Reviews

Write-up in CCSF’s Guardsman

Shake Off The Dust for City College’s Lit. Mag.
By Barbara Muniz

Remember your New Year’s resolution to dig out your artwork and finally show it to the public? Now is the time.

Forum, City College’s literary magazine, invites contributors to submit poetry, photography, stories, screenplays, music, creative nonfiction, and/or visual art. Selected work will be exhibited in their semiannual publication. Their website provides all the nits and bits on how to submit and upload your creation for magazine editors to evaluate.

Since its debut in 1937, the periodical has been produced by City College students. “We practically do everything here in Forum Magazine except the binding of the pages,” Professor Steven Mayers said. “Students learn how to copy edit, market, design the layout, fundraise as well as web publish and participate in all the phases of the production process to not only launch the printed work but also to promote it to the public.”

“Students learn how to copy edit, market, design the layout, fundraise, as well as publish, and participate in all the phases of the production process.”

-Professor Steven Mayers

Forum Magazine is a vehicle for students to expose their work. It is also open to former students, teachers, staff and anyone associated with City College. Now on volume eight and released twice a year during spring and fall, the periodical also has an online presence and a digital version available.

John Isles and Steven Mayers co-teach English 35 intro and intermediate literary magazine classes which is part of the English department’s certificate program in creative writing. In addition, students also become members of the Forum Literary Magazine Club.

Professors Isles and Mayers invite literary icons to include their pieces and participate in readings. Two such icons are fiction writer and poet Alejandro Murguía, chair of the City College Latina/Latino Studies Program as well as the current Poet Laureate of San Francisco. Another is University of San Francisco professor D.A. Powell also an internationally acclaimed poet.

Contributors may submit more than one piece, uploaded individually. The deadline is Feb. 23, 2016, but the earlier the better in case the organizers need additional details.

For submission guidelines, visit https://forumccsf.wordpress.com/or https://www.facebook.com/ForumMagazine

Shake Off The Dust for City College’s Lit. Mag.

Mostly Harmless and May 2nd

by Ayo Khensu-Ra

May 2nd has long held a sort of special aura for me. Improbably I reckoned some years ago that this was the date I picked up a certain book in the Hilo Public Library. While I wouldn’t say that book changed my life, it’s still one of my favorites — a strange mixture of science fiction, humor and gloom.

Anyone familiar with the series of which the book is a part will probably have guessed by now that I’m referring to the late Douglas Adams’ Mostly Harmless which was (amazingly) published some twenty years ago. I say amazingly because I was in middle school around that time an awkward, uncertain kid (it might be argued that I’m an awkward uncertain adult but that’s another story.)

The book is Adams’ final chapter in the series that began with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy , a novel that was based on Adams’ own BBC radio program of the same name. Three books sit between the first and Mostly Harmless. They all center around the misadventures of Arthur Dent a fairly ordinary Englishman who just happens to be the last male survivor of the destruction of the Earth. I’ve enjoyed all the Hitchhiker’s books quite a lot but Mostly Harmless was the first I read and so is extra significant but something else I think draws me to that book in particular.

There’s a certain brilliance in Adams’ style. In each of his books he referenced and played with science fiction conventions bringing a kind of order through craziness. The books are very funny. Adams’ narrative voice is often calm, almost dry while discussing something completely absurd. But beyond that, Mostly Harmless has a rather intricate, intriguing plot. There are a number of threads to the story and there is a certain bigness to it that one might not expect from humorous science fiction novel. The elements of the story tie together wonderfully, everything falling right into place for the conclusion. It must also be said that the conclusion is far from a happy one which is something else that intrigues me about the novel–its mixture of comic and tragic. That mixture is something I later came to appreciate in the work of writer and director Joss Whedon (Whedon is probably best known as the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the much-praised and oft-analyzed TV series; his take on Marvel’s The Avengers just arrived in theaters). While Whedon’s work is certainly more serious in tone, humor is one of his trademarks. I don’t want to get too carried away with analysis or overstate what Adams was trying to do but I do think Mostly Harmless and the other Hitchhikers’ books are more than mere light entertainment.  Mostly Harmless is wildly entertaining and it is extremely well-written, smart, witty and yes, a little grim. But if the arts are always on some level an attempt to make sense of life, the universe and everything then the comic and the tragic must inevitably meet.

Douglas Adams died in May of 2001, he was 49. I’ve often wondered what he would’ve written had he lived longer. He indicated that he might write another Hitchhikers’ book, that perhaps he might’ve liked to end the series on a happier note. A sequel to Mostly Harmless has been penned by Eoin Colfer. I haven’t read that book yet and while I probably will at some point, I can’t imagine it will be quite the same as reading Adams. At any rate, when May 2nd rolls around, I’m still reminded of picking up that book that evening in Hilo 20 years ago, the days and months afterward as I read through the series.

“How to Tell a True War Story” by Ava Stewart

How to Tell a True War Story

by Ava Stewart

Ava Stewart is a student at CCSF from Santa Cruz, CA. While spending a year in a half in Tucson at the University of Arizona, she studied the works of war author Tim O’Brien during in an English class over the course of a year. Shared below is a review of one of her favorite literary pieces, “How To Tell a True War Story,” a reflective piece O’Brien wrote to illustrate the rogue beauty of the  trauma and devastation he experienced during the Vietnam War.

