fall 2012 issuereview by mike coakley (susquehanna university ’12)
With all the talk of writing programs, creative writing workshops, and college literary magazines being developments of the past few decades, it is reassuring to encounter a magazine with longevity – one that predates contemporary writing culture. Stylus of Boston College boasts a 128-year history, and its Fall 2010 issue offers works of prose, verse, and visual art that prove creative enterprise at Boston College can survive the test of time.
In fact, the prose of Stylus teems with vitality. In Keith Noonan’s “No Place,” the fifth-grade narrator paints a narrative portrait of his family: a fast-talking and observant older brother, his boisterous and wide-eyed younger brother Grenny, and their parents, whose conflict unfolds behind the scenes, felt rather than explained. The older brother’s voice carries a certain maturity as he traces the lines between reality and the colorful world in The Wizard of Oz, saying, “There’s a talking scarecrow that looks a bit like Pa, kinda stumbles around like Pa does at night when he’s had too many.” From his position at the threshold of adulthood, he compares a colorful, whimsical fictional character to a somewhat darker father figure.
Shorter prose pieces, such as Kevin Valenski’s “Existence Below,” wash over the reader quickly but memorably, proving that short prose can carry heavy emotional weight. Valenski presents a surreal, dystopian world full of “electronic night watchmen … internal circuitry in want of apprehending [a] delinquent.” Stories such as this one feel fresh and new, with the long-time reputation of the magazine used as an effective showcase for emerging undergraduate writers.
The twenty-five poems spread among the works of prose and visual art offer a similar vitality. Jack Neary’s “A Nymph Emerged” details the appearance of a mythical creature in a not-so-mythical kitchen where the speaker “had been chopping carrots” – an ordinary chore interrupted by a fantastical intrusion. Jennifer O’Brien’s “Burns” breezes by in three lines consisting of eight words: “Overlapping dust- / jackets shield from conditions, / pieces sew knowledge.” The lasting power of the few brief lines resides not so much in their literal meaning, but in the suggestion of feelings they evoke. The poetry ranges from realistic to delightfully absurd, from narrative or abstract, from strange to everyday. The diversity of poetic offerings, and the feelings they create, make Stylus a wonderful and worthy read well over a century after its inception.
The Fall 2010 issue solidifies the notion that a magazine need not be fresh to feel fresh – need not twist and contort itself in any desperate attempt to remain chic and relevant. Stylus has maintained its freshness through the diversity of its staff, contributors, and work, and through the way each piece moves its reader beyond the present moment, out of the space he or she inhabits. Stylus remains an undergraduate literary magazine that pioneers the way for others, and has been doing so, perhaps, since before the term “undergraduate literary magazine” ever existed.