Frequency: Irregular, dependent on sufficient quality content to form an issue.
Content Types: Fiction and Poetry
Why they stand out: Simplicity and quality, coupled with a consistent blurring of the line between what is prose and what is verse.
Piece from the archives that everyone should read: Josh Siegel’s “Thirsty Horses” i n Volume 5
Why: For its unsettling equations which border on the inscrutable, yet after second reading yield emotional resonance even where they do not cough up logical resolution. Siegel’s combination of elegance and absurdity is representative of the Catalonian Review. “Thirsty Horses” perfectly embodies a sort of strangely beautiful tension which pervades and characterizes each issue.
Spotlight by: Ashley Strosnider.
All too often, conversations assessing the varying merits of online and print journals are rooted in comparisons of capability rather than quality. We ask “What can online journals do that print journals can’t?” And our answers center around things like the speed, ease, and low cost of publication, or multimedia presentations of texts or interactive commenting platforms. I’ve seen an increasingly omnipresent assumption that all online journals be technological innovators to capture interest and hold down a place of respect in a quickly changing market.
But what if we rephrased the question? Instead of asking “What can online journals do that print journals can’t?,” let’s try “What can online journals do that print journals can?” And the answer is simple: online journals can publish interesting and quality writing.
The Catalonian Review is consistently and refreshingly simple in its publication of quality prose and verse. Copious white space and simple, elegant fonts create an online experience that is a clear and effective translation (translation, mind you, not mimicry) of reading on the printed page. And that’s it. But when a publication can’t hang its reputation on innovation, it’s got to depend upon the quality of work published.
So how to be relevant, reputable, refreshing? Again, we see that one need not necessarily do something new, one only need do something good. And what the Catalonian Review does is good: quick and personal responses to would-be emerging writers, creating cohesive, quality, free and accessible online issues of poetry and prose.
Yet, The Catalonian Review makes an interesting choice in its presentation of genre. That is to say, The Catalonian Review simply does not present genre at all. Their homepage welcomes readers with the statement “we publish prose and verse.” Yet, when readers click to open the current issue, there’s no quick route to the prose or the verse, no simple way to weed the poetry out and go read the short stories nor vice versa. Readers see a list of contributors’ names, and the choice then, is not between genres but personalities—would I rather read Francis or John or I., Dennis, or Peycho first?
This eschewing of genre is particularly compelling after only a few moments of reading within any one of their six issues to date. The question quickly becomes not where is the poetry and where is the fiction, but instead what is the poetry and what is the fiction?
Fontana’s “Bronze Age Tools” is a prime example. But before I go any further, a disclaimer: The Catalonian Review does not provide biographical information about its writers, nor contact information, and therefore, I do not know whether I. Fontana is male or female. I flipped a coin and determined to refer to Fontana from here on as “she” (but I won’t tell you which gender was heads and which was tails). “At first,” she begins, “we ate mostly yams,” immediately embracing her readers in a seemingly harmless collective act, but at the next moment, she complicates it, as “No one knew what to do about it.” As soon as she implicates the reader, she renders him immediately guilty, too, of some sort of problematic dissention as apparently innocuous as yam-eating. Still, Fontana suggests that something, at least, should have been done. As the story of “Bronze Age Tools” unfolds, Fontana gives us plot in vague, sweeping gestures. “Some changes were made, not without resistance, and we learned to eat many things.” The prose is simple, but its suggestions are not, and perhaps the most interesting details in Fontana’s story happen somewhere behind the prose, in the lacunae between the few bare facts of change, resistance, and education. Fontana resists specificity in a move that universalizes the experience and demands a symbolic reading. Where her prose isn’t particularly poetic, the reading approach “Bronze Age Tools” calls for certainly is—and with Volume VI of the Catalonian Review as context, the question of tools and progress is one we must ask of our writers as well as of Fontana’s yam-eating nomads.
