Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted June 15, 2010

Avery :: Bateau :: Big Muddy :: Briar Cliff Review :: Camera Obscura :: Cold Mountain :: Court Green :: Dark Sky :: Elder Mountain :: F Magazine :: Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review :: Jelly Bucket :: The Journal :: the minnesota review :: Paul Revere's Horse :: Rhino :: River Styx :: Shenandoah :: Sou'wester :: Spinning Jenny :: Tampa Review :: Whitefish Review

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Avery coverAvery

5

2009

Biannual

Review by Terri Denton

This edition of Avery is lovely for its cleverness. While each piece is unique unto itself, together they make for a satisfying romp through today’s literati. Chelsey Johnson’s story, “Devices,” for example, offers a surreal picture of attempted perfection in “Once There Were an Artist and an Inventor”: “They are right up next to the sidewalk, and the inventor is always drawing the curtains shut and the artist is always opening them. The artist needs light. The inventor needs privacy. In other words, they are deeply in love. But both of them are a little bit more in love with the artist.” Lovely writing. Of the artist, Johnson writes that when she takes self-portraits, the effect is, “a look of assured surprise, a look somewhere between caught-off-guard and ready-for-my-close-up.” And, “If everything becomes like love, the artist starts to wonder, what is love?” Analogies emerge everywhere, but she realizes she has no idea what the things is itself is: “It is the negative space of a drawing, its form determined only by what interrupts it.”

For the inventor, on the other hand, ideas multiply, shooting new ones off each other. Every observation the artist makes, every fear or anxiety or worry or weakness she betrays, the inventor problem-solves like a madwoman. She can create a device to fix anything, “Almost anything.” But, as Johnson writes, “Try as she might, the inventor cannot invent a device to prevent love from breaking down. People have invented spells for this, practiced witchcraft, drafted poems, placed desperate pleas and daily telephone calls, they have made sculptures and paintings and built buildings trying to win back love, but none of this will work, and she knows it.” She then sets about inventing, instead, a device that … I cannot say, for that will give away this story’s end, and it is too delightful of a trip for me to rob you of the pleasure of finding out for yourself.

Lawrence Mark Lane’s “Buying the Boat,” begins when the woman at the door says, “This is so weird,” and the reader finds that someone else had walked into the house with the same intent for buying the boat a mere twelve seconds before the narrator. “Earl was the other guy’s name, and it is important to call him Earl now because in his half-cagey and half-dumb quietness, he seemed, once I got to know him, to have learned to use that name to his advantage.” As the story progresses, we are introduced to mountains and vistas, the intricacies of trekking, and of explaining death to a young child and a newly widowed Norwegian woman, and a park ranger. Everything about this progression of people and places is indiscreet, from insensitive faux pas to blatant sexual conquest, but at story’s end, Lane writes that the narrator returns to the home of the boat owner, Marci, and, “While she was in the kitchen I took out my wallet, took the five crisp bills out, and folded the bill in half, for discretion’s sake.” It is a perfectly realized irony, these last words, and they serve to flesh out every word that has come before.

Stuart Nadler’s “Beyond Any Blessing” is a meandering tangential offshoot into the narrator’s youthful love, and current lover, separated by 60 miles of unawareness. While this all seems innocuous, it is central to the story’s denouement. In one particular youthful scene, the narrator sneaks out his house to meet with his girlfriend and asks, “Should I set up a decoy body?” and is told that nobody gets away with this on TV. I’m most certainly betraying my age when I tell you that I smiled to myself at this, thinking that Ferris Bueller got away with it quite well.

Alyssa Knickerbocker’s award-winning story, “House of Wind,” is the perfect cap to this collection. Mona is a woman trapped between forgetting the face of her dead lover and remembering this man’s betrayal of her. Knickerbocker is at her best when she writes with descriptive language. She muses of Mona, on her tiny island:

There are high cliffs here, winds you can lean on. She opens her coat and leans. The wind pushes against her, undeniable as a wall, the wall of a house that is alive, that is breathing. A house of wind. She would like to go inside. She imagines it would be calm and yet thrilling, electric and privileged, like being in the center of a tornado. But there is no door.

As she continues to the near-end of the story, the author writes, Mona is remembering a feeling she’d thought was lost,

The relief of remembering such a thing, after everything she has forgotten, rushes over her like warm water, like his hands combing gently through her hair, like the moment just before you fall asleep, when you become blissfully aware that you are dreaming.

The writing here is of the sort that I love. It seems to flash between Hemingway-esque sparseness and Nabokovian turns of wonderful phrasing. It is, in short, the sort of creation that makes my own writer’s mind perk up.
[www.averyanthology.org]

 

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Bateau coverBateau

Volume 3 Issue 2

2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Oh, how lovely! Produced and inspired by the power of wind (“The Bateau Press Office is run on the renewable energies of hydro and wind power”). Handsomely printed on a letterpress (a letterpress!). Small, square, a lithe 79 pages (poems, prose poems, reproductions of black and white woodcuts and drawings, and a two-page graphic story) that fit neatly in one hand. Unassuming, understated, unpretentious. And utterly gorgeous from cover to cover. I loved holding Bateau between my palms. I loved the work, poems that, for the most part, contain small lyrical mysteries and large telling silences. I loved discovering new writers with impressive credentials and stellar work, but who are not the same big name stars I encounter again and again. I loved the journal’s simplicity and elegance and quiet, self-assured lyricism.

As for the small mysteries and the large silences, here are a few examples of what I mean. These opening couplets from Rae Gouirand’s “Ice Plant”:

All the transparence of the old
world: grown green & zeroed by saline
so glowing: for winter we are
common as breath & tough as air lost
in space: felt at edge as edge: so
filled we cannot: but become the frost
become the lines we become: at
the coast succulent: the bluff on an empty
day: …
 

And the closing lines of “Too Late Too Early,” a prose poem by Werner Low:

Yet there was something startling familiar about these people, and I had the feeling that if I could meet them now, with all I’ve learned, then things would be different this time. But it feels, somehow, too early for that.

And the middle of Dan Rosenberg’s “What’s There”:

Your acronyms fail you
as they refuse to be quicker
than the full-fleshed sentiment.
There’s a field you can mark up
with your footprints and there’s nothing
at all…

This issue of Bateau also features translations by Patrick Donnelly and Stephen Miller of 31-line Japanese poems from the 12th century with Buddhist themes called waka. They are entirely in keeping with the journal’s soft-spoken aesthetic; and poems in Polish with their English translations from bilingual poet Joanna Kurowska, also are entirely consistent with the journal’s editorial predilections. I was pleased to find several pieces from Norman Lock’s Alphabets of Desire & Sorrow, A Book of Imaginary Colophons, which I have favorably reviewed when they have appeared in other journals.

The journal concludes with Seth Landman’s “Whales in Culture,” a small, powerful poem that almost seems to summarize the journal’s effect (if not its intentions). Here is the poem in its entirely:

You are two hours away making
human sounds and imagining a light on
inside the top of your head. The body
holds a speaker between outer and inner.
Imagine hearing through
Your mouth as the heart delivers
drag for miles of language.
Am I these cues, gathered into
the impossible city of your name?
Some scholars translating
in unsatisfactory light still
found parallel messages. A fire
picks up, gets going, touches what you say.

In their ever-so-brief note, Bateau’s editors say, “We here at Bateau are ready to go anywhere.” There’s only one thing I can say: Can I come, too?
[www.bateaupress.org]

 

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Big Muddy coverBig Muddy

A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley

Volume 9 Issue 2

2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This journal defines itself as “a unique collection of issues, events, & images from the Great River Road,” and it publishes works of history, the sciences, business, photography, and creative writing. Works are not classified in the Table of Contents, so it can be a little difficult to distinguish between genres in some cases. Not in the case, however, of Phil Harvey’s short story, “Tomato Only,” which is typical of much of the poetry and prose in the issue, accessible, readable, and what, for lack of a better term, I’ll categorize as natural. Harvey’s story begins: “Albert had asked for tomato on his tuna salad sandwich, no mayonnaise, please. He had been very specific, very precise, taking extra care because the man behind the deli counter at the American Grill looked oriental and probably didn’t speak English very well.”

The work most definitively connected to Big Muddy’s regional focus: two essays, Lisa Knopp’s “Nauvoo, the Beautiful Place” and Keith A. Sculle’s “In Public View and Private Memory: Gobblers Knob Deer Park.” Knopp’s essay is the history of a popular tourist town in western Illinois and Sculle’s recounts the history of a popular recreation area in west-central Indiana. Sculle’s essay is accompanied by photos and reproductions of artifacts from Gobblers Knob Deer Park publicity.

