Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted November 30, 2010

580 Split :: Albatross :: The Allegheny Review :: Arc Poetry Magazine :: Cave Wall :: The Evansville Review :: Limestone :: Many Mountains Moving :: Mythium :: River Teeth :: roger :: St. Petersburg Review :: Skidrow Penthouse :: Southern Poetry Review :: Willard & Maple

[Back to Lit Mag Review Index]

 

280 Split cover580 Split

Issue 12

2010

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

An exciting issue, beginning with Daniel Backman’s front cover “architectonic collage” (“Oakland in Transit”). Backman’s collages, he explains in the note that opens the issue, “envision a city in a constant state of transformation” and exhibit “the themes that have traveled with me throughout my experience as an artist, a designer, and a city dweller.”

You know you can trust a journal when the editor is as smart and deliberate as 580 Split’s, creating something cohesive to unify the editorial vision. Here, we move immediately from city scene (Beckman’s transit collage) to city scene (the first line of literary content in the journal) “everybody in the city is talking about the weather,” a poem by Tetman Callis, which concludes: “nobody is talking about the war,” affirming that I am right to trust 580 Split to have something to say to me.

In fact there is more in this issue worth recognizing and commenting on that I can pursue in this brief review, so I’ll stop at a few particularly captivating places along this highway of good reading. In keeping with the theme alluded to above (“the war”), I would point out “The O Mission Report, Vol 2” from Travis Macdonald “an erasure of The 9/11 Commission Report,” with its juxtaposition of reverse type and bold text which creates a sort of prose poem of our warring engagement.

Provocative in form, as well, are Kaie Kellough’s “goodbye book” with its rambling urgency (“while the eye slides from left to right, the index fingers & flips the page from right to left, & repeat, & pause to decipher cryptic notes in the margin, wonder at passages underlined, goodbye inference, faceless interface with anon reader, radar, raider, book wise splayed”); and her “i-goodbye” (“for Steve Jobs”), columns of i-options.

Kevin O’Rourke’s couplets (“Of a Certainty”) merit more than drive-by attention (“& this will come to an end; regardless of whether or not the book’s conclusion is fitting, a conclusion it wil have”). Chinaka Hodge’s poem “a movement in three parts,” a collaboration with musicians in Oakland, California, is certainly a destination (“watch when I grow up / i’m alive in a tulip / at the bottom of the bulb”). Suvi Mahone’s story about the death of a child “It Hangs There Between Us,” is more conventional, but no less affecting, and worth the ride.

There’s a phenomenal section on book arts, with gorgeous glossy reproductions; a wild little detour on hair loss by Angela Belcaster, “Dialogue with the Text on Hair Loss”; and a terrific high speed contribution from Oscar Bermeo, “A Bodega on Anywhere Avenue. After Allen Ginsberg’s ‘A Supermarket in California.’”:

You got me straight trippin’ tonight, Pedro Pietri, as I strut down
the block under the El with a headache self-conscious checking
out the lights of the #4 train. In my hunt for verse, I’m fiendin’ for
images and hit up the 24/7 bodega, bummin’ for a loosa poem.

And there are poems, stories, essays less revved up, but equally powerful, including Sharline Chiang’s “Year of the Ox” (“Across our ocean / I hear him sigh, five / thousand years of disappointment.”).

This is one eclectic, exciting, and meaningful freeway of creativity. You’ll be transported.
[www.580split.com]

 

top of page

 

Albatross coverAlbatross

Number 21

Spring 2010

Review by Renee Emerson

This slim issue moves its poetry seamlessly from religion to nature to philosophy. Albatross is a small, chapbook-like magazine, stapled together in the center, featuring only poetry. On the inside of the front cover is a quote from Samuel Taylor Coleridge,

God Save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends that plague thee thus! –
Why lookst thou so? –With my crossbow
I shot the albatross...”

which continues to the back cover of the magazine, with

And I had done a hellish thing
And it would work ‘em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! Said they, the bird to slay
That made the breeze to blow!

The opening poem is by Don Thompson, “God hath chosen the weak things of the world,” which evokes a tone of barrenness, introducing a world “where nothing ever takes root.” This barrenness ties in later to the end of the magazine, where poems such as “rome” by Rob Talbert again address the issue, this time as “the wearing of things.”

The majority of poems are free verse and demonstrate a certain density of language, heavy with assonance and consonance, descriptive and lush. Though the magazine is only a short twenty-six pages, the poems collaborate and hark back to one another, creating a unified work.
[albatrosspoetryjournal.wordpress.com]

 

top of page

 

The Allegheny Review coverThe Allegheny Review

Volume 28

2010

Annual

Reviewed by Anne Wolfe

One can hardly believe that the astounding works within Allegheny Review’s 28th volume is all from undergraduates. The wording might be a bit self-consciously ornate; which can be put to youthful enthusiasm. However, there is an explosion of images and modifiers, working toward emotional complexity – the effort succeeds; entrancing, engaging and enchanting the reader.

