Carl Rosen can never tire of being asked to explain the name. He couldn’t have expected anything else when he named the magazine Perversion.
“The word ‘perversion’ has been corrupted from its etymological roots,” he says.
I’m sitting across from Rosen and Hurley Winkler, Perversion writers and editors,
in Rosen’s second-floor Jacksonville Beach apartment. Surfboards stand in the corner and proof sheets of Perversion’s upcoming third issue are spread across the dining room floor.
“The original meaning of the word,” Rosen says, “had to do with thinking outside the norms.”
He’s saying the word “perversion” has been perverted, and in that wider meaning of disrupting norms, “The magazine itself is a perversion of Jacksonville.”
Winkler and Rosen couldn’t be more excited. At just over 200 pages, Issue Three is more than twice the length of Issue One and features writers from across North America and a story by Pakistani installation artist Shehrezad Maher, about her transformation of a traffic circle into color wheels in the heart of Karachi.
Rosen, Winkler, and staff writer Sam Bilheimer met in University of North Florida Professor Mark Ari’s creative writing workshops and published stories in UNF’s 2012 creative nonfiction collection, Yes, They’re Real, and the 2013 fiction anthology, 396 Hours.
Bilheimer’s comic and anxiety-ridden nonfiction piece “Amber,” in Issue Two, describes his stopping his car to pick up a woman who’d waved knowingly to him, though he didn’t recognize her, and who seems, by the end of his picaresque journey driving her around, to have been a prostitute.
Though shops in Savannah, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Philadelphia now carry Perversion, Winkler and Rosen say the magazine will always be rooted in Jacksonville.
“I grew up in Jacksonville,” Winkler says, “and nothing like Perversion has ever happened here.”
The aesthetic is a blend of Brooklyn hip, surfer chic, and absurdist humor, into which fit pieces like Austin Coit’s “The Love I Used to Hate” in Issue One, which charts how he moved from hating “people who fly-fished” as the snobs of the fishing world to acquiring an “encyclopedic knowledge” about fly fishing, which made him a “zealot.”
Each issue publishes different poets, short-story writers, and essayists, but Perversion is also known for continuing series like Winkler’s illustrated “Girl Crush,” Rosen’s musings on “Weird Humans,” and Cyrano Moon’s advice column.
Moon’s nihilistically absurd advice column might better be described as anti-advice. In Issue One, he warned, “All advice is bullshit, including the advice implicit in what I just said.”
In Issue Two, in response to a letter-writer’s confession that he “fictionalizes humans into things they are not,” including “vapid sorority girls” he transmutes into “brilliant beautiful savants,” Moon wrote, “At present, you are an incompetent fantasist. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t see any discrepancy between your so-called fictionalizations and the real world, ever.”
The drawings in Winkler’s “Girl Crush” are somehow sweetly sardonic, innocently astute. In the first installment, she wrote, “Let’s get this straight: Girl Crushes aren’t sexual. In fact, they aren’t even romantic. They don’t say, ‘I want to bring her flowers and hold her hand,’ but rather, ‘I want to BE her. I respect her. I am enthusiastic about the fact that she exists.’”
So Winkler writes about trying on the qualities she most admired in high school girl crushes. There’s “The Bitchface,” (“I practiced my Bitchfacing in the mirror after school. My dad came in my room and asked, ‘Honey, is your stomach upset?’”) or “The Taste” (“They claimed to take a liking to obscure experimental music that no one had ever heard of and books that didn’t contain pictures.”)
Likewise, a girl crush “has some kind of super period radar detector” so she always “puts her tampon in moments — seconds! — before her period arrives.”
Rosen’s “Weird Humans” series has so far explored kissing (“Do you know how dirty mouths are?”) and holding hands (“Hands are riddled with germs”), though his extraterrestrial-like befuddlement at his own species cranks up in his Issue Three response to the Blue Angels, those stunt-warplanes whose annual shows have long been favorites of crowds that assemble at area military bases and beaches to watch.
“The Blue Angels,” he writes, “weren’t crafted to entertain us.” Instead, they were made “to kill.” He’s “no pacifist or conspiracy theorist,” but the Blue Angels’ shows “have made war and war machines more palatable,” while we watch from below, “eating corn dogs and cheering with ketchup on our shirts.”
Perversion also features fashion shoots and art criticism, as well as some of the best local young fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction, a major genre these days, by Northeast Florida writers like Jeff Jones, Cassidy Spencer, Alexander Cendrowski, Leonard Owens III, and Grant Kittrell.
Before settling on Perversion, Rosen had considered calling the magazine White Wall, because he wanted it to be like a gallery.
“I like to think of us, the editors,” Carl Rosen says, “as curators of the work we’re publishing.”