Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted July 30, 2010

Five Points :: Hayden's Ferry Review :: Iowa Review :: The MacGuffin :: Northwest Review :: Oxford American :: Poetica :: Poet Lore :: Poetry Northwest :: Room :: Seneca Review :: Tipton Poetry Journal

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Five Points coverFive Points

A Journal of Literature and Art

Volume 13 Number 2

2010

Belfast Imagined

Triannual

Review by Karen Rigby

Edited by Megan Sexton and David Bottoms, this issue of Five Points explores literature as well as audio inspired by the theme “Belfast Imagined.” Work includes an interview with novelist Glen Patterson (which is also available on the journal’s website); photography comprising a series entitled “Flash Points”; a companion 19-track, 78+ minute CD; two essays; fiction; and poetry by Medbh McGuckian, Ciarán Carson, Leontia Flynn, Howard Wright, and Alan Gillis, whose poem “Down Through the Dark and Emptying Streets” begins the issue:

Open a new window
Go and Google yourself.
Open Facebook and update
all trace of yourself.
While you search MySpace,
sync your apps, correct a wiki,
blah blah on your blog,
stream and twitter

Gillis initially considers the speaker’s online activity, but soon reveals his dilemma: whether to confirm or ignore a Facebook friend request. The reader is implicitly asked to imagine the potential ramifications. What would happen if the past were allowed to merge with the present? What anxiety, anticipation, or nostalgia might the seemingly simple choice evoke? Such questions remain unanswered, but could also apply in varying degrees to other works.

“The Arbitrarium,” a short story by Ian Sansom, considers a 16th-17th century chest purchased at an auction. The narrator soon finds that his routine has begun to revolve around the object. As much a study in determination as it is in the mysterious lure of history, the story is pleasingly compact. Andy White’s essay, “Soweto Motorway Walking,” features a musician’s excursion to South Africa as part of an outreach festival. His upbringing in Northern Ireland, however, has not prepared him for scenes of extreme poverty. He remarks that “the divisions … make those in the British Isles seem like watching people in a posh restaurant choosing sparkling or mineral water when you’re in the middle of the Kalahari.” During the course of the essay, the contrasts between colonial remnants, Belfast, and present-day Soweto circuitously lead the narrator to remember his mother.

Entries that are less thematic about the past and present include “Hopdance: An Extract,” written by Stewart Parker and introduced in an essay by Marilynn Richtarik. Parker’s story details what happens after a surgical amputation, taking the reader up to the moment when the protagonist is fitted with a prosthetic limb. He creates a well-modulated portrait of a man who must adapt to the process of rehabilitation without a trace of bitterness, pity, or heroics.

The poetry selections are mostly clear-cut, single-subject works, bearing titles such as “Rush Hour,” “Anecdote of the Drunken Nights,” and “My Only Uncle’s Story,” among others. Often conveyed with a bemused or contemplative tone, they are solid, if not especially adventurous in their range. Medbh McGuckian’s trio proves the exception, offering layered reflections and painterly imagery that moves beyond the descriptive. Ciarán Carson’s spare “In the Parlour” is also noteworthy for its distillation of restrained grief.

The CD represents an accomplished curatorial effort, and is more than a “bonus” supplement to the issue. It includes music interspersed with dramatic, atmospheric readings, and sometimes ghostly, wordless interludes that are darker in mood than the work presented in the journal. Among the notable authors is Paul Muldoon, reading a piece entitled “Julius Caesar.” Together, these many versions of “Belfast Imagined” offer a glimpse at some of the region’s contemporary artists. In the words of Ms. Sexton, it is “a sonic postcard from … a city rich in accents and acoustics.”
[www.fivepoints.gsu.edu/]

 

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Hayden's Ferry Review coverHayden’s Ferry Review

Issue 46

Spring/Summer 2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

I’m warning you from the get-go: I will never be able to do this volume justice in a one itty-bitty little review. This is one big, bold, brilliant effort. From Brian Dettmer’s “New Books of Knowledge,” full bleed front and back cover art, to Halina Duraj’s essay, “The Company She Keeps,” the last piece in the magazine, this is surely one of Hayden’s Ferry Review’s most exciting issues ever.

In the statement that precedes several reproductions of his work inside the journal, Dettmer explains:

Through meticulous excavation or concise alteration I edit or dissect communicative objects or systems such as books, maps, tapes and other media. The medium’s role transforms. Its content is recontexualized and new meanings of interpretations emerge.

