Posted October 30, 2010
Annalemma :: Chinese Literature Today :: Crazyhorse :: Fourteen Hills :: The Meadow :: Minnetonka Review :: Natural Bridge :: Paterson Literary Review :: Salt Hill :: Santa Clara Review :: Santa Fe Literary Review :: The Seattle Review :: Yellow Medicine Review
Review by C.D. Thomas
This is the most beautiful literary journal I've read recently, possibly ever. From the text layout to the colored paper stocks behind the illustrations, each detail contributes to a visually striking book.
And yet, for an issue that focuses on Sacrifice, such a sophisticated visual sense possibly works as an anesthetic to the text. In these stories, some difficult, off-putting, sometimes brutal, the landscapes are sere, flooded, pastel-banal, ominous. In those cases, I found myself working to stick to the words' grit, instead of relaxing into the pleasures of their surroundings.
For example, Mark Bell's "Three Cataclysm Babies" features three severely dystopic stories with families past the breaking point -- the double meaning of "kids" in the first story is especially disturbing -- but the accompanying images by Joseph Wood are smooth, harmonic, calm; the illustrations ride above the story, instead of enhancing it. Successive text/image pairings work better. Jonathan Messinger/Ghazal Hashemi's teaming for "Ashore, an Island" reinforces the bleak events of the story, through sepia visions of an island distant and drained of vitality.
Ryan Call and Jenny Kendler's work on "Baron Von Richtofen Flies Again" delights, with parents facing serial pet deaths with whimsy and distinction. "A Very Compassionate Baby" by Anne Valente (images by Chrissy Lau) hits that spot of the weird that seems to be my weakness. I'll give Annalemma this much: It's so filled with stories with varied subjects and tones that I think any discerning reader could pick it up and find something of interest.
As for my initial response, I might be so used to journals
emphasizing text over graphic design that I'm probably biased.
I'm not asking for journals to publish challenging work in a
poverty aesthetic, or for the visual component to take second
place to the textual. It's that in the Bell/Wood work I took the
difference between image and word too seriously to classify it
as irony. I couldn't process the dissonance between beautiful
images and the ugly scenes as either irony or as subtly
connected. Well, that's just me, and your mileage will vary.
Give it a test drive.
Volume 1 Number 1
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
It is a privilege to review this premiere issue of a premier publication from the publishers of the time-honored and highly regarded World Literature Today at the University of Oklahoma. Chinese Literature Today is a gorgeous magazine – even the ads are spectacular – and an important one on multiple levels.
I’ll let Deputy Editor in Chief, Jonathan Stalling, who is eloquent and persuasive, speak for himself:
As the world enters what many have already begun calling the Pacific Era, it is more important than ever for Westerners to gain a better understanding of Chinese culture, history, and perspectives…How has Chinese literature responded to China’s modernization? How does Chinese literature compare with other national traditions? What are Chinese literature’s central debates, concerns, and trends?
Literature, he insists, is “more than the sum of its parts; it gives a uniquely human shape to the world in which we live.” Every part of this new journal is shaped thoughtfully and designed exquisitely as it works to provide us with a view of the contemporary literary scene in China.
The inaugural issue includes a short story and a speech by featured author Bi Feiyu, as well as a critical article on his work by Li Jingze; prose and poetry presented in the original Chinese and with English translations by modern (no longer living) and contemporary writers; critical articles by scholars in the US and China; a special section on “Beijing/Shanghai: The Twin Cities of Modern Chinese Literature”; an interview with fiction writer Can Xue of Beijing; an interview with featured scholar David Der-Wei Wang of Harvard University and an essay by Wang. Features are accompanied by classy author photos, reproductions of extraordinary artwork, and subtle, appropriate, elegant graphic treatments. The cover is an exceptional painting of a boy in a marsh, arms poised like the wings of a bird, Take Off, by Hung Liu. From the captivating design to the serious, well-wrought prose, to the thoughtful selection and balance of writers, the magazine is original, unique, and engaging.
