What They're Raving About
"But all of it—both image and text—is highly readable, well-constructed, and, above all, full of empathy for the human condition, with a distinct and subtle sense of humor about it, in spite of its frailty."
Alligator Juniper, No. 17, 2012
Like the magazine, the alligator juniper tree is native to Arizona (the journal is a yearly publication of Prescott College), but, as its unusual name implies, the magazine “invites both the regional and the exotic.” What sets this journal apart from other lit mags is that the only avenue for submission—open to all levels, emerging, early-career, and established—is through their national contests. These include a general one for fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and photography, and a separate Suzanne Tito contest for fiction, CNF, and poetry. The prizewinners and finalists selected for this issue are supremely worth reading.
These contributions include Debra Marquart’s poignant “Losing the Meadow,” an essay that wanders between past homes and present landscapes so gently you’re not even sure why you feel sad at the end. “Pop” is Chris Guppy’s tender eulogy for a tough old dad, and Natalie Vestin’s “Under Ground” is a strong essay about the earth beneath Alberta, framed by stories of the people buried in it.
You can see why the prizewinners are the prizewinners. “Grown-Ups,” by Laura Hitt, has aptly won the Suzanne Tito award this year for its understated recounting of a car accident whose twenty-one-year-old driver is stricken with remorse:
I should have been driving slower, at a cautious crawl . . . I should have slowed down way earlier for that turn. I should never have learned to drive in the first place, should have taken a stance against the deceptive contraptions.
“I’d like to talk more about the nature of ice and fate; the fragility of life, the absurd risks we take to get from one place to another,” she says. “But I refrain.” What she learns instead wracks the heart. It’s a lovely essay.
So is the national prizewinning piece in creative nonfiction, “Burial” by Eli Connaughton. This memoir taps at death with both love and humor, a praise-song to the imperfections of family life that help the living remember the dead more fondly.
In Josh Peterson’s perfectly paced “Just Sadness,” the child narrator makes a jaw-dropping sacrifice at the request of an angry father, and, in “Electric Shock Therapy,” Sarah Elizabeth Schantz gives us another child whose love for a parent leads her to endure great pain. The fiction prizewinners are stunners, neither experimental in form nor postmodern in theme, but instead consisting of a beautiful piece of historical fiction (Janet Hilliard-Osborn’s “Mycology”) and a grim, substantial account of border-crossing—“Howls in the Desert Night,” by Molly Kiff, takes us into and out of Mexico, but also into and out of the human psyche longing to bridge difference.
One of Elton Glaser’s national prizewinning poems, “Coupling on the Edge of Entropy,” contains these delightful lines:
Hiding from heaven, where the dark haloes flash on
Like crime lights when you step in the wrong direction,
Where all the angels train with the IRS, I still believe
In the mercy of earth, in pardons retroactive to the womb.
Let bygones be herecomes, and the last supper served up
As lazy plates of meatloaf and tall bottles of Bud.
This is no novice poet. Christopher Buckley’s poems walk us boldly into the world of pacemakers—“Heart Failure” is about, simply, all the ways a heart can be damaged, or why would our hearts need help?—and then, fearlessly, he walks us toward death. In his bio, he says, “The closer to the Exit you get, you have to ask yourself if you feel lucky”—this about a poem entitled “Metaphysical Poem Ending with That Line from Dirty Harry.” Humor, empathy, form: these characterize the poetry in this robust issue.
The cover image, “Margin of Error, #14,” the second-prize winner of the national contest, shows a strait-laced woman in a black dress seated between two patio chairs, one hand on each, her legs long and white, her head cut entirely out of the picture. Margin of error indeed! The photography judge says, “Christine Weller deserves special mention for her fine suite entitled Margin of Error”—I’d have liked to see the rest of the collection.
Not all, but many, of the finalists and prizewinners are students. Not all, but most, of the literature in this magazine is conventional and clean, human and compassionate. This is not an issue full of speculative textuality or one-shot ventures into irony and cool. Not even the photography can be considered experimental; Cloe Cox’s “Black Lungs,” a stark silhouette of a girl (whose hair looks almost nineteen-fifties) blowing out a straight stream of white smoke, is perhaps the least still-life-ish. But all of it—both image and text—is highly readable, well-constructed, and, above all, full of empathy for the human condition, with a distinct and subtle sense of humor about it, in spite of its frailty.
Alligator Juniper, No. 13, 2008
It’s a good thing that Alligator Juniper comes out only once a year because if you want to take in all of it – and you should -- it would take nearly that long to get through it. That is, if you give the journal the time and attention it deserves. I hardly know where to begin.
