New Editors, Same Risk-Taking Lit Mag
PANK came out with its 12th edition, but it was the editorial staff’s first. In 2015, as the magazine founded by M. Bartley Siegel and Roxane Gay prepared to close its doors, John Gosslee bought what he called, “the riskiest magazine on the literary scene.” The new editors, John Gosslee, Chris Campanioni and Ashley M. Jones, sought to show readers PANK would maintain its aesthetic while taking on new writers for the 12th issue coinciding with PANK’s 10th year.
PANK puts out a print edition annually and publishes quarterly online. They accept submissions year-round, using Submittable.
Speaking of being risky, PANK 12 opens with “Is the Vagina Necessary?” by Greg Ames, a medium-length work of fiction where male academics (only male academics) meet at a conference to discuss the history of the vagina, the nature of the vagina, what to do with the vagina (“I say we install cameras”). The narrator briefly pauses before giving another conference talk, asking himself how much he truly knows about a vagina, “I had not grown up with one, had not nurtured it through disappointments, had not celebrated its numerous triumphs,” but dismisses these as routine jitters. The conference only ends abruptly when men in the audience reveal they’re actually women, who take the stage and show the men they utterly lack knowledge of what they’re talking about.
The issue is bookended with “Good Sex” by K. Angel, where Angel tells you good sex isn’t just the version you hear from men about a woman’s orgasmic cries and coming simultaneous, but it’s “[coming] from his fingers rubbing in wet circles.” Needless to say, PANK accomplishes the “risky,” is perhaps screaming for you to acknowledge that they accomplish the risky but asking you to start and end with the exposed vagina.
The Spring 2016 issue contains predominantly poetry, interspersed with medium-length fiction or creative nonfiction pieces, two two-page artwork spreads, each showing the same model wrapped lightly in what appear to be thorny cords. Nearly every page has large white boxes, some square, some rectangular, some lining the bottom of the page, some the top, with a thin black border. The boxes serve sometimes to separate poems on the same page, sometimes to signify the end of the piece, sometimes as mere decoration. I think initially I found these boxes lazy in terms of artistry, but I came to feel they closed the brackets shouting "[PANK]" and belonged.
Many pieces are what can only be described as experimental, such as a sarcastic take on the questions posed for students and reading groups at the end of novels entitled “Reading Group Questions & Topics for Discussion” by JL Bogenschneider. Bogenschneider asks the readers what they felt of the mode the author chose and of the elements instrumentally used to advance the plot and then stops and asks, “Did you even get that?” I envision an author inwardly rolling his eyes at the classroom of children “reading” aka skimming his pride because they were forced to for an assignment. He points out inevitable grammar mistakes in the book and says, “Disregard them.”
My favorite was a short story from Christian Hayden, “Instructional: Identifying Your Daughter’s Body While Concealing From Your Wife The Affair That You Had With The Morgue Attendant.” It is everything the title says it is. It is funny. It is the intense version of the second person, similar to the way I wrote in third grade when experimenting with the second person while write a how-to on building snowmen. And at the same time, while you’re laughing out loud because, while trying to conceal his affair, he’s accidentally hitting on his daughter’s morgue attendant, the grief is real and fresh and it feels almost like Hayden really did date his daughter’s morgue attendant.
I was similarly impressed with poem “We Came Without Warranty” by Dan Pinkerton, about a man watching his father fade away, realizing our obsolescence is as unavoidable as that of Apple’s next iPod – Apple’s may be planned, but who’s to say ours isn’t? And though very short, Julie Marie Wade’s “What Date Rape and Gay Marriage Have in Common” brings sharp social commentary into PANK, pointing out how gay marriage, though legal, is viewed universally as less than marriage, less than straight marriage, because of our stubborn incapacity for change: “We need rapists in our back woods and dark alleys, stocking-capped strangers rising out of the fog. We need our weddings in churches, a 1:1 ratio of skirts to suits, bouquets to boutonnieres.”
For me, Wade’s essay where she takes entire lines with the less than symbol ( < ), and Bogenschneider’s playful questionnaire are more interesting and more risky, should we return to that word, in terms of experimental writing, than poems that play with spacing, jumping from left to middle to right and then back (Ben Kingsley, Kelly Grace Thomas) or that take up large amounts of white space, whether because of chopped lines or because the entire poem only has three (Ariel Francisco). Though certain poems did wow me, such as Laurie Blauner’s collection of five pieces starting with “I Am An Animal,” exploring the relationship between us and the zoological world.
Overall, for old and new PANK readers, I think you will be pleased.