Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted April 20, 2010

Antioch Review :: Copper Nickel :: Event :: Florida Review :: Green Mountains Review :: Idaho Review :: :Louisville Review :: Mantis :: Narrative Magazine :: New Millennium Writings :: Oleander Review :: Pleiades :: Ruminate :: Sakura Review :: Water~Stone Review :: White Fungus

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The Antioch Review coverThe Antioch Review

Volume 68 Number 1

Winter 2010

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This issue’s theme is “Celebrity Houses. Celebrity Politics,” framed by an essay of the same name by Daniel Harris, who has written widely on popular culture. Harris explores the blurred lines between celebrity as a Hollywood-esque phenomenon and celebrity in political life (stars who become spokespersons for “causes,” politicians who flaunt their looks, wealth, and social lives as if they were stars of stage and screen). He considers the relationships between Republican ideology and our fascination (obsession) with the Hollywood elite, a link that is falsely depicted as antagonistic – and more dangerous than it at first appears.

This first issue of 2010 features three other essays; the work of six poets (all quite different from each other, no cookie cutter approach to poetry here); five short stories; and a small section of writings about France. The Robert K. Merton essay in which he first coined the term a “self-fulfilling prophecy” is this issue’s “From Our Archives” presentation. Several reviews round out the issue.

Barbara Sjoholm, an accomplished and widely published travel writer, contributes a lovely essay, “How the Fisher Came Back Home.” Mathew Clark’s “Phantasms of the Living,” which recounts the experience of encounters with the paranormal, offers all the pleasures of fiction, with all the intrigue of the mysterious-but-true. Jeffrey Meyers examines John Huston films based on the work of Hemingway.

The fiction is well-rounded. Appealing, rich stories told in natural, inviting voices. I liked especially a story, “Miss Fabiola,” by Peruvian writer Julio Ramón Ribeyro (1929-1994), beautifully translated by John Penuel, which begins: “I learned the alphabet at home with Mom, in a notebook with red and green squares, but the person who really taught me to read and write was Miss Fabiola, the first teacher I had when I started school.”

Poetry this issue reflects an eclectic and generous editorial stance. I was especially taken with Jeanine Webb’s “Winter Night Grievance,” a lovely re-imagining of ancient Chinese poetry:

Weary of my diminutive
beasts, I have ridden over
nine hundred mountains
to be with you in the fog
past yellow cranes
and white rivers
past hermits and bureaucrats
all alike scheming for a meal.

In sharp contrast, there is “The School of the Arts” by Adrian Blevins, with its long, prose-y lines. Similarly, though, his poem, too, makes reference to the politics of the times it references:

My father said the most wicked among us were the petty bourgeois
    and the Republicans of the black lakes of all that filched money
        and me sometimes how it felt

when I was a kid in Daddy’s slapdash house of divorce and dejection
    with no way of knowing what kind of girl to be
        and the point is Daddy didn’t know either

Jacqueline Osherow’s “June 2008: Dream Snapshots, Tel Aviv,” a long poem in 12 sections, is a splendidly composed work of slender lines that balances poetic and ordinary language masterfully.

The section on France almost seems like a small bonus, alongside an issue already rich with fine poems, essays, and stories. Paul Christensen’s essay “My Longing to be French,” is particularly pleasing. He has a natural and believable voice and a delightful style that draws the reader to him instantly as if he were telling us something in confidence – and we want to hear what he has to say. I liked, too, Joan Frank’s “France: The Cake Frosting Country,” the essay as clever as the title. Hugh Graham’s essay on Baudelaire and Stewart Lindh’s essay on Barthes are instructive, without being pedantic. Lindh’s style is personal and easy-going. I didn’t think I could stomach one more essay about Barthes, but this one changed my mind.

In his “Editorial,” Robert S. Fogarty categorizes the Harris essay as “thoughtful, timely, and provocative.” I would say this is true of the issue as a whole – a highly satisfying chapter in this reliably appealing journal’s history.
[www.antiochcollege.org/antioch_review/]

 

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Copper Nickel coverCopper Nickel

Issue 12

2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Copper Nickel 12 isn’t a theme issue, but a theme of sorts emerges nonetheless, or at least an organizing principle that is highly appealing and largely successful – how do we relate to the things, the stuff, the variety and quantity of forms and objects around us, human and non-human. It begins with the gloriously evocative cover photograph by Chris Morris from his series “Forgotten History.” Six additional photos in the series appear in the issue, along with the photographer’s remarks. The photos document abandoned homesteads in the area where Morris grew up, and capture the decay (which he does beautifully) and the photographer’s sense of “personal connection” to these “spaces.” Each is a vast landscape of what is missing and yet still exists, highlighted by an outdated or antiquated object (the rotary phone on the magazine’s cover).

This suite of photos is followed by another, vastly different, equally compelling and stunning, by Joann Brennan, called “Managing Eden.” These photos examine our relationship to wilderness and nature, each one strikingly different from the next so that we can see the photographer’s amazing talent at focusing on multiple views, as well as a single moment of experience (a portrait of a bear’s head, mouth open wide to reveal rather extraordinary teeth). The two series of photographs are followed immediately by “System of Totems,” by James Hoch, a wonderful poem that accomplishes much of what these photos do, compiling the material of the world and turning it into an atmosphere or mood.

Compiling and compounding our experience of the stuff and emotions of life is the driving aesthetic of the issue, which includes two list poems of 50 entries each, part of a series of 50, by Blake Butler; Ann Gorrick’s “Twenty-First Century Girls: A Semi Cento”; John Findura’s un-numbered list “Things I Don’t Like Talking About”; and Carolyn Kuebler’s “Theory of Happiness,” which is a list of a different sort, as there are more links between the entries, but which reads like a list for its form, and in which many verses are list-like in their intention to present a single item to consider alongside the poem’s more philosophical movement. All of this work is engaging and evocative.

