Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted March 15, 2010

The Antigonish Review :: The Barcelona Review :: Black Warrior Review :: Cadences :: Carpe Articulum :: The Gettysburg Review :: Iron Horse Literary Review :: The Kenyon Review :: The Laurel Review :: The Literary Review :: The Massachusetts Review :: New Letters :: Ninth Letter :: North Dakota Quarterly :: Poetry :: Southern Humanities Review :: THEMA :: The Threepenny Review :: West Branch :: World Literature Today

 

The Antigonish Review coverThe Antigonish Review

Number 159

Fall 2009

Quarterly

Review by Angela Lewis, Utah State University

This volume features the first-, second-, and third-place winners of the Great Blue Heron Poetry Contest and the Sheldon Currie Fiction Contest, as well as poems, fiction, and book reviews from other writers. The first line of Jennifer Houle’s first poem – “I don’t listen much for birds” – sets the tone of the issue by inviting the reader to look for birds and every manifestation of the flighty or strange, both in this poem and throughout the rest of the issue.

The otherworld in elegant finery appears in Eve Joseph’s poem “Stranger,” when a “woman who came close to death” glances out her window and sees “a man in a black coat and top hat . . . sitting in a tree swinging his feet.” In Emily Carr’s poem “honeymoon (v.),” the character becomes her own alien self, illegally drugged, pregnant, with a doctor writing her “on paper” while she sits “buck / naked under the watery blue / gown.” And in Sheila McClarty’s fiction piece “A German Shepherd, A Natural Redhead and A Yellow Scarf,” mysterious fears grip Eleanor, who “always stands facing the firing squad, waiting for the bullet.”

But the Review turns from death toward a resurrection in this volume’s one essay, “The Manuscripts of Montague Summers, Revisited,” by Gerard O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan traces the history of Montague Summers, a priest “known internationally for his erudite if sometimes idiosyncratic editions and histories of Restoration dramas, studies of the gothic novel, and often sensational writings on witchcraft, demonology, and the occult.” Summers’s manuscripts had been lost, but O’Sullivan reveals both the story of Summers and of the now-recovered manuscripts.

This volume of The Antigonish Review repeatedly verifies realities of every kind, from nearly tangible images of death and the strange to the certainty of a life lived. My favorite lines from this issue are in Rod Weatherbie’s poem “The Pugilist”: “‘Nothing real can fall apart,’ / she said while fingering / the cracked leather of the bench.”
[www.antigonishreview.com/]

 

The Barcelona Review logoThe Barcelona Review

Issue 69

December 2009

Online Bimonthly

Reviewed by Henry F. Tonn

I read a selection of stories from three different online publications and was bored with the same old same old (I find it hard to believe that editors think anyone is going to read this banal stuff), and then I stumbled on to The Barcelona Review. Thanks goodness! The editors really live in Barcelona and say, “We like good, powerful, potent stuff that immediately commands attention, shows stylistic and imaginative distinction, and is literarily sound.” Well, who doesn’t? But these people really publish it.

Right out of the gate is an excerpt  from a novel-in-progress set in North Korea by Adam Johnson. It is an account of a man named Jun Do who is accompanying two medics to a prison camp where they will remove the blood of injured prisoners – to be used elsewhere – rather than treating them, thereby accelerating their deaths. A blood-chilling winner. Next is a crazy but highly imaginative story by Daniel Eli Dronsfield entitled “The Alligator,” about a bored school teacher who suddenly becomes macho by capturing a three-foot alligator on the school grounds and saving it from destruction at the hands of the local authorities. A humorous winner. And then there is “Dixie Land” by B.J. Hollars, a poignant and touching story about a quirky father obsessed with the civil war and the disastrous result his quirks ultimately have on himself and his young son. Meanwhile, his wife is trying to invent a time machine. A well-written, creative, and entertaining winner.

In the flash fiction category is “They Are Only Dreams” by Felix Calvino, a quiet, sedate story that eventually turns rather haunting concerning a young child who has precognition. In the book review section, I was quite fascinated by Diana Grove’s Dot.Conned. Apparently the author decided to take on a number of the international con artists who send out emails in which they ask the potential sucker to be a middle man (middle person?) for huge money transactions, the goal being to bilk the gullible patsy out of their money. The author makes up names, sends creative pictures, has a grand time jerking their chains – all with humor.

This is one of the few journals that delivers what it promises. Just click below and give yourself a treat. Fresh from Barcelona and free. The marvel of modern technology.
[www.barcelonareview.com/]

 

Black Warrior Review coverBlack Warrior Review

Volume 36 Number 1

Fall/Winter 2009

Biannual

Review by Kayla Anderson, Utah State University

The selections in this issue reflect the goal of the editors who claimed they sought to “embody different methods of collection and obsession.” The magazine is rich in literary diversity from Jesse Jacob’s comic, “Oh, What a Cruel God we’ve Got” to K.A. Hays’s chapbook, Some Monolith.

Perhaps the most telling is Paho Mann’s series of photographs entitled “Junk Drawers & Medicine Cabinets.” These photos tell the story of a life and what accumulates in the spaces we occupy. Although simple, the objects found in the drawers and cabinets are telling and allow the viewer to guess at a life based on what has been saved. It is difficult not to look at these photographs subjectively. Instead, each brand or object tells a story about a concern, obsession, focus or value. Even the choice of nail polish color can be telling. Mann has found a rich subject matter to illustrate a way to view a life.

Obsession and collection is also evident in the literary selections. Chloe Cooper Jones’s “What Can Be Learned” is the story of Maggie’s mother. She is a woman obsessed over the wrong things, and Maggie suffers from the neglect. Clutter consumes them and the shocking and powerful ending illustrates how dangerous those obsessions can be.

The editors claim Joanna Klick’s poetry “delves into the junkyards that accompany failed relationships” and the line “Having stored away such / riches, you press into the / damages as if they could / save you” from “Junkyard” is a well-crafted example of what we hang on to after a relationship has ended.