The work is utterly fascinating, as are haunting, dreamy black and white photographs from Lance W. Clayton (in response to poems by Norman Dubie); mesmerizing black and white photos – often provocative – by Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison (with fiction responses by Sean Padre McCarthy, Claire Tristram, and Stephen Tuttle); and Heidi Nelson’s “Atlas of Punctuation,” which “displays the distribution of all end-of-sentence punctuation for 14 books consolidated into a single sheet” (three of which are included here).

The International Poetry section features the poetry and prose of gifted and accomplished writers (all living or recently deceased) expertly translated from Norwegian, Bengali, Icelandic, Spanish, Yiddish, and Czech with introductions by the translators. Much of this work certainly must have been extremely difficult to translate: Norwegian prose stylist Dag T. Straumsväg’s prose poems are narrated in a voice with a distinctive sarcastic tenor, seamlessly manipulated by translator Robert Hedin; Bengali poet Kabita Sinha’s exhilarating, but unusual syntax is beautifully reproduced by Carolyne Wright; Ema Katrovas creates a version of Bohumil Hrabal’s characteristically understated Czech prose with great finesse. Catherine Hammond translates the poetry of Spanish poet Olvido García Valdés with authenticity and lyricism, without sacrificing one for the other.

But, wait … there’s more: the work of 29 poets and 7 fiction writers in English; and more responses to other entries in the issue (“erasure poems in response to ‘We Show What We Have Learned’” a story by Clare Beams; and more images in response to Dubie’s poems from Leia Bell, Christopher Darling, and Angela Yonke).

There is “representative” poem here. Modes, tones, styles, and diction vary widely from Kazim Ali’s terse and lyrical couplets in “The People of the Book”:

I want to snake-handle
but I want to be bitten
Rain unfurling back to sky
Oh stitch me to the source

To the surreal narrative of Phil Estes in “Parties After the Afterlife Are a Lot Like Parties in Dayton, Ohio”:

I drink High Life and watch basketball to pass the time
and have other dead friends and historical figures over –
I invited Napoleon over one night for a party,
and he arrived wearing the famous hat and uniform.

To Kathleen McGookey’s untitled prose poems: “In my grandparents’ basement, a closet full of fur coats. A row of shelves against the wall, full of plastic boxes. I am small again.”

Haling Duraj’s personal essay, which announces just two days after learning her fiancé has had a recent affair with a friend of hers, is one of the least self-indulgent, wittiest, yet most heartbreaking stories of heartbreak I have read in a long time.

I don’t have room here to elaborate on the fine fiction, but a story I liked especially well by Ellen Visson, “Compassion,” is well accompanied by work from Stephanie Marker, Anne E. Campisi, and Stephanie Barbé Hammer, among others. Generous, eclectic editorial predilections are equally in play for fiction as for poetry.

The late Bengali poet Kabita Sinha’s “Uncorrupted Sun” (translated by Carolyne Wright) concludes: “the sun takes its cue / from one remaining speck of virtue, / before it sets it summons forth another sun!” It will take you a long time to appreciate everything in this issue, so read it soon before Hayden’s Ferry sets forth another!
[www.asu.edu/piper/publications/haydensferryreview/]

 

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The Iowa Review coverThe Iowa Review

Volume 40 Number 1

Spring 2010

Triannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

A terrific redesign to kick off the journal’s 40th year. I love the new look and feel (decidedly less stodgy; easier to hold and read; appealing new shape, beautiful cover and page layouts). Prose – seven stories and five essays – is what held my attention most vividly in this volume, beginning with Elizabeth Benjamin’s beautifully composed prose in “Scarce Lit Sea” (“A year after he said see you soon out the window of his truck, he returned to me, in the night as he had always come, either by water, his boat striking the sharp brown rocks, or on foot, whistling bird calls from the trail.”). Stories by Karl Harshbarger, Whitney Ray, Sarah Colvert, Amma Gautier, Ben Fountain, and Kirsten Clodfelter couldn’t be more different from Benjamin’s, or from each other, but all are solid and satisfying in different ways and for different reasons, making the short fiction in this issue especially appealing.