Jennifer Fortin’s prose poem “Ghost Print of Cognate,” is an example, it seems to me, of what the journal defines as its editorial predilections (“traditional and incipient forms”). Fortin’s work belonging to this latter category. Hers is a list of an entirely different sort, a kind of unraveling backwards of meaning: “Endorsement despite the dearth of heart pares the voiceless fricative,” the piece begins.

A departure from this theme/principle (though not the only one, this is a large issue and there are many non-list poems, too, and a few short stories) is a very entertaining short personal essay by Box Bowles, “American History with Elvis and a Frenchman: A Mostly True Account of My Morning with A Literary Legend of Whom I’d Never Heard.” If you’ve ever been saddled with the responsibility of escorting a visiting writer/artist/speaker on a college campus to and from the airport and/or other venues, you will find this essay especially satisfying, but you don’t have to have had the experience to appreciate this writer’s jaunty tone or ability to capture odd and comic details.

As far as lists of the things we connect to and which populate our environment go, add Copper Nickel to the list of things you intend to read soon.
[www.copper-nickel.org]

 

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Event coverEvent

Volume 38 Number 3

2009

Triannaul

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

I look forward to Event’s nonfiction contest issue every year, and it’s always worth the wait. In addition to the three winning essays, this issue includes the work of ten poets (who couldn’t be more different from each other); three fiction contributors; and a number of reviews. Contest judge John Burns, executive editor of Vancouver Magazine, describes his winning selections, quite accurately it seems to me, as works that “speak truths privately experienced, publicly recounted…told with creativity, absolutely, but also, we trust, with fidelity.” We can’t, of course, know if this is true, but these writers (Eufemia Fantetti, Katherine Fawcett, and Ayelet Tsabari) make me believe that it is so, which amounts to the same thing.

Fantetti’s “Alphabet Autobiografica,” an abecedary in prose, is an exceptional work that explores the intersections and relationships between language as a product of cultural (immigrant experience) and psychological (her mother’s schizophrenia) realities. Fawcett and Tsabari also recount personal stories within the context of larger social realities. (Tsabari’s is a particularly disturbing story of an assault and subsequent victimization in attempting to manage the police/legal aspects of dealing with the assault.) Fawcett and Tsabari’s prose styles are casual, but never sloppy or unconsidered. All three essays are original, polished, clever, and moving.

Poems in this issue represents the vastly different possibilities that poetry offers, from Mike Borkent’s diagrammatic pieces; to Dina DelBucchia’s edgy prose poems (“I am fucking Lindsay Lohan in the back of a pick-up truck”); to Sue Sinclair’s portrait of old age in “How to be Hungry” (“His window has ceased to be a view, / is now that through which / he waits for something to enter”).

Canada has many exciting, very fine small and commercial presses, so reviews in Event are especially pleasing, introducing readers to works we might not otherwise come across. How could I not want to find out more about a poetry volume with a title like asking questions indoors and out (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2009) or a nonfiction work titled Marrying Hungary (Signature Editions, 2008)?

Finally, I must comment on Event’s wonderful cover, although I confess I am not sure about its physical composition, which is not described (photo of an installation, photograph?). It’s a set of small dolls (androgynous, leaning toward male in appearance), small wooden-seeming creatures with similar, but distinct facial expressions and attire, all either sad or perturbed or confused or struggling to hide emotion, all of which is evident merely from the sketchiest of detail. Artist Margaret Matsyuma says of her work: “I am drawn to work evoking childhood experience and the formation of identity, and its repression when it does not conform to social norms.” She does this beautifully in a subtle way that manages to capture an immense array of emotions in an economical and original presentation – emblematic of the journal’s work overall. [event.douglas.bc.ca]

 

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The Florida Review coverThe Florida Review

Volume 34 Number 2

Winter 2009

Biannual

Review by Karen Rigby

Photographed in sepia tones, a man holds a globe while facing the camera. John Bohannon’s cover plays with expectations of scale. It seems to evoke mastery, to suggest that man is large enough to contain the world in his hands, that the immense has suddenly become bearable. The latest volume of The Florida Review, however, often confirms that we are still very much of the world rather than standing somewhere beyond its concerns.

Grief, inexplicable cruelties, and a sober tone permeate many of these writings, from Deborah Thompson’s “Buying Time,” an essay on walking through a drugstore while facing her husband’s cancer, to Alyce Miller’s “Naming Dogs,” a portrayal of pitbulls rescued during a fighting raid. Poems containing violent imagery – such as “I imagined my neck breaking / upon impact” (E.C. Belli), “an open wrist / an accidental slip” (Susan Rich), “The drum and how it bled, the dream and how / It fed mothers on the auction block” (John Murillo), and the Colonel who “hanged himself” (Kerry James Evans) – continue the darker trend.

Baron Wormser writes an ekphrastic response to a photo of a sheriff, remarking that “Colored and white will leak / historic rage,” while Christine Gelineau explores the tense relationship Americans maintain with law enforcement: though they desire protection, they also bristle at the prospect of over-involvement. Even Fred Setterberg’s “Catechism,” a story that uses interfaith marriage as a humorous touchstone, names some of the notorious figures in the history of the Catholic church.

