reviewed by Stefene Russell

Published in Issue No. 42 ~ November, 2000

The wordplay is good – Prose Ax or Prosac(s)? On one hand, this literary ‘zine sports one gloomy color scheme (<bg color=”voodoo swamp” font color=”bluer than my dead true love’s hair”>). Andrew Shkolnik’s background artwork looks like what Goya might have drawn if he’d been a skate punk, which makes the flashing ad banners for life insurance at the foot of the page seem all the more manic and distracting. Maybe they planned it this way? Mania, after all, has certainly fueled some great art.

What Prose Ax seems to espouse is not Mania but a mild derangement of the senses. My first piece of advice: hit the “proseax” banner before you read anything. This will bring up a window containing “px.ose ax.dio,” a home-grown MP3 that looks like a tic tac toe board on Robitussin (or perhaps like two happy rows of happy pills). Click the colored boxes, and you can create your own mix ‘n’ scratch soundtrack to listen to while you read. (For the very brave: amplify the effect by cracking open a can of Red Bull and listening to Ween’s “Pure Guava” on the stereo at the same time.)

The lion’s share of the writing seems to come from Hawaii (with some Michigan and Australia thrown in), and the writers range in age from 16 to about 27. This is the second “dose” (issue), and I’d guess that editor J. Calma is collecting a lot of work from people he knows. Judging from the bios of the editor and his Web-monkey in crime, they seem like a good-hearted (if young) bunch of fellows, and there’s nothing wrong with publishing your writer friends if you’re not getting tons of submissions.

But it is a problem when the editor is having a hard time bringing down the red pen because he doesn’t have the heart. As a result, the writing is pretty good but not stellar. These are mistakes most young writers and editors make, so I can’t fault them. The sincerity of their efforts suggests that Prose Ax will evolve and improve over time. Whether readers will be patient enough to allow them the opportunity is another question.

I think we should. There are plenty of career writers out there, supplying us with the opportunity to pay twenty dollars for a new book of cutting-edge poetry or a quirky new novel. It’s crucial to support people who love art enough to undertake a project like this – even during those initial months when they’re tweaking things and trying to figure out where they’re headed. And I’ll tell ya: I’d rather read Prose Ax than many of the heartless literary pyrotechnics that have been rolling off the virtual presses lately.

Should you visit Prose Ax, check out “Born with a Tail,” a puzzling, but lovely, piece of short prose by Eric Shaffer in the first “dose,” and K.J. Steven’s “Flag Day,” in the second. (Steven’s story rags on dot-com companies, which always scores extra points in my book.) Also kudos to J. Calma for publishing 16-year-old Jasmine Orr, who has the spark of pneuma in her, and should be encouraged.

The soundtrack is nifty; the writing is on its way, but not there yet – maybe I should say the edits aren’t there yet? The flashing ad banner sucks, even though I can’t blame a literary site for trying to raise money. (Though maybe, just maybe they could put them in a less distracting spot? I mean, ouch.) Ultimately, Prose Ax proves an authentic, well-meaning, earnest, and still evolving effort. A few sessions with Dreamweaver and some tighter editing could make Prose Ax as mind-altering and uplifting as a fistful of street-grade fluoxetine.

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Stefene Russell is a writer and editor who lives in the Midwest. She also plays in a samba/world percussion band, and still uses a manual typewriter from time to time, including as a percussion instrument.