One of the more unusual pieces in this issue is “Dead Girl Brand II” by Laura Madeline Wiseman. The dead girl’s story appears in a column of paragraphs on the right side of the page with a term in italics alongside it in a column on the left (price cut, jingle, punctum, receipts, remainder). This is decidedly the edgiest and most inventive contribution to the issue.

One of the pieces I found most appealing is Jennifer Long’s “Unjkake Etanjan Yuhapi,” a poem based on material taken from The Doctors Mayo (1941) and a newspaper article from the Star Tribune from 2008. I liked also very much a poem by Missouri’s first Poet Laureate, Walter Bargen, “Everything Exists in its own perfection”:

The West was in us. I don’t know what happened.
Cochise and Kit Carson, Seattle and San Franciso,
Saguaro and redwood, ocotillo and Douglas fir.
More absolute, intense and pure.
More dust than blood. More basalt than bone.
And enough sky. We were sure of that
Clouds stepping beyond what we knew
and where we prayed to arrive.
Sangre de Cristos bleeding rock through
another evening, and to the east,
drawn a hundred miles, our shadows
prospect for disappearance.

The issue concludes with a number of well-written and thoughtful reviews.
[www6.semo.edu/universitypress/bigmuddy/]

 

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The Briarcliff Review coverThe Briar Cliff Review

Volume 21

2009

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

I always look forward to this large format annual with its glossy pages, beautiful artwork and photography, and well-composed and thoughtful works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. This issue also features a section titled “Siouxland,” which includes an interview with poet David Allan Evans, and reviews of books by Ted Kooser and Andrew Porter.

I was awestruck by some of the artwork in this volume, including Steve Joy’s cover, a colorful set of squares mixed media panel titled “Icon (Constantinople).” In a brief note, Joy explains that his work his influenced by traveling and many years spent in the Far East; a vibrant oil on linen by Dan Howard, “Out of this World: VIII (Jupiter’s Moon IO)”; oil on canvas paintings by Valerie Beller; a delicate pattern of cotton and dyes in shades of sage and purples, “The Concept of Qi,” by Michael James; and pigment on lexan, “Sumi Sunrise,” by Larry Roots. Photographs are equally impressive, including the muted “Silos at Dusk,” by Jessica Folkerts; a close up of “Raindrops on Umbrella,” by Beth Guntren; and geese that look like “A Blizzard of Snows,” by Randall D. Williams.

Snow figures, too, in a poem I liked quite a lot by Stacy Kidd, “What She Said,” which concludes:

And later, the Snusters, snow
Mixed with dust. You wrote the sky
Could never show itself for fire
Without first wearing its shawl of smoke.
You wrote you knew stories old as the fire.
Told in any order, always with shame.

Kidd’s poem is characteristic of the work I find consistently in every edition of the journal, work that is carefully, lyrically composed, but not arch or esoteric; poetry that is emotionally powerful in a quiet, almost understated way, relying on strong images and carefully composed language to convey strong sensations and revelations. Poems by Anne Coray, Marcus Johnson, James Doyle, and Dwayne Thorpe are similarly affecting and successful.

Prose selections are effective and memorable for similar reasons, including nonfiction contest winner Ira Sukrungruang’s “Our Next Lives,” a story about travel to the author’s mother’s homeland of Thailand; and Marylee MacDonald’s short story, “The Ambassador of Foreign Affairs,” the story of a father-daughter reunion. One of the most intriguing pieces this issue is an essay in the Siouxland section by Sue Erickson Nieland, “Portrait of the Artist as an Artist: Expressions of Identity in the Small Career of Beatrice Goslin,” a summary of the life and work of Iowa painter Beatrice Goslin who gained prominence in her local community in the ‘30’s and ‘40’s, complete with reproductions of her work and photographs, an excellent work of Americana.

This volume is engaging and satisfying, but that doesn’t stop me – in fact it makes me all the more eager – from looking forward with much anticipation to Volume 22.
[www.briarcliff.edu/bcreview]

 

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Camera Obscura coverCamera Obscura

Volume 1

Summer 2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Vibrantly produced, engaging, and fascinating for the sheer range of styles and tones in both the photography (amateur and professional) and literary selections, Camera Obscura must be terribly expensive to print – and the cover price of $18 suggests this is so. On the other hand, it’s less expensive than admission to many museums ($20 these days to get into MOMA), the magazine presents museum quality work, and you don’t have to wait in line for a ticket or battle the crowds in the galleries.

I don’t know a lot about photography from a technical standpoint, but one doesn’t need much formal background to appreciate the quality of the printing (clear, sharp images; true color; fine detail visible), the generous editorial vision (dreamy, magical images or playful edgy ones; close up of animal heads; sweeping landscapes; intimate portraits; close-up nature fragments; black and white scenes. This is an awards issue, and all of the photos appear to be award quality. The work of featured artists, and some of the series, are preceded by brief and informative introductory essays.

Especially striking is a series of color photographs, “A Farmer’s Peace,” by Holly Brown, landscapes of Utah in colors that seem almost too true to be true; a tremendously moving portrait of a couple in obvious pain or distress embracing on the steps of what appears to be a brick apartment building by Mary Brown; featured artist Cheryl McCallum’s “Storm on the Homefront,” a sweeping black and white landscape of a deserted field with a building far off in the distance and a sky that overtakes the ground; an exquisite black and white photograph of Grand Central Terminal in New York by Mark Harary, ceiling and stairs in a narrowed, tunnel-like focus that highlights the room’s extraordinary geometry; and the winner of the journal’s award for outstanding professional photography, “I’m Here,” by William Horton, goats (adult and babies?) climbing a mountain of finely etched rock, every grainy element of rock visible against a sliver of blue sky and the white goats’ haunches.

“Literature” appears here to mean fiction and here, too, an eclectic editorial stance prevails. I applaud the editors’ choice of Kane X. Faucher for their outstanding fiction award. “Sanscript” is an oddly original, but extremely well crafted story with the capacity to surprise and engage in a way I do not find to be as common as I wish it were in contemporary fiction: “I inherit a world that is already a historical fiction, and I continue along to make every more fictions that future generations will also inherit.” The same could be said of Joshua Cohen’s “Nine Recursive Scifi Stories,” nine short numbered stories that open with the scifi story to encapsulate all scifi stories: “Once upon a time a machine was invented to invent every possible scifi story,” and ends: “The writer of the above story sat back in his chair, well satisfied. His happiness lasted until he realized he could not think of a single magazine left that would publish him.”

A short-short by Michael Trocchia, “Witness,” concludes with a short poem:

A fire burns at the center
of your field of vision.
Where a note to the world
once was is now its light
and around the light
is a darkness seen
by none.

Camera Obscura is a fire burning at the center of our field of vision; a note to the world; and a marvelous embodiment of the play of light and darkness in the best, most generous sense of these words and the artistry they represent.
[www.obscurajournal.com]

 

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Cold Mountain Review coverCold Mountain Review

Volume 38 Number 1

Fall 2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

A semi-annual from Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, Cold Mountain Review features writers with substantial and impressive publication credits and accolades, but who are still, in many cases, at “emerging” stages (few, if any, books published). The work tends to favor people/characters/personalities over ideas or philosophies, including many family stories and profiles of individuals. This issue includes the work of two-dozen poets, three fiction writers, and one essayist.

Philips Gerard’s “O Canada,” a coming of age, evading the draft story, which opens the issue, sets the tone and the standard for the issue: “Canada was just a place in somebody else’s story until Dad pressed a knot of bills into my palm and closed my fist over it with both hands, like it was getaway money. Outside, the yellow Falcon was already gassed and packed with a cooler of Easter ham leftovers and Cokes, and in the trunk were Quebec tags with current registration.” You want to know who these people are, why they are traveling, and how you can go along for the ride.

Family stories, whether in prose or verse, by Daniel Pinkerton (the best known name in the TOC), Dan O’Brien, Karen Holmberg, Toni Thomas, Lory Bedikian, Jenn Williamson, Christine Rikkers, and Matthew Cashion are similarly effective with realistic and credible detail, tender attention to character, and sometimes surprising resolutions. Paul Foster’s essay, “The Environmentalist,” about an intruder in his home during the post Katrina period in New Orleans, is well composed and engaging.