Though much seriousness is represented in this winter issue, lighter moments also appear. Jennifer duBois creates a narrator whose lie on a college application continues to plague him decades afterwards. The problem does not possess the same gravitas as death or the burden of social responsibility that appear in some of the essays, but still defines the character, and serves as another example of carrying a burden, a theme that recurs in other works. More notable items include an interview with Honor Moore, as well as work by the winners of the 2009 Editors’ Awards.

Readers that are new to The Florida Review would find it comfortably familiar. It follows a format common to many university journals, including an Editor’s Note at the beginning and a selection of book reviews and literary advertisements at the end. Printed on creamy paper, the perfect-bound issue is over 160 pages, using crisp typography with graceful adornments in the form of a bird logo. It is not one of the more visually-oriented journals with adventurous, dynamic design elements. Nor is it meant to be. Content is king, as the expression goes, and here, it is most noticeable in the essays, all of which are on par with non-fiction found in venues such as The Missouri Review, and all of which bite in sometimes haunting, sometimes damning ways.
[floridareview.cah.ucf.edu/]

 

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Green Mountains Review coverGreen Mountains Review

Volume 22 Number 2

Winter 2009

Biannual

Review by Lesley Dame

The Green Mountains Review, published by Johnson State College in Vermont, is a haven of poetry, fiction, essays and book reviews of substantial quality. A literary magazine with an impressive history, the GMR is known for publishing the likes of Julia Alvarez, Galway Kinnell, Mark Doty, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Robert Bly, and Joy Harjo over its twenty-plus years of showcasing both established and up-and-coming writers.

The most recent issue boasts a hundred pages of poetry written by over thirty poets. Despite the number of differing voices, there’s a cohesive vision uniting the work. What struck me most about the poems were the repeated attention and reference to language and the art of writing. For these poets, the world is a literary being. It breathes words. Every person, event, and image is intimately linked to language, for better or worse.

For example, the poem “Skeleton Coast” by Sandra Meek paints the scene of the “Cape Fur Seal Reserve, Cape Cross, Namibia.” Meek explores the physical place of the seal reserve with exquisitely gripping images that hint at the nature of humanity while subtly imbuing the poem with the necessity, yet inadequacy, of language. Meeks says “There is no parallel between peopling // and sealing. Never was. Language was always indentured / to dominion.” And later, “you and I / rattle these bones, the sorry dice // of these words, between us – all / ballast, all in the end weightless.” It’s as if to say we are all slaves to language. Like many of the other poems, “Skeleton Coast” is interested in the intimate relationship between nature, people, and language, seeming to suggest that language is what it means to be human, but also that being human in this vast universe connects us to nature and animals in a very definite way. Language is inescapable.

Meek’s poem is impressive, but my favorite poems in this collection happen to be a bit different from the others, in style and tone. Most of the poems in GMR are image-driven, densely written, thought-provoking pieces that demand a fair bit of attention and pondering. You’ll need to read them a few times. But the three poems written by G.C. Waldrep, while just as well written, are simply more accessible to readers. His poems are the kinds that drive a spike of jealousy into the hearts of all fellow poets. Mingling modern issues like global warming with timeless issues of love and the nature of the universe, Waldrep breaks the mold. Look at this excerpt from "Search and Rescue”:

It’s cold, and then it’s warm, and then
someone you love is complaining
about global warming, and how all the lovers
they know are subletting their condos.
You could make the kids do it,
of course, but you’re not properly bonded,
which is to say no one has yet told you
the story of how the future works.

Simple direct language. Real life. Gentle humor. Waldrep doesn’t need any bells or whistles to grab our attention. His work is thought-provoking without being snobby. All the poems in GMR are diverse, but never sacrifice quality or integrity. Like “Search and Rescue,” many of the poems attempt to find balance between the modern world, the big questions, and the history of the literary tradition. These are ambitious pieces, yet each is done well.

While poetry makes up a huge hunk of this issue, the fiction and nonfiction are worth noting. The essay on Wallace Stevens by Eamon Grennan made me want to drop everything and run to the bookstore to gobble up copies of Stevens’s exciting boyhood poems and letters. One particular fiction piece by Philip Gerard, called “Night Camp,” was better than the rest. It is a mysterious, dreamy piece about children with illnesses that prevent them from being in the sunlight. The narrator is a camp counselor who spends each night in this eerie camp with hauntingly silent children. It’s a creepy and magical illustration of light and dark, joy and sadness. Other stories range in theme from a boy who sees halos on people who are about to die to a teenager wasting his life away in a GM factory. The final pieces are a couple of poetry book reviews that leave you intrigued and wanting more.

All in all, this cozy magazine is worth picking up. It has plenty of good writing and riveting stories.
[greenmountainsreview.jsc.vsc.edu/]

 

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Idaho Review coverIdaho Review

Volume 10

2009

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This tenth anniversary issue opens with founding editor Mitch Wieland’s summary, among other remarks, of one marker of his journal’s success: from the first nine issues, nine stories or poems were reprinted in major awards anthologies (best ofs, etc.), another 15 stories were short-listed for these prizes. The Editor’s Note is followed by tributes from more 19 writers to the late Carol Houck Smith, editor at W.W. Norton & Company for 60 years. Maxine Kumin writes that Houck Smith was “everything an editor should be: compassionate, demanding, supportive, and seldom wrong.” Joan Silber remembers that she “loved her writers and she loved her city.” Charles Baxter praises Houck Smith’s worldliness, something he considers essential in a “fine editor.”

The Houck Smith tributes are followed by 12 stories, many from household names in contemporary literary fiction (Rick Bass, Chris Offutt, Stuart Dybek, Peter Fromm); a chapbook of poems by Joseph Millar; 13 poems by three major players on the poetry scene (Lawrence Raab, Debora Greger, Michael Waters); and a special feature of “illustrated fiction” (graphic short story) by Pinckney Benedict, titled “Orgo Vs. the Flatlanders.”

