Toronto’s BookThug began in the chapbook biz in 1992, under the name Boondoggle Books. It still publishes chapbooks, along with books of fiction, essays and poetry.
The title of The Coming Envelope — editor Malcolm Sutton’s seasonal periodical of short experimental prose — is steeped in the language of the brag. It suggests its authors are so far past the point of pushing it, they are just sitting around waiting for the envelope to arrive. Unfortunately, the work appearing in this issue does not always match the high tenor of its claim. Sutton has chosen a clean, unobtrusive design for this book, giving priority to the distinctiveness of each work, although there is a notable lack of typographical experimentation within.
By far the best piece here is Vanessa Place’s “Skins.” Place — an L.A.-based attorney by day, who specializes in defending accused violent sex offenders — offers a dense but not impenetrable work, questioning the authoritative underpinnings of rhetorical language and revealing its often sticky contradictions. Place gets much mileage from a potentially tired title metaphor (skins may be thin enough to cut, they may be thick as hide; they protect and hold us in, they make us separate and distinct), using it to show how easily language can be wielded to opposing ends. In the rhetoric of case law, for instance, language has the ability (and the authority) to imprison and simultaneously to make free; it depends solely on the aims of the speaker.
Place’s textual layout further amplifies this conflict: a poetic stanza is interrupted by a treatise on the history of class structures, unscrolled down the centre of the text, which is itself overwritten by a blurb extolling the power of the written word in art. As Place ultimately suggests with this piece, language can interrogate, it can dispossess, but it may also — in the case of art — serve to “wrest from helplessness.” If only all the authors in this book had pushed the envelope so far. (Anu Jindal)
edited by Malcolm Sutton, Issue 2 Winter 2010, 32 pgs, BookThug, bookthug.ca, $10