Thursday, July 12, 2012

Crack the Spine: Spring 2012 edited by Kerri Farrell Foley

Crack the Spine: Spring 2012
edited by Kerri Farrell Foley

Crack the Spine is a weekly online magazine that specializes in poetry and short fiction. The printed anthology, published through CreateSpace, collects a season's worth of their best material and lets the reader embrace the tactile sensation in its title. I brought this book on vacation, figuring that I was given permission to let it get banged about in my bag.

I know there is still some prejudice in the writing world for going the self-pub route, but for an online journal with likely zero budget dollars, it makes sense. Even if it's only for the beginning of a publication's life, working through Amazon's service provides distribution, an ISBN, and oh yeah, something one can hold. Certainly, no one gets into the literary magazine business expecting to make money (if you did, well, bless your heart), so the low profit-margin of a print-on-demand service is a small sacrifice. If you're broke and just want to get the work into the world, then why not? I feel ya.

And how is the work? Fairly good, as it happens, though a bit uneven. New authors mingle with the more established, but that's not so much the problem. Ms. Never-Been-Published can be just as great as Mr. 30-Publications, but the arrangement of the work makes me notice the weaker pieces more so than I might if they were arranged in a more natural way. As it stands, poetry is separated from the fiction — which is fine; it could work either way — but they are alphabetical by author. I don't think it is in the work's best interest to have it set up in a way that lacks flow. Now, I'm not going to take the time to say what should have gone where, but I hope that it is just first collection growing pains and not a long-term plan.

Another thing:

Very few poems call
for center alignment.
Just. Say. No.

Maybe it's a little harsh to judge a poem based on its alignment, but none of the poems I liked best were laid out that way. The better poets know.

My favorites from the poetry section were Tobi Cogswell's "Veranda Coffee Shop, Last Day of the Conference" and Kyle Hemmings' "hojo Boy." These two go together well, despite their different writing styles, and coincidentally, Hemmings follows directly after Cogswell. A few lines:

The communal table a bar of sorts
for carbohydrate lovers rather than drunks
every day for six days she sits on that stool,
puts down her wallet, her book,
her glasses and orders her eggs

— Cogswell

hojo boy #13
calling out the fatalities of lunch rush the
question becomes how do i love a waitress
with anti-climatic feet

— Hemmings

Both offer their own versions of solitude within chaos, and I liked the poems a lot.

Overall though, the fiction was the stronger section. With the poetry, I might like a line or two, but wasn't really wowed by the whole thing. The fiction, I had more instances of feeling fully absorbed in the work.

D.N.A. Morris' "The Biscuit Affair" concerns a guy and his crazy girl only-friend stealing back her cat from her ex-boyfriend's house. It's not perfect, but I was committed and interested and liked it anyway.

It looked like a cross between a bat and a pissed-off toad — gargoylesque. At the sight of us, its little horn-like ears went back and it turned its strange face around to continue staring at the wall, which apparently it had been doing with great pleasure until we arrived. I forgot to mention this was Biscuit and apparently he was some breed of cat, but you're not stupid and you already came to that conclusion.

Yes, all right, I'm basically a sucker for shenanigans involving cats.

Laura Bogart's "Spilled Milk" is quite good, and so is Lily Dodge's "Brother/Sister."

M.Y. Pastorelli (because somehow this anthology has more than one author with initials that spell other words) has a very true-feeling offering with "Expatriates:"

Today two Russian dudes came up to me at Starbucks. One of them looked at me with some curiosity, my necklaces and multiple bracelets and chains running up and down my arms. He was drunk and red-faced, and leaned over to me and reached for my pack of smokes.

I liked it better than his second piece, "The Burden of Titles." That one is less of a story and more of a "Here's my writing process" paragraph. It doesn't really belong here. He's one of the first-time-published authors, as it happens.

Luca Penne's "Ashes in the Urn" is a single paragraph story that opens with, "When I picked up the urn from the mantel, Dad protested, 'Put me down or scatter me with your mother.'" As first lines go, that's pretty great. Luckily, the rest of the story does it justice.

Eric Prochaska's "Lines" is the most engrossing, heartbreaking piece in this section. Two seventh grade boys try to navigate their friendship through art. Both have gained popularity from their drawing skills, and neither is quite sure how to treat the other while their home lives make them act out in different ways.

When Tristan returned downstairs and came back to drawing, I said in a hushed voice, "Don't you ever get tired of your dad just laying around? I wish my dad would get off his ass and get a job."

"Well, maybe your dad should," Tristan said.

"Yeah, sure. And maybe so should yours."

"My dad hurt his back at his last job. He's not ready to work yet."

Hurt his back? I'd been coming over there for four months. Was his back broken in half?

"Hey, don't get angry. I just mean, my dad's the same way. Just doesn't wanta go out and work, I guess."

Tristan stood up, folded the cover over his pad. "Yeah, well, maybe that's the way your dad is. But like I said, my dad can't go back to work yet."

The story hovers the line between youthful naivete mixed with learning reality, and it's probably the best story in the book.

So while I didn't love everything in Crack the Spine's first anthology, they've piqued my interest enough to where I want to see where they go from here. Maybe with better design work in their printed edition and a more of a discerning editorial eye, they could become something notable like PANK or other primarily-online literary publications. Time will tell.

Full Disclosure: I received this book as a review copy from the editor. I thank her for the gesture, and I will continue to be fair with my reviews.


This review is part of Pajiba's Cannonball Read, in which participants aim to read and review 13, 26 or 52 books within one year.


  1. Sara,
    I just stumbled upon your review, and have to say this is a great concept -- reviewing issues of lit mags. I am one of the writers in the mag you reviewed and often wonder whether my work is being seen. Once a piece has gone to publication, the writer often never gets any feedback. I encourage your readers to add their thoughts. It will help writers feel there is a community out there who is engaged in their writing, and it will help editors envision their audiences to help in selecting pieces for publication, I hope.

    And thank you for the kind words about "Lines." I am glad you enjoyed it~!

    -Eric Prochaska

    1. Hi Eric!

      I must admit, I get nervous when I see "You have a new comment from Anonymous" on an old post because I end up assuming that it's going to be someone cranky. So glad to see that it wasn't. I am totally with you -- sometimes it feels like our work is out there in the ether and we have no idea on how it's being received, so I'm glad you stumbled across this review.

      I get plenty of page views here, but not a lot of comments on the actual site. I'm not sure why that is, but that's usually how it happens. I do get people saying things on Twitter and whatnot, so that's nice.

      I've reviewed a handful of other lit mags too -- PANK, Electric Literature, and Monkeybicycle, so do poke around in the archives if you're curious.