There isn’t anything here to skip, skim, dismiss, or ignore. So, it is difficult to single out selections for special mention. I loved poems by Zhai Yongming, who began publishing in China in 1981, expertly translated by Jami Proctor-Xu. If I did not know these were translations, I might not suspect I was not reading them in their original form/language. Here are a few lines from “Facing a Phone Call”:
I spend a whole day coping with my fear
Every day I’m alarmed beneath the whole world’s sky
I want to splash some of life’s speech in every direction
An essay on the changing role of women on the Chinese stage by Shiao-ling Yu who teaches at Oregon State University in Oregon, is fascinating. Another by Meng Fanhua, a professor at Shenyang Normal University on contemporary “literary experience” in China as it relates to world experience is equally stimulating. Fiction offers fascinating glimpses into life in China. All of the translations are of exceptional quality, readable, natural, and fluid.
The special feature section on Bi Feiyu includes a speech he
delivered in 2009 at Jinan University in Guangzhou, China,
“Memory is Unreliable,” in which he reminds us that memory is
“intensely personal.” I think this is one of this tremendously
exciting new journal’s strengths. CLT gives us a glimpse
into a national culture and experience, while offering work that
is idiosyncratic, unique, and, ultimately, personal in the best
sense of the term – something that can matter to an individual
reader as much as it matters to us as members of a global
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
One of the things I have always appreciated most about Crazyhorse is Crazyhorse’s appreciation of the capacity of language’s glorious limitations, the way in which what we cannot say, must say, do not say, and end up saying anyway comes to life in the hands of a gifted writer. Here is Jennifer Militello reassuring me that this issue won’t let me down in her poem, “A Dictionary at the Turn of the Millennium”:
Hello to devouring, hello to digest,
to the end of lostness and the chill of less.
Hello to living like sardines.
To solace. To the offspring of hello
Hello to desperation. Hello to welcome in.
Hello to generations that etcetera as we watch.
Hello to experiment with us.
Hello to angels at the mouth-ache
of more. Hello to the surgical morning.
Hello to the delicious read let of lakes,
to being gone like a long underwater.
Hello, it is an ordinary world, hello
limited time and autumn’s pent-up monsters.
Hello, routine. Paralysis. Paradise.
Adrenaline catastrophe. Hello.
Work of equal originality and success includes “Law of Resemblances,” a poem by Leonard Kress; Melissa Kwasny’s prose poem “Clairvoyance (Your Word),” and another by Dara Wier, “Lovers at the Crossroads”; Mark Irwin’s poem “About”; the expert translation from the French by Marilyn Hacker of poems by Emmanuel Moses; three poems by Emily Rosko; “I Hope to God You Smoke,” a story by K.F. Enggass; “The 7 Stages of a Parental Visit,” a story by Claire Guyton, and Akshay Ahuja’s story “The Gates,” among other fine contributions to the issue. Fiction is narrated by voices that are credible, appealing, idiosyncratic, but never false or unduly odd.
Rosko’s poem “To Pasture” seems an extension of Militello’s in some ways and sums up the journal’s appeal for me:
Everywhere is a nowhere
and here we are
in the middle of it.
Volume 16 Number 2
Review by Renee Emerson
Fourteen Hills spans the spectrum of creative writing, producing an exciting and vivid cross-section of contemporary writing. Alison Doernberg’s rich and textured poem “(Save)” kicks off the issue, with “everything / suspended in ink, and everything that is not” an apt description of the content that follows.
The short story “Holly” by John Maradik is a fast-paced, intelligent story of a family where the mother is dying of cancer; the strangeness of the family, particularly the title character, the sister “Holly,” defies sentimentality that often accompanies such topics and lends the story an air of authenticity.
The issue includes Julia Halprin Jackson’s interview with the featured author, Alice LaPlante, a writer of fiction and nonfiction, followed by an excerpt from her novel Do not Go Gentle. The art section is a set of austere black and white photographs by John Chabalko, featuring the empty landscapes of America, and photographs by Monica Regan.
