Why Alaskans should read Alaska Quarterly Review

BY SAMUEL CHAMBERLAIN

 

For the CCW

Not many people read literary journals — an assumption, but quite possibly true — in spite of an abundance of available material. Nearly every academic institution in the United States publishes some sort of print or digital periodical of poetry and prose, along with hundreds of literary nonprofits that have emerged in the past decade, whose periodicals feature mostly unsolicited, reader submitted writing. And what many Alaskans don’t realize is that one of the most esteemed literary journals in the country hails from our state, and the University of Alaska Anchorage campus: the Alaska Quarterly Review.

Published biannually under editor Ron Spatz for more than 30 years, AQR has been praised by The New York Review of Books as one of America’s “best and most imaginative literary magazines,” and by writer Sherman Alexie as “one of the top ten literary magazines in the country.”

The centerpiece of the latest issue, Spring & Summer 2015, Vol. 32 No. 1 & 2, is “GAZA: The Land Behind the Fence,” a photographic special feature from the first female photojournalist working amidst the hate and strife of war-torn Israel in the Gaza Strip. “Of all the books about parenting, none give you a clue as to how to raise your child in a war zone,” Eman Mohammed writes in the narrative introduction to her collection of 33 photographs that communicate faith and suffering, hope and humor, resiliency and destiny. While each figure in each photo appears surrounded by conflict, her camera lens captures the promise of a new day, maybe in no other way than through our own understanding of her images.

When reading literary journals like AQR you can’t help but feel like a voyeur to a greater conversation. You see the way literature engages us with our world. In Bess Winter’s “Helena, Montana” a postal worker carries anthropomorphic mail, literally an infant child, throughout his day, ultimately bringing the burden home as hope for his sick wife. In Amy Gustine’s “Half-life” a young woman longs for love and understanding in her future while confronting a history with foster care that affects her present responsibility as a nanny. And there’s George Bilgere’s poem “Farmers’ Market” that asks the reader to engage with a limbless Iraq War veteran, wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt, gliding along in his wheelchair by the carrots and radishes. In the poem “Crank-Arm Prayer,” Anchorage poet Susanna Mishler says, “ A glacier’s angle of repose perpetually changes. / It falls out from under itself, sinks into its own moulins, / refuses reckoning.” While this poem shares and foreshadows the continual recession of something eons old, it also captures the gravitas of what’s still there, the metaphorical power of the conversation of literature, or as Mishler says, “A poem is a love song for the monster living under the bed. / Because a monster leaves a poem-shaped hole in the world.”

The latest edition of AQR features 10 stories, three essays, more than 40 poems, and Mohammed’s collection of exquisite photographs. Contributors in addition to those listed above include former Juneau poet Olena Kalytiak Davis, poets Elizabeth Bradfield and Jane Hirshfield, and writers Emily Mitchell and James Allen Hall, Copies are $9, or $18 for a year’s subscription. Why not pick one up? Incorporate AQR into your book club’s rotation. Give that friend that reads the latest literary bestseller a subscription for their birthday or Christmas. Or do like I do, keep a copy in your truck’s glove box so its always there, at hand for while you sit at your kid’s hockey practice, or while waiting for pilot cars to escort you through summer highway construction sites. When everyone else is thumbing through their phones, be the one flipping through Alaska Quarterly Review.

• Samuel Chamberlain is a Fairbanks based writer and an MFA in Writing candidate at Pacific University in Oregon. He can be reached at samuel.chamberlain@gmail.com.

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