Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted December 15, 2010

6x6 :: Annalemma :: Arcadia :: The Bitter Oleander :: Chtenia :: The Main Street Rag :: Mississippi Review :: The New York Quarterly :: The Paris Review :: The Pedestrian :: Roanoke Review :: Silk Road :: Telephone :: Trachodon :: Vallum

[Back to Lit Mag Review Index]

 

6x6 cover6x6

Number 21

Fall 2010

Triannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

How is it that there have been 20 issues before the one I’m holding—die cut corner, rubber band binding, and all—in amazement of this charming and worthwhile little journal and I had not heard of it or seen it anywhere? Published by Ugly Duckling Presse, 6x6 features the work of just 6 (of course!) writers (in this issue: Julie Carr, Marosa di Giorgio, Farid Matuk, Amanda Nadelberg, Sara Wintz, and Michael Barron) in an innovative, but low-key design that is original, clever, but unassuming. The poetry is paramount. And it deserves the attention the design enables.

“A man walks into a bar / a man walks into a table / A man walks into a hole/” from Carr’s “Think Thank” are the journal’s opening lines and set up our expectations, which is to say…don’t have any. These poets will surprise and engage you: “This speaker / likes obsolescence / for there is no way to mimic that which has been taken / from us,” Carr goes on to instruct us.

There are no contributors’ notes to inform me of Di Giorgios’s (1932-2004) national/cultural affiliation; her work, from “The History of Violets,” however, is translated from the Spanish by Jeannine Marie Pitas. And the originals do not appear here, so it is difficult to assess the quality of the translation. Nonetheless, the poetry reads effortlessly, an indication that the translation is a fine and reliable one (“At this hour the farms become desolate; but, from time to time, the dark heads of thieves appear among the trees.”) Di Giorgio’s work, like Carr’s, is an effective merging of immediate and precise detail and more abstract, larger metaphysical yearning. “I remember eternity,” she concludes.

All of the work in this issue, in fact, embodies this poetic dynamic, often with great success. Nadelberg is especially sensitive to sound; Matuk is adept at telling a story of political and cultural importance in terse, smartly crafted verse. Wintz is a masterful poetic storyteller, managing to put whole lifetimes into single lines:

i contain years, i’m pretty positive.
i contain years and if years then centuries.
i am a century and this is my century, if all of this is mine then i am that century.

Barron offers six little maps “Directions” to a variety of locations, including his apartment, his practice space, John McMain’s office, and his parents’ house (“my mom is nice and will accommodate you”). Isn’t every trip a kind of poem? Or is it the reverse?

6x6 costs a mere $5.00—I’d gladly pay $6.
[www.uglyducklingpresse.org/catalog/?series=6x6]

 

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Annalemma coverAnnalemma

Endurance

Issue 7

2010

Biannual

Review by Tanya Angell Allen

The “Endurance” issue of Annalemma should be abysmally depressing, as all of the stories and essays in it are sad. The great care put into its design, however, gives one answer to the editor’s question of “what gives a person forward momentum when every sign around them says give up.” Editor/publisher Chris Heavener says that “to endure means having a purpose.” His publication shows that one can find purpose though literature and art.

The magazine’s pieces touch on subjects such as spousal abuse (in the reprint of Zora Neale Hurston’s “Sweat”), the death of childhood friends (Salvatore Pane’s “This is how the Century is Born” and Amber Sparks’ “You Will Be the Living Equation”), and the illness and death of children (Roxanne Gay’s “Fire Pieces of a Broken Heart” and Justyn Harkin’s “Rainbow Dogs”). The work is filled with cleverness, humor and, in an odd way, pleasure.

In Justyn Harkin’s “Rainbow Dogs,” for example, one senses the narrator dealing with the fear of losing a child by figuring out how to turn his situation into a story. His pleasure in the clever application of words also shows in the first few sentences: “We have a nurse today whose name is Steve. Steve is a nurse but he is not a fag. Steve has sandy brown hair and it is short. Steve has a bristle brush mustache and it is serious.” Harkin’s wording, like much of the rest in the magazine, is taut and smart.