Harshbarger recreates an era (1940’s), a particular working environment (canning factory), and a distinctive narrating voice who talks directly to the reader (“But for reasons that are beyond you and me, that never happened”), with skillful precision, deliberate sarcasm, and an acute sense of detail. Gautier’s story about a rift between friends traveling together, centered on racial/ethnic/gender issues, is short, smart, and surprisingly moving for its intentions. Guatier’s adept at manipulating a casual tone (“Nina’s only Jewish when she wants to be, only when it counts”) to relate a serious message in a way that does not feel didactic. Colvert, too, offers a tale of working class life in “Slice of Meat Pie,” a slice of romance gone rancid as the main course. She has a good ear for natural dialogue and an uncanny way of making a very short, straightforward sentence seem like much more than the sum of its parts.

In addition to very good stories, this issue features Part One of a three-part play, “Purvis,” set at the White House by Denis Johnson, whose characters are Lyndon Johnson, J. Edgar Hoover, John Tillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and other notable figures. An introductory note explains that Purvis (1903-1960) was in charge of the agency that would be become the FBI and later, let go by Hoover who had originally appointed him, headed up the advertising campaign for Post Toasties cereal. Here is a brief excerpt from the drama:

JOHNSON: We’ve got Andromedans athwart our women.
They breed with Mormon females to make monsters.
Stick your spyglass in amongst that mess.
HOOVER: My fondest vision is to ma the hairs
And very capillaries of the least
Significant citizen and begin a file.
To tongue and probe the grossness in the soul
Of every enemy of the American dream.

The issue’s essays are more earnest in tone than either the fiction or the play, and include Geoffrey Hill’s writing about literary critic Newton Arvin; childhood memoirs by John T. Price and Ryan Van Meter; and an account of an accident and hospital experience by Steve McNutt. Intriguing are two unusual short essays by Stephen Kuusisto, “Essay Written at 2 A.M.,” written in short fragments of 1-5 lines over 3 pages (“I have decided to write while lying bed” the essay begins), and “The Lottery Sellers,” which looks like a prose poem, two short paragraphs (“They will be gone by now the blind lottery sellers of Athens, swept from the streets in time for the Olympics”). I like both these forms and Kuusisto’s witty voice very much.

Of course, there is plenty of poetry, work by Bob Hicok, Geoffrey Hill, Matthew Rohrer, Marvin Bell, Timothy Liu, Sharon Dolin, and Mary Leader, among others. Modes, tone, diction, and voices vary wildly from Hailey Leithauser’s “Failure of Forewarning” (“A man and a woman are walking / down the street, although it might be better / for the story if the man and woman / were walking into a bar) to John Rybicki’s “I Watch Her Ride Around the Deli” (“The body is fire and it’s saying / its language high and soundless // It manifests as a force of nature, / as if God could attach // a silencer to the wind, or teach a river / to hush its warble over the rocks).

A “conversation” with nationally syndicated radio host Michael Silverblatt, creator of Bookworm, rounds out the issue, which concludes: “I feel like I’m in Oz when Glinda kisses Dorothy, because I never knew what to do or what to be or how to be anything, and none of the stuff that I’m describing to you involved more than being, than diligently developing, this strange person I am.”
[www.iowareview.org]

 

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The MacGuffin coverThe MacGuffin

Volume 26 Number 3

Spring/Summer 2010

Triannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Curiosity got the better of me. Once I’d read the title, “Je Suis un Ananas” (I am a Pineapple) in the TOC, I had to turn to Libby Cudmore’s essay right away. I got doubly rewarded for my impatience. First, with Cudmore’s short, insightful response to “new media” (YouTube, Facebook) efforts to encourage a revisionist approach to childhood memories; and then by Colleen Pilgrim’s exquisite black and white photo, “Bog Trail,” which I had not expected on the facing page. The quality of Pilgrim’s photo sent me straight back to the TOC to look for other photos, and I was happy to find another of Pilgrim’s photo, and stunning images by Patrick Mog and Robert McGovern.