O’Brien paints a stunning visual in “How to Tell a True War Story” that seeks to investigate the truth in war stories being told by Vietnam veterans. Whether exaggerations or fact, the narrator seeks to guide views as best as he can through his experiences in Vietnam when he was serving during the war. The narrator bases a majority of the story around the death of a close friend of his who was killed suddenly by a small land mine as he was walking in the forest of Vietnam. He follows this with other stories that occurred (or did they?) because of his passing. (more…)

Right on the Money: One Dollar Stories by Jessica Garrison

Right on the Money: One Dollar Stories by Jessica Garrison

by Howard Brad Halverson

We met at bar in LA. She was introduced to me because I was caught conversating about Georges Bataille the night before, the hostess of the party being so taken aback by this, exclaiming in shock “someone is talking about books at my party?” She subsequently had to introduce me to her writer friend. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and I shared my cigarettes with Jessica, rolling one for her and one for our liaison too.  Ms. Garrison had such  a quiet composition, placid, and let me talk at her about my ideas of writing. It was so casual the thing called networking didn’t seem to apply. But we exchanged emails, sent a few brief messages then she all but disappeared from my conscious until a year or so had lapsed and I was gutting out my inbox and stumbled across an old message for a reading she was part of. I followed the link in the email, vaguely recalling her to discover she recently published a collection of stories. One Dollar Stories is the title. I ordered a copy immediately intrigued to learn more about the aspiring author.
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Aubrey, Maturin and HMS Surprise

HMS Surprise is the third in Patrick O’Brian’s popular and well regarded series of Aubrey/Maturin novels. The series is centered around the lives of  Royal Navy captain Jack Aubrey and his close friend naval surgeon and intelligence operative Dr. Stephen Maturin during the Napoleonic War era. HMS Surprise was the first book in the series I had read and I found the opening a little jarring. It wasn’t that it wasn’t well written it was more a matter of its style. O’Brian was well known for his attention to period detail and period language. This attention to language extends to the the way in which the books are written and in fact, the narrator’s voice is strongly reminiscent of that time; there is something decidedly old-fashioned about O’Brian’s prose. Also jarring was the rather domestic bent of the early chapters. The novel opens with a somewhat technical meeting of elements of the British Admiralty and goes on to relate Aubrey’s efforts to get out of debt and marry his sweetheart as well as Maturin’s thoughts about the woman he is in love with.

As I said, that early part of the book was well written but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, far less action-oriented. Nonetheless I continued. The tone changes somewhat when Aubrey takes command of a sailing frigate — the eponymous HMS Surprise. At this point the narrative becomes immersed in the compressed world of a ship at sea. Aubrey has orders to transport a British envoy to Asia and the voyage that results that is at the heart of the book. It is a long and sometimes difficult trip, one that O’Brian uses to touch on any number of aspects of early 19th Century life — O’Brian’s extreme erudition concerning his subject matter  is clear and his portrayal of that time is completely convincing. HMS Surprise isn’t just a naval or adventure novel but something far more expansive…it is a book that takes in a whole world, a stunning array of places and topics — from rigging and naval gunnery to sloths to life in the streets of Bombay to overland trade between Europe and Asia.

The reader of course sees much of this through the eyes of Aubrey and Maturin and the characters are very well drawn. Characterization runs through the narrative, in subtle and more obvious ways. By the latter part of the book, I felt as if I knew them as I had begun to know the world they lived in. Something which is reflected in the novel when Aubrey talks to the hands just before they engage the French. He addresses them like old friends and by this time, they are, having been together for thousands of miles. In a similar way, I felt as if I’d come to know those characters having experienced that same journey through the page.

Above all, the book was beautifully written. The language is often poetic and beyond the fine details, it is O’Brian’s sublime prose that brings the world of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin alive. From a simple description of a street at night:

“nothing but a row of doorways stretching on for ever under the moon, quite unearthly, strange, inhuman, deserted, and inimical.”

To how routine on Surprise:

“obliterated both the beginning of the voyage and its end, it obliterated even time, so that it seemed normal to all hands that they should travel endlessly over this infinite and wholly empty sea, watching the sun diminish and the moon increase.”

Some critics have likened O’Brian to a Homer of the sea and while such a statement may seem outlandish, O’Brian’s descriptions of the battle between Surprise and French ship-of-the-line Marengo would be at right at  home in the Iliad. One scene describes in perfect clarity the moment before Marengo fires on Surprise, contrasting that last instant of normalcy with what happens after:

“The crash of the broadside, and of the bow-gun, and of the twenty shot hitting her, come in one breath — an extreme violence of noise. He saw the wheel disintegrate…and forward there was screaming.”

There is great energy to O’Brian’s prose and it conveys action especially well, putting across the hurry, the confusion, of the battle:

“The third broadside merged into the fourth: the firing was continuous now, and Stourton and the midshipmen ran up and down the line, pointing, heaving, translating their captain’s hoarse barks into directed fire — a tempest of chain.”

And when Surprise shows her teeth against the Marengo it’s hard not to get caught up in the elation of the men:

“…but at this range not a shot flew wide. The powder-boys ran, the cartridges came up in a racing stream, the gun-crews cheered like maniacs, stripped to the waist, pouring with sweat, taking their sweet revenge…”

Ultimately I found HMS Surprise an excellent introduction to the Aubrey/Maturin series. There ware references to the two previous novels but they were adequately explained and don’t get in the way of narrative. Then novel is a rich mix of historical color, nautical detail, and clear, interesting characterization. By the time I reached the final page, the unease I felt at the beginning of the book was long forgotten — a fantastic read.

by Ayo Khensu-Ra