Irreantum v. 10 no. 2 — a review in tally

7.16.09 | | 27 comments

Here is a sweetly cranky seriously-so-reader-response-oriented tallied initial review of the fall 2008 edition of Irreantum, which arrived in the mail two days ago:

  • 5 short stories of which 2 spoke to me (and is it relief or favoritism or familiarity or something else that it’s Angela Hallstrom’s and S.P. Bailey’s stories), 1 of which is intriguing but left me cold (“I’ll Be a Stranger to You” By Cara Diaconoff), 1 of which was just about getting somewhere but not quite and could use some tweaks and another 800 words or so (Russ Beck’s “Two Things”) and 1 more (“The Memo Box”) that was just a’ight. In fact, the latter 3 were all kind of depressing. Actually, it wasn’t so much that they were depressing as that they didn’t give characters their fully developed existence (which Hallstrom especially does well) blocked as they are by the literary insistence on the image and the broken and the minor*. Or it could just be that I’ve become a reactionary.
  • 2 works of creative nonfiction: 1 that I enjoyed — had some lovely detail — but the ending whimpered out and overall Joshua Foster either needed to be more ruthless in his conclusions or warmer and more languorous in his memories (“Long in the Tooth”) and 1 that I didn’t even realize was creative nonfiction (“Mesa”) as it read like a short story, and I suppose that could be construed as powerful, but for all that it’s trying to be haunting I seem to have shrugged it off fairly easily, which, of course, may say horrible things about me or may be that I just wasn’t given enough to really do anything with.
  • 14 contributors of whom 6 have MFA or undergraduate creative writing experience, 4 of whom teach at universities, 2 of whom are (or are about to be) lawyers.
  • 1 lovely (albeit genteelly abstract) cover (painting by Barbara A. Lyman) [Late night edit — after looking at the cover while listening to Joy Division, the painting strikes me as much more interesting and much less genteel. It’s a good cover.]
  • 9 poems only 1 of which grabbed me on the first reading as tackling language and metaphysics deeply enough to be worth rereading — that would be B.W. Jorgensen’s “Beginning to Bodysurf.”
  • 1 piece of literary criticism — B.W. Jorgensen’s “Reading about Sex in Mormon Fiction — If We Can Read” — that won’t surprise anyone who has read Jorgensen’s earlier work and starts off a bit shaky and obvious (sorry but quoting from For the Strength of the Youth and pointing out that scripture has some naughty moments seriously misses the point — a pamphlet is not the place to go for discussion of aesthetics and scripture is not literature — any argument for Sex In Mormon Fiction [henceforth know as SIMF] has to argue from literary context) but gets in some good points and analysis in the middle and has some lovely sentences (which Jorgensen always delivers). I think that Laura Craner provides us with some better examples, however. And Theric brings much more sexiness and sensuality and doctrineality to the discussion (and Tyler more poetry but now I’m just playing favorites even if, well, there are Textual Reasons for it).
  • 3 works that had enough humor to coax a smile from my reactionary mug — Bailey’s “Outside,” Beck’s “Two Things” and Vanessa Arden Nuckoll’s poem “I’ll Tell You What the Butterfly Represents” plus one amusing Contributor bio (Vanessa’s, of course).
  • Zero reviews, zero author interviews, zero industry news, zero anything that taps in to even semi-current conversations (recognizing, of course, that yes, Irreantum is behind and yes, it’s taken on more of a literary journal format, and yes, blogs have soaked up much of the interviews and reviews).
  • 3 things that bugged the hell out of me in particular order:
    • A. A table of contents that doesn’t indicate which works are essays, poetry or short stories (this is rectified on the website).
    • B. An editor’s note that says “We accepted [Angela’s] story for publication long before she rejoined us as co-editor: we don’t self-publish, which even though you may not have noticed or cared about, is important to me. But you do need to notice her novel, Bound on Earth, of which ‘Faithful’ is an extract.” I beat up on Scott in a review of Irreantum 9.1, so I was going to let this go because now I’m just looking petulant and cranky, but I have to say, no, I don’t care about it. I don’t think it’s something to be proud of. If something is good enough that you want to publish it, who the hell cares if one of your staff wrote it or not — I want it. We’re starving for good work. Withholding it seems like a cruel joke — not to mention the fact that Irreantum should have had the scoop on Bound on Earth, should have debuted any discussion about it. Don’t give me some notion of literary objectivity and respectability that was current for, like two decades sometime in the 20th century. It’s a bloodless policy that ignores the fact that this community is so small and incestuous and needing of talent and passion that the only solution that makes sense is a ruthlessly nice but brutally partisan homerism. Now, of course, the contests are a little different — although since they are judged blind, unless the judges have seen a work before then the only people who shouldn’t be able to enter are the judges themselves.
    • C. This sentence from Jorgensen’s piece: “So then: can we read about sex in the Mormon fiction of Virginia Sorensen, Maurine Whipple, Levi Peterson, Margaret Young, John Bennion, Jack Harrell, Chris Bigelow, or (so I’ve heard) Anita Stansfield.” If one is going to press LDS fiction (of the LDS LDS sort, if ya know what I mean) in to service, to try and pretend that it’s on Your Side then one should have the decency to actually, you know, read it**. ***
  • 1 person who will re-up his Irreantum subscription next February and will be looking to submit at least one thing over the next year.

