While my goal here is to review Issue 25 (Winter 2019), my journey with the Little Patuxent Review begins with Issue 22 (Summer 2017), which featured a section of essays and interviews reflecting on the city of Columbia, MD, where the lit mag is published (thus meeting one of my Annual Reading Challenges). Created in 1967, Columbia was dreamed up by a white man to be a utopian city for all races, religions, and classes—where the CEO could live next door to the janitor. It’s difficult for me to doubt that founder Jim Rouse genuinely envisioned an economically productive community that achieved a level of equality that was in many places in 1967 America actually rejected as evil.
In issue 22, locals engage with the successes and failure of that dream. Columbia is not a successful utopia for all races, religions, and classes. But, you may find it comes closer than most places in the United States, especially in the older neighborhoods which were built before the ‘90s and the decade’s unfortunate nationwide brand of suburban growth models.
This city is the home of the Little Patuxent Review, and LPR hosts its twice-annual launch parties in Oliver’s Carriage House, the home of the non-denominational, ecumenical Kittamaqundi Church—a church that relocated from Washington DC to Columbia and formalized itself 50 years ago to be part of the new city Rouse was building. Part of Rouse’s vision included communal neighborhoods built around community centers and interfaith churches to serve everyone in the community.
It was here that I was introduced to Issue 25. Grateful to be a way from the ubiquitous strip malls and office parks that now seem to buffer Columbia from major through-ways, I arrived (late) to the readings. Baltimore author Anthony Moll (Out of Step) edited Issue 25 intended to highlight the work of Maryland and D.C. queer authors, “showcasing the diversity of styles and voices found throughout the region.” (Despite the community’s desire to embrace all, it is nonetheless amusing to note that they must seldom have so many young queers in their space. I showed up, beard untrimmed, fashionable neck-wear in place, and at the conclusion of the reading, no fewer than three old-timers told me how much they enjoyed my reading. I didn’t read anything.)
Moll points out in his introduction, that there is a justified suspicion of themed issues for marginalized voices. After all, our voices hardly need to be shoved into their own shadow box, temporarily displayed on a pedestal and ignored the rest of the time. (Writing this during African American History Month, it’s worth stating the obvious: that African American History is 365 days a year. We just try to dedicate a month a year to correcting the historical record. Publication, and education itself, have long been withheld to keep certain voices in this country from being heard.) Moll’s counterpoint to this concern is equally full of merit, “At a time in which we see hard-fought gains for marginalized people slipping in the wrong direction, finding solidarity in both our shared experiences and ‘the differences among our differences’ feels tremendously urgent.”
An LPR issue features fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, and a full color photo essay either profiling the work of a local artist—it’s a beautiful print publication. Both themed issues, Issue 22 with its spotlight on Jim Rouse’s Columbia, and Issue 25 with its emphasis on area queer authors, have an additional section at the back highlighting the theme. In the case of Issue 25, Moll’s contributions to the overall issue result in a surprisingly well-connected whole package. While it is hard to say how racially diverse the contributions from the regional LGBTQ+ writers were based on my attendance at the launch party, the microcosm view successfully highlights different voices and individual creative concerns.
The reading at the launch gave the poets, in particular, an opportunity to share a larger selection of their individual work than the single poems included in the issue. Adam Gianforcaro’s interest in the body, including the work he read in which he catalogs his body’s engineering, influenced the tension between the figures in his published poem “I Want To Hold My Boyfriend’s Hand,” wherein the speaker and his boyfriend are constantly navigating the space they place between each other’s bodies. Marlena Chertock’s ecopoetry was complimented by her other interest in medical written art, addressing different challenges in different ecosystems, even the social ones. Cindy Watkins regaled us with her poetic account of dating in the age of Tinder, then read an additional poem charming us with her ode to goats, a surprising take-down of our obsession with borders. Tyler Vile brought modern feminist Jewish thought to Jewish history and scriptures in a dazzling midrashic poetic form, though her contribution to Issue 25 reflects on 20th century Jewish history reminiscent of our modern issues with 45.
Add to these voices the non-fiction contributions from Tyler Mendelsohn, whose “Ghost Lore” catalogs the many vocabulary words in which ghost is included and in which ghosts seem to reach us, whether by “fucked-up algorithms” in our social media or other ways, and how that helps us define our survival; to Karen Bell, whose description of being queer in Edinburgh captures the ever-present contrast between our safe places and prides to the threat of violence among our fellow humans; to Jane Hegstrom, whose memories of middle America in her childhood showcase the thrilling danger of her tom-boy youth; to Laurel Dixon, whose “Hymn Children” recounts the incredible release from the confines in the closet through soaring song on a karaoke stage; we see the different voices highlighting a string of experienced same-sex relationships, both romantic and platonic.
There are only four works of fiction in Issue 25, the genre in which I write most often. But the emphasis on the poetic and the non-fiction, including interviews of author Laurie Frankel, whose most recent novel is about family life with a transgender child which is shown to be, unremarkably, mostly about having a family, and of Jessica Myles Henkin and Laura Wexler, the women behind Baltimore’s Stoop Stories, who talk about the necessity of story-telling and connecting with each other through our stories, manage to drive home Moll’s editorial introduction and the need for all of us to hear about “the difference among our differences” (Moll quotes E. Patrick Johnson in Text and Performance Quarterly). Marginalized voices often tell stories reminiscent of other marginalized voices because certain patterns of behavior are often repeated against the marginalized, but one marginalized voice, one token of a community, is hardly representative of the whole, because there are many ways to be individuals in every community. And Issue 25 of the Little Patuxent Review is just one enjoyable contribution to the representation of my region’s LGBTQ+ writers and creatives.
Other artists of note:
The artist profile in this issue was on artist Alexis Aramina Renee.
Also in attendance at the launch/reading was poet Alan King, recent award-winner of the Michael J. Clark Award for his poem “Journey”.