Posted September 15, 2010
Absinthe :: American Letters & Commentary :: Conduit :: Fogged Clarity :: GRANTA :: Indiana Review :: The Los Angeles Review :: Louisiana Literature :: Marginalia :: North Carolina Literary Review :: OVS :: roger :: Supermachine :: Think Journal :: Versal :: Willow Springs
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Absinthe 13, “Spotlight on Romania,” opens with an essay by Carmen Musat, editor-in-chief of the Romanian cultural weekly Observator Cultural, as translated by Jean Harris. Musat offers a brief overview of Romanian literature in recent decades, reminding us that until fairly recently Romanian writers had little freedom to write what they needed or wanted and expressing optimism about the future of Romanian literature.
The special feature includes the work of eleven Romanian fiction writers (nine men and two women) whose work is translated with uncanny authenticity and fluidity. Just listen to the opening lines of “Can You Hear the Shape of a Drum” by Bogdan Suceava, as translated by Jean Harris: “This may weird you out. Events like this don’t happen every day, but there were odd characters running around Bucharest back then.” If I did not know otherwise, I would never suspect this is a translation. I don’t know what the Romanian phrase for “weirding out” is, but the translation reads so effortlessly, I am not tempted to worry that I am missing nuances and or the story’s true tone. Overall the work is typically Eastern European, which is to say, sarcastic, cautious, tongue in cheek, and politically charged on multiple levels.
The issue also includes eerie and astounding paintings by Romanian artist Mircea Suciu, especially exciting for the range of styles and moods they depict, from neo-Renaissance-looking scenes to insistently modern imagery, work that is painterly on one end of the spectrum of style and photographic on the other.
Absinthe is also worthwhile for its reviews of
international writing – how else would we even know what there
is to read these days from Italy or Denmark or Greece? Reviews
and the Copenhagen “Shout Out” are clever, smartly written, and
informative. Nothing here is meant simply to please or
entertain. Like the Romanian literature featured in this issue,
the writing in Absinthe appears intended for readers who
think literature should have something of substance to say about
our lives and should matter.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
“Not works that simply transport the reader/viewer to another place, but ones that become places in and of themselves – unknown regions of poetic exploration, visual mappings of the unconscious, uncharted terrains of language,” say the editors of this issue’s theme “terra incognita.” Unknown, however, is not the case for many of the issue’s contributors, who include Jim Daniels, Anna Rabinowitz, Tony Trigilio, and Dan Beachy-Quick. And unknown is not the case for the inspiration for Rikki Ducornet’s exquisite, intricate illustrations – the fiction of Jorge Luis Borges.
And unknown is not what I would hope for the status of the writers or work in this issue that does, indeed, transport us, including a fascinating hybrid prose/poetry work by Joshua Marie Wilkinson, “In the Trade of Alive Letters Mis-Sent”:
History is a series of apologies, unmet by the
eyes of the forced-down – a cold donor of blood
in search of a talker to listen with.
And a poem by Elizabeth Robinson, “Djuana Barnes Thinks to Herself”:
The intruder offered a bouquet –
(tenebrae of half a century, purloined by this
befriender of seclusions)
And prose poems by Justin Petropoulous, including “Market Corrections”:
A few kites wilt into this traffic carrying every point (p) into themselves but are unable to contain a story that breathes so deeply; moving within it, even the trains are derailed by the blankets left laying around.
And Sally Van Doren’s “The Sense Series: Book One” which begins: “Define a safe obsession and it is there I will focus my affections.”
And a terrific story by Randi Faust, “Tribute to Slogan Joe,” which opens: “Slogan Joe wrote slogans for a living, and because he was a no bones-about-it, straight-shooter, tell-it-like-it-is kind of guy, he named his little enterprise Slogan Joe. His slogan was I write slogans for a living.”
And Lily Brown’s poem, “The Moon Creeps Up,” which includes the marvelous couplet: “The ocean’s name or / the ocean’s anonymous.”
An other-worldly issue.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
They won’t sell you this issue unless you promise to perform jumping jacks while you’re reading it! This issue’s theme is “Bodies in Motion. Dance, Sport Momentum.” And, wow, does it have momentum. From its tall skinny profile (maybe all that exercise helps the mag keep its shape), to the movement metaphor page numbering system (“ace,” “alley-oop,” “balance,” etc.), to the baseball diamond staff list, to the illustrated contributors’ notes for the issue’s “schematics” (a rollerblader, a juggler, etc.), this is one issue on the go.
The editors’ notes suggest that entertainment is this review’s raison d’être: “we can entertain ourselves just by dancing,” and the issue is, indeed, entertaining. It’s colorful, graphically fascinating, and visually stimulating. And it reflects a combination of writer’s whose movements have been widely tracked (Bob Hicok, John Edgar Wideman, Charles Harper Webb, Fred Schmalz), and writers newly on the move.
There are moments when Conduit reminds me of a child leaping from a diving board at the local pool with siblings and parents seeking relief from the scorching heat looking on screaming watch me, watch me, and then Jessica Fjeld reminds me that nobody’s watching in her poem “The Box”:
This isn’t a tool you just pick up and use. But there isn’t a training
period. Or rather, there is only your training, and while you’re
being trained, a large and critical audience is making you the
focus of their attention. Pardon me: I meant they are not.
