time_shark (time_shark) wrote,

pledged and delivered: a taste-test

In honor of the beginning of Jessica Wick’s next carousel ride around the sun (happy birthday, mer_moon!), some thoughts on the latest issue of Goblin Fruit, the poetry publication she provides over with fellow Goblin Queen Amal El-Mohtar (tithenai).

Obviously a few disclaimers are in order: my own poem "Midnight Rendezvous, Philly" appears in this issue, and I count both Amal and Jess as good friends. I even have a vague paternal interest in GF's well-being, as Jess brazenly introduced herself to me out of the blue months before the zine became reality and hit me up for advice. Under those circumstances, it's unlikely you're going to see a swiftboating of GF from me, or even a severe scolding. That in mind, I tend to think I would have little bad to say here even if I didn't know the Goblin Fruit Gals from Eve and Lilith. (I’ll leave it up to y’all to guess which is which.)

One of the things always refreshing about GF is the chefs’ emphasis on presentation, something that’s grown more sophisticated with each new offering. Illustrator and apparent Goblin Slave Oliver Hunter (who I truly don’t know from Adam) has a lot to do with that, as his whimsical drawings and paintings create a dynamic consistency within and between issues. His work gives Goblin Fruit a special feel, a sense that each issue is as much an art-and-crafts project as a publishing venture. Hopefully he won’t escape from his cage anytime soon.

The presentation aspect is important because fantastical poetry (or speculative poetry, or whatever you want to call it) often suffers in this department, quite frequently turning up in venues that, regardless of their literary quality, wear their slapdash production values on their tattered sleeves. It’s my understanding that Amal and Jess created GF because they loved genre poetry generally but could find little in print that delivered the myth-and-folk-and-fairy-tale fix they craved. I give kudos to them for not being satisfied with presenting their preferred poems in austere unadorned pages. They’ve put effort into turning their venue into a handsome showcase.

On to the current issue, which coyly proffers two distinct groupings of poetry, "The Book of the Labyrinth" and "The Book of the Hare," separated by a "Book Mark" (Lon Prater's short and mildly amusing observation on a fantasy cliche, "The Dead Sidekick") and bracketed by powerhouse poems from Mydori Snyder and Terri Windling, architects of the now-concluded Journal of Mythic Arts, who have themselves made something of a fuss over Jess’n’Amal’s brainchild.

As I read the poems, I watched for clues as to why they might have been selected for one "book" over another. My sense was that the two "books" are different, though the differences aren't sharply drawn. As I read them, "Labyrinth" tended to contain poems that addressed in some way the roles of women in myth and life, while "Hare" held a more general assortment with strong nature themes. That said, there seemed to me to be a couple poems in both "books" that could have been swapped without much difference in effect. But that’s hardly a quibble. My ultimate judgment of a given speculative poetry zine tends to hinge on how it compares with Mythic Delirium, where I can usually be assured of a table of contents full of poems I like to some degree. Take this for what you think it’s worth: this issue of GF is at least as good as anything I can pull together.

Starting with the first “book:” Joy Marchand's dense "Midwife's Progress" required two or three passes before I completely understood what it was about — the midwife’s art viewed through the distorted lens of modern medicine — but its offbeat language and down-and-dirty imagery made the repeat visits worthwhile. Wendy Howe’s “Cygnus” binds old myth with modern worries in a manner I’m always a sucker for. Erik Amundsen's "Crow Song and Earworm Ballad" weaves a fascinating wordweb, and though its deeper meaning perhaps eluded me I found the skip across its surface delightful. Lydia Towsey's "Chicken Ship" applies surreal imagery, simultaneously comical and troubling, to describe the ordeal of a girl seeking "escape" through eating disorders.

A mention of Towsey’s poem creates perhaps the best place to launch a tangent that’s not really tangential at all. Another cool thing about GF stems from the editrixes’ determination to make it a full 21st century zine, thus their inclusion with every issue of audio readings, a multimedia tactic that puts them ahead of the somewhat-backward genre poetry curve (and which I’ve shamelessly swiped for my own Mythic Delirium website.) That said, these multimedia forays tend to be limited by a) the poets’ ability/willingness to record their work; b) the poets’ degree of vocal talent and c) the effectiveness of the recording equipment the poets have available. The recordings in this issue of GF display the full range of advantages and limitations. Sticking to the standouts, hearing Towsey’s rapid fire sing-song rendition of her piece took her words in a new and entertainingly strange direction. Skipping ahead to the second book, Samantha Henderson provides a crisp and sprightly reading of “The Season’s Dying,” a poem that proves that even the oldest of all themes can appear fresh when dressed in a writer’s unique voice. The most elaborate audio confection, in which Ollie sings, in multiple parts, Terry Windling’s “Night Journey” to musical accompaniment, strikes me as a worthwhile experiment that could have used some further refinement — you’re welcome to take my opinion here with a grain of salt, as I would probably be more responsive to an approach in the vein of, say, Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I find myself wishing that GF would embed the readings into the pages that contain the poems, so listeners could read along, and that Jess and Amal, who are both talented readers, would take on more of the vocal chores themselves. But now I seriously digress…

Finishing the first book: about my own poem here, I’ll just say that I don’t think it lends itself as well to vocal performance as the previous poems I’ve done with GF (especially the ones specifically written for GF) but it was still fun to do. Sonya Taaffe (sovay) concludes both the first and second books with evocative and markedly different approaches to one of her favorite subjects, the sea (and specifically the myths and moods that inhabit it.)

I’ve already mentioned Samantha Henderson’s closer in the second “book.” In said book, Joshua Gage’s “The Kappa” gripped me with the deepest talons: this is a marvelously creepy poem that gets away with an eloquent depiction of a craven monster’s unspeakable acts. A.R. Stone builds hypnotic rhythms in “Salmon” and E. Lily Yu generates atmospheric spookiness in “What Comes After Rain.”

It probably comes as no surprise that the Snyder and Windling poems, appropriately used as fanfare and finale, also serve as the issue’s pinnacles. Despite its apparently happy ending, Snyder’s disturbing rendition of the French fairy tale “Donkeyskin” will stick, so to speak, in your ribs. And Windling’s simple-on-its-surface appeal to love and destiny combines ethereal beauty with earthy, primal power. I can completely understand the editors’ impulse to set its urgent message to music.

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