Lily Hoang’s selection from her book “Invisible Women” is a piece that explores the obsession of women over women. She writes in a plural “we,” a critical voice that is collective and omniscient, observing nameless women. Hoang writes, “The woman down the hall, we don’t want to name her. It’s better that way. To have a woman without name because we know that if she had a name, we couldn’t watch her as we do, we couldn’t look at her flaws, and we couldn’t pass judgment.” The style and tone of the piece reflect the obsessive nature of the women in the story and effectively draw in the reader.

The Black Warrior Review concludes with K.A. Hays’s chapbook Some Monolith, which contains poems such as “Imagine Shelly Drowning” and “Just as, After a Point, Job Cried Out” that allow for us a context for deeper understanding.

In its entirety, this issue does ask us to “look on as the constructions and permutations of language push the pen and ultimately the alphabet to their very limits.”
[www.bwr.ua.edu]

 

Cadences coverCadences

Volume 5

Fall 2009

Review by Kathlene Postma, Pacific University

I opened Cadences, a Journal of Literature and the Arts in Cyprus wondering whose story would be honestly told and how well. Having lived in Turkey for a couple of years in the 1990s, I knew Cyprus – a pretty island in the Mediterranean and “shared” by both Turkey and Greece – to be caught in a political tug of war between the two countries. Published by the European University of Cyprus, Cadences presents itself as a bridge between the Greeks, Turks and other peoples on the island and lets the reader know its advisory board is made up of writers from the Greek Cypriot, Turkish Cypriot, Armenian Cypriot, Palestinian-American, American and London Cypriot communities. Once the “Editorial Statement” covers all these bases, the editors get down to business, stating: “Writers inevitably see things differently from politicians.”

I anticipated selections determined by committee, and therefore without much bite to them. What I found were poems, stories, essays and reviews written in three languages (Greek, Turkish and English), some translated, and almost all posing in one form or another these difficult questions: What do outsiders see when they look at Cyprus? And what do Cypriots see when they look outward?

In a piece of elegiac prose by writer Stephanos Stephanides, the speaker describes a photo of himself as a child with his parents on the island before his mom and dad separated and they were all dispersed to different points on the globe: “You might say we are looking the wrong way, at the camera, toward the land.” He, like many of the writers in this issue, examines his nostalgia for an island replete with five-thousand-year old ruins and contemporary hostilities, and the result is often sadness and a lyrical rumination on loss.

Many of Cyprus’s young people leave to study abroad, marry or find jobs, and the writing reflects that displacement. In a prose piece “Another Life,” by Yiorgios Phinikarides, the speaker travels to an orphanage in Russia and spends much of his visit struggling with how to fairly describe the orphans. In the end he presents a striking discovery that avoids sentimentality. His ability to know himself as an outsider seems key to his ability to see what others miss.

The poetry in the issue occasionally ventures into examining what the Cypriots see when they look at themselves in relation to each other. Bahriye Kemal Guceri in her poem “Place Points” shows a speaker struggling with her bloodlines: “Islander I am / Please take my father’s blood from me / Only leave me my mother’s.” The speaker never specifies her nationality or race or even specifically where she is located, so her torment is universal and avoids the directly political. The poem ends suggesting there will be no resolution for her in this place.

Most of the writing in Cadences seemed to be striving for answers so far beyond the tangible that at times the subtleties were hard for me, an outsider, to grasp. What is prevalent throughout, however, is a constant awareness of a history so long and storied it seems at times to overwhelm contemporary modernizations and strife.

In Cadences’s pages I found an intriguing Cyprus inhabited by writers who I would be glad to read more from and an island I would like to see with my own eyes.
[www.euc.ac.cy/easyconsole.cfm/id/550]

 

Carpe Articulum coverCarpe Articulum

Volume 2 Issue 4

October 2009-January 2010

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Carpe Articulum defines itself “the original magazine of its kind,” its kind being a “cross-genre international literary review that embraces all of the peripheral literary arts, including non-fiction, interviews with accomplished writers, novellas, short fiction, scientific papers, and even photography, understanding that a great photo is in fact, worth a thousand words.” The journal is not “barred from timely issues” or to “hundreds of pages of colourless excavations.” It’s also as heavy as a globe. Printed on glossy stock with a thick perfect binding, oversized (probably 9 x13 or so), photos that bleed across the page with poems printed in the foreground, and ads that look like feature pages and feature pages that look like ads, the journal is, indeed, one of a kind.

Editor-in-Chief Hadassah Broscova is right to categorize the journal’s content – this issue’s theme is “longing” – as encompassing an extremely wide range of material and perspectives, from interviews with such commercially popular writers as Nicholas Sparks, to articles on the craft and business of writing (Ted Hoffman’s “To Self Publish or Not to Self Publish – That is the Question”), to a Holocaust-themed novella by Carol K. Howell, to an interview by the editor-in-chief with a fifteen-year old opera star, to a number of poems, including Broscova’s long poem, “The Death of Promise,” which begins: “You name is Promise / Have I kept mine? Oh how the mighty have fallen!”

I wish there were more opportunities for writers to publish novellas and for readers to encounter them. Including novellas in the publishing mix is, without a doubt, the magazine’s most significant contribution to the world of literary magazines.

The journal runs many contests for writers and photographers and this issue features the John and Eva Keener Photography Award winners. Bold, colorful, and larger than life, the photos are impressive, and it must be satisfying for a photographer to see his or her work in such a large format. Gabor Ruff’s photos of animals are so vivid, I thought I could simply reach out and stroke these creatures’ heads.
[www.caliteraryreview.com]

 

The Gettysburg Review coverThe Gettysburg Review

Volume 22 Number 4

Winter 2009

Quarterly

Review by Ellen Reimschussel, Utah State University

The winter issue of The Gettysburg Review features the captivating and bizarre artwork of Mark Greenwold. In her insightful essay on his work, Shannon Egan writes, “The paintings consider the societal boundaries and concerns of sexuality and physical decorum and, as such, pictorially catalog certain Freudian anxieties, corporeal urges, and dreamlike situations.” So, too, do the essays, short stories and poems in this issue. From Aaron Gwyn’s “Drive,” a short story depicting a couple’s highly sexual flirtations with death, to Kim Adrian’s “Questionnaire for My grandfather,” an essay in the form of questions through which the narrator explores the physiological motivations for her dead grandfather’s molestation of her mother, and how this abuse continues to shape her, this issue is all about the fascinatingly twisted psyche.

