Readers ask a tall task of our authors: to entertain us for as long as they have our attention, to transport us, to paint a vivid picture, and to give the reader a peek into the author's mind. And while each reader enters into this journey with a different perspective, for an author to be successful, his or her writing must transcend the differences in the readers and relate to what is common among us all: the human experience. The strength of any compilation of work is to include compelling selections, each which add to the success of the compilation as a whole, while also remaining independent works of literature.
In the case of Subtropics, a publication of University of Florida, which included short stories, vignettes and poems, it was easy to be entertained by the stories, only to forget them a moment later. What will bring the subscriber back is the power of the poetry included in this literary magazine.
To begin, from an aesthetic standpoint, the cover is a beautiful choice of art by American artist Charles E. Burchfield. It sets a far-away, dream-like feeling before one even reads a word.
The journal's highlight, by far, is its poetry selections. Both the serious and the quirky find their place in Subtropics. Lines such as "Blood says/ You are more and, sometimes, You are less." from C. Dale Young's Blood, allow for thought and retrospection. While on the opposite end of the spectrum is J.D. McClatchy's Speedwriting, in which the author removed all vowels from the poem, leaving only consonants and the readers' imagination to fill in the blanks.
An entire poetry anthology could be inspired by the translated poems, alone. Subtropicstouches on brilliance here, as much is taken from the words on the paper as is left to the reader's imagination. E.H. Sayeh's Arabic poem Image is the strongest of the translated pieces. Poignantly, the poem opens "The house is empty/ Like the mirror without an image." While its title eludes to a specific image, the poem, itself, provides strong imagery; what the mirrors reflections actually say about the house in which it is hung.
Collectively, the short stories are too contemporary in subject to be placed in a literary magazine drizzled with poems which are traditional in both content and presentation. Too often authors believe that they must begin with a shock, to pull the reader into the story. This can be seen from the first sentence of the first entry. Roy Kesey's "Stump" begins "Donny's out of a job again," and instead of lending an interesting perspective on social commentary it veers off mark and is bogged down with unnecessary descriptions and pop-culture references. For instance, when Kesey writes "it's been off limits since that other thing with the vodka and the ludes and the tree," it does not make the main character relatable, because the sentence seems forced, unnatural.
What is unclear, in most of these stories, is what the authors are intending to do. If it is simply to entertain for the few moments each author has our attention, then the journal is successful. But the journal lacks a proposed goal. The stories, therefore, have a cumulative effect of leaving the compilation disjointed. There is no theme, or discernable pattern for why these stories, vignettes and poems have been placed together. Of course, the reverse effect is that each entry is a fresh beginning. The entries stand alone much stronger than the journal works as a whole.
From an editorial standpoint, Subtropics could have benefited from better directional vision. I was interested to learn how the inclusions were selected, under what criteria, if any. I found myself spending more time thinking about how these entries were selected, than appreciating the writing, which is unfair to the authors. Upon deeper research I learned that the magazine will accept submissions of any genre, any length, excluding science fiction or anything with "talking animals." It would have been helpful to have a blurb explaining this policy, to set the tone for what was included.
The main flaws with this publication are organizational; the order in which the entries were arranged, and why such lighthearted short stories were chosen to be alongside serious poetry. While content of the stories is questionable, however, the poetry succeeds in being smart, thoughtful and eloquent.