The Fall Advocate
From the Shelf
A change in format has brought no change in the Advocate's quality; underneath a handsome mustard cover boasting a Durer woodcut lies a competent but uninspiring collage of prose and poetry. This Advocate is neither "bad" nor "good"--it is just flat.
Almost every piece in the Fall issue lacks a sense of life or relevancy which only vivid language can convey--strong verbs and taut imagery are prominently absent. The Advocate too often wallows in flat prose and free poetry, modes that were once, long ago, refreshing but are now, in less expert hands, stale and tired. In this issue, flat means not spare but listless, even flabby, and free means not spontaneous and natural but formless, thoughtless, and overly moody.
Of three short stories, "Laurie's People" by Holly Worthen best typifies the problem. In accordance with "flat" technique she juxtaposes but does not relate various snatches of dialogue and description to suggest rather than tell: Laurie loves animals because she can exercise more control over them than she can over people. But if this idea comes through, a feeling for Laurie is continually punctured by the angular prose.
Miss Worthen tries so hard to keep things simple and make her characters talk like real people that her style, surprisingly enough, becomes affected and it times confusing. For example, her narrator describes Laurie:
"But were I a small animal looking up at her, I would see something beatific in her flat face. I feel the same way when I am walking alone on an empty rainy street very late at night and I come upon a billboard on the side of a building, all lit up, and there is a huge face fifteen feet across, looking out at nothing, like Buddha."
But whether Miss Worthen is just trying to honestly relate what the narrator might think, or undercut "beatific" with the billboard buddha to tell us something about Laurie or the narrator or both, are important matters about which only her editor knows for sure.
Jacob Brackman's "Bad Focused Slides With Sound" suffers too from a clipped, somewhat short hand style, but only because his piece is by far the most ambitious and interesting in the magazine. He attempts to write not about a day but a generation, not about one person but a boy's divergence from his family.
Using a terse, first person voice, Brackman must imply a great deal through the order and content of the narrator's descriptions. But sometimes the detail is overly suggestive, forcing the reader to seek answers which simply cannot be found within the story. Nonetheless, if Brackman only hints at some relations and sources of motivation, he creates a genuinely poignant mood of wistful loneliness through a difficult narrative technique.
"A Question of Taste," a story by Nancy Griffin Jackson, is notable because it is the only light piece in the issue. Eschewing the undergraduate writer's pervasive lugubriousness, she nicely sets up a comic conflict in the first third of her story--the battle for bathroom supremacy between a young couple and a wrinkled old lady. But the last part becomes heavy and slow; Miss Jackson can't quite decide what to do with her piece of fluff.
The poetry in the Advocate is consistent--it lacks consistency in rhyme, meter, or form. In fact, poetry is not really the proper word for most selections; abbreviated prose arranged in irregular patterns would be a more appropriate description. For some reason, most Advocate poets feel that poetry is the least demanding art, that traditional techniques and discipline are of little importance in their craft.
"Two Poems" by Stuart Davis might be viewed as good examples of the what - I-did-last-summer-when-I-was-in-Paris genre. But, althouph he over-writes, Davis succeeds where others in this issue fail; in "City of Statuary" he links together several strains of imagery. So too Ruth Whitman's "I Laugh in Russian" knits at least three strands of metaphor in a compact but highly readable form.
In fact, it is the few pieces like Miss Whitman's which make the Advocate easily worth a quarter. But unless more writers resist the seductions of flaccid free verse and tediously flat prose the Advocate will only be a decent buy, not a bargain.