They are not paying attention to you.
Conduit can feel, at moments, as if it is solely about the hottest, the latest, the most innovative, but then they include a selection from Dante. Dante! And there are moments when the journal can feel like it is only about fun and games, and then an interview with performer David Neumann says otherwise: “My goals have simplified over the years. I now say to myself that I hope my work enables people to notice more carefully what is actually in front of them.”
A poem by Kelli Anne Noftle, “Life Cycle,” on a page numbered “knockout” slows down the momentum:
What you keep
is exact and inarticulate: a sea whorl,
chasing its own tail, sad little coil
of itself. Living out this disappointment.
The journal is produced in St. Paul, Minnesota, a hop, skip,
and a jump across the river from Minneapolis, a city that was,
for sixteen years, my home. And I should have known…nothing
Minneapolitan is ever solely about fun and games.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
My thinking wasn’t foggy – it was just wrong! At first glance, I didn’t expect to like Fogged Clarity, the first print publication from online journal producer Benjamin Evans (despite my pleasure at seeing a publication expand to print from electronic production, instead of the other way around). I didn’t care for the title or the burnt orange cover and its image of a cosmonaut. Even the name of one of my favorite writers, Terese Svoboda, on the cover couldn’t sway me. But, did I have water on the brain? I loved the magazine, beginning with Howie Good’s poem, “Gifts for the End of the Decade.” An excerpt:
I give you green troops
to plug a gap
mutinies and desertions
have torn in the line.
I give you burning towers
as the only discernible
source of light.
Most of the stories, poems, and essays (at least, I think there is an essay, which can be difficult to determine without genre classifications in the TOC) in Fogged Clarity exhibit the qualities similar to those in Good’s poem, work that leaves me changed thanks to the careful, deliberate, original manipulation of language and images I recognize and can appreciate, but which are nonetheless original and new. A powerful economy (how many wars are there in those green troops?). Restraint (how many deaths in the burning towers?). Familiarity (those burning towers again) that is somehow fresh (as the only sources of light). Multiple meanings (“explaining / night with my hands” echoes of the erotic or sexual; of the act of creativity/writing; of despair or of confusion when raised, palms up, as part of a shrug). The work in Fogged Clarity doesn’t stomp its foot and shout look at me, I’m so clever and inventive and fresh, it just is clever and fresh – and extremely moving.
I liked a prose poem by Bruce Smith (“Devotion: Al Green”); Michael Tyrell’s poem, “The Garden,” and, of course, Svoboda’s poem (“Which Poem Comes Last?”), stories by Joe Meno (“Eels”), and Marcos Soriano (“Donald Mathison’s Heart”), and what I think is an essay by John Hemmingway (“Me and Henry Miller”), grandson of Ernest Hemingway. Artwork is handsomely reproduced, though I would have liked to have some clarity about the original medium (oils, watercolors, lithographs, etc.). I appreciated in particular the interplay of realistic and dreamier elements in paintings by Biff Moshe.
The issue ends, aptly, with Svoboda’s poem, “Which Poem Comes
Last?” which concludes: “Inured, casual about / the immunity of
time to space, / we repeat: the last shall be the first.” Let me
make it perfectly clear: this is the first, but it won’t be the
last issue of Fogged Clarity I’ll want to read.
Review by Terri Denton
This issue of Granta, subtitled “Going Back,” is a delightful combination of the old and the new, such as a beginning with a stand-out story by Leila Aboulela and ending with the essay, “The Farm,” by literary legend Mark Twain.
Aboulela’s story, “Missing Out,” cycles back, forward, then back again; the second return taking place in the mind of protagonist Majdy. When his exasperated mother fears that he may drop out of grad school in London, she hatches a plan to find him a wife, believing that this new partner will settle him down, far away from his home in Sudan’s Khartoum. When he and his new wife, Samra, arrive in London, Samra is delighted by the conventions of modernization. Soon, though, she is disillusioned by Majdy’s lack of commitment to his Islamic faith. He suggests that his wife go back to Sudan for a few months, perhaps hoping for an unwritten turn in her resistance to London.
After Samra leaves, though, Majdy is suddenly reminiscent of his hometown, and missing his wife:
Back in his room, Majdy noticed the silence. The floor looked strangely larger. Samra had folded her prayer mat and put it away in her side of the cupboard. She had not needed to take it with her. In Khartoum there were plenty of other mats. Mats with worn faded patches where people pressed their foreheads and stood with wet feet. Majdy opened the cupboard and felt the smooth, velvet material. It stirred in him a childish sense of exclusion, of being left out, like a pleasure he had denied himself and now forgotten the reasons why. She had held the day up with pegs; not only her day but his too. Five pegs. And now morning billowed into afternoon, into night, unmarked.
It’s a fully realized look into the allure of new surroundings, alongside the pull toward home that all too often accompanies it. It’s a lovely story.
