Forklift, Ohio Issue #31

Handmade and Homebrewed

reviewed by Chrissy Martin

The latest issue of Forklift, Ohio is bound with beeswax, every copy hand dipped by the editorial team. This independent literary journal based out of Cincinnati, Ohio calls itself “A Journal of Poetry, Cooking & Light Industrial Safety.” It finds a way to tiptoe the line of the absurd and the simplistic, creating issues that are organically yet ornately made. Now in their thirty-first issue, this biannual publication has created an assortment of unique print styles—a cover filled with seeds, one made of sandpaper, and another rolled with chalkboard paint.

Matt Hart and Eric Appleby founded the magazine in 1994 when they began to publish it out of their dorm room at Ball State University. After the first ten issues, the two decided they wanted to make the aesthetic aspect of the publication as immersive as the reading experience. This is when the construction process became more involved. Hart stated in an interview with Flying Object, “One issue had a bolt through the center, another looked like a tiny clipboard wrapped in caution tape. Still another came with a bag of chili mix, complete with dry beans and all the spices. The recipe for the chili was a jigsaw puzzle on the back sides of the poems.”

Number 27, one of the more elaborate issues, is wrapped in butcher paper, tied with twine, and given a label you might receive from your local butcher—except this product is “prepared from inspected and passed meat and/or poetry,” not poultry. After unwrapping the book, you’ll find on the front and back covers, pictures of raw meat, with the butcher paper bound to the spine. This creates a reading environment that doesn't allow you to forget you are experiencing something unique and almost magical. “Coming up with the concept for any given issue is usually a pretty organic thing,” Matt Hart, the editor-in-chief, tells me, “and it typically happens over a long period of time—little conversations between myself, Eric Appleby, and our staff industrial designer Mike Cowgill inevitably (at least thus far) lead to the concepts themselves.” It appears that ideas for construction often come from the poems that will be inside; after printing one particular poem about proper shooting technique, the team decided to design the cover as a turkey framed in a bull’s eye and shoot it with antique rifles. “We've definitely had fun over the years,” Hart adds about the process.

The team tries to produce an issue in a weekend, making the batch of 350-500 in the style of an assembly line. Every copy is not only handmade, but often varies slightly—be it in the positioning of the logo or the real wine stains adorning the cover of the issue that’s been sealed with a cork. Considering all of the outlandish ways they have created their journals, I asked Hart if there were any ideas they had to scrap because they were too difficult to execute. To this, he replied:

I actually wanted to do an issue that we encased in concrete—à la concrete galoshes, but also cinder block building materials. The problem is mailing it, of course. It would cost a fortune. Mike has long wanted to do an issue that's a sort of scroll inside an unopened (though empty) can of beer. There'd be a slit in the side that you'd literally pull the issue out of. Mike had the can part of it worked out, but it was going to involve some fairly precise metalwork, which none of us had time to do (or learn). I'd love to do an issue that would self-destruct somehow...

Forklift, Ohio’s elaborate construction is not the only delightful element of the journal and is in no way used as a means to cover up the work; the writing inside is just as distinct and captivating as the exterior.

The journal focuses on poetry and short-short fiction, but also features creative non-fiction—including recipes, safety tips, and found pieces— on what the submission guideless describes as “Forklift-y topics like home economics, industry, agriculture, health, science, commerce, advertising, propaganda, etc.” While the most recent issue is about 150 pages, neither the issue itself nor any individual pieces feel dense. The first section begins largely narrative, immediately pulling the reader into this strange journal sprinkled with black and white images from safety manuals and cookbooks. An excerpt of the first poems in the journal, "Bildgunsroman for the Toothless" by Meg Freitag, reads: 

A few weeks ago I lost my shoes on a golf course
In a thunderstorm. With my glasses fogged up
I couldn’t find my way back to the party and walked
Around the city barefoot, despair sinking in
With a milkshake somewhere between Airport Blvd 

Forklift, Ohio’s industrial nature brings forth an accessible and homebrewed reading experience, introducing you to the type of pieces that aren’t afraid to take their shoes off when you lose yours, even if it’s raining. This completely immersive yet unprocessed experience is not accidental. It is intended to bring joy to the reader—from the moment they receive their handcrafted copy, to its closing remarks of, “The only man I envy is the man with a better book.” To this notion, Hart tells Flying Object, “Detached readers will not like our journal. We are not detached people. We wear our hearts on our faces. We can take a punch. Sometimes we give one back. And this is all in good fun.”