A standout essay is John Wenke’s “Tribal Bloods,” in which he theorizes that loyalty to sports teams has replaced our primitive loyalty to tribes. The urgency of Wenke’s prose elevates the subject and convinces the reader that American’s love of sports runs far deeper than mere entertainment value but is core to understanding the human condition. Tribes, sports teams, are key since, after all, “The modernist myth of the autonomous self has lasted for little more than a microsecond of evolutionary time.” This essay is a must read.

Bruce Bond’s “The News,” is yet another gem. Like all of the poems this issue has to offer, it’s somewhat narrative and relatively accessible, yet contains compelling images and rich sonic textures as in this excerpt:

Which is the greater mercy, she asks,
to know your husband has a month,
maybe two, or to go on gliding
over nightfall as a last bird,
a hope on a string, bobbing
in the wind that bears you up?

The issue also contains several works of new formalism, such as the whimsical poems by Hailey Leithauser. Also worth checking out is an intriguing poem, “Testimony,” by Sherman Alexie, which interweaves disembodied questions like “Who is crueler: the wolf that kills the chicken or the coyote that steals the eggs?” with a casual first person narrative of a sister performing the Heimlich on her friend.

This issue of The Gettysburg Review has many other equally interesting offerings and is certainly worth picking up.
[www.gettysburgreview.com/]

 

Iron Horse Literary Review coverIron Horse Literary Review

Volume 11 Number 6

December 2009

Bimonthly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Shannon Canning’s bold, yet intricate painting of a revolver, “Balance of Power,” sets the tone for this “Open Issue” of the magazine – works with bullet-like precision that are also foreboding or dark or solemn. Like Canning’s close-up of the gun handle, they reference danger, without being dangerous, and they intrigue us because they dazzle (the gun is quite beautiful), but their beauty is derived from their darkness.

The issue opens, appropriately, with Michael L. Johnson’s poem, “Gunfight in Reverse,” whose concluding words “cold truth” set the stage for the works to follow. Among them is Laura McCullough’s marvelous poem, “Seventh-Grade Science in the Partially Burned Classroom.” I am not often moved or impressed by “school poems,” but this poem is an exception, a masterfully composed and original piece that is not sentimental, but almost steely: “I knew there were red wolves in my body; I knew / what went past my lips was adding to me.”

McCullough’s poem is followed by Lauren Berry’s “Invitation from My Father to Observe Surgery,” another poem that stands out from what I think of as the overproduction of poems about health and illness. Berry begins:

After that I wanted everything to open.
God forbid someone ask me to set the table, to line
the knife next to the fork. God
forbid I ride the train next to the man with weak arms.

John Estes, Miranda Merklein, and Charles Hughes contribute equally laudable poems, difficult stories that balance, with bullet-like precision and skill, personal detail and larger concerns.

The same could be said of “In Absentia: On Things Remembered and Forgotten,” an essay by Discovered Voices Award Winner for Nonfiction Lina Maria Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas, and “What We Tell,” the Discovered Voices fiction winner by Laurie Rachkus Uttich. The essay explores the way memory works, as it considers what it means to witness and then live with the image of an unusual act of violence. The story explores illness, grief, loss, child/adult relationships, and, ultimately, romantic love through a voice that is utterly engaging and original, a voice I wanted to hear more from, a sure sign of a story’s success.

If all these troubles and violence and danger are worrying you – don’t despair. The issue’s superb contents are book-ended by the “cold truths” and the final words of Erika Meitner’s poem, “We will be all right,” which are also the final words in this issue. (This cannot, of course, be a coincidence, so I applaud the editor’s careful work to create this “whole” of these discrete pieces.) I loved this poem, too, and was startled, but moved and pleased, to find this restrained, but hopeful dénouement.
[english.ttu.edu/IH/]

 

The Kenyon Review coverThe Kenyon Review

Volume 32 Number 1

Winter 2010

Quarterly

Review by Nate Whipple, Utah State University

This issue is dedicated to work by North American indigenous authors. With work from emerging voices like Sara Marie Ortiz, Eddie Chuculate, and Eric Gansworth as well as the acclaimed writers like Leslie Marmon Silko, LeAnne Howe, and Joy Harjo, the writing in this issue is as vibrant and dynamic as the indigenous literary tradition it represents. Compiled here is a stimulating survey of indigenous poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

Indigenous life and culture awareness is greatest at the intersections of “land, culture, and community” (a phrase repeated five times over the course of the interview with Simon Ortiz that opens the collection). These intersections inform the work of each of the indigenous writers represented here and help unify their perspectives as each attempts to understand nature of individual identity in contemporary culture, indigenous or otherwise.

In the remarkable assortment of indigenous poetry collected here, a noteworthy gem is “A Blur of Echoes.” This deceptively simple poem by Marc Turcotte speaks with clarity and grace to the blurred boundaries that exist at the intersection of self, other, and community. The poem’s form (three blocks of text that read more like paragraphs than stanzas) indicates that identities aren’t the only things being blurred in indigenous literature and its opening provides what could be an instructive line for reading the entire collection: “Let’s forget everything we know to be true about you and me.” Turcotte’s evocative poetry is one of many works in the issue that illustrates the profound possibilities for understanding interconnectedness that unity among individuals and cultures can offer.

LeAnne Howe’s short story, “Due Diligence, or How I Lost Ten Pounds,” illustrates how interconnectedness can also mean misconceptions, miscommunications, and miscomprehensions. Told with a sardonic humor characteristic of much indigenous fiction, this clever story about a Choctaw author explores the complications of unity without understanding and the importance of language to individual and cultural identity.