Teresa Sutton’s poem “Another Elegy for Paul” fits with the theme of loss of reality, magic realism, the uncertain truth that seems to emerge in this volume. The speaker corrects herself often in the poem, saying “But none of this is true, yet every word of it is.” The true account of her son’s death mixes with the false details added in by time and grief. The theme of grief and absence arises again in the poem “Diary of a Newly Divorced Man,” by Michael Schmeltzer. His family gone, even the messages on his answering machine are “like children playing hide & seek” and he is “too disoriented to find them.” Loss of reality appears in the second stanza, where he remembers “arguing with a spider about which [wine] went better / with my TV dinner.”
A pleasure to read, this issue of Fourteen Hills
quilts together a variety of styles and genres to create
something altogether unique.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
The Meadow is an annual published at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nevada with an editorial staff of faculty, an awards program, and a predilection for personal story and narrative-driven writing. The work of two veteran and gifted writers, Adrian C. Louis and Mark Terrill, and accomplished photographer Dana Oldfather, is accompanied by much student writing, including poems, personal essays, and artwork.
Standouts for me are the Louis poem and the first place award winning student poem and student essay (I applaud the judges for their fine choices). “Black Out” by Louis is like much of his work: astute, acerbic, and powerful:
I could layer lie upon lie & say
that in this instant I smell beans
& ham hocks, hear her laughter,
hear clinking glasses & rez dogs
courting a quaint red moon,
but I don’t. I hear nothing –
nothing in this American nowhere.
First place poetry award winner Doug Schmierer contributes a moving poem, “Bird Peddling” (“I make birds for a living. / They fly from my fingertips / And say the things I can’t / To any wrongdoing person.”). Prize winning nonfiction writer Kirsten Kinnear contributes a coming of age story, “Seasons,” in a voice that is wise, unsentimental, and controlled.
The issue also features an interview with fiction writer and
memoirist Jillian Lauren and artwork by five artists, including
striking close-up detail photographs by student John Knott, also
one of the journal’s award winners
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
This issue features 7 short stories, four works of nonfiction, and poems by a dozen and a half poets. Best-known writers in the TOC are poets Philip Dacey, Simon Perchik, and Mary Crow. Art Director Keith Demanche contributes a number of captivating black and white photographs of Minnesota nature scenes. They capture with uncanny accuracy the grandeur and drama of the landscape with its massive skies and showy weather.
Work in this issue is, for the most part, affable (though some work is edgier than affable might suggest), accessible, and approachable. Family stories, nature scenes, and geography take center stage in the majority of both poetry and prose contributions. Notable exceptions include poems by Perchik, which are, typical of his work, not driven by narrative impulses but instead by strong and original images. These poems are, however, less abstract than much of the poet’s earlier work, more philosophical, and quite moving emotionally. Here are the opening lines of the first of three untitled poems:
This pen clinging to my hand
is frightened – in small doses
even a stone emits an invisible ray
slowly devours its predators
– who would suspect something so old
still wants to survive
Another notable standout is short fiction by Ed Fischer, “We Are Not German!” a fascinating story about a researcher who studies life during the Third Reich. The writing and subject matter are original and I appreciated the piece’s departure from the “how-I-didn’t-really-overcome-inertia” story I’ve encountered so much of lately.
Other work in this issue that distinguishes itself from the
routine or commonplace includes a short story by Dennis
Vannatta, “Oppie in the Sangre de Christo” and an essay by
Philip Kobylarz, “Of Oil Paintings and Oceans.” I like very much
a poem by George Moore, “Angel Tree,” which begins with the
marvelous opening line: “Outside of town, on the trail leading
toward someone’s idea of heaven / there was a barren tree.”
Moore knows how to interest me in that barren tree when I might
be tempted to skip it or overlook it, thanks to the phrase
“someone’s idea of heaven.” It’s this kind of smart, subtle line
that can keep the whole world from feeling like one big barren
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Guest editor Nanora Sweet defines this issue’s special section on Writing/Politics/Status/Gender as “driven by gender in a political year…a body politic(s) knit tenuously together by that most gendered set of relationships, of family.” Her selection of family-themed poetry, fiction, and essays is largely of work I would describe as affable without being cloying, sometimes deceptively casual while possessing deeper implications, and eminently readable.
