Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted August 15, 2010

Aufgabe :: Bellingham Review :: Cimarron Review :: Columbia Poetry Review :: Michigan Quarterly Review :: Pilgrimage :: Prole :: Red Cedar Review :: Smartish Pace :: Sonora Review :: Tiferet :: upstreet :: The Writing Disorder

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Aufgabe coverAufgabe

Number 9

2010

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

An engaging and provocative issue of this ever-impressive annual. This year’s portfolio of international writing features contemporary Polish poetry selected by guest editor Mark Tardi, complex and inventive work worthy of serious reading and sustained attention. Another portfolio guest edited Laura Moriarty presents the work of “A Tonalist” poets; and guest editors E. Tracy Grinnell, Paul Foster Johnson, Julian T. Brolaski and contributing editors Jen Hofer and Nathalie Stephens selected the work of three dozen other poets and a number of unconventional review essays.

Translations from the Polish are astounding, especially considering how challenging creating the English versions must have been (the originals do not appear in the issue). Consider, for example, the difficulties the original would pose for “self-portrait by a potter’s wheel” by Aneta Kaminska, translated by Katarzyna Szuster:

i – the shaper of lines
i – the verse of clay
a cluster plaster clings
and the wheel’s –
been
angling

or for Miron Biatoszewski’s “Addition by Subtraction,” translated by Mark Tardi:

today’s I
today’s most possible-me
wants the immediacy of fulfillment
before sleeping into meteomorrowness

The work – short poems, longer poems, prose poems, poems with unusual graphic elements, poems in dialogue, poems that explore the limits of language, poems that posit large and small philosophies, poems that explore the limits and the potential of the speaking self – is stunning and fascinating. The difficulty of obtaining translated work of contemporary poets outside of the US makes this issue all the more valuable.

Also fascinating is the portfolio of “A Tonalist” poems accompanied by an essay by the leading proponent of the A Tonal, Laura Moriarty. I can’t say that I understand what A Tonalist poetry is, even after reading her introductory essay, “A Tonalist Coda,” in which she classifies A Tonalist as an attitude or a context and not a set of techniques. The only formal association with A Tonalist (also called A Tonal) poetry is a blog, which seems appropriate since A Tonalist has something to do with place and nothing to do with place, according to Moriarty – a lot like cyberspace, which is and isn’t a location. To help define the term, Moriarty quotes from her own poem “A Tonalist Rules”:

A tonalist rules
For the game
When we are unafraid
Narrative coincides with meaning
Flatly in love with
Rhetorical continuity interrupted
Only to be taken back up
Like two things in one

Judging by the poems included in her selection, I would say that A Tonal has to do with sound (tonal, of course), disruption of normal expectations, narratives turned inside out through fractured syntax and meaning linked across and beneath the surface of words and phrases that often takes as its own subject subversion of traditional narrative. As with many things, it is easier to say what is not A Tonal, rather than what is. A poem from another section of the journal by Rick Snyder, “Testimonials” would likely not be considered A Tonal (“A minor American poet of middle antiquity. Dates unknown. / Fl. during the first great swirl. His lines about the red leash / were noted by one reviewer and emphasize the human / inability to discern smells.’’), but work by French poet Michel van Schendel, translated by Natalie Stephens, also appearing outside of the A Tonal portion of the journal, might be (“le monde un monde // parmi tant // détaché attaché dépecé // the world a world // amid many // detached attached dismembered”). Or is there too much conventional continuity here?

Jocelyn Saidenberg’s A Tonalist poem, “Our Community:” begins:

Or, our narrative of relevance
On poetic communities, for we are the relevant.
Or, haven not haven.

The A Tonalist work is certainly consistent with Aufgabe’s editorial predilection for provocative, evocative poetry that seeks to disrupt convention, defy expectation, and even startle, but in the service of meaning and communication, rather than to deliberately confuse or obscure. Work in this issue of Uruguayan poet Virginia Lucas, Slovenian poet Tomas Salamun, Mexican poets Dolores Dorante and Rodrigo Flores, and poems in English by three dozen talented poets, in addition to the Polish portfolio and the A Tonalist selections, is consistent with this editorial stance and makes for exceptional reading.

