review by jessica gilchrist (susquehanna university ’15) and sarah gzemski (susquehanna university ’13)
Black shoots of grass curl around the bottom of a flash-animated scene in which a boy sits in a tree swing and a girl flies a kite in the breeze. This is the menu📷 page which greets online readers of the seventy-fifth issue of Viterbo University’s literary magazine, Touchstone. The editors of Touchstone take pride in providing “an outlet for publications of art, prose and poetry.” Beyond the unique animated cover page, the web pages for the works within the issue are focused on the words and the art.
The poetry of Touchstone captures the darker sides of confusion and feeling out of place through succinct images that express a spectrum from sweet hope to sickening reality. In Kyle Constalie’s “Come Say,” the reader ponders the idea of being unique when met with, “Tell me I’m a peach and there are a million of me, / each pit a letter in a sentence long digesting.” Visceral verbs like “chugging,” “breathing,” and “wrangles” capture the loneliness that accompanies the speaker’s realization that we are all so similar. Molly Grosskreutz’s poem also explores the idea of individuality, but within the realm of love. In “Spark-less,” desperation fuels the speaker’s actions: “I strike the match against your chest, / your zipper, / your lips? / Nothing.” The short lines slice right into the heart of the peril of rejection and the complicated dance of affection.
In prose, the best pieces are reflective, looking back on how two characters cope with tragedy. In “Lost Daughter” by Larry D. Harwood, the narrator listens to a woman grieve the loss of her daughter. She expresses that her worrying fueled her guilt when she says, “Couldn’t really blame them, I thought afterward, but it hurt then because I had to much time to think and I prayed too little. Imagined over and over how I might have prevented it.” The story uses time to refract grief in a way that becomes singular to this mother, who can only come to terms with her helplessness in time. In “On the House,” Katelyn Rubenzer examines how parents deal with the loss of a child, but in this story it is a loss caused by the father. The reader witnesses a man ravaged by depression years after his drunken behavior caused him to nearly kill his son. The narrator, after learning about the end of this man’s marriage, watches him closely: “Gary sat there, stroking the scar as if his fingers were erasers and his scar was pencil lead. She watched as his breathing slowed, knowing that tonight, Gary was finally forgetting.” Both pieces examine grief and the torture and healing that time can bring.
Touchstone’s artwork ranges from graphic design to typography to hand-drawn work, featuring complex representations of painful issues like earthquakes and suicide. Amy Braaskma’s collage is arranged so that hands dominate the right corner, reaching out to the reader to assist with relief in Haiti while also expressing the helplessness of those still suffering from the aftermath of the earthquake. Paintings like “Self-Portrait” by Kyle Marcantelli deal with pain on a more personal level. This work is a colorful expression of inner turmoil, the figure’s hands held like a gun to the side of his head, an explosion of light exiting on the other side. The gesture expresses despair while the brightness still leaves hope for the viewer.
Touchstone’s web site provides a unique reading experience, utilizing beautiful graphics on the menu page to showcase extraordinary work by artists and authors alike. The silhouetted images are a gateway to pieces that deal with dark and difficult issues like time and grief. Readers find, however, that there is always a reason to endure, whether in a burst of light or a flower blooming before their eyes.