Too often deemed esoteric or frivolous by those who don't run in literary circles, the literary journal has never really been the medium for the masses. Frankly, they've always been kind of a fringe thing.
But Four Chambers 03, released in November 2015, affirms the literary magazine’s relevance and utility by channeling the Zeitgeist of American society. Consumed with the pseudo-connectivity of social media, most people seem more plugged into their devices than their own emotions or relationships.
Four Chambers 03 is filled with tales of connections made, missed, and broken – conveyed with visceral power by writers who have strong voices and something to say. It's worth a careful read.
There’s no formal theme for this volume, but it clearly reflects the raison d’être of its founder and editor in chief, Jake Friedman, whose letter from the editor for this issue touts the importance of interpersonal connectivity.
Friedman founded Four Chambers Press in 2013 and now heads a cadre of fellow volunteers who are keen on fostering not only connections between people, but also within the local literary landscape.
They’re making connections within the visual arts scene too — pairing 11 writers with artists from the Eye Lounge collective in Roosevelt Row to create original ekphrastic works for an exhibition during Art Detour in March of 2016.
Previous Four Chambers volumes were released in December 2013 and October 2014, and the group has also published a trio of chapbooks. At present, they plan to publish a new volume each October.
The latest is a 165-page volume, described by Four Chambers Press as 50 percent local, features 55 poems and 18 works of prose contributed by 56 authors. Their first volume included 42 poems and 15 works of prose by 49 authors. The second included 62 poems and 13 prose by 64 authors — a reflection of the fact that 1,100 authors submitted work for the second volume, versus 912 for volume one.
With each volume, Four Chambers Press has selected an eclectic mix of experienced and emerging writers, and they’ve succeeded in culling different writers for each volume. The rare exception is Bill Campana, retired chair of the writing department at Pima Community College's downtown campus, a Tucson resident whose work appears in both the first and third volumes.
Topics treated in Four Chambers 03 include sex, abandonment, regret, identity, and transitions.
This volume's best works of prose include Elena M. Stiehler's The Elephant Sanctuary, which considers the futility of seeking to chart existence. Her piece resonates strongly in the context of today's Instagram and blogging culture, despite being set far from mainstream American culture.
Stiehler sets her main character within an elephant sanctuary in Africa, where change seems the only constant for the wilderness and those living within it. Attempts to save that which disappears — whether childhood, family, memory or jungle — are futile. But the impulse to try and preserve them lingers. “Every day there is something less,” she writes. “We begin to take pictures of everything.”
Its best poems include Self Parable by Patrick Haas, which ends with this haunting line: “from a distance I look like a window through which the world is trying to leave itself.”
This volume also includes his Jaguar Parable, which got the grand prize award of $100 this time around. Replete with the phrase “fuck yeah,” it imagines a fearless jaguar positioning itself to pounce upon the sun. “I think he can eat light if he wants to,” writes Haas.
Isaac Caruso, who serves as director of art and design for Four Chambers Press, created cover art inspired by Haas' Jaguar Parable. Its bold colors and striking graphics mirror the tone of the poem, and help to counter the stereotype that literary journals are boring or stuffy.
Four other writers received cash awards of $25, and their works are illustrated by local artists. Andy Brown illustrated Digging for the Golden Address by Mather Schneider; Jeff Slim illustrated Anthony Fair’s Desires to Go Unnoticed; Monica Aissa Martinez illustrated Nate Fisher’s My Mother’s Body, with Voice (A Microcosmographia); and Yai illustrated Humbolt County – Early July by Melissa Tramuta.
These illustrations are all pleasant enough, but not particularly memorable. Most charming are images of downtown Phoenix icons including historic hotels and light rail trains on the inside covers.
We'd love to see more artwork, preferably by artists not previously published in Four Chambers, just to mix things up a bit. So far, each artist has illustrated a different literary work. But seeing a couple of works illustrated by more than one artist would give readers a chance to see various visual interpretations of the same written works.
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But we’d also like to see future volumes reflect a greater sense of place. It’s all good and fine to capture the American Zeitgeist, but we’re eager to see more writing reflecting the depth and breadth of Arizona experiences – informed by our connections to the Wild West mentality, border culture, water, and an ever-transient population.
Moving future volumes in this direction would further realize the vision Friedman shares in Four Chambers 03: "We must remain aware of our culture, our values, our feelings, our history. We must keep a sense of ourselves intact amidst the day-in and day-out. We must continue talking with one another in order to work towards something positive and good. We must remember what it means to be human."
Four Chambers is sold at Stinkweeds and MADE Art Boutique, as well as both Changing Hands Bookstore locations. You can buy both issues, plus prints of artist illustrations, online from Four Chambers Press. Issue 1 is $10; Issues 2 and 3 are $12 each. Find more information on additional publications, artist prints, and upcoming events on the Four Chambers Press website.