Finally, the late Leslie Scalopino makes what must certainly be one of her last appearances in print in this issue, published just prior to her death. She is interviewed by Michael Cross. They begin with a discussion of her early and influential considering how exaggerated music is and her assertion in autobiographical writings published that she had not read any poetry like the poetry she was writing – a conversation that couldn’t be more appropriate for the final pages of one of the most original literary journals around.
[www.litmuspress.org/]

 

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Bellingham Review coverBellingham Review

Volume 33 Issue 62

Spring 2010

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

The awards issue – and the judges chose well! A poem by Elizabeth McLagan, “All Alien Spirits Rest the Spirit,” chosen by Paulann Petersen; an essay by Alexandra Marzano-Lesnevich, “In the Fade,” chosen by Kim Stafford; and a story by Irene Keliher, “SPN,” chosen by Kathleen Alcalá. Well-composed, confident work; subtle, yet focused and intense. McLagan’s poem is representative of much of the poetry in this issue, poems steeped in rich images of the natural world rendered in careful, round language (“There are rocks that have forgotten the body: / orphaned, smoothed by their journey, tossed up // at random and left to dry in the sun.”) The winning essay, too, sets the stage for the creative nonfiction that follows, other essays (is this intentional or coincidental?) which explore a childhood relationship with the beach/ocean (essays by Julie Jeanell Leung and Susan Buis). And the winning story is also typical of the work in this issue, family dramas that rise above the vast sea of such work, thanks to strong prose and a tendency toward understatement.

This is not to say the issue doesn’t also offer variety. Nancy McCabe’s nonfiction contribution, “Can This Troubled Marriage Be Saved: A Quiz,” written in the style of a magazine quiz, complete with answer key, is quite distinct from the essays mentioned above in structure (the quiz), tone (sarcastic rather than earnest), and style (more casual, breezier prose). Poems by Suzanne Levine and Nathan Elijah Graham are edgier, less dreamy with sharper human portraits, even when they rely on imagery of the natural world as here in this excerpt from Graham’s “Around Here”:

girls don’t flirt with their cigarettes,
I’ve watched them outside the gas station
when it’s Friday night and the streets are slick as cat eyes.
They don’t dance in place. They lean on the glass storefront
like mares against a barn. Out here they wait for recovery.

Josh Waellert’s short story, “Geography,” while also a family tale, lends a distinctive quality to the issue, too, its narrative illustrated with maps of the Northwestern region at the heart of the story. The story moves back and forth in time: 1844, the present, 1943, the present again, recounted by a likeable and satisfying voice. In fact, I liked this narrator’s voice so well, I was sorry when the story was over.
[www.ac.wwu.edu/~bhreview/]

 

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Cimarron Review coverCimarron Review

Issue 171

Spring 2010

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This issue is dedicated to Ai (1947-2010) as signaled by one page with only her name and dates centered in large type. I was impressed by this eloquent and elegant tribute to a poet whose powerful work is more richly and appropriately honored by this understated memorial than any long-winded remarks would be.

The issue features the work of two-dozen poets and four prose writers (two stories, two essays). Dorianne Laux, perhaps the most recognizable name in the TOC, is representative of much of the issue’s poetry. Here is the opening of “Lost in Costco” (isn’t that a fantastic rhyme?!):

My mother wandered the aisles in the city
of canned goods and 30 lb. sacks
of dog food, mountains of sweat pants
and cheap jeans, open bins of discounted CDs.
She rested for a moment on the edge
of a bed in the furniture section,
trying to remember if it was time to sleep,
then headed off to garden supplies
where she stared at the glazed pots, missing
her roses, the ones she planted
outside the house she had to sell with the tree
she wanted to be buried under…

I am always impressed by the way Laux creates context (“trying to remember if it was time to sleep”) out of surface detail. It takes enormous skill and control, it seems to me, to provide that much back-story in one short line, not a word of which is attention-grabbing on its own.

Poems that break with the issue’s proclivities (narrative poems), include Sean O’Brien’s “Sleep” (“Like youth, this language has forgotten you. // Lost on the tip of its tongue, you could wait // A long time to be missed.”); and Jason Rouch’s sonnet “Distance” (“Beyond the point of what can be undone – the world paved over and over, built upon, / carbon traces in every natural space / and particle of air we breathe…vacant / houses crowd the waterfront”).