Two other provocative titles proved to be signs of great finds as well: Sean Trolinder’s story “Tuba Men Pride,” one of the best “teen-age boy stories,” I’ve read lately; and a portfolio of highly unusual poems by John E. Smelcer, “Poems from the Coldest Place on Earth: Introduction to Ahtna Poems.” The Ahtna language, an introductory note explains, once spoken by people in east-central Alaska, may be one of the oldest languages in North America. Fewer than two-dozen speakers of the language remain. Thirty years ago Smelcer learned to speak the language “from every single living elder who spoke any degree of the language.” He has published a dictionary of Ahtna and writes poems in the language, which he translates into English. In this region of Alaska, temperatures frequently fall to as low as seventy degrees below zero, so it should come as no surprise that cold, the natural world, and the Alaskan landscape are the subjects of Smelcer’s poems in Ahtna, like Late October (Uts’e’ Lkec’endeli Na’aaaye’):

The world begins to freeze
Ice forms at the edges of creeks. Beaver ponds
Ice over. Black bears and grizzlies and trees
Go to sleep. Everywhere, animals large and small,
Prepare for the long struggle to survive winter –
Their collective sighs turning into fog.
Luu yaen’ kuzdlaen.
Ten ghan c’elaex. Ten tsa’ ben.
Nel’ii’e’tsanni ‘el ts’ abaeli
naal. Hwt’aene, nunyae ce’e ‘el ggaay,
zaa zet xay na’dghi’aan –
niltatnet’an iits’ zdlaen ten aak’ caan.

There seems something inherently poetic to me about the effort to keep alive a language on the verge of extinction, and to do so through verse. Ethnolinguists say that hundreds of native languages around the globe are dying. I admire and appreciate The MacGuffin’s effort toward helping to preserve the Ahtna language.

The issue also features 15 other works of short fiction (no cause for alarm, most stories are 2-3 pages); poems from a dozen poets; and two essays in addition to Cudmore’s. A poem by Suzanne Roberts, “The Hutong,” is representative, rich in visual details manipulated deliberately, but gently:

Small shops sell pencils, rice,
haircuts, quivering prawns, rusting
car parts, green snails, lamps,
still flopping fish.
A billboard shows a jet slicing
through a cloudless, blue sky.
Next to the Chinese letters,
the English reads, London
has never been so close.

Much as I couldn’t stop myself from turning first to the French pineapple, I can’t refrain from closing this short review with the opening lines of Mary Jo Firth Gillett’s “The Pick,” given all that has happened since the composition and publication of the poem:

She’s not afraid to live alone near the Gulf Coast,
land of fire ants, scorpions, and reptiles large enough
to eat a man. Home of the bikers’ Sofftail Bar.

Yet another endangered reality. Poetry – and the publications that keep its heart beating – seem more necessary than ever these days.
[www.schoolcraft.edu/macguffin/]

 

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Northwest Review coverNorthwest Review

Volume 48 Number 1

2010

Triannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

In this era of short attention spans, multi-tasking, split screen viewing, fast food, speed dial, and the quick fix, I admire Northwest Review’s daring: this issue features three very long short stories (Charlie Smith’s “We’re Passing Through a Paradise” is nearly 50 pages) and a lengthy essay by poet Eavan Boland (just under 20 pages). The work of 15 poets rounds out the issue.

Boland’s essay, “A Lyric Underworld: A Story of Translation,” is the highlight of the issue for me as a lover of translations and a reviewer of poetry and poetry criticism. I have noted in a number of recent reviews that translation is the hot topic of the moment in literary journals, it seems, and for once I’m not sorry to see something become trendy. As it happens, I have just read the book of Boland’s translations of German women’s poetry, which is the subject of her essay, but I would recommend “A Lyric Underworld” to readers less invested in translation or in this particular work of Boland’s. What she has to say about her relationship to translation or the art itself goes well beyond the personal story she recounts or my own interest, and she is a gifted essayist.

Readers now accustomed to very short stories or sudden fiction may resist longer works, but these stories from Kevin Canty, Constance Christopher, and Charlie Smith are highly satisfying and worth the attention. These are solid traditional narratives, stories told by confident voices with a clear sense of direction; purposeful and careful plotting and, despite their length, without excesses. By no means does this suggest that they are without highly original appeal. Here is the opening of Smith’s story: “‘Why would you leave me now?’ Alice said, speaking from her mental bomb crater, completely unrevulcanized by the shock treatments, which as I understood them were supposed to make a victim happy about her situation, or at least not as concerned.” And here is the beginning of Constance Christopher’s “Headhunter”: “Sister Rose had christened me, as she had the others, in the river instead of the Pacific Ocean, because it was fresh water. She named me Ariadne because my hair was golden-red and because, like the Cretan queen, I was deserted on the shore.”

