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Some Notes on ZYZZYVA’S 20th Anniversary Issue Contributor Reading

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Attended the ZYZZYVA 20th anniversary, Spring 2005 issue contributor reading on April 28, 2005 at the San Francisco Public Library bookstore…

The reading as well as the poems in ZYZZYVA represented everything right about literary magazines. Howard Junker, the editor, always manages to be the first person to publish many young writers. But he also mixes up the jukebox with many types of people and styles and stages of career.

The reading proceeded as readings do. In the bookstore foyer of the San Francisco Public Library a half dozen of the contributors bleeted out their poems in vain against the sounds of sirens and alarms and trucks and cell phones. The work, all quality work, from folks in their teens to retirees; to career poets with many, many books; to the freshly minted Iowa MFA grad.

Amidst the din, I did manage to surf the wavelength of one writer just long enough to make me really want to re-read her poem in the spring 2005 issue. Sandra Lim, the aforementioned freshly minted MFA grad, read three poems, the best of which was published by Junker in this Spring 2005 issue.

When I fist read Lim’s poem, SOMETHING, SOMETHING, SOMETHING GRAND. I read it swiftly, and I missed it. What I mean is that some poems have a narrative surface that gives them their oomph. Other poems create a scene or lyrical narrative that is then leapt away from or unfolded. Other poems seem to unfold from the outside in by rules they establish for themselves. This latter was the kind of poem from Lim.

When I heard her read it, it was as if I had never read the poem before. I think this is the weakness of such poems. The issue is that they sometimes accidentally avoid revealing themselves if the reader misses the central thrust or trope. That said, as I heard Lim read the poem, I came to realize what a wild, raucous, and sexy poem it was. Any poem with that much mouth travel, and ass slapping, with the occasional orgasm has to be good! At the same time the poem is also about the making of poetry (or making it with poetry). And I missed all that the first time I read it, how is that possible? I must’ve been distracted…

Click here to view the poem at ZYZZYVA.

What I like here are the demotic, sudden changes in direction. The expected mixed with the unexpected or confused, such as “I like you very ugly.” The “ugly” causes the sudden twist of the frame. I like the synethesia of the “green pang” as in jealousy. I like the almost crude “heart up my throat.” As “up my” is associated with a different set of body parts. I like the angles and positions from the “sideways insouciance” to the “hungering down the alley.” I especially like the rhetorical position of the sex: the put on “heat” and the speaker’s body arranged in the “order of” its use in bed. And then the wonderful kinky violence of the speakers sensation slapped “all over the dark.” The dark of the room and the dark of the body leap to mind here. As a reader we share in this sense that there is in me, when I write and when I love, that duende, that something “in me like chime.”

Howard Junker did compile a 10 year retrospective on ZYZZYVA so keep your eye out for the 20 year retrospective as well.

This piece was originally posted at THE GREAT AMERICAN PINUP.

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About David Koehn