My Review Review copy of Hayden’s Ferry Review was sitting on the kitchen table like a welcome present at my best-friend's house in Los Angeles. I let their six-year old, Declan, open the package. He had been staring at it, handling it, shaking it, for days, wondering what could be in this envelope, not addressed to him. With pure joy, he ripped the package open, took one look at the cover and said, “Looks like a starry night!” He fanned through the pages and tossed the book onto the sofa saying, “Wanna see my Legos” as and he ran into his room. While they took a road-trip, I spent the next week housesitting, feeding Rex the cat and swinging in the hammock listening to the sounds of West Adams and dipping in and out of Hayden’s Ferry Review as cherry blossoms rained onto my chest.
At first glance, Issue 56, The Chaos Issue, does not look chaotic. The MFA editors at Arizona State have published a clean, well-organized review that runs the genre gamut. Poetry, fiction, art, translation, one interview and one piece of non-fiction are complied and presented with thought and editorial skill. It is only by reading that you can feel the chaos that editor Dana Diehl has curated. “How do we preserve the thrill of turmoil, when we work in a medium with inherent structure?” An excellent premise, especially for those enrolled in a creative field at an educational institution, where working within the inherent rules of the latter may stifle the former.
The answer is easy. Turn the book sideways and read "The Archives of Alternate Endings," by Lindsey Drager, whose dream-like prose, printed random throughout, binds the chaos with a strong closing line, “And on the surface of an elsewhere, a child points to a brightness in the sky and asks how it began.” Her surreal flashes juxtapose nicely with some of the more traditional verses, such as Calgary Martin’s poem "Radio Husbandry," which is three stanzas and ends firmly: "Then he takes a swig/ of beer scoops some stew with a chip/ and grinds it to meal in his mouth."
This issue is packed with strong poems. Partridge Boswell’s Let’s Get it On, is an image-filled series of couplets reminiscent of Ferlinghetti, whereas Miles Klee’s minimal meditation, "Tennis Balls," contemplates the truth in madness through a tight fiction almost memoir. Lindsey D. Alexander’s "Reflections on a First Season of a Marriage," is laid out horizontally across two pages and provides a provoking glimpse into a family kitchen. The chosen poems for this issue are eclectic and diverse in both range and form.
The single interview included in this collection is with ex-MFA alumni Matthew Gavin Frank and covers food writing, travel, community and mythology. Along with plugging his new book, Preparing the Ghost, which sounds like an intriguing collage-essay about a giant squid, the interview is thought-provoking. The discussion of finding his subject, whittling it down into a book and how the act of writing is about starting a conversation, are poignant. The idea that we must “snap ourselves out of our comfort zones” and “reconsider the parameters of our comfort zones” fit seamlessly into the interview and support the editors' chaotic theme.
Three artists are featured in this issue. Although visually diverse, they all add to the overall theme and each seem to have a self-contained narrative. Forrest Solis’s riffs on gender and adult-child relationships challenge and amuse, especially "Certain Parts,"which is both sensual and political simultaneously, a rare accomplishment for a simple idea.
Surprisingly, the real gems in this issue are the translations, and more specifically, the translator’s notes. Margaret Jull Costa writes a lovely sentence in her preface to Medardo Fraile’s bizarre tale entitled "The Discoverer of Nothing," which keeps the reader somewhere between the spheres of Kafka and Fernando Pessoa, while continually nodding to Borges, a haunting piece. She states, “Translating this story brought home to me how much the translator relies on his or her ability to read both the words and the mind of the writer.” She goes on to give specific examples of specific words, which leave the non-translator which a much deeper perspective. There are six translations in total and each opens a door to another literary style and cultural, creating refreshing stepping stones over the river of chaos.
In a nutshell, Hayden’s Ferry Review's Chaos Issue is a meticulously crafted meditation on the randomness of literature. Most of the contributors are mid-career and/or award-winners. Too dense and expansive to read chronologically cover to cover, the journal is more suited for dipping, browsing, flipping and rehashing, much like a reference text in which prime examples of each genre are printed side by side, creating both chaos and order, much like a good album that sounds better on shuffle. This issue completes its mission: exploring chaos in a organized fashion. Both writers and editors know what they are doing and do it well.
When I left L.A. and Declan and his generous parents to drive across The Mojave, I found a bookmark that he had surreptitiously slid into Hayden’s Ferry on page 7. The purple construction paper was cut in the form of a heart and red triangles scribbled in permanent marker, I assume Declan had placed it randomly into the pages, as he is just learning to read. The bookmark was wedged underlining a quote from Nietzsche from the editor’s letter, “You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.”
On that note, Hayden’s Ferry Review has earned themselves another fan.