Poems in this issue include work by a number of prolific, well-known names (Sandra McPherson, Ira Sadoff, Dan Bogen). I was surprised and delighted to see a poem by Marilyn Chin, a talented poet whose name I had not seen in any TOC for a long time. I had remembered her idiosyncratic and laudable gifts correctly, as demonstrated in “Formosan Elegy:”

You have lived six decades             you have lived none
You have loved many         and you have loved no one
You wedded three wives            but you lie in your cold bed alone
You sired four children         but they cannot forgive you

[www.uoregon.edu/~nwreview/]

 

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The Oxford American coverOxford American

Issue 69

2010

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

A glossy, four-color magazine produced quarterly in Arkansas, featuring magazine journalism, fiction, a dining column, news of the south, and the annual “Best of the South” selection. This year’s “Best of the South” turns “best-of” lists upside down with quirky “Odes to” places, trips, events, people, experiences, books, activities, nature highlights, sports, commercial establishments, food and drink, the visual arts, famous personalities, moods and moments by writers, artists, and actress Sharon Stone. Beth Ann Fennelly expounds on “Ten Sexy Books” (writers as distinctly different from each other as Tennessee Williams, Zora Neale Houston, and Ellen Gilchrist make the list). Maud Newton writes about the Biltmore Hotel in Florida. Barrah Hannah’s ode is advice to a young writer advising that he/she treasure loneliness. William Giraldi celebrates body builders in Louisiana.

This issue’s “Writer on Writing” column is an essay by Clyde Edgerton, “A Good Lie,” about his encounter thirty years ago with neighbors, mostly fishermen, on Portsmouth Island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, an isolated place with no electricity, streets or stores. “I wanted to finish my story and certainly not let on … that I was, of all things, a writer – or, even worse, a college professor.”

Ellen Ann Fentress contributes an essay on two Southern writers who were neighbors, but also strangers, Richard Wright and Eudora Welty. George Singleton offers a profile of a Hmong chef in Easley, South Carolina, and John Edge explores the phenomenon of community cookbooks. Hal Crowther considers “Sex and the Southern Politician.” And Robin Cook contributes a tender personal essay, “The Best-Ever Dog,” about beloved aging pets.

This issue also features short fiction by Elizabeth Spencer (“Rising Ride. America the Colorful”) and Matthew Neill Hull (“Something You Can’t Live Without. An Appalachian Crime.” The large commercial magazine look and feel had me expecting popular magazine style fiction, but these are accomplished works of literary fiction from acclaimed writers that might easily be found in more conventional literary journals.

The last page is a typical – happily, so – glossy magazine style full-page photo by Oraien Catledge from a forthcoming book of the Catledge’s work. It’s a terrific black and white image of a boy lazing against a tree, shirt off, eyes shut or looking down, and a large, sleek hound, head turned, eyes staring with a mix of pleading and resignation into the camera. The picture is poignant, almost sad for no apparent reason, which is what makes it especially successful and memorable.
[www.oxfordamerican.org/]

 

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Poetica Magazine coverPoetica Magazine

Reflections of Jewish Thought

Spring 2010

Triannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This is the “short story” issue, fifteen short works (2-4 pages) many of which read more like memoirs or personal essays than fiction, and they may be (genres are not identified). They are direct in their intention to be “reflections of Jewish thought.” Half have titles that announce their Jewish-ness in one way or another (“Post-Abrahamic,” “Tekiah Gedola: The Strongest Call,” “Mamala,” “Zaydie the Courageous,” “A True Hillel and Shamai Story,” “Yom Kippur,” “Israel Journey, ’94 Heart”), and all have overtly Jewish themes of one type or another: one’s relationship to Israel; the portrait of a grandparent as an example of Jewish life as it used to be; differences in Jewish practice or belief between parents and children; the experience of Holocaust Survivors; memories of synagogue services; relationships with Christian neighbors; coping with aging parents; the changing nature of Jewish families.

“Struggling to Do the Right Thing,” by Alan D. Busch, is reflective of much of the prose, straightforward and unadorned: “I monitored his decline by the waning strength of his handshake. He had such powerful hands. No longer able to speak, his silence spoke to me. There was nothing more to say.”

