Thursday, July 31, 2008
When a new magazine appears on local news shelves, its cover typically features a sultry woman emerging from a pool or a picturesque sunset along the coast or, equally predicatable, a heavily shadowed lone cypress. Not Cadillac Cicatrix. The new literary magazine, which releases its fire-delayed third issue in two weeks (and is visible online right now), catches the eye not with sensuality or natural beauty but with artistry. White T-shirts hang on a clothesline suspended in mid-air, a ghostly horizontal line against a backdrop of black. Above the clothesline, two small words announce the theme of the issue: Literary Documentary. The words inside each of its installments carry a similar character.
In the process, Cadillac Cicatrix manage to be niche and edgy without falling into some of the common self-indulgent, overly experimental pitfalls of young literary magazines. Stories that could easily fall into the realm of base humor rise to higher meaning. In the first issue’s “Noam Chomsky for President” by Robert Judge Woerheide, we see the story of a young man stuck in L.A. traffic next to a woman he sees on the highway every day. Building on the anticipation of their interaction, the story becomes a tale of how some people mean more to us than others… for no particular reason. In issue 2, “A Roll in the Hay” by Don Fredd takes us through an account of a group of college friends who contemplate group sex because “If you are going to have group sex, people you’ve known for over a decade is the way to go.” What could become a foray into soft porn is instead a story about maturing into the realities of adulthood.
Cadillac Cicatrix got its start when Executive Editor Benjamin Spencer moved to Carmel Valley to be closer to his family. At first, he found it difficult to tune in to an arts community. “I was looking around trying to get into community clubs and writer groups, but it was rather difficult. There didn’t seem to be a centralized community,” he says. “There are a lot of writers here, but there didn’t seem to be a core that I could find. So, I wanted to do something.”
Spencer attended the Big Sur Writer’s Workshop and found great support for the idea of releasing a literary magazine on the peninsula. The product of this collective enthusiasm relies on both its locale and its literary roots, two influences that are inextricably linked. Spencer attended the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder, Colo., founded by Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman. The connection between a school in Colorado and Monterey County may seem elusive at first, but upon closer inspection, the two geographical locations share the same literary connection. After all, Kerouac did write Big Sur, a harrowing account of mental and physical breakdown while on “retreat” at the Big Sur cabin of famous beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
Having studied under literary giants like beat poet Ginsberg and writer/historian Sam Abrams, Spencer acknowledges the influence of history on Cadillac Cicatrix. “There is a continual and repetitious handing off of the baton from generation to generation,” he says. “You can’t jump off the diving board and go off into left field. I think you need to maintain connection to your roots– and your gut.”
In this vein, the second edition of Cadillac Cicatrix payed homage to the role of Carmel in literary history with a feature titled, “The Carmel Artist’s Colony: One Hundred Years of Writing and Art.” The section highlighted the birth of Carmel as an artist’s enclave after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. The issue included works by turn-of-the-century Carmel writers including Mary Austin and Robinson Jeffers while showcasing contemporary local writers and artists like Erin Lee Gafill and Chi Birmingham.
Cadillac Cicatrix is also adept at selecting nonfiction that covers heavy topic matter in innovative ways. Its latest edition is dedicated to literary documentary, with a twist: The edition seems to question the very nature of truth. As Spencer writes in the issue’s introduction, “Everything in this issue is very serious. Or is it? Do we mean to say what we mean or what we think will be understood?” Hugh Fox takes us through a narrative about his childhood in “What do you do on Sundays?” Perhaps it is the story of discovering his Jewish heritage, but it may be the story of his childhood near-death experience. “Finding Tony” by Erin Lee Gafill describes the experience of seeking out an absentee father. Or, it could be the story of being unable to reconcile the past and the present. Who are we to say?
With its eclectic and innovative blend of fiction, nonfiction, photography and art, Cadillac Cicatrix is a much-needed addition to the arts community of Monterey. Spencer believes there could not be a better place for its emergence.
“This place speaks of inspiration. It speaks of history,” he says. “People are looking at Monterey and Carmel as a new source of literary movement and seeing that we are trying to move forward– and we have a rich history.”