Berlin-Based Journal Reads Like a Puzzle
If ever there was a literary magazine that you could read straight through, in one sitting, Issue 14 of SAND is definitely not it. The variety, the complexity, the sometimes maddening strain to read and understand what’s presented, all of this asks, no, begs the reader to stop, and reflect, before reading more.
Take Nhã Thuyên’s poem "a parade," seven pages of free verse about the dizzying use of pronouns in Vietnamese. Or, perhaps the dizziness comes only when translating the extent of pronouns into English, to “consider and settle every relationship [between speakers’ age, sex, social status, professional status] is exhausting…” Though the poem is not available on SAND’s website, the note on Katilin Rees’ translation of the poem is, which is dizzying in its own right. Here’s a taste of Thuyên’s poem: “one day i will have been every neat i & you, i, you person, this human being, that human being…”; then, later in the poem, “this mass of pronouns like weeds to get rid of…just let me be, i will learn the way…”
You might wonder many different things after reading this—“How did someone write seven pages in this style?” for example; or “How did someone else translate it accurately?”; or, perhaps, “Why are pronouns so complicated?”
Whatever you wonder, there is little doubt that you will wonder. You’ll stop and wonder, and perhaps you’ll take a break before settling back in for another piece from this journal, experimental or otherwise.
Maybe you’ll thumb through the pages of Issue 14, glancing at the layout, the art, the graphics as a whole. But even this is a stop-reflect-go kind of exercise. For starters, the title of each piece of prose or poetry is printed in a different font (large, bold, squiggly, dashes etc). Poet Inger Wold Lund’s poems are printed as mirror images, the English version starting at the top of the page, and the mirror image is the poem in its original Norwegian. And then there’s the art.
Along with work from the cover artist, Tiphanie Chetara, this issue also includes two digital images by Claudia Hausfeld, which, on first glance appear to be simple, somewhat nostalgic photographs circa 1950s. The first image is of a girl, maybe 10, decked out in a cloth dress and apron, very Swedish-looking, hugging a toy; the second image is of two tourists overlooking an expansive green gully. But look closer, these images are available on SAND’s website, and you’ll see the toy is not a toy and the gully is filled with surprising things. You need to look and then look again to see it all.
If this is the moral that holds true for Issue 14 as a whole, nowhere is this more evident than in Larry Brown’s flash fiction, "Triangle," and Inger Wold Lund’s poems from her collection, Nothing Happened.
Compared to the experimental, formless poetry of Nha Thuyen, Lund's poems are pinpoints in time and space. Here are a few examples of the first lines in three of her 12 poems in this issue: “A year ago. By a lake” / “Two years ago. In a gallery.” / “A week ago. In a greenhouse.” Larry Brown’s fiction is no less direct, and no less touching. Here’s the scene: a daughter, eating “blue triangles, sold blue. Too blue, almost, for a food,” and a father, who, while watching her, thinks, “She is the reason I by milk.”
In general, the poetry seems more experimental in Issue 14 than the prose, at least in form. In addition to Thuyen and Lund, there are 6 other poets whose work is presented, and not one of these poet's work mimics another’s in form or content. Patrick Kindig’s poem, "Boy," is a star example of unique poetry. This poem is set in four columns, each line in each column consisting of three or four words—a direct presentation that does not necessarily result in a direct reading. For instance, the lines could be read top-down, left to right—but they could just as easily be read diagonally, cross-wise, down-up, right-left, or any number of other ways. Here’s a sample of lines that connect diagonally across columns: “This is the boy / with a sewing machine / was every man / and every woman.” The possibilities for reading, and dare I say, recomposing this poem, seem endless. And although Kindig’s poem is featured on SAND’s website, it is divided into two separate screenshots, which may stunt the reading possibilities.
Now for the prose, which appears, on the page at least, more traditional than the poetry; it touches the same deep-rooted longings. Though, it’s not always clear if the prose is fiction or non-fiction. Take a look at Lucy Jones’ fiction, "Inclusion," subtitled, "Stories No One Wants to Read: Part 1.” The prose is clear and straightforward, which makes it easy to feel the narrator’s internal struggle as she sits through a meeting with other parents to decide if a handicapped child should be allowed into the local school.
And then there’s J.M. Parker’s prose, “The Day Trip,” in which a gay couple travel around Lebanon and Jerusalem. Beneath the solid prose is a pressure that keeps bumping the surface of the story—the boyfriends approach a checkpoint near Gaza, one of the boyfriend’s parents live in the same nearby neighborhood, even after their separation—and yet, this pressure never explodes. The story ends without an explosion, literal or emotional. Here is another instance where the reader might stop, reflect. Is the story less or more satisfying this way, without an explosion?
Again, you’re reminded of Inger Wold Lund’s poems, this time of the title of her collection, "Nothing Happened." So much of the writing in SAND’s Issue 14 could fall under the theme Nothing Happened. Plenty has happened, of course—25 contributors have come together from around the world to create the latest issue for this Berlin-based magazine: 12 males, 13 females, 2 identified as gay, 7 with ties to Berlin, 12 with ties to the USA and Canada, countless translators and multi-linguists. Something has definitely happened—and yet, it is difficult to say exactly what that something is.
If this puzzle excites you, you can sample this and older issues on SAND’s website, or you can submit, when submissions open. Every form of writing and art seems to be accepted, from unpublished poetry, flash and long-form fiction, non-fiction and translations as well as photography, drawing, and painting. It seems that SAND’s philosophy on submissions is the same for a reader’s potential approach to Issue 14: open for interpretation.