While there are few poems about our relationships with the natural world or which tackle philosophical, linguistic, or metaphysical preoccupations, Robert Parham’s “What the Winter Says” does the work of combing some, if not all, of these larger concerns:

this spring the outburst that chases
itself away on a trailing breeze, reminder
the way some memories make small footnotes
to themselves, the way history is not a stone
we carve on, but something softer, a bar of soap
perhaps, engraved, but put out on the rising tide
to float wherever it may go…

[www.coldmountain.appstate.edu]

 

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Court Green coverCourt Green

7

2010

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Big names (Rae Armantrout, David Lehman, Alice Notley, Amy Gerstler, Sherman Alexie, Lyn Lifshin, Elaine Equi, Denise Levertov). Pretty big names (D.A. Powell, Jeanine Hall Gailey, Hadara Bar-Nadav, Matthew Thorburn, Amy Newman, Catherine Pierce, Adrian Blevins). Names to watch for (Kate Thorpe, Carly Sachs). And lots of ideas, big, pretty big, and worth listening for. This issue of Court Green offers exactly what we have come to expect of this provocative annual, including its entertaining Dossier, which this time focuses on the 1970’s.

I always love the work of Catherine Pierce and her poem, “Postcards from Her Alternative Lives,” in this issue reminds me why:

Each day the city unhinges its jaws and I climb inside.
Bright, or secret, or ghosted, towns fall into place
like the corner pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. All the sky
pieces look the same. I can’t fit the fragments
of clouds together.
This place is as I never left it: the neon sub shop
on the corner, the junior high. My house is in an aquarium
filled with tulips. My mouth is a tulip filled with dust.

Other standouts this issue in the general (not dossier) section include Chad Sweeney’s “The Novel,” a poem in 10 single line chapters; Leanne Averbach’s “Slim Evidence of Dubious Quality,” for its successful merging of the quotidian and the overtly political (though what isn’t political about the quotidian?); “This Dark Chocolate Cake’s Filled with Dark Chocolate Pudding” by Matthew Thorburn for the title alone (well, okay, also for the way in which he creates a sarcastic, edgy voice that I can actually care about: “I never know when to say hello / and that Frenchy kiss-kiss on the cheek thing / makes me awkwarder than ever.”); and Gillian McCain’s “Locate the Spot,” a prose poem with the brilliant opening line “Where would you like the apocalypse to take place?”

The Dossier on the 1970’s is as the journals’ Dossiers tend to be, vivid and entertaining. Subjects, themes, topics, imagery, preoccupations are predictable, if not necessarily so: images of popular culture, such as consumer brands and television shows, Patty Hearst, Vietnam, the cold war, popular music, Nixon and Watergate, celebrities, the coup on Chile (OK, less predictable), and changing sexual mores (OK, that’s every era, or is it?).

The late Joe Brainerd says it best in his poem “1970” (first published in 1971):

1970
is a good year
if for no other reason
than just because
I’m tired of complaining.

[english.colum.edu/courtgreen/]

 

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Dark Sky Magazine logoDark Sky Magazine

May 2010

Online Daily

Review by Henry F. Tonn

This magazine presents reading material nearly every day and a great variety of it. There is fiction, nonfiction, poetry, interviews, book reviews, observations of various sorts, and a selection of online stories from other online magazines. The magazine is a bit difficult to negotiate and archives are not easily accessible, but a monthly calendar is available and one simply clicks the day desired. Also, they do not label things well, and I often found myself unable to decipher what was fiction versus nonfiction.

Having said that, they do not lack a sense of humor here, and much of the writing is presented in a tongue-in-cheek, free-spirited manner. The May 28 entry has a stark picture of four gentlemen from early in the twentieth century just sitting, but the caption suggests they are waiting for their mail. This leads to an article about Roland Goity, editor of LITnIMAGE, who received a form rejection from Notre Dame Review after 1186 days! There follows a lively discussion of rejection slips, submissions, and the time elements therein by Brandi Wells. There is also an entertaining interview with writer Sean Lovelace.

Dark Sky publishes their own fiction and that of other online journals. One of the most entertaining stories I have read in the past year, absolutely hilarious, is “You Shot Me,” by Ryan Dilbert (May 26), Sleet Magazine, about a young girl who is shot in the ribs by her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend, and the ex-girlfriend visits her while she is recuperating in the hospital and they begin to compare notes about the boyfriend. His ear for dialogue here is simply marvelous. Two other good ones are “Moshiach is Here,” by Pauline Page in Our Stories which won the 2010 Gordon Award for flash fiction, and “A County of Husbands,” by Debbie Ann Ice in Night Train, which is just plain good writing. A recent story of their own is the very humorous story by Richard Fulco (May 25) entitled “The Anarchist,” about a man who wakes up to discover he has no hands and tries to carry on his duties at work as though nothing has happened.

So much to report and no more space … Some lit mags come out once a year which borders on the ridiculous, this lit mag comes out almost every day which borders on the wonderful. You never know what you’re going to get and it is always entertaining. Tune in and have some fun.
[www.darkskymagazine.com/]

 

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Elder Mountain coverElder Mountain

A Journal of Ozark Studies

Volume 1

Fall 2009

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Elder Mountain, published at Missouri State University-West Plains, will feature “manuscripts from all disciplinary perspectives (particularly anthropology, economics, folklore, geography, geology, history, literature, music, and political science), as well as interdisciplinary approaches; and high-quality short stories, poems, and works of creative nonfiction and visual art that explores the Ozarks.” Work must be “carefully wrought” and “free of common Ozark stereotypes.” This first issue includes the work of 8 poets, 3 fiction writers, 6 essayists, and 2 visual artists, one of whose photographs, a black and white image of house looking solitary and solid (by Barbara Williams) is reproduced on the back cover.

Member of the editorial board C.D. Albin introduces the journal with a note explaining that this region of the country is “too often overlooked or misunderstood,” and I must admit that I really do know very little about the Ozarks and seldom hear it referred to. Maribeth Sisco, a journalist, public radio show host, and teacher (among other professions cited in her bio), and a graduate of MSU, who named the journal, contributes the opening essay, “Making Enough to Get Home On,” in which she describes outmigration from the Ozarks to other regions of the country and recounts a personal story of outmigration and migration back home. The desire to leave and the yearning to go home may be a common story in the Ozarks, but it may also be what this region shares with so many others and what may make these regionally based works both particular and universal.

With all the weather-related disasters lately, including tornados in the Ozark region over the last few days, I was compelled by Andrea Hollander Budy’s poem “After the Tornado”:

in the otherwise untouched
paper sky a thick chip
of purple pigment imbedded
like a shard in the vacant page
above the king’s unsuspecting shoulder
where, as the real sky grew gray and wild,
the child must have pressed down hard

 The nature of the place (literally) is central, too, in Budy’s poems about the seasons in the Ozarks; in Matt Brennan’s poems, “Remembering the River,” and “Biking in the Ozarks” (“into the plenitude of pines and maples”); Jo Van Arkel’s short story “Floodwater”; and Gary Kolb’s black and white photographs of the Shawnee National Forest.

Kristine Somerville’s personal essay “My Swedish Cousin,” recounts a childhood memory of a relative’s visit and first encounter with her Ozark home. Zachary Michael Jack explains how he came to own the swathe of Ozark land he now calls his own in his essay “The Iowa-Ozarker: A Creation Story.”

The work that engaged and interested me most is Matt Meacham’s essay, “A Metaphorical Geography of John Hartford’s Musical Career.” Meacham is an adjunct faculty member at MSU, and a public folklorist with the West Plains Council on the Arts. John Hartford (1928-2005) was a professional songwriter and recording artist who was born and raised in St. Louis and later moved to Nashville. Meacham calls this piece “an interpretive essay.” He explores Hartford’s development as a songwriter and musician against the context of his regional affiliations, the musical tendencies of the times, and the record industry and development of the country music scene. The essay is informative and readable, a good example of well researched scholarship not burdened by academic jargon or the need to legitimize the endeavor with arch language and obscure references. I hope the journal will continue to publish humanities writing of this sort, there is far too little of it written and/or published.
[blogs.missouristate.edu/eldermountain/]

 

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F Magazine coverF Magazine

Volume 8

2009

Annual

Review by Anne Wolfe

The eighth issue of f-magazine: novels in progress and more – came forty two years after the first issue. The subtitle, “Story – Imagining: Departures and Arrivals,” gives a hint of what’s to be found inside. It is commendable to be so bold as to include so many excerpts of developing novels, with all their rough edges intact. For example, “Smoky Mountain National Park” from Where the Angels Are by Anne-Marie Oomen shows great promise. It touchingly juxtaposes a couple’s hike down the Appalachian Trail on the beginning of the second Gulf War, punching the narrator in the gut. She writes, “It is the last time I cry…Oh, let there be angels.” It is also heavy-handed, thinner on story and fatter on message, and very much inside the narrator’s mind. Still, it brings the reader along.

