A few months ago, I ended up sending some money to the Kickstarter campaign for Birdsong‘s fifth anniversary issue. I’d met Birdsong editor Tommy Pico a few years before; we both read at a 3-Minute Stories event, and I’d picked up a few issues of his zine here and there over the years that followed. As such, I found him to be an editor with a good eye for poetry, fiction, and visual art — and given that placing all of those elements in relation to one another, with a shared aesthetic, isn’t the easiest thing in the world. I have all the more admiration for the guy.
It looks like the issue before me, which collects work from the previous five years of Birdsong, will be the last issue for this publication. Which, for the reasons noted above, is a shame. That said, the work contained in here marks both a statement of the overall high quality of Birdsong‘s work and an excellent note to go out on. It begins with a Jonathan Seneris piece about traveling in Europe with a newly pierced tongue; sensations become unexpectedly painful, and the duality of traveling without a companion — on the one hand, you’re on your own; on the other hand, you’re on your own — becomes almost tactile. Lauren Wilkinson’s “Fat House,” about the strained marriage of a young couple; Pico’s own “At This Point in the Game”; and Chantal Johnson’s “I’d Like,” which veers from essay to verse and back are among the highlights.
There are stories of departure to be found in Drew Johnson’s chapbook 7 Greyhounds as well. The Greyhounds of the title are, in fact, buses, and the stories contained in here find their narrator in various forms of transit: getting into an argument with a police officer over a lost suitcase; posing as a fellow traveler’s spouse, which leads to complications a few weeks later. Johnson captures the hazy, occasionally repetitive nature of travel; what comes forth here isn’t the romance of the open road, but rather the routines and rituals one develops to make certain trips bearable.
Eric Nelson’s The Walt Whitman House follows a day (more or less) in the lives of two teenagers, Boo and Big Rick, living in a bad part of Camden in the early 1990s. I won’t lie: reading this summoned home memories of the Florio years in my home state; there’s also a palatable sense of change here, as the plot revolves around the demolition of certain areas of Camden to build the New Jersey State Aquarium. The conflict here emerges organically; it’s the sort of situation where people learn more, both about themselves and the people they’d believed they were closest to.