-Reviewed by Henrietta Walmark–
The Bicycle Review comes full circle for its first birthday. Curator and editor J de Salvo’s bias for the bike as an understated conveyance inspired the name for the modest electronic journal and its simple design. Contributors to the inaugural issue return with new offerings of contemporary art and literature. Only one, however, references bikes: New Orleans photographer Kristin Fouquet’s ‘Still Life with Bicycles’. Issue #7 opens with an image from her ‘Still Life with Bicycles’, a collection of photographs focused on “the beauty of the bicycle outside of its function” and “how the bike blends into the everyday landscape of urban life.”
One continuous scroll-down carries you through an entire issue. Fouquet’s black and white photos and whimsical drawings by Joe Rosenblatt, aka Muttsy, alternate with each other, slipping between the written pieces like light passing through spokes.
It’s a layout that works well for the stand-alone literary selections, and even for Muttsy’s diverting art, but frustrates when viewing Fouquet’s photo essay. Indeed, it interrupts the flow of her sequence: each image of a bike at rest builds on the one before, beginning with the front-page photo of handlebars wrapped in Spanish moss. Yet the photographs are featured intermittently throughout the issue.
Fouquet’s images include pictures of bike frames and wide wire-mesh baskets draped in Mardi Gras beads; close-ups of a pitted bell and a duct-taped saddle; bikes leaning on lampposts and tucked against metal rails; bicycles folded, white-walled, shiny and worn. Fouquet’s photos are subtly evocative in their observance of an urban agility newly revived and genteelly rendered in black and white. ‘Still Life with Bicycles’ should have been shown all of a piece to retain that tender mood.
What interrupts the path of Fouquet’s bikes isn’t always worth stopping for. But for every drive-through dash of writing, there’s an arresting idea, a phrase, a rhythm, a rhyme to hold your attention.
Jayne Lynn Stahl’s short retort to a reluctant sun, titled ‘From the garden’, leads the selections of poetry, its slender form is as drawn out as her wait for illumination:
‘So the light
We didn’t know
it at first,
and dared to
will it come back
In ‘The Likewise Image’, about the dichotomy of the self reflected as other, Eric Basso writes of how:
‘the image pursues me from below
shivering in ponds and puddles
shrouded by the tinted murk
of polished cabinets and tables
stretched or squinched beyond
all endurance behind stained
concavities and convexities’
Elsewhere, J de Salvo considers ‘the whole animate world somehow rotting in a sink,’. Stalled between decay and rebirth, he plumbs the depths of stagnation with a rummaging and ruminating both earthy and sublime.
‘I’ll plant a tree in my sink, wash my dishes
In the bathroom…fornicate and breed…plant my
failure like a seed…relapse into content’
Suzanne Roberts’ prose poem, ‘What You Do for Poetry’, is a cutting assessment of the life of a struggling poet, a world of pricey conferences, poetry critiques with ‘arguments about where the commas in your poetry should go,’ and readings in bleak nursing homes and noisy cafes:
‘You read your poems to other poets who suffer through them because they get to read next.’
Still, there is magic in the poetry featured in the Bicycle Review, like this line from a poem by M. Lecrivain: “Breathe/ in the cinnamon/ of waning light.”
Whilst the whole of Sarah Daugherty’s poem, ‘Earth Surf: A Myth’, is awash with wonder, words lilting, images tilting, filtered through a sea ancient and alien:
‘He craves something unaquatic, non-pneumonic:
chaos or clatter, laughter and the clack
of skateboards across sidewalk cracks. . .
Lonely, he learns to lift the coastal lip
and snap, flapping the Earth quick and long,
like the loamy tongue of a cartoon man. . .
And then, he waits. Upside down.’
Sue Kreke Rumbaugh creates a narrative (one of just a few found in the issue) for the Vermeer painting, ‘The Music Lesson’. It holds the nub of a good short story about marital disappointments and secrets, but suffers from a classic case of too much telling, not enough showing.
Alison Wilkins’ poem ‘The Girl Who Sits On Her Feet’ suffers from no such fate. It grabs you from the get-go with its telling details and knowing ways, barreling through a ground-down life faster than a slot machine will swallow your money.
‘Now he’s clumsy.
herself to sleep.
Eats onions and squash,
pan-fried in butter.
He is winter
through her veins,
fingers frost, fumble
with buttons. Chest hairs,
stretch marks. The television
glows blue. Blankets
tangle their feet.’
The issue closes with the conclusion of a Bicycle Review serialization, ‘Kosty the Ghostwriter, A Story from Grub Street ,New York’. Written with Victorian verve by Richard Kostelanetz, it features delightful metaphors like like this one:
“For an instant I stood like the man who, pipe in mouth, was killed one cloudless afternoon long ago in Virginia by summer lightning; at his own warm open window he was killed, and remained leaning out there upon the dreamy afternoon, till some one touched him, when he fell.”
But the most enchanting element of this issue is the eccentric world doodled by J. ‘Muttsy Rosenblatt,’ who claims the personalities in his drawings grow exactly like limbs.
“Just as in real life a pollywog changes into an adult amphibian, a drawing’s protolimbs proliferate, gaining meatier dimensions, and bloom into a shape,” says Rosenblatt. “Those creatures in my landscape carry my genetic material.”
Muttsy must be one unusually funny guy, to judge by the charmingly kooky critters cavorting across his canvases. They’re a frisson of delight shooting all the way through the Bicycle Review.
While the journal’s spare format is designed to showcase its contributors, a judicious realignment would make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. And the Bicycle Review has some very good parts.