We need not assume that all art can be interpreted as a commentary on art simply by merit of its existence in order to read “Bronze Age Tools” as a chronicle of technology’s effects on art and literature.“While others still wore the same old masks,” Fontana writes, “we wore new ones, and drew magic symbols of power on ourselves.” The collective “we” takes on simultaneously the powers of creation and disguise. We all present faces other than our own, but while the others stay the same, we put on the new, representative of a progress of sorts—and we don’t stop there. We “drew magic symbols of power on ourselves,” Fontana writes. Power here is merely symbolic, and it is self-designated, drawn by the self for the self. “We spent a lot of time worrying about luck,” and what strange new writer doesn’t?
The piece continues, “Things happened on their own, and we did what we could not to be left behind.” And just as no one wants to live in the only hut without a fire or drive the only ox cart with square wheels, Fontana suggests that these sorts of change are no longer innovative but perhaps simply socially normative. Can we hope that for the future of online publication? And do we?
“Bronze Age Tools” ends in Ib. after “we became Assyrians” and “did what we were known for.” The speaker “grew old, with seven daughters, as a merchant of bangles in Ib.” The capacity for creation is still apparent in this fertility of offspring, particularly in the detail of their femininity. And as for the speaker’s status as a merchant of bangles, she’s simply peddling the means of disguise and adornment, new masks for our wrists, magic symbols. This critique of progress ends in a fallen empire, once a powerhouse, now a distant legend. Which only suggests, perhaps, that while to deny change is to willfully become obsolete, embracing innovation can’t necessarily guarantee opposite results.
In Maeve Bennington’s “Stalemate,” a self-consciousness drives the piece from its initial abstract beginnings as it steadily moves toward specificity, engaging the world beyond itself in increasingly detailed considerations of the obvious and the expected. In line two, Bennington evokes the second person, asking the reader to listen and understand. “It's dripping. Darling, can't you see that it's dripping? Look! I told you!” The repetition, the emphatic phrasing seems almost paranoid it an insistence that its own concerns be noticed, validated, responded to.
As the speaker continues to follow an associative train of thought, the poem moves toward meaning through an eclectic cast of characters—the mailman, a married couple, a Canadian, his strangled mother, a you with a phone, the voice on the other end of the line, a me, a man who was run down by a carriage in the street, that same man considered in light of his fatherhood, a dead poet, the speaker’s own father, Sartre, Heidegger, the Germans—who, when considered together, form “Stalemate’s” definition of humanity.
Bennington (notably, one of the magazine’s editors) writes, “I knew a poet once, but now he's dead too.” She directly engages Barthes’ death of the author as well as pays homage to the longevity of written work.
That Bennington’s name is actually a pseudonym only reinforces what is perhaps (or for her, at least) a necessary separation between the personal identity of a writer and her written work. And yet, while the speaker’s observations and assertions throughout are very specific, detailed, poignant and unique in voice and eye, the speaker’s father remains unmoved and disinterested. Bennington writes, “I'm often forced to refer to the quotations of a famous author/ when addressing my father. He doesn't care for anything I have to say.” Instead, he wants to hear approved quotations, prewritten and rehearsed, above raw or unique thought. For him, reputation must precede the writing. Beyond the theoretical reference to Barthes, Bennington specifically names Sartre and Heidegger, and the poem names itself an eclogue in the end, settling down (or at the very least, promising to settle down) to take its place within a philosophical and poetical dialogue it’s more than equipped to read and speak. In a magazine that embraces pseudonyms and refuses to provide any biographical information about its contributors, “Stalemate” resonates beyond its own boundaries.
These two pieces from Volume VI suggest not so much a dominant aesthetic as a common concern at the Catalonian Review, stories and poems that reach out of themselves toward a collective we and an external you. How does one learn to eat something new, or make another understand a leak? When is change necessary and when is it inevitable? And what is the shelf-life of a disguise or a philosophy, a story in print or words on a screen? For now at least, the Catalonian Review is here, and if simplicity, self-awareness, and quality are enough, perhaps, it’s here to stay.
Interview with editors Waylan Martin and Maeve Bennington.