Etgar Keret’s short story, “Gaza War Diary, January ‘09” depicts a writer with angst in the middle of Gaza Strip fighting, which paralyzes him. “My therapist says I need to get a life,” is the dry beginning. It delivers the perfect picture and gnawing feeling of a stalemate inside the writer, along with the war. Sam Weller’s story, “You Know Where You Are?” has the superb authenticity of a memoir. It is warm, quizzical, odd-ball, and sensible. The description manages to draw in the reader with no boundaries, one can forget one is reading a story and just get swept away. “Life After Death” from Marianne Murciano’s Chasing Castro has splendid touches of wit, hilarity, intelligence, irony, and best of all, it’s a great story. It has something to do with honoring one’s parents, letting go, and all the negotiating in-between. The narrator tells, “I have always held the irrational belief that my mother will always be.”

There are many intriguing stories and novel excerpts with modern, relevant themes, such as gay and racial pride, war close-up, the Mexican border, and more. This literary mag is a rare, one-of-a kind publication that dares to deliver high quality finished and unfinished work and give the reader a glimpse of the creative process. Literature lovers should run, not walk when this comes out.
[www.f-magazine.org]

 

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The Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review coverThe Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review

Number 35

Winter 2009

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

A great balance of prominent poets (Carl Phillips, Lawrence Raab, Kate Daniels, Jim Daniels, David Wagoner, John Burnside) and lesser knowns (Rhett Iseman Trull, Jessica Greenbaum, Luke Hankins, Martin Arnold). Editor Nathaniel Perry categorizes these poets’ work (“the poems that really began this thing, and they are still the boss of it”) as poems that “come to my door thundering and insistent, or quiet and strong, or sneaky and sidelong,” and I’d say all of these types make an appearance in this issue, along with two new features, book reviews and 4x4, in which four of the issue’s contributors answer the same four questions, resulting in “a hybrid between essay and interview.”

I can’t help but begin with Blas Falconer’s “Song,” as I am writing this review just six weeks after fracturing my hip and sitting with the laptop literally on lap in bed:

They set the bone
and pin the plate,
sew the skin
and tell me how
your leg will heal:
Awkward at best.
Even the acrobat
gains a pound
or grows an inch
throws the physics off.
You must walk with care,
less jumping down,
less dreaming. But
speckled birds
sweep across the lawn,
and the steady growl
that never seems
to start or end
grows loud enough
to hear…

What I appreciate about this poem is its unexpected protagonist (the little bird), its precise and quiet tenderness, its ability to make the best use of poetry’s power, the power to use language with the ultimate economy.

The same could be said of an entirely different style of poem, a family narrative told in sparse precise language by Sidney Wade “Dream Autobiography” (“I was born / in a church // basement. / My dad // had a case / of the canaries. // My mother / was a gypsy // with high / blood bones”). And also of “As if Lit from Beneath, and Tossing” by Carl Phillips (“forgetfulness was but a form / of precision”), and John Burnside’s “Cartographers” (“no page in the inventory of how / the dreaming body dwindles to a blade // of pendulum”).

On the other end of the spectrum, though no less expertly composed, is prose poetry by Kate Daniels, “Dogtown 1957.” Here are the opening lines:

In the piney, pink stria of summer morning skies, we awoke to the muted, moan-like howling of the hungry redbones locked in their chain-like compounds. They lived their lives like that: locked in wire cages until released to hung, fragmented images of earlier expeditions flickering in and out of whatever consciousness they possessed, exciting them to live.

Lawrence Raab, John Burnside, Dan O’Brien, and Regan Good respond to this issue’s four questions, three of which have to do with the world of poetry teaching and publishing, and the fourth of which asks about the poets’ relationship to the natural world. What interested me, above all, was Good’s response to this fourth question: “The problem of nature – death – moves me more consistently than other things like politics or other traditional poetic themes…Someone recently referred to my writings as ‘weird nature poems’ that exhibit a ‘skeptical awe.’ I love that description and took it as a compliment.”

And I love this feature and look forward with curiosity to the next 4x4.
[www.hsc.edu/academics/poetryreview]

 

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Jelly Bucket coverJelly Bucket

Number 1

2009

Annual

Review by Kenneth Nichols

Jelly Bucket is a new journal produced by Eastern Kentucky University that gets its name, as editor Tasha Cotter explains in an introduction, from “archaic coalminer slang for lunch pail.” Cotter proclaims that the journal’s “only requirement is excellence.” Jelly Bucket’s aesthetic straddles these two aims interestingly, resulting in 185 pages of fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction that challenges the mind while feeding a reader’s base, human desires for story, wordplay and visual art.

The apparent centerpiece and longest work in the journal is “Harmon’s Start” by Roger Pincus. The author faithfully and emotionally paints the long-gone world of baseball at the beginning of the twentieth century. This is a time long before steroids and Topps baseball cards and radio broadcasts, in the rough days when a pro ball field wasn’t immaculately maintained, when mid-season meant “the scrapes and scuffs of the players’ spikes had nearly obliterated the sharp separation of dirt from turf that had been there in April.” Jack Harmon (a great old-time ballplayer name) is a 36-year-old veteran pitcher with a dead arm he doesn’t know how to liven up. Harmon maintains his advantage over the batter by adding a dollop of Vaseline to the ball and scratching the horsehide with some sandpaper. The story chronicles what happens when a pitch gets away from a decent man with a fading curveball.

Richard Holinger’s short-short story “Layers” is brief but evocative. The first-person narrator of the story is instructed by a cautious mother to wear several layers of clothing to ward off the cold while walking the dog. Instead, the layers protect the narrator as he is nudged by happenstance along the road to maturity.

The four poems Kevin Pilkington has placed in the volume demonstrate the writer’s facility for writing poems that examine familiar subjects through an unanticipated lens. The narrator of “The River” is reading a book in a park when he juxtaposes the beautiful with the banal: “a page from a newspaper / grabs my ankle like a small dog.”
[www.jellybucket.org/]

 

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The Journal coverThe Journal

Volume 33 Number 2

Autumn/Winter 2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

The Journal is published semi-annually by Ohio State University. A journal of “literature,” entries are not classified by genre, so it can be difficult to know if prose pieces are fiction or nonfiction (though I sometimes wonder if we really need to know the difference), but the journal would appear to include poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and reviews. The most immediately recognizable names this issue are Elton Glaser, Renee Ashley, Denise Duhamel (whose “Backwards and Forwards” was co-written with Amy Lemmon), Patricia Lockwood, Jesse Lee Kercheval, David Wagoner, and Nance Van Winckel, but most contributors are widely published, many in fine and prominent journals.

The work in this issue is characterized for the most part by a sense of immediacy, a kind of in-the-moment presence, firmly rooted in place and time, as in Kercheval’s “Thanksgiving Day”:

I’m drinking coffee in
The Corner Café at the
Field Museum waiting
for 11am, the time of
our tickets for the Tut-
ankhauman exhibit.

And as in the Duhamel/Lemmon poem:

Hannah could spell her name forwards or backwards,
even after a night of longnecks at Otto’s
or smoking reefer with her sis, both of them blotto,
playing Racecar with their empties, nicking the baseboards.

And Martha Silano’s “I Live on Milk Street”:

Via Lactea, to be exact. Once it was the path
To Zeus’s palace, then a creamy cul de sac; now
they just keep widening and widening. Its origin?
On that the jury’s still out. It could have been paved
by the Holy People who crawled to the surface
through a hollow reed…

Prose is equally grounded in place and time, work with a strong sense of narrative unfolding in an immediate, visible scene, as in Efrem Sigel’s personal essay “Soup Kitchen, Mishna, Yoga, Kavannah” (at least I think it’s an essay): “Today: roast chicken swimming in gravy, mashed potatoes, peas. If the potatoes are pasty and heavy, I choke up on the long serving spoon so as not to aggravate a nagging case of tennis elbow. The gravy requires my complete attention; it can easily slosh over the edge of the disposable Styrofoam plate.” What I appreciate most here is a casual, almost superficial beginning that leads to a discussion of some importance and seriousness. I trust Sigel from the get-go because I appreciate the detail, but I grow to appreciate him and his story more as the essay progresses.