My favorite piece in the issue is Howard R. Wolf’s “Gardens,” which begins: “This is a New York story. I need not say ‘city’ since that’s what New York means to just about everyone in the world, except people from Gasport and Lesotho. One group clings to the glory days of the Erie Canal, the other lives beyond the Maluti Mountains.” Wolf knows how to capture my attention, draw me in, tease me enough to keep reading, and rewards me for taking the bait. His voice is appealing and a little show-offy, but not pushy, and the narrative pays off, taking me somewhere (the story does actually involve a trip) I didn’t know I wanted to go, which is my idea of what makes a good story.
[www.freewebs.com/poeticamagazine/]

 

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Poet Lore coverPoet Lore

Volume 105 Numbers 1/2

Spring/Summer 2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This issue’s cover is a riveting photo of Japanese-Americans at a Los Angeles rail station on their way (forcibly) to internment camps in 1942. In fact, the photo is so beautifully composed and so striking, it’s hard to open the cover and leave it behind. But, it would be a shame not to, the issue’s simply terrific. “Poetry…survives war’s upheavals and seeks to leave an enduring record…rebuilding has always been part of poetry’s promises,” assert Poet Lore’s editors. Much of the work here certainly deserves to endure.

This issue’s highlights include a great little essay by prolific and accomplished poet Linda Pastan on types of poems about poetry (which she confesses to liking, as do I). She’s astute; her prose is clear and unburdened; and there’s no pretentious academic jargon. David Lehman introduces a small portfolio of work by poet Kate Angus whose writing is happily and admirably just as he describes it: poems that exhibit a “lyrical intelligence.” Here is an excerpt from “Here’s a Little Personal History”:

Tom’s the monster in the box,
Rochester’s wife locked
up in the attic. What do you call
lithium’s language? I say,
chalk revelations scrawled on the board,
but half-erased equations. Is death the same
as bipolar?

Angus has a dozen poems here and I’d have loved a dozen more. Her titles are clever and attention grabbing; her voice is unique, sometimes biting, sometimes tender (never sentimental); and the poems never sound like writing exercises from an MFA workshop.

I was impressed by poems from Jeremy Halinen, “A Brief History of Disbelief” (“It’s the other man’s indifference, finally, that lifts / this man to his feet”); Sandra Meek, “Image Not Available” (“So you must enter this scene / from inside the girl desperate for some / yes from the world”); and Fred Yannantuono. Here is “Metrical Sesame Palindrome” in its entirety: “One poem, you buoy me. Open! O!” O, Poet Lore, you buoy me!
[www.poetlore.com/]

 

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Poetry Northwest coverPoetry Northwest

Volume 5 Issue 1

Spring/Summer 2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

With this issue, the journal moves from its home at the Attic Writers Workshop in Portland, Oregon to the Written Arts Program at Everett Community College on the Puget Sound. Editor Kevin Craft says the journal will remain true to its “capacity to be of one place and reflective of many,” and he describes the journal’s editorial approach:

[W]e’re on the lookout for poems that offer an experience, palpable or possible, of being in the world, poems that articulate a biography of imagination, that revel in slow time, deep time, upend-able sense. A poem is a form of patience, a fresh encounter with memory and history, as with a paw print deep in the woods. It stalks us, a record of our having been, of our capacity for renewal, to the company of observant words…it is one way to stand for the complexity of existence, a sound board to set against, or resonate with.

Here is Bob Hicock, his voice alternating between playful and wistfully clever, as we usually find him, articulating his experience of being in the world in “the theology of pressure-treated lumber” (or is this an experience of upend-able sense?):

I’m being punished
by God for not believing in God. I believe
you see my point: agnosticism
is hard work and I’m about
to be crucified in my garage for a crime
I certainly might be guilty of. For if I
truly have an open mind, I have
to be the guy next to the guy
next to Jesus

And here is Andrew Zawacki’s form of slow patience in “Videotape: 36” (or is this upend-able sense?):

Au petit matin
unspooled from its cartridge,
haze filter
fitted, the flutter and wow,
a gobo to cut down on
Luberon lumen
& Cyan à la
Cezanne

Srikanth Reddy’s biography of imagination from “Voyager, Book 3 (Chapter 6)” (upend-able sense?) is too hard to recreate here, the uneven columns and strikethroughs, the evocative spacing, and I realize the individual words don’t constitute an authentic quotation from the poem by themselves, but here goes: “Archbishop A with his deteriorating wing and took the chair there, regarded the world in disrepair.”

