by M. Bui
What happens when you put 12 publications, an array of zines and merch, and a bunch of lovers of literature all together in a cozy space with a bar and a stage? You get a room full of like-minded creatives and a festive feast of literature, complete with readings, drinks, and wonderful company with those who share in your love for language art and books. At least, that’s what I felt as I immersed myself in the scene at Meet the Mags Volume 2 in the heart of Denver a few weekends ago (yes, the specific evening happening to align with 4/20).
Never before had I felt so inclined to indulge myself in a literary world with many other like-minded people. The Meet the Mags event rounded up and featured 12 of Denver’s hottest independent lit mags at Syntax Physic Opera, offering an inviting space to chat, share, read, and listen to readings from the various publication there. Our very own Inverted Syntax was here featuring our latest print issue and later with a reading by none other than Kathy Fish (published in our print issue). This was the event to be at especially if you’ve been looking for a sampling of the literary scene here in Denver or simply to learn more about this hidden but rumbling culture of independently published literature.
The quaint and charming space of Syntax Physic Opera, found right along 554th and Broadway is the perfect spot for such an event. The warm lighting, artistic architecture, classy decor, and friendly bar with a vast selection cocktails and dishes helped make the music venue an enchanting literary haven. But it was those who filled the space that brought it to life: readers, writers, artists, lit lovers, fashion designers, coffee enthusiasts, and so much more, all with our loaded arsenal of zines, mags, merch, and more. From our numerous, varied backgrounds, everyone here came together to share in our common love of the literary culture.
I spent most of my time perusing each publication and thoroughly enjoying meeting with the people behind the scenes, learning about each publication and about the editors themselves. We chatted about everything from our magazines’ visions to the peculiar printing presses we use to the day jobs we find ourselves in when we’re not creating art. Typically, when we read published work, we sometimes forget about the hard work involved in the process of putting out a print issue; we may forget that there are minds and hearts behind those words and art, so it was a refreshing opportunity for me to be able to interact with other people behind the scenes of independent publications.
Attending this event was a wonderful way to wrap up my semester long internship at Inverted Syntax. The community, creativity, and passion that filled the venue that 4/20 evening was truly a treasure for any resident of the literary world--I’m already looking forward to Volume 3 of Meet the Mags. I left the venue with an armful of zines, cards, and merch, and a brain full of artistic inspiration.
All previous photos by M. Bui
When I think of genre, I think of a color-by-numbers coloring sheet. I think of borders that are imposed to contain identities, whether that be an association to a country, a religion, or a culture. I, for one, was raised Catholic by a Maronite Catholic father and a Ghanaian-Lebanese mother who went to Catholic boarding school. My mother was exposed to the beliefs of her Asante heritage, and her father was a Lebanese Muslim and her mother was a Ghanaian Protestant. That meant I had relatives who were practicing Catholics, Muslims and Protestants. It meant for my mother, designing a faith for herself that made room for all. Because of that, when it came to religion and faith, I had no borders or lines dividing the shapes on my coloring sheet. It meant I had no choice but to be human first, before being a race or a faith or a gender.
Perhaps it’s because I’m a mixed-race woman who doesn’t fit into one race that I find the idea of genre challenging. As a writer, I find myself sometimes adhering to publishers’ restrictions on length, form, content, and I want to write more and more for a world that publishers will not let exist. When determining what kind of journal Inverted Syntax should be, I found myself frustrated with the different genres we must impose on readers because we are all in this world of controlled categorizations. As readers, we have memorized frames of references and schemata that we draw upon to help us make sense of content and context within literary works, but that background information only makes sense within certain spheres, a limited group with similar experiences.
Genre restrictions also perpetuate the idea that because things tend not to be created to fit into multiple overlapping categories, human beings who are able to fit into multiple identities, whether by gender or race, are opposed by a world that struggles to accept them because they don’t have a designated genre space on “the bookshelf.”
The idea of genre in literature and the arts, like with the idea of borders, not only minimizes our humanity but also restricts creativity to a fixed system of comfortable patterns while trying to contain artistic impulses within the bordered spaces that is allotted for our creativity. Can creativity be restricted? What art can be produced in a world of genre restrictions? If we continue to adhere to these outdated writing and artistic rules, we will not transform our world but instead allow the corruption of our humanity.
Throughout history our world has changed because of hybrid thinkers, those with competencies in multiple areas: Da Vinci was an inventor and artist; Benjamin Franklin was a politician and a scientist. Genre categorizations become a bigger issue than simply whether a piece of writing is more poetry than prose, they become an affront to creativity, to invention and innovation, to humanity, to identities, and to the boundless possibilities that exist when hybridity is allowed to thrive. For some, genre categorization feels playful and safe as when one colors within the lines, but for many others, it is a suffering that restricts invention and creativity to imposed lines.
Much like borders, genres are a construct. And the publishing industry, much like politics and government, controls the lines and often rejects cross-categorization. In a world where bookshelves are structured around what is the most marketable, crossing genres creates a problem for the publisher.
But real life is not neatly composed to genre. Our lives are disjointed and disconnected. Sometimes I think in poetry, speak in prose and dream in fantasy, and I’m still learning how to write this voice. Hybridity thus is inevitable, because the act of writing and making art is an identity-making act. And when you bring yourself to literature and art, you arrive multifaceted, in broken and fractured parts. How can you not cross genres?
We break the genre rules so as to write ourselves, so as to write and paint across the genre coloring lines until there is no “genre” but instead a new space for brave new works.