Dawn Lonsinger contributes two of the more unusual and original poems to the issue, including “Untitled When the Artist Was Dying”:

the unspooling is only
visible if held up by
straight lines, attached
to ceilings, kissed.
your friends will buy
the most extravagant
desserts, bring hem
to your house, hold
your hypothetical hand.

And I liked very much another poem with an art theme, Patricia Lockwood’s “Homonymous Bosch Adds a Saloon-Door Hinge”:

To the panels he is painting, and bursts through them ready
to lay down laws: “When a door is built to swing, its surroundings
must be locked instead,” he shouts, and makes his way to the corner
where a one-eyed stray cat crouches. He cuts a broad brush
from the tail, ties it to his finger, and begins, all the while
screaming unprintables. “You must capture the natural world…”

I do not know if unprintables is a Lockwood invention, a Bosch invention, or a reference to something else I do not recognize, but I am pleased to find a phrase I do not recognize, followed by the pleasing sound “capture/natural.”

And speaking of the unrecognizable, Elton Glaser’s “Actual Mileage May Vary” may sum up the journal’s strengths and keep us on the lookout for future issues: “Words waiting in a notebook, the rain dripping through / The sycamores, can’t say yet what they mean.”
[www.english.osu.edu/research/journals/thejournal]

 

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the minnesota review coverthe minnesota review

Numbers 73/74

Fall 2009/Spring 2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

The Feral Issue. That’s right feral. In other words: animal studies. Guest editor Heather Steffen introduces this special feature section by explaining that animal studies has assumed increasing prominence over the last decade, but that our preoccupation with non-human animals is probably as old as the first human. As for this feral issue of the magazine, “if it has a leaning, it is to build a cultural materialist account of animals in our world…a cluster of essays that look at animals in literature, theory, the military, law, cultural history, and food production.” The work varies widely from personal accounts of relationships to animals and their larger implications, as in John Fried’s “This Treatment Isn’t in Any Way Cruel,” to analysis of the writing of Kenneth Burke by the guest editor, to an interview with vegan eco-feminist writer Carol J. Adams. A wide range of views and perspectives through essays, poems, short fiction, interviews, and reviews of animal studies publications is presented and offer the reader an excellent introduction to this growing field.

This issue of the journal also includes a special section of “writing from prison,” introduced by Doran Larson (“The People vs. The People”); an interview with Mike Davis and another with Andrew Ross; a few non-feral poems and stories; and an essay by Michael DuPuis (“Michael Crow, Manager of the New American University”), an analysis of the role of university presidents, in a section titled Revaluation. Davis, a public intellectual/socialist activist is interviewed by Victor Cohen, and the account of his political activities over the last 40 years is worthwhile. Best response of all: when asked “what was your role in the Communist Party?” he replied “fighting the Russians.” Cultural critic Andrew Ross is interviewed by Jeffrey J. Williams. Best response: when asked “How do you see it when you look back on your work? Ross replied, “I don’t look back very much; much of it is too embarrassing.”

I liked very much Nancy Ford Dugan’s short-short “GPS for the Car-less,” which begins: “Don’t even think of giving up your job in this economy, even if it bores you silly and they keep asking you to remove your files from their precious windowsills. This is not self-fulfillment time, despite the letter you got in the mail inviting you to live your best life with special discounted rate on Oprah magazine. Now is not the time.” And which concludes with these lines: “Look on the bright side. You may pay fewer taxes next year, when your job (like your ring, your nest egg, like your youth, like your parents, like your mental acuity, like Danny…) is long gone. Go ahead. Live your best life.” That’s what the minnesota review is clearly trying to help us do.
[www.theminnesotareview.org/]

 

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Paul Revere's Horse coverPaul Revere’s Horse

Volume 1 Number 2

Fall/Winter 2009

Biannual

Review by Teri Denton

Each piece in this second foray of Paul Revere’s Horse seems to encompass both denial and truth. Inasmuch as this not a remarkable combination, in the deft hands of these writers, denial, and the sometimes painful desire to find the truth, take on whole different meanings, each perfectly tailored to fit the writer’s needs.

A fine entry to this portal is Lisa Robertson’s introduction of poet John Clare, a contemporary of Lord Byron, who wrote parodies, of a sort, of Byron’s Don Juan (in this case the pronunciation and rhyme differs from the original, and in Clare’s turn at Byron’s Childe Harold, the content, as well as the spelling of the title character is different. In a section titled Lost Poets Reviewed, Robertson writes that, “Micro-shifts in tone, even in intent reign.” These shifts are powerfully shown in Clare’s attempt at satirization, and, in reading of Clare’s eventual admission into a lunatic asylum, one cannot help but wonder where the truth of Clare’s poems lay.

In the poem, Clare put forth, “My life hath been one love – no blot it out / My life hath been one chain of contradictions / Madhouses Prisons wh-reshops – never doubt / But that my life hath had some strong convictions.” Continues Robertson, “The poem seems gloriously not to know where it is going, but always it goes where there is the most life.” Perhaps, then, Clare spoke of the contradictions and convictions of his own life.

Most famously, for this lost poet, is his un-Byronesque Don Juan. One can tell that Clare had delight in his pen when he created this poem. To wit, “I wish young married dames were not so frisky / Nor hide the ring to make believe they’re single / I wish small beer was half as good as whiskey / & married dames with buggers would not mingle / There’s some to cunning far & some too frisky / & here I want a rhyme – so write down ‘jingle’. ” Anyone familiar with Byron’s Don Juan will note that Clare has turned the seduction of the original on its ears. Did Clare feel a sense of denial in the original, and seek his own truth? We will never know. But it’s truly entertaining to read Clare’s poetry and wonder.

A story, by Elmo Lum, “I Lived and I Was,” highlights what is, almost certainly, the standout among these truth-seekers. In this world, in an unnamed place, and at an unnamed time (but the early 1800s seems appropriate if we are to pin it down), lived a mother, a father, and an unnamed nine-year-old boy. When the young boy won’t look at the moon because of blinding hail in his face, Lum writes, “According to my mother’s mother, it’s the hailing moon that glimmers with the truth.” Continuing, “My mother didn’t fear for my safety. At least when it came to the moon. Open your eyes, my mother said. Or are you too chicken to look at the truth? I was chicken. I was nine … I couldn’t or wouldn’t open my eyes.”

But before this mother-son dare go further, a stranger appears through the mist and hail. Her name is Layla, and she offers the child the truth about dogs and chickens, and introduces the family to eggs. During Layla’s stay, revelations abound, and the father tells the boy that he has named him Hail, but that he must not tell his mother. Many truths, transformed from incarnations of denial, are learned on that hail-filled night, yet none has to do with the moon. In fact, says Layla, “That’s a country myth. The truth is the truth is always a secret.”

Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein adds one poem, amongst her two, to this exploration of denial and truth. Denial is this poet’s strong suit, and she delves into it seamlessly.

In an ironical and wonderfully realized poem from “The Optimist,” she writes, “The wind has many names but none that explain // How every ion enters the iris as the gates close, / Making us all blind to the vision that would stun // Us into waking again one again to want and birth. / No, the shut green eye doesn’t do us any good.”

Also to be found amongst the fantastic pages of Paul Revere’s Horse are Carlos Lara’s translations of two of Pablo Guevara’s (1930-2006) poems. Guevara’s “The Memory of Alcohol” dives smoothly into a complicated juxtaposition of both denial and truth:

Which climates will have felt the passage of my wounded silence?
Or when was everything kisses all around, and I merely watched?
They’ll come, I’m sure of it, beds and pendulums
to remind me that at one time (when it came to blows)
We knew how to love each other without question.

In “For Love,” also by Guevara, truth nearly screams out of his writing. “I don’t have time for regret / I’d walk through the years surviving / I should be the lips of a child anywhere / The sorcerer’s tower and the elder. // Imperfection you could not destroy me / Not if all the plazas in the world were torn apart / As the heart is violet in the libertine / The dreams of the just are not for me.”