And here is Jason Whitmarsh’s encounter with memory and history in his prose poem “History of Television” (upend-able sense?):

We learned lately that everything ever shown on television had been staged, even the news, even the documentaries and Welcome Back Kotter. In reality, the things that had happened had happened in slightly different clothes: Wider lapels, or skinnier ties, or a more reflective sheen on her sequin dress. No camera, we were told, could ever pick up those sequins.

And, finally, there is a long poem by Daniel Groves, “The Lost Boys,” about what stalks us, exploring the self inside, against, in opposition to our family history, up-ending our lives to mine those paw prints, not from some other animal, but the ones we left behind ourselves:

"I’m him" the little kid across the aisle
pipes up every other second, mile
after mile, and, pointing out the pick
of pictures on a dog-eared page, as quick
as Dad can turn, is made the character,
reborn at every turn, he would prefer
to be.

Craft’s explanation of what poems do and how they can be seems right to me, as these examples demonstrate. And the work in Poetry Northwest admirably and competently illustrates and embodies his definition. Upend-able sense as a concept appeals to me as a reader, a reviewer, and a poet. If a poem cannot make me question what and how things make meaning, what can?
[www.poetrynw.org/]

 

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Room coverRoom

A Space of Your Own

Volume 33 Number 1

2010

Quarterly

Review by C.D. Thomas

Sometimes other diversions provide resonance to my reading. Last week I watched SMILE, a Michael Ritchie film that I'd seen several times back when watching old movies meant late night broadcast stations, not TCM. I remember how hip I thought that movie was, because it acknowledged that beauty and charm were just as much part of women's competitive framework as doing well in track or basketball. Knowing what I do now about life, women (and women's pictures), I was naive. I was also in the first generation of girls that went to school after Title IX was enacted in US schools. Equal opportunities in athletics, back then, seemed a new, honest and honorable route to personal achievement.

I know now that no matter the sphere where individuals compete, people are bound to bring their own issues and complications. This issue of Room does an admirable job of capturing those complexities in clear and intriguing prose, nonfiction, art, poetry and reviews. Being a solidly feminist journal, its editors and writers don't truck in third-wave cattiness or apologetics. In fact, the heart of the volume is a journalistic account of systemic sexual abuse by those in authority in girls' sports, and the connected de-emphasis of women's competitive opportunities, all the way to the Olympic level. Clear-eyed, Laura Robinson examines her own recollections of life on hockey and cycling teams, as well as her examination of the "Flying Fourteen" ski jumpers attempting to secure equal representation at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Her realization – "On this little shining ice, boys were not just allowed to break the rules; in order to be a real boy in our neighborhood they had to" – sums up the ongoing difference between male and female attitudes concerning sports.

Granted, that difference might lie more in newcomers' faith in the rules versus the jaded's flaunting of them, but that faith in fairplay, even in the face of evidence that classifies such faith as naiveté, is a theme shown throughout the editors' selections. Kimberley Fehr's "Mandy Rayburn" has a narrator who competes neck and neck with her titular doppelganger, up until the point where faith, and human decency, are lost in pursuit of the gold. The quartet of poems by Kerry Ryan are as tough and nuanced as their narrator, a boxer learning how to take the blows. But competition takes more forms than sports: Jennifer Manuel's "Glass Balloons" is as diverting and simple a folk allegory as Kim Aubrey's "Peloton" is quietly and realistically devastating, in its portrait of a man losing in the race to hang on to his wife's love.

There is not one poem, story or interview I wouldn't read again. Each work is well-built, clear, appropriate to the theme and surprising through character, not linguistic daredevil acts. The magazine's 2009 Writing Contest winners (Jessica Hiemstra-van der Horst's "I told my first stranger I was pregnant," Wenda Naim's "Funny Bone," Audrey J. Whitson's "The Glorious Mysteries," M.E. Powell's "Ghosting," "April the Cruelest" by Adrianne Kalfopoulou and "Why Wake Dayo?" by Carla Hartenberger), especially, are worth savoring. As for me, I keep sneaking back to "How to Coach Soccer to Five-year-olds" – it's the advice you wish as a kid adults could give you, and as an adult, you wish you could still get.
[www.roommagazine.com/]

 

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Seneca Review coverSeneca Review

Volume 39 Number2/Volume 40 Number 1

Fall 2009/Spring 2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Full disclosure: I read this issue and am writing this review while recuperating from surgery to repair a fractured hip. So, this issue’s focus on the corporeal (Special Double Issue: The Lyric Body) is of particular interest. Of the body, editors Stephen Kuusisto and Ralph James Savarese say they present “a form for engagement" that "is always political…and always lyrical, whether we see it that way or not.” If lyrical means poetically inspired, and political means engaged with the world, then I would say their choices for the issue are, indeed, lyrical and political. And they’re also quite wonderful.