So that’s my tally. What’s yours?

*Not that there’s anything wrong with minor. I am fully committed to acts of minor triumph and failure and havoc. It’s what I do best.

**Of course, I’m a major hypocrite here as I have not followed through on my project to read LDS genre fiction. I either need to buck up and see what Interlibrary Loan can do for me or see if I can pick up some used titles for cheap. Or people could send me their castoffs.

*** [7/16 edit: Wm deleted that hanging Otherwise. I forgot that I had decided that I could just stop there.]

27 comments: “Irreantum v. 10 no. 2 — a review in tally

  1. Th.

    .

    Dang it, I’m only a quarter of a way through this issue. (Mine came this week.) I will be writing about Jorgensen’s toothless sex article though and the fiction. So as soon as I’ve done so I will say more.

    And I’m going to stop subscribing to Mormon mags if I keep getting them weeks after every one else. [pout]

  2. William Morris Post author

    You’ll note that mine came Tuesday so I read it yesterday on the bus and wrote this post last night. Some of us are just more committed to Mormon arts than others, I guess.

  3. Th.

    .

    Oh. And the “so I’ve heard” made me so, so angry I lolled. Which is probably a healthy way to deal with such.

  4. Tyler

    You’ve voiced many of the things I found, um, difficult to stomach (maybe that’s a bit strong; maybe not, though) with this issue. I was completely surprised when I got mine in the mail last Tuesday. The first things I noticed was the messed up table of contents and that, of course, the editors seemed to playing catch up (I think they’ve been floundering with that for a while—maybe that’s part of the problem: they should just start fresh somehow). I’ve been wanting to read Jorgensen’s essay since I saw the TOC on the magazine’s website, but after reading it, I felt utterly let down for the exact reasons you mention here. The first half or so is so dry and unsurprising that I almost cried and then when it started getting somewhat better, when he started doing some real literary analysis, he stopped and had to ruin everything with his “so I’ve heard crap.” Sure, I’m not a big fan of the DB love story, but even I’ve read a couple of LDS romance novels (yes, I’m admitting it; they were both because my wife read them aloud at night); and I just think Jorgensen’s remark, as the tone much of his essay carries, is crass and condescending.

    And as for the poetry (I’m sure you knew it was coming): I thought it was all pretty mediocre and concur that Jorgensen’s is probably the only one worth re-reading. (I just noticed on the website that they’ve attributed the poem to Angela! Ah, editorial mishaps.) The only other one that really stood out to me, though the butterfly one made me laugh, was Joyce Jordan’s “Blunt Force Trauma,” which was just more shocking than anything for its macabreness; I don’t think there’s really much beyond that.

  5. Tyler

    As I skimmed through the selections on first glance, I also wondered how much new work they’ve been receiving, which made me commit myself to send in some work of my own by the end of the year…

  6. William Morris Post author

    Just to be absolutely clear: this is not grousing just to be cranky web provocateurs nor is it a cabal of folks saying “we can do better” (I certainly couldn’t) nor is it without understanding of the demands and pressures that come with editorial positions nor is it to bag on writers — we’re all trying to make something good here, and I personally welcome all criticism of my work.