Poetry, short fiction, and artwork come from thirty contributors at institutions of higher education all over the United States; fourteen are Allegheny students. Overall, the quality is even. The poetry and short stories contain subtlety and insight usually uncommon to youth.

One funny, wistful story that makes one truly recall teenage innocence is the 2010 Fiction Award Winner, “And a Pack of Gum,” by Simon Han from Northwestern University. The story’s ingredients: a guy, a girl, mutual attraction, a bedroom in the parent’s house, virginity – and no more should be given away. It is crackling good.

Dave Valentine’s irrationally cool short story is about science, creation isolation, society’s reaction to anything different … and what an imaginative, thoughtful writer can do with a unique idea. It is titled, “Homo inchoatus.” Alvaro E. Duran from Towson University has one very novel idea in “Peanut Butter Pie” as he deals with young love, painfully, realistically, and deliciously. The beginning is promising: “Every so often (if you are like me, Dear Reader), one encounters a person that sucks the very breath out of one’s lungs.” This writer has already learned to break out and address the reader, an alternate between first, second and third person in one story – not easy, even if the ending, while “correct” might have been drawn better.

The issue hosts impressive artwork: a silver gelatin print with two-thirds of a face titled, “Lay Bare,” by Stephanie Irish. Christine Wusylko created a mystic-looking lithographic print of a huge beetle, and Anna Leehey photographed the “Inside of a Piano” and managed to make it fascinating, showing a contrast of lines and shapes, planes, cones, circles, light and shadow.

The poetry, much of it free or blank verse, has sense in it. Chad Redden, of Indiana-Purdue University, wrote, “Your name is Margaret, My Name is Chad.” It is an entire story in verse, with as much between the lines as in the lines, and quite poignant, beginning:

Yes, it is late spring and we are playing Scrabble
Because the doctor said it would help
reconnect memories,
No, Freeway does not have a silent T.

By the end of the poem the reader knows a good deal more about Margaret and Chad, and is pulling for both of them – and is perhaps a bit more sympathetic over the subject of mental illness.

Stephen Reaugh, in a revealing, bravely honest poem spells out his predicament very precisely, writing the poem, “A Major Fourth – upon hearing the passage of Prop 8”:

It’s the same interval every time. It’s out of place,
A lost child wandering with the fifth-laden refrains
Of our salvation hymns.

One feels his darkness, and hopes there is more than this bleakness. These works draw the reader in. This might be students’ work, but definitely not school-children’s work. It has a very adult ring to it, hinting of promise and a great deal of skill already mastered.
[webpub.allegheny.edu/group/review/]

 

top of page

 

Arc Poetry Magazine coverArc Poetry Magazine

2011

Annual

Review by Tanya Angell Allen

In "The lure of the gallery wall," one of the excellent conversations in the Canadian Arc Poetry's "Poet As Art Thief" issue, the poet John Barton says writing ekphrastic poetry is "a way to expand our world, especially as so much of 20th-century poetry seems overwhelmingly concerned with the self."

Writing about paintings (or musical compositions or vases or works of architecture or works in other forms, as ekphrasis is the act of creating art in response to other art,) also enhances the understanding and enjoyment of reflected pieces, inspiring viewers to look more closely than they otherwise might.

This can be fascinating. In an introduction to a series of poems published in Arc and based on artworks at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Kelley Aitken speaks of how audience-members for a reading of the poems and tour of their art inspirations felt "entranced." (The AGO provides a virtual approximation of this experience at their website.) Though these poems gain power when experienced alongside the art, some also stand alone particularly well. For example, Sheila Stewart's "Thule," which skillfully weaves ruminations about its subject with a personal narrative on playing with childhood dolls.

Looking for stand-alone poems like "Thule" is part of the unacknowledged fun in any collection of ekphrastic poetry, as it's easier to make stand-alone paintings based on poems than stand-alone poems based on paintings. One of the best is by Nick Thran, on a painting by Caravaggio of David holding Goliath’s head. Thran speaks of "the tenderness given to Goliath's face," and of how necessary it is to forget this tenderness "in the midst of some other / terror." He ends with an anecdote about looking, with a lack of surprise, at terrorist websites where "they stream the beheadings.” It's a tough piece, and the way Thran uses the painting to reflect on the world outside of its frame is what, in addition to its fine writing, makes it the journal’s most powerful poem.

Other pieces to look for are the excerpt of a book-length collaboration of poetry and art by Emily Vey Duke and Shary Boyle; an essay by Ross Leckie on Elizabeth Bishop's "Poem”; a chain of poems and artworks by Ottawa poets and artists; and a conversation between Arc editor Aislinn Hunter and Anne Simpson, the latter of whom also has three poems based on art by Betty Goodwin.