Hal Crowther’s essay, “One Hundred Fears of Solitude,” speaks about the loss of solitude and privacy to today’s Age of Electronics:
Technological saturation coincides precisely with a general decline in literacy. The National Assessment of Adult Literacy, a test administered just once a decade by the US Department of Education, found that between 1992 and 2003 the percentage of college graduates scoring ‘proficient’ or above in reading comprehension had shrunk from forty to thirty-one. America had lost roughly one quarter of its most sophisticated readers. No doubt most of them had died.
Crowther continues, suggesting that more than “intellectual stagnation and physical decay,” the Age of Facebook and Myspace may cause “severe psychological displacement, to the edge of madness and well beyond.” Crowther then lists many examples of this evidence that are a strange mixture of amusement and horror. It’s frightening, indeed. Amongst the words of his closing are found,
Peer pressure and the herd instinct are the things about human beings that suck most of all – to use a strong pejorative familiar to the wired generation. They’re what made Mark Twain curl his lip when he referred to ‘man’s commonest weakness, his aversion to being unpleasantly conspicuous, pointed at, shunned, as being on the unpopular side…’[H]e saw the exhaustion of the independent spirit that made America possible…and the threat to freedom when everyone knows, and cares, what everyone else is thinking.
And so it is from Crowther’s reference of Mark Twain that I turn toward Twain’s essay, “The Farm.” In it, Twain muses about his childhood days spent at his Uncle John’s farm:
I can call back the solemn twilight and mystery of the dark woods, the earthy smells, the faint odors of the wild flowers, the sheen of rain-washed foliage, the rattling clatter of drops when the wind shook the trees, the far-off hammering of wood-peckers and the muffled drumming of wood-pheasants in the remoteness of the forest, the snap-shot glimpses of disturbed wild creatures skurrying through the glass – I can call it all back and make it as real as it ever was, and as blessed.
It’s a wonderful glimpse into the life if the young child who will turn to writing as his adult vocation, not yet famous and universally adored.
Speaking of adoration, I simply loved this issue of Granta.
True to its motto, it consists almost entirely of new writing,
yet every piece that appears between its covers contains a nod
to the past, as its theme this time around pronounces. It’s a
great pleasure to read, and deserving of whatever praise may
come its way.
Volume 32 Number 1
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
The quality, skill, and star power you expect from Indiana Review – it’s all here. The range of voices and approaches (Denise Duhamel, Fady Joudah, Joy Katz) – that, too. And Bob Hicok, who is these days (or was it always?), it seems, everywhere. The issue’s special feature is “Blue,” which opens with wonderful paintings by Armando Meriño, one blue in obvious ways, the other less so, which is true as well of the literary works included in the feature.
Standouts this issue for me are lovely, cautious poems by Bruce Snider, Timothy O’Keefe, Brian Trimboli; and Kazim Ali; and a bold, round poem by Gary L. McDowell, “This Summer with Fischl”:
I must repent for this summer I’ve spent beyond creatures,
for they mysteries I’ve seen in a world
that thinks there are none, a world where we’ve named things –
garage, fence, robin, poem – so that we can feel
something when we destroy them.
Denise Duhamel is, well, Denise Duhamel, bringing her uniquely sardonic sensibility (though this piece is considerably less edgy than much of her work) to the journal in the prose poem “I Read”:
the heart beats 100,000 times a day, which leads me to think I could write
a poem 100,000 words long, each word a beat, each beat how I feel about
you. Each word would have two syllables, words mimicking tic-toc, ocean,
thunk-thunk – trochaic, iambic, a few spondees thrown in for when I’m
really pounding. I do the math and realize my potential poem will be 300
pages, no punctuation or sentences, only word after word – and it will
probably take you a whole day to read
Eight fiction writers (Jessica Westhead, Adam Peterson, Teresa Milbrodt, Anne-Marie Kinney, Anthony Varallo, Carl Peterson, George Looney, and Rolf Yngve), whose strength resides largely in their strong and reliable voices, contribute competent stories, including my favorite, “Efendim,” by Yngve. Politically charged but told with restraint, the story was apparently also the editor’s favorite, as it won the magazine’s fiction prize. I must single out Westhead’s “We Are All About Wendy Now,” for her realistic rendering of the work world.
And the ubiquitous Bob Hicok? His offering is “a true story”:
It was a Tuesday, and the word “suddenly”
had become an issue for poets. I was walking
to buy a three-quarter-inch threaded nipple.
The sky was blue and the sun
hard at it. I was considering whistling
“Whistle While You Work” but the thought
made me think of “Arbeit Mach Frei”
written in iron above the gate at Auschwitz.
The issue concludes with a large section of reviews of books
from independent and university presses, intelligent and
thoughtful analysis and opinions I am inclined to trust.
Volume 7 Number 1
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Though death – “the leavings of stories,” say the editors – is the theme of this issue of The Los Angeles Review, the work is quite lively, nevertheless. The relationship to the general theme is expansively considered, beginning with the reprinting of a poem by Judy Grahn (also the subject of a special feature essay) on the infamously dead Marilyn Monroe.
(Does reprinting a poem keep it from dying? I hope so. I hadn’t seen work of Grahn’s in ages and am thrilled for this revival).
