Quarto, Columbia University
review by alison enzinna (susquehanna university ’13) and rebecca james (susquehanna university ’13)
As we picked up the 62nd volume of Columbia’s literary magazine, Quarto, the front cover of which depicts an astronomical view of a night sky complete with unnamed stars andplanets, we could not help but feel disoriented. The table of contents plots the titles and authors of its pieces as if they were the names of stars. This aesthetic seems to suggest literature’s ability to forge order, or to make constellations out of individual stars. This edition of Quarto contains poetry, prose, and even a screenplay, whose language and syntax provide momentum toward emotion. Through scenes ranging from a woman listening to jazz at a crowded club, to a recently single man relearning how to live in his apartment alone, the works collected in this magazine seek an understanding of place and purpose.
From the first work in the magazine, a prose piece by Isaiah Everin titled “Redwood Ocean,” readers are exposed to a fissure between where the narrator physically finds himself and where he wants to be. The piece opens with him recounting his fear of oceans, caused by his sister’s near-drowning incident. The present-tense narration and careful attention to word choice invest readers in his mental and physical disorientation, as when Everin writes, “One day I move to a place in the middle of a place where I forget about the blue parts, cut them out of my maps and leave land mass silhouettes on my walls.”
“Sanctus,” a sequence poem by Brigid Baddish, tells of a speaker’s annoyance at being dragged on a pilgrimage to religious sites of North America with her mother. The speaker takes care to preface each section with the exact locations of the sites, and the subsequent effect is a sense of journey for readers. In the section National Shrine of the Cross in the Woods, Baddish writes, “There is a big crucifix in the middle of the woods of Northern Michigan. / It is too tall for photos, but people try anyway.” In this image, readers feel a relatable sense of wonder concerning things larger than ourselves.
The narrator of “The Nearest Faraway Place,” a prose piece by Wei-Ling Woo, recounts a childhood in Singapore. Except for a few memories, assimilation into American culture has erased Singapore in the narrator’s mind. Unable to identify with the customs of either America or Singapore, the narrator craves a sense of permanent home, saying, “I now understand the desire perhaps, that some of the great unknown explorers must have had, for all their memoires and experiences, the paths and continents they walked, to be drawn and mapped on their bodies as they continually moved, unable to settle in one place.” This author eventually finds solace in the weight of memories, realizing that being physically absent from a place does not detract from its significance in your life.
The Editor’s Note prefacing this edition of Quarto begins, “In a time when we fit our stories into 140 characters and post love letters on each other’s walls, there is much to be said for a tangible text.” After finishing the magazine, our fascination with and appreciation for Quarto inspired us to jump on Google to further investigate, but we soon realized the irony of our technological instincts. In an age of high-speed existence, this edition of Quarto reinforces an appreciation for the small moments in life. The works herein question identification with one’s surroundings. The powerfully executed prose and poetry, along with the Editor’s Note, moved us to question our own interaction with our world, technological and physical. But upon finishing the magazine, we felt grounded and enthused when we saw the back cover, which also depicts the night sky, including a note in small print next to their logo: “You are here.”