It’s the art and design of Annalemma that really makes it exceptional, though. The showpiece is Ted Hollin’s portfolio of photographs from the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities. One of his most striking shots is of three black women in church-going clothes—gloves, long dresses, and fans—leaping through the Macedonia Baptist church that Zora Neal Hurston’s minister father used to preach in. The photograph is filled with joy. The subjects most likely couldn’t help but know what an amazing sight they made, and the photographer must have taken delight in capturing it.

Most of the other art in the issue was created especially for it, as the editors regularly ask artists to send them jpegs, and if they like what they see, they commission illustrations. A few of the magazine’s pictures can currently be seen on the Internet, such as Zachary Zezima’s two for Nicolette Kittinger’s “Relations,” and Jesse Hlebo’s photographs for Jen Knox’s “At The Window” on the Annalemma website. Sam Brewster illustrates the first page of “Rainbow Dogs” with a red, green, and yellow picture of the waiting room doors of a children’s hospital, all named with animals. (Burned children are in “Bunny,” for example, and children with respiratory problems are in “Horse.”)

The artwork helps draw readers to the stories. It’s marvelous to see what care the artists take in reading and illustrating them. The magazine designers also show care even in the layout of print, pulling out and showcasing lines like “HE LICKS HIS THUMB AND RUNS IT ACROSS ONE OF THE FLOWERS, AND THE FLOWER DISAPPEARS AS HIS THUMB GROWS STAINED,” (from “Fire Ants” by Brian Allen Carr.) Because of details like these, it’s probably as great a pleasure for the writers to see the way their work is treated in the magazine as it is for the magazine’s readers.

There is aesthetic beauty in this hip, young-feeling magazine, and beauty is one of the main things that helps people endure. Aesthetic beauty will, quite likely, also help Annalemma itself endure, as—judging from the astonishing popularity of graphic designer/writer Dave Eggers’s McSweeneys, one of the smartest things editors can do is invest time in great design. Design is what makes many want to share a magazine with friends. Design can make a good magazine great. This particular magazine, founded in 2007, will hopefully endure for a very long while.
[annalemma.net/]

 

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Arcadia coverArcadia

Volume 1 Number 1

2010

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Arcadia is an annual produced by students at the University of Central Oklahoma. The inaugural issue features fiction, poetry, drama, an essay, and several black and white photographs. A brief bio page precedes each writer’s piece. This issue includes work by writers from around the country widely published, for the most part, in a variety of literary journals and by a number of independent presses.

I liked very much Rilla Askew’s essay, “Crime and Innocence,” an affecting account of racial prejudice as experienced from her personal experience (related to her godson). And who could resist Andre Coburn’s “Katie Couric,” which begins “When Montgomery’s wife walked out on him, without warning, no note, nothing, she went from a real person to a semi-abstraction.” That semi-abstraction makes me trust Coburn and makes me eager to read on. Similarly, playwright Christopher Linforth’s description of one of his characters as an “off, off, off Broadway actress” signals a kind of feeling for character that inspires engagement with his work.

Poetry tends toward the narrative and familiar, personal stories recounted in verse. Photographs by Amanda Siegfried and Max Barksdale are stark and arresting, well produced, and consistent with the journal’s overall aesthetic: familiar, but able to inspire curiosity and invite new consideration.
[www.libarts.uco.edu/english/arcadia]

 

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The Bitter Oleander coverThe Bitter Oleander

Volume 16 Number 2

Autumn 2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This issue features a marvelous interview with and series of poems by Ana Minga, a young journalist and poet from Ecuador, whose work is translated here by Alexis Levitin. Having grown up in a religious community where her father worked, Minga says her childhood ended at age six; she suffered dreadful insomnia by age 11; and by her teens she was writing and publishing award-winning poetry. Her best friends, she claims, are her dogs; investigative journalism provides the adrenalin “rush” she needs to thrive. Her work reflects these realities:

Aching under eyelids
guilty of listening to pianos at midnight
of lingering in the streets like an orphan of daylight.
I am guilty of trying the grass of others
of walking with the fear of a vagabond
carrying contempt in an exposed rib.
I am guilty of unveiling this melancholy of dolphins
of gazing at the void with eyes filled with death.