I’m not sure I would recognize the announced theme in all of the work included here, had I not been looking for it. And I’m not sure that it matters. Work that stands out for me, more alive than dead in every way, are poems by Michael Meyerhofer, Tziano Fratus (translated from the Italian by Francesco Levato), and Ewa Parma (translated from the Polish by Linda Nemec Foster with the poet); nonfiction shorts by Jeremiah O’Hagan, an essay by Barry Lopez (also given new life as it is a reprint), short fiction by Eric Magnuson, “Clearly into Five O’Clock,” a great depiction, and for that reason upsetting, story about office work; and interviews with poets Lucia Perillo and Ching-In Chen (also a writer of “metafiction”) and fiction writer Michael Czyzniejewski.
It is appropriate that the editors equate death with “the leavings of stories” as storytelling is the journal’s driving force. Much of the poetry is narrative in nature, short nonfiction works are propelled forward largely by narrative impulses, as well, and short fiction is well rounded and fairly traditional in shape.
Finally, in honor of the dead, I must note the inclusion of a
poem by Primo Levi, translated by Harry Thomas, “Il Tramonto di
Fóssoli” (“Sunset at Fossoli”), written in 1946, which quotes a
number of lines from Walter Raleigh’s translation of a poem by
Catullus. Fossoli was a detention camp for prisoners destined
for deportation, men, women, and children who may or may not
have known that this stop was, essentially, a dead end, a death
sentence. Levi opens his short poem: “I know what it means not
to return.” I was grateful to find this beautiful poem here,
truly the enduring embodiment of the phrase “the leavings of
stories.” And, however deeply sad (or because of it), the poem
is a vivid reminder of the power of art to sustain us, along
with the memory of those who have left.
Volume 27 Number 1
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Louisiana Literature’s latest publication features two short stories and poems by two dozen poets who all, in one way or another, want to be clearly, directly, and immediately understood. Here, for example, are excerpts from Marguerite Bouvard’s “Human Landscape,” translating a tender painting of a moment:
I walk by the bay of Sistiana at sunset
with its intimate harbor,
its somnolent pleasure boats tucked in
for the night, and families slowly
drifting back to their cars
until there’s just the sea undulating
…The quay is empty now except
for two solitary figures - -
a grandfather carrying his tiny grandson
…they gaze in silence at the darkening waters
as if they had slipped out of time.
And here is Kathryn Howd Machan (“Ada Macomber; Redwing, 1888”) translating a moment of women’s history:
Here on Maple Street
high white walls and proper
doors with knockers shaped
like foxes, I entertain
friends, acquaintances, skirts
full and corsets carefully
laced, smiles the curve
of husbands’ success. Who
am I to widen out my
And here is Gregory W. Randall translating a scene from the natural world in “Albion”:
We’ve come to a barren cliff.
The cypresses are dying – spindled
branches, ashen trunks interrupted
by an occasional yellow finch.
And here is Jennifer Campbell translating gesture to emotion in “Sharon Parks Her Pickup on the Lawn”:
My neighbor drives to the mailbox,
her body an unwilling accomplice,…
And I wonder how she feels, alone
at the kitchen table, a single bulb
illuminating the room…
And here is William Synder, Jr. translating a family memory in “Happiness”:
It’s our father’s birthday, his eighty-sixth, and we’ve
flown home, the three sons, brought him
sweats from Target, extra large – easy off
I want to ask him if he hurts. If he understands.
If he’s happy.
And, finally, here is Albert Belisle Davis translating a piece of heaven in “Angela in Times Roman: A Letter from Heaven”:
…I am answering your questions
about what Heaven is like though I know in your
lifetime the words will never come.
…We guessed that angels would speak in poetry. Angels
do not. It is more a poetic, practical prose passed around as clear
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Three beautiful postcard inserts on quality uncoated cardstock of artworks by Rachel Burgess, William Gilespie, and Sasha Chavehavadze that appear in the issue extend Marginalia’s theme – ekphrasis – and impact. Ekphrasis is, essentially any work of art based on another. The most cited example, though by no means the earliest, is Auden’s poem on Bruegel’s painting “Musée des Beaux Arts.”
So, it is fitting that the issue open with a poem based on a Bruegel painting, John M. Anderson’s “Vice President Cheney’s Hunting Accident (Peter Bruegel, 1565)”. In a footnote, Anderson explains that his poem is from a manuscript in which each poem “assumes that a great master from the past has created a work of art in response to an event in the Iraq-War era,” a provocative point of departure I find intriguing and potentially very freeing or very confining. It is a worthy application of ekphrasis and a smart start for this issue of Marginalia.
The magazine contains some fascinating entries, including Carrie Cooperider’s essay based on a technique from an ink drawing, “Cuadro Escrito” (“Written Notebook”) by León Ferrari, a reproduction of which appears alongside the essay, and art critic Andrea Giunta’s analysis of Ferrari’s work. Cooperider explains:
Taking a brief excerpt from Andrea Giunta’s piece of critical writing…I broke it into words and groups of words that I then placed in their original order running down the left margin of a piece of lined paper…To the right of the margin I set myself the task of expanding the original text, inserting my own subjective recollection of the painting by constructing sentences that included the word or words in the margin.
