Curbside Quotidian #3

-Reviewed by Ian Chung

There is a range of strong and enjoyable work to be found in Issue 3 of Curbside Quotidian, although the featured artwork in particular is quite diverse, and not all of it may appeal. Personally, I found the two strongest to be Inge Hoonte’s Simulated Travel and Eleanor Bennett’s Sleep Anywhere. The former is a very simple black surface, over which text marches from left to right and five dotted arrows run through the text from top to bottom. The visual impact verges on being clinically sparse, yet pay closer attention and details like how the dotted arrows cut through ‘i’s in the text will emerge, evoking the deeper organising principles underpinning the artwork. The crux of the piece then seems to be the last line of text, ‘get immobility bonus for not flying anywhere’, as Hoonte is interested in ‘how notions of privacy, identity, and behavioral routines shape the tension between reaching out and keeping one’s distance in interpersonal communication and physicality’.

Visually speaking, Bennett’s Sleep Anywhere is the complete opposite of Hoonte’s piece. The colours here are lush and vibrant, but what is most striking is that brilliant blue iris staring out of the top-right quadrant of the artwork. The other eye is not exactly obscured by leaf litter, but because it is still cast in shadow, what is a beautiful image is given a subtly disquieting feel, intentionally or otherwise, as if there were something off-kilter about it that yet cannot be pinned down with any certainty. This juxtaposition of moods finds an echo in one of the poems, Daniel Fitzsimmons’s ‘Underfoot’, which opens with the violently visceral (but sonically pitch-perfect in its alliteration) ‘A dead cardinal is crushed crimson’, yet closes with a measure of wistfulness:

‘and the swift-footed commuters

slowed for a moment to wonder

if the photos hanging on the walls

upstairs were black and white.’

The editors of Curbside Quotidian must also be commended for their lively sense of humour, which surely played a part in their choosing to publish a poem like Kevin Heaton’s ‘Castaway’. Poems concerning literary rejection may run the risk of sounding bitter, but Heaton’s poem deftly avoids this by approaching rejection from a subtly different perspective. Rather than writing a poem about rejection from the poet’s point of view, he goes a step further and imagines a poet rejecting a literary magazine’s request that he take out a subscription. Substitute a few nouns here and there, and the poem would read like any polite form rejection from an editor, which detractors might say is too gimmicky, but as a one-off, I find it quite ingenious. The shape of the poem on the screen also plays on this familiarity with rejection by editors, with indents drawing attention to phrases like ‘thoroughly / reviewed the work’ and ‘lacking / in laudable characteristics’.

It is in the fiction offerings though, that Issue 3 of Curbside Quotidian really shines. The element of humour is again displayed in a story like Yaki Margulies’s ‘Failed Expectations’, which imagines what would happen if God actually came back to Earth and started living a celebrity lifestyle, only to become fed up with humanity all over again. Zealots will probably take offense, but more level-headed believers should be able to appreciate the satire, especially given the rise of megachurches and their celebrity pastors. Also carrying on the religious theme is Christine Utz’s ‘Ingénue: A Girl in Three Parts’. The three-part structure of the story may be a nod to the concept of the divine Trinity, but its subject matter is strictly mortal. The love stories that unfold grow progressively weirder, and by the third section ‘3. The Herpetologist’, the narrator is in a relationship with what is clearly stated to be a lizard. Even leaving aside the metaphorical implications of shedding one’s skin (‘To ask him to claw me so my new skin could emerge, too.’), this narrative hangs together precisely because it is never self-conscious about its oddity, allowing the story to coast smoothly to its end.

On the other hand, Danny Lalonde’s ‘A Simple Function’ deliberately fractures language, repeatedly defining (or appearing to define) specific words at scattered intervals. There is something almost schizophrenic in the way these definitions are mixed together with the parsing of grammatical functions, snatches of Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’, and the refrain ‘a space and then a line’. This effect is heightened by the story’s being narrated in the second person, a relatively uncommon choice, but which impels the reader to inhabit the story as it is being read. Finally, it is also worth pointing out that Nick Kowalczyk has an excellent non-fiction piece in Issue 3. ‘Dispatches From Home’ details through a mixture of anecdote and reportage Kowalczyk’s relationship to his hometown of Lorain, Ohio, and is an excerpt from a longer work that I would very much like to see in its completion.

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