What Would Steinbeck Read?
Hartnell students put out a national literary journal.
Thursday, October 23, 2003
Eight students--three women and five men--and an instructor are gathered around a conference room table at Hartnell College one recent Wednesday. They are part of the staff working on the Fall/Winter 2003 issue of the Homestead Review, a three-year-old literary journal started by poet and teacher Maria Garcia Tabor, and funded by the college.
The Review is published twice a year, in editions of 300 to 400 copies per issue, and is also posted on the Web (www.hartnell.cc.ca.us/homestead_review). The next issue, due out Nov. 7 with a release party at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, will bring national poets Daphne Gottlieb and Hal Sirowitz to town. Expect anything but "roses are red" from these two, both of whom have work published in the upcoming issue. Gottlieb, a San Francisco-based performance poet, will have her newest book Final Girl published by Soft Skull Press this month. Her previous book, Why Things Burn, was the winner of a 2001 Firecracker Alternative Book Award. Sirowitz, also with a recent poetry collection out (Before, During, and After), has read his work at such diverse venues as MTV and NPR.
Back at the conference table, Tabor unleashes "The Box," an intimidating pile of hundreds of poetry and prose submissions that have been carefully alphabetized. Each year, the Review receives between 800 to 1,000 submissions; each one is carefully considered and given a rating of from one to five. About 8 percent will finally be chosen for publication.
Usually, the student staffers work on the Review on their own time, grabbing free minutes between classes here and there to pore over submissions; it''s rare for them to get together as a group. According to the staff, the flavor of the poetry they select is "modern," "experimental," "a potpourri." If it is anything, it is undeniably up-to-date. "I''m very interested in what''s happening right now," stresses Tabor, who also prides herself on risk. "Most mainstream journals," she claims, "go for a mediocre poem" by a known poet before they''ll publish a great poem by an unknown.
I see in the Homestead Review straightforward storytelling and, as counterbalance, verse crafted through loopy imagery that hints rather than tells. While certainly not predominant, rhyme schemes are not absent from the lot. "I hope we get more political pieces," says Tabor. "The ones we do receive are often didactic and lack any kind of narrative flow."
What wins out usually are the personal/confessional pieces, which are also consistently more plentiful in the submission pile:
you did it, kissed at the airport,
full-lipped in front of
In front of the 20 piece waterpolo
team of hot breath and smoking saliva
playing the porno slide
slow, clicking women in reverse
off the whites of their eyes...
--from "Turtle Moon," by Keelyn T. Healy.
Generally, one piece of short fiction, chosen by students who are writers of the genre and boast more than a year of Homestead duty, is included among the verse. Jill Wright''s "Covenant," in the Fall/Winter 2002 issue, is a gorgeous story within a story in which the narrator offers an homage to her father and the typhoid fever dream that changed him. ("The Plains shook with the hoofbeats of my father''s story.")
Staffer Daniel Hollingsworth appreciates a straightforward poem, one that isn''t "sticking in big words for the heck of it." But, says his peer, Xandor Asaad, "There has to be a level of sophistication."
One poem in a recent issue is titled "Salinas," leading me to wonder how great a role place plays in deciding what makes it into the Review. When Tabor arrived at Hartnell with her MFA from Appalachian State University in North Carolina and experience editing Atlantis and Cold Mountain Review, she says Salinas was presented to her as "the bastard cousin of Monterey County." "And then," she says, "I met my students. They''re just as literate as anyone else, yet there was no representation."
Starting a literary journal was Tabor''s vision from the get-go. There are challenges, however. At Hartnell''s recent Club Day, Review staffers gave out candy to passersby in exchange for haiku. Unfortunately, laments Hollingsworth, "Half the people didn''t know what a haiku was and half of that half didn''t know what a syllable was."
Recently, a worried Tabor approached her dean to ask how state educational cutbacks will affect her brainchild. At some campuses, whole programs have disappeared, and Hartnell is planning $2.3 million in cuts by the end of the fiscal year, and $4 million more next year.
The dean allayed Tabor''s fears. "She said, ''We''re really committed to [the Homestead Review]. It''s one of the jewels of Hartnell College.''"
Single issues of the Homestead Review may be purchased for $10 (annual subscription $20) at Homestead Review, Hartnell College, 156 Homestead Ave., Salinas, CA 93901.