As a complete collection, the works in this edition of Paul Revere’s Horse are an amazing bunch. Wildly entertaining, this is the sort of writing that should ensure that this journal will be around for a very long time.
[www.paulrevereshorse.org]

 

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Rhino coverRhino

2009

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

An especially appealing issue, often playful but not merely for the sake of fun; attuned to poetry lovers’ interest in language, but not merely to invent or experiment; inventive, but not merely to impress; clever, but not merely to show off; serious, but not merely gloomy or solemn; well crafted, but not stodgy or overly formal; surprising, but not merely startling or crass or shocking.

A good mix of poems in verse and prose poems; translations from Hebrew, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Latvian, and Lithuanian; free verse and formal selections; and a diverse collection of tones and vocabularies and diction.

The whole of the issue is worthwhile, but standouts for me include Kristen Markowski’s prose poem, “The Choice of Words,” after an essay of the same name in Vogue’s Book of Etiquette (1948):

‘Couch’ should not be used instead of ‘sofa.’ ‘Don’t have’ should not be used instead of ‘haven’t,’ or even ‘haven’t got.’ ‘You don’t have a couch’ is a violation of the English language. Even ‘don’t have’ should not be used instead of ‘haven’t.’ ‘Gorgeous’ should not be used instead of ‘beautiful’ or ‘magnificent’ or ‘attractive.’ You don’t have a ‘gorgeous couch,’ you have a ‘beautiful sofa.’

The piece concludes: “You have described the language.”

Another highlight is “Love’s Variety” by Kim Andrews, which begins:

a smooth Noblesse, the way
you keep saying that every time you write
about fruit
you mean father
bowl of father: skin of father
the nectarine’s pale flesh, changeling peel
the matte of it
a bunch of father: father tree

Perhaps my own recent hospital stay informs my choice of Saara Myrene Raappana’s “72-Hour Observation, Journal for Dr. Saper,” as another standout, but with so many poems about illness and hospitals, I find this to be one of the most impressive I’ve come across recently:

Saturday Night
In my dream, you drifted in on a flashlight beam
that assailed my unlit hospital room.
Pulling the incisors from my mouth,
you clicked them together in your palm
while I watched, inert,
as a fish regards the dry world from its bowl.
Sunday Night
Nurses talk low, as if we shouldn’t hear,
about electric bills and coupons for beans:
the small things that burrow up to make the world.
I’m afraid.

Another highlight: Bryon A. Kanoti’s “Tyrannosaurus X-Ray”:

The city is gone home and ghosted – some weather [salted along the lake’s
Misshapen danger and degree] insists the birds
[all their hollow cells spectacular for other cells] shelter outside the wordiness

Kanoti’s work is characteristic of many of the poems in Rhino in which punctuation plays an inventive role to great effect.

I was happily introduced to the work of Lithuanian poet Sonata Paliulyte, whose poem “Silence” is wonderfully translated by Irena Praitis (“I wanted / just one word – / I didn’t have one / nor a short prayer. / Sometimes you’re here, / then you’re a vanishing shadow / splitting our life boat / there across the sea / only sand and blue, / and your blame); and to Latvian poet, Peters Bruveris, whose “One-Liners,” beautifully translated by Inara Cedrins consists of single lines separated by “x” (“voice of the axe in the forest of souls,” “in a seven-story building the dead climb to the eighth floor”); and to the work of Alex Epstein, whose prose poem “Beyond the Wall” is ably translated from the Hebrew by Becka Mara McKay (“In old history books you’ll find the wall was built many years ago, to separate us from the madmen who stood there painting graffiti in the air…Of course, those who claim that the wall has only one side abuse logic and law”).

Megan M. Garr’s “Document #1” sums up the issue’s overall impact in her closing lines:

Was there paint or
the incredible, tea, homes, elk, a lake,
some past cast for study, was there ice, a play?
Was it conserved? and then? Histories, books of them.
Everything. Everything.

[www.rhinopoetry.org]

 

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River Styx coverRiver Styx

81/82

2010

Triannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This thirty-fifth anniversary issue features poetry from several dozen poets with largely, though not exclusively, narrative tendencies, two essays, six works of short fiction, and three illustrators. Stephen Dunn, Maxine Kumin, Molly Peacock, and Charles Harper Webb are the headliners, joined by such other familiar, it not household names, as Leslie Adrienne Miller and Sarah Kennedy. Bret Gottschall’s charcoal on paper drawings are stunning (“I am interested in the allure and mystery of beauty in the nape of a woman’s neck or the light that, reflect off breasts, illuminates the lonely underside of a chin. In the right light and surroundings, we are all beautiful in one way or another.”). The issue is, overall, extremely pleasing, creating a sense of satisfied, contented reading, a story to sink your teeth into (whether in verse or prose).

Several poets recount the lives of famous men and their professions. Here is Galileo at his best, in a poem in the scientist’s name by George Bilgere:

Best of all, the Pope would flip out,
A brass rod rammed up his pious ass.
What a night he was having!
Plus, he had just discovered the universe.

Leslie Adrienne Miller, too, concerns herself with the lives of famous men in “fizee óllajee” (whose title I cannot correctly reproduce with its phonetic upside down e):

Why is it so amusing to know that Darwin
why obese to the degree that a half moon
had to be cut from his dining table…
Better yet that Beddoes believed
in the curative powers of bovine breath…
Here is the last generation of men
schooled in the flesh. Who knew
how the firm whorls of the human brain
Soften too fast in a corpse…

And a story about another profession, by Walter Bergen, “Poet as Grand Marshal of the Fall Parade”:

Doubting the gravitas, the decorum, it’s poetry after all,
and being led by a Boy Scout honor guard that’s following a police car’s
flashing lights, their brown shirts sashed with merit badges,
and behind them the poet bucket-seated
in a low-riding wine-dark sports car, hand-lettered signs
announcing his presence…

Allision Joseph, instead, offers a poem not about the poet’s life, but about her tools, in “Notebooks”:

I crave them as if craving something carnal,
Blankness of pages erotic, clean with sensual
Possibilities and ready to be dampened
By my insistent ink, swirls of language
Made plain on thin blue lines taut
as tightrope…

Leonard Kress, too, concerns himself with the lives and work of poets (Ginsberg, Creeley, Duncan, Corso, Kinnell, Bly, Rexroth) in “Harmonium” (‘You don’t love your harmonium enough,’ / said Ginsberg. But he was wrong!”)

Poets Loren Graham, Jennifer Perrine, Daniel Donaghy, Charles Harper Webb, and David Axelrod tell family stories. Dan Olburn unfolds the story of a near tragic airplane crash (“In the Unlikely Event of a Water Landing”), and John Ridland imagines the life of figure in a Vermeer painting (“A Woman Holding a Balance”).

An usual and witty entry is an imitation of the best-selling “dummies” books, “Dummies Books for Dummies. The Guide to the Guides for the Rest of Us, Featuring an Expert Writers: Andrew Hudgins,” illustrated with a cover featuring the familiar dummies books look and illustrated book pages. A dummies book about how to read dummies books, Hidgins piece is funny and sarcastic:

Tip for more advanced readers: Though the location of the numbers varies, they are generally in the same place on each book. For instance, if the book has the number one in the upper right hand corner, all subsequent numbers (2,3,4, and so on) will also be in the upper right-hand corner.

Henry I. Schvey, Professor of Drama and Comparative Literature at Washington University contributes an essay about meeting the Scottish scholar of American drama Konrad Kopkins and his own encounter with the works of Tennessee Williams. And there are a number of fine stories, including a short-short by Buzz Mauro (“Long Division”) and a satisfying contribution by Qui Xialong, “Chinese Chess (1964),” a story of the grueling college entrance exam experience.

We wish the folks at River Styx – and their readers – another successful thirty-five years.
[www.riverstyx.org]

 

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Shenandoah coverShenandoah

Volume 59 Number 3

Winter 2009

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

The cover (“Posted”) of this issue is a starkly beautiful oil painting of late fall/early winter, a house and grounds in the backcountry west of the Blue Ridge mountains, painted by Barry Vance. In the middle of the journal is a portfolio of his utterly marvelous work, “Dwelling in the Backcountry,” seven paintings accompanied by excerpts of the work of writers, past and current, of the region (Billy Edd Wheeler, John O’Brien, Matilda Houstoun, Charles Wright, Wendell Berry, Louise McNeill, Ann Pancake). The work is from a recent exhibition of 24 paintings of the Potomac Highlands, and together with the literary selections, “express sentiments nurtured by the life of the backcountry,” writes Vance. These paintings are uncanny in their blending of elements that are both lush, yet finely etched, so that the paintings are focused, yet somehow dense; colorful, yet often stark; dreamy, yet realistic; precise, yet textured. They evoke a particular and unique atmosphere with a kind of palpable certainty of sensation. And they are simply exquisite. I couldn’t stop turning to them again and again.

