volume 74 (b)review by melissa bierly (susquehanna university ’14) and madeline weiser (susquehanna university ’14)
Volume 74 (B) of Saga, the art and literature magazine of Augustana University, has an elegant and unique style that reflects its many years of perfecting. The current editor says in the introduction, “Saga is not just a literary magazine but an artistic community on campus,” and this issue offers a glimpse into the richness of that community. The pages are filled with portrayals of all aspects of life, from family to loneliness, first love to failed love, and from childhood to old age.
“Dear Rock Island,” one of three poems by Nathan McDowell, is presented in the form of a letter. McDowell’s willingness to try something new is shared by many of the journal’s poets, and his command of language shows why his work is among the pieces in this issue. Although the speaker says, “I want to tell the waitress to take it easy on me / I’m just learning how to speak,” these lines are surrounded by such thoughtfully crafted sentences. But McDowell isn’t referring to a technical command of language, but to a deeper, emotional silence that conjures isolation, a desperate urge to connect through actions, words, and art.
Steven Scott’s “About Us,” a lyrical prose piece, strikes a tragic note without becoming overly sentimental. The unnamed narrator addresses his friend and lover, Tim, who has recently committed suicide. The narrator reflects on the aftermath of Tim’s death – the announcement of his passing on the intercom at school, the viewing, and the funeral – and remembers the moments they spent together: “I know the length of the scar on the inside of your thigh and I know we used to steal your dad’s brandy and pretend we were retired tennis-pros who had fucked more married women than we could count on two hands.” As we read this piece, we understood that through these moments of reflection the narrator tries to find reason in his lover’s death; he is trying to ground himself. Yet the truthful conclusion he draws is not comforting: “You always told me that nobody really dies. But, I think you really did this time, Tim. I think you proved us both wrong.”
But Saga is not a magazine solely composed of tragedy. Instead, it mixes the melancholic and the pleasant by including works such as “So Sweet,” a poem by Ginny Kay Phillips. The speaker describes the subtle, gentle instants of physical connection between herself and her crush by saying, “Sometimes when you reach / to get a napkin, your cool fingertips / accidentally brush the inside of my / wrist.” These events build one on top of another, a snowball effect that fuels the speaker’s declaration at the end of the poem: “These moments make / me want to be the strawberry jam / on those saltine crackers that you love.” This last line strangely encapsulates our response to Saga. Like strawberry jam on saltines, this magazine evokes both the bitter and sweet in us and can be sampled quickly, making us want to return to its pages for another taste.