The Mad Hatters’ Review Kristina Marie Darling Zine-O-Rama

import_contacts The Mad Hatters’ Review

reviewed by Kristina Marie Darling

Published in Issue No. 122 ~ July, 2007

Filled with edgy and formally innovative work, the latest issue of The Mad Hatters’ Review is a treat for readers of fiction, comics, and poetry alike. Many of the works included in this issue are difficult to classify as “prose poetry,” “short story,” or “flash fiction,” but instead play by their own rules, often gleaning aspects of multiple genres. Custom artwork and songs are included with each piece and initiate an interesting dialogue between different artistic disciplines, proving to be a striking way to present visual art, musical compositions, and literature to readers. In abandoning these traditional distinctions, The Mad Hatters’ Review provides a unique forum for writers to experiment with form, narrative, and the relationship between text and other mediums.

Rochelle Ratner’s experimental fiction piece, “Pa. Vet Accused of Faking Dog’s Death,” for example, uses several techniques typically found in poetry in addition to parodying other types of nonliterary texts. The title, reminiscent of tabloid headlines in its sensationalism and sentence structure, prepares the reader for a journalistic, linear narrative. Ratner manipulates these expectations through her use of fragmentation and a nonlinear structure that circles back to previous phrases and images. For example, Ratner writes: “Heartless the vet calls these people. Heartless trash. They don’t deserve a purebred dog in the first place {…} Heartless, the teenager calls her parents. They don’t begin to understand what she’s going through.” Like poetry, this hybrid piece is pushed forward by these unlikely associations, which are often accomplished through repetitions of sounds, phrases and images, rather than the chronological order of events. The short story moves from a couple and their German shepherd to a vet to a runaway teenager, and these several settings and characters are skillfully woven together through poetic techniques.

Even pieces in the journal that use a very traditional framework, such as poems in couplets or quatrains, prove to be just as edgy and interact in fascinating ways with the paintings and songs included in the journal. Michael Neff’s poem, “Anyone Can Be a Nomad,” for instance, experiments instead with surreal imagery and shifts in diction rather than the form of the poem. Neff writes: “When my turn comes, I ask you to perform./You revert to Czar Nicholas daughter/ tending her pea garden in captivity,/coloring the earth red with hair. We are causation and I am reflex.” The poem transitions from a conversational tone to poetic to very high diction and these fluctuations are rendered at times humorous, surprising, or melancholy by the subject matter they describe. Paired with a painting of a bright red star, the poem proves just as lovely, puzzling and distinctive.

Also inventive and striking are Vernon Frazer’s “Whatnots,” “Pre-Nuptial Arrangement” and “Emblematic Moon,” which experiment with the ways a narrative can unfold in a visual field. Resembling a complex diagram or chart in its use of arrows and dotted lines, Frazer’s pieces explore the manner in which the placement of text on a page in relation to other words and phrases can change how one reads the narrative, introducing questions of balance and composition to traditional storytelling. The use of absurd words and phrases such as “conundrum grease” and “metaphysical point massage” demonstrate that even when Frazer’s narrative takes place on a template normally associated with visual art, the writer finds a way to skillfully incorporate the irony, juxtapositions, and humor of good anecdote.

Overall, The Madhatters’ Review is a high quality read. Featuring an assortment of emerging and established writers, Issue Seven, edited by Carol Novak, is a well-rounded and accomplished issue. If you’re looking for a journal headed in a new and innovative direction, you’ll enjoy this publication.

Likewise, Issue Six of The Madhatters’ Review features poetry, fiction, cartoons, and animated clips in addition to custom music and artwork crafted for each writer’s contributions. Issue Six is filled with lyrical, quirky, cross-genre poetry and fiction pieces that often experiment with form. This experimentation encompasses both the shape of a poem or story and the interactions between text and other mediums, such as film, sound, and visual art. Often complimenting and complicating he texts to which they relate, these sounds clips and images are, like the poems and stories within this review, fun, offbeat, and at times surreal. Evading the traditional categories of “poetry” and “fiction,” these works glean aspects of multiple genres, and the magazine is filled with these exciting hybrid forms.

While all of the stories and poems included in The Madhatters’ Review are of a very high quality, I particularly enjoyed Lily Hoang’s three fiction pieces, all of which defy easy genre categorization. A good example of cross-genre tendency in the work included in this webzine, Hoang’s stories are short and image rich, at times bordering on prose-poetry. Her story “Creation,” for example, uses the repetition of “and,” long unpunctuated sentences, and the dreamlike logic more characteristic of poetry to create a unique rhythm: “This is a story about Jack & Jill & let me be clear let me clarify without confusion that Jack & Jill do indeed go up the hill but Jack isn’t always Jack & Jill isn’t always Jill & I am not always me …” Although lyrical throughout, these stories end in abrupt anticlimaxes, jarring the reader from this dreamlike logic and poetic prose. These well-crafted, very short stories are characteristic of work found in Issue Six, all of which is equally innovative, unconventional and at times wonderfully surprising.

A section of this issue of the journal being devoted specifically to “Whatnots,” pieces that don’t fit into the traditional genres are, like Lily Hoang’s work, inventive in their use of both form and formal devices. Justin Taylor’s “Excerpt from the Interview,” for example, takes the form of a question and answer between a psychiatrist and a patient. The dialogue alternates between poeticism and humor, at times embodying both characteristics simultaneously. The question and answer having addressed werewolves and beards, Taylor writes: You are nothing but metaphors and other metaphors — you belie. I reply. On what do you rely? On that which is belied. By metaphors and other metaphors? A poeticism itself being humorous at times, the interview format allows for interesting wordplay and associations, all of which are equally offbeat and unexpected. Other whatnots make similar uses of form, using such formats as an English translation side by side with a French one, flash fiction, and prose poetry.

Also featuring cartoons, films and columns, The Mad Hatters’ Review Issue 6 is an inexhaustible resource for anyone in search of quality reading material. With the innovative and intelligent work around in this journal, Alice would be pleased.

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Kristina Marie Darling, an English major at Washington University in St. Louis, received a nomination for a Pushcart Prize in 2006. Her chapbooks include: Fevers and Clocks (March Street Press, 2006) and The Traffic in Women (Dancing Girl Press, 2006), among others.