What's the story behind the origin of Catalonian Review? Did you two found it jointly, or how did you come to be co-editors in chief?
Maeve and I (we use pseudonyms) were exploring markets and finding out about the lit mag business. Some of it was mystifying. But more than anything, we were concerned about the options out there for writers who wanted to debut their work reasonably quickly—I mean writers whose work maybe hadn’t been seen yet. This was our main objective in founding the magazine.
Pseudonyms, eh? Care to elaborate?
The reason we use pseudonyms is that we don't want anyone looking us up and reading our work before sending along their own work. We prefer to be approached as if we were the most reputable editors in the world--simply because we're not. But we try to be fair and kind, and openminded.
Do you conceive of any cohesive aesthetic for the Review at large? How about the composition of individual issues?
This is a question that magazines always try to answer but end up looking silly when they do. So we will try to be careful, and so far we’ve avoided answering this question. We publish work that pleases us, and by reading our issues you can probably infer what that might be. Our content is free—one of the boons of an online magazine—so all anyone has to do is read what we’ve published so far. Our tastes are ever changing and expanding, so we will refrain from saying anything too particular. But we do lean toward the zany.
Why do you publish the Catalonian Review online? What role do you think online journals play in independent publishing at large?
We publish online because that is the only way we can. The advantages of online journals are numerous and I think they in some ways outweigh the advantages of print. For one, we don’t need funding. Two, writers do not have to buy the magazine. Three, we can put issues up quickly. But on the downside, a reader or contributor will never have that old-fashioned permanent feeling of holding a physical copy of our journal. That I think is the one main drawback, but we can live with that.
Specially, then, what role do you hope the Catalonian Review plays?
We hope we can publish strange writers quickly.
You're notoriously swift with replies. What's your trick?
Simply put, we don’t like to waste people’s time. I think for the most part people appreciate that. No one wants to wait six months for a rejection. But also, that is our niche—we respond quickly; it distinguishes us. It’s basic business. If you are a new journal you need to distinguish yourself, responding swiftly is a great way to do it. With the help of wonderful websites like Duotrope writers are able to see how fast a pub is likely to reply. Thank goodness for them, the people of Duotrope, for helping writers to better understand the publishing world so everything doesn’t seem so mysterious and closed-off.
In your submissions guidelines, you ask writers to tell you "what you either like or do not like about your medium." Can you define "medium" in this context? Do you see any trends in writers' answers?
The word “medium” is up to the writer to define. Any answer is acceptable and we try not to let the answers sway us at all in considering the work, at least not in the sense that one’s thoughts on writing are as important as the work they’ve sent. The question is there to indicate whether the writer has read our guidelines. Often they haven’t, and this isn’t a deal-breaker in the slightest, but it will impact the attention we give a particular piece; if you don’t answer the question and the work doesn’t grab us right away we may not be very interested. However, if you don’t answer the question and the work is clearly something we like, we will publish you. Maeve also wants to keep an eye out for writers who have similar interests to us, and seeing the answer to that question is a great indicator of just that. Obviously the work will also demonstrate that, but it’s almost like an added component to our application process. We want to know what our contributors are thinking about. We originally implemented the question because we started receiving a lot of submissions from writers who had obviously given no thought to whether their piece was a good fit with our publication.
As a matter of fact, what happens to these answers? I don't see them anywhere on the site...
We never plan to publish these answers as a supplement to any particular work. We don’t really care what people say about writing, at least not nearly as much as the writing itself. So far we haven’t received anything that has blown our minds, not nearly as much as some of the work has. However, if a person’s thoughts on writing do ever blow our minds, we’ll publish it as a piece.
Anything new or exciting in the works?
The Catalonian Review will continue to publish eclectic material at its own pace and read the work of anyone who wants to send it to us. We are a new publication and we are just becoming widely read. That is enough for us.
And last but not least--if you had to rename your Review after a different region of Spain, what's your second choice and why?
If we had to rename the Review after a different region of Spain it would have to be the Canary Islands; maybe something like The Canary Island Big Gulp Magazine Review. That has a nice ring.