Sweet’s fiction choices are noteworthy for their intriguing and inviting openings, in particular stories by Brent Krammes (“Edgar’s Last Color”); James Black (“Hibakusha”); Emily DiFilippo (“Ciudad de Mexico, Summer 2005”); and Justin Herrmann (“Crayon Way Outside The Lines”). It’s hard not to want to read a story that begins, as Black’s does, “Jamie Mallory’s father has been dead four years by the time Jamie starts noticing him everywhere: the supermarket, the Laundromat, the Seven Eleven.”
Essays, too, are extremely approachable and inviting, even when on such difficult subjects as a confrontation with a Holocaust denier like David Meyer’s “Breendonk.” J.T. Bushnell’s “Runner” can certainly keep pace with other work in the very specialized genre of literary sports narrative, and the title alone of Annette Gendler’s “Betty Crocker in Bavaria and Other Lives” is worth its weight in brownie mix.
Poems by 25 poets reflect an eclectic editorial vision, though these diverse poems have in common ease of reading, even when serious in tone, diction, and perspective. Here, for example, are excerpts from Greg Nicholl’s “In This”:
You name the two wisteria planted
alongside the porch
characters from a sitcom,
one Lucky, one Squat.
Lately you have been naming everything –
the glass ink-well on my desk unhappy
to be just an ink-well.
Me. Create a word
only you know the meaning of.
Return the void I cannot carry.
I must single out Barbara Crooker’s “Frida Kahlo Speaks.”
Kahlo is the subject of so much speculation and fictionalization
(I want to recommend Kingsolver’s recent The Lacuna, a
novel based on the biographies of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera,
among others). I have read countless poems and stories based on
her life, and Crooker’s is among my favorites: “There are two
Fridas, the one you want. And the one you don’t.” And who can
resist Jennifer Bullis. Her title: “Some of what I am about to
tell you is true” (“The dirt in my house incites me”). If at
least some of what writers in this issue of the magazine have to
say is true, then it’s all worthwhile.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
More than 360 pages of poetry and prose selected from the 10,000 submissions the journal receives annually. A “spotlight” on Diane de Prima, including a short bio, a number of poems and a story, is followed by poems from more than 70 poets, 8 prose selections, reviews, and this year’s Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award winners and honorable mentions (another 40+ poets). The issue’s highlights include the magazine’s beautiful cover, an original oil painting by Robert Andriulli, “Mill Town Neighborhood.”
The first-prize winning poem, “The Burning Bed,” by James D. Gwyn is representative of much of the work in this massive tome, in tone and style, if not form (a prose-poem hybrid). Like Gwyn’s opening line, “If I think about it enough, I can keep Farrah Fawcett out of my bed.”), most of the poems are conversational, composed of plain diction, personal, story-driven, inclined toward popular or familiar references and images, and read with ease.
Many, like Gwyn’s, are deceptively simply or easy going. (His litany of recent local fires burns down to, or perhaps I should say, sparks up to, a perfect conclusion: “Like I said. Everything is burning.”) When I finished the poem, I had to read it again. As with any good fire, it was hard to look away.
There is ample room here, of course, for enormous diversity in subject matter, perspective, and approach. “High culture” (Fran Castan’s “Vivaldi Concerti”) and “low” or popular culture (“Snoopy Hat” by Anthony Buccino) appear side by side, swooping birds and aisles of Jell-O, birdsong and Snoopy Red Baron “ack-ack noises” in close succession. There are, as we might expect, tragic family stories (Leslie Heywood’s “How to Bury Your First Born”) and the celebration of small victories (“the best twenty bucks I ever spent” by Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman); childhood memories (“July 2, 2002” by Lyn Lifshin) and personal triumphs (“Depression and Recovery” by Ellen Rowe: “It is sunshine. / It is a squirrel / hopping on a rooftop. / It is budding trees. / It is budding flowers. / It is / An Easter Basket!”).