Natural, credible, casual voices are characteristic of the fiction, voices that draw in the reader because they seem familiar, eager to tell a good tale, but not overly determined to sell themselves. These stories display impressive mastery of the form. Particularly striking is Brad Watson’s “Noon,” a model of restraint, which opens: “The doctors had delivered Beth and Tex’s only child stillborn, in breach, and he had come apart,” which succeeds in giving us an enormous amount of information, subtly, in a tremendously efficient sentence. I liked very much Mark Jacobs’ “Last Word,” which begins: “Nobody thought to look in the freezer for Anibal’s pants,” and William Giraldi’s “Sasquatch Love Song” is more deliberately aware of itself as a story and more lyrically inclined than most of the fiction this issue. It starts: “Let me unspool this story a little more – she was comet and car crash and all things about to burst my Gillian.”

Millar’s chapbook consists of nine poems, reflections on place, people/characters as they fit in a particular landscape, and, mental/emotional states. Here is an excerpt from the title poem:

Your knuckles relax and your hands
open slowly each time you enter
the house of sleep
which you will never own,
its black windows shinig
on the black lawn
smelling of cloves

While I am not a fan of graphic fiction, Benedict’s work appears sophisticated on many levels and a worthy contribution to the genre, and I appreciated very much his introductory note in which he reveals the motivation for turning to the form:

I found myself asking a question that comes to me more and more these days – “Why write?” How can I make myself excited about the process of writing again? Surprisingly, on this day, the answer seems simple. Create a comic. (I cannot draw a lick, so why this seemed obvious escapes me now – but it sure did make the whole process a challenge.) Make it a comic about the central conflict in the universe, which, if you are a fellow who like me grew up in Appalachia, is obviously the war in which the indomitable hillbillies descend from their mountain fastnesses to take on the rest of the world.

[www.boisestate.edu/theidahoreview/]

 

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The Louisville Review coverThe Louisville Review

Number 66

Fall 2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Spalding University (where the journal is published) guest faculty editors Kathleen Driskell, Kirby Gann, Charlie Schulman, Luke Wallin, and guest editor Betsy Wood, a Spalding University MFA Program alum, have selected the work of 22 poets, four fiction writers, an equal number of nonfiction writers, two playwrights, and five young writers (for the “Children’s Corner") for this issue. There is much solid, competently composed work here from writers who publish widely and consistently in fine journals.

I liked, in particular, Gaylord Brewer’s poems from a series titled “Dead Metaphors,” an appealing concept for a series. Two appear here, #3 and #19. I imagine there are an infinite number of possibilities, and I hope to encounter more from the collection. Here is the clever opening of #3:

How the room centers around a vase
centered around a table, narcotic lossening
of petals. My god, how quickly today passes,
beginning containing unfolded finish,
first beauty the solution to our pain,
whether wild thorn of woodside
or tended garden monarch – still
dangerous in her refinements.

The issue also features several poems that imagine historical personages, some real (“Virginia to Leonard, Who Means Well” by Stacia M. Fleegal) and some fictional (“The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife” by Suellen Wedmore, and “Memory’s Work” by Adam Day); several poems explore the nuances of natural scenes; and several portraits of children. Perhaps the most unusual poem is Cathleen Cathert’s “The Princess Bride,” what I might categorize as a love poem in reverse: “I’m sorry. / I’m not fighting fair. Lynda, indulge me / As fine as your poems are they lie…the truth is we’ll do anything for love…this is one that I’ve done.”

Nonfiction contributions are four personal essays, two that consider the meaning of marriage (from Dianne Aprile and Susan Finch); one that describes an attraction to the “choreographed violence” of wrestling (by Chrisotpher Lirette); and my favorite, an essay about Kosovo by Timothy Kenny, “Unknown Zone: Recollections of a Year in Kosovo.” Kenny observes his temporary home keenly, works diligently to provide an authentic view of the place, and creates just the right balance between objective reporting and his own personal view of what he observes.

Most unusual are the two short dramatic pieces by Mark St. Germain (“Fitzroy”) and Holly L. Jensen (“Class Act: Version 379"). I commend TLR for publishing dramatic works, which are seldom included in literary journals and, frankly, difficult to find anywhere. Fitzroy is a huge tortoise whose encounter with Charles Darwin brings into question the relationship between survival as a product of biological imperative (reproduction) and survival as a product of emotional imperative (hope). Jensen’s short play centers on two seventeen-year-old characters who ponder, what else (?!) but the meaning of life. The play premiered at the 2009 Boston Theater Marathon.
[www.louisvillereview.org]

 

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Mantis coverMantis

Issue 8

Summer 2009

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Mantis editor Bronwen Tate describes the issue’s contents as “exciting” in her Editor’s Note. An understatement if I have ever read one. The journal is, in fact, exhilarating, captivating, inspiring, and highly original. In addition to new poems from Clayton Eshelman, Adam Clay, Sina Queyras, and Gretchen E. Henderson, this issue features translations – in discrete, handsomely collected groupings, all beautifully translated – of the work of Italian poet Alda Merini, German poet Veronka Reichl, and poet Andrei Sen-Senkov (originally from Tajikistan, now a resident of Moscow), and a special section “Remembering Celan”; a fascinating series of 10 interviews by Elizabeth Bradfield and Kate Schapira “Temporarily at Home: Poets on Travel and Writing”; and smart reviews of books I might not know had been published, were it not for Mantis. The magazine is produced with a kind of subtle elegance and graphic flair seldom encountered and is impressive and polished from the selection of contents to their careful and appealing presentation.

