CalArts launches LA’s newest, nonconformist literary magazine – Los Angeles Times
At timesÂ it seems that for every reader, there is born a literary magazine. There are veneratedÂ old guards such as Harperâ€™s and Â the Â New Yorker, established university journals including Prairie Schooner and Agni, and scores of online-only upstartsÂ with names likeÂ Animal and Â the Boiler. But with the sheer volume of literary magazines perpetually pushing past overload, and with, happily, no end to the new stories, essays and poetry being published in sight, how does anyone decideÂ what to actually read?
One approach: start local.
This February CalArts launched Sublevel, a literary magazine at â€œthe nexus of literature, poetics, art, criticism, philosophy, cultureÂ and politicsâ€ that deliberately shirks the separation of high and low. Co-edited byÂ Los Angeles writer and editor Janice Lee andÂ 2016 MacArthur Fellow Maggie Nelson, Sublevel makes â€œno hard distinctions between creative and critical enterpriseâ€ and bills itself as â€œimmersed in the world of art without being in service to it.â€ An insider-outsider perspective always appeals, holdingÂ the tantalizing promise that, as artists and critics, the bylines of Sublevel wonâ€™t be afraid to roil, push backÂ and disagree. ItsÂ inaugural theme? â€œContagion.”
Visually graphic and well-designed (it is, after all, a CalArts publication), Sublevel has eight recurring features including Session, â€œa roundtable discussion bringing people from different fields into conversation,â€ and Exhibit,Â â€œa representation of a project that may or may not have taken verbal form.â€ This issueâ€™s strongest work, however, appears in essay formÂ and stands squarely in the present moment. (With one exception: a short, stream-of-consciousness piece written by Hilton Als in 2013,Â â€œButtâ€Â takes as its subjectÂ the â€œmagazine for homosexualsâ€ of the same nameÂ and moseys through asides on the flatness of Mia Farrowâ€™s behind as well as the choreography of Merce Cunningham.)
Sublevel, Nelson explainsÂ in the newsÂ release, â€œfills a certain void in the literary world â€¦ we treat writing as an art among the other arts, and we are concerned with both aesthetics and politics.â€Â
â€œCalderaâ€ by Aisha Sabatini Sloan
One of the functions of literary magazines is that they introduce readers to emergingÂ writers. Thanks to Sublevel, Iâ€™ve added Sabatini Sloanâ€™s latest and forthcoming essay collection â€œDreaming of Ramadi in Detroit,â€ which was selected by Maggie Nelson as the winner of theÂ 1913 Open Prose Book Contest, to my list for 2017.
In this essay, the author hears gunfire while on a solo hike during an Oregon writing residency. â€œMy mind flashed to the character in the narrative of Frederick Douglass,â€ she writes, â€œwho runs into a creek to escape a lashing and somebody takes out a musket and â€˜in an instant poor Demby was no more.â€™â€ After coming upon the hunter and his family â€” â€œthe younger two generations â€¦ men in their thirties and boys under ten, would not make eye contact with meâ€ â€” Sabatini Sloan listens to BeyoncÃ¨â€™s â€œDaddy Lessonsâ€ in her cabin. Her prose is straight-forward and affecting. â€œAs I listened I realized that I had no idea what her daddy meant when he said â€˜shoot.â€™â€
â€œSome Notes on a Fall in Los Angelesâ€ by Litia Perta
â€œIt is the Sunday after the election and I am at a yoga class in Hollywood.â€ It took me a moment to push past my own mingled shame and cynicism when I read that phrase â€”Â itâ€™s close to clichÃ©, the kind of thing I might actually do but never tell a New Yorker â€”Â and yet Sublevel favors work that deals in uneasy and revealing proximity.
A meditation, in part, on becoming a mother at the dawn of frightening political era, the depth of UC Irvine professor Pertaâ€™s work sneaks up on you. â€œWe all begin as the other within,â€ she says of her unborn child. Structured with an elegant symmetry, the essay moves from the discomfort of being openly observed while in a yoga class (a place of ultimate privilege) to chanting â€œwe see youâ€ during a post-election protest outside of L.A.â€™s federal prison (a place stripped of privilege).
â€œ10 Things Simone White Recommends Right Nowâ€ by Simone White
Like Anne Friedman, the editors of Sublevel know the power of a newsletter, a round-up, a well-curated list. Program Director at the Poetry Project, Whiteâ€™s recommendations are wide-ranging and eclectic â€”Â Vince Staples and Michel Focault both make the cut â€”Â and it is refreshing to see not only hip-hop and critical theory given space in a literary magazineÂ but to be given actual links.
White also provides a recording of Anne Waldman reading her poem â€œFast Speaking Woman.â€ A rallying cry that, for my money, wipes the floor with the sentiment behind Whitmanâ€™s â€œI contain multitudesâ€ in â€œSong of Myself,â€ the poem gains vigor and heft when spoken, what White calls â€œa model in sound and intensity.â€ FortifyingÂ listening for fans of Elizabeth Warren, there is something about Waldmanâ€™s unspooling performanceÂ that persists.
SublevelÂ is worth reading in its entirety.Â I have high hopes that itÂ will fulfill itsÂ ambition of â€œstretching beyond our locality,â€ but because of their sheer proliferation, literaryÂ journals need tractionÂ to reach past their immediate communities, and without a wide readershipÂ they donâ€™t always stick.
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