Fiction entries are similar to the poetry in overall sensibility, readable, more traditional than inventive or unconventional in style and form, stories that center on solving a problem in a relationship or a personal dilemma, with recognizable or familiar characters.
The review includes a number of extremely well known and solidly established poets, including Jim Daniels, Marge Piercy, Lyn Lifshin, Stanley H. Barkin, Vivan Shipley, Gary Fincke, and Penelope Scambly Schott, among others, as well as many relative newcomers and dozens of poets on their way to stardom, widely published in journals with fine reputations.
The volume opens with Di Prima’s poem “First Draft: Poet Laureate Oath of Office” (she is poet laureate of San Francisco):
It is the poem I serve
luminous through time
of human breath.
The poem is a fitting beginning to this blockbuster volume.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Is Bob Hicok stalking me? His name appears in the TOC of nearly every journal I’ve reviewed for so long now that I no longer remember what is was like to read a magazine without encountering a Hicok poem. Not that I’m complaining. Who would dare complain about an opening like this one to “Perhaps an entry somewhere in a book”:
There is a night under every one
of these stones. It could be a hundred
years old, a thousand. I used to toss them
into the future, making refugees
of shapes while thinking of words
as river crossings.
The TOC features a number of other well-known names, including Laura Kasischke, Michael Burkard (also the journal’s advisory editor), B.H. Fairchild, Eleni Sikelianos, and David Shields (interviewed by Anthony Antoniadis), among others.
This issue also includes Michael Agresta’s beautifully composed story “DREAMHOMES,” winner of the 2009 Calvino Prize; a number of marvelous full-page illustrations designed to accompany the literary texts, highly appealing artwork about which I would like to have seen fuller contributors’ information; two interviews; a special section featuring the reproduction of the handwritten versions of the originals of several pieces in the issue; a series of striking digital images by Carlo Van De Roer, “Blinded by the Light”; Burkard’s “Drawings,” a collage-like set of color drawings interspersed with text; and “Authoritative Discoveries,” what the editors call an anonymous survey of the issue’s contributors, which reveals the following: 17 percent of respondents earn less than $10K annually and the same percentage checks email 11-15 times daily.
Kalya Blatchley lets us know in an interview with Christine Schutt, author of two novels and two collections of short stories, why Schutt’s work has received such recognition as nominations for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize – she is a talented storyteller. I have not read her work, but I certainly will now. Julian Zadorozny’s story “Upper Volta” is a deftly composed and disturbing story about that African region. Patrick Lawler’s flash fiction, “At One of My Father’s Funerals, I Was Humphrey Bogart,” is as moving and original as the title suggests (“At one of my father’s funerals, my mother inconsolably danced”). And Kasischke’s poem “Mary, in May,” is finely etched:
The birds full of delicate bones
so easily crushed.
The violets, like bruises spilled
at the shady edge of the lawn.
these surprising scurrying things when we
roll away the log
like sacrifices in our names
we had no idea were being made.
The editors describe this issue as much like Syracuse, NY,
where the journal is published: “a book of both darkness and
celebration. We find harmony in these contradictions, and beauty
in both.” And I am inclined to agree.
Volume 97 Number 2
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Such established and accomplished writers as Jim Daniels and Colleen S. Harris are joined by many student writers, a funky section of writing about the music scene, and 20 pages of impressive artwork.
The artwork is, literally and figuratively, the centerpiece of the magazine, featuring photographs, etchings, paintings, collage, and mixed media works representing a broad range of styles and techniques, much of which is technically adept and visually exciting. I admired, in particular, a delightful photograph by Melina Ramirez of a bulldog asleep against a crumbling stone wall; a marvelous mixed media collage by Eugenia Tsai of a Japanese couple against a verbal text and floral backdrop; a fun and inventive sculpture by Emmanuel Mendoza (a rabbit and top-hat lamp).