 The magazine states that two of its excellent interviews (one between jwcurry and Michele Provost and another between John Barton and Stephanie Bolster) continue on-line at the Arc website. However, at the time of this review, they can't be found on the site. Hopefully the editors will put them up soon, as these are thought-provoking conversations which will hopefully lead more poets, artists, and art historians to discover this important magazine.
[www.arcpoetry.ca]

 

top of page

 

Cave Wall coverCave Wall

Number 8

Summer/Fall 2010

Biannual

Review by Renee Emerson

Cave Wall’s latest issue invites us, in Robert Bly’s poem “Flowers with Holes,” to “look for / The odd places / In each other / And write poems about them.” The issue begins with an editor’s note that describes the poems in this issue as endeavoring to “embody that quest to communicate what moves us most deeply.” The style of communication varies, from the narrative free verse poem “Kung Pao with You on the Anniversary of Your Suicide” by Elizabeth Volpe which communicates with a deceased friend through the poem, to Sara E. Lamer’s ode to decay, “Compost.” The cover and illustrations in the chapbook by John Broadley are stark ink on paper drawings of animals and rural life, lending an antique feel to the magazine. Overall, this issue lives up to Cave Wall’s reputation – thoughtful, well-written poetry.
[www.cavewallpress.com]

 

top of page

 

The Evansville Review coverThe Evansville Review

Volume 20

2010

Annual

Reviewed by Anne Wolfe

Fine sonnets, formal verse, and modern poetry inhabit The Evansville Review. The covers of the mag feature a blue glossy finish framing a woman who is arching her back in front of some stained glass icons, it is very formal and a slightly theatrical painting, titled “Mariana of the Moated Grange” by Millais. Besides poetry, inside the elegant covers are eight pieces of short fiction and three items of nonfiction. The short fiction tends to have an other-worldly tension about it, a dreamy quality mirrored in the painting.

In contrast, the nonfiction consists of an unremarkable interview, “Conversation with Mark Jarman,” and two prose pieces. “Discovery Channel” by Timothy Marsh, appears to be a rather engaging, ironic discussion of Discovery’s productions, until the reader finally discovers what the narrator is actually about. The revelation turns the ‘story’ on its head and makes it far more intense. Paul Bone’s “A Gathering of Shades” is a flowing discussion about poets, their verse, and their tendencies. He gets to his points quickly. If you are a familiar with the poets, then it is well worth reading.

The fiction is inventive. “All These Things I’ve Learned to Do” by Sigers Steele is an artful tale similar to that of a traveling medicine salesman, only this one sells pop psychology. “I am brilliant because I make all this shit up. All of it,” brags the narrator, before the tables are turned, and turned again, leaving one trying to weigh whether good or evil has been committed, and who has committed it.

“The Arundel Tomb” by Sarah Rees Brennan might seem like a young person’s story, but its theme is ageless and timeless, wistful and hopeful. Youth’s falling in love, missing out on life, and renewing oneself, is an old story, and if well-told, never gets old. Ann Claycomb’s “In Search of a Smaller Bar Scene” is wild, loose, even if it is about a woman living a stoic life – and on the verge of being punished for her troubled past.

These stories have a common theme: illness, chronic illness. Illness that is not pretty, but messy, though the stories veer away from preaching and include hope and kindness. “The Estate Sale” by Richard Spilman includes these qualities, particularly well, considering the author gets into the interior of an aging minister, and an imperfect man, one who might remind one of one’s grandfather, or a grandfather one is glad never to have had.

The poetry is a treat. It is unusual to see so much formal poetry in one collection; the modern poetry and traditional poetry mix together like pepper and salt. Robert B. Shaw’s “Blue Period Sketch” is whimsical, as it tells a funny story:

Stepping outside for once without my key,
I heard the latch click like fatality.
I felt my pockets, called myself a name
(there being no one else around to blame).

From this upbeat beginning the poem rolls on to become more humorously pathetic, and can lift one up. Another poem, ornate, colorful, touching many senses, is “Spanish Evening” by Anna, Comtessa de Noailles. In the third stanza she writes of “crimson carnations”:

And there smooth fragrance svelte, their tremolo
Of bliss, soak soft of ether, light
Of touch … Bell tolls in topaz belfry … O
Languorous, languid, Spanish night!

Does anything more need to be said? Her verse is like rich dessert. This literary magazine is a feast one can sink one’s teeth into, and a deep pool one can sink into; relax, feel stimulated, and deeply satisfied.
[evansvillereview.evansville.edu/]

 

top of page

 

Limestone coverLimestone

2009

Annual

Review by Lesley Dame

The 2009 edition of Limestone is titled “Legacy Obscura,” which I assume is a reference to the “camera obscura,” a device used to project images onto a screen, which led to the invention of photography. It’s a relevant title. This issue is ripe with photography and other visual arts, as well as poems and stories that create verbal images of legacy. What is a legacy? Is it something we’re born with? Do we carry it with us? Editor Rebecca Beach says “what we are and what we will be hinges on our past.” This journal examines that past. The past is where we come from and informs the future. The speakers of these poems and stories share their personal memories, yet they are universal and timeless.

