Gifts of Enchantment: A Wonderfully Weird Literary Journal
Hunter S. Thompson once wrote: “It never got weird enough for me.” If only Thompson had been alive to read the Fall/Winter 2010-11 issue of Ninth Letter. It is so weird. It is preposterously weird. It is an experience.
When I received my copy in the mail, I first became aware of the odd little gifts enclosed in the cellophane packaging. I call them gifts because I don’t know of a better word for them. There was a yellow seed packet that read TEA PARTY on the front. I emptied the contents of the packet onto my desk to find… an enamel American flag pin. On the back of the seed packet is written: “A very fine seed that must not be covered. Rich shades of color found when planted in soil south of the median. Excessive fertilization will not accelerate growth; fight over-bearing tender.” So there we are. The first odd little gift.
The second was a black ominous-looking keychain from The Goldenview Motel in Eureka, CA. (This refers to a story found later in the journal: “Eureka, CA” by Mary Miller.) Also included: a folded fractal maze (“an infinite series of mazes within a maze”), a large folded chart entitled “Corn in the U.S.A.” (a disturbing journey through the effects of HFC consumption), a lovely spread of poetry, prose, and photographs that tells the heartbreaking story of Sidi Mubarak Bombay, a postcard with a picture of bacon on the front, a terribly entertaining Newspoem (more commonly interpreted as a letter) by William Gillespie, and a paper packet entitled “Hides: Images + Diagrams.”
I don’t know how best to describe this last piece to you. The packet consists of black and white photographs of nearly unidentifiable body parts and diagrams of what might be skin? A pore? In any case, all of these things—the body parts, the diagrams—are labeled with words like “syrup” and “Sporty Spice.”
So I’ve waded through all of the gifts. Now I am left with the journal itself. On the front cover, there is the naked torso of a man. Hairy nipples, a hairy belly—all of the things one would expect from the naked torso of a man, really. On the back cover, there is the naked back of a man. Of course. There is hair, there are some freckles… Oh, yes, and there is a tally chart written on his skin. The words that precede the tally marks are listed as follows: Dark, Black, Blood, Die, Dead, Death, Kill, and Murder. Huh. The inside cover is composed of a photograph of very organized piles of oddness. Baby bracelets, plastic food, magnets, junk jewelry, doll body parts that have been, for lack of a better word, tampered with.
A note from the editor and art director welcome the readers to this issue. The art director writes:
By unwrapping the contents of this issue, you have dislodged the original cover design and set in motion an unpacking of parts that together create a kind of landscape within which the stories, essays, and poems can situate themselves… If you find that eventually the loose pieces have snuck off, and all you’re left with is a bound book filled with not much more than page after page of words, well then you’ve arrived at the point.
A piece of nonfiction is the first in the journal. (Not counting the loose parts, of course.) Margot Singer’s “A Natural History of Small-Town Ohio” is lovely, sad, and, as I hoped, a bit weird. She traces the history of Ohio back to the origin of the fossils children find in their backyards. She writes also of her own roots (in New England), and the unfolding of her Ohio landscape is overcast with an exquisite fog of homesickness. She writes:
In your mind, you’re elsewhere. Your dreams, like memories, attach themselves to other landscapes, countries, cities, terrains… But this isn’t a dream. This is not a movie where a twister will whisk you off to Technicolor Oz. This is the place your children name when people ask where they are from.