    It’s that this is a product that I’m highly invested in and every slip — fairly perceived or not — hurts.

  7. William Morris Post author

    Also: I want to reassure you all that I will not be making SIMF t-shirts.

  8. Jonathan Langford

    A couple of things (though they’re not based on reading of the magazine, which hasn’t caught up with me yet):

    * I agree that taking a pristine “we-don’t-publish-ourselves” attitude could just make things worse.

    * For that matter, there’s a part of me that wishes that even for the contests and awards, we could come up with a way for people to contribute to the community and still be eligible. I’ve been an AML award judge, and honestly, that requirement represented a severe and artificial limitation. If the best people are also doing work for the organization, we really ought not to be punishing them for it.

    * For me, getting rid of the publishing industry stuff (reviews, interviews, etc.) and making it more like a “pure” small literary magazine makes me less interested in it. C’mon, people! Yes, we need a venue for artistic publication, but if AML is supposed to be an umbrella organization for literary artists, I think we need the other as well. (And it interests me more, frankly.)

    * William: I can loan you some of my Mormon sf&f titles if you’d like, after I get back within lunch-driving distance…

  9. Angela

    Great review, William. I always look forward to AMV’s close readings of Irreantum.

    This issue represents Scott’s last issue–Irreantum’s co-editors work on issues independently of one antother–and initially it was supposed to come out last summer. But by the time it was ready to go to press it would have come out within weeks of the double issue I edited last year, so we decided to hold it until spring/summer 09 rather than piggyback each other.

    I think it’s a great issue–although I do agree with you about the Table of Contents, but that was an aesthetic decision about which Scott felt strongly. Scott’s always been much more design-minded than I am, and I’m forever grateful to him and Eric Lyman for the design work they’ve done on the journal, along with all the other hard work they’ve put in. Scott’s been a great editor and a real asset to Irreantum and the AML. All that said . . . I’m changing the Table of Contents back to the way it had been previously printed in my issue this fall. :-)

    And as far as the upcoming fall 09 issue of Irreantum is concerned: it’s another double issue, and it’s going to be a doozy. Among other things, there will be five great short stories (one by Orson Scott Card), three excellent critical pieces (one of which is Terryl Givens’ keynote speech from this year’s AML conference) and a whole PASSEL of reviews. Three of the reviews are written by AMV folks, as a matter of fact.

    After this fall’s issue, Irreantum will finally (finally) be caught up. Jack Harrell and I will then continue with a twice a year schedule, Jack publishing in the spring and my issue coming in the fall.

    And your thoughts on not “self-publishing” are worth mulling over. I will mull.

    Finally, fwiw, I just this morning finished reading every last one of the almost-70 fiction contest entries and 40 creative nonfiction entries. If the sheer number of entries is any indication, interest in Mormon literary arts doesn’t seem to be waning.

    AMV, by the way, plays a very important role in keeping that interest alive. Thank you.

  10. William Morris Post author

    Thanks, Angela.

    Also: if the sheer number of worthy entries exceeds the number that can go in to Irreantum the print journal, perhaps some of them could be tossed our way on the Irreantum website. Heck, I’d devote 6 weeks of Short Story Friday to Irreantum if you posted 6 good stories on the website. Of course, I understand the issue there is always editorial time with those 6 pieces. But this gets back to my ideas about increasing the number of editing opportunities the AML offers to its membership as a way of cultivating talent.

  11. Jonathan Langford

    Angela,

    Good news. It sounds like the magazine is looking quite healthy at this point (at least on the publication end–I have no idea how things are going circulation- and budget-wise). I really appreciate your efforts and the efforts of everyone else who has kept it going, both now and in the past.

  12. Tyler

    Ditto what Jonathan says, Angela. And look forward to at least one continued subscription…

  13. William Morris Post author

    Jonathan:

    That would be great. Let’s do something before the weather turns. And I’ll take the SF&F (which is my preferred genre) although my main interest at the moment is LDS romance and mystery/thriller.