An acrylic painting by Becky Goll, “Let There Be Light,” a stark room of bare table tops that evokes the feelings of an empty gym or meeting room with its sensation of dust and dim light and remembered-better-days-past/passed, among other fine works. The quality of the reproductions is exceptionally good with clear images and true colors.
Highlights of the issue also include the poem, “Second Sight,” by the aforementioned Harris, a reminder of poetry’s power to capture a big story in a confined container:
My eye is the eye from my father’s head,
a murky green, a milky gauze
filming its sight like rain over warped windows.
I gaze into the mirror and know
he is gone.
The section of notes on recent music releases, complete with
photographs of the musicians whose releases are critiqued, is an
unusual find and likely of interest to readers of the generation
of the many of the students whose literary work appears here and
who write this section of the magazine. An editor’s note
describes the journal as innovative and the music section
certainly seems, if not innovative, out of the ordinary for this
type of journal.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Photographer Carolee J. Friday’s “El Santuario de Chimayo,” at the center of the issue, a beautiful rustic stone church set against shadows that seem almost surreal they are so “hyper-real,” captures beautifully a true New Mexican sensibility. I find the issue’s artwork (photographs, paintings, a graphic story, illustrations), much of which has a decidedly Southwestern feel, especially appealing. Inspired by the region, too, are a short story from Bibi Deitz (“3rd Person, March”), a poem by Kathryne Lim (“Over the Taos Gorge”), and a poem by Michael G. Smith, who is also interviewed in this issue, “Late Autumn Poem, Winter Coming.”
My thanksgiving, an apple, a handful
of salted almonds, grey tuff mesa, sky.
Age-old ruts led me to this ledge to sit.
Below, abandoned corn and squash fields,
rock art on the walls above –
man, spiral, deer, tree, snake, little bird –
Place is of consequence in a number of other works in the issue, as well, including a poem by Dallas Huth, “North is at the Top of the Map,” another by Amorak Huey, “San Antonio,” and another by Joan Mitchell, “At the Ruins of St. Non’s Chapel.” These poems, like most of the work in the issue, reflect a preference for writing that is uncluttered, easily comprehended (though not glib), and fluid. There is a kind of easiness to the writing in this issue, by which I mean natural, not unformed.
The prose of SFLR tends to be edgier than its poetry,
with more profanity, more sex, and more rough-and-tumble
imagery. While Kenneth Weene’s “Memoirs From the Asylum,” his
personal essay about a kind of young adult malaise in the ‘60s,
was off putting on some levels (a certain grotesqueness in the
language and imagery which may have been necessary, but which I
found unsavory nonetheless), I was impressed with the essay’s
pace and its conclusion: “Some of us land in the morgue, some of
us land in the asylum, and some of us build our own asylums.
It’s all the same. It is, in the end, all the same.” I wish he
were wrong, frankly, though I know – which is why I am so moved
by the essay – that he’s not.
Volume 3 Numbers 1 & 2
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
With its announced theme “Issues of Death” and its ghoulish cover of skulls, it’s impossible to imagine that inside this issue of Seattle Review, one of the most satisfying features is a graphic story, “Number One,” written by Janice Shapiro and drawn by Jessica Wolk-Stanley, a wonderfully illustrated tale of “the social pyramid of North Hollywood circa 1965.” And, yes, it’s about death.
Death is not only the issue’s theme, but its future! Well, not death as demise, but as an end and then a new beginning. The issue opens with an announcement that the journal will cease to publish anything but single long poems or a self-contained excerpt from a book-length poem or a unified sequence of poems and novellas (40-90 pages). In an era of short attention spans, bite-sized news headlines, tiny little tweets, and text written in acronyms and abbreviations, this seems a risky – and fabulous – decision. And I look forward to these long poems and long stories.
In the meantime, this final issue of work of all lengths features many writers whose accomplishments keep them very much alive on the literary scene: Scott Russell Sanders, Albert Goldbarth, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Paul Lisicky, Carl Dennis, Hilary Masters, David Gutterson, Rebecca Foust, Elixabeth Searle, Dinty W. Moore, and Robin Hemley, among others. And while you might think it could be deadly to read piece after piece about this subject, widely established and lesser-known writers alike contribute pieces here that are stimulating and worthwhile.