The magazine features extraordinary black and white photography by the magazine’s national winner Jim Haberman, as well as Ben Boblett, Larry Jones, BK Skaggs, Catherine Ralls, Austen Lorenz, Jennier Warren, and student winner Michael Richards, reproduced with exceptionally fine and vibrant precision. While these photographs could not be more distinct (vast, almost surreal landscapes, close-ups of flowers, portraits of unforgettable people in unforgettable poses), they share what photography contest judge Susan Modenhuer describes as “the mystery of a moment in time.”
Also exceptional is this issue’s “Special Feature” titled “Genre Blur,” introduced by editor Rachel Yoder, who asks us to “expand or abandon” our ideas of categorization. Accomplished pose writer Margot Singer kicks off the brief section with her essay “Genre and Voice in Creative Nonfiction” in which she summarizes the magazine’s aim: “to explore the ways in which different types of literature use the techniques of other forms.” Julie Marie Wade’s “Layover” is a poem-like construction merging visual elements. The piece begins, aptly, “And what would you call this?” Amanda Nazario’s “The Collected Works of Sara Ruiz” is fiction within a fiction within a fiction. Blake Butler’s “List of 50 (6 of 50): Memory Incantation” is/does what its title announces. Rachel Tollver’s “The Theory of Air and Speed” brings prose and poetry together to consider the meaning of bodies in love, in time, in the seasons.
Creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry contributions are equally compelling. These include a moving personal essay “River Voices,” by the magazine's national winner for creative nonfiction, Catherine Dryden; Zach Vesper’s poem, “Evening” composed of strikingly original images; and student winner’s short fiction “The Border,” a short, astutely and lovingly absurd portrait.
Contributor’s notes include brief remarks about what inspired or informed the works. Award-winning photographer Jim Haberman writes of his photos of the Middle East: “After you have lived in that part of the world, you never quite see things the same way again.” The same could be said for Alligator Juniper.
Alligator Juniper, No. 11, 2006
This publication of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment combines fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and black-and-white photographs from the college's students as well as national prizewinners, all chosen by guest judges. The fiction runs the gamut from the naturalistic treatment of a poor woman giving birth in a tobacco field (Vickie Weaver's "Distance") to the magical realism of a murderous mountain lion (Andrew Beahrs's "Full"). I couldn't dispel the impression that Weaver anthropomorphic and gratuitous. Conversely, Deborah Setzer's "We Know What to Listen To," about a female "cowboy," captivated me from the first line. The poem "Dugan's Shift" by Jendi Reiter stands out (who wouldn't be compelled to verse by the quirky fact that poet Alan Dugan was working in a plastic vagina model factory when he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1962?), as does Kim Kapin's photo "Achille," which is worth repeat viewings simply for the range of emotions it arouses. Finally, in his well-considered essay "Centered in Edge Effects" Poetry, Nature, culture, and the Neighborhood," David Williams succinctly encapsulates what seems to shortfall of much contemporary verse: "Each poem requires discovery. It's pointless to obscure conventional notions with rhetorical flourishes and call it creative work. It seems equally pointless to collect startling images and arrange them for effect..."
--Jeanne M. Lesinski
Alligator Juniper, No. 10, 2005
This issue is dedicated to the themes, "Scars," as evidenced from the dramatic black and white cover photograph of a man whose chest becomes a screen on which is projected several black birds in flight, their wings like the feathery reminders of what the body endures. While a theme dedicated to the visceral remnant of physical and emotional wounds could have solicited writing that was affected, tedious, or even cliché, this issue illustrates anything but. Instead, we read of the subtleties of pain, the nuances of grief, the faint reminders of loss or dejection, though many of these authors left me feeling hopeful – that glimmer of possibility that encircles our aches like a silvery light. Of particular note are Ellot Treichel’s poignant story “Procedure Four,” about a man who “thinks about when he first heard his dog calling to hi,” about how that moment provided a vision that “would teach him something about love”; Kathe Lison’s insightful essay “Need is Not Quite Belief,” in which she measures her own desires against the limited scope of society’s sexual taboos; and Will Roby’s poem “Cotton,” which left me longing for my own sense of reconnection to the past. A bonus of this issue is also the inclusion of all national and student winners of contests in poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and photography; they illustrate a deep commitment to investigating both the local and the exotic – a self-described hallmark of Alligator Juniper. It’s no surprise to me that this journal has received numerous awards, including the 2001 Content Award from the AWP and the 2004 AWP National Program Director’s Prize for Undergraduate Literary Magazines.