In the poem, “Decembers,” by Sarah Landenwich, the speaker tells us twice, once in the first stanza and once in the last, that “there are no new days.” The poem shows us the harsh, never-ending reality of life in the country, of working the land day in and day out. Seasons come and go, come and go. She says:

Then, snowlight and shallow evenings
push reflection on the year, the past, the mistakes,
and we force ourselves tomorrow,
that we can begin work in the morning,
that we can begin.

Haven’t we all lived in this moment of regret? We tell ourselves that something will be different tomorrow, something will change. But life, as we all know, is cyclical. For better or worse, we get up when the sun rises and go to bed in the darkness. Tomorrow never comes. We continue to live as we always have, these 200,000 years. This is our legacy.

If the poetry hasn’t blown you away, the fiction will. A hearty dose of fiction pieces live in this journal. I rarely say this: they are all good. My favorite, I think, is a story titled “Two Weeks Notice” by John Lackey. It’s a short piece about a man who finds himself in a depressing situation – no woman, no job, no place to live. There’s a modern flare to this story, with the mention of Facebook and Craigslist, and the financial crises many of us now struggle with. But this story is timeless, too. 500 years ago, people were trying to make a living, looking for love, and seeking a place to call home. Again, I say, this is our legacy. Survival. And if we survive, love.

In William Fowkes’s “The Church,” a second noteworthy story, a man reluctantly enters a church, remembering the hypocrisy of the church of his youth. Inside, the congregation sings and exults over a young man’s speech. Again and again, the young man claims that we know nothing. True knowledge is admitting that “‘NO ONE KNOWS!’” The church doesn’t claim to have the answers to life’s big questions, doesn’t claim to know who or what god is and what our purpose is here on earth. This story was extremely interesting and refreshing.

Lastly, there are several black and white photographs and other media represented in Limestone. The artwork is interesting, and the magazine seeks to complement each piece of art with a written work. Sometimes, the artwork meshes perfectly with the written work. Sometimes you have to search for the connection. My favorite piece, called “Street Musicians of Argentina” from Jessica Bennett Kincaid, is a photograph taken from behind a group of seated musicians. The angle is so interesting because you can see the sides of two of the musicians’ faces, as well as three of the faces in the crowd. Each face wears a different expression – humor, interest, boredom. It’s really beautiful, this compilation of emotion. At the risk of being redundant, how timeless are musicians entertaining in the town square? How timeless is art? We pass these mediums from generation to generation.

I’m enraptured with Limestone. The poetry, fiction, and artwork, edited by University of Kentucky undergraduates, are some of the finest work being published in literary magazines today. With a catchy title and work that speaks to the masses of history and legacy, Limestone will be hanging out on my coffee table for days and nights to come.
[www.limestonejournal.com]

 

top of page

 

Many Mountains Moving coverMany Mountains Moving

Volume 10 Number 1

2010

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Over the years, the publication calendar for Many Mountains Moving has seemed erratic and unpredictable, at best, yet it’s always worth waiting for. This issue features a special section of “ecopoetry,” with selections by two-dozen poets, followed by an “ecopiety essay”; the magazine’s flash fiction and poetry winners, runners up, and finalists from 2008 and 2009; 9 short stories; four nonfiction contributions; “mixed genre” work (flash fiction/prose poems) by two contributors; and a general section of poetry with the work of another dozen and a half poets, including several selections from Henry Israeli and Shpresa Qatipi’s recent book of very fine translations of the work of Albanian poet Luljeta Lleshanaku; and one review.

Ecopoetry appears to refer to poems that take as their principal concern matters of the natural world and its products and processes as a subject to be contemplated, described, or analyzed in its relationship to human activity and/or gaze. Many of these poems express the themes and perspectives we might expect them to, such as “Talking about Money” by Nin Andrews, which concludes:

Money is like a weapon. A nuclear weapon. It’s what keeps us safe.
Because no matter how many times we can buy everything we want
on this earth, or blow it up,
we worry there’s this other guy or country, like Russia or China
who can buy it a whole lot more times than us.
That’s what Kissinger and diplomacy are all about. Right?

Or, such as Will Lane’s quiet and lovely solitary-man-in-the-outdoors imagery in his poem “The Axe”:

When the spirit crawls on all fours
And disappears like rain darkening gravel,
I split kindling, stand rooted
In the new mud near the slouching woodshed;
And tall splinters sing and sigh as they leave
The parent block, leaping sideways,
Spent like emotions under a turbulent, autumn sky.

Less expected, perhaps, as examples of “ecopoetry” are poems such as Elizabeth Bradfield’s “Polar Explorer John Forbes Nash, Jr. Self-Declared Emperor of Antartica (1967)” and my favorite in this section of the magazine, Laura-Gray Street’s “Hôang-Tsong (The Yellow Bell),” which begins: “In one version of the story, there are no birds, / only the man and his inventions.” Hwa Yol Jung’s wonderful essay “The Dao of Ecopiety” makes an urgent and compelling case for a “green revolution on a global scale” which must include a green “aesthetic paradigm.”

