Author: Constant, Paul
Date published: June 15, 2011
A good literary journal can evoke plenty of different feelings when you open an issue up for the fi rst time. You can feel excited when you see a new volume of McSweeney's, say, or you can eagerly anticipate the playfulness of a new issue of Monkeybicycle, or you can hunger for the intellectual stimulation of n+1 or A Public Space. But the third issue of locally produced literary magazine Filter inspires a novel emotion: When you fi rst get to hold it and take it apart, you feel completely overwhelmed.
Note that I didn't say fl ip through it, there. I said take it apart. This issue of Filter comes neatly tucked inside a magnetsealed box that's decorated with a pastel paint-by-numbers scene of mountains and a cowboy. When you open the box, you realize you're holding an embarrassment of riches: The journal is actually made up of dozens of hand-stitched letterpress-printed pamphlets, each by a different author. Interspersed between the pamphlets, you'll fi nd art prints by Amanda Manitach, Ben Beres, collage poet Brandon Downing, and others. You're probably thinking of the fourth, 19th, or 36th issues of McSweeney's, which were also published as collections of pamphlets in boxes, but this has an even more charming, handmade feel; Filter editor Jennifer Borges Foster says each issue takes "about six hours" and dozens of volunteers to assemble, and it shows (you can't help but take a moment to consider the hand-knotted thread hiding in the immediate center of each pamphlet as a physical manifestation of a halfway point). It takes a village to make this magazine.
This is probably the fi rst literary magazine in the history of the world that you want to lay out on top of a bed and just roll around in for a while. Borges Foster said she imagines the issue being shared by friends over a large table in an explosion of words and art, kind of like the Sunday edition of the New York Times. There's no intended order to the contributions; however you read it is just fi ne.
It makes sense that Foster and her compatriots are so confi dent about putting out a magazine with no beginning and no end- the reader can start and fi nish anywhere and fi nd a satisfying experience. You'll fi nd the best authors Seattle has to offer: Ed Skoog contributes two exquisite, surprising poems; UW MFA in poetry graduate Erika Wilder offers a roller-coaster ride of a semifi ctional-nonfi ction essay about her experiences with Lolita and Nabokov's other works. David Lasky's conceptual comic-book essay, Ink, ties together the thoughtfulness of the written part of Filter with the conceptual exuberance of the included art prints. Stranger Geniuses of literature Rebecca Brown and Stacey Levine both make brief, fl irtatious appearances before getting lost again in the shuffl e. It gets to feel like a summery party on a porch; you see some old friends, you talk for a while, and then when you turn your back, they're gone again, off to who knows where.
But this isn't just a local joint: Filter has invited several intriguing names from elsewhere, too. Portland poet Sarah Bartlett contributes a triad of bloody, visceral poems-" the cello/inside of me/ playing its lowest note"- and Mississippi writer Sean Ennis's short story "This Is Pennypack," about two bored boys fi nding "two Indians locked in a cage" in a city park, clobbers the reader with fi ve or six indelible images.
Not all of Filter is perfect, of course. There are too many fl abby, indulgent poems mucking about. But that's part of being overwhelmed, too: There are so many artifacts-messages from other consciousnesses-inside this box that not all of them are going to be to your liking. But you can easily put those minor miscommunications aside and dive back in again, because there's always more to enjoy and plenty to go around.