Another Chicago Magazine #50 v.1
The Chicago Issue
Left Field Press
Reviewed by CJ Laity
I first heard the call for submissions for ACM’s Chicago Issue over a year ago. It promised to deliver a “playful jab” at Granta, a journal that was first published in 1889 at Cambridge and that was reinvented in 1979 as a magazine of new writing. Months before the ACM open call, Granta had come out with its own “Chicago issue” that was released locally with a lot of hoopla, hoopla that was quickly drowned out by critics who complained of its “lack of Chicago writers.” Throughout 2010, ACM 50 became less of a playful jab and more of a labor of love for Editor-In-Chief Jacob Knabb and for the other ACM staff, as they set out to create something that showcased the local lit scene as it really exists, not as some publication located in London imagined it exists, so I think it is rather fitting that I picked up my copy of ACM at the recent Indie Lit Road Show, which was sort of a mini-bookfair held at Green Lantern Gallery, where several reps from our lit scene showcased their publications as a blizzard raged outdoors.
ACM’s Chicago Issue is actually split into two volumes, the current one being the first. I read straight though it, from cover to cover, and I have to say, if the second volume is as strong as this one, together the two will serve as a definitive anthology of contemporary Chicago literature. Physically ACM 50 is a very attractive book as well. The cover design, drawings on many of the title pages and other illustrations compliment the volume gorgeously and really reflect how much work and thought went into its production.
ACM 50 is heavier on the prose than it is on the poetry, with only 30 pages of poetry compared to 130 pages of prose, including fiction, non-fiction and review. Although there is some really powerful poetry in it, overall I found the prose to be much stronger writing. From James Tadd Adcox’s dreamy, tongue-in-cheek short fiction--
“He leaves, and slams the door behind him. The door’s a little stiff in the hinges, and so he has to work at if for a while to really get it to slam.”
--to Patrick Somerville’s frantic stream of consciousness in which one paragraph of run-on sentences takes up five full pages, ACM 50 delivers exactly the type of literature that I enjoy most, literature with vivid imagery created more-so by the strength of the narrator’s voice than by in-detail description. In fact, the prose writing in this issue is so strong, I’m kind of surprised that these writers are Chicagoans. Let me explain. Having come out of the poetry scene of the 1990s, I have not been closely connected to the more modern lit scene of Chicago, so reading ACM 50 was a wonderful discovery, and I truly enjoyed the strong voices in this nearly flawless sampling of talent.
The subjects of the prose range from the totally bizarre, as in Zach Dodson’s “The Pink Kitty Fly Swatter” to the all too real, such as in Peggy Shinner’s essay about nose jobs or Miles Harvey’s about cicadas. The strongest pieces in the book, in my opinion, come from Lindsay Hunter, Achy Obejas and Ling Ma, who demonstrate three vastly different writing styles of equal strength. I saw Lindsay Hunter read some of her work at a Guild Complex BYOP event and I was blown away beyond description. Reading her three page entry in ACM, I’m now convinced hers is one of the strongest voices in today’s Chicago. In the story “The Palmer House” Ling Ma effortlessly plays with the speed time evaporates in. Her first person narrator shifts from talking to the man sitting next to her at the bar to talking to the person reading the page, as a “heavy glass” fractures “light without mercy” and “hinges creak” like “velvet ripping.” Some writers are simply naturally gifted, and you can’t read Ling Ma’s beautiful story without getting that impression about her. Achy Obejas’s story “Kimberle” descends from sort of a whimsical, foreshadowing anecdote about taking in a friend as a roommate straight into a dark, nightmarish turn of events that will leave you breathless.
Some of the prose in ACM 50 reads like poetry (I’m actually not sure which category Dan Godston’s piece would fall into) and some of the poetry reads like prose (take away the couplets and Katie Hartsock‘s piece would be considered flash fiction). As for the poetry itself, ACM 50 does offer a good variety of styles from some of the best poets working in Chicago today, including an experimental poem by Garin Cycholl, wise words by Quraysh Ali Lansana, two poems by Simone Muench, and offerings by Kathleen Rooney, James Shea. Jennifer Steele, Erin Teegarden (of which I wish there was more), David Trinidad and Alexander York.
The only piece of poetry in ACM 50 that I really think is misplaced is a poem called “Muse” by Chris Gallinari, a local open mic poet who so heavily derives his voice from the voices of famous poets that I once even compared his tactic to plagiarism, and his ACM offering is no exception. Compare these 23 words taken from the first five lines of the poem that appears in ACM--
Lest neighbor kids shaken from snow angels
Fantasies ring with raucous laughter at it all
Lest you vanish through winter like a bulb
--to these 23 words taken from the first five lines of Patti Smith’s Radio Baghdad--
Suffer not your neighbor's paralysis
But extend your hand extend your hand
Lest you vanish in the city and be but a trace
This entire concept of taking other people’s writing and changing some of the words while maintaining the general ideas and tones and then calling it your own leaves a bad taste in my mouth. This poem sticks out like a sore thumb next to all the truly original creations anthologized in ACM 50.
On the other hand, other poets showcased in this volume have such strong voices of their own that if you are familiar with them, you will recognize their voice without even looking at the author credit. For example--
Every night the moon said: I am not the one
of whom you sing. Save your voice; stand in my light.”
(from “Poem With Many Endings” by Mike Puican)
ACM 50 exists as a sort of who’s who of the Chicago lit scene, and nowhere in this volume is this more apparent than in the reviews that are published at the end. ACM 50 includes a series of one sentence and full reviews written by such recognizable names as Jan Bottiglieri, Zach Dodson, Larry Janowski, Chris Mazza, A.D. Jameson, Alice George, Larry Sawyer, Barry Silesky, Kathleen Kirk, Joel Craig (among many others), who are reviewing titles by such recognizable names as Helen Degen Cohen, Jennifer Karmin, Angela Jackson, Billy Lombardo, Chris Green, Judith Valente, Kristy Odelius, Paul Martinez Pompa, S. I. Wisenberg, Susan Messer (among many others). There is even a long overdue full review of the late Eddie Two-Rivers' Pow Wows, Fat Cats, and Other Indian Tales written by Carlos Cumpian. Wow. The reviews alone are reason enough to pick up a copy of ACM 50, which you can do at your local bookstore or by clicking here.
Note: Click Here to read the full review.