Like Provincetown and Carmel, Key West has long been known as an artists’ retreat, a spectacularly beautiful geography haunted by abiding spirits. Associated with writers like Hemingway, Bishop, Dillard, and Stone, Key West flourishes today, a vibrant, diverse community of writers, painters, and artists of all sorts. It is also home to Sand Paper Press, an independent publishing venture founded in 2003, part of a continuing tradition of small presses passionately focused on the verbal arts, particularly poetry. Its first two full-length collections of poetry – Joker by Arlo Haskell and The Sweetness of Herbert by Stuart Krimko – appeared in 2009, followed by a third title, Shawn Vandor’s Fire at the End of the Rainbow (2010), a collection of autobiographical stories.
The books are beautifully produced with patient attention to detail, printed in elegant typeface, the paper stock acid-free, pale cream, and handsomely offset by covers the colors of Key West skies – soft peach, warm pink, and evening lavender. Future volumes will expand the range of offerings to include criticism, novels, and anthologies.
Arlo Haskell – Joker
The twenty-eight poems in Arlo Haskell’s collection, Joker, comprise a celebration of life – the ordinary life of a young man living in Key West, a place he cherishes as it hums and throbs with life. Haskell’s poetry – particularly in its relationship to place – reminds one a bit of William Carlos Williams and Paterson, New Jersey. The poems here are about simple pleasures – riding a bike (and falling off, not such a pleasure), fishing, shared meals and excursions. The poems’ impact derives from the quietly human voice as well as their simplicity of form and diction. Haskell is most effective in shorter poems like “Mister October,” an exercise that perfectly captures the essence of playing baseball; “A Clear Night,” a love poem gently tethered to the things of earth; and “Liberation Front” and “Floodplain,” little love songs to Key West. When Haskell’s other talents are complemented by wry wit, as in “Santa’s Workshop” (“What’s family for if not to make love feel like a burden/”), the poetic effects are brightly intensified.
Stuart Krimko – The Sweetness of Herbert
In The Sweetness of Herbert – Herbert being George Herbert, the 17th-century poet noted for his poems chronicling hope and despair – Stuart Krimko offers thirty-five poems of decided philosophical and metaphysical bent. Only several of the poems are short; most are longer narrative sequences ranging from fifty to sixty-five lines to one hundred or more in several cases. The poems are smart, often shrewd, takes on life in the contemporary world from someone determined not to let monotony and boredom poison the water. A childhood experience which “made me a believer in a ruler who relies on colors to hold up the sky” evidently sustains him with optimism even now. Humor and topical references never obscure what is the essential seriousness of the endeavor. Krimko’s fondess for simple, effective poetic devices like end rhyme and enjambment, mixed with wit, often lifts verse that has to do with serious matters, as in “Psychoanalysis.” The Sweetness of Herbert is for readers open to seeing anew a world too often taken for granted.
Shawn Vandor – Fire At The End of The Rainbow
Fire at the End of the Rainbow, a collection of twenty-two stories by Shawn Vandor cataloging the joys and frustrations of growing up male in the contemporary United States, not surprisingly dwells on sex – and with all sorts of girls, including prostitutes (“a sagging thirty-five year old Russian woman,” two blondes at once, an impossibly beautiful Brazilian babe). Several stories have to do with his childhood and adolescence, others with the juicier years in college and beyond. They are funny and true-to-life sagas of lust unrequited and requited (the latter only negligibly more satisfying, perhaps).
Vandor – originally not his name, if we believe his amusing account of surname change in “V for Vandor,” has a sharp eye for detail, particularly for place more than person; and an ability to create tone and voice that are pitch-perfect. In one story he has a vision of himself as a middle-aged man – overweight, with glasses and a halo of silver hair; then he clicks onto the Wikipedia entry for G. K. Chesterton and realizes his vision coincides with photos of that Edwardian writer. Yes, in the stories – as in life – humor is often the saving grace and crucial to the story’s success; in one, the narrator drolly opines, “semi-clothed foreplay is one of my favorite things”; in another, the voice – detached, matter-of-fact, nearly clinical – is hilarious as the narrator declares, “My girlfriend Willa would stop by after film class and suck my dick. I was reading Proust, Heidegger, and Virginia Woolf at the time.” Two stories stand out: “Musical Chairs,” a one-paragraph exercise that begins, “I never liked the game musical chairs,” and ends, “It will stop one day, the lights will fall, and there you will be, standing alone, listening to the darkness”; and “Little Blue Bag,” a really funny account of buying a birthday present for his grandmother at Tiffany, an excursion that morphs into an amusing take on consumerism and gender politics. Fire whets the appetite for another collection, soon.
Kudos to Sand Paper Press for commitment to publishing creative, original verse and fiction in beautiful limited editions, a pleasure to have and hold. Bookmark the Press’s website and look forward to several new publications this fall.