From the Whistler

Two new literary journals hit the streets of St. Paul and Minneapolis this fall, and they make a handsome addition to our local literary scene. Urban Pioneer, published by Michael Dombrow and edited by Anthony Telschow, will emphasize local writers and culture. Dombrow and Telschow previously teamed up on the literary magazine Kouroo. This time around they decided to go the cheap and free route, inspired by a quixotic little ’zine called Whistling Shade. If you can’t hunt up a print copy, check out their web site at

The other literary journal debuting this fall is Ache. Ache is an organization of Twin Cities writers with ties to the spoken word community. Their first issue features a spoken word section, along with poetry, fiction and visual art. Rob O’Brien is Ache’s managing editor, and they too have a web site:

In addition to Ache and Urban Pioneer, the Loft has brought out a new national literary magazine, Speakeasy, in collaboration with the Utne Reader. These publications join the ranks of Spout, Slate, Unarmed, Water~Stone, Paj Ntaub Voice and (of course) Whistling Shade as local purveyors of poetry and fiction. This is all really exciting for me, because it means that contemporary literature is that much more visible, and a little less that whistling shade (as I mentioned in my first editorial) that haunts the cultural background of our 21st century mind. And they’re important, too, these "little magazines". As we enter what will probably be a tumultuous era of war and struggle, we’ll need something to strengthen us, something more than anonymous Associated Press tidbits about a terrorist shot or CEO indicted. Editorials and commentaries by politicians are all very well, but what is also needed—and what is missing, right now—are the first hand accounts, the personal memoirs, the daring articles. In the case of Whistling Shade, this means fiction and poetry too. Turgenev’s Sportsman’s Sketches were more than just beautiful stories—they changed the way his middle and upper class audience regarded the Russian serfs. And nothing gets to to the bone of a conflict like a poem—Yeat’s Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen, for example, written during the Irish Civil War, or Marianne Moore’s World War II poem In Distrust of Merits.

There are important questions we as the American public will have to start making up our minds about—for example, would toppling the regime in Iraq be a victory for all Americans, or just the GOP and oil companies? And the larger question of our role in the business of the world. Are we the mean guy with the baseball bat at the end of the block, who only comes out when his window is broken? We need more than William Safire and Maureen Dowd blowing clever rhetoric from stage right and stage left. We need to hear from the artists, the soldiers, the teachers, the refugees.

- Joel Van Valin