Sweet on Poetry
For a writer who is also a reader, is there anything that compares to the thrill of going to the mailbox and finding a new literary periodical, never before seen, maybe even unexpected? It is an intense, agonizing joy, to open, slowly, the envelope or wrapping, without the impatient rip and tear of Christmas morning. Or not. Might just be me. At any rate, I was rewarded recently with the slow emergence from its brown paper cocoon of the latest issue of Sugar House Review.
After the first sensation (ah, that new magazine smell), the next thing I noticed was the feel of it: digest sized, perfect bound, and glossy all the way through. It is an attractive publication, with none of the design features standing out above the others; there is a sense of restraint and proportion, a willingness to provide an atmosphere in which to let the work contained breathe on its own. At right around one hundred pages, divided between poetry and book reviews at about a three-and-a-half to one ratio, it is just the right length for what lies within: a mixture of verse that does not seem to adhere to an overriding aesthetic stance or agenda. This appearance is reinforced by the lack of overt editorial presence; there are no manifestos or rants on the state of the current cultural landscape here.
Based in Salt Lake City, the issue opens with a poem entitled "Salt Lake" by Rio Cortez, and it is a strong opening indeed. Twin epigraphs by Brigham Young and Sun Ra riff on the word “space”, and alert the reader right away that unexpected juxtapositions and the ambiguity of language, even at its most precise, are on the horizon. The physical form of the poem itself reflects spatial preoccupation, as packets of words, discrete as quanta, sit separated from one another on the page, yet manifesting within a unified field of perception: “the air a machine sucking earth into fragments of white absorbing heat”. Or again: “and now I am two times the dark”. One could say of it, as of most of the poetry here, what Andrew Haley does of those in his review of The Hurricane Lamp by Sundin Richards, "The poems are tight, clean, tooled."
There are prose poems and those that exhibit a regular stanzaic and/or metrical pattern. Most fit on a single page, though there are numerous exceptions. There are some that are excerpted from longer works ("Leafmold", prose poems by F. David Rzicznek, and "Clangings" by Steven Cramer, a poem in rhyming, or near-rhyming quatrains). The word that keeps coming to mind is 'competence.' If there is anything objectionable in that, it is that this competence sometimes seems to come at the expense of content.
Sugar House Review is a publisher of mainstream poetry in many of its various guises. The journal radiates a certain polish, both in its physical appearance and the work of the individual poets found within it. The drawback, of course, is that it is ultimately indistinguishable from any of the other journals whose only avowed requirement for submissions is that very nebulous one of 'quality.' Most of the poets included in this issue seem to be veterans of the scene, though there are a couple of beginners as well. Many publications mentioned in the Biographies section will be familiar, and the initials 'MFA' occur with regular frequency as well. While there are certainly poets from Utah represented, there is certainly no regional bias; the poets are gathered from all over the country.
In the end, Sugar House Review is a high-quality publication. It comes out twice a year, and a one-year subscription will get you a dollar off the $7.00 single issue cover price. There is no interior artwork, and the only ads are for a handful of other literary journals, all placed at the back. All in all, it is a worthy addition to the list of publication credits for any poet appearing within its covers, for while it may not redefine the literary landscape, it is an attractive showcase for some excellent craftsmen.