The issue features many stars and familiar names (Adrienne Rich, Gregory Orr, Sam Hamill, Susanne Antonetta, Jennifer Finney Boylan, Ilya Kaminsky, Floyd Sloot, Mary Doty, Rafael Campo, among others) and many less familiar, though no less worthy of attention, writers (Ona Gritz, Susan Neeley, Barrie Jean Borich, Katie Ford, Jane Bernstein, among others). A number of these writers have written beautifully in other publications (including books) about related or similar matters as those in their work here (Skloot, Borich, Campo, Bernstein), but when it comes to the body, this repetition (or is it obsession?) makes a kind of lyrical and political sense. Indeed, we can never escape our embodiment.

There isn’t a poem, story, or essay I would not recommend. There are a few standouts, though: Rebecca Epstein’s “My Last-Ditch Attempt,” a manic little essay about mania; Katie Ford’s poem, “Remedies for Sorrow” (“The soldierly ready / of human sadness; it must, by nature hover”); Susanne Antonetta’s essay, “Dis,” about a struggle with lithium; an essay by Barrie Jean Borich, “APOCALYPSE, Darling.” Borich has an appealing voice and is smart storyteller. She favors family tales (her in-laws this time around), and she’s one of the few writers who make me question my firm belief that stories about one’s family don’t interest anyone except, well, one’s own family. And this poem, “The Iridescence of Life,” by Melanie Almeder, inspired by a photograph/collage of Binh Dahn, clearly both lyrical and political:

O gray and lopsided moon, above your face, the wings,
this room – moon that shone on the gutted heaps
of the Khmer Rouge’s labor – if there’s grace left – please,
let there be grace left – then let it utter its syllables here,
and unhinge the dear wing of your face.

Finally, more overtly political in theme than many of the works in the issue, and less overtly lyrical in language, but sublimely lyrical in intention, is Amitava Kumar’s diary/essay, “Tortured Body" which are "entries from a teacher's diary kept during Bush’s war on terror.” If every student had a teacher like Kumar there would certainly be considerably more lyricism and less terror.
[www.hws.edu/academics/SenecaReview/]

 

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Tipton Poetry Journal coverTipton Poetry Journal

Number 17

Spring 2010

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Tipton Poetry Journal is a small, stapled, chapbook-like (in appearance) publication featuring “poetry from Indiana and around the world.” This issue’s 44 pages include the work of three-dozen poets. While I was not familiar with these poets, all have substantial publication credits in a wide variety of journals and several have authored full-length collections and/or novels.

A poem by James Murdock, “Leaving the Present Tents,” accompanied by a watercolor/pencil painting by Laura Hall Tesdahl, “inspired by the poem” and exhibited in a show of artist/poet collaborations at a gallery in Indiana, is reflective of the journals’ editorial predilections:

Walking
In a canopy of green,
I rubbed my eyes,
Then stepped into
The silent sea
Of stars;
The stars, the stars!
A million puffs
Of cottonwood
Reflecting on the river.
My soul
Cast off its clothes
And plunged into the Milky Way
Forever.

As the editors announce in notes that accompany the TOC, there are a number of poems celebrating the glories of spring, including “Singing with the Pleiades” by John D. Groppe and Katie Clare’s “In Situ”(“Bleeding heart and ferns in the ground now; grey sky above. / You run in circles, fits of laughter, chasing the air, falling to the ground.”) Spring is not without its link to the world beyond the seasons, too. Politics and nature come together in Lily Iona MacKenzie’s “Warm April” (We sip / Italian / white in / our garden, discuss / Obama, McCain, the Clintons”).

Family narratives in verse are also featured, including Will Greenway’s “Fables” and Ruth Holzer’s “The Talking Cure” (“Last night, I called my brother on the Coast, / after hearing about the diagnosis.”) The issue also includes several short book reviews, accompanied by color photographs of book covers and their authors.
[tiptonpoetryjournal.com/]

 

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