Each of the thoughtful poems, stories, and essays in this issue demonstrates a profound respect for the reciprocal relationship between language and self and the role of literature in the formation of identity, individual or otherwise. But as Simon Ortiz, who serves as special guest editor for this special issue, points out in a moving interview with critic Janet McAdams, indigenous literature has been met with neglect. The cause of this neglect, says Ortiz, is a lack of critical attention, a “marginalization resulting from discrimination by mainstream academia and critics.” This is probably why this issue of The Kenyon Review contains perhaps more critical writing than any other. A critical essay by Angelica Lawson charts the role of language in the bi-lingual poetry of Ofelia Zepeda. Language, she notes, is essential to cultural resistance and resilience in the face of change, loss, and amalgamation.

Ortiz’s goal for this issue, he explains, was to contextualize indigenous literature in order to promote indigenous language, increase cultural awareness, promote and to give the literature and culture of indigenous people the attention they deserve. If there’s anything we need more of, it’s cultural awareness. If there’s one thing this issue of the The Kenyon Review demands, it’s more of our attention.
[www.thekenyonreview.org]

 

The Laurel Review coverThe Laurel Review

Volume 43 Number 2

Summer 2009

Biannual

Review by Karen H. Lambert, Utah State University

In this issue, an essay by Lisa Ohlen Harris most stirs my mind, encouraging me to return for a second and third look. I like her outlook on life as much as the writing itself. In the piece entitled “Exiles,” the author ponders the death of her father-in-law. She lives in Jordan with her husband and two children, one a newborn. When her husband returns to the U.S. for her father-in-law’s funeral, leaving her alone, she becomes contemplative about her father-in-law’s anger toward religion that alienated him from his three sons, who chose to become Protestants. She also mourns the hope, now lost, that the relationships may be mended. The piece explores challenging family relationships, feelings of being cut off by distance and religion, and then expands to discuss broken ties between nations and with the land. I loved the history, as research abounds in the piece.

The dying man’s daughter-in-law finds comfort and understanding from Tamam, a Muslim woman who is an exile, an academic, her landlord’s wife and upstairs neighbor. She credits Tamam for understanding loss in a way her other friends could not because she knew profound loss, the loss of losing her country.

There are other wise, deep and well-crafted pieces throughout that may strike a chord with another reader the way “Exiles” sang to me. For instance, Paul Cockeram takes a look at what really constitutes good writing – and the difference between really living life and living an illusion – by examining his mother’s and grandmother’s fascination with Bridges of Madison County and a series of news reports on arsonists who have tried to destroy the famous bridges the book depicts. I admire his craft in “Bridges Burn” and his ability to weave different images together to make a whole piece.

At least, I assume both the pieces I mentioned are nonfiction. One minor complaint I have is that The Laurel Review includes no titles to distinguish poem from nonfiction from fiction, although four reviews at the end are labeled. In the table of contents, different genres of writing are scrambled, and labeled only by title and author. As a result, the reader must depend on form and conventions to decipher what they are reading. Generally, in the case of poems this is easy. But, with longer forms sometimes lines seem to blur between fiction and nonfiction. Still, the magazine is a good place to sample a variety of talent, including both established and emerging writers.
[catpages.nwmissouri.edu/m/tlr/]

 

The Literary Review coverThe Literary Review

Volume 53 Number 1

Fall 2009

Quarterly

Review by Becky Young, Utah State University

This issue is themed “The Therapy Issue” with a disclaimer that they “promise it won’t cure you.” Instead, this compilation of poems, short stories, and an essay offers multiple views into the human psyche.

The theme of the issue starts its thread on the cover where a man stands in a bleak forest, head against a tree, alone and misunderstood. Continuing a sense of alienation, the writers of poetry in the journal struggle to find themselves. In the poem “Art Therapy,” Bruce Cohen explores the idea of understanding himself in relation to the world around him, saying, “It seems I have a password for everything but my own mind,” and then later to end the poem, “It is not now approaching at all the end / of the world when we can assume anyone’s identity we like.” The rest of the issue continues to examine the possibilities found in identity.

Both the fiction and the personal essay give additional insight into this search for self. The personal essay is an exploration of Rand B. Lee’s first experience with a psychiatrist as a child. This visit came as a result of Lee watching his parents going to a psychiatrist and then deciding that he himself needed to go. As an adult reflecting on that, Lee realizes that, as the doctor and his parents tried to figure out his problem, he was forced out of the innocence of his childhood before he was ready to leave it. He ended up more confused than he was before, a confusion that carried over into his adult life.

Likewise, in the fiction piece “The Marriage of the Strawman and the Patchwork Girl,” the author Chris Gavaler creates a character who doesn’t quite understand himself or the world around him. As a result, Jack, a scarecrow with a pumpkin for his head, refuses to face the world or understand anything different from what he knows. Instead he buries his old pumpkins that contain memories and thoughts. He buries them where he knows they will be safe.

While aiming to explore therapy and its connection with art, this issue of TLR provides a wide range of conditions and experiences for its readers, all the while holding true to its promise. In the end, you won’t feel cured.
[www.theliteraryreview.org/]

 

The Massachusetts Review coverThe Massachusetts Review

Volume 50 Number 4

Winter 2009

Quarterly

Review by Kayla Anderson, Utah State University

Hayan Charara’s poem, “What Is Mine,” begins this issue and sets the tone for remaining selections of exemplary fiction, non-fiction, poetry and artwork. Charara writes, “It’s like that – / to know something / is for it to become / something else.” Multiple pieces in this volume seem to explore the idea of knowing, of seeing something more clearly through experience and knowledge. One example is Melinda Moustakis’s mother character in “This One Isn’t Going to Be Afraid,” who is known in body parts: nails, biceps, calves, shoulders, hands, feet, skin, teeth, eyes, stomach, and cheekbones. Each part tells a different story of a life, told through the daughter, as she seeks to understand the mother and herself. Or in Sara Majka’s “White Heart Bar,” where the disappearance of a young woman is explored from multiple perspectives.

Other selections deal with sight on a more literal level. Jung H. Yun’s, “The Strange Genius of American Men” tells of beautiful Nanhee, who runs a general store with her great aunt in Korea during the war. Nanhee checks off home states of the foreign men who enter the store in an old Encyclopedia of America, afraid that when she has met a man from every state she might be forced to choose one. She accompanies her friend, Chungmee, currently dating a Californian, a man named only by his home state, to have reconstructive eye surgery. It is there, in the doctor’s office, while Chungmee lies cut and asleep, that Nanhee is able to see real loss of life and love.