Most noteworthy in the nonfiction section is the sheer range of tones, from Erik Ipsen’s solemn essay about Guatemala (“The Moon and Guatemala”) to “A Dirty Love Story” by Mindy Lewis. Fiction, too, is appealing for the breadth of approaches. I liked especially “Whose Coffee is It?” by June Akers Seese, with its stunted sentences and staccato rhythms, which seem that they could not possibly add up to anything, and yet they do.

A similarly generous editorial hand is at work in the general poetry section, which includes poems both tender and sarcastic, as well as narrative and lyrical; poems that might well fit into the ecopoetry section alongside poems about satisfying sex. Becca Hensley contributes one of the best “my parents are dying” poems imaginable, “Giving Birth to My Mother,” which begins: “The day my father died / I gave birth to my mother.” I was moved by Dilruba Ahmed’s “The 18th Century Weavers of Muslin Whose Thumbs Were Chopped,” and by Karina Borowicz’s “Nocturnes” (“I woke holding the ripening / mushroom of a dream.)

Ann Fisher-Wirth’s “Ascending les Gorges du Chassezac” (in the ecopoetry section) concludes: “‘Whatever is said is small, compared to silence.’” I know she is right, but I am grateful, nonetheless, to hear the voices in MMM.
[mmminc.org]

 

top of page

 

Mythium coverMythium

The Journal of Contemporary Literature and Cultural Voices

Volume 1 Number 2

2010

Biannual

Review by Lesley Dame

Mythium is a journal that publishes poems, fiction, and nonfiction written by writers of color. Its mission is to celebrate the cultural voice. The content is as varied as there are ethnicities. From African American and Native American writers with violent and unjust ancestral histories, to more recent immigrants of Latin, Asian, and African heritage (and then some) looking to find a place in a new America, it’s natural to assume that this magazine is a collection of many voices and many stories. Some of the material is depressing. Some is hopeful. All of it is interesting.

The poems in Mythium are diverse. Lyrical, image-driven, rhythmic, narrative – you name it, it’s in there. It’s hard to pick one, but “Contrary Winds at Night” by Radames Ortiz spoke to me in one of those goose-bumpy kinds of ways. It begins:

“We are a splattering of contradictions,”
wrote a novelist
I think of this, in a living room,
darkened with heat
This notion that we carry broken
mirrors, inside
Jagged shards reflecting
light in strange ways

The lack of grammatical punctuation or consistency of capitalization intensifies the sense of brokenness the poem evokes. But the image is what really does it for me. There’s a dark living room, yet there’s light coming from somewhere, reflecting off sharp pieces of mirror. For me, the living room is the “I,” and the pieces of broken mirrors are the “I’s” identity. There are so many pieces, so many faces, the “I” takes on. The conflict is that we are many. We are culture. We are stereotypes. We are individual. We are communal. We are who we are, and we are who we are expected to be. And yet, this confusion is intricate and beautiful. The pieces of identity may not make a solid whole, but their scary, messy parts make strange and glorious reflections.

Poetry is only the beginning. The fiction in Mythium is incredibly interesting. Most of the stories are nonlinear, disjointed. They often jump from one character’s point of view to another and from an individual perspective to a communal one. I think it’s a subtle reminder that you can’t have culture without community. “In My Country” by Tony Robles was my favorite. It strays from the communal quality of the other pieces. Marco, an immigrant from El Salvador is a maintenance worker at a hotel. He hasn’t yet mastered the English language, and he doesn’t relate to the people he meets. When an old black man dies in one of the rooms, it’s his job to clean out the man’s belongings. Marcos arrives at the room to find an old man there. Instead of kicking the man out, he helps the man lie down and brings the man water. Later, it’s inferred that the old man was the dead man’s ghost. Marco cleans the room and leaves. Interwoven in this story are sections where Marco remembers his country. Things are different there. But common decency and connecting with others through simple kindness is universal. Marco walks down an empty street at the end of the story, yet the empty street is full of hope and possibility. He can go anywhere, do anything.

Mythium closes this issue with its nonfiction section, which includes some of the best nonfiction I’ve seen in a while. I’ll admit it; I’m a picky nonfiction reader. My standards are sky-high. Mythium is right up there in the clouds with me, travelling to a pleasant destination. In “Dreams Are Really Real,” Kalamuya Salaam wakes from a dream in which his friend, Tom, dead ten years, appears as a young man. He then recalls his friendship with Tom, all the things he learned from Tom, and how the dream made him realize how deeply he misses his friend. The most poignant section of the piece is this:

The old folks always asked: who your people – not just your blood family, but those whom you chose to love, to emulate, to run with and respect. The wise ones knew: your people are who you become, and if not become, they are the human forces that deeply influence your becoming.