Many of these same qualities are found in much of the writing in this issue, a strong sense of place created through evocative images and a precision that manages to be both finely detailed, yet rich. Here, for example, are excerpts from Natasha Saje’s poem “Palimpsest”:

Her last time in Rome, it was warm and damp
and crowded. My favorite city, a palimpsest,
that’s what she likes to say. The first time she’s
twenty and studies all the churches – interiors
uncrowded. Her favorite city, a palimpsest.
Some exteriors: Santa Maria della Pace.
More than twenty churches – inside or out
in seven days. She stays at the Pensione Terminus
two miles outside Pietro da Cortona’s portico,
run by a courtly proprietor and his German wife,
for seven days. She stays at the Pension Terminus
the rooms enormous, high ceilinged, the silver shining.

And here are excerpts from “Blindness” by Sherod Santos:

On the opening pages of a novel she bought
at an English bookstore near the Seine (the famous, fading
hand-stamped imprint: Kilometer Zero, Shakespeare Books),
the author enters a Belgrade bar and asks if the song
he’d heard outside was played on a record or a radio.

Thomas Reiler’s poem “Anderman, Kansas” is similarly grounded; as are poems by Kathryn Stripling Byer (“Blackberry Road”) and Aaron Baker (“The Lost Village”), winner of the magazine’s Glasgow Prize for Emerging Writers (poets who have published no more than one book of poetry).

The same can be said of the issue’s only nonfiction offering, an essay by Robert Benson, “Sound Memories,” a fine memoir about the author’s connection to various experiences of life on waterways (beaches, rivers, sounds). And also of stories by Greg Johnson (“Town Center,” which begins: “Out of place.”) and Vincent Czyz (“The Moon Has Fallen into the Well,” which begins: “I am standing at the foot of Galata Tower very near the place where, a few years ago, on a November night that was exceptionally cold, a body lay on the paving stones.”).

Setting itself apart in many ways, as her work tends to do, is Alice Friman’s “Design,” appealing for many other reasons, above all her characteristically wry voice:

As of last inspection, all my ghosts
are present and accounted for
and, it appears, happy
as if the terrible airlessness
agreed with them…
Oh, House of Shining Windows that is the sky,
of course they are happy. The stuff
that was Mama, soldier of scour and rag,
made Queen in the royal army of clean-up.
While the pit bull that was my father,
runs, vindicated at last, snarling,
nipping at the heels of thunder, pulling down rain.

I must not conclude this review without mentioning the best known poet in the issue, “Four Poems to Begin the New Year,” by Mary Oliver, whose work is nearly always grounded in the natural world or in place, in this case more metaphorically so than is typical of her work. Here are some lines from the last of the four poems, “The Poet Dreams of the Mountain”:

I want to climb some old gray mountain, slowly, taking
the rest of my life to do it…
All that urgency! Not what the earth is about!
I want to take slow steps, and think appropriate thoughts.
In ten thousand years, maybe, a piece of the mountain will fall.

Until then, Shenandoah will keep us grounded.
[shenandoahliterary.org/]

 

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Sou'wester coverSou’wester

Volume 38 Number 1

Fall 2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Sou’wester is a journal produced by the Department of English at Southern Illinois University nearing its 50th year of publication. New poetry editor, highly acclaimed poet Adrian Matejka, expects to choose poems “appreciated for their varied timbres, dictions, structures, and strategies” and to continue the journal’s tradition of cultivating “a dialogue between the diverse aesthetics in contemporary poetry.” I think it is safe to say that he’s off to a good start with this issue. The work of a dozen and a half poets is accompanied by nine short stories and one essay. They reflect Matejka’s desire to present a variety of modes, styles, and approaches, as well as varying levels of publishing experience.

“The Year of the Body,” by Jake Wolff, is the author’s first published story, and if it’s a sign of what’s to come, Wolff is a name to seek out in future publications. He has done a masterful job with a story of some complexity (a gay couple encounters a kidnapping victim years after her disappearance when they were children) in terms of pace, timing, and detail.

On the other end of the spectrum in terms of experience, is the widely published poet Terrance Hayes (whose poem is followed by an interview), whose “For Brothers of the Dragon” is a kind of "pecha kucha,” a Japanese form that is a kind of narrated event. It’s a provocative idea and a form ripe with possibilities. Hayes has already mastered it, I think. And I appreciated the interplay of strong and unusual imagery and small philosophies (“In fiction / everything happens with ease, and the easefulness kills me.”)

I was impressed, as well, with excerpts from Sherwin Bitsui’s “Flood Song,” a combination of long verses, followed by long prose lines in italics:

I cover my eyes with electrical wires,
see yellow dawn eclipse Stop signs,
turn green and screech into phosphorescence.
What, what, what – is how the song chimed in wilderness.

Equally original and compelling is “Revival of Rosemailing” by Carol Guess, a prose poem or poetry short-short in six segments, whose first line is one of the best in the volume and virtually commands us to read: “Everyone lost someone in the avalanche that year,” and whose last line is no less evocative: “We knit shadows from snow, leading wolves to false poetry.”

I found Sean Singer’s poem about Scott Joplin fascinating (“Son of a slave, / your birthday is no more exact than a petal.”), with its inclusion of a graphic of the Guardian of the Cross in the third section. And I loved Julia Clare Tillinghast-Alkalin’s poem, “Rivers,” with its lyrical idea: “Name all the rivers in your life without telling a story.”

Erinn Batykefer’s personal essay, “Double Life,” is told in a series of short to moderate-length sections, a difficult story of sisters, recounted with great sentiment, but without sentimentality.

Stories by Brandon Wicks, Shawn Vestal, and Nicholas Mainieri, among others, feature credible, natural voices, and characters we come to care about quickly, thanks to competent narration and smart timing. A short excerpt from Liza Wieland’s story “Apparition” sums up the journal’s overall appeal in many ways, the satisfying merging of preoccupation with language and compelling story:

I use too many adverbs; it has always been the case, my mentors and critics have said so. I think my love of this part of speech stems from my childhood, the daughter of inventors and scientists, a man and a woman in the act of taking the world apart to see how it worked – or didn’t. I inherited a bit of this impulse from them, a desire to know precisely how a thing moves, and so the adverb is my favorite tool, my ally. But I will try to improve here, now, as I tell this story.

[www.siue.edu/ENGLISH/SW/]

 

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Spinning Jenny coverSpinning Jenny

Number 11

2010

Annual

Review by Lesley Dame

If poetry is the food of love, then Spinning Jenny is a five-star restaurant. Whether you’re in the mood for sweet or savory, their menu has it all. This modern delicacy features eighty-plus pages of delicious poems, with a center insert of eight pieces of unconventional art. It’s straightforward. You open Spinning Jenny up. You flip through the first few pages of copyright and staff information, and voila! One page lists the titles of the poems. The rest is love. Or food. Something like that.

As I mentioned, the layout is plain and simple. I love it. No longwinded editor’s letters, no explanations. If you don’t already know what a spinning jenny is, I’ll tell you. It’s a multi-spool spinning wheel, which revolutionized the craft of spinning yarn, allowing workers to work on several spools of yarns at once. What Spinning Jenny has done is reinvented the literary machine. A multi-poem magazine, readers can view several awesome, fresh, unique poems at once. Long, short, traditional, experimental – choose your own gourmet combination platter.

Let’s flip to a poem titled “Seldom Gold” by John Harper. It’s a melancholy piece about feeling small in a big world. It’s a personal poem, perhaps about some private sadness, but it relates to the bigger picture, too. In a world full of tragedies, it’s easy to lose sight of why we’re here and what we can do to make a difference. I’m only one person, we think. Harper says, “What can I declare – seldom, seldom / I take an action,” – a feeling of hopelessness. Twice he says “that symbol coming down the road…I don’t know what that means,” – confusion. Lastly, Harper ends this sad mystery with “I guess I am on my head on my hands, / my burnt, burnt hands / aching for warmth.” Aren’t we all? In a world full of darkness, we all have our personal and collective experiences to keep us from feeling golden.