  14. Gerrit

    “a pamphlet is not the place to go for discussion of aesthetics and scripture is not literature”

    I need some clarification on this statement. What is your definition of literature?

    For me, a very large portion of scripture *is* literature; among other literary devices, I particularly appreciate the following which I feel are well-represented in scripture:

    Figurative language
    Narrative
    Imagery
    Author style
    Archetypes

  15. Th.

    .

    I’m with Gerrit here. Scripture us literature. Although comparing the two can leads to a lot of faulty conclusions, as J’s article demonstrates.

    (Oh, and Angela: I’m sticking around to. I loved the last issue deeply. And I’m hoping there will be plenty to love here as well.)

  16. Jonathan Langford

    Theric,

    Your link to “Here’s me on Jorgensen” doesn’t go anywhere, for me at least. (Which is rather different from saying either that (a) your comments on Jorgensen don’t go anywhere, or (b) Jorgensen doesn’t go anywhere – neither of which I’m in a position to judge at this point…)

  17. William Morris Post author

    Gerrit:

    As a good postmodernist I read anything that can be construed as having a narrative or even simply making an attempt at meaning as literature (or at least as worthy of semiotic interpretation and situation). The sentence you quote is less a blanket statement on the value of scripture as literature and more a particular response to what Jorgensen is attempting to do. I find great literary value in scripture. However, I don’t expect the fact that there is scripture that has literary value to mean that all Mormons (esp. those without the literary training ) need to transplant the level of gratuitousness found in scripture in to other forms of narrative discourse — especially literary discourse.

    Or in other words: just because A contains B doesn’t meant that B in C operates in the exact same way and so is just as palatable as B in A.

  18. Gerrit

    WM:
    I thought it was something like that. Thanks for the clarification. I agree that “just because A contains B doesn’t meant that B in C operates in the exact same way;” however, B *can* operate in the exact same way in C as it does in A. Not that it does all the time, but that the capacity is there.

  19. William Morris Post author

    Absolutely. And that would be worth further exploration in a Mormon context.

  20. S.P. Bailey

    Thanks for the kind words, Wm. It has always been a pleasure for me to work with the Irreantum folks, and I think they produce an excellent product. Congratulations Scott, Angela, et al.

    The non-self-publishing thing is unfortunate. For me, it would be a strong incentive not to get involved on the editorial side. (Not that anybody is asking anyway!)

    And don’t be too hard on Bruce Jorgensen. I certainly bristle at simplistic readings of the For the Strength of the Youth pamphlet’s statements regarding violence in media. Post-bristle, I point out that, given our history and scriptures, things aren’t so simple. Then I do a pantomime of Coriantumr smiting off the Head of Shiz.

  21. Kent Larsen

    I have to say (by way of turning the comments to my own interests) that I agree with the criticism of Irreantum’s no-self-publishing policy. The impression I have is that such policies are often used in journals to maintain their integrity. BUT, in those cases there are alternatives. If the staff of the Paris Review write something, they have a host of other places where they can publish — Ploughshares, The Iowa Review, Granta, AGNI, The Missouri Review, New England Review, etc.

    In the world of Mormon Literature, we don’t have too many options. If you are fortunate, an item rejected by Irreantum can be published in Dialogue or BYU Studies or elsewhere, or even in some non-Mormon-specific journal. But since those journals aren’t specific to Mormon Literature, the odds aren’t that good.

    Which brings me to William’s suggestion to Angela in comment #11 that “if the sheer number of worthy entries exceeds the number that can go in to Irreantum the print journal, perhaps some of them could be tossed our way.” I can’t resist comparing this situation to my wife’s field, where scientific journals are classified into “first tier,” “second tier,” “third tier,” etc. Within Mormon Literature, we really only have one journal. (We do have a few websites like AMV and a magazine or perhaps two.) Seems to me that we could improve the situation further by making sure the content finds a place.

  22. Th.

    .

    I wasn’t super sold on the poetry either, but besides the terrible third line, I thought “Blunt Force Trauma” was good and I loved “I’ll Tell You What the Butterfly Represents.” It’s not of astonishing depth, but it is a lovely-faceted jem of what it is. (imho)

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