The Tiny #1, edited by Gina Myers & Gabriella Torres. $8.
Reviewed by Summer Block
New York may be a sprawling metropolis, but its new magazine The Tiny is a tribute to "small" poems. Without an official mission statement or editor's letter, The Tiny nonetheless presents itself as a skillful compilation of the careful, the precise, and the minutely observed. At a respectable 6x8, the journal is not unreasonably small, but retains its spare feel with clean fonts, a simple layout, and an absence of drawings, notes, or other cluttering marginalia. One may take issue with the tricky reverse cover, its retro-lettering served up in an unprepossessing pink and brown. Still, the same respect for simplicity is evidenced here: "The Tiny" is spelled out without any further information; interested parties can repair to the copyright page for credits, contact information, and volume number.
Inside, the magazine is full of elegant, austere work, most of it comprised of few words. These tiny poems aim to pack as much curiosity and cunning as possible into a handful of lines. For rookie poets, ellipses and telling pauses can be a mere gesture towards mystery, a way of willfully obfuscating the message, a haughty antagonism to the reader. But when ably handled, the tiny poem is not only complete, but dense, self-contained, essential--every word is carefully chosen, nothing is filler.
The most powerful small poems are those that marshal nuances, that put telling gestures to work in the service of big ideas. Aaron McCollough’s "The First Poem of Jan Vandermeer" is full of such weighty gestures, with its wry musing on "my Michigan (camero hood propped / up with a hockey stick) of Netherlands." Humor is often in short supply where serious poetry is concerned, but Daniel Magers displays a rare, self-deprecating wit in his piece "The Dylan Songbook," a meditation on growing older and inward-looking.
In other places, small poems hold out the possibility of intriguing narratives, of landscapes that the imagination is left to populate. "Dramatis Personae," by Kristin Abraham, demonstrates the possibility of a tiny poem to suggest so much, with its cast list for an imagined "mortality play." Shaefer Hall's "And Then The Whole Place Got Dark" is cinematic rather than theatrical--a movie told in fifteen lines. Maggie Nelson, Del Ray Cross, and Karl Parker are others that deserve special mention for their extremely intricate pieces. In "From a Purely Mechanical Standpoint," Mary Ann Samyn discusses the experience of producing these carefully crafted missives, where "Completion made its small animal yawn."
A number of entries are nature poems--and sometimes, poems that examine the possibility of nature poems in the modern world. The beautiful "Nocturne," by Amira Thoron, is perhaps the most successful, in which night is populated by "the viscous breath / of moles, the furtive // diggings of a skunk, / grubs coiled / in moonlight." Meanwhile, with "In the Pastoral I am a Deep Red Rose," Mike Sikkema ruminates on "pixies and billy goats," daisies that are "safe and feral," and "coin-operated epiphanies."
These delicate selections are lent additional weight by the inclusion of two well-considered essays, Samyn's "Two Bits of Tiny" and Geof Huth's "Why Visual Poetry." The latter, followed by several examples, seems a bit of a departure from the rest of the journal's collection, especially when concrete and other visual poetry styles are often associated with the large, public, and outrageous. What unites Huth with the other "tiny" poets is his use of revealing details to suggest more than what is being said.
The first issue of The Tiny is rich with reference, a network of allusions that stretches far beyond this magazine to incorporate Shakespeare, Rilke, and Christopher Guest, among many others. Aaron Raymond, in particular, creates a conversation between Hamlet's ill-fated friends in his "Rosencrantz Letters" (excerpted in the magazine), and in the process enters a conversation about "Hamlet" that encompasses hundreds of years and extends around the world.
If the creative inspirations that drive The Tiny's inaugural poets are wide-ranging, their social network can feel insular. It's no surprise that these very gifted writers should be accomplished, published poets assembled from a variety of MFA programs and journals, but their biographies reveal that by and large, they have all published previous work in at least one of a small group of other journals, the same small group of journals The Tiny links to on its website. There is certainly nothing inappropriate about this, but hopefully an open call for submissions will diversify future volumes of this densely powerful magazine and allow new writers the chance to be a part of this exciting new project.