Monday, June 30, 2008
Magazine Review: Barbaric Yawp
Volume 12, Number 2
Russell, New York
Editors: John and Nancy Berbrich
Cover Artist: Neal A. Zirn
Note: The artwork, right (click to enlarge), appears on the last page of each issue; it’s by Anita Carrano, I believe.
It sounds amazing, but with only a few brief misses here and there, John Berbrich and I have been in daily contact for the past five years. Even more amazing is that every word of our conversation — which runs the gamut of the literary, philosophical, and the absurd — has been spoken in public, and is recorded and preserved on my website. It might not be War and Peace, but if it were printed it would be almost as thick. And we’re still at it.
Aside from what this says about our mental condition — and readers are always welcome to post their own conclusions — it does show that we’re in it for the long haul where reading, writing, and literature are concerned. Despite this vast common ground, however, our likes and dislikes vary greatly, as do our backgrounds and personal outlooks. For one thing, John is generally more cheerful and optimistic than I am; for another, he’s more widely read. I also gather that he’s a heck of a lot easier to be around. I only hope he doesn’t take it out on his lovely wife and indispensable co-editor, Nancy.
That, of course, is really none of our business. Our “business,” if I may use such a crass term, lies in appreciating John and Nancy’s brain-child, the literary quarterly Barbaric Yawp. As with its predecessors, their current issue is greater than the sum of its parts. After the task of selecting the pieces they publish, John and Nancy always spend a lot of time putting them into their most readable order. This means poetry and fiction are interspersed, one piece informing the next, which somehow leads to the next — and on we go through the magazine as if we’re on a kind of journey. Along the way, mini-themes arise: for a time, readers might dwell in a certain city or locale; or they might find themselves in an otherworldly dimension where minds flicker like candles in the dark catacombs of the disturbed — and then, all of a sudden, as if serendipity has willed it, we emerge into the light of a short poetic gem, such as J.L. Kubicek’s “Kitchen Field Forces”:
The field of poesy—wide
wide as your kitchen table;
toil, love and belief
sets the setting.
there! upon the table
While such a poem has special meaning for a poet, every reader experiences moments like this in daily life — moments when the everyday seems charged with magic. And its appearance relatively late in the issue, on Page 41 — after stories and poems that range from acerbic to nostalgic to troubling to socially outraged to questioning that which is commonly held sacred — makes the poem a perfect example itself.
Now, one thing I refuse to do is pretend that I like every piece John and Nancy publish. As I said, our tastes do vary. And yet, what they publish always has integrity. I might not like the way the material is presented; I might find the line-breaks in a certain poem at odds with the poem’s message; I might think a poem should or could have been an essay or story; but only rarely do I think, “Why on earth did they publish that?” And when I do, I’m usually able to go back, and after a more patient reading, see why.
John and I were talking just the other day about how each issue has its own character. He and Nancy are not the kind of editors who will hang onto a piece for months or years on end, waiting for the right place to put it. When they find something they like, it goes in. And because unsolicited submissions are the backbone of their publication, each issue of the Yawp has a freshness that’s hard to find in bigger, more widely known literary publications. But unsolicited submissions aren’t the only reason. The biggest reason is that each time out, the editors eagerly start from scratch, and approach each individual piece with an open mind. They want to be surprised.
The current issue also contains the staples of John’s insightful introduction, which this time springs from a talk he attended by Christopher Hitchens; the short reviews in his small press “Book Beat”; and “Essays and Observations,” which in this issue consist of book reviews written by Charles P. Ries and J.P. Lowe.
The small press is a crazy, beautiful place. It does have its marshes and its dead wood. Large portions of it should probably be burned to the ground. But in its ten-plus years of publication, Barbaric Yawp has been a great example of its enduring importance and vitality. Like anything, it’s as good as we make it — as good as the work we’re willing to put in, the effort we’re willing to make, the amount of sleep we’re willing to do without — and John and Nancy, with their magazine and growing catalog of chapbooks, are as adept and hardworking as they come.
John Berbrich, Bryan Henery, Catherine Ennis, Ben Warburton, David A. Barnitz Kime, Nick Thomas, Stephen Galiani, Francine Witte, Deborah Maxey, Nathan Hahs, Stephanie Hiteshew, John Kristofco, William Michaelian, Charles Rammelkamp, Michael Kriesel, Nicole Glikman, Romella Kitchens, Neal A. Zirn, Ann L. Kieffer, Michael A. Flanagan, Alan Catlin, Phil Gruis, Sara Dailey, Cathy Porter, J.L. Kubicek, Greg Moglia, Charles P. Ries, J.P. Lowe.
* * *
“I Find Him Eating Butterflies,” a poem which first appeared in this entry, added to Collected Poems, with a brief introduction.
Twenty-three words added to the Robert Burns Glossary. Spurtle: a stick which porridge, broth &c. are stirred while boiling.
In the Forum: a cure for the common colon.