Explosive #9, edited by Katy Lederer
Reviewed by Brennen Wysong
There’s little doubt that the last several years have opened up numerous promising avenues for innovative or experimental poetry. Whether it’s independent print or online journals, these new outlets have managed to draw attention from university-bound magazines trafficking in casual quasi-personal narratives or emotionally effusive lyrics packed with faux know-how. Online magazines like Slope, Vert, and Typo are offering poetry and its authors what print journals just can’t. Beyond the postage stamp-sized tract of land that literary journals somehow manage to stake at the local Barnes and Noble, online magazines can essentially promise a shelf-life that will endure until the site itself goes bust. The last several years have also seen the rise of such independent print journals as No and Crowd. Along with publishing fine and challenging work, some of these magazines have buried their battle-axes into the austere shape of the traditional print journal. Conduit is tall and bean-pole thin while jubilat is squat and squarish (the Laurel and Hardy of print journals?), proving there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Finally, the rise of the blog has done much more than just give the lonely hearts of the world a place to confess their hand-wringing and dreams. It’s made running a poetry-oriented Web site efficient, free, and easily accessible. While this mild usurpation of electronic space won’t have the impact grime has had on British pirate radio, we can still hope sites like Verse and its constellation of links will only help to widen the poetry net.
Explosive Magazine then seems to buck some of the prevailing trends of the day. More 'zine than magazine, Katy Lederer’s Explosive proves the punk rock ethic of DIY is alive and well among the fancy-pantsing world of poetry. Visually, the magazine is a curiosity that might befuddle the reader to some degree: no masthead, no ISSN, no copyright notice, no table of contents, no page numbers, no authors’ bios. But its humble, handmade look is immediately inviting to the eye: between two-color block print covers, there’s good old-fashioned 8 1/2 x 11 paper stapled twice along its edge to give a semblance of spine. (One can almost imagine Lederer late-nighting it at some gloomy Manhattan office, waiting for the grumpy boss to leave his roost, sneaking into the photocopy room amidst the janitor’s suspicions, putting this wonderful object together.) The size of the magazine, though entirely utilitarian, has yet another advantage: it gives room to graze.
And Lederer seems intent on letting her poets out to pasture here, giving them plenty of space to wander across the white fields of the page. While many print journals opt to feature merely one or two poems by each author, Explosive turns its seventy or so pages (mind, I’m hand-counting) over to less than a dozen accomplished writers. These poets weigh in with everything from terse dramatic monologues (Hal Sirowitz) to lengthy narratives (Jennifer Moxley) to prose poems (Elizabeth Willis). And lest we forget, Lederer is also the publisher of Spectacular Books, which has attracted such notables as Lyn Hejinian, Juliana Spahr, and Leslie Scalapino. So it should come as no surprise that her original pact with the devil would also allow her to attract the aforementioned talents as well as the likes of Brandon Downing, Matthew Rohrer, Monica Youn, and Canon Wing.
In this ninth issue, it’s Youn and Wing who seem to profit most from the open air Explosive has given them, though for entirely different reasons. In Youn’s case, we perceive a range in her work that wouldn’t be detectable in cramped quarters requiring a more limited selection. Her prominent mode here is the lyric, which she often builds through delicate couplets or tercets. But even within her lyrics, Youn shows alacrity as she moves from the largely observational (“Home Savings”) to unexpected linguistic associations (“Muscae Volitantes”). Finally, she makes us reassess the possibilities of her work anew with “Drawing for Absolute Beginners.” The poem takes on the rigid outline structure of a how-to guide with numbered sections and lettered subsections, appearing every bit ready to teach the beginner how to draw. However, Youn writes against the analytical mode of such a how-to guide and mixes in various discourses and voices until the piece becomes collage-like. Wing’s hymns and psalms, on the other hand, simply appear to be made for the size of Explosive’s pages, which, of course, they were, as their author was obviously aware of the freedoms and restraints of 8 1/2 x 11 paper while composing them. Wing’s poems are often marked by clipped syntax and refrains that build over wide spaces and lonely periods claiming their places within the line. Much as Olson’s Maximus poems look best when given room to sprawl, these pieces by Wing manage to maintain their spatial integrity simply by the glad-luck of appearing within this magazine’s particular format.
Explosive Magazine, with its low budget and high talent, just may prove to be the little-engine-that-could. And any number of adjectives of praise could describe this unique project. But orange you glad I didn’t say “explosive”?