Examination and celebration of culture is important, but the most important lesson I took from this journal is at the heart of this quotation. Your culture is not just your ancestry; it’s what you take from other people. It’s the love you give and receive from people of all walks of life. The only criteria are an open mind and soul.

Mythium doesn’t just celebrate the cultural voice; it promotes cultural dialogue. Any venue that encourages people to share their stories leads to a shared understanding. And that, folks, is A-okay with me.
[mythiumlitmag.com/]

 

top of page

 

River Teeth coverRiver Teeth

Volume 12 Number 1

Fall 2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

An issue you can definitely sink your teeth into. “We finally have work by Phillip Lopate between our covers,” says editor Joe Mackall. Lopate’s “In Defense of the Essay Collection,” is preaching to the choir in some ways, River Teeth’s readers are already interested in the genre, as it is, after all, a journal of nonfiction narrative. But, it’s a great read nonetheless. Lopate is in good company. The 11 other essays in this issue are equally worthy of attention.

And best of all, these essays (by Robert McGowan, Kathryn Winograd, Maureen Stanton, Will Jennings, Kurt Caswell, Greg Bottoms, Eric Dean Wilson, Brad Modlin, K. Emily Bond, Jill Noel Kandel, J. Malcolm Garcia) demonstrate very different approaches to nonfiction narrative.

Winograd’s essay recounts an experience as a teacher in an education program for Navajo Nation teachers in Colorado and the ways in which she discovers links to a personal landscape of mystery and significance. Her writing is lucid, fluid, and satisfying.

Dean Wilson also offers a personal story of place linked to a larger history. Modlin’s “On the Day of a Death, the First Thing That Changes Is What You Want from Strangers,” is a brief (two and a half pages) and devastating rumination on grief. Kandel’s “Burial Cloth Removed” is a moving and un-self-pitying account of the aftermath of a car accident (her husband was driving) that occurred while she and her family were living in Zambia in which a young child was killed. The essay is told in short fragments linked and un-linked on multiple levels. Garcia’s essay is a portrait of an international humanitarian aid worker. I ended up admiring Michael, the essay’s subject, and Garcia for his skill and ability to recreate the story with an utterly invisible hand.

My favorite piece is veteran creative nonfiction writer Maureen Stanton’s “The Hours: In Pursuit of Sleep.” I confess that part of the essay’s appeal for me is that I, like Stanton, suffer from terrible insomnia. (You don’t want to know what time it is right now!). But, I also admire Stanton’s wonderful prose and the way in which she links her personal situation to larger issues and considerations, a universe larger than her own tossing and turning.

I do not recommend this issue of River Teeth if you’re suffering from insomnia and looking for something soporific. It’s just too stimulating.
[www.riverteethjournal.com]

 

top of page

 

roger coverroger

Volume 5

Spring 2010

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

If I have any complaint at all about roger, and I really only have one, it is that the wonderful translations by Anny Ballardini, Patrizia de Rachewiltz, and Jennifer Youngquist (of work by poets Paolo Ruffilli, Cesare Pavese, and Etienne Lero) do not include the originals and the contributors’ notes do not include the poets’ bios. It makes for good reading to find these well executed translations of poets I might not otherwise have an opportunity to read among the work of Jim Daniels, Sandra Kohler, Charles Harper Webb, and many other competent, though lesser known writers. But, I would like to be able to read the originals and to know something about the poets.

The fine translations from European poets are well accompanied by exquisite poems from American writers, including “Winter” by Jaime Brunton and “Understanding,” by Angie Macri; a terrific piece of flash fiction by Ed Bull, “Potential Energy,” a story of smart psychological insights “No One Gets to Stay,” by Catherine Parnell; and a portfolio of marvelous paintings by Jim Bush depicting his predilection for “slight distortion,” as explained in a brief introductory note. I love these slightly skewed New England landscapes (acrylics and watercolors on paper), scenes I would like to crawl into, or at the very least put up on the walls of my apartment. They are cleverly reproduced here on coated stock that sets them apart from the uncoated pages of poetry and prose, and the reproductions are excellent (terrific print quality).

I did not know the work of poet Etienne Lero, and Youngquist’s translation reads like an original, intact, fluid, seamless, making me want to learn more about and read more of Lero, which is part of what a good translation should do, it seems to me. Here are the final lines from “Chestnuts from Eyelashes”:

Where your body is only a memory
Where the spring does its nails
The propeller of your smile cast afar
Over the houses we have no need of.

I had not previously encountered the work of Jaime Brunton either, whose work, I am happy to see, is forthcoming in a number of good small journals (Salamander, among others). “Winter,” composed of smart, insightful couplets, exhibits the tight control over big ideas that I often find especially compelling: “We can barely stand it, / the imperfection evident in even our smallest works.”

