inkscrawl, Issue 3
Edited by Samantha Henderson
Reviewed by Amal El-Mohtar
In June of 2011, I was delighted to note the appearance of inkscrawl , a poetry venue dedicated to speculative poems of ten lines or less. I was excited to see a speculative poetry venue about which I knew nothing, edited by someone (Mitchell Hart) with whom I am not the least bit familiar; I was pleased to see a venue focusing exclusively on very short work, feeling that here would be a collection of poetic aperitifs, bite-sized bundles of complexity to savour in a context that would show them to best possible effect. I think very short poetry tends to get, well, shorter shrift in publications that showcase longer work; certainly in publishing very short poems in Goblin Fruit, I sometimes feel like short poems are best deployed as a kind of thematic punctuation in the overall narrative of an issue. So I very much welcomed inkscrawl.
Unfortunately, after only two issues, Mitchell Hart announced that he could no longer edit and produce the publication. Happily, however, it was announced shortly afterwards that inkscrawl would be up and running again, published by Rose Lemberg’s Stone Bird Press, and edited by Rhysling-award-winning Samantha Henderson. Issue 3 is the first issue under this new management.
It still looks as clean and sparse as it ever did: form follows content in a stark black-on-white minimalism that allows for undistracted focus on the small poems. My one quibble visually is that when clicking through to a poem from the Table of Contents the author’s name appears bolded above the poem’s title, which confuses me into reading the title as the first line.
Of the poems themselves, however, I found this issue to be a very mixed bag. Overall, I appreciated Henderson’s narrative crafting, which moves from renaissance through death-dialogues to an open-ended dissolution. But given that inkscrawl is a journal dedicated to minimalism, I was surprised to find this issue a little flabby; there were poems which, in addition to doing nothing for me, I did not feel contributing to the overall shape or power of the issue. That said, there were some truly gorgeous pieces as well.
Given how short these poems are, I will refrain from quoting lines in support of my views, but refer you to the poem as a whole to draw your own conclusions.
The issue is off to a strong start with Ann K. Schwader’s “Desert Protocol,” which is effective and clever tone-setting for a newly restarted zine, ending as it does on a promise of resurrection. It’s very matter-of-fact, but has a kind of solemnity to it that suits an opening poem, ritualizes it into invocation.
Regina Green’s “take from me anything you want” had some focused and startling images which I enjoyed, but seemed to require somewhat more of a narrative to bring those images together into an effective whole. As it is I found it ambiguous and interesting, but multiple re-readings haven’t kicked my experience of it up a notch beyond that.
In contrast, “The Familiar” by Kristine Ong Muslim emphasises narrative over imagery, to the point where it feels like a piece of a larger story with its own world-building and logic. I found it warm, touching, and sad, but felt myself wanting something more from it.
Melissa Frederick’s “Untitled” is a scifaiku, a category of poem which I find difficult to appreciate; if one of the principles of haiku is the immediacy of sensory experience, then the use of that form for speculative concepts seems like it must necessarily dilute the effect, as speculation requires at least one remove from experience. This isn’t to say that that dilution can’t be compensated in other ways—a great many scifaiku seem to attempt to do so by reaching for a comic effect—but it isn’t something that I seek out on my own to enjoy. That said, Frederick’s poem is about as enjoyable as I have ever found scifaiku to be.
Howard V. Hendrix’ “The Unseen Good Old Man” I found to be beautiful until the last line and a half, where all the carefully developed and articulated images of the first three and a half lines fall flat for me. But I think the first three and a half lines are perfect, and almost wish the poem had just ended there.
From tripping into heaven we move into Merav Hoffman’s “Zipcar in Heaven,” which is amusing, but the first two stanzas had me hoping it would be something more than that. The first line, “I met Elijah the Prophet on the commuter train,” has a mix of gravitas and whimsy that I usually find quite winning, but in this case the ending unbalances it, toppling over into a joking whimsy that doesn’t do much for me. The second stanza, where the speaker inquires into Elijah’s presence on the commuter train, reads quite prosaically to me, though I forgive that on account of it being interesting narrative-wise. One could argue that form follows function in this case, that the let-down of the speaker mirrors the let-down of the reader, but that sort of cleverness doesn’t really do it for me either.
The skies give way to more space in Greg Beatty’s “Three Alien Koans,” three three-line poems which do the wry-comic-scifaiku thing. They don’t move me in any way, and I keep reading them trying to find something to appreciate, but can’t. My (small and flawed and supplemented by Wikipedia) understanding of a koan is that it’s a story or statement of the “what is the sound of one hand clapping” variety, meant to startle you sideways into enlightenment. These pieces did not do that for me.
I found Alexandra Seidel’s “Binnorie” beautiful. A sparse, imagistic, experiential retelling of the “Cruel Sister” ballad from the perspective of the dead and dying sister in the process of being remade, it’s lovely.
Howie Good’s “Woof” I enjoyed more each time I read it, which is surprising, because works which purport to be prose poems are usually not my cup of tea. This, though, achieves an effective mixing of mundanity yielding to the surreal, and the language’s pace and flow keeps up with and directs that effect.
Rebekah Curry’s “La Mort et son puceau” (“Death and her virgin”) is interesting in that it gender-bends the story of Hades and Persephone, but it doesn’t do much else; the last line is perhaps more effective than the rest, but it doesn’t quite come together for me as a whole.
Banks Miller’s “Strata (two poems)” is intense and rewards re-reading; an opaque cluster of images leads into a startling last line that could suggest a number of potential narratives.
Mike Allen’s “Surcease” puts his characteristic horror-spin on things, and very vividly and evocatively describes a plague-ridden man in the last moments of his life. The rhythm and pace of it are extremely well-wrought, and I both wrinkled my nose and shuddered a bit at the last line, so well done Allen, well done.
The positioning of N. E. Taylor’s “Sarcophagus” immediately after Allen’s gives it an extra layer of zing: two simple lines that manage to tease out a whole complex of responses from me. The immediate image itself is very evocative, but I find myself in conversation with the poem’s speaker, wanting to say that is not what the magic was for and how can you be so sure? I appreciate this.
Dominik Parisien’s “Watch for that Horizon” is unequivocally my favourite piece of the issue. Its images are sharp and powerful, the kind that in describing a hand make me hold on to my own to protect it from words so potent. It takes a similar approach to the sea as Alexandra Seidel’s piece, blending and shifting body with landscape and speaker. It’s just beautiful, and I keep re-reading it.
Mari Ness’ “Ariadne” is another excellent piece: in ten well-sculpted lines it gives Ariadne’s account of what happened on the isle of Naxos. It’s elegant and heartfelt and powerful.
Jessica Wick once coined a phrase that has guided Goblin Fruit in our acquisition of haiku-length poems: she said “it has to sing to the gut.” When a poem is so dense and focused as to require ten lines or less (especially the ones in haiku range), I want the reading of it to be a memorable experience, if not an outright revelation. I want to be startled and shaken and left needing to read the poem again and again to absorb it and reconcile it with my experience of reality. Of the fifteen poems in this issue, only six or seven really gave me that, and a few provoked no reaction at all. All the same, I recognize that to have every poem in an issue speak to me on a visceral level is a pretty tall order; inkscrawl 3 has certainly ensured that I’ll return for inkscrawl 4.