It’s a question that was probably inevitable: where does the line between “zine” and “lit journal” exist? It’s one thing when you’re talking about an institutionally-sponsored version of the latter; when you talk about something inspired by a DIY mentality, does it ultimately matter what word is used to describe it? Throw in the way that doing something online lowers the bar to access and thus allows for a lot more writers’ voices to be heard. And you could make the case that someone like Aaron Cometbus is one of the best-known essayists of his generation. So, yeah: blurred lines.
(This doesn’t even get into the world of art zines, which I’m hoping to cover in a subsequent column.)
Anyway: I walked into Heaven Street Records this weekend, as they’ve been doing their fair share of posting about their zine selection on Facebook. First up: the first print edition of expatlitj: half-sized, nicely bound, featuring fiction with a couple of pieces of color artwork (the highlights of which came from one Gabrielle Bischoff) and some poetry. Of the four stories contained within, I was most impressed with the opener, a quietly hallucinatory work by Eric Cecil, in which the protagonist finds himself dwelling in a strange and shifting city, his memories of arriving their a blur. He thinks on his past and occasionally hears the sound of armies walking on the highway; where he is, and whether it’s actually real, remains ambiguous.
Also on offer there were a few chapbooks of poetry from Tempe’s Ascetic House. Sebastian Kruse’s The Red Guard assembles a number of taut, physical poems. “The parts of the text marked with ” are meant to be sung while read,” an introductory note reads. I will admit that I gave this a shot; it lent, for me, these works a liturgical air. JS Aurelius’s Desperation Notes opens with a quote from the author: “I dislike 10 of 10 people reading this.” Not surprisingly, the attitude here is more misanthropic; also, a touch fragmented. The middle of the book contains dozens of short works — aphorisms, almost. One example:
Psychedelics never made anyone’s dreams come true,
but they do take the truth and make them dreams.
A stream-of-consciousness account of travels around Las Vegas appears near the end of the book, and served as one of the highlights (for me) of Desperation Notes. It’s a harrowing piece of prose, and one which makes the book’s title feel decidedly literal.
It’s also worth mentioning that both of these chapbooks looked great: the choices made in terms of paper used and the cover stock. Also: points for judicious use of vellum.
From Heaven Street, I walked across the street to Human Relations, where I picked up a pair of small but potent zines. L. Mayer’s Holding the Hilt collects short thoughts on landscapes and time: prose poems, basically, and evocative ones at that. The cover of Train Wreck #9 shows the spines of books from Jesus’ Son to Please Kill Me to Studs Terkel’s Working. Can’t really argue with editor Dave Brainwreck’s taste in books, that’s for sure.
This particular issue is broken down into three parts. The first looks at internal conflicts within the New Haven punk scene; the second moves to more personal musings, including a smart musing on the author’s tattoo. The last section, “Notes on Cardboard,” follows the author’s life in Portland, Maine, ending on a relatively bleak note:
My new home, a camper van that I bought in an attempt to give my life a sense of the monastic, has been parked next to the highway for months. It needs two parts I have yet to replace. Nothing’s doing.
Lest I incorrectly represent this issue as a full-on downer, I should mention that there are also warmer accounts of friendship, and generally solid senses of place. There’s also an interview with a musician and artist who goes by the decidedly ungooglable name Milfshake. (Seriously, do not search for that phrase seeking said artist out: you’re going to be disappointed, and also wind up getting some odd stares from anyone walking by your computer at that moment.)
Where does the zine end and the literary publication begin? Does it matter? I’m on Team “No” for this one. I seek out good writing wherever it can be found; the tags that can be applied to it don’t matter much.