Or Paul Kaidy Barrows’s “The Kid with the Ponytail” which tells of couple Mark and Ziv, who are coming to terms with the advancing years and the changes it brings. Mark feels that desire to start again, to return to the past when he sees a kid with a ponytail on the shore, a child on his shoulders, exuberant and full of life. Barrow’s writes, “Mark’s own breathing stopped, overcome with shameful hopeless longing. He wanted right then of all things, to be the child in the arms of the kid with the ponytail. To be held, protected, to start everything over again.”

Will Barnet’s series of paintings entitled “My Father’s House” and Thomas Dumm’s accompanying essay compliments the theme of sight and understanding. Dumm writes, “To understand Barnet’s work in recent decades it is necessary to realize that he consistently has focused on bringing to the surface elements of the unconscious through the act of painting.” Barnet’s work is haunting and features a collection of rooms with shifty family figures, especially Eva, the fever-ridden sister who holds her hands to her face in almost every piece. Among other themes, Barnet’s work explores the way we see our childhood homes, now as adults, looking back through the rooms with renewed sight. Dumm writes, “To ask the question, ‘How do you paint something that is no longer there?’ leads to further questions and answers about how we remember, and why it is so important to understand how we remember, the houses of our past.”

These selections are just a few examples of the captivating characters and themes found in this issue of The Massachusetts Review. There are many other pieces of poetry, fiction and non-fiction that address this common idea, proving Charara’s claim that sometimes experience and knowledge allows for new understanding and insight.
[www.massreview.org]

 

New Letters coverNew Letters

Volume 76 Number 1

2009-10

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This issue of the magazine seems particularly serious (in the sense of “of consequence”), which I find entirely appropriate for the present moment (historically, politically, socially) and in keeping with my expectations for New Letters. Steve Paul interviews poet Edward Sanders and in his introduction quotes him as having said, “Poets should again assume the responsibility for the description of history.” And as it happens, this issue’s special feature section, guest edited by Mia Leonin, is titled “This Side of War,” with work by 15 poets who, for the most part, explore both recent and current wars, accompanied by the black and white photographs of soldiers by Stephen Grote. The poems offer a range of perspectives on “being at war,” from deployment abroad to the civilians who remain at home to the experience of civilian victims of military violence.

The Sanders interview is followed by six poems from his book-length work in progress America, a History of Verse, Volume 7, the 18th Century, an ambitious and fascinating project in which the poet attempts precisely what his title announces and also incorporates illustrations and photos.

Both of the issue’s essays describe experiences abroad. Renée Giovarelli’s “Fermented Milk” considers her experience working in the USAID project office in Kyrgyzstan where she conducted fieldwork about land reform and women’s land ownership. Her writing is fluid and unpretentious and she gives us a useful glimpse into life in Kyrgyzstan. Krista Eastman’s “Friends with Fatima” also considers the life of women. Fatima was a woman Eastman befriended when she spent a year (some time ago) in Senegal. Her essay, too, introduces us to a natural voice and easy pace, focused more on character than imagery or language.

Poems in this issue, outside of the special feature section, include work by some of the most established voices of the last half-century (Maxine Kumin, Affa M. Weaver, Roald Hoffman, among others). I hadn’t seen much new work by Hoffman in a while and was glad to happen upon “Constants of Motion.” (Hoffman is a Nobel Prize-winning chemist, much of whose poetry is science-oriented). The poem is comprised of three columns, the first in two sections, “Classical” and “Equations,” the second “Quantum,” and then “Time rate change,” all preceded by an explanatory note about mechanics. Hoffman’s poem, coincidentally (or not) also alludes to war as one of the things we must “move on” through as “stasis is not an option.”

Affa M. Weaver’s poem, “Interpretation of Tongues,” may well sum up the issue’s overall significance in its work to “describe history.” He asks:

What voice speaks to you in the middle of the silence,
the empty barn at night, fixing a bridle?
What voice speaks to you without music,
siren in poplar trees, you the mute solider?

I answer: These! These! These!
[www.newletters.org]

 

Ninth Letter coverNinth Letter

Volume 6 Number 2

Fall/Winter 2009-10

Biannual

Review by Robbie Pieschke

Art Director Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud introduces the latest edition by saying, “We struggled with the line between elegant restraint and dullness, between expressiveness and eye-candy.” These are tensions exclusive to the talented, and they are made possible by the equipped and impressive staff of artists, alumni from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Indeed the issue is visually striking, but it is also careful and deliberate. Add to it new fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry from Sherman Alexie, Ander Monson, Benjamin Percy, Matt Donovan, Stephan Clark, John Warner, Robert Campbell, Marianne Boruch, Cathy Day, among others, and the result is a sexy literary journal, filled with substance.

Leading off this issue is Benjamin Percy’s “Terminal,” an appropriate title for a nightmarish descent into hell. Written in a haunting second person, “Terminal” takes the reader ascending through clouds, “pink with sunset,” on a strange airplane and descending through clouds with faces “unmistakably etched from black thunderheads, all of them with long trailing beards and gaping mouths that stretch miles across.” The ending suggests that to wake from this nightmare may be just as haunting as living within it.

A definite highlight in this issue is Cathy Day’s “Your Book: A Novel in Stories,” which tells the story of “YOUR BOOK” (another second person story) and its publishing process. Day’s story is bright and hopeful. Although it is hard to put flesh on a character in second person, Day makes up for the lack of physicality with emotionality – tenderly describing feelings of self-consciousness (familiar feelings for any writer) and victory, which is perhaps less familiar; however, Day reminds writers that what they do has impact, even though they may never see it.

Sarah Klenbort’s “Real Men Don’t Cry” is one of the most compelling nonfiction pieces in this issue. A collection of vignettes inspired by A.P. Miller, “Real Men Don’t Cry” grapples with the socially constructed boundaries of masculinity. Klenbort provides anecdotes, even from her own life, which support her thesis that “Girls can slip effortlessly across the lines of gender, while boys are trapped on one side.” She draws on the experience of her own pregnancy as an example: “When I was six months pregnant, I said to my husband, You know it’s okay if Baby’s gay. He paused and thought and finally replied, No, I don’t want Baby to be gay. Then Baby was born a girl and suddenly it was fine to imagine her grown and married to another woman.”

