Last weekend, I went to a reading in celebration of Atlas Review editor/Sunday Stories alumnus Dolan Morgan’s birthday. Also there was a pile of newspapers — specifically, one called New York City Fires, in which Morgan’s poetry rests beside the artwork of Tom Oristalgio. The poems in here take a lot of found material, juxtaposing 19th-century news articles with contemporary Yelp reviews of spaces at the same location. It sounds jarring, but it’s surprisingly effective, the gulf between the hyperbole of the older words and the snappiness of the new spawning a surprising melancholy. (This piece might give you an idea of what to expect.)
This is also a case where the format goes a long way towards enhancing the experience. The fact that both Morgan’s poems and Oristalgio’s art evoke old newspapers is bolstered by the fact that this is, in fact, a newspaper — and one that occasionally requires the reader to rotate pages (or crane their neck to get the right angle on certain passages.) It’s a similar experience to thumbing through Melody Owen’s Dream Journal: When I Was Nineteen, I Was an Old Man. Here, excerpts from her dream journal from the 80s and 90s are paired with her artwork — which, given the de facto theme of this week, does in fact have certain collage-like qualities. It’s a good fit for the overlapping logic of the dreams described here, where family life, politics, and celebrities intermingle.
That same sense of a personal history sprawling out of carefully set lines also shows up in Stacey Levine’s He Wanted All Galenans To Know He Was Real, a lightly metafictional short story about a man who leaves his Midwestern town to pursue his dream of becoming a chef, then returns and finds himself at odds with the population there. This is less the classic “enlightened alumnus versus small-minded locals” situation, however: Levine’s protagonist, though likeable in some ways, has clear issues of his own. The presence of Levine’s narrator, who may or may not be editing this story in ways that diverge from history, adds another layer atop this: it’s another kind of collage, and a fascinating one at that.