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Check out what the people are saying about Barrelhouse Issue Three:

Review in The Urbanite Magazine, September 06

Barrelhouse, a new literary journal out of the Washington D.C., area, makes a big claim: it is “a literary magazine that bridges the gap between serious art and pop culture.” Let there be no mistake—that’s quite a large gap to bridge. On one side we have Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Cunningham, and Toni Morrison, while Stephen King and Anne Rice kick back with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Britney Spears on the opposite shore.

The founding editors of Barrelhouse—Dave Housley, Mike Ingram, Joe Killiany, and Aaron Pease—have generated a not-so-new formula: The material in their journal is insightful while being sufficiently hip enough to make you believe that, yes, perhaps we can productively connect these dueling realms. Other journals (most are short-lived online mags) have tried this before, but Barrelhouse’s professional presentation and the quality of its material separate it from the rest of the bunch.

A biannual journal, it features various genres of work (fiction, poetry, and art, as well as essays about popular culture) that the editors promise will be a “bonanza of Barrelhousey goodness.” Artwork is interspersed with the writing; the opening image of the latest issue, a black-and-white photograph of a young woman whose skin is decorated with ladybugs, is a startling but lovely way for the reader to enter the issue.

The fiction in this issue is absorbing. In “Dot Dot Dot,” J. Chris Rock portrays a failing marriage with a protagonist who frets much but acts little. Edward Hardy’s “Car Seat” is an especially suspenseful tale of a weary young father who, while driving around town on a snowy night in a desperate attempt to lull his baby to sleep, encounters unexpected danger.

Some of the pieces challenge categorization and push the lines that define genres, like “Billets Doux,” by Wendy Wimmer, a short story told in snapshots of e-mail messages and BlackBerry screens; and the “Illustrated Story,” a regular feature in which an artist is asked to illustrate one of the stories from the Barrelhouse website. The most appealing piece in the issue is the essay “American Idolatry” by Dale Bridges, a hilarious but scathing perspective on American Idol as representative of all that’s wrong in the music industry today.

Interviews with writer George Saunders and journalist and pop-culture guru Chuck Klosterman are both insightful and fun, and the poetry in this issue challenges any reader to dislike it: Who would, after all, not be enchanted by a quartet of poems inspired by Ed Asner?

A lot of literary journals today complain that they cannot support themselves, that people are too busy reading John Grisham and watching The Apprentice to support and enjoy “good literature.” Despite being one of the newer journals on the scene, Barrelhouse—which delivers perceptive writing and art in a well-designed format—is unlikely to face that problem.

—Susan Muaddi Darraj is the managing editor of The Baltimore Review.

From the Washington Post, Magazine Reader column, October 24, 2006:

Barrelhouse -- a literary magazine born a couple of years ago over beers at the Big Hunt, a Dupont Circle bar -- has published the best four poems about Ed Asner that I've ever read.

They're also the only four poems about Ed Asner that I've ever read. But they're so good that I don't expect to come across four better poems about Ed Asner anytime soon.

Perhaps you don't think of the pudgy "Lou Grant" star as a muse for America's bards, but he certainly inspired Greg Ames to wax lyrical. Here is the stirring first stanza of the first poem, "Bathing Ed Asner":
I snatched the rubber duck
from his hairy, wet fist
and in a cruel voice
instructed him to quit
fooling and to sit down
damnit in the tub.
Lovely, isn't it? And it only gets better, building in a rapturous crescendo to the final stanza, which goes like this:
"Well, then lift up your arms,"
I whispered in his ear,
"and let's swab out those pits."
The Asner quartet is not the first set of celebrity-related poems that Barrelhouse has published. In its second issue -- the latest one is the third -- Barrelhouse published several poems about Patrick Swayze:
Tousled forelock stirs
Sultry breeze, bare
chest glistens . . .
Of course, Barrelhouse also publishes poems about love and death and other old-fashioned stuff. But maybe that's a mistake. Maybe the editors should take this thing all the way and become a magazine devoted entirely to poems about celebrities. Isn't that what America needs?

Issue Two:

Review in, July 06

A very special Swayze section, where contributors praise the mulleted icon from Dirty Dancing all the way to Donnie Darko. An action figure portrait gallery featuring Spiderman in repose, the Lone Ranger and Silver facing down the camera. A punk rock interview with iconoclast Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and five-dollar Fugazi. “We have a thing for pop culture.” Issue Two of Barrelhouse is fun. Though it tends to the silly side of kitsch, the comic eccentricities of some of the prose belies the quality and craft of the storytelling. With nearly all of the prose coming from male contributors, you can expect some father-son stories. In “Hey Now, All You Sinners” by Brian Ames, a father searching for his bipolar son drifts further back in time to the love of his life before he had a family. Putting his wife in a non-coma pales to the confession he must make about his past. Another son suffers his football coach father by shuffling his dead mother’s belongings from one corner of the basement to another in “Rivals and Hyenas Alike” by Sean Beaudoin. “Luck is for losers,” he reminds a girl, in a laconic, sparse style apt for the despondent narrator.

There is a postmodern story about a struggling writer finding inspiration in a southern franchise chicken joint’s “Three-Piece Combo with Drink” by Tom Williams, where you have to read on to see how far the writer, of both the story and the novel chronicled in the story, can take his adulation of fried chicken. Lee Klien argues amusingly, if not convincingly, that Barry Bonds shouldn’t even be an issue in an “overinflated” culture with a monstrous military and tomatoes the size of pumpkins. “Sex and Pills,” is a story adapted from the website into photographs and text images of the sex-addicted main character. Even Godzilla gets his due by Ellen Morris Prewitt: “He doesn’t follow the Code of the Samurais, the Code trumpeted by Ernest Hemingway and other testosterone-saturated writers. The Code does nothing for me.” Humor, kitsch, quirk and so much more under the surface.


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