The result is a dreamy prose construction:
Once jutting forth with proud angular insistence, the letterforms in the Manuscritos have been eroded, sanded into scattered particles that blow in susurrating clouds across the desert floor. In that series of doublecrosses with which history likes to mark its events in time and space, the exiled letters betray each other. Their sad display of exclusive self-interest includes several members of the alphabet – A springs to mind, or, shockingly, S-of whom one had thought better.
Another dreamy contribution to the issue is Ginger Knowlton’s “old men in a sauna,” based on “Siesta,” a painting by Joan Miró (the painter is quoted in an epigraph: “I invent nothing, it’s all there.”).
Merging graphically and verbally provocative elements, Tom La Farge offers “here is a migration disclosed within our own kingdom,” composed of words and phrases from Gilbert White’s The Natural History of Selborne, published in 1780. A beautiful excerpt from Fragments by Pierre-Albert Jourdan (1987), lovingly translated by John Taylor, is quieter, but no less powerful than the work surrounding it: “L’effroyable somme d’un regard” (“The horrifying sum of a look on a face.”). Moriah Purdy gives us “Shoreline Ruins,” a poem containing footnoted lines from the papers of Frederick Law Olmsted, landscape architect of Central Park. Tom Whalen expounds on witty illustrations by Oliver Wetternauer with short fiction narratives. The issue also includes poems on poems, poems on sculpture, drawings on stories, and stories on paintings.
In addition to the ekphrasic work, this issue’s special
Chapbook feature is a series of prose poems called “Transport”
(“Elevator,” “Flying Carpet,” “Magic Bottle,” “Plane,” “Stairs,”
“Train,” “Windmill”), excerpted from a letterpress book
published by the magazine’s parent Porcupine Press.
Marginalia describes its literary intentions as seeking to
“follow the tradition of literary iconoclasts Djuana Barnes,
Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Julio Cortázar, Emilio Gadda,
and Max Jacobs,” among others. The pieces in “Transport”
certainly fulfill this mission.
Review by Henry F. Tonn
North Carolina Literary Review is a joint production of East Carolina University and the North Carolina Literary & Historical Society and is quite an elaborate creation. The journal has yearly themes and this year’s theme concerns the Appalachian region of the state. There are numerous book reviews, along with poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, interviews, literary criticism, plus many illustrating photographs and paintings – 240 pages altogether.
Congratulations to David McGuirt who won the 2009 Doris Betts Fiction Prize for his merciless story, “Blind Faith.” The judge, Kat Meads, says it “indicts with the means by which all good fiction indicts: plot, pacing, powerful imagery, and characters who stay with the reader long after the reading is finished.” For my money, this description applies even more so to “Hook and Eye” by Kathryn Stripling Byer, a ruthless story about a woman’s revenge on her unfaithful husband. This one resonated with me for days.
Having grown up in the state of North Carolina, I particularly enjoyed the backwoods imagery some of the poets offered. This snippet by Byer:
Swarmed by the dust he stirred,
he clenched his fists round the tractor wheel,
Sixty years he ground
his teeth on the grit of his field.
Rain, because prayed for, was always called God’s
answer, God being what gave
or withheld whatever we needed.
Or this one by Laurence Avery from “As If She Listened”:
Her husband (starched collar, dark suit, long string tie
like the boys)
scowls at the camera
as if suddenly doubtful a family portrait is worth
a missed hour of plowing.
There is a very interesting interview by Matthew Martin with the author Wells Tower who has had considerable success writing both fiction and nonfiction. He discusses in some detail the process of finding and developing a “thread” in nonfiction, and goes on to say that, for him, fiction is more difficult to write and has higher highs and lower lows. There is also an engaging interview by Art Taylor with the Wilmington, North Carolina writer Wanda Canada about writing and the ongoing changes in the publishing world.
The layout of this literary magazine is unique, although
sometimes I found it a bit cluttered and hard to negotiate. I
also would like to see fewer book reviews and more fiction and
poetry. Nonetheless, there is much here for everyone to be proud of – there
is no doubt it requires a tremendous amount of work to put it
together – and the production certainly represents the state and
the university well.
Organs of Vision and Speech
Review by Lesley Dame
Kerplooey! Brand spanking new, Organs of Vision and Speech’s first issue bangs its way into the literary magazine world with an impressive array of poets and artists. Launched by Stephen and Ivy Page in December 2009 and based out of the White Mountains of New Hampshire, OVS publishes new and established poets. Their only criteria? Great writing. This issue begins with an interview with and re-printed poem by the acclaimed poet Maxine Kumin. Um, fireworks anyone? You can’t help but be impressed with a new lit mag whose very first issue boasts the work of such an important contemporary poet. But there’s more. Known and unknown poets alike, the pages of OVS will blind you with fresh new work.
