ivory tower

The Tower
University of Minnesota
May 2017
Review by Ricardo Johnson III

The Tower is an undergraduate magazine run by students from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. The magazine originally ran from 1952-1969 but was reestablished in its current format in 2006. The Tower accepts work from undergraduate students from all majors at the UMN. The magazine is student-run and publishes the best fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and visual art.

Editors in Chief Catherine Dang and Sammy Brown state that this issue of The Tower is structured as an “arc of personal momentum.” The arc is separated into four parts in which the undergraduate contributors highlight four segments of life; childhood, college years, early adulthood, and a final stage of self-liberation.

I interpret the cover art of The Tower, “Reaching for the Light” (Myka Ann Betts), as a symbol of the momentum that is necessary in order to break the surface of the water and face the warmth of the sun. When submerged in water one cannot see what’s beyond the surface clearly, one can see only the blurred rays of the sun. This is true of the arced journey through life that the editors and contributors of  The Tower would like the reader to experience. Though we cannot see clearly through the four parts of the magazine, we continue to reach for the light in order to break through to the surface for a clearer look at ourselves and the world around us. The cover art can be found in Part IV being broken down into three shots of the same image with a progression of color in each image. This is the visual representation of the arc in which one may progress through their life.

Part I: Childhood

Fiction Author Troy Shizuo Yamaguchi writes a tale, ” The People in the Fountain,” of a young boy who is discovering his being in the reflection of a fountain. Unsure of the nature of his reflection, he confronts it literally head-on by dipping his head in the water. Terrified of what will happen to his other self, he turns to his mother for comfort and guidance. This story folds perfectly into the first part of the magazine because it wonderfully encapsulates a child’s interaction with their reflection and the subsequent questions that arise about their physical nature.

Part II: College Years

Author Brigid McBride collects five different sets of nonfiction stories each detailing moments in two girl’s lives. The stories have little similarities based on location, however they are interestingly weaved together by a common theme of removing themselves from the current moment and enjoying the things that each set of two value. The final story ends with two girls sitting on a dock after reconnecting after what can be assumed as the separation, caused by attending different colleges. The girls overcome their petty problems with one another and find happiness in their reunification. The story ends with the girls realizing “it will never be as easy as it is right now again.” The different stories of these girls are felt by many college students including myself. College students are challenged to question their role in life and expected to reflect on what they have been given, which drives them closer to breaking the surface.


Part III: Early Adulthood 

Poet Zoe Korengold writes a strikingly dark poem titled, “Bedbugs”. Korengold formats the poem almost as if the bedbugs are chasing her through life. She mentions the uncontrollable desire to watch the clock as she anticipates the burn of the bedbug’s bite. Although bedbugs pose a real threat, they are typically feared by children and then, depending on one’s living situation, that fear fades as time goes on. However, young adults can carry many fears further into life that they gained in their childhood. The poem concludes with the writer fantasizing about rolling in the ashes of the bedbugs that she has previously burned alive. Although maybe not in that manner, I believe it is human nature to dream about conquering our fears and basking in victory. This is true especially when we live in a society in which people look so negatively upon the natural human emotion of fear. Conquering fear adds to momentum, extending the arc into the fourth phase of life.

Part IV: Self Liberation 

Author Claire Porter perfectly captures self-liberation with a reflection on her life in which she eloquently titles, “Pancake Ass”. This honest embrace of the physical and emotional attributes that make up her identity is what breaks the surface and allows one to see clearly the beauty of life. Porter, through her years, learns to love the similarities that she shares with her family members including her big nose, blue eyes, and yes her flat “pancake ass”. She sees in her reflection, all the victories and defeats that her family members have experienced and feels a sense of pride in all they have done before her and all that will be done. Porter staring at her reflection in the mirror and being completely satisfied is a parallel back to the young boy staring at his reflection, unsure of his place in the world. The arc is completed and Porter is able to find true happiness.

     The Tower, its staff, and contributors constructed an excellent issue that allows the reader to step back and reflect on our own personal arc and whether or not we are striving to break the surface.

Visit The Tower‘s website here.