In the editor’s statement, Drunken Boat #11 is a “thing transformed.” Yes, the magazine has gone from annual to semi-annual. There’s color redesign and what the editors call a “better balance” across the genres, but here’s the real change: a full embracing of the internet’s capabilities demonstrated through visuals, interactivity, and sound art.
There’s nothing new in reading – or pretending to read – on the Internet. But it’s a different experience than “real” reading. We compromise when we read on the screen, believing that multi-tasking (‘fess up, what else are you doing while you’re reading this? Listening to music? Paying bills? Talking on the phone?) is as joyful and satisfying as immersive reading. Drunken Boat’s online presence isn’t new, but it’s issue 11 that calmly, inventively, demands our full attention.
Click on Adam Bigelow’s “Where You Rewrite The Pledge of Allegiance,” and the “I-Pledge” (a pun on the combination of the pronoun and the common abbreviation for Internet?) plays as a multi-media file. No listening to your iTunes while you read or you’ll miss the total experience; this series from a gallery installation “empowers the user to… revise an essentially ‘sacred’ text in American life.” I pledge allegiance to my husband and to the love for which he one [sic] commitment under God indivisible with grace and unending support forever, text attributed to “Carol from Virginia Beach” appears over the sounds of children playing. Another contributor pledges allegiance to fast food; text that appears over the pleasingly incongruous sound of wind chimes.
The issue’s theme, “Life in a Time of Contraction” refers in part to Dia Lacina’s photographs of European graffiti. 1984 is now written in red on a white wall is one, another, blow my mind in spare, cloud-like swirls. Eight tightly cropped buttons on Drunken Boat 11’s home page guide us into the visual and sound installations from photographers and performance artists like Bigelow. The theme of money, numbers, weights, and values pops up like loose change; artist Laura Kaufman’s “Earth (in lbs)” is a photograph of a strand of wire – a necklace or banner, perhaps – with the earth’s weight, in numbers, strung along in what appears to be heavy, industrial grade metal. Author Rand Richards Cooper’s essay “The Spree” comments on the dollar costs of life in this new recession. Rolling Stones concert tickets are $200. The American sense of normalcy, Cooper muses, is “highly elastic.” Wistful, I’m nostalgic for the Stones tickets of the 70s; another time of contraction.
Drunken Boat #11 also features fiction by the ubiquitous Steve Almond, who never seems to falter in his acute prose. “Men Alone” at two paragraphs, is a literary drive-by, a glimpse into a moment of men in a flophouse, an SRO, an apartment, a place where they would pay any price to be you, and have.
Contraction as a theme carries through to nonfiction, too. The standout essay is e.keene’s “The Creature, The Hole, and You,” a list essay that makes the most of the form’s affinity for sly reveals. Ostensibly a tale of an MFA grad (this is a litmag, after all) attempting to confront a creature living in her cellar, the subtext is no surprise, particularly given the “Time of Contraction” theme of the “folio,” as Drunken Boat now calls their departments. The creature is the depth of the self, the hole a break in the author’s life or at the very least, the stone foundation to her home. Like any magic, however, the power is in admiring the doing.