A view fromthe Tower

The editors of the Ivory Tower have emerged from haystacks of manuscripts, clutching the prime specimens of undergrad art.

Wallace Stevens spent about 13 years working at Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company before getting serious with his pen. Sure, during the first years he wrote lines like, “The conscience is converted into palms/ like windy citherns, hankering for hymns” (“A High-Toned Old Christian Woman”) but he waited until he’d lived half a century to conclude that he was meant to be a poet. While there is probably at least one kid in your stats class who is a misguided bard, there are plenty of undergrads whose work is already turning heads. These are the students that The Ivory Tower scopes out every year to feature in their literary journal, which branches out of words and into photography, paintings and comics.

Ivory Tower

WHAT: Ivory Tower Launch Party
WHEN: Friday, April 25
WHERE: Andersen Library
COST: Free

The cover of The Ivory Tower is a face in a forlorn, philosophical pose, drawn with no skin. Its tender pink muscles make it look like a sketch from an anatomy book, but hyperindividualized. The tone is lighter on the inside, where each written piece is framed in cut-out, popsicle colored shapes, laid over one another like old fashioned colorforms. While paging through the issue, you might run into the image of a girl, caught off-guard on a dark bridge, or find a sketch of a pair of pale, grasping hands in the middle of a story about death.

They’ve added 12 more pages than last year, but this century’s Ivory Tower has become an entirely new medium since the ’60s, when it was an insert in The Minnesota Daily. The hundreds of submissions are sorted through, red-penned and ordered throughout the year by students in a literary editing class.

“Out of the 500 submissions we got this year, there were certainly a lot of ‘Undergrad Experience’ pieces, with sex, love and alcohol-related stories and poems,” explained co-editor in chief Kristin Watts. “But, we also received some ‘experimental’ pieces that can be described as ‘cross-genre’.” Many tones can be found throughout the issue, from a playful piece about cigarettes to a somber recount of a near-death scare in nature.

Things get morbid in the short story “Spliced,” by first-year student Nora Powers. The main character, Syri, takes on the bold task of embalming a boy whose head was chopped off in a car accident, broomstick-in-the-neck and all. Her descriptions are painfully detailed and originally imagined, peaking when she describes his face as having “the appearance of a raspberry pie with pieces of the top crust ripped out, revealing the dark purple, nearly black fruit filling inside.” Despite the get-the-job-done mentality of the narrator, the sadness of the situation floats underneath, elegantly hinted at with lines like, “He looked too pale to be living, but had a glow that anyone would have agreed seemed undeniably alive.”

Although the average non-mortuary-working Joe would never guess, Norah made up most of the embalming techniques in her story.

“They certainly shouldn’t be taken as true-to-life-techniques that are used in a professional mortuary,” she warns. “They were meant to be unconventional and kooky sounding. I would be terrified to learn that anyone was actually practicing the techniques I described.”

Her image-filled characterization was inspired by Truman Capote’s “Conversational Portraits.”

“He really had a talent for seeing people to the core and being able to convey it on paper,” she explains.

The human body takes on an equally surreal form in the drawing “Farming” by Aaron Ridgeway, who graduated in the fall of 2007 with a B.A. in art. In a minimalistic sketch, a naked man and woman stand under some scraggly crowds, looking over a field of words. Their heads have no hair, and something about them is unsettlingly different, like looking at an anthropologist’s sketch of our species before we could be called human.

Poet W.A. Alexander’s day job is as a reader rep for The Daily. Yep, he’s where your complaint letters end up. But in his spare time, the English Junior reads E.E. Cummings and John Berryman, writing his own poems on the side. His piece, “Astrophil,” is a tale of stargazing with a war-time feeling, full of desperation and disembodied, man-to-man chatter. “Seeing the body of his flaming lover at such a distance!/ A broken hymnal, savages praying for rain -/ heal, boys heal,” it reads, playfully anthropomorphizing a celestial body.

“I wanted to capture what it felt like to be a teenage boy, and also to give it an Americana feel, full of images that people actually connect with. There’re a lot of poems out there about turtles, or rocks. I didn’t want that,” he said.

Neon pink invades the creases of a young woman’s face in “I Was Born Into This,” a haunting sketch of a woman mid-anxiety attack, with her hands held up to her face. She looks as if she’s aged unnaturally, her wrinkles made out of light pollution rather than time.

Despite the whimsy of the colors that float through “The Ivory Tower,” the journal as a whole is often a look into the complicated corners of students who might well be in your night class. As Wallace Stevens once described poetry, “It has to be living, to learn the speech of the place.”