My favorite poem among the brilliant selections is titled “Shallot” by Jeff Friedman. The speaker is talking to an onion. How is that not brilliant? He begins by explaining how he had been chopping the shallot and cut his finger. “I get little bits of you all over me,” he says. Of course, the rest of the poem has nothing to do with a shallot. Is the shallot a metaphor? Is the shallot an allusion to a person? Hell if I know. What he tells it is the important thing. It’s a rambling poem, where the speaker meanders off a list of simple pleasures and odd images. He says:
I’m ready for an eclipse
that brings me salty waves, pelagic
pleasures. I’m ready to dance among
lemon wedges while the rosemary reaches
for the sun, and the orchid sways
and dips and red ladies drop
their skirts to their knees, wiggling free.
And he goes on with more weird images, finally coming back to his beloved onion: “Now you wait for me / shimmying in a sleek pan,” ending, “giving up your bitterness / to the peppery oil.” For me, this poem is about simplicity, small pleasures, sensual delights. When I read it, I want to hold my own shallot and inhale its loveliness.
The artwork in OVS is sparse and simple. Out of the four black-and-white pieces, one of which is a humorous photograph from Peter Schwartz of two men sitting on a curb, called “Street Musicians,” I thought the most interesting and worthy piece of the bunch is “Fingertrap.” The artist is Beth Page, who also serves as the magazine’s Illustrator/Designer. I guess she knows her stuff. “Fingertrap” looks like a lithograph, but since there are no medium descriptions, it’s hard to tell. Two white hands are joined by black fingertraps. Remember those things from when you were a kid? Kind of fun to play with until your finger got stuck and scratched? It’s a simple piece and aesthetically pleasing, but also hints at something meaningful about human relationships. Maybe being stuck in a relationship, but also maybe reaching out to someone you’d normally look over, forming a new bond.
The only criticism, if you can call it that, that I have,
besides the lack of artwork description, is that there are no
author bios in OVS. One could argue that this is
preferred – let the poem speak for itself. But I like author
bios. When I read a poem that gives me the warm fuzzies of great
writing, I want to know who wrote it and what they’re about. I’m
willing to overlook this, though, because OVS is simply a
really good journal with really good writing. Some say go out
with a bang. OVS is coming in with fire and light.
an art and literary magazine
Review by Terri Denton
One of the first pieces in this issue of roger is a lovely poem by Shuntaro Tanikawa, translated by Diane Furtney and Asuka Itaya, entitled “One of the Haniwa.” Haniwas are the clay figurines and statues, mostly used for funerary purposes, of the 3rd to the 6th Century, that show the history of Japan. Writes the poet, translated,
All emotions as well as quiet,
are raining behind your face,
which bears the weight
of two thousand years
behind your deep eyes.
Your mouth is tightened
by a great secret.
There, too, is a poem from Boris Pasternak, more famous for his having written Dr. Zhivago, but perhaps not justifiably so. The poem here, “First Snow That Will Undoubtedly Melt,” translated by Olga Zilberbourg, is a wonder to read, at least fifty years after its creation:
Dry, quiet weather.
On the street, five steps away,
The winter, blushing, has paused.
She hesitates to enter.
It’s a brilliant poem, both for its composition and its feel of the timelessness of winter and snow. I extend many thanks to Zilberbourg for having translated this jewel of the past, so far back yet current in its theme.
Also here is a sobering poem by Dan Albergotti, “Ghazal for Buildings,” clearly referring to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Writes the poet, “We all know well how to destroy. / We know that better than we know building.”
Albergotti’s writing is phenomenal, his brief descriptions holding so much meaning and depth that they go far beyond the parameters of his poem. Though the magazine was assembled in the Spring of 2009, the the poem (“How much could we destroy before we see / each temple, mosque, or church is just a building?”) echoes the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” storm currently brewing in New York City. Ironic? Yes, and beautiful besides.
Edward Hardy’s story “Appointment” is a hilarious look at a very serious subject. The wife, a lawyer, and husband are on their way to an appointment, presumably to another lawyer’s office. The discussion in the car – for they always talk best when they’re in the car – is about ‘pulling the plug’ for each other, should they find themselves in a coma, and what happens if both of them are in a coma. They’ve already decided that her sister will take care of their son, affectionately called Bug.
“look, if we’re both in the coma, I’ll leave the coma and do an end run, pull the plug, and sneak back in. Did you already tell your brother he’s pulling the plug?”
“I wrote the E-mail, but I didn’t send it.”
“Nobody tells anybody anything in your family.”
“That’s how we know it’s my family.” She takes out her phone. “I’m calling Mom.” Ice pings against the roof.
“Yeah, why not your mom?”
“She’s not there”
“OK,” he says, “you’re in a coma and I’m dead and your sister already has Bug – ”
“Yup. She’s been taking care of him since the accident, for months, but if it’s her, she’ll have to find a sitter, fly up from Florida, and then pull the plug on me. This will not work.”
“We’ll put a friend on the list.”
“Our friends here would kill us if we made them pull the plug. Wait, you mean fly somebody in? Import the plug-puller?” She starts scrolling through her phone.
“Right. But who would pay for that? Is there some coma-induced-plug-pulling-travel-escrow thing we need to worry about, too?”
