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Maya: Then, Now, and the All That Is All

Maya: Then, Now, and the All That Is All

By Martha Cornog

In Hinduism, Maya is the deity perpetuating the illusion that any part of the universe is unique from the rest of it. A "Maya Sutra" in the 1967 issue declares, "The ancients…advised that we should hold Maya, choose one small aspect of the vastness that is Maya and study it, meditate on it until it becomes a part of us, then continue with a second aspect and so on…. [Thus you, the reader, can] enjoy what you like in Maya, after all Maya is for you, created for you, to do with as you like, whether for amusement or serious study."

But even more broadly, the selections in Maya represent another aspect of the part/whole illusion. They dance out from the passions of their creators, dance out from the culture of Drexel from the 1960s through the present, dance out and reflect America of the last forty-plus years as did the previous Drexel literary magazines all reflect their own eras.

And forty years crams in a rich, full diversity, brimful with nuances, stories, plans and dreams and loves, less gloom and doom and more humor. Polly Semia lives here.

Poetry now becomes much more prevalent than in the earlier literary magazines. In the 1967 Maya, several poems comment satirically on poetry itself, on the dilemma of being assigned to apply literary criticism to poetry and to understand—one hopes—what a poem means. One Maya writer has some doubt about that, imagining that the poet boasts:  "You can all guess, but only I Know" ("On Patches on Asses"). Another declares that "Poetry belongs to everyone who reads it…but more to those who write it" ("Reflections on Poetry").

In 1967, Haiku appear, like this puckish example (untitled, Susan Oster):

Study while you eat

And peanut butter leaves its

Mark on history

Themes of resisting conformity appear occasionally:

Never before

in the anals of man [sic]

has he taught a salmon

to go in a pan (untitled, Diamond, 1973)

But far more common come short pieces about loves, couplings, and encounters. The 1968 cover features a sculpture of a couple embracing, perhaps coitally, while "Let Us Hum a Hymn" celebrates the poet's attraction to a particular mister. Raucous and slangy, the 1973 "Blam! Blam! Blam" nails a man's frustration at finding that his girl has left him.

For the 1986 Maya, someone must have assigned students to write a short memoir of a real or near-real experience. One writer finds himself in the Philippines, driving inland with an island-based buddy and running into local insurgents with guns ("A Drive in the Country"). Another, preparing for college, finds a necklace sent to her grandmother with a note: "Remember that no matter where you go, you are loved" ("Wherever You Go"). Still another student climbs up on the trestle bridge over Market Street and hops a freight car for a short distance, breaking an arm while jumping off.

1992 brought many more love poems. "Oh I wish I were your pillow," says one yearning poet ("Your Pillow), similar to Romeo's murmur: "O that I were a glove upon that hand/That I might touch that cheek." Two stars in love form a nova ("Star Love").

By 2007, more informal, raw poems echo the pounding beats of rap music:

He's dangling from the cross like a Hennessy nightmare

Rocking back and fourth [sic] like a sex change

Screwing in a tricked out, gasoline wheelchair

Chewing on the counter like a polyp at the Met's game ("The Prophet in the Gutter")

Nature themes, always present at least occasionally in all of the literary magazines, take a turn towards environmental concerns:

Man often seems to be like an ingrown

hair, festering until nature will brace

itself for pain as we pop from the land,

no more important that [than] the scar you have

from a boil you have burst… ("Polemic Against Man")

The 2010 issue of Maya adopted a button theme. Wrote the editor, "Maya issues are like a cloth in which we sew different types of colors and buttons together to represent the larger diversity of Drexel University." This issue included winners from the second annual writing contest.  In one honorable mention, the poet despairs of ever writing poetry himself, due to the skill of "Mr. Bukowski" at turning tragedy into prolific poetry—and into fame:

Frankly

A single page from my suburban lifestyle

Will never match the volumes from your personal hell ("Dear Mr. Bukowski").

In the winning poem, a Molly Bloomish sort of poet writes about turning twenty-five, "a quarter-life crisis because my heart has used half its beats" (Mockingbird Narrates the Months of My 24th Year").

As of now, 2012, Maya has become a force on the web and a locus for events that include Haiku Off and Open Mics. Declares its Facebook page:

Maya is Drexel's undergrad lit mag stew, where writing, art, and photography collide and enhance the flavors of one another…. We bake cupcakes. And breathe fire…. We are looking to develop our brand name across campus and the city of Philadelphia, while promoting literacy, fun and creativity one day at a time!

Writing becomes cool, not stuffy, messy and interesting, not sterile and perfect. Indeed, a nonfiction piece, "Parapet for a Pauper," raises the dangers of idolizing perfection and ends with a couplet:

One's faults exist to be harnessed, and when successfully employed

Man rests in true triumph, perfection destroyed

Other pieces echo an imperfection theme as well. In one poem, a 30-year-married couple has buried three children, all veterans killed in active duty,  and heads for Las Vegas for a new beginning ("Spring"). A short story introduces an automaton that survives a revolution and its master's execution, only to fall to looters as salvageable scrap ("Travis").

Actually, "lit mag stew" is not a bad description for much of the 2012 issue, which excels in concatenated surreal imagery in both poems and prose. I think of Alice, reacting to "Jabberwocky":

"It seems very pretty," she said when she had finished it, "but it's rather hard to understand!" (You see she didn't like to confess, ever to herself, that she couldn't make it out at all.) "Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas — only I don't exactly know what they are!  However, somebody killed something: that's clear, at any rate—" (Through the Looking Glass)

So I wrote a poem myself, "On First Looking into a Recent Maya":

Poems go

Where lives can't

Where my mind won't go sometimes.

What do they mean?

My head filled with ideas, like Lewis Carroll's Alice's

Only I don't exactly know what they are, either.

However, somebody loved somebody, that's clear

Somebody is somewhere, is doing something, is saying something

The poets, the poems know what they mean.

I'm glad they do.

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