Two Journal Reviews: failbetter and Drunken Boat

by Laura Nye

The Latest from failbetter

failbetter is always open for fiction, poetry and visual art, “that which is at once original and personal. When choosing work to submit, be certain that what you have created could only have come from you.”  I love failbetter’s confidence with The Huffington Post in their status as an electronic publication, translating traditional literary print-journal content to a clean, efficient, text-based  blog format. Contributors are published on the website in real time as opposed to being fit into the package of an issue, appealing to submitter and reader alike and earning a readership to dwarf those of printed journals.

As of late, Alexandra Chasin’s short fiction piece “You Loved The Morphine” narrates like an intravenous chemical, voiced with a vibrant tension hinging on the line, “How having to attend to me would drive her, and to what.”  Caren Beilen’s “Art in Relationship” traces an artist’s fragile complex of creation and self-concept with a significant other vicariously fueling and disturbing her creative process.

Kristi Maxwell’s two poems, “Game 1 (36 words[=36 lines])” and “Game 3 (37 words[=37 lines])” were borne from a word game called Royalty; each first shows readers a transcript of a round of the game, then uses words garnered from the game in a poem. The poems indicate play-words with capital letters, altering the natural scansion of its language with echoes, repetition and variations of mutations turning up inventive rhythms and phrases.

The Latest from Drunken Boat Issue 12

Drunken Boat’s approach to online publishing differs from failbetter’s by organizing content into contextual folio-features which are given unique open calls for submissions. Currently DB is looking for submissions for an upcoming Bernadette Mayer tribute folio, as well as upcoming issue 13’s “First Peoples, Plural” folio, which will feature “media by indigenous people worldwide.”  Along regular fiction, poetry and non-fiction folios, the current issue offers “Celtic Twilight:  21st Century Irish-Americans on Eugene O’Neill,” “Freedom & Belonging:  Short Short Fiction,” the collaborative and genre-transcending “Desire & Interaction,” and a short tribute to Franz Wright.

Robert M. Dowling gave me exactly what I wanted in his introduction to O’Neill’s folio:  “My intent with “Celtic Twilight” is to take a step out of the academic echo-chamber, where I’ve lived for years, and listen to voices unheard from in traditional O’Neill studies.” Drunken Boat is strengthened throughout with an academic precision and agility that is disarmed from the university arena and put to work, instead, on the playful and collaborative online stage.

Although flash-fiction is a developing genre I’ve not much explored, I was happy to get further acquainted with Mikael de Lara Co’s “Man Finds Crow,” which seems to balance just enough narrative with a delicate and abstract payload, delivering what fiction editor Deborah Marie Poe dubs “magic in motion.”  My other favorite is Kristen Nelson’s segmented work “Ghosty,” complimented with illustrations by visual artist Noah Saterstrom. His self-titled website, linked in the work’s preface, showcases other literary collaborations among a large body of work.

“Desire & Interaction” mixes the literary with the digital, the evolution of text with video, sound, and interactivity. Contributions like Jon Satrom’s iPhone App PURRFLUX and collective Squidsoup’s “Bugs” are sure to jostle the literary audience with refreshing bemuse. Drunken Boat flouts a dedication to the electronic venue’s flexibility with incredibly inventive collaborations;  this was my favorite folio, and the whole thing is quite worthwhile, but among my favorites are Roxann Carter & Braxton Solderman’s “Legend,” whose text and portraiture develop, disappear and converge through concentric pop-up windows, Chris Funkhouser and Amy Hufnagel’s  “Thank You,” a video of curious text revealed through soap bubbles, and molleindustria’s existential flash game “every day the same dream” proving that digital meaning is legitimate meaning. I’ve never felt so creeped by my own pressing of the direction and space bar keys. Think about it.

By far its largest, Drunken Boat’s poetry folio aids verse with visuals and recordings. Issue 12 features interesting experiments, “expansions . . . conversations.”  James Byrne’s “April 14th 1930”   speaks to Vladimir Mayakovsky, Amaranth Borsuk & Gabriela Juaregui’s “Hypertrope” readings, Philip Rush’s “Morning stole upon the night,” Amy McNamara’s “lampblack” and Sandra Doller’s “They Go To Bed With Gilda,” and Edward Folger’s “The Genome of the Endangered Sestina,” which ingeniously innovates form by placing the text of its allusions a click away, achoring its lineage, content and livelihood with undeniable accessibility. The poem epitomizes my trust in Drunken Boat’s selection of poetic stylings—it is its own key..

The small feature folio on Franz Wright includes collaborative readings labeled “Ill Lit,” and his brilliant poem “The Writing” deftly encapsulates all writers’ incessant dream of good work, work that really works, as he and countless other contributors, editors and readers continue to shape Drunken Boat into a  soberingly impressive reality.


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