Hardy’s writing here is pitch-perfect and downright silly. Yet he also deals deftly with one of the most serious discussions a couple can have. It’s brilliant.
Finally, Beazley Kanost’s story “Any Shelf” is by far my favorite of all that roger contains in this issue, with the possible exception of the oil and canvas reproduction of “Olympia Splendid” by Heidi Reszies Lewis. In “Any Shelf,” though, literary allusions abound, and this, for me, trumps everything else.
Writes Kanost, “Reading while asleep is not recommended and if you do, it’s a difficult book.” She continues, “Any book is in darkness, where it takes place, such as the one you thought you’d marked, moving it in directions obtained by stealing the passing eye, holding it hostage, taking flight and reflecting on the appearance of one character so horrible and beautiful that it is too much, and suddenly the governess arrives.”
And later, “In a chapter, as it is turned, the page rises,
enjoying a keen sign of flight, often to the attic or tower
room, where confusion ensues, as spinning and identity take many
forms.” I loved this story-part-literary-travelogue, and was
simply enthralled by Kanost’s vision, and its role in roger’s
Review by Terri Denton
This thin, yet surprisingly full journal is a collection of poems far more diverse than their numbers might suggest. It was a wonder reading all these lovely pieces, and I’m hoping that there are many more issues of Supermachine to follow.
I loved Brandon Brown’s “Your Mom’s a Falconress”:
My temper tantrum is more tantric than
temporary. I surpass my whole neighborhood.
The neighborhoods I’ve flocked in and
made my nests – that’s how I get you ruffled.
Your mom, mythic and unperturbed, waiting in the wings.
Your mom funding your trip to Europe
like Katherine Hepburn in Suddenly Last Summer
and if you get devoured by little Italians
I will remember you perfectly and frequently.
With turns of phrases like temper tantrum into tantric and temporary, I couldn’t resist including it in this review, and could barely keep from recounting the entire thing.
Christian Hawkey’s untitled poem was equally as entertaining, as he slides swiftly from image to image, (“images / faster than pixels: ghosting”) – “the presence of an audience scribble the letters / l e n s. my calves on an iceberg, walrusing / around. The blubberscruntchwalk of all pinnipeds.”
Natalie Lyalin’s “I Want To Lead All These Lives” is a delightful read, as well:
Nothing we have done makes sense. Also, the most accurate
Memories are ones we never access. I’ve accessed all of mine and
Hacked them. I was the ice queen in first grade. I was the balloon
Released a year earlier…
Genya Turovskaya’s “Dreams In Winter” is a tenderly wrought prose poem with flashes of gentle violence (being eaten alive by a swarm of bees, for example):
I dream that he calls me and wants to see me. He wants to confront me with the fact that I love him. He says he has proof. I know that I no longer love him, but I feel the shame of being discovered, even though the discovery is of an expired feeling.
Matthew Zapruder’s two poems are fine examples of this magazine’s spectacular poems, and this issue ends with them. In the first, “Sad News,” he writes,
We have some sad news this morning
from Mars. But I’m thinking about lions. Someone
said something salient and my head became
a light bulb full of power exactly
the shape of my head.
Zapruder’s second poem, “When It’s Sunny They Push The Button,” is just as fabulous, and perhaps more so, than the first, but I will leave that one entirely for you to discover.
It’s not often one comes across such a small package that’s
so full that it nearly bursts at the seams, but this tiny
magazine of poems defies the odds and it has earned a place both
in my heart and on my bookshelf.
Volume 3 Issue 1
Review by Lesley Dame
Think. Think. Think. A bold title, Think Journal’s very name is a promise to its readers. As Editor Christine Yurick says, “I am drawn to work where something happens, something more than a fleeting moment of insignificance, something with depth and importance.” Something that makes you think. It’s a promise that is fulfilled. There’s no lack of action or rumination in this journal, which is certainly something worth applauding. Think Journal publishes pretty much any genre by emerging and established writers. Its writers ask you to think about issues that are both personal and universal – love, desire, grief, etc.
There’s also no lack of form in Think Journal’s poetry. Stated clearly in its submission guidelines, this journal appreciates form, meter, and rhyme, though is not unwilling to publish free verse should a noteworthy piece come along.
As a poet who shies away from that technique, I cringed slightly as I read the first rhyming poem in a journal full of rhyming poems. Not that I don’t like playing with forms. A well-done villanelle is awesome; I applaud those poets who write in form with grace and style. Some of the poems in this issue did just that. Some did not. I do agree with Yurick, though, that a poem must have rhythm and sound good when read aloud, but I don’t think that rhyming is necessarily the way to go to achieve this. To each his own, though, and I’m glad there’s a venue out there for this type of poetry.
One poet of note in this issue is Rachel Hadas, who was justifiably named featured poet. Her poem “Summer Nights and Days” is a bittersweet poem. It speaks of long summer nights and the monotony of sunny summer days. There’s a depressed quality to the poem as a whole. The last stanza, while not lacking in gloom, is alive with passion and potential.
A bough has broken from the Duchess tree.