Lucky for me, roger is far from imperfect.
[roger.rwu.edu]

 

top of page

 

St. Petersburg Review coverSt. Petersburg Review

Number 3

2009

Annual

Review by Anne Wolfe

“Speaking the same language through literature” are the words spread in light gray block letters over a dark gray background on the cover of St. Petersburg Review. This publication is “independent and international”; it was founded and is headed by an American, Elizabeth Hodges. She has traveled to Russia numerous times and participated in several Summer Literary Seminars at St. Petersburg. Among the associate editors, staff and advisory board are many American-looking names, many who by their bios have traveled to or live in Russia. Others are native Russians or “citizens of the world.”

While the publication has a technical connection to New Hampshire and is printed in New York, the flavor is all international. Many of the contributors are from Russia and around the globe and their work is expertly translated into English. Much of the writing shows a sensory, close-to-nature, romantic slant. It appears to be to literature as Tchaikovsky’s Symphony “Pathetique” is to music: a beautiful display of pathos, a rendering of humanness with and against the onslaught of nature and the unrelenting, forward march of life towards the inevitable. Not bleak, not hopeless, but proud. Ingenious, inventive, persistent, never giving up – there is a searching, connecting spirit in the writing that is more than political or cultural – it borders on spiritual.

One story, nonfiction, “Notes in Kyzyl,” by Shelley Marlow, describes a woman traveling across Russia, looking to meet a shaman – or is it herself she is looking for? She draws in the reader by tying her search in with her imaginative playing as a child:

As a kid I played games such as: pretend you are dead as you drift around the crabapple tree in the backyard; pretend that the stone footpath in the front yard is a walkway through outer space, that stepping off of meant you’d float away

Her true story of self-discovery takes one on a trip further out of the ordinary, bending one’s mind more than much fiction.

“Mrs. Shaw” by Mukoma Wa Ngugi is short fiction written so clearly, engaging the mind and senses that one feels it is real. “Hey! You there! You know what you need?” the author uses this taunt to knock the reader off one’s feet, and can take the reader anywhere from there.

“A Singing, Stinging Bee Attitude,” by Xu Xiaobin, translated by John Howard-Gibbon, is as evocative and as exotic as the title suggests. A man is trying to get over a bad love affair, he meets a strange women, and witnesses an even stranger revenge, somehow all connected. This is so skillfully woven a novelist could admire the plot.

A memoir by Thomas Burke, “Yellow Brick on Market Street” takes on mental illness, the quality of life for the mentally disabled, and the uneasy relationship between “ordinary” people and the severely mentally ill. Burke writes of his acquaintance, Bonnie, “When I’m with her during an onset, I duck out after flimsy, failed attempts to console her – but most of the time I’m just part of an unsolicited audience … I’ve developed an ear for it and a sorrow, maybe even a darkened heart from the repeated shrieks.” Reading this is like walking down a dark, raining street listening to a story from a truly caring man, and believing there will be a better dawn.

The poetry dares to aim very high, and the subject matter an ethereal nature; it seems to transcend the object of “self.” Leonid Schwab wrote, “And over every roof, a star,” translated by Nika Skandiaka. It begins:

And over every roof, a star,
And gold with blood, the highway
The wavering shore of the sea
Looks a national border.

He reaches in every direction, in space, rationally, looking for a universal truth.

Jennifer Huxta writes in “The City Writes Itself” with many contrasting, contradictory visual images. The poem flows and turns on a dime, and in between the words, a story gently emerges. Inside:

Crepe. Cardboard. Cake.
The city / writes itself / swallows its own tale. / Chokes
on its own story.

The author is drawing the reader in to much more than the city.

In a serene, untitled poem, Aleksey Porvin, writes:

Turn your back to the sun
let go the Sunday heart
to a rare knock against the grass
of brooding caterpillars

The reader can enjoy a pleasant tramp with Porvin, in mind and spirit. St. Petersburg Review is multifaceted, as are the many parts of the world it draws from. Yet there is something that unifies it: humanity and it’s looking for a better existence.
[www.stpetersburgreview.com]

 

top of page

 

Skidrow Penthouse coverSkidrow Penthouse

Issue Number 11

2010

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Any Table of Contents where the names Simon Perchik and Catherine Sasanov appear is a good sign! These favorites of mine are joined by more than 50 other poets and 5 fiction writers whose work comprises an engaging issue of this magazine.

“In the Temperature of Barn” by Heller Levinson tops my list of highlights this issue. I am a reader who very much appreciates poems inspired by works of art – Levinson’s piece is based on a photograph by Harry N. Abrams, “Dawn of Art: The Chauvet Cave” – and this one is quite fine. The poem is masterful in its manipulation of sound, its horse-inspired rhythms, and its avoidance of clichéd animal imagery.

Marina Rubin’s fast-paced prose poems “Gypsy Punk Ska” and “The Palace” are highlights, too, demonstrating the ways in which a deliberate shaping of form really counts, no matter how often we try to pretend it is a happy accident. Somehow these pieces would fail utterly for me as poems in verse-like lines or as narrative with conventional punctuation and formatting. But in their solid unbroken block they somehow work precisely as they should. “a certain five-star hotel in the diplomatic area of new dehli lost my reservation, as a courtesy i was upgraded to the penthouse,” begins “The Palace.”

