or at least, that’s not the impression I got. The intensity comes from the writer’s relentless refusal to avert her eyes or stay her pen, to either soft-shoe or embellish. Instead, she holds the narrative steady in almost journalistic style. This happened and then this and this. It’s matter-of-fact, and it’s comfortable leaving its readers feeling really, r-e-a-l-l-y uncomfortable. And that’s what I find so refreshing about it. So surprising. Wells takes gritty realism to an exciting new level. I’m not doing the story justice here at all, so you better head on over for a look yourself.

9 comments

    1. Chelsea, if I were a better writer, say one as good as you, I’d have said more. Your combination of raw storytelling talent and obvious care and skill is truly enviable. We could all go to school on “Gumdrop.” In fact, I will likely share that story with my students in the future. I’m a fan.

      Liked by 1 person

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