Ilse Content, by Alexis Wolf, is one of the most gentle zines to come into my hands. Although gentle is a tricky line to walk, Ilse Content manages to be earnest, sincere, and optimistic without being twee or irrelevant.
This zine, which began in 2003 and is brought to you by Use Your Words Press, is named after Wolf’s grandmother Ilse, which is sweet. However, you also learn in the pages of this zine that Ilse survived the Holocaust, and there it is: the hard-won tenacity underlying that gentleness.
The zine is self-aware without being all post-modern about it: each issue starts off with an introduction about the issue’s themes, and what has been going on in Wolf’s life and what she’s been thinking on. I was really impressed by how well the introductions sum up and tie together the content, and in doing so how much they add to the experience of reading each issue.
So what I have for you today is four little reviews of four issues of this zine, and I’m gonna start each of them off by quoting Wolf’s own summaries of the issues, since there’s no way I could say it better than she did.
16 pg. at half-letter size, published 2008. It was $3 from Ms. Valerie Park Distro, but I think I bought the last one. Sorry.
“‘One of my family’s names is Spector,’ I said and pointed the car down the highway. The wheels rolled over washington, maybe over the place where the farm used to be before it got paved.
‘Ooh, specter,’ he crooned. ‘you are descended from ghosts.’”
Ilse, the titular grandmother of this zine, is Wolf’s father’s mother. She explains that she has always been closer with, and more interested in, her father’s side of the family, and has identified more with their European Jewish culture than the “Green Acres” Anglo-Saxons on her mother’s side of the family.
This issue of Ilse Content results from her attempt to close that gap and learn the story of her maternal grandparents and their clan. She does so with what you will come to see as her usual understated emphathy and verve. Read on.
31 pg. at half-letter size, published 2009. $3 from Ms. Valerie Park Distro
“This issue represents some of the ways I have been working to give myself and the people in my life space to shift and change. They are recipes at times or clues if you want to try to use them.”
This issue is about ways to stay sane and keep a hold on things. It begins with a parable about the importance of appreciating the “small niceties” in life to keep the horrors (more or less) at bay. It goes on from there to cover marriage, keepsakes (keeping them and not), prayer, getting out of the city, Christmas, and citizenship. The cover is lovely and it will tuffen you up for the fight ahead.
27pg. at half-legal size, published summer 2010. $3 from Ms. Valerie Park Distro.
“I have been hoping so hard that I feel crazy and I hurt inside. I’ve been writing so much about how alive I feel that I realized it is some type of struggle”
This issue seems to be about fighting oppression: about trying to see the world clearly and be in it well. Wolf writes about transformative experiences she’d had recently being out in the world and away from cities. Sitting in the water in Puget Sound, she piles rocks around her legs and trys to take the rocks’ long view of civilization and keep in mind the geological scope of their history, contra the frenetic and destructive human world.
She writes about picking up a 52-year-old woman hitchhiking who’s been consistently failed and abused in the world. Wolf struggles to overcome her rage at the world being such as it is that this can happen, and to be, in the moment, open-hearted and helpful and understanding.
34 pg. at half-letter size, published July 2011. $3 from Ms. Valerie Park Distro.
The Home issue of Ilse Content brings us the terror and mysteries of childhood, the portentous, half-remembered things inexorably gone to us. She shows us the way homes and the things and people that fill them stand for life & presence against death and absence. She also writes about the place where she currently lives, and learning to stay put, having found a great house and roommates.
My favourite thing in this issue was “The Home That Is In Motion”, a one-page piece about home in its more nebulous sense, which begins:
“I have often felt inside of me a shelter that moves along, just the shell of a feeling or a special moment in a strange place… This comfort appears and grows around you, you can go inside it and the feeling protects you all around.”
I sympathize, cause I’ve been figety and have struggled to stay put when I do. And for me it’s never been out of a desire to throw my life off-kilter, but moreso a need to have the center and strength of my life be in myself rather than in other people, places, things, jobs, presumed mercurial and ultimately disappointing. Anyhow. I know what she’s saying is all, maybe you will too.
- Lily Pepper