Poems in Skidrow Penthouse tend to be “in your face,” rough around the edges, even violent, with notable exceptions (including the examples above). While I don’t tend to favor this type of work or seek it out, I am able to appreciate the skill and originality in much of what appears here.

There is a lot of raw, unadulterated pain in Skidrow Penthouse, and I am impressed above all, by the artful (as in deliberate, controlled, masterfully rendered) expression of the human condition. Here is Robert Pesich’s “Doing Time During the Holidays,” a poem that leaves an impression as deep and fierce as the scars it describes, deftly composed, and well worth the distress it evokes – if I am going to suffer, I want it to be for a good reason, and here is one:

Winter solstice.
Time to slit myself again
just enough to slip
another small watch
between the fat and the muscle.

Stories by Rosalind Palermo Stevenson, Francine Witte, Deborah Emin, Nava Renek, and editor Stephanie Dickinson are similarly smartly composed and emotionally harsh. My two favorites were inspired, coincidentally, by two favorite literary giants, Palermo Stevenson’s “Kafka at Rudolf Steiner’s” and Dickinson’s “Vallejo to Isabella.”

Artwork, too, is edgy, provocative, and original, with a few exceptions, which include Michael Weston’s “Fish Eating in Midair,” an enticing drawing that seems to embody the best of what any image can do: render something familiar, unfamiliar, as to make it familiar again in new way.

What is most familiar, and beloved, as I said above, is the work of writers whose marvelous poems I have followed for years now, including Sasanov. The two poems here are from the work to which she has dedicated herself over the last few years, her family’s history of slave ownership, about which she was unaware until recently. I am impressed, in particular, by “In the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia,” tercets that exemplify Sasanov’s talent for precision, originality, and reverence for language in the service of an important – and historically and ethically significant and challenging – idea or reality. She is a bit more strident here than I am used to (“four thousand / household / objects fashioned // lovingly from hate.”), but that is precisely, given the subject, what is called for.
[skidrowpenthouse.com/]

 

top of page

 

Southern Poetry Review coverSouthern Poetry Review

Volume 48 Number 1

2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

One of poetry’s most useful, satisfying, and unique characteristics is the power to capture life’s small philosophical or metaphysical realities with a kind of precise, economical, focused – and uncanny – accuracy. These are the sorts of poems at which this small journal seems to excel. Poems that embody both physical and emotional immediacy. Masters of the art represented here include David Wagoner, Margaret Gibson, Carl Dennis, and Kelly Cherry, who are joined by more than two dozen others who clearly also excel in this arena.

Southern Poetry Review is not, however, dedicated only to this approach. Susan Cohen’s “Cargador de Flores,” inspired by a painting of Diego Rivera, is a family poem of considerable appeal (“It’s him! ... this man who overlooked by childhood from a print / above my parents’ bed. He’s still burdened by blossoms / piled so high they shove his sombrero down over his brows.”) Keith Flynn recreates a historical situation with incredible subtlety and power in “Nanking, 1937” (“I used what was left of my hands to dig / through the stench and wails and jelly / to the surface, and walked / thirty-five miles to tell you this tale.”)

I think of Kelly Cherry as the one of the best practitioners of the small philosophical poem. She’s at the top of her game here with “Which is a Verb” and “Underwriting the Words” (“Ousted from heaven, / we crashed to language.”) Jody Bolz with “Breakage” proves to be a gifted contributor to this “mini genre,” as well:

The marble’s
rough as gravel
where it ruptures
at each wrist,
reminding us
the history of art,
like history
itself,
is full of damage.

Amy M. Clark, too, is clearly at home in this realm with “Going Back”:

Sometimes you have to go back
for the things you’ve forgotten
that you cannot do without –
all that remains
of the food, or your notebook. So
you turn back, an act of subtraction,
hoping the thing is still there
unimportant
to anyone but you.

In “Fish Cutter,” Joe Wilkins asks “You think you know the world?” After reading this issue of Southern Poetry Review, my answers: well … yes!
[www.southernpoetryreview.org]

 

top of page

 

Willard & Maple coverWillard and Maple

Number 14

2010

Review by Renee Emerson

Willard and Maple is a literary and art magazine produced by Champlain College. The design of the latest issue, a substantial 142 pages of artwork, fiction and poetry, is simple and striking, with a black cover and oversized page numbers throughout the issue. The poems and stories in the magazine draw on gritty realism, with poems such as Travis Alford’s “A Day in the Life of Ed Filthington” and black and white photograph portraits by Sam Dillon. The issue focuses on humanity, what is charming and ugly about human nature and day to day living.
[www.newpages.com/literary-magazines/willard_and_maple.htm]

 

top of page