Prose is less edgy and sharply shaped than much of the poetry, for the most part. Here is the opening of John Robinson’s story, “Dostoevsky in the Dining Room”:

Rhiordan met Ramsey every Wednesday around 9:00 A.M., and they ate and gabbed until the first luncheoners nudged into the dining room, pushing chairs to and fro, hunching over menus. He had met Ramsey at a party only a few months before his colonoscopy, and the both – being in their fifties – decided to undergo the operation at approximately the same time, bolstering each other for the grim event.

And here is the opening of an essay by Ryan Dennis, “Tempting the Language of Farming”:

I milked with my father every morning in the dark. We herded cows into the parlor eight at a time and dipped their teats. When we were at the end of the row we turned around, wiped it off, and put the milkers on. We smelled like iodine and cow shit, and while we waited for the cows to milk out we passed the time talking.

What I loved about the essay is that it turns out not to be about milking cows, or plowing fields, or barn cats, or radios, or anything of the subjects it treats, but about language (as the title announces, but for some reason I didn’t believe it). It’s about the author’s failure as a farmer and success as a keeper of its vocabulary (“It’s the language that won’t let me go.”) told simply, humbly, and authentically.

It’s that balance of tones (arrogant/humble; edgy/earnest; street-wise/farm tested) that keeps Cimarron Review engaging and fresh after 171 issues.
[cimarronreview.com/]

 

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Columbia Poetry Review coverColumbia Poetry Review

Number 23

2010

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Household names – in households that read poetry, of course – include Alice Notley, Simone Muench, Jan Beatty, David Dodd Lee, and Alan Michael Parker. Forces to be reckoned with include Michael Robins, James Shea, Dora Malech, Daniel Borzutsky, Anne Boyer, Suzanne Buffam, and Mathias Svalina. Up-and-coming poets include Kristin Ravel, Sarah Elliott, Sandra Lim, and K. Silem Mohammad, among others.

Columbia Poetry Review (Columbia College in Chicago, not Columbia University in New York) selections tend to be edgy, direct, unfussy, sharply shaped, and intently focused, steering clear of the ordinary, even when the language is casual or plainspoken. Sentimentality is utterly unheard of here, and images of popular culture, from food to moves, are as ubiquitous as pizza. Here are the opening lines of Hideaki Noguchi’s “To Brain”:

I know you know
what I’m
going to write,
you know I’m
you figuring me
out and asking
why? Why did
you let me think
that God was in this
DiGiorno’s pizza?
I believe the
squirrel exploded
in 4th grade because it
never ate my peanut.

And with another reference to popular frozen food, here is Zachary Green, from “I Could Not Eat the TV Dinner Dessert”:

I got back to the Star Wars aisle
in Wal-Mart
maybe I touched Princess Leah?
I was bitching
car could have really hurt me
and my Goldfish cohorts
so at home I felt safe by the hands descending –
at commercial break

And more pizza from Andrew Terhune’s “Jeff Bridges”:

On my sixth birthday, we order pizza
and rent two movies from the gas station;
Ernest Goes to Camp and Tron.
Jeff Bridges is in Tron.

Columbia Poetry Review favors poems with provocative titles: “To Cause Defendant to Sell Drugs in This State, Benjamin Kept Changing the Destination” (Izzy Oneiric); “Nellie Oleson Compares Me to Her” (Juliet Cook); “One little person gets shot at the RV park” (a prose poem by Karyna McGlynn); “I’ve seen enough movies to know how to love” (Gregory Sherl); “Get on Board the Sixties” (Parker Smathers). The issue also features a number of pieces with unusual forms or structures: Mark Yakich’s “Manhattan,” composed of eighteen lines of large-font upper case letters turned on their side; “The 9/11 Commission Report” by Travis MacDonald, report text sprawled in reverse type across two pages with key words in bold to form a poem inside the prose; and Sarah Elliott’s three-column poem, “the back of a woman in a cornfield.”

The issue opens with Sandra Lim’s “Now, Voyager,” whose closing lines could be said to embody the journal’s editorial stance (or perhaps even the purpose, on some levels, of poetry):

There is something exciting about it, nonetheless.
Something very wrong and very familiar,
making us stranger and starker to ourselves.

[english.colum.edu/cpr/]

 

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Michigan Quarterly Review coverMichigan Quarterly Review

Volume 49 Number 2

Spring 2010

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

I admired Esther Schor’s recent biography of Emma Lazarus very much, so I was happy to find a new essay of hers in Michigan Quarterly Review (“The G20 and the E17”), and that’s where I entered this volume. The essay’s about a conference in a town three hours east of Istanbul, Turkey on Esperanto, the “international language” first created by the Polish Jewish occultist L. L. Zamenhof in the late 1880’s. I appreciate Schor’s lucid, fluid prose and the way in which she deftly moves the essay toward a consideration of other issues larger in scope and implication than the fate of Esperanto.

