A Love Letter to Ninth Letter

During a recent class discussion, our teacher brought with him a heaping pile of literary magazines. They were passed around and perused before eventually being placed back in a pile in front of our teacher, which I eyed with the hunger of a starving man. Words slurred together into a buzz in my head as I tried to see through the cover of each one to be able to scan it’s contents. Then a sentence broke through the fog: “Take whichever you want.”

I immediately started plotting, eyeing the best route to get to certain magazines without looking aggressive and trying to frantically remember which one had that piece in it that I liked or came with a bookmark or had the funky layout. A couple books disappeared as I waited eagerly, but none that I was too heartbroken about. But then they stopped disappearing. Everyone had what they wanted, leaving a pile of books on the table. Up for grabs.

I made off from that class with a Spring 2011 copy of Parcel, Hobart #12, Pank #11, and Volumes 7 and 8 of Ninth Letter. Our teacher had provided a brief explanation of Ninth Letter to us during the class: a magazine that combined creative writing and graphic design into a single art piece in the form of a physical manifestation of this collaboration. Opening up Volume 7 revealed layers of thick, coarse, newspaper-esque material full of stark black lettering that changed from page to page, creating indexes here and big, blown-up titles there and tiny words that floated freely around the page. Volume 8, by comparison, is a thick chunk of literature, sleek in design, that looks like it would fit in perfectly on a coffee table.

Already having a vague idea of what exactly Ninth Letter was about, I headed to their website to investigate for myself. I knew that it was a work between graphic designers and editors, but what I hadn’t known was that it was actually a part of a class curriculum. Ninth Letter is a collaborative work between classes in the Creative Writing department and the Art and Design department, allowing undergraduate students to get a hands-on experience working on a literary arts magazine. Having worked for Slash Pine Press, a university-run and course-based internship in chapbook production, I knew exactly how beneficial it is to not only have great publishing opportunities at your fingertips, but also count for course credit. I was ecstatic to discover that Ninth Letter was more than just a literary journal; it was a learning experience for the students involved.

As for the content of Ninth Letter, the word that comes to mind is experimental. Not that anything in between the covers is especially new or unheard of, but the formats tend to challenge the typical style of a literary arts magazine. Which isn’t to say that the magazine is unorganized either, as every piece and picture has it’s own place dictated by the editors. But the seamless stitching together of text and design — that’s what brings the magazine to its unique vantage point. Titles are boldly announced, sometimes repeated down the entirety of the page or sometimes spread around the fringes of a piece. In Volume 7, whole spreads are taken up by series of sequential pictures, as if movie reels were chopped up and pasted on to the page. But there is no sense of disorder or chaos. Instead, there is only the sense of experiencing something new, crisp, and utterly artistic.

My hat goes off to the students and faculty who have compiled Ninth Letter year after year. I congratulate a curriculum that provides such a valuable asset to its students, and I envy the students who are offered the opportunity to be a part of this publication. All I can say is that when a subscription card fell serendipitously onto my lap, I didn’t toss it in the trash as per usual. I decided I might want to save it for later.

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