Rain swelled the apples. Too much lightness weighs
heavy: the heft of the idea of home
tempered with the detachment of a dream,
or tidal pulls, like ocean, like moonrise.
I’m not sure what this lingering heaviness is, but we all have our sadnesses. There’s a hint that the speaker’s dreams have severed from her reality. We all have dreams we’ve never fulfilled. The monotony of everyday life can be burdensome, but look at those gorgeous pregnant apples. Look at the ocean, the moon, which pulls us this way and that. There’s meaning and clarity even in the mundane, and Hadas has captured this.
The first selection of prose fiction, “Egg Shells” by Jim Breslin, is a very short piece about a couple struggling with infertility, but never actually comes out and says “this is a story about infertility.” It’s sad and dreamy. The second, slightly longer piece, “Rip Current” (Shawn Proctor) is also a sad tale about a young man whose first love drowns over summer vacation. Both pieces are true to Think Journal’s motto. They’re about something. They make you ponder on life and death, and relationships, to each other and to the world.
Lastly, there is a play excerpt from “Listen” by Kathrine Varnes. It’s slightly abstract and a little odd. Placed in the 1970’s, the play centers on a mom and her daughter, and a historical psychoanalyst only the daughter can see or hear. The mom’s boyfriend has cheated on her, and the psychoanalyst is, well, psychoanalyzing the situation. Weirdly, it kind of reminds me of Shakespeare, so that must be a good thing. It felt a little disjointed, though, because it’s just an excerpt; you never actually get to the finish line.
Think Journal definitely made me think. It especially
made me reevaluate my views on poetic form. While I haven’t been
converted, I have learned to appreciate a different perspective.
No small accomplishment.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Produced in Amsterdam, universal in terms of themes, distinctly European in terms of innovation and overall quality, borderless in its aspirations, and utterly accessible to US readers, thanks to its publication in English, this issue of Versal is provocative, inventive, perplexing, and stimulating. Standout contributions include Paul Lisson’s short story “In Progress,” Norman Lock’s prose poem “Alphabet of the Birds,” Stacy Elaine Dacheux’s stroy “The Sociology of Containers,” and sudden fiction by June Melby, “In Soup”:
I was living in a bowl of reheated soup, barley makes an excellent pillow. It wasn’t until I reached the spoon that I realized I had shrunk. I just thought I was swimming with carrots somehow. Hiding in sprigs of onion. Chicken between toes like extra toes. My hair was adorned all the time with celery.
Artwork, poetry, and prose is decidedly edgy, at times almost scary, and, ultimately, intended to evoke serious reading and consideration, despite a potential initial response of pure fascination and curiosity. The magazine’s overall impact is best summed up in Kevin McClellan’s poem, “‘Despite not understanding enough of the what’”:
focus too much and not as
much simultaneously and his is why I haven’t
and I don’t know if I know the cry that I must.
To make sure we can understand enough of what we must, Versal gives us smart translations in English from the Spanish of several poems (Laurie L. Chalar translates Carlos Barbaraito, and Elizabeth Zuba translates Carlos Parda); a marvelous graphite on paper illustration “Fishpile” by Amy Purifoy Piazza, a mountain, a fish of all stripes, eyes to the sky, looking somehow both dead and alive at the same time; and Karen Anp-Hwei Lee’s prose poem, “Aleatory Prayer of Gold Bees,” which concludes: “praise exuding oil of sweet labor . in one body. numerous song. numerous praise go.”
As for this issue of Versal….go!
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Willow Spring’s Fall issue’s centerpiece is the Fiction Prize winner “Color by Numbers” by Stacia Saint Owens, the tale of parallel lives with divergent destinies, recounted in parallel columns that merge and then separate again. It’s an effective and appropriate form and an emotionally challenging piece. A long interview “conversation” (multiple questioners) with fiction writer and journalist Jess Walter takes up much of the rest of the issue. Walter is adamant that reports of narrative’s demise are dead wrong, everyone yearns for story, and he’s thoughtful and articulate about his own plots, devices, and creative tendencies.
An essay by Kerry Muir, “The Bridge,” is a standout for the writer’s ability to recreate the voice and perspective of a child with tremendous success (“Cammy Tuttle is the smartest, toughest girl in our whole fifth grade.”). It’s that “whole” that makes the difference for me, creates a credible and likeable narrator, despite my usual lack of enthusiasm for narratives told from the perspective of children, and motivates me to read on. I also liked very much, Colleen Abel’s poem “The American Sign Language Translation of ‘I Have a Dream’” which opens the issue, which makes exceptionally good use of language we often refer to as “accessible” (meaning not overtly poetic, dense, lyrical, inventive, esoteric, or imagistic):
We can hardly pay attention
to American history
with the young girl
America’s vague circle,
slaves as hands in chains.
I appreciated, too, Katie Cortese’s story “International
Cooking for Beginners,” especially considering the current
cultural obsession with cooking-related books, TV shows, and
movies. The story is cleverly divided into six sections
representing the six cooking lessons, which the narrator teaches
and, of course, it’s not really about cooking. It’s beautifully
told, both entertaining and emotionally satisfying, and it made
me hunger to read more of Cortese’s work.