Strong nonfiction is one of MQR’s strengths, and I appreciate the great variety in subject matter and styles. Schor’s essay is followed by Robert Long Foreman’s “The Most Lifelike Thing in the Room,” a personal story of working as a figure model for drawing classes, and preceded by Paul Allen Anderson’s “Agee After Cavell, Cavell After Agee,” a scholarly article on the writer and filmmaker, that is accessible (no jargon) and readable.

The natural, fluid prose that accounts for much of these essays’ appeal is echoed in fiction, as in Laura Kasischke’s “Joyride,” which begins

“Hey,” my dad said, tossing his keys onto the couch beside me, “why not take old family convertible for a joyride, pal?” He wasn’t joking, but it wasn’t what he really wanted to say. What he really wanted to say was that it bothered him to see me sitting on the couch with a copy of National Geographic on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

And again in Sharona Muir’s story, “The Couch Conch”: “A night of passion is a hard thing to remember (no pun intended). The moments blur into a warm blush on your brain, from which it’s hard to extract the details later, if you want to brood over them and confirm just how he did what.”

Poetry, too, tends to reflect a kind of ease of narration, effortless and casual, as in “Tuck Pointing. Three Months” by John W. Evans:

I dig out the black sweater I brought from home
that is no longer our home the way
you are no longer my wife
and withdraw again into your brother’s city
that resembles no place we ever live together

And here is an excerpt from a prose poem by Phyllis Koestenbaum, “Eyesight”:

I have sunglasses, computer glasses, I don’t use, piano glasses I would use if I played the piano, red glasses I can’t read supertitles with, chartreuse glasses I wear when I wear chartreuse and don’t care if I see, black glasses in which I don’t look like myself, dark brown tortoiseshells that were remade because when I wore them I felt nervous, blue outside and green inside glasses and new glasses the color of cheap wine.

I read last, where it falls in the journal, a scholarly essay by Ranen Omer-Sherman, “Longing to Belong: Levantine Arabs and Jews in the Israeli Cultural Imagination,” bracing myself for a dense, impenetrable read (“that cultural imagination” and three pages of footnotes), but this essay, too, while it requires patience, is also quite accessible. And it is a good introduction to the work of writers we might not otherwise have an opportunity to learn about. Smart reviews of new books of literary criticism from university presses round out the issue.
[www.umich.edu/~mqr/]

 

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Pilgrimage coverPilgrimage

Volume 35 Issue 1

2010

Triannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

“Body, My House,” is the theme of new editor Maria Melendez’s first issue. “Human bodies, alive and in crisis, command the spotlight in the non-fiction books that have held my attention for the last 18 months,” she tells us in her “Welcome.” This is possibly, she reveals, the result of bodies in crisis in her own life, first her father’s triple bypass surgery, and later bouts of H1N1 from which she and family members suffered. There is certainly much writing about the experience of illness and disease in this issue, but there is also a good deal of work about food and eating; the body’s connection to the natural world; reproduction and aging; an essay about quitting smoking; and a poem about the art of maintaining a home as art (“this house is my poem!”).

Food writing includes a wonderful little essay by Andrew Lam about pho (“that ingenious Vietnamese concoction…sacred broth…spiced with roasted star anise, cardamom, cinnamon, charred ginger, and onion, and made savory by fish sauce…brewed in a low heat until the beef falls off the bone and the marrow steeps”), which is, in the end, not really about soup at all. Food-themed work includes Bradley John Monsma’s poem “Slow Food,” which describes the preparation and eating of dumplings; Marjorie Manwaring’s poem “What Rises, What Wanes,” which merges a consideration of the baking of bread with the consumption of the communion wafer; and Grace Bauer’s poem “Du Jour,” about an anorexic diet.

I was particularly struck by Judith Sornberger’s “Kneeling,” which might be considered a prose poem or a work of “sudden nonfiction,” an honest approach to aging (“Some days I hunger for retirement the way I once did for sex. As though that small death would plunk me right down in Paradise.”), and also Christopher Cokinos’s poem, “After Two Particular Sorrows, I Read Lu Chi in Late Summer.” I have been reading traditional Chinese poetry in translation extensively in recent months and appreciate how adroitly Cokinos has captured the particular sensibilities, cadences, and wistful tone of Chinese verse.

