Like most writers, I am enamored with the look and feel of print – the paper, the cover art, the font choices, the design. I read as many print journals as I can, and although I can’t afford to subscribe to all of them, once in a while, one stands out as really special. I must admit that I had never heard of White Stag until a fellow poet placed a poem of hers in the journal, and I decided to check it out. I was rewarded with heavy, glossy paper, a clean design aesthetic, a cover that gave careful attention to the theme of the issue…in short, all of the things I love about print materials. Not to mention that the carefully curated writing also impressed. Soon after, I was honored to have been a part of their Ars Poetica issue and immediately began anticipating reading what would come next.
The latest issue of White Stag is not only visually beautiful, it is full of poems that surprise. The theme of the issue (as well as its title) is Psychologia. As the editors explain, the issue sought writing that explores that “vast realities of the human psyche through chemical, traumatic, and physical effects on the brain, and through the phenomena of clairvoyance and dreaming.” Thus the issue unfolds a little like a dream, covering topics as diverse as vertigo, monsters, anorexia, memory, time, illness, and past lives. It begins with the evocative cover art by Belgian artists Mothmeister. Part fairy tale, part nightmare, the image evokes this dream world perfectly. The title page includes the stag logo of the journal, and then the endpapers repeat the stag in a mirror image, letting the reader know that disorientation is to be expected.
The issue opens and closes with prose poems by Jeffrey H. Maclachlan – we start with “Vertigo,” which captures the lack of control and terror that comes with the condition: “Falling and your brain grips its skull like a subway bar. Falling and there are no stops.”The penultimate poem in the issue is also Maclachlan’s. Titled “Television Test Patterns,” it outlines the effect of chronic pain on sleep – “My dreams were finally getting into make-out sessions, touchdown receptions, piano recitals. Now I only hear trains stopping. If I clamp my eyes tight enough, I can hear strollers hitting platforms with plastic thuds and subway rats pin balling between tracks.”
There are many standouts for me in this issue, including the spare, disconnected poems of Kelly Corinna, all titled “Dear Samantha” followed by a phrase that places us in time (Happy Valentine’s Day, September, December). They chronicle loss – of safety, of closeness, of life – ending with the haunting lines – “I was/one hundred pounds/then/I am less/now/it is/a combination of/magic and/poverty/see you soon/I hope”
Other favorites include both poems by Emari DiGiorgio. The first “When They Say You Have An Old Soul,” addresses the old soul living inside the body: “Does the old soul know the joy in coaxing/the deepest moan from body’s rusted cage?–/how strike is so close to stroke–the open/mouth of pleasure, the I’s prickly bayonet.” The second poem is a brutal, honest and chilling examination of the school shooting in Sandy Hook: “I want/to have kept my daughter home, permitted her pecan ice cream,/waffles–if I knew that breakfast was to be her last. I wish/that as soon as the gun was visible, she thought of feeding geese,/and when it was pointed at her, the trigger pop sent her straight/into sleep.”
So many of these poems dwell in dark and unfinished places, but they all carry images and bits of refracted light that show us a path through their damage. Overall, the editors have curated a fascinating collection that is well worth a read AND well worth holding in your hands.
You can purchase this issue (and others) of White Stag here: