Lively Interchange Between Words and Images
Like a state fair midway, there is a lot to do and see and experience in the latest Midway Journal. Besides fiction, amusements include creative non-fiction, poetry, a critical essay, paintings, and mixed media art. According to its editorial statement, Midway “accepts submissions of aesthetically ambitious work that occupies the realms between both the traditional and experimental.” Midway is fun like a carnival, and exhausting too!
The journal has five separate sections, each having its own editor. Although there is no listing for an Editor-in-Chief, fiction editor Ralph Pennel is identified as one of the founders and he’s named Managing Editor in Midway’s Duotrope interview. Here’s a look inside the most recent issue.
The “Ephemera” section includes five paintings by Susan Solomon. The lead painting is “Accidental Diebenkorn,” which is evocative if not derivative of Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series for its cooler colors and monoprint vibe. This painting, with its lighter palette, is unlike Solomon’s others, which feature dark backgrounds and woodblock aesthetic. In “For Mitzi,” internal light seems to emanate from a central figure, giving it a stained-glass effect. “Forest Snow” shows one warm brown tree in the foreground of a wintry image. A frustration with viewing these paintings online is there is no mention of dimensions, dates, or materials used, and this is essential. Looking at back issues, sometimes this information has been provided and other times not, so if I were an artist submitting work, I would definitely include dates/dimensions/mediums up-front.
Fiction starts with a flash by Len Kuntz, “Ghosts in the House.” Its defenseless, plucky narrator recounts an abusive childhood where every adult harms. His mother “had an arsenal—belts, chains, and an egg-beater,” his father is “a million tiny needles held together with cigarette smoke.” It’s just heartbreaking when he asks his teacher if he could “please make the classroom my bedroom and live there” and is met with hard laughter. Although there is gravitas to this tale-bearing, there is also great spirit in the voice, a feeling that one can be subject to mean and misguided caretakers, and still believe--expect--a better life ahead. Kuntz conjures all this up, in fewer than 300 words.
Next comes a 4,400-word short story, “What Remains: Part I” by Ron MacLean. It begins with an epigraph by Russian Anarchist (and outlaw) against the patriarchy, Emma Goldman (1869-1940). That epigraph imports with it ideas of repression, of unfairness, of gender and violence, which informs the reading considerably. This time-jumping tale, told in episodes, begins in a jailhouse. There, a rooster in the form of a woman with “thin, red-dyed hair,” crows three times she has dreamed of a fruit tree before dawn. Arrests and denials are biblically imminent, and past grass-roots politicians bring themselves back from the dead, “To disturb privilege and encourage the powerless.” The protagonist, former US Attorney Martha LaFollette, is imperturbable in her quest to reconcile her complex feelings toward her father, and by proxy a society that dismisses her work as a lawyer. This theme is underscored by a barrier to Martha’s retrieval of her father’s ashes: a young man accused of disinterring her father claims to be a Seneca, and is invoking the “Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act 1990” to usurp ownership of her father’s remains. A ghost who shares Martha’s ideology also carries “the bones of (his) father in a satchel,” by the way. A challenging but worthy read, “What Remains” provokes consideration of what haunts the living, and how the dead’s misdeeds defy burial.
The other two fictions, “Deer Heart” by Amanda Hartzell and “Low Down” by Darci Schummer are also on the theme of families who fail to reconcile, over the loss of a daughter and a broken marriage, respectively. The fiction voices are a nice mix of young and old, and the authors represent a broad spectrum from new to established careers. Lengths of story run the gamut, and the submission guidelines do not set limits for pages or word-counts. Traditional fiction subs are limited to one piece, flash subs up to two. Of special note to flash writers who pitch a good prose-poem game: the poetry section has two prose-poems.
Midway also presents a mixed-media portfolio of six watercolor and ink drawings by Sam Soltwisch. These expressionist drawings include hand-written text. At first, the imagery seems a cross between Ralph Steadman’s illustrations for Hunter S. Thompson (eyes, teeth, playing cards, cigarettes) and Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butthead (unschooled scale, perspective, and proportion). Soltwisch seems to take a body, then separate an organ from that body (eye, brain, heart, etc.) and give that object special focus as a source of pain. In this way, the theme in the artwork is literal and straightforward. The writing has a therapeutic purpose, so is riddled with clichés (“luck was turning,” “knocked to the pavement,” “thoughts racing”). Perhaps the stronger part of the equation here is the art, and this art documents an artist’s effort to cope with severe anxiety, according to the artist’s bio. Midway showcases this art-without-guile, Art for art’s sake, and this is commendable.
There is one non-fiction essay, “The Abstraction of Women Artists,” by Stacey Balkin, which focuses on personal reactions to Georgia O’Keeffe’s Black Abstraction (1927).
Poetry includes work by Becca Barniskis, Kristi Bowen, Mary Buchinger, Gemma Cooper-Novack, Christopher Crew, Barbara Davis, and Namkyu Oh. Previous publications for this set include AGNI, Mid-American Review, and Gravel Magazine. The two Barniski poems are especially song-like. In “Bird Village,” the air “swells and fades with ceaseless small flutters,” and in “Ice Cream Village,” there are “strong-armed maidens in smeared aprons” and a “coconut hayrick heaped high.” These poems are playful and sneaky and fun. The closing note to the issue is the poem “Eye Contact” by Namkyu Oh, and it is a fitting cap on the issue’s body, with its focus on the eye, metaphorically “a cloudy sphere filled with a thicket of sweet things.” In the end one may as well ask a blind person for the truth of what the eye captures. What a timeless sentiment. Poets may submit 3-5 poems at a time.
If there is a common editorial thread in Midway’s Volume 11 Issue 1, it may be a playful editorial preference for bed-hopping between words and images. The prose is rich with imagery, and the art invites conversation.