Author and editor Randall Brown has always been fascinated with very short forms in writing. “To me, compression is a mindset; it is that desire to make the most minute of movements matter,” he explains. “It is fiction that cannot tolerate uncertainty for but a moment, and so it rushes to its ending before it loses nerve.”
The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, which he founded in 2010, focuses on very short poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Staff feature one piece a week on the journal’s website. Some are traditional. Others are prose stories arranged as multicolored triptychs or poems within illustrations. A list of Pushcart Prize nominations from the journal includes a piece that’s just 338 words long.
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Tone, editorial content
“I think compression mainly happens within the writer herself, with this intense, built-up desire to find – within something small – something significant,” Brown says. Our tagline – ‘Tiny stories. Big bang.’ – emphasizes that idea.”
He loves finding new forms that use brevity in exciting, powerfully poignant ways without gimmicks. “Generally, we have a literary bent,” he explains of the journal’s aesthetic. “We love falling in love with the language, especially when that language explodes into emotion.”
Author and editor Sarah Cheshire had her 130-word piece, “Five Years After my Rape, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham Addresses Me Directly from the TV in my Living Room,” published on the site on 12/19/18. In it, she examines Graham’s words to reveal the deeper meanings behind them. It’s an erasure piece, a work created by erasing words from someone else’s previous text.
“Oftentimes, the erasures we receive erase another piece of fiction,” Brown says. “I love how this creative nonfiction piece erased Senator Graham’s actual words that he angrily spoke to the millions of Americans watching, as if he were a victim of something terrible and pervasive. This piece uncovers the truth within the reality of Graham’s words.”
Author Su-Yee Lin’s piece “Privy” appeared on the website on 1/21/19, inspired by the word privy and its negative connotation with regard to sensitive information. “You are not privy to the knowledge,” she begins. “Privy is from the Latin privatus, which of course, means private. There are many things you are not privy to: your sister’s love life, your husband’s job drama, your father’s hobbies, your best friend’s thoughts.”
Brown says contributors sometimes discover a form that perhaps didn’t quite exist, in order to express their urgent need to tell a story. “The container itself created compelling tension and conflict, as if the piece itself and the container holding it were somehow at odds,” he says of these submissions. “Imagine, for example, Graham’s words fighting against their erasure, failing, this deeper, uglier truth arising out of the battle, the few words left belonging to Graham still but transformed, altered irreparably, powerfully, bravely.”
Dennis Mombauer’s “Appstream Forest Song” appears on 3/4/19. Mombauer explains that the piece began with Twitter and other popular social media apps and an attempt to visualize them as part of nature. He begins: “the wechat bubbles over xings and xangas / snapfish migrate appstream / qqs waddle along the riverside.”
On March 27, 2018, Compression featured Hannah van Didden’s 464-word fiction piece, “Penelope Moves In,” told in two columns. The first tells the story of how the protagonist came by the house, while the second offers “six facts you may care to know about your new neighbor.”
“I loved the tension between the two columns, the varied meaning of these ‘facts,’ a word that has taken on so many meanings in the current climate,” Brown explains. “Penelope’s inner world and the outer perception of that world struck me as something very compelling, and I loved the hint of humor that clings to the piece throughout the reading.”
Advice for potential contributors
Brown and other Compression editors frequently receive submissions about aging and dying, caregiving, infidelity and breakups, angels and goddesses, and the current U.S. political administration. They appreciate a fresh approach to these often-explored topics.
“We tend to be drawn to those submissions that make us feel something surprising using surprising, unfamiliar methods,” Brown says. “When we pass on a submission, it is sometimes because there is a sense that the piece was written without that intense desire to delve deeply into ‘something’ using compression as the tool but, rather, merely to write something tiny.”
Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019). Web: melissahart.com.