Wednesday, August 1, 2012

PANK 5 edited by M. Bartley Seigel and Roxane Gay

edited by M. Bartley Seigel and Roxane Gay

Forgive me, I read PANK 5 a few months ago, and because there is so much content within its 250 pages, I will perhaps not do the publication justice. Still, this print edition of the online magazine is quite excellent, and my memory and slowness should not temper your interest.

I bought 5 instead of 6 because of the number of writers whose work I already knew somewhat, including Jamie Iredell, J.A. Tyler, xTx, Brian Oliu, Kyle Minor and Deb Olin Unferth. Jamie Iredell's contribution comes from The Book of Freaks, which has since been published by Future Tense Books. I haven't read the book, but I'm always curious about what sort of changes transpire between an excerpt printed in a journal or online and the final product.

Brian Oliu's "O Self Extracting Executable" reminds me a bit of Alex Shakar's Luminarium, in that it is framed around a computer program and poses thoughts about the nature of life. Oliu's lyrical style is quite lovely:

This is how technology and you and I and there have drifted; the desire to put more into smaller things, to crunch, crush and raster in search for a resolution, the spreading of air, plates both tectonic and served at meals where we would sit across from each other or at a right angle, water glasses filled with reckless abandon like storms in water glasses, teacups, even, though the water encompassed by glass was not heated, cold, cold from a cold sink, processed from water elsewhere, plants elsewhere, and brought here, cold. We crash our crystal-capsized ships together, ringing true like it once was, delicately.

Speaking of a story framed within computer programming, Kaitlin Dyer's poem "He'd Leave Her Notes in Code" is excellent. I know just enough about CSS coding that I understood the creativity she uses to talk about a relationship.

/*CSS Document*/
body {
background-color: translucent white skin against my chest makes me feel tan;
font: veins drawn up your arms in aquamarine are plump and spongy;
background-image: auburn ringlets twist off my fingers;
margin: your legs span my lap;
background-repeat: please;

I love the "please" at the end of that stanza.

I also really liked that the editors included two translation pieces — in this case, Toshiya Kamei translating two poems by Mexican writer Isolda Dosamantes — with the Spanish and English side by side. Because I know a little bit of Spanish, I like to match up the words and increase my knowledge of the language, as well as see how one person might translate a line that another person might do a different way. Obviously, one can't do this with a whole novel, page by page, but in poetry translations, I think it's the best approach.

Another highlight: Janey Smith using song titles from The Smiths in her "Vignettes: Short Fictions on My Life as a Cheerleader." She also has a short piece that makes fun of purposely vapid, stoned hipster art with, "Bedtime Stories for Hitler (Or How to Sell Your Next Book to Urban Outfitters)."

Probably my favorite story was Teresa Milbrodt's "Blue," about a woman whose saliva is blue to the point of staining clothing, silverware, and boyfriends' lips. She starts doing drastic things to her appearance to distract people from noticing her "Grape Lips."

It was her nails that gave her the inspiration, how easy it was to distract from one garish thing with something even more garish, cover the light blue with emerald or orange. She got the rest of the idea from a joke she'd heard, how Eve was not Adam's rib, he was her third tit. It seemed the way to go. If people wanted to stare, she'd give them something to stare at. She wanted a new start, a new job, a new town. It wasn't hard to convince her husband to move. They bought a van and a secondhand trailer, had both repainted before they went on the road.

She glued the prosthetic breast to the middle of her chest, used an adhesive the woman in the costume shop said would last for a week. The breast looked perfectly natural, right down to the nipple.

Her methods only escalate from there. When I finished reading "Blue," I literally said aloud, "Now that's a story."

Really, I enjoyed most everything offered in PANK 5 with only a few exceptions, and it certainly made me want to buy other print issues of the magazine when I'm able to do so. In the meantime, I will continue to catch up on some of their online archives. I hope you will too.


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.

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