This issue of the magazine features other work in translation as well, including translations of the French prose poetry/poetry prose of Laurence Werner David by John Taylor; from the Romanian poetry of Ioan Es. Pop by Adam J. Sorkin and Lidia Vianu; from poetry in Spanish of Dominican poet Martha Rivera (trans. Judith Kerman); and from the Québecoise poet Elise Turcotte by Andrea Moorhead. The prose/poem/essay byWerner David (“Est-Ce Si Loin?” / “Is It, So Far?”) is particularly interesting and worth spending serious time with, inviting multiple readings (“Does no longer craving conflict mean no longer recoiling from death?”).

Work by poets Elizabeth McLagan, Anthony Seidman, and Martin Balgach is happily consistent with the taut, deliberate compositions of the translated work. And I was moved by a prose poem from Rich Ives, which concludes: “Something near the end of your story, which was coming down among us all along, even though we didn’t know our own story.”

Fiction by Michelle Nichols, “Descension,” is characteristic of the issue’s four stories, tightly constructed and cautiously emotional. Like all of the work in this issue, the power of language to evoke when used with restraint and care is everywhere in evidence—the story opens,

Because the only thing she inherited from her mother was motion sickness and because the white trash woman across the aisle had lucked into a couple of plane tickets to Jackson so she could bring the wiggling child on a trip and sit him away from her while she closed her eyes and bumped her neck against the head rest, Tasha pinched the boy on the shoulder and said, “Do you see that?”

This issue, like nearly every one I have read of the consistently excellent and always original Bitter Oleander, prompts me to say, too: Do you see that?
[www.bitteroleander.com]

 

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Chtenia coverChtenia

Readings from Russia

Volume 3 Number 4 Issue 12

Fall 2010

Quarterly

Review Sima Rabinowitz

“A themed journal of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, photography and miscellany,” this issue is a “Chekhov Bilingual” comprised of an introductory essay by editor Tamara Eidelman; excerpts from “Notebooks” by Ivan Bunin (1870-1953), one of Chekhov’s contemporaries; a poem by Sasha Chyorny (1880-1932) “Why Did Chekhov Quit this Earth So Soon?”; and 8 stories and play excerpts by the great master, some newly translated. It is fantastic, even for those of us who do not read Russian, to have the originals and the translations side by side, and I wish more journals would follow suit and publish the originals as an integral component of presenting non-English work. I was delighted, too, to learn in the publisher’s note, that 1,000 copies of the journal were given to Russian language students at several hundred high schools and universities around the US, thanks to a grant to the magazine from The Ruskkiy Mir Foundation.

Eidelman’s appropriate and well-written introductory essay reminds us of Chekhov’s importance (“thanks to Chekhov, we understand the meaning of longing”), and of the breadth of his literary contributions and personal experience. Bunin’s journal excerpts, originally written in 1914, are especially appealing, recording Chekhov’s thoughts about writing (he advocated striking the opening and concluding lines of a story once one has finished with it, privileging the “succinct”); daily life (he advised rising early, not spending extravagantly, imbibing only modestly); and love (which gives you “far less” than you might expect). In Bunin’s writing, Chekhov comes alive as a man of his times, a teller of tales, an ambitious literary figure, a humble “worker” (as he referred to himself) composing hundreds of plots, and a master of metaphor—as a colleague and expert on Tolstoy, he is quoted by Bunin as characterizing the man as “a funeral cart upright.”

The stories speak for themselves and are a powerful reminder of Chekhov’s vast gifts and skill. It is remarkable how current, present, lively, and relevant these stories feel, even as they give us an understanding of moment in which they were written.

The journal is handsomely but simply produced, privileging the text over fancy graphics, but easy to read and designed for study and enjoyment, which makes it both an excellent classroom resource, as well as fine reading for anyone who appreciates good literary journals. Contributors’ notes provide ample, but not excessive, historical context, and include, as they should, information about the translators. This is an impressive and unusual journal that deserves a space in every university