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The opening celebration for 'The Rattling Wall'

May 12, 2011 | 11:04 am

Rattlingwall_hammer

Maybe all readings should let the bar open before getting underway.

Whether it was helped by the wine and beer or not, Wednesday night's kickoff of the new literary journal "The Rattling Wall" was a festive celebration. Held at the Hammer Museum, the room was filled to its 250-person capacity, with stylish young literati, well-heeled PEN stalwarts, and the contributors, who fell, demographically, somewhere between the two.

"The Rattling Wall" is a print literary journal published biannually, supported by PEN Center USA West, and edited by PEN's program director Michelle Meyering. The first issue, which includes a whopping 36 contributors, features fiction by James Frey, Blake Butler and Tod Goldberg; poetry by Tony Hoagland and Matthew Zapruder; and travel essays by Samantha Dunn and Don Winslow.

Although most of Wednesday night's readers hail from the West Coast, Meyering hinted at the magazine's ambitions when she told the audience that she looked forward to "building a national community of readers and writers around the journal."

Eleven contributors read. Goldberg, James Greer, Lou Matthews, Joseph Mattson and Neal Pollack read excerpts of their fiction that appear in "The Rattling Wall." Eloise Klein Healy, Allison Burnet and Meyering read poetry selections from the magazine; Zapruder and Pittsburgh-based Stacey Waite included new poems.

Dunn read from her travel essay about Quartzsite, Ariz.: "You take one of the two exits that mark Quartzsite [Ariz.] and pull into the Pit, an all-in-one-gas station/Dairy Queen/laundromat/public shower.... you think to yourself, What in God's name do people do here in this weightless metropolis, this constellation of aluminum siding and rubber, this town that gravity forgot?"

The idea of a "travel essay" had stymied many contributors, Meyering said. It's one of the three areas of focus of the journal. The premiere issue also features illustrations from a single artist -- Albert Reyes, who designed the cover. Slides of his work projected on a large screen as the audience milled around in advance of the event, and posters of the cover image were available for sale.

The event -- the opening DJ-enhanced conversations, the drinks, the 11 readers -- did become, for the pointily-shod, something of a marathon. So I paid my $18.95 for the debut issue of "The Rattling Wall" and called it a night, skipping the celebrations that continued at the nearby W Hotel.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Poet Matthew Zapruder reads at "The Rattling Wall" launch at the Hammer Museum Wednesday. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg

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