Marianne Boruch’s “Big Sur” is an excerpt from her larger work, a memoir called The Glimpse Traveler, and is another superb piece of nonfiction from this issue. The story documents Boruch’s hitchhiking excursion through the central coast of California with her companion Frances and the rich and mysterious Emil White, who, to me, resembles Christopher Isherwood’s Arthur Norris from The Berlin Stories. My only complaint is that the author’s confidence often collides with a teetering passivity. It seems to me that such an elegant and insightful prose need not be interrupted with so many uncertainties: “sort of,” “What I directly recall…" and “whatever you want to call it.” Despite this small inconsistency, her travel narrative is impressive and engaging.

The poetry included is also impressive. Robin Ekiss’ “Epithalamium, or Elegy for an Electrocuted Elephant,” like Orwell’s famous essay, relives the death of an elephant to call into question human morality. The poem ends, “What have I come to kill / or praise / that isn’t already buried / by its imperfections.” The last lines of Sherman Alexie’s poem “Phone Calls from Ex-Lovers” are also brilliant, though rendered less effective by Alexie’s pretentious plea to remember them. He leaves readers with the memorable lines, “There is nothing we want more / Than to remain wanted / By the ones who wanted us before.”

Amjad Nasser’s poetry is certainly a highlight of this issue. One of the eight poems of his included is “Daily Occurrence,” which starts, “There wasn’t a time when I came home and / a cloud of lead did not follow me. And every time / I opened the door, my own family surprised me.” His honesty is heart wrenching, and, though filled with sadness, his words are beautiful.

The supplements are attractive (as usual) – April Freely’s poem “Garden Valley,” for instance, is as elegantly packaged as it is stated – and these seem to complete an already stellar package.
[www.ninthletter.com]

 

North Dakota Quarterly coverNorth Dakota Quarterly

Volume 75 Number 2

Spring 2009

Quarterly

Review by Bonnie Moore, Utah State University

Higher education is the topic of this edition of North Dakota Quarterly, featuring the trends, idiosyncrasies, problems, joys, and goals of the college and the university examined in poetry, memoir, and prose that both engages and challenges, providing a wide variety of views on academia.

Thomas Van Nortwick considers the meaningful moment when a student suddenly grasps a long-coming concept and “the world is made anew again” through the personal academic relationship between student and teacher. Such a moment provides the “glowing ember,” the power that enables transmission of a new world, a new paradigm, which, he persuasively argues, can never be quantified via the business model of education.

In another essay, “On Becoming a Teacher,” Joan Rudel examines reasons her graduate students give for wanting to teach and finds that most of them view teachers as nurturing caregivers instead of as scholars. She suggests that “being able to read, analyze, and write coherently about the content of a passage” are necessary for those who would have a role in shaping the minds of students today.

Donald Gutierrez and Gaynell Gavin both view their lives as academics through memoir; Gutierrez concentrates on progression through his professional career and the differences between institutions; Gavin focuses on the personal life with lovely language, the value of relationships, and the prices we pay when we live far away from those we really care about.

How higher education has lost the moral high ground, inevitably selling its soul through acquiescence to the business model and overvaluing individual benefits as opposed to the public good is explored by Dan Rice in an essay that suggests ways to regain the soul of the university:

It occurred to me one day why the ‘customer’ metaphor for students was and is so inadequate. Have you heard of any customer who has established a trust so that when she dies her estate will go to Wal-Mart? Or any other business, for that matter? Why is that? I believe it is because we don’t expect business to change our lives.

Rice implies that changing inner lives is the very core of higher education and that when society looks only at the exchange of dollars, we cheat ourselves of what has been the fundamental core in higher education.

The edition also includes half a dozen poems. I end my review with a portion of one of them, by Carolyn Raphael: “But you and I, an owl and lark / in harmony but out of phase, / denied the comforts of the dark, / sing anthems in Apollo’s praise / before preparing to embark / upon our amorous matinees.”
[www.und.nodak.edu/org/ndq]

 

Poetry coverPoetry

Volume 195 Number 5

February 2010

Monthly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Martha Zweig’s poem “Carolina” could be an ars poetica of sorts, or a Poetry manifesto, or the platform of a new (and possibly more satisfactory) political party, or a prayer: “Won’t somebody please start / something other & oddball soon // narrow her down out of folly /& trivia to destiny?” Or perhaps she is (without knowing it) responding to Robert Haas, who begins “September Notebook: Stories”: “Everyone comes here from a long way off / (is a line from a poem I read last night).” Maybe they are both responding (without knowing it) to J. Allyn Rosser’s “Impromptu”: “as if something I could say were true, and every / moment from now on would be my cue.” And all of them would have to ponder, with Joshua Mehigan what it means to be at the “Crossroads”: “This is the place it happened. It was here. / You might not know unless you knew.” Clive James seems to want to help them sort it out in the concluding lines to “A Perfect Market”:

The language falls apart before our eyes,
But what it once was echoes in our ears
As poetry, whose gathered force defies
Even the drift of our declining years.
A single lilting line, a single turn
Of phrase: these always proved, at last we learn,
Life cries for joy though it must end in tears.

As it has for the poet’s family in Sam Willet’s“Tourist”: “I’d brought two questions here – / holding them as if they might slip: who were // my mother’s people? Where did they die?” And for victims of violence in Bob Hicok’s “In the loop”:

I heard from the people after the shootings. People
I knew well or barely not at all. Largely
the same message: how horrible it was, how little
there was to say about horrible it was.

And for the small subjects of Spencer Reese’s “ICU”: “On rounds, the newborns eyed me, each one / like Orpheus in his dark hallway, saying: / I knew I would find you, I knew I would lose you.” And for the rest of us, too, as we are included in Susan Kelly-Dewitt’s “Reading Saint John of the Cross”:

One more night of spiritual
ice and we might all become
birds, green birds frozen
on a black winter branch.

