April 5, 2015
Review by Colin O’Donnell, Susquehanna University, Class of 2015
Cargoes is a print literary journal out of Hollins University in Roanoke, VA. The journal publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction by undergraduate students. A handful of Hollins artists are selected to be featured in full-color prints. The journal runs two annual contests: An undergraduate contest, in which one winner each is chosen and published in poetry and fiction, and the Nancy Thorp High School Poetry Contest, which publishes one winner and several runners-up from poetry submitted by female sophomores and juniors. In 2005, Cargoes was awarded the Undergraduate Literary Prize for content by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs.
This little girl holds a steer’s skull blocking her face, and you can just see the hooded cloak she’s got on and the floral print of her dress, and the woods are blurry behind her, and her hair is out of focus too, and I ask, Is she even a girl I can’t see her face, and other than that Cargoes offers only its name on the magazine’s cover, including the solid-pistachio spine and back flap. It’s a simple and tasteful introduction to a literary magazine that prides itself on high-quality content, and this 2013 issue is no exception.
In poetry, Cargoes 2013 shows eclectic taste. Take, for instance, the distinct voice of Russell Wilson’s “Us in a Public Lost Place.” Wilson’s speaker haunts a land full of societal rejects and vagrants, and with this dark world comes a practiced cynicism, a sort of street-smart idiom: “We know bodies like slow trains / know bodies,” the speaker explains, or “We understand MISSING better / than milk cartons.” The verse snaps, is vibrant on the page, and the speaker remains assertive and defined. And then some ten pages later, in “Rattlesnake-tough,” Amanda Mitchell Dutton brings us a voice that moves more like liquid, shows the dark strength of the snake as she describes it eating its own stillborn young, “knots bulging down her / patterned length.” But the poem digs deeper, the speaker diving into her relationship with her mother—the woman who scoffs at snakeskin pumps and swings an ax in the backyard. Ultimately, the speaker defines herself as reptile, as swift killer, making her threat: “My venom is strong; you can’t suck it out.” Time and again, Cargoes presents young poets with power and control in their language, poems that are worth sharing and reading.
The prose in the journal does not disappoint, either. In “Uniform,” Alyssa M. Ivey shows readers what it was like for her as a student from Maryland suddenly thrust into life as a student in England. We learn about the difference between American coffee breaks and British tea time; we learn that British teachers don’t ask a student to read if she’s known to stutter; we watch Ivey turn from black sheep to stand-up comedian to accepted fledgling in a classic and well-wrought illustration of the American afloat in culture shock. Courtney Flerlage, in her short story “Adam Sleeps for Ninety-eight Days,” has created a young man named Adam who has no choice but to hibernate, and opposite him, a young woman named Lisa who does her best to live a life balanced between his presence and his slumber. The story stays grounded—Lisa looks for the little things that show Adam is fading, for instance, when he brings the ocean up (“‘Your eyes remind me of the Atlantic,’ he told her this morning”—the subtlety!), they fight about her needing to uproot them in the first year of their marriage for work. The hibernation, as the crux of the story, stays playfully in-tune with the realism of the relationship, never taking the story over, not even hogging the last scene.
In addition to these pieces from Hollins, Cargoes showcases a variety of outsiders’ work. Meet Death and his cabbie in a McCarthy-esque story by John Thornton Williams, or feel the shrapnel buried in your lover’s wrist in the prize-winning poem by Amber Rambharose. Or wander among the unique treat of a showcase of some of the US’s strongest young women poets, in what FUSE is happy to call a refreshing change of pace on the undergrad lit journal scene. The contests and pieces are all syncopated with bursts of artwork, each by a different artist, in gorgeous full-color inserts that serve only to brighten an already strong journal
Between its written work, its contests, and its visual art, Cargoes 2013 brings us an elegant and clean presentation, a magazine that looks and feels professional, and an excellent read, certainly recommended by this reviewer.