A regular feature of the magazine is the editor’s “Words Along the Way” section, focused this issue on “ecopoetics.” Work here is especially strong, including Serena Chopra’s “[context: Buffalo Nickel]” a lovely, original prose poem (“The train is saying. The train, if drifting. The train, an iron blue. She collected water in hollowed-out bone and chased the sun with glass.”); and several numbered poems in couplets by Ruth Ellen Kocher. A bilingual poem by Francisco X. Alarcón brings the issue to a fitting close, embodying (and I choose that term deliberately, of course) the magazine’s essence:

Unisonancia                         Unison

todo                                     everything
lo que ha sido                      that has been

y sera                                  and will be
esta ahora aqui                   is here and now

las cuatro direcciones          the four directions
nuestras extremidades       our four limbs

nuestra casa                       our house
el universo                           the universe

en nuestro pecho                inside our chest
el Sol                                    the Sun

ninguna separación             no separation
entre                                    beween

espíritu y cuerpo                  spirit and body
entre tú y yo                        you and me

[www.pilgrimagepress.org/]

 

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Prole coverProle

Poetry and Prose

Issue 1

2010

Review by Anne Wolfe

Prole is proudly launching its inaugural voyage, and what a voyage. The message on page two states that this is “a journal of accessible poetry and prose to challenge and engage.” This journal is nothing if not challenging and engaging. Prole’s fiction and prose uses only artful story-telling, skillful-weaving, compact wording; no literary tricks, twists, surprise endings or jolts to deliver one deep into their vast little worlds. There are short stories with suspense and horror, such as “Book Covers” by Rebecca Hotchen and “Flower as Big as the Sky” by Matt Dennison. There are minute character studies such as “Shoes” by Dave Barrett and Bruce J. Berger’s “He had to Go.” And completing this tasty assortment are the odd and sad like “Stone and Wind” by Carl T. Abt, “Scarred” by Kevin Brown, and Stephen Ross’s “Clocks without Hands.”

“Book Covers” begins in an ominous fashion, “The muted colour of his skin seemed to suggest that Mister Evans was as coated in dust as the books he kept.” Never mind that this opening forecasts doom, and one might have a good idea this story is going in a gloomy direction. Finding out how the tale gets there, if it gets there, is the thing – the way the story takes one there is not common or ordinary, but a very intimate journey.

One of the easiest statements to make about “Flower as Big as the Sky” is that it is not an average “coming of age” story. It does take a serious subject and illuminate it against the backdrop of childhood innocence with startling clarity. Another memorable story, with more than a touch of humor, “Shoes” is just as colorful as one would expect from its opening line: “Gus. Crazy Gus Meyerson and his now famous foot fetish.” Whether one sees it as a serious story with humor or a humorous story that is serious, it holds one with every word.

There are excellent pieces of creative nonfiction; the mind-blowing, tragic and awful “Fanfare for a Soldier” by Randy Lowen, somber “Baghdad, Tuesday morning” by Stephen R. Williams, and the side-splitting “Double-Standard” and “Rage Against the Machines” by Mary Whitsall.

The poetry is grouped together after the fiction and nonfiction, and there is much to be admired. One gem is by Blythe Woolston, who wrote in “Three Fallings in Love”: “When I was sixteen, it was my physics teacher. / I loved watching him do math in his head / and on his fingers.” She writes for everyone who fell in love in childhood, youth and adulthood in every which way one can.

Readers should discover the poems for themselves by reading this literary journal, it is both online and can be acquired in paperback through its website. It is a neat, short book, about one hundred pages, with a black and white photo of a bridge over water leading to a misty hill on the other side – what adventures might be there? Read and find out.
[www.prolebooks.co.uk]

 

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Red Cedar Review coverRed Cedar Review

Issue 45

2010

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Interviewed in this issue by Jim Porter, master of prose style Richard McCann defines voice as a function of rhythm (Ms. Woolf was right, of course!) and describes his process of walking around memorizing his own words as they come to him. I have never heard this process described before (which is, for what it’s worth, exactly the way I compose poetry) and I appreciated McCann’s candor. His interview is one of the highlights of the issue.