The poems in translation are simply stunning. Merini’s “Poesie per Marilyn” (Monroe) turns what might be kitsch into lyric bliss (“Domani se l’amore ni tradisse / prendero un’ape azzurra / che mi morda la boca”or “Tomorrow should love betray me / I will catch a blue bee / and let it sting my mouth”). Sen-Senkov, also inspired by Hollywood, is a master (like the journal’s editor) of understatement: “the boy, before the bomb explodes, / has just enough time to pet the dog.” Veronika Reichl’s “33 Functioning Machines” are provocative prose poems, all small portraits of women: “Luisa muss durch den Mond, also durch einen ‘der,’ einen Mann, ihren Mann, verdrängt werden, oder augehoben; zumindest verdeckt werden.” “Luisa must be displaced by the moon, that is to say be a ‘he,’ a man, her man; or annihilated; at the very least occluded.”

I loved the nearly hundred pages of interviews with traveling poets/poets who travel, which include writers who wander with the support of travel grants and awards and poets who’ve strayed from home as a result of non-writing-related reasons (family, jobs, education, etc.). Interviews are preceded by brief notes about where the poet traveled and when, where they reside permanently, other homes where they have lived, their birth city, or other relevant information. What makes these interviews all the more interesting is that none are with poets most readers of the journal are likely to know as among the poetry industry’s household names, but all are interesting, intelligent, and worth hearing from. The interviews contain excerpts of the poets’ work and smart pull quotes (which I don’t usually appreciate in literary journals, but which work beautifully here and are tastefully presented).

In his “Poem to Help Will Alexander Fight Cancer,” one of three from Anticline featured in the new poems section, Clay Eshelman writes: “We must ask the poem for the impossible, locate / ourselves within this asking.” I think Mantis has asked the impossible – and delivered the truly amazing – in more ways than I can begin to describe in this brief review.
[http://mantisjournal.stanford.edu]

 

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Narrative Magazine coverNarrative Magazine

Spring 2010

Online Weekly

Review by Henry F. Tonn

This is simply the best online literary magazine in the country today. New stories are provided every week from a stellar list of writers, and a wide variety of material is presented on a rotating basis – fiction, nonfiction, poetry, interviews, cartoons, book reviews, and other features. And now they have taken the evolutionary step of becoming the first lit mag on Amazon’s Kindle. As I have stated before, if you wish to see the future of online publishing, read this magazine.

Of the recent offerings, I was quite impressed with “The Women” by Tom Barbash, about a young man who must deal with the death of his mother, and his fifty-eight-year-old father who is now “desirable real estate” to the many women of New York City. More earthy but just as entertaining is “Farm-in-a-Day” by Heather Brittain Bergstrom, about a confused young man who inherits a large amount of money from his absentee mother and must decide what to do with it. A potato farm would be a possibility.

In the section called “Readers’ Narratives,” there is a haunting piece of nonfiction entitled “The Mines of Potosi, Bolivia,” by Robert Baird. The author flew to Bolivia with his girlfriend to view the grim conditions under which Bolivian peasants work in an old silver mine. The estimated life span there is two to ten years, but they do it because of the press of poverty.

In the section entitled “First and Second Looks,” there is a very interesting review by Caitlin McKenna of Charles Sprawson’s 1992 nonfiction book entitled Haunts of the Black Masseur, which is a “cultural history of swimming.” The author presents exhaustive data on many famous people such as Jack London, Goethe, and Byron “each swimming in pursuit of some distant ideal, variously heroic, commercial, spiritual, or sensual.” The two illustrative paragraphs from the book definitely made me want to read it.

I close my review of this excellent website by quoting from a review by Jennifer Cheng of the book Narrow Road to the Interior, translated by Sam Hamill, of the medieval Japanese poet Matsuo Basho who is preparing to make a three-thousand mile journey from which he may never return:

Spring passes
and the birds cry out –
tears in the eyes of fishes
With these first words from my brush, I started. Those who
remain behind watch the shadow of a traveler’s back disappear.

[www.narrativemagazine.com/]

 

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New Millennium Writings coverNew Millennium Writings

Number 19

2010

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

The 2010 edition of New Millennium features a reprint of a profile/interview with the late John Updike by the magazine’s editor, Don Williams, originally published in 1996; a Poetry Suite of work by 51 poets and the short-short fiction, fiction, nonfiction, “Special Obama Awards,” and poetry winners in the magazine’s highly popular contests. Award-winning works are accompanied by author photos and statements. For the most part, prose contributions favor casual and natural voices, credible and authentic dialogue, well rounded plots, logical and familiar narrative impulses, and preoccupations that may be shared familiarly by many readers.

Melanie Hoffert, for example, writes a coming out story in “The Allure of Grain Trucks,” and explores the meaning of silence as it relates to her younger self as a closeted lesbian (she refers to herself as “gay”). The most uniquely imagined story is the short-short fiction prize winning “Grass Shrimp” by Allison Alsup, who describes her entry as an attempt to consider “the sorts of intimacies that must have existed in a ‘bachelor society’ in which men outnumbered women as much as twenty to one.” That society is a fishing camp for members of the early Chinese immigrant community in California, and Alsup says she intends to write a novel from this piece.

Poems tend toward the narrative or to character studies or reflections on nature and, much like the prose, favor natural, familiar voices. Here is Ellen La Flèche from her poem “What My French-Canadian Grandmother Said in Response to the Fears About the Anthrax Postal Attacks of 2001”:

I’m not scared of my mailbox,
not worried, me, about no anthrax pox.
We was all afraid back then In 1910,
The woolen mill was full of it. Didn’t call
it anthrax. Wool-sorting Disease.
You was afraid to breathe,
didn’t want them spores in your lungs,
In the pores of your skin.