One of the more unusual pieces in the issue is Russell David Harper’s “America’s Fat(al) Flaw: Notes on an Epidemic,” an essay about our country’s obesity problem narrated against and with and through boxed quotes, charts, and structured around numbered “myths.” It’s provocative, interesting, credible, and smartly paced. The structure could kill the whole thing if poorly rendered, but instead it’s wisely constructed and sustained my interest.
Other standouts include the ever-lively prose of Dinty W. Moore, and Michael Upchurch’s narrative about “ridiculosity,” a phrase he uses to capture the things in this life that seem utterly crazy to us and that we know are impossible to explain and that – when we try to explain them – make others think we’re crazy. Do you see what Upchurch means: ridiculosity!
Just when we begin to think that reading piece after piece
about illness or death or impending death might really get
deadening, we’re saved by the section of writing titled “Signs
of Life.” Here we find the journal’s other truly inventive
piece, Elizabeth Cooperman’s “CIN-FILE: An Archive of Cinematic
Longing,” winner of one of the Review’s awards (chosen by David
Shields), an essay-drama-film script-rolled into one hybrid
composition: “I had in my custody a multitude of images, islands
like red ellipses, begging rearrangement.” And in this section
we also find David Guterson’s reminder that when we are
house-bound (“It’s disorienting”) and finding ways to cope with
the winter that is our “new life of dying,” we can perceive
ourselves or be perceived as a “free and rising spark.” Lots of
rising sparks in this issue.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
“The Ancestors We Were Looking for We Have Become: International Queer Indigenous Voices,” is this issue’s special theme, guest edited by Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán. An impressive 260+ pages, the issue includes work by writers from numerous tribes and nations, including writers who originate from and/or have lived in the mainland United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, Hawaii, Sweden, Somalia, New Zealand, Palestine, Costa Rica, Croatia, South Australia, Kenya, Tonga, Nicaragua, Lesotho, Nigeria, Tibet, Afghanistan, Guahan, Fiji, and Canada. The majority are “mixed race” (a decidedly problematic term). Most are widely published. Many are activists and/or active in other arts (dance, photography, theater arts, etc.). Some self-identify as queer, others as gay, others as lesbian, others as bisexual, and others as transgender.
Like the work of any large group of writers their writing reflects vastly different styles, tones, themes and forms. In some of the pieces, queer-indigenous identity takes center stage, as in Tenzin Mingyur Paldron’s short personal essay/statement “(What I Hope for when I say) ‘Queer Tibet,’” and in others, racial, ethnic, and sexual identity is one component of a larger or equally significant theme, as in Ami Mattison’s personal essay, “A History of Breathing,” about life as an adoptee.
I appreciate very much Andrew Jolivétte’s description of his work as “personal narrative” (“Disclosure, the Politics of Healing, and Survival in Two-Spirit Communities: A Personal Narrative”). This is an accurate description of much of the issue’s prose, short personal statements that have impact largely for the overwhelming emotion they manage to convey in a very brief space. I would not be unhappy to see this label applied to many pieces I find in other journals that are not really personal essays so much as short statements of personal expression.
Many pieces are bilingual, employing a technique of code switching (indigenous languages interspersed with English), beginning with an indigenous language and switching to English, or alternating lines. Some pieces are English translations of work created originally in indigenous languages. I was moved by Luna Maia’s poem “In the Ramada” which expresses the importance of a connection to one’s native language:
I left the pueblo
Yaqui deer songs in my head.
I inserted Yaqui words that I knew the meanings of;
I didn’t want to forget our rhythm,
in case someday
it would be my turn.
In her personal narrative, “The Life, Loves, and Adventures
of Zelwa the Halfie,” Randa Jarrar writes “All I’ve ever wanted
was to feel whole.” There isn’t a piece among the dozens here
that doesn’t somehow seem to bring us all one word closer to
achieving that essential goal.