I loved this issue’s Comment section with Durs Grunbein’s essay “Why Live Without Writing,” which might seem, at first, more in line with Rosser’s tears than a new ars poetica, but he concludes with poetry’s raison d’être – it changes the lives of readers. As this issue has changed mine.
[www.poetrymagazine.org/]

 

Southern Humanities Review coverSouthern Humanities Review

Volume 43 Number 4

Fall 2009

Quarterly

Review by Samuel Howard, Utah State University

A dormant but beautifully ominous volcano sets the mood for this compelling issue of Southern Humanities Review (SHR). From the Japanese art on the cover, to the final poem “Resurrection: Ivorybill,” by Ashley Mace Havird, an undertone of imminent eruption, and the realms that will be, are, or have been downstream from the event, pervades each piece. This is not to say that every piece is dark and looming; rather, whether fissures of perception, or pyroclastic flows of meaning and connection, this issue conveys that the effects of earth-shattering change are worthy of being felt, remembered, and revered.

SHR provides for the reader with eclectic tastes with its two essays, three short fictions, a plethora of predominantly lyric mixed with elegiac poetry, and three book reviews. Those who crave stinging images that tattoo themselves into your memory will find quivers-full here, but multiple pieces also address the complexities of loss, anticipations of love, and sapped or flushed litanies seeking understanding.

Neil Mathison’s “Volcano: A to Z” introduces as well as frames the issue and presents this issue’s strongest piece. Though the essay moves through diverse levels of connection, it seems to provide a volcano ethnography of sorts that weaves experiences, discoveries, metaphors, and growing ironies attached to living life in the shadow of Mt. Rainier. He writes, “We grew up under a volcano not thinking it a volcano. But it was. And still is.” He addresses how we develop “the technique of ignoring what we can’t do anything about.” Further, he shows how we flirt with, and paradoxically love and need, the angry mountains, like a god that asks for sacrifices, bequeathing gifts and a relationship nevertheless worth the price.

Among the fiction pieces, “Nevada” by Kate Krautkramer stands out as sample of an on-the-brink eruption in the life of a speech pathologist in love with a distant, long-time friend who cannot reciprocate her desires for union. The setting oppresses, in a mid-1900s, rural Nevada heat. Among several enthralling scenes, one opens a chasm of sadness in the protagonist as she seeks to persuade an autistic child to speak to his mother. “Ambrose would not speak to me, except to answer all of my questions with a question of his own […] ‘Can you count, Ambrose, with the lovely bare feet?’ ‘How do you do,’ Ambrose said.”

Two particular poems in this issue threw me into the wall, and both were written by the same author, R.T. Smith. “Watermark” paints a beautiful description of a woman’s struggle to rationalize her dressing up for the death of her father, taken by “the lupus wolf.” Her flowing prose, rhyme, and rhythm are intoxicating, as evidenced here: “A literary heroine dissolves to reveal the facts: a fatherless daddy’s girl in her best bodice-and-border shift, black heels – hound-dog face straining not to look bemused – and about her neck, smoldering like a fuse, those twenty-six bone-bright heirloom pearls.” Her other poem, “Conspiracy Theory,” lights a candle for the J.F. Kennedy past and the fears felt by those who loomed under the shadow of his loss.

At last, the SHR readers will find this issue cathartic but discomforting, in a good way. In addition, a key strength lies in how accessible its pages are to the literary layperson. In any case, read on, and let the heat of the volcano warm or terrify you.
[media.cla.auburn.edu/english/shr/]

 

THEMA coverTHEMA

Volume 21 Number 3

Autumn 2009

Biannual

Review by Kate Sirls, Utah State University

Thema, the literary journal that boasts “many plots/one premise,” stepped into the kitchen for this edition. Editor Virginia Howard, drawing on memories of her time at a New Orleans bed and breakfast, called for short stories, poems, and artwork “varied as a recipe collection in a cookbook . . . concocted from a wide variety of ingredients for the theme ‘In Kay’s Kitchen’.” The result is a delightful compilation of five illustrations, eight poems, and eleven stories that transport readers into the various interpretations of Kay’s kitchen.

The issue begins with an illustration by Malaika Favorite, titled “Country Mother,” a piece of art that truly encompasses the intimate and homey ambience that the journal has in store for its reader. The drawing is done in black and white, and features a tall womanly figure, calm in demeanor, in the midst of two smaller figures and the proverbial form of the farmland rooster. Favorite breathes life into her work through a simple framework of images that speaks of both simplicity and happiness, and it serves as a perfect beginning to the journal.

Favorite is not the only author with the ability to use simplicity in order to convey multifaceted idea’s about Kay’s Kitchen, though. Lori Andrews, in her poem “Making Penne With Basil-Seafood Sauce,” writes about life issues under the guise of a seafood pasta recipe. “Calamari is interesting to cut,” she claims, “all those little legs with their / stories, / those eyes begging a neat divorce, ashamed. . . . I think my son is on drugs you know, so I sauté garlic in olive / oil.” Williams’s skill with words takes readers to a more personal type of kitchen, and it makes her poem particularly noteworthy.

Also worth mentioning is “In-Between Moments” by Sky Andrews Gerspacher, a short story that weaves through the lives of four different people whose common interests are the destruction of a run-down drive-in theatre and a nearby restaurant, run by the elusive Kay, whom readers only get to know through the eyes of the other characters. Gerspacher dives into the lives of these characters, though, so that each of their stories and each of their messages are heard clearly, along with the overall message of the story. “Everyone’s story is different,” she writes. “Bad and unfortunate things happen to people and there isn’t always a villain.” These strong words, written on the first page, set a thought-provoking tone for the rest of the story’s search for the meanings of “good” and “bad” in a world that is not black and white.