McCann’s interview is accompanied by short stories and essays, a few poems (the issue is heavy on prose, more than half of which, the editors say, is nonfiction, though no genre classification is provided in the journal), a number of black and white photographs, and a lovingly illustrated graphic story with no verbal text, “Chewski Goes Fishing,” by Matt Dye.

The journal awarded its nonfiction prize, judged by Jane Congdon, to Kelsey Jenko for “How to Stitch Your Sails,” a congenial family story structured around instructions for sailing. The poetry prize was awarded by judge Diane Wakoski to Courtney Hilden for her poem “Allograft” which begins:

To get in here, I needed to enter with a passport. I had to be searched,
had to have your eyes wander up and down me,
wondering what I was aiming to steal. The answer? Nothing,
or at least nothing so small that it could be sewn into the lining of my
skin in the
night when the streetlights outside press through the blinds,
illuminating the upper half of
the tiniest scar.

I liked, in particular, Brian Patrick Heston’s short story, “Super,” which captures the tedium of office life with uncanny precision; Lia Greenwell’s poem “rebirth” (“there must have been language / in the womb”); and a stunning photograph by David Poirier, “Posts in Water,” which merges close-up and distanced views of a waterscape inspiring me to question how we can see what is so close and so far off so clearly and intricately at the same time. I suppose that a merging of distances/perspectives – coupled with McCann’s understanding of voice as rhythm – is what makes art.
[msupress.msu.edu/journals/rcr/]

 

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Smartish Pace coverSmartish Pace

Issue 17

April 2010

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

The work in Smartish Pace is just what the journal’s title suggests, accomplished and sophisticated. The issue features many poets whose reputations are entirely in keeping with that categorization (Gerald Stern, Eamon Grennan, Carol Muske-Dukes, Terrance Hayes, Barbara Ras, Kim Stafford, William Logan, Sandra McPherson, Amjad Nasser of Egypt, Norman Dubie, and Michael Collier); and many others whose poems are no less accomplished or sophisticated (Steven Cushman, Terence Winch, Casey Thayer, Patrick Ryan Frank, and Katie Ford, among others).

Poems in this issue are tautly constructed, deliberate, intelligent, and etched with a fine and delicate hand. Here is Katie Ford from “That It Is Even Possible to Stay Alive”:

The massive inner life of ice
descends over the oldest and violet newborn
of this city…
…the deafeningly and deciduously
unresecurrectable things.

And Casey Thayer from “Aubade”: “We trade our hands for luggage…I have nothing / for moments when grief comes heavily / like a mouthful of peanut butter.” And Martha Zweig from “Protestant Argumentative”: “I babble before breakfast & circumambulate / the blooming woods; a few promiscuous refutations-on-nonsense / gleefully bounding ahead of each intuition I venture / under the sun.” And Patrick Ryan Frank from “Singles’ Night at the Art Museum”:

Art is useful: a focal point, a background,
a roomful of places to turn, every picture
a picture of conversations waiting to happen.

Prose poems by the prolific Egyptian poet Amjad Nasser are beautifully translated from Arabic by Khaled Mattawa. Nasser is a writer who can sum up a world of emotion in a single line, as here in the conclusion to his “His Young Woman in Costa Café”: “The poem I thought of, but that someone else wrote.”

Barbara Ras offers up a title that serves as the perfect crystallization of what is most striking and impressive about Smartish Pace: “Manager of the Empty Hotel.” Strong images created through expert, economical, understated language.
[www.smartishpace.com]

 

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Sonora Review coverSonora Review

Number 57

2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

The bright, colorful, fun, full bleed cover with its octopus, crab, and turtle swimming from margin to margin says it all. It announces Number 57’s theme (“The Sea Issue”); the journal’s tone (delightful, playful, forward moving); and its voice (a little over the top, “Featuring the riveting poetry of Jeffrey McDaniel; the unputdownable fiction of Amelia Grey, and the dazzling nonfiction of Steven Church” the cover copy shouts). The journal is produced by graduate students in the Department of English at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Ah, but the faculty advisor is Ander Monson. Well, now I get it! Monson is the inventive and clever editor of the online journal diagram (and a lot of great stuff in print) and the publisher of hybrid and graphically oriented work at his New Michigan Press. His students are learning their lessons well. The journal is really inventive. Really fun. And, despite some excesses, really successful at what it does, beginning with the illustrated instructions on how to read the journal.

