Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Review of Terra Incognita, The Voyage Issue, Conjunctions 56

Review of Terra Incognita, The Voyage Issue, Conjunctions 56

By Luke Salisbury

As a Bagel Bard born at Bard who teaches the Bard reviewing Bard College’s literary magazine Conjunctions 56, Terra Incognita, The Voyage Issue is a pleasure. The magazine has high production values, (A solid paperback in this electronic age. The print is a tad small but that’s a humble price to pay for ink and paper), and numerous well-known contributors including Robert Coover, Howard Norman, Joanna Scott, Jonathan Carroll, Peter Straub, Susan Steinberg and others.

The Editor’s Note informs us that this issue will send us from rural Alberta to wartime China, the Amazon (The river not the book/e-book corporate octopus) and "The act of voyaging, journeying, migrating from the known toward the not known or at least unfamiliar is older than literature itself." He doesn’t tell us where we may find the time to read this 380 page tome with its 29 contributors. The fault here lies not with the editor or the fine publication, but our harried over worked lives. Doug Holder gave me Terra Incognita over a year ago. I teach, write novels, research novels, and conduct a marriage. Who has time to read the many excellent and trying-to-be-excellent literary magazines, e and print, blogs, websites, and whatever else lurks and entices in cyberland? The next terra incognita may be reading print.

With or without the time to do it, reading print is still central to the enterprise of literature, and Bard College’s literary magazine is a good place to start in the vast terra incognita of lit mags.

Joanna Scott’s DePorter’s First Grand Trip Around The World is about such a trip in 1901 and includes period, flat, timeless photographs, ala WG Sebald, that seem to say everything and nothing. Sebald’s influencethose philosophical and deeply literary explorations of other places and timeswill be as influential on contemporary fiction as Borges is and Donald Barthelme was. Scott’s story is well-written and makes one want to see the rest of her forthcoming book. The underappreciated Jonathon Carroll starts East of Furious, "He was the only man she knew who actually looked good in a Panama hat." That should be enough to make any reader keep going. Horror-meister Peter Straub opens a story with "the naked woman splayed on the long table," and it gets better. Much better. Robert Coover "The Box" is symbolic, surreal, and metafictional. It’s also a damn good story. Howard Norman’s "Radio From the City" is more of his marvelous writing about Inuit people, the far north, and revolves around the death of John Lennon. Barney Rossett’s long memoir about serving in China at the end of the Second World war alongside the OSS provides a fascinating picture of war torn rural China and wide-open Shanghai. There is much more.

One ought to subscribe to this magazine.

Had we but world enough and time.

---Luke Salisbury is a Professor of English at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston.

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