Magazine of Underdog Excellence Looks at the Misplaced and Displaced
Palooka: A Magazine of Underdog Excellence is a nonprofit international print and online literary magazine, published annually since 2010 by Palooka Press, that, according to founding editor Jonathan Starke, exists to support and publish that eponymous underdog. In fact, Palooka is so committed to the underdog that the magazine publishes any individual only once; after you’ve been published in Palooka you must move on but you’ll have a professional credit that may lead other publications to take more notice of your work.
Palooka publishes an eclectic selection of fiction, poetry, nonfiction, graphic stories and essays, comic strips, cover art and photography in each issue. Palooka should appeal to a wide audience as the main theme in Issue #5 is the displaced and misplaced – people, objects, emotions – and the longing for connection, the consequences of which, for good or ill, cannot be foreseen.
“How We Disappear,” short fiction by Alison Wisdom, deals with displaced persons. Told from the point of view of an adolescent girl, it transports us to a refugee camp in the conflict between Muslims and Buddhists, between Burma and Bangladesh. The story is saturated in menace. As the story begins, the narrator is looking out her bedroom window at “…plumes of smoke, thick and black as an animal’s coat, rising from little homes just like ours” in the neighboring village. The next day they flee, taking only what they can carry
In Greg Walklin’s “At the Turn,” a young man playing in an amateur golf tournament deals with misplaced trust and displaced anger as he tries to keep his game together while his mother, whom he hasn’t seen since she left three years prior, stalks him along the course. He knows where she works – he could have gone to her. “He liked the idea that he could find her if he wanted to, but he didn’t like the idea of finding her."
In a piece by Jane L. Carman called “Binder Stories,” women grapple with displaced and misplaced EVERYTHING in the ever-persistent Madonna-whore complex. In a nod to Dirty Dancing, “Somebody tries to put Baby in a binder…Baby removes herself from the narrative of the binder and joins the Loose Leafs in a dangerous series of personal expressions.”
Many of the poems in this issue of Palooka are an arresting and complex blend of the stark and the intimate. “In the Park” by John Minser is about a girl who’s going to be stood up by the boy she thinks is going to meet her in the park. “She does not know, in this twilight time / between abandonment and realization, / how she will feel tomorrow or how her friends / will exchange I told you so glances…” Misplaced trust. In Minser’s “Bread” we encounter misplaced objects in the unlikeliest of places; also misplaced optimism.
I baked when no one was hiring
and flour was cheaper than bought.
Things turn up when you sift:
Legos and BB; once, an eight-track
like a sacrifice from some village
where parents grind by day
and, by firelight, bring the bags
from house to house, collecting...
All of the visual artwork in this issue is by a single artist, Ford P. Waight, working with acrylics and collage that are then scanned and transformed digitally in unexpected ways. Waight calls this series of twelve images “Ford Angels and Fey,” in which he has taken figures of myth from varied ancient traditions and transported them to contemporary urban settings. Previous issues have featured more traditional mediums, such as oil on canvas and linen, what I’m going to term “exuberant” photography and amusingly subversive cartooning.
The nonfiction offering, “Marx” by Fred Skolnik, is an essay on the author’s discovery of Das Kapital and his musings on communism, capitalism and the state of modern economies. It is without a doubt the most accessible exposition on Marx that I’ve ever read. From the labor theory of value to the market theory of value to the fate of the kibbutz movement in Israel, Skolnik gets to the meat of the problem. “Thus, in sum, we get an economic system actuated in its totality by industrial, commercial, and financial operations calculated solely to produce profits for the capitalist class without any regard to the social value of what is produced or the well-being of the laborers who are forced to generate these profits as the price for staying alive…For at a certain point it will surely dawn on anyone who thinks about it that modern economies are like giant Ponzi schemes. To keep themselves going, they must generate economic activity, the sole purpose of which is to move money from one pocket to another…The greatest enemy of a modern economy is prudent personal spending and consequently the greatest challenge of a modern economy is to get people to buy what they don’t need or can’t afford. That this state of affairs should constitute the basis of our social order is simply incredible.” Bingo.
The contributors to issue #5 hail from North America, Europe and Asia, and represent a nice balance of the never-before-published and experienced professionals, the formally-educated and the self-taught. Those contributors for whom Palooka is not their first rodeo have been published in a diverse array of publications including Santa Clara Review, The Dirty Fabulous (Jaded Ibis Press), Los Angeles Review, Montréal Review, Encyclopedia Judaica, local magazines (not specified) and Catch & Release, the online content of Columbia Journal.
There is a great variety of work and levels of writing experience in Palooka. The editor's commitment to unpublished writers is a good thing but in this issue the mix was so extreme that it produced a disjointed, uneven reading experience. There is room for improvement and I have high hopes that Palooka will improve because the other half of the selections are of impressive caliber.