The cover copy isn’t far from the truth. Steven Church’s personal essay, “Confessions of a Parasite,” is fairly dazzling, and  begins: “If you spend enough time with me these days, I will probably tell you about my neighbor, Myrtle. She’s 83 years old, has lived in her house for 76 years, and she has a boyfriend, Larry, who is 89.” Church has a thoroughly loveable voice, a great sense of timing, and a good ear for natural sounding dialogue. As the cover predicts, I did like Amelia Grey’s short (and it is) story, “The Suitcase.” It’s a little surreal and a lot entertaining.

Poetry is dazzling, too. Poetry contest winner Michael Tod Edgerton’s excerpts from “The Dreams of Pure Immanence and Pure Transcendence Are as One” interested me, in particular, in its reworking of classical material in a merging of verse in various configurations and prose poetry. And I was totally taken with Peter Jay Shippy’s “White for Diluting Dreams,” an incredibly ambitious poem combining themes of historical and social importance presented in a three-column table of several dozen pages. While I did appreciate the grey pages with reverse type aesthetically, it does make the work a little hard to read, especially for such a long piece already containing an unusual graphic element.

I liked, too, “Peyton’s Jukebox Time Machine,” a poem by Catherine Theis, which opens: “Like must-must / Or ordinary-ordinary.” There is, I say with admiration and pleasure, nothing ordinary-ordinary about the Sonora Review.
[sonorareview.com/]

 

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Tiferet coverTiferet

A Journal of Spiritual Literature

Issue 13

2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Tiferet is an independent “multi-faith publication dedicated to promoting peace in the individual and in the world,” published six times annually (two print issues and four online issues). Issue 13 features five essays (most are excerpts from forthcoming or recently published books); three short stories; the work of a dozen poets; black and white photographs by Taoli-Ambika Talwar and a drawing by Israel Carlos Lomovasky. The large format is ideal for Talwar’s exceptional photographs, three images that couldn’t be more different from each other (a close-up of a blossom; a distanced view of a house in the woods; and a close-up of a wall of granite rock), except for the skill and creativity of their composition.

Spiritual themes in the magazine can be overt or more indirect. Among the more overtly faith and-or-religion-oriented pieces are a book excerpt by Swami Kriyananda, “The New Path: My Life with Paramhansa Yogananda,” a memoir of study with a spiritual teacher; Aryeh Tepper’s, “Spiritual Evolution: The Rhythm of Genesis,” an exegetical essay; and Elisabeth Murawksi’s poem, “Pauline”:

She’s switched from her Sanskrit mantra
to the Jesus prayer. Set
her guru’s picture on fire.
But wavers over toys she bought
when she “thought she was a child”

More spiritual in overall sensibility, and less directly linked to faith or specific religious ideas or practice, are a poem Maria Mazziotti Gillan, “In These Green Mountains” (“In these green mountains, the music / of the universe is everywhere, / even I can hear it, like the sound I hear / in the moments before sleep”); a prose poem by j.p. dancing bear, “Some Might Bow Their Heads to the Sunset” (“what’s left of the sunset is one of the most divine lights you’ve ever witnessed: your mouth moving to one word: again and again”); an essay by Deborah DeNicola, “Cinderella Rocketing: Healing the Father with Creative Dreamwork,” a memoir about participating in a Dream Intensive Workshop; and the winner of the journal’s 2009 prose contest, “Center of the Universe,” by Richard P. Krepski, an excerpt from his forthcoming book in which Krepski proposes a model of the universe that is “an ever enlarging sphere.”

Despite a number of dark and difficult themes, Arelen Geller’s “Flight” is representative of the journal’s predominant impulses and tendencies:

Mooonbeam sheds its light
I grab a handful of stars
The golden grain leads me
To a field of dreams
Stirring crimson, gold and coral
We burst into flames
And in our creation we relish
A dance, a song, our voices lift
In flight, soaring
To the expanse of being
An existence outside the edges.

[www.tiferetjournal.com]

 

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upstreet coverupstreet

Number 6

2010

Annual

Review by Anne Wolfe

Upstreet is an award-winning publication that claims to have “the best new fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction available” to “offer a voice to prose writers and poets who might not find publication in more mainstream journals.” However “mainstream” might be defined, whether these pieces are off-beat, they are definitely striking and high-quality. Choosing which poems and short-stories to comment on is almost a random process; there is good variety, and the quality is consistent. The size of the journal is typical of any paperback; about two hundred pages, sporting a shiny black cover with the title printed in bold orange on the front.