While the previous poem may have brought us down into the depths of depression, let’s look at one that makes us feel better. There are a few poems in Spinning Jenny by Tomaz Salamun, which are translated from Slovenian. One, “Walsenburg,” translated by Ana Jelinkar and Joshua Beckman, begins with the line, “All these cities are the sun.” The poem, too, has a brightness about it. It illustrates a walk to the post office, taking pleasure in simple things like flags waving, ants crawling, laborers working. And then ends on an oddly bizarre note: “Oh, what a thin animal the domestic cat / is, beauty, which is the crushing // of joints, budding like vapor! / What a thin animal the domestic cat is! / What a city is Walsenburg!” Wait, crushing joints, you ask? Okay, so I’m clueless about that, but it is a great image, isn’t it? – I don’t know if this is a happy poem. It’s hard to tell; but it leaves me chuckling and smiling, head tilted in wonder.

In a way, all the poems in Spinning Jenny should make you happy just because they’re enjoyable to read, even the last one – William Winfield Wright’s “Fucking Poems about Chess.” I’m not usually fond of poems with vulgarity and/or swear words. Mostly, I think they’re a gimmick and useless to literary art. But this is a funny poem, and makes fun of itself. Plus, it’s over the top. Suddenly, the “F” word becomes commonplace. The poem begins “Make your move / make your move / make your move / make your move / make your fucking move already.” Come on, haven’t we all thought that tons of times? Not necessarily in chess, but you could easily replace “make your move” with “come on, I’m starving; get in the car” or “ugh, stop tapping your finger on the table; you’re annoying the crap outta me.” For seven and a half pages, we wait in frustration with the speaker, and by the end, you’ll want to scream “make your fucking move already,” too. In a bizarre twist, the final line brings a sense of peace to the extremely frustrated poem. The speaker says “Now let’s try it together.” If only we collaborated more often!

Spinning Jenny is one of my new favorite lit mags. Poets and poetry lovers will dive into this tasty meal and leave with a full contented belly.
[www.spinning-jenny.com]

 

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Tamap Review coverTampa Review

39

2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Always handsome and beautifully printed, this year’s edition features, for the first time, visual art from the nineteenth century reproduced from the Tampa Book Arts Studio Library, and it’s glorious. Oil paintings, illustrations, drawings, a color letterpress print, the cover of a blank writing book, and engravings in a broad range of styles. The Tampa Review’s large format provides an appropriate platform for these works, and they are carefully selected to be appropriate in their placement alongside the literary works.

This issue features prose and poetry by a dozen and a half accomplished writers and an interview conducted by editor Richard Mathews with stage and film actor Mil Nicholson, who is currently engaged in a project called LibriVox to “make all public domain books available as free audio books” (she has recorded a number of nineteenth century novels, hence the 19th century emphasis in the journals visual elements).

I liked very much a genial story by the prolific and talented Jacob M. Appel, “Dower,” a love story told in the wry and appealing voice of a first wife; and essay by Julie Marie Wade, “A Life Under Water,” a family story about our bodily connection to the world which begins: “The seas has always come naturally to me. I am a native speaker of wave,” and whose refrain is “So grief is also a wave.”

Poetry tends to be rich in concrete, physical imagery; grounded in place and space but with larger metaphysical intentions and implications, for example, in Jason Mitchell’s “Bone Orchard”:

Late morning breaking just outside
some place called Goldfield, driving through
past-played vestiges from an old Western set,
but they aren’t…
…Stone, dirt, and glass,
always simple fragments quarried
from a debris-life before us. Names
have left us long ago There are no more
rites; they have outlasted themselves.
News will not find this place.

Other examples of this satisfying union of concrete physical reality and larger philosophy come from Robin Davidson in “Window":

It is my first afternoon in Kraków. At the back of the Franciscan Church,
I see the Wyspianski window where God creates the world
With a single stroke…
This is when I first know our world is a window.
Porous realm of what is or was or could be.

And from Nola Garrett’s “Why Break the Line?” (cited here in its entirety):

A cracked cup,
a gnarled tree,
a crate
of bruised apples,
a disordered
room,
5 a.m. –
the odor
of broken
darkness
speaks to me.

And from Charles Tisdale’s “The Movement and Habits of Climbing Plants”:

In the middle of the block in my neighborhood, twining
Up fences and trees, I have found four types of climbing
Plants. They serve as examples of the ones he identifies,
Darwin does, in his study of their habits, motives,
And movements…
…The only motive
Is the tendril’s involution, in the end, the selfsame self.

And in poems by Andrew De Haahn, Julie Hanson, and James Doyle, whose poem “The Beach at Night” concludes: “the oldest stories on the verge of starting.”

With its museum quality reproductions, and work that reminds us of our physical and metaphysical connections to the world around us and a world always just beyond our grasp as past or possibility, this is an issue of the Tampa Review you’ll want to hold onto.
[www.tampareview.ut.edu]

 

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Whitefish Review coverWhitefish Review

Volume 3 Issue 2

Winter 2009-10

Biannual

Review by Lesley Dame

Big skies. Big mountains. Big bears. Whitefish Review is an ambitious magazine that operates out of Whitefish, Montana, a place of natural beauty and wonder, harsh winters, and glorious summers. The magazine’s mission is to give its readers a hearty dose of mountain culture and an appreciation of the natural world. Whitefish Review publishes emerging and established writers, as well as art, essays, interviews, and book excerpts, and the work featured in its pages is mostly concerned with nature and our place in it. Montana is a place of stark beauty, and Whitefish Review seeks to explore and emulate this type of beauty. It is both rustic and thoughtful.

Whitefish Review is not your traditional literary magazine. Lightly peppered with a few poems and stories, this magazine is more interested in the great outdoors and how art and artists fit into the natural world. Visual art, essays, and interviews find a home in this magazine. The interviews range from a particularly lengthy conversation with a professional skier, to a slightly shorter one with a political cartoonist, to an engrossing (and charming) one with one of my personal crushes, Alain de Botton. The most relevant interview to me, though, is an interview with Isaiah Sheffer, co-founder and artistic director of New York’s Symphony Space. Sheffer talks about starting Symphony Space back in 1978, how it was meant to be a place for theater and music projects, but through the years it’s become a place for all the arts to come together, from drama to poetry. He created “Selected Shorts: A Celebration of the Short Story,” in which actors read stories on stage. This concept of integrating art forms is right up Whitefish Review’s alley. The editors are not concerned solely with creative writing like most literary magazines, but with all kinds of art forms. When I read this particular interview, their creative vision finally made sense to me.

Perhaps the most daring vision of the magazine is its desire to bring to its readers a sense of where the artist or writer is coming from. Each drawing, painting, sketch, collage, and photograph is followed by a write-up from the artist explaining how and why they created their art and what it means to them and their place in the natural world. While I find this intriguing and just plain cool, I think the twenty pages of commentary could be better served filled with poems, stories, and creative nonfiction. Ideally, the whole journal would be stretched out, and we could benefit from reading these write-ups alongside more literary works. All in all, it’s a great idea that demands the reader engage with the artwork in the magazine, which is something I really appreciate.

While the fiction and poetry is sparse, it is worth mentioning. One story called “Great Rift Valley” (Tom Haines) is told by a man living in an East African village suffering from extreme drought. He has to choose whether to stay in the only home he’s ever known or leave for work in order to take care of himself and his family. He says, “It is one thing to leave a place that is no more. It is another to betray it if it asks only patience.” It is a story of place. It asks us What is a home? Can we make a new home someplace else? Whatever the man decides, and I’m not telling, it’s a difficult choice and speaks to all of us living in a world where we must make these kinds of choices every day.

Another piece of note is a poem titled “Mousetrap” by Bob Love. What can I say? I love the title, and I love the poet’s name – that’s what drew me in. The poem is only ten lines long. A deer mouse trail reminds the speaker to drain the water buckets from the sauna. It’s quiet and lovely, and hints at some greater human quality. It’s a bit mysterious, but illustrates the delicate line between the human and natural worlds.

Having only just completed its third year in the world of lit mags, Whitefish Review is a solid publication. Although the magazine is an odd mixture of literary works, art, essays, and interviews, it does bring together a clear sense of mountain culture and its importance in our time. Furthermore, it brings together many art forms, even those you might not think of as art at first glance and boldly says why not? Naturalists, adventurers, outdoor sports enthusiasts with a passion for art and reading – this is the place for you.
[www.whitefishreview.org]

 

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