This issue of Thema is filled with creative and interesting accounts of Kay’s kitchen, all of which serve as inspiration to readers and writers alike about the possibilities of starting with a theme – even one as ordinary as a kitchen – and transforming it into something original and artistic.
[members.cox.net/thema/]

 

The Threepenny Review coverThe Threepenny Review

Issue 120

Winter 2010

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This thirtieth anniversary issue of the magazine (noted only on the cover, no grand recapping of great accomplishments or even an editorial remark on the milestone publication) is like every issue that has preceded it and, let us hope, every one that will follow – intelligent. I count on the The Threepenny Review to reassure me that there are intelligent voices, thoughtful and critical minds, broadly educated thinkers, careful writers, and intellectually viable perspectives producing consistently high quality work that doesn’t seek to grab attention, shore up trends, or even to set them.

As always, there’s nothing you’ll be likely to want to skip in the issue, which features fiction by Chloe Aridjis, Teolinda Gersão (of Portugal), Wendell Berry; poetry by Robert Gibb, David J. Rothman, Kay Ryan, C.K. Williams, Dean Young, and Adam Zagajewski, among others; essays (on opera, theater, film, medicine) and review essays by Elizabeth Tallent, John Barth, Bert Kizer Adam Phillips, Steve Fineberg, Jess Row, Greil Marcus, among others; and a memoir by Javier Marías.

Absolutely not to be missed are Alex Webb’s remarkable black and white photographs on the front and back covers and throughout the issue. These are photos Webb took in the ‘70’s in the American South, Haiti, and Mexico, as well as in Massachusetts. The issue was planned, of course, long before anyone could have predicted what photos of Haiti might mean to us in Winter 2010. Singly, these photos are unforgettable, haunting, stunning. Together, they are overwhelming, portraits of people so perfect in their capturing of a particular feeling and moment in time, they mirror impeccably the intelligence and clear-eyed vision of the essays, poems, and stories in the issue.

Adam Zagajewki’s poem “Impossible,” beautifully translated as much of his work has been by Claire Cavanagh, reminds us:

They insist: poetry is fundamentally impossible,
a poem is a hall where faces dissolve
in a golden haze of spotlights, where the fierce
rumblings of any angry mob drown out
defenseless single voices.
Then what? Fine words perish quickly,
ordinary words rarely persuade.

There are no ordinary words in this issue. If a literary magazine as intelligent, original, and consistently worthwhile as The Threepenny Review can survive thirty years and counting, nothing is impossible.
[www.threepennyreview.com/]

 

West Branch coverWest Branch

Number 65

Fall/Winter 2009

Biannual

Review by John Gilmore, Utah State University

This issue of West Branch contains a single piece each of fiction and nonfiction, and the work of eighteen poets. To begin, this excerpt of Kelle Groom’s nonfiction manuscript City of Shoes is particularly frantic and gripping. Groom – a mother who gave her son up for adoption – yearns for her now-dead and buried boy with a childlike fear of loss and faith in re-finding. She asks her own father, “‘Can we go to Brockton today, to Tommy’s cemetery?’ I wouldn’t say grave.” Her father resists, worried (Groom thinks) that in asking the adoptive parents for directions, “We’ll remind them I gave them Tommy, and Tommy died.”

Groom learns from a magazine article of “high childhood leukemia deaths in Brockton,” and a connection to the dumping of toxic chemicals from the tannery factories in this City of Shoes. She visits the shoe museum but fails to press her personal tour guide for information about the dumping and leaves, helpless. She can be neither her boy’s mother nor his truth-seeker. Here is our nonlinear world, the impossibility of predicting results or righting tragedy. I’m left contemplating whether we hold ourselves accountable only to maintain the hope that we do, in fact, have some control.

A small portion of the included poetry is obscure, while much is as accessible and as unyielding as the “three feet of frozen Appalachian clay” in John Bargowski’s “Shelf Ice”; the clay leaves no place to bury “the best watchdog / you ever owned,” nowhere for the dead animal “but into a cardboard box / in the garage pushed behind the Snapper / until a week of warm rain.”

The issue hits a high point with the work of Jennifer Boyden, and the editors graciously give us four of her poems. Boyden’s poetry is sensual as “how before we were cells yet / a slip of heat wedged the night open” (“A Pileup, and Time, Besides”), concrete as “The rocks: brown and furred,” and living as “the veins in the ears” of a rabbit, “that give back the heat of deserts” (“What the Stones Allow”). I found in the description she gives of the rocks in “What the Stones Allow” a summation of her four included works: “They are not gentle. They do not / mean to be.”
[www.bucknell.edu/WestBranch.xml]

 

World Literature Today coverWorld Literature Today

Volume 84 Number 1

January-February 2010

Bimonthly

Review by Brian Brown, Utah State University

Putting together a journal on literature from across the world would be a daunting task, but the editors of World Literature Today have pulled it off wonderfully in the January-February 2010 edition. The journal’s international scope is clear from the cover, which announces its two special sections – one on Taiwanese literature, another on Korean – as well as introducing a poet from El Salvador. The journal further contains an essay from a Croatian writer and Mayan poems, with the Mayan and Spanish versions included with the English translation. A pair of Irish poems and an excerpt from US author David Shields’s forthcoming book round out the range of nations represented here.

Each of the special sections is prefaced by an informative introduction that gives a brief overview of the literature from the spotlighted region, and explains the relevance of the included works. Each section also has a call-out, highlighting other noteworthy works from the focus region. The review sections in the back as well as the front are devoted to spotlighting upcoming works and announcing recent releases from around the world.

One especially noteworthy piece was the short story by Taiwanese writer Huang Chung-ming. It is the only piece of fiction included in its entirety in this issue. It is a beautiful depiction of the relationship between a young Taiwanese boy and his grandfather and the bond they develop through the mutual adoration of an English pocket watch. As the guest editor of the special section, Michelle Yeh, points out, “their fascination with an English pocket watch provides the perfect foil for the modern history of Taiwan and the hope of universal peace and harmony.” Part of the peace and harmony is illustrated in the playful dialogue between the old man and his grandson, Little Ming. And when the grandfather dies, the reader accompanies him to the afterlife, where he makes restitution for the violence that brought the pocket watch into his possession.

Aging, death, and dying seem to be unifying themes tying many of these works together; the overall effect of these works from around the world touching on common themes in their culturally unique ways is truly harmonious.
[www.worldliteraturetoday.com/]

 

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