Tuesday, April 01, 2014

(un) civil magazine of prose and poetry Volume 1 issue 1

(un) civil
 magazine of prose and poetry
Volume 1 issue 1
Winter 2013- 2014
Editor Andrea Gregory
Managing Editor Shilpi Suneja
77 pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Civilizations thrive under a strong political leadership and an atmosphere of law and order. The expectation of this law and order generates time and energy and creativeness. It usually follows that the people who populate these societies move toward the wonder of artistry and the expressiveness of ideas. On the other hand, the leadership of these social orders (no matter how kindly in their origination and well-meaning in their intentions) paradoxically edge forward toward tyranny. The lesson taken from this natural progression of things should be an urgency of involvement, the constant challenge of authority, and, occasionally, a little rebellion by the populace. Thomas Jefferson, himself, would approve of a little periodic rebellion. He suggested every twenty years. Magazines such as (un) civil provide a provocative and potentially effective vehicle for this type of protest.

A photographic essay with an introductory editor’s note at the front of the magazine, both by Shilpi Suneja, acts as a centerpiece and brings this publication to life. The photos, entitled Turkish Spring: (un) civil Love for a Park in the heart of the City, chronicle last summer’s protests in Istanbul Turkey. The protests began over government plans to demolish a popular park in favor of a shopping mall. The disturbances quickly spread and took on a national flavor, questioning the hardline and inflexible tactics of the current Turkish administration. The country’s Prime minister, Tariq Erdogan, a man, who, in his turn, once defied authority and was imprisoned for reading a poem, labeled the demonstrators “chapullers,” meaning hooligans, a term which became a badge of honor and, in the form of graffiti, adorns the front cover of this magazine.

Each photo persuasively builds on the central story and engages the reader forcefully. The picture of the protest in Taksim Square especially struck a note with me. Years ago (2003), I also witnessed a very different protest march in Taksim Square that also electrified the Turkish citizenry and won its objectives. There is nothing like the excitement and ground swell of a democracy movement exercising its magical power.

Evil’s banality ripens to fruition in The Torturer’s Peace, a poem by Joaquin Giannuzzi and translated by Chris Philpot. Family life contrasts with professional life in an interesting seamless dynamic. Here’s the heart of the poem,

…with 220 volts he is capable of performing wonders
like uprooting
God’s littlest-known secret.
His wife doesn’t need to know anything
about these matters
which moreover would do nothing to help
her make good soup.
The two children admire their father
for his generous way
of filling the world around them.

In The Road poet Richard Hoffman paints a formalized but affecting picture, a timeless landscape of war’s castoffs—the refugees. Hoffman splices anger and art together very well in this anti-war poem. He begins his piece this way,

Mothers with newborns in knotted slings,
on their heads impossible towers of things,

            the old in carts, the children by the hand,
            these people crossing a cratered land

                        are more than metaphor;
                                    but they are also metaphor.

We are the truth to one another. Look:
don’t wait for some historian’s book

            to understand this (then it will be too late.)
            This is the unchecked power of the State…

Another poem by Hoffman entitled A War. A Fear.  A Scar. An Ear. personifies war as a philanthropic candyman passing out sweets to children. This portrayal does not stray too far from reality I must say. Soldiers often carry candy for the local kids. As a non-combatant, but visitor in a war zone, I once did the same thing outside of a school in Afghanistan. It made me feel rather good. Hoffman explains how it really works,

The children were hungry and
The candy made them hungrier.
That’s the kind of candy it was.
The war liked little bellies
And their high voices and thin
Limbs, and he liked to walk back,
When he had no candy and listen
To their tiny begging, please Mr.,
And how by morning the lovely
Green jewels of the flies flashed
Swarming on their still wet eyes.

Jennifer Martin’s short story The Jerrycan chokes the reader in urine, shit, and mud. It tells a horrifying tale of life on the border of Chad and Sudan. Survival means tribe conspiring against tribe and family sacrifice and cruelty, always cruelty. Martin excels in delivering rich details to the reader. Consider this example,

…Most of her neighbors had gone to the camps to ask the
Red Cross for items. Only those with forged camp cards or money were successful.
On occasion, a beautiful young woman would sob and receive blue plastic
sheeting to reinforce her family’s tukel, perhaps a bucket, a new pot to cook in,
maybe a mosquito net. Zoubaida, not beautiful and not young, had received an
empty one and a half liter Evian bottle. Its plastic body ran now with valleys
of dents and rivers of near-cracks, but it had lasted her a year It held drinking
water and sometimes petrol or peanuts or millet grains or candles or fat white
termites for soup. When her husband was alive and behaved foolishly, it held
Zoubaida’s wedding ring…

Natalya Estemirova, a journalist and Russian human rights activist went missing in 2009. Jared M. Feldschreiber includes a poem of admiration entitled Poem for Natalya. I like very much the contained rage and imagery in the poem’s concluding lines. The poet says,


You did not die in vain.
Your enemies thought you were a robber of truth
And they will be punished.
You are somewhere amongst us
Beyond the withering trees.

Courage to portray the truth in the face of injustice and horror is unfortunately a rare commodity. Publications like (un) civil deserve our interest and, when done as well as this issue is, our thankful applause.

1 comment:

  1. That's great, Dennis. I'm left without a doubt the mag is worthy, but it's really a pleasure to be moved by the review itself.