By Justin BowersSmall literary magazines, which tend to pay neither their contributors nor the editors who put them together, are labors of love. But that doesn't mean they're amateurish. With the paying market for serious fiction, poetry and artwork reduced to maybe a dozen publications nationwide (The NewYorker, TheAtlantic, Harper's, etc.), "little magazines" have for a long time been the lifeblood for young writers on their way up and even well-published writers whose work doesn't fit into established modes. They soak up a tremendous amount of the country's most independent creative juices and, in the case of the OrangeCoastReview, showcase some genuinely affecting work by mostly local talent operating at a surprisingly high artistic level.
I'm not pulling punches or being forgivingly generous here just because this is an OC-produced project. OrangeCoastReview, revived by Orange Coast College professor Davi Loren after several years of dormancy (with help from a private donor and from OCC itself), is an extremely well-edited, handsome little volume featuring nine stories and eight poems, as well as 24 art reproductions either presented in their original and elegant black-and-white or in lucid four-color. The art, on slick paper in the middle of the volume, is uncommonly expressive, spanning Scott Broberg's lean and abstract photos of industrial-urban landscapes, Justin Bowers' brutal face portraits, Jared Millar's treated Polaroid of a nude and Amy Hernandez's latter-day Cubist painting.
The poetry from local writers isn't as strong, though the five poems by Harlem writer Keegan Goodman are a real find. His poems range from one that captures a mind-bending moment of violence to a James Wright-ish meditation on nature. There's also "In the Kitchen with a Girl I Like," in which the poet relishes the sight of a woman cooking for him: "The heat from the stove bends and glistens/in tender waves that disappear/near the window./I want the god that lives in your hands/to live in me."
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The Review's nine stories are refreshingly diverse, revealing an editorial board open to all sorts of styles and traditions. Here we have a funny Hemingway homage/parody, a couple of droll Raymond Carver-esque slices of working-class life and an ambitious Donald Barthelme-influenced fiction from a UC Irvine MFA candidate (by turns pretentious and startlingly insightful). Several stories take place in Orange County, continuing the vital process local writers have been engaged in to give the county the imaginative identity it needs for the rest of us to really seeand feelthe place. Naturally, there are the usual stories about guys so obsessed with girls they think they need to turn the language inside-out to convey the torture of their obsession, as well as stories about sensitive artistic types whose families and loved ones can't understand them, but even those are fairly well-written examples of that threadbare workshop form.
The revitalized OrangeCoastReviewis a welcome addition to a local literary community so scattered and fractured we can't yet call it a "scene." It's magazines like this that can help create one. Here's to the cause.
ORANGE COAST REVIEW, A JOURNAL OF LITERATURE AND ART; WWW.ORANGECOASTREVIEW.COM. 112 PAGES, $7.
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