And here is the opening of Deborah DeNicola’s “Sun Song”:

I drag my chair to the water’s edge and marvel
at the sea’s interaction with my footprint. I pledge
my mark on the earth, awash in a new shape. And I thank
the sun that charges the sand, charges landscape
fuses clouds to their destines…

“It was a big deal that Obama got elected,” the editor tells us in his “quick tour” of the issue. Hence, the Obama-themed contest. Here is an excerpt from one of the poetry winners, a poem by Suellen Wedmore titled “Because”:

January 20th, 2009
Honesty opened
its big umbrella
discourse grew ruffle-edged,
conjugated and serene

And here are the concluding lines of Naomi Ruth Lowinsky’s, “An American History Poem”:

We are poets
History whispers
Liberty’s secrets
We write down
Her words.

[www.newmillenniumwritings.com]

 

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The Oleander Review coverThe Oleander Review

Issue 3

Fall 2009

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

“Make it good. Do what you have to do to make it good.” That’s jack-of-all-genres (poetry, fiction, nonfiction, teaching, publishing) Ander Monson’s perfect answer to interviewer Shaelyn Smith’s question about process. And it describes the work in Issue 3. The interview with Monson is terrific. Anne Carson and Bob Currie’s “Wildly Constant” is wildly fascinating with its blurred text, revision-like elements (cross outs, arrows, notes) and Carson’s signature economy, those compact little lines that contain whole worlds.

Kira Rose’s “I Grew Up in a House My Father Called Pakistan” (the genre is not identified, but it reads like fiction that intends to read like an essay or an essay that intends to read like fiction) is as beautiful as its title. “Real Cheese in an Imaginary Refrigerator,” a short story by Joe Kraus is as entertaining as its title (“I don’t really like short stories either,” the story begins).

Kellen Braddock’s poem, “Expulsion of Taxidermy,” is a fine example of the intersection of the stuff of life (the contents of a museum) with the potential of language to transform that stuff into larger meanings. Stephanie Dickinson’s prose poems from her “Lust” series are careful, yet lush, as in this excerpt from #41: “Moon passes under a bread wrapper cloud and goes out. Bowery graveyard. The dawn is a window grate fire escape, a blurred curtain. Dawn noses the pale stones sunk into dirt.” Young photographer Devin Hendrick’s black and white photographs of a flooded playground are…well… she did what she had to do to make them good.
[www.umich.edu/~olndrrvw]

 

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Pleiades coverPleiades

A Journal of New Writing

Volume 30 Number 1

2010

Biannual

Review by Sara C. Rauch

Let me be honest: I've always had a crush on Pleiades. This venerable journal publishes so much consistently good writing, especially poetry, that it is a pleasure to dive into the words between its covers. At 280 pages, it is bigger than a lot of books being published today; like a good novel, it can be zipped through, or relished over a longer period of time.

What really gets me every time I pick up a copy of Pleiades (far less often than I would prefer, I must confess) is the number of pages devoted to book reviews. In this volume alone, 160 of the 280 pages are dedicated to reviews. And not just any book reviews – these are reviews of independently published poetry and fiction, books that have a hard time finding review space elsewhere.

I flipped right to the second half and dove in. Now, not only is my list of books to buy or request at the library much longer, I've been exposed to all sorts of titles I might never read about otherwise. Mardi Stewart's review of Isobel Dixon's A Fold in the Map examines Dixon's themes of "poverty and plenty... expressed through the metaphors of landscape, water and food." Wayne Miller's review of Young Smith's In A City You Will Never Visit made me glad all over again that I'm a writer. New collections by Fanny Howe, Mark Halliday, Russell Edson and Mary Oliver are reviewed as well.

Though my heart goes directly to the reviews, it would be impossible to read Pleiades and not mention the delicate, well-crafted poetry inside. There are four different poets in translation included here, adding another dimension to the aesthetic. Tomaz Salamun's confusing and surreal poem, "The Poem Written Under the Influence of Wells," says,

Little green cherries, not yet
ripe, I put them
on a canvas,
on a waxcloth,
on a little fur coat
and push them through
an aperture leading to the end of
the world.

Do I know what he's talking about? Not for a minute. Does it matter? Not at all, because his images are so arresting, so beautiful.

The poetry, for the most part, doesn't venture into any overly experimental territory, though Catherine Sasanov's "Sitting at the Mouth of the Great Slave Trading Route, / the Slaveholder's Great-Great Granddaughter / Pens Her Preface to the Text" runs vertically up and down the page, forcing you to turn the book to read it.

My favorite poem, Endi Bogue Hartigan's "Two tigers walking different directions through bamboo" captures a certain pervasive quietness that invades our relationships. "Two" is the chorus, and Hartigan's efficient return to these silent, stalking creatures creates an almost Zen atmosphere for the poem:

The tigers were the quiet of the two
in proximity, sensing each other's movement
and presence, walking forward or back,
to the river water, restless.
The chorus was at its best when one undressed
for the other in the dark,
which was a window
where starlings and sirens grew.

Jack Boettcher's "Jimmy's Battle," a piece of short fiction that critiques modern American life, creates a whole world where theme parks and fantasy go too far, and by the end, one cannot help but feel the confusion and disorientation of Jimmy, a young boy given the birthday party of a lifetime by a parent with an ulterior motive, who finds himself, ultimately, alone. It's sad, and it's breathtaking. Strangely (purposefully?), Meghan Kenny's story, "I'll Tell You What," is also about an adolescent boy named Jimmy; it is like reading two very different sides of the same story.

