Local Lit: Reviewing Issue 16 of Vagina

As a born and bred Austinite I can fully attest to Austin’s local cultural scene. Austin as a city values the talents and projects of its neighbors, true to the literary community as well. After creating Feminine Inquiry, I continued exploring other zines in hopes of becoming better, of learning more. I was shocked to find that Austin’s lit community is much bigger than I’d originally thought, and yet, still feels intimate. There are several lit zines and journals, but not too many to enjoy and keep track of. There are plenty of local poets, writers and artists, some of which have been “discovered” and others that seem to create to create, not for the sake of discovery.

I used to write book reviews for a local newspaper when I lived in Georgetown, TX. I mostly focused on the big stuff: bestsellers, big names, and the most talked about. For this new project, I’m changing my focus with Local Lit: a regular book and zine review featuring creators exclusively from Austin.

If you’re interested in having your zine or book reviewed for Local Lit, please email us at feminine.inquiry@gmail.com.

I’m going to start with the Summer 2015 issue of Vagina. If you’re not familiar, Vagina is best known for being feminist, bold and inclusive. Vagina attempts to provide a safe space for self-identifying women to create and share their work, whether they “have a vagina or not.” They are accepting submissions for their winter 2016 issue until November 30th, which you can read more about on their cropped2website.

I encourage you to go buy a copy of their summer issue, which can be found at Book Woman. As a physical object, the issue feels good in your hands. It’s small and lightweight, yet sturdy, and has a satisfyingly soft outer cover. Hillary-Anne Crosby, Vagina EIC and founder, used a beautiful floral photograph of her own as the cover that extends to the back. The font and design is classic and humble and overall, it’s a book I enjoy having on my shelf.

As a nonfiction lover, I ate up the prose. Jess Tholmer’s I Had an Abortion and I Feel Fine presented itself as the standout piece. As a narrative, the prose is straightforward and to the point. Tholmer doesn’t waste time or shy away from the topic at hand, despite it being one that can be difficult to read: “Sometimes, there were people that called me a baby killer and didn’t want to talk to me anymore. Every time I woke though, I was okay. It is impossible to go through something like this without feeling every feeling, without being aware of every possible outcome, and I was relieved that when I woke up, I was always still myself, with my views, and my certainty.”

Tholmer divulges her experience in a way that is both respectful and opinion driven, detailed and intimate, but at arm’s length: “The hardest part for me was being high. I went shopping afterward, and I thought of how I can continue to buy my size because my body will not continue to change.” She explains why did she did what she did but in way that feels like she’s talking to other women who’ve gone through the same experience, not as if she’s defending herself or explaining her actions; it’s clear she doesn’t need to explain.

croppedFor the reader’s educational benefit, Tholmer includes “some things you should know” at the end, allowing us to learn from what she’s experienced. These include: your ability to change your mind, the disappointment that not everyone will support you, the way in which people will judge and assume, the way the procedure feels, and to thank your doctor. As a reader who has not undergone the procedure, but fears I might have to one day, I felt thankful for these sections, as they allowed me a glimpse of what an abortion would be like, and that was comforting.

Following Tholmer’s poignant piece, we are shown a display of photos, standing alone, called Midway, by Maggie Svoboda. These photos were some of my favorite in the zine, containing alluring images of a young woman exploring an empty carnival space. As a subject, the woman, with her floor length fur-lined coat, is at once charming and luxurious, yet seemingly isolated in a place where crowds are formed.  It’s hard to describe what emotion she is meant to give off, if any, but she seems lonely somehow, yet still content.

Other than Svoboda’s spread, most of the art attempts to compliment the text: a simple shot taken from inside a plane window by Briley Noel is a nice touch after reading Amelia Hruby (AKA Jill Kerouac)’s prose piece What is Feminist Travel?, and Amy Searle’s snap of a few lemons and limes sitting on a yellow chair adds color to Bethany Swoveland’s earthy poem You Said I Should Take Up Gardening. This organic combo contrasts nicely with Hruby’s poem on the next page, Tectonic, and the cold, metallic photo Paraphilia No. 3 by Zoe Chowning. While at first glance the art and photography feels like an after-thought through which the text can shine and be further explored, when taking a second glance, each piece offers visual merit of its own and adds to the overall experience of reading the zine.

Svoboda’s photo spread runs into the poetry, which contains a modestly diverse section of work, of which Hruby’s Tectonic, and Chelsea Crossett’s Kiss Ellipsis stand out. After the poetry, the zine ends with Vagina’s EIC Hillary-Anne Crosby’s collection of photographs, SXSW. As an editor, I’ll admit, it seemed strange to see Crosby’s own works exhibited in the zine. I’m so used to the idea of a zine being curated to feature other writers and artists that seeing an EIC feature her own work feels strange. Indeed, her presence shines throughout the zine, containing other pieces of her own featured.

While I am inclined to protest this kind of self-promotion, I also enjoyed it. I found Crosby’s photos from SXSW to be dreamy and colorful and dark and a nice end to the zine. And when I think about online zines, blogs, journals, ect, I think of how EICs frequently publish something they’ve written. So is it really that different to publish your own work in something you’ve curated? I’m still on the fence, but nonetheless, Crosby’s 16th issue of Vagina was lovely to read and I look forward to the next issue.

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The author

Jourden Sander is the EIC of Feminine Inquiry. She is a writer, editor, tennis player, cosplayer, and anime geek who walks her stubborn corgi. She is a feminist and a fan of hot tea. She vaguely dislikes people who won't use the Oxford comma and finds it difficult to not repetitively use pronouns in a bio. She challenges you to a street race in her Mazda 3. She says hello.

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