Tuesday, February 01, 2005

NEW! Review of 1913

1913: a journal of forms #1 (2004). $10.

Reviewed by Matthew W. Schmeer

It is the rare journal that boldly proclaims a manifesto without issuing its own manifesto. Usually when a new journal emerges, we expect an editorial statement, a raison d'etre which lays out the editorial vision and provides insight into what we should expect in the issue we're holding and what to expect in subsequent issues. These statements have become so standard in the literary publishing field that many journals put forth such a statement in each issue. But once written, how many journals live up to the lofty goals laid out therein? By the third or fourth year of publication (if lucky to survive so long), the struggle of slogging through the slush pile each submission period and securing funds to pay the printer take their toll, and the journal's guiding principles usually pay the price as the journal sinks into mediocrity.

Not so with 1913. Instead of telling us what they plan to do, the editors do it, and it starts with the journal's design. This is not your traditional 8x5 journal. 1913 is 9.75 x 7.75--a landscaped design that more resembles a mini-coffee table book than a literary journal. And the cover artwork is a reprint of orphic cubist's Sonia Delaunay's Der Sturm (Nos. 1 à 52), a bold canvas wherein the pattern of contrasting dark and light color creates deteriorating form. And form is, of course, what 1913 is primarily about. Don't expect sonnets, villanelles, and roundeaus, however. A central theme running throughout the selections in this issue is that words--or better yet thoughts and ideas--should create their own form, and whatever form they take is the right one.

The journal's name in and of itself points to this abstraction, as 1913 was a crucial turning point in terms of art, literature, and music. It was the year of Cubism and Imagism, and the year Edison invented talking motion pictures. Igor Stravinisky's The Rite of Spring caused a commotion at its Paris debut, and in New York, the first International Exhibit of Modern Art--the “Armory Show”--rocked the art world. In Berlin, Guillaume Apollinaire gave a lecture that proved he was at the top of his game; in Portugal, Ferdinand Pessoa began publishing and writing under his four heteronyms, and in Chicago, Harriet Monroe's fledging Poetry had been publishing for a year and would publish three of Hilda Dolittle's Imagiste poems late that year. It was a year of artistic upheaval and renewal as the ties to Victorian-era ideas about the arts were eagerly severed by the new emerging creative class.

And so, here we have a new call-to-arms, where deconstruction, re-invention, and the evolution of form converge. This journal is not a literary journal per se, but an art journal, where text--while the predominant medium--takes its place next to photography, painting, and drawing. “Mixed media” is too loose a term for what 1913 aims; “collage” is much better.

Thus, we have the most striking piece in the journal, Joshua Clover's “Baader Meinhof Three-Person'd God,” which literally spirals inward, a visual CD on the page as it explores the Baader-Meinhof era of terror which swept West Germany in the post World War II-era in a collage of passages taken from John Donne, Gerhard Richter, Astrid Poll (one of the Baader-Meinhof terrorists), and others. It's truly a stunning visual display condemning the waves of Baader-Meinhof nostalgia that rippled through Germany in the late 1990s.

And then there are Chris Chen's visual poems, created with fonts whose characters have been replaced with clip art, political phrases, and idea branches, all of which create dissonance through the abstraction and connection of ideas which seem counter-intuitive, but begin to unlock themselves the more you stare at them. Other poetic pieces that impressed this reviewer were Chen's “[the] [idea] [of] [order] [at] [key] [west],” with its quiet scolding of Key West merrymakers; Pamela Lu's “Several Composers, Their Songs, and Their Musicians,” a send-up of performance playbill performance notes; and Steve McCaffery's deconstruction/reconstruction of three of Shakespeare's Dark Lady sonnets (Nos. 22, 42, 43) as contemporary prose poems.

I've hinted so far that there is no statement of belief buried in these pages, and that might be a bit misleading; while the editors themselves don't present their views on art, prosody, and poetics, several of the pieces they've chosen do. Prominently featured is self-taught Russian Cubist Natalia Goncharova's foreword from the catalog to her retrospective exhibition at Mikhailova Art Salon in Moscow in 1913. Here, Goncharova rails against the past and declares her independence from it while claiming that it is the East (Asia, India, China, etc.) where artists should turn for inspiration. Later, John Taggart's “Black Light,” a transcript of a talk the poet gave at the Art Institute of Chicago, explores the relationship of color in the visual and written arts, and ends with a prophetic call to arms. And Ales Debeljak, a Slovenian poet and critic, gives us “Celebration of the Impossible: Testimony and Vision in My Ars Poetica,” the introduction to his collection The City and the Child (White Pine Press, 1994) which attempts to justify the transcendency of self apparent in his work. Taken together, these explorations and justifications present a rather complex set of values for any new artistic movement: to transcend the self and the past while embracing worldly experience by shining a contrasting light on the world. It's a tall order, and one that I doubt the editors themselves can bring to fruition. But they're doing their damndest to try.

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