Up front is a refreshingly unpretentious, unscripted interview of the writer Sue William Silverman. She authored the memoirs, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, and Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction. The questions are open, thoughtful, not leading; Silverman’s answers are fluent, detailed, spontaneous, and quite revealing. Silverman discusses the essential differences between writing fiction and memoir, the process of having Love Sick made into a movie, the freedom poetry gave her, and the positive and not-so positive aspects of becoming a publicly known person. There is no embarrassing gushiness on the part of the interviewer. As it progresses, the question and answer becomes a conversation while still retaining the Q&A format, almost giving one a sense of hearing it while reading it.

One poem that packed a punch was “Dotty’s Plot” by Denise Duhamel, beginning: “after her ex-husband died / the hussy he left her for…assumed Dotty / didn’t want to be buried / next to a cheat.” There is a good smirk somewhere in Duhamel’s potent language, venomous as any pit viper that strikes fast.

Annie Breeding, in the short story, “The Downfall of the Reynal de St. Michels,” delves into the family, familiarity, mooching and selfishness, and desperation. This might be a story for our times: family members falling on hard economic circumstances, others lending a helping hand, bringing out new aspects of the saying “charity begins at home.” “Depositions,” by David Jauss, is a story told from six points of view, in the form of statements. These statements, memories having to do with a murder, form a stark montage.

Also inside is a brief memoir, brilliantly threaded as though through the eye of a needle around one metaphor, “That Furrowed Brow,” by Andrew D. Cohen. It vividly roams through the illnesses and peculiarities of the author’s grandmother, aunt, and mother; their obsessions, his obsession, and what he passes on to his child. His spell is magical. Upstreet has a blog for fans to discuss their reactions to the writing within it, a unique feature that might be copied someday soon. The fine work inside is worth looking at whether one chats online afterward or just takes it in.
[www.upstreet-mag.org]

 

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The Writing Disorder logoThe Writing Disorder

Summer 2010

Online Quarterly

Review by Henry F. Tonn

This is a brand spanking new lit mag with only two issues published, but one which shows considerable promise. The website is pleasant and easy to negotiate and there is a wide variety of material to choose from: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, paintings, comic art, photography, interviews, and reviews. I had so much fun I delved into their single archive to get a taste of everything.

A lively and immensely humorous story is “The Octogenarian” by Joan Connor, about a dirty old man who entices a young girl to his summer home under the pretense of needing help, and tries to have his way with her, accompanied by the croons of Frank Sinatra in the background. “She scampers. He shambles. She scoots. He shuffles. But – truth – with each totter the old dodderer appears more limber, more supple, more feline.” Another good one is “The Invaders” by Heather Genovese, who manages to make an incredibly trite story of the classic love triangle -- two girls and a boy in a plush restaurant -- interesting simply on the strength of good writing: “Even in our best moments, it was like some part of each of us was always resisting the other. We talked and talked, skimming surfaces, flitting from point to point like agile water bugs, but we never dove, never dared to swim.” A chillingly beautiful tale is “You Can Teach Me How To Grieve” by Miranda McLeod, about the death of a brother. An educational and poignant piece of nonfiction is “Two Late For Regrets” by Joseph Smith, about the writer’s experience in The Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman, Mississippi. Think Cool Hand Luke without any lightheartedness: “Lives squandered, too late for regrets. I shook my head and walked away, the sound of iron on steel ricocheting through my brain.”

There is a special feature here which presents a series of photographs of an eccentric woman in Los Angeles called The Lava Lady, followed by an interview with a person who once had lunch with this lady. And finally, a poem titled “Black Sheep” by Ashley Shivar is touching. The writer sees herself as being the black sheep of her family and laments those black sheep of the past:

Should I even be surprised about the lack of compassion
for a dead black sheep? I’m surprised we still
have pauper’s cemeteries, and I will go
to see the sheer number of people whose families
have let them fall beneath moss and branches.
I want to look upon the lack of plastic flowers
and wreathes purchased at Wal Mart. I want to stay
with those who never belonged to a herd, because
as much as I claim to hate my family, at least I got the chance
to fight about it.

[www.thewritingdisorder.com/]

 

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