Pleiades is a journal of substance, and I highly recommend a foray into its pages.
[www.ucmo.edu/pleiades/]

 

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Ruminate coverRuminate

Issue 14

Winter 2009-10

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

A large format, staple-bound magazine of “fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and visual art that resonates with the complexity and truth of the Christian faith,” Ruminate is published in Fort Collins, Colorado. “Each issue…speaks to the existence of our daily lives while nudging us toward a greater hope.” This issue’s theme is “Earnest Jest,” which editor Brianna Van Dyke describes as a way to consider the “paradox that weighty truths can come from humor; knowledge from fools; and that very act of play is wisdom.” The theme is played out in the work of 14 poets, two fiction writers, and two visual artists.

It is Scott Kolbo’s astounding charcoal and ink drawings that most artfully and successfully capture the spirit of earnest jest. These drawings (front cover, inside cover, and seven in the magazine from two series, “Grid of Beauty, Sublimity, and Grotesquery, Detail,” and “Heavy Man Struggles”) demonstrate Kolbo’s odd and imaginative sensibility (heavy man – the weight of the world), brilliant drawing skills, and a talent for rendering what I am tempted to call the sublimely ordinary (i.e. “Heavy Man Hears His Kid Say the F-Word”).

Tim Timmerman’s inside back cover and back cover paintings (watercolor on clayboard, oil on wood), “The Fool Left at the Table” and “Traveler,” are also quite marvelous. Quirky, funny, expertly composed and rendered.

It’s the “greater hope” in the magazine’s editorial stance that stands out most prominently in the poems, printed in large sans serif type on pages adorned with abstract graphical designs. These lines, for example from “Only Fire” by Laura Sobott Ross: “But the Lodgepole pine endures, / has a secondary cone, a nest egg / small as a thimble / like a hidden sex / waxed shut in pitch, waiting for the burn…this new forest that waits within.” Or these from Carole F. Stabler’s “Ethernet”: “applauding the dancing socks / raptured on laundry day.” Or these from Paulette Mitchell Lein’s “Sabbath Blessings”: “I kneel beneath / the shafts of light / and here – my prayer begins.”

There is much humor in this issue, as in the opening of Courtney King Kampa’s “Date with Gerald and Mascarpone”:

We’re in the advanced stages of dessert
and my date – Gerald, if you’d believe that –
is doing some seriously disrespectful things
to a piece of tiramisu.

And there is poet Richard Spilman’s reminder in “Why I Write” that so much in our lives truly is about earnest jest, the way we take ourselves too serious – and also not seriously enough:

I write because I get to lie about sex
Because life is, as St. Theresa said
“A night at a bad hotel,” where
Even the rats want their money back.

[www.ruminatemagazine.org]

 

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Sakura Review coverSakura Review

Issue 1

Fall 2009

Biannual

Review by Sara C. Rauch

The inaugural issue of Sakura Review is striking in its simplicity. The cover of this perfect-bound journal sports a line drawing of a naked tree surrounded by its fallen leaves, and the back cover just a stump, still surrounded by the undisturbed leaves.

Sakura Review is not about fancy literary tricks, or bells and whistles that distract from the writing at hand. The clean layout lends itself to this showcasing. The artwork included is really fun, and kind of irreverent (in a good way): line drawings of the natural world that invoke wonder and curiosity – beavers, tree stumps, flames – some with directions and some without.

An interesting observation: a lot of animals die this issue. They don't die sad deaths, but they die confusing deaths. "Killing Rabbits" by Alison Hennessee, the last and longest prose piece included, is about a small town police officer who becomes obsessed with a serial rabbit murderer. Putting it that way makes it seem almost funny, but Hennessee's prose makes the story creepy, grotesque, and compulsively readable. The main character, a man who lets his relationship with his wife and children begin to fall apart because of his obsession with the rabbit case, is strangely sympathetic. On the one hand, he is neglecting his family to spend hours in the library researching rabbits; on the other hand, he is the only officer who gives the innocent rabbits any respect.

There are also dead butterflies and a broken-necked giraffe in Kevin Debs's "Several Descriptions Concerning Paintings of Animals in Unusual Circumstances," three short prose pieces narrated by a painter. Debs's pieces, despite their animal casualties, are my favorite pieces in Sakura Review. His prose is spare and his premises incredible: like paintings, they evoke the scenes at hand with grisly, accurate, gorgeous detail.

The poetry included has a sort of spare aesthetic as well. Dorine Jennette's "Tracking the Woodcutter" begins "Woodsmoke. Dawn in Montana. Above the botprint's crust, the bark – here, where the blade scored out – an accusation. White-gold splinters of hair." This prose poem has a strange violence to it, perfectly captured with the short, direct lines.

Also recommended are Erinn Batykefer's "Operation – Ages 6 and Up," a funny, if disturbing, take on the old childhood game and its ramifications in real life; and Beth Marzoni's "Meanwhile," a longer poem of couplets about displacement: "I wake and my lungs are two lakes, / my breaths tiny sailboats crossing them."

There is much to be enjoyed in these pages. Although the editor's note talks about a journal that "would represent the unique character of the District [of Columbia], a town embodied by location temporary yet always maintaining an indefinable shape," I'm not sure I see that exact incarnation just yet. But it is so early in the game, and Sakura Review number one holds such promise, that I'm sure its visions will come true.
[www.sakurareview.com]

 

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Water~Stone Review coverWater~Stone Review

Volume 12

Fall 2009

Annual

Review by Lesley Dame

Named after the Philosopher’s stone used in alchemy to create gold and unite matter and spirit, the Water-Stone Review does exactly what its name suggests – with paper and ink, it unites language and soul, words and spirit. This multi-genre review is diverse, fresh, artful, and exceptionally crafted. At the risk of sounding the fluff alarm, I have to say that the Water-Stone Review is truly golden.

One of the reasons this review is so darn good, is the beautiful and flowing way it is put together. It’s aesthetically pleasing, from its thick cream-colored pages to its glossy center photography spread, but it’s also pleasantly integrated. There are no separate genre sections. A poem flows into a story, which then flows into an essay and back to a poem, or maybe an interview. To me, this design says that all writing is an art form and equally valid. And if you’re wondering if you’re reading a fiction or nonfiction account, just flip back to the glossary.

The title for this volume is “In the Frame,” named after a nonfiction piece of the same name by Dinah Lenney. As the editor’s letter will tell you, thematically this is issue has a lot to do with the concept of “seeing.” I’ll go further and say that the pieces are not only about seeing and observing, but about perspective, how we all see things in different ways, and how perspective is intricately related to memory.

One of my favorite pieces in this volume is a short nonfiction piece titled “If I Had a Heart I’d Die In It: Writing the Midwest” by Ander Monson. It is both a humorous and poignant response to an Amazon.com reviewer who disliked Monson’s depiction of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in his book Other Eccentricities. The reviewer states that, although not even having finished the book, he/she is outraged at the depressing way Monson has depicted the region.

Partly, I was absolutely tickled to read about the UP, having just spent my first winter on the Keweenaw Peninsula, but I was also impressed with Monson’s eloquent rebuttal to the anonymous reviewer. Monson says “It is not about a place. It is a place,” and later “I can’t write about your place. I don’t write about your place. There isn’t any such place.” He means that our perspectives are varied, and our experiences are even more so. Thousands of people grow up in live in the same town, but your memory of it is affected by what happened to you as a child, who dumped you in high school, what job you were fired from after college. We each have our own lens with which to view the world. Even a beautiful place can be haunting. Monson intelligently points out that he’s an artist, and his place is inside his mind.

The nonfiction is great, but so is everything else, from interviews to book reviews. The fiction and poetry also embody the themes of seeing and memory, as well as questioning and wonder. In “This Desire Stands Apart,” Eleanor Lerman says of desire: “It has been with you from birth and now it has decided not to let you sleep / Soon it will deny you food and a place to live until you achieve whatever end it seeks.” She asks, “How much more can you stand? / You can stand all of it, and there is no turning back: / the horizon creates itself in the image of / your desire and counts the hours until you cross.” The sentences in this poem do not end; they have no defining punctuation. Here, desire is continuous and open-ended. The poem ends with unanswered questions. Is this the speaker’s desire, particular to a specific person or place? Or is it the universal Desire? Big “D?” Most likely, it is both desire and Desire. We’re all human. We’re not told why we have desire and what will become of us because of our never-ending passions, only that we were made to survive, that we will survive. It is depressing and hopeful, overwhelming and accessible. In this poem, we’re asked to share an experience; our perspectives on desire may be very different, but we are all affected by it.

Last words. I wish I could write about each and every piece in this review. It’s not a magazine. It’s a behemoth of thoughtful, well-crafted, authentic works of literature. It’s worth the slightly higher price, and it only comes out once a year; don’t miss it. Check out their website for submission guidelines; you’d be honored by the gods to see your name printed in this one.
[www.waterstonereview.com/]

 

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White Fungus coverWhite Fungus

Issue 10

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

If you hadn’t considered traveling to New Zealand, White Fungus will make you want to go. Not because this New Zealand-based magazine provides a picture of the landscape, though the cover is a lovely and unconventional painting of flowers in the park at Wellington, Aotearoa; and not because the inside cover graphic depicts the ocean in its sparkling turquoise glory; and not because the many ads for art galleries show that the visual arts are flourishing there. But because the poems, interviews, fiction, and essays here will let you know that New Zealand is a place for serious thinking about politics, cultural realities, social dilemmas, historical realities, the arts, and the power of language to render these subjects with a kind of dynamism and urgency that can often be missing in literature as in life. (And the design and graphics are terrific, too.)

This issue includes a history of the early days of zoological discovery in NZ; an essay about the meaning of the “public arts”; a clever multi-page comic exploring “indigeny” and colonization; an analysis of contemporary Mongolian poetry; brief interviews with musical artists from various genres; an essay on the Australian visual artist Richard Bell; a profile of Hong Kong artist Lee Kit; wonderful list poems by Cyril Wong; a magnificent long historically-themed poem by Francis Raven, “Jena: An Other Cartography”; “Sewer Rat Debacle,” a short story by Duncan Sarkies about precisely what its title announces; a critique of Berlin-based painter Martin Cienski’s darkly-themed work; an interview with Te Kupu of the musical group Upper Hutte Posse, who released NZ’s first rap single 20 years ago; several other pieces of short fiction; numerous reproductions of artworks of various kinds (sculpture, photographs); and “Burning Down the House. Capitalism at the Expense of All Life Part 2,” by Juan Santos, which begins: “It is upon us now to confront the greatest crisis in the lifespan of humankind. Civilization – the destructive way of the city.” “Profit = Theft,” Santos declares in large, bold font. “Money is worthless.” Need he (I) say more?

Nowhere in the journal is there an address for the publication office or notes about the editorial staff or the journal’s contributors. White Fungus is pure idea, images, historical and fictional critiques. On the back cover there is a web address for the printer. If you can’t go to New Zealand, do go there: www.lithoprint.co.nz.
[whitefungus.com]

 

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