The trouble with most literary magazines that aren't propped up by a famous university or a more profitable publication is that they tend to publish navel-gazing, faux-important, self-consciously arty drivel, also known as crap. If you're running a magazine with less than stellar resources, one way you can mitigate this is to be ballsy about your choices and open your doors to just about anything. It may not work, but then again, it might.
Fortunately, the editors of Boise State's annual journal cold-drill take this approach, and for them, it works. Despite the occasional clunker, the 35th issue of the magazine has much to recommend it, and fans of literary fiction and poetry will likely find at least one gem within its pages. As a bonus, many of the poets and writers featured within are local, giving cold-drill bonus points for drawing out some of the Gem State's literary talent.
A word of warning for traditionalists: Much of the poetry featured in this issue does not fall within structured forms. From the hit-and-run strikes of Kim Lock's prose poem cycle "Movements," to the thick, sentence-twisting surreality of Cassie Seawell's "my name is drink the sea," experimental forms of free verse are the norm here. Not all the experiments are successful; the selections from Andrew Mister's "Central/Standard" seemed to stretch on for a beat too long, making the experience of capturing several moments in a day far too literal, and despite the immense facility with language Seawell possesses, the structure she chose seems to work against her in spots. After several paragraphs, the act of reading began to take on an almost physical weight, which kept the images and lines from flying as they should have.
But, for every misstep, there are moments of skill and beauty. Elizabeth Robinson weaves water and personal imagery to disquieting effect in "Studies in Hell: Three," and Daniel Stewart's "The Haunting" displays a knack for rhythm, crafting quirky, catchy lines like "The street's licorice/tongues loll. Clouds/hide the stars in coin shine" into a poem that lives up to its name. Jessica Jacobs, showing that there's still life in more traditional forms, brings a neo-classical look and rhythm to her take on a Greek myth in "Persephone," expanding on the myth's sexual subtext with verve and style.
And then there's the fiction. While each of the three stories included are strong, Michael Onofrey's "I Forgot to Ask Him That" is the standout of this issue. In a travelogue of loneliness, Onofrey takes the cliche of a wanderer trying to find himself and builds a real character out of him, using the process to examine how one defines happiness and how, once defined, it can be kept. Never preaching, with subtlety and exquisitely observed detail, Onofrey keeps his hypnotic narrative moving.
Topped off with a selection of photos and an illuminating interview with Denis Johnson, author of Jesus' Son and Angels, the editors of cold-drill have managed to pull a well-built, eminently readable journal from an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. Fans of experimental and literary work alike should reward their audacity by buying a copy. Go ahead; it'll do you good.