Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Review of Greatest Uncommon Denominator (GUD)

Review of Greatest Uncommon Denominator (GUD)
Issue 3, Autumn 2008
Editors: Julia Bernd
Sal Coraccio
Kaolin Fire
Sue Miller
Debbie Moorhouse
Pages = 204

by Lo Galluccio

If I had to sum up a theme or idea running through this issue, I’d say, “clockwork” or “clockwork gone awry.” What does the word really mean? Clockwork (from the Dictionary) s a mechanism with wheels and springs, like that of a clock. Or, “like clockwork” – with perfect regularity and precision. The other strong association we have to the word derives from the 1971 Sci-Fi film, A Clockwork Orange.” The very name juxtaposes two totally different things – we have precision and timing colliding with a color that is in-between, brash and rather rare. Orange is not primary. Orange is rather like an emergency flare or a scream. So it is that this word, and this idea of strange and telling juxtapositions, crop up in Issue 3 of GUD magazine, Autumn 2008.

From a magazine that began several issues ago with brilliant fictional stories that ran the gamut from surreal to supernatural to Sci-fi, this avant-garde journal has now created a collection that leans more toward something whose work is abstract, mystical and very futuristic. But there is also a strong through-line in format and tone, a variety of moods and styles, which makes the journal a very engaging, albeit, challenging read. There is also a good deal of wry humor. As per the usual formula, Issue 3, interlaces fascinating fiction, with other-worldly graphics and beautiful poems.

In “Poetry’s Yellow Warbler,” a poem by Beverly Jackson, in which she holds a “downy chick” in her palm and detects its “tiny clockwork tick,” we find an alternating progression of natural and mechanistic images and ideas. In combining these elements, Jackson introduces a volume that both deconstructs and re-constructs things, people, places. In the end of the poem she invokes “Yeats, God” and writes “and you may ponder toys while I gape that pigs, bird and planes lift off the ground at all.” p. 1

The first story, “A Song, A Prayer, an Empty Space.” By Darja Malcolm-Clarke is an epic tale of a pseudo-Arabic kingdom whose God machine – a euphomifier – has been corrupted by a “many tongued daemon.” Its maker and guru returns from exile to slay the daemon and restore the source for prayer and contact with God, only to find himself doubting that the euchoi, or coins that are fed the machine as prayer, can really transmit divinity. In fact it is a girl in the village who he finds playing an odd stringed instrument and singing like an angel who arrests his mind. In the end, he decides that singing is actually the better way to pray. “Teach me to sing,” he pleads at the end, to his female colleague and fellow priestess. One still marvels at the economic and religious concept of the euphomifier, how it unified the kingdom with a system of prayer currency. One also realizes the kind of effect a beautiful voice can have. Will he learn to sing? Will he go back to his machine? Will the daemons be outmaneuvered? Well, it’s his epiphany about song that turns the tale.

There is later in the volume, a magical illustration called, “Clockwork Wings” where an angel is bound to the gears of a clock. Her wings are immobile and down-flatten Ned. Her face has seemingly become the clock’s face, which is absent. It seems the martyrdom of the divine to technology.

As always, dark outlandish humor runs through GUD. For example, the fable-like story “Hunt of the I-Don’t-Knows” in which Bryce the Scribe and a penguin-like man are hunted down by creatures that only respond to questions with “I don’t know.” Like a dark Dr. Seuss battalion, these creatures, called, “Low Heads”: begin to suspect that this duo they’ve encountered do have the knowledge they lack:

“Now there are twenty. Now there are thirty. They begin quick-filtering out of the darkness. Their pale faces come ghost-like into moonlight. All in nervous panic-huddle, “I don’t know!” “Do you know?” “I don’t know!” “I don’t know!” p. 54

Bryce the Scribe and his strange partner are targeted for possibly “knowing something” by the Low Heads and they are pursued in a staccato intensity race of short punch sentences and compound words. It’s a battle of coveted, imagined knowledge, of what, in a very existential way, we don’t know.

And as the two scramble through the mud of the forest, the Low Heads upon them the story ends:

“Drowsy. Slow-enchantment distant stretching shout, “You know. You know.” P 56

This, the final almost pitiful recriminating accusation.

Instead of anthropomorphy – the attribution of human form or personality to a god or animal or object. – many texts and images in this issue attribute the human or animal to machines. It’s a post-modern twist.

In the photo “Mustang,” by Jon Radlett, a cadet-like man in jumpsuit fidgets with an old model helicopter in an open field. The silver sheen of the copter is set against the grey tones of a big sky. Its wings are the dark angular propeller which the human is trying to engage and make whirr. By title, the photographer compares a wild horse to a flying machine.

There are some remarkable other poems in this volume. One is “American History” by Jean Paul Ferro, an elegant and still modern ode to beauty and love. In it 5th Avenue in New York City is juxtaposed with the depths of the turquoise ocean; the former a place to float above, the latter,
“a love in a renaissance in the middle of life.” The opening line is stunning:
“You and I – we were made of glass.”

In a poem dedicated to the women and children of Darfur, “How to Fetch Firewood” by Michelle Tandoc-Pichereau, the writer instructs a child to survive the war in an almost psalm-like series of five stanzas. She writes:

“So we look, Abidseum. Because crows feed on those who want, and mouths, in asking, end up dry.”

She admonishes him then to be patient, to bide time even when answers are not present, when a path has not formed. Then,

“Abidseum. That is the time to close your eyes.”

And she promises to be there for him, “breath sharp as memory, praying for history to forget itself.” P. 103

There is far too much good stuff to review thoroughly in this volume but it is a must read. GUD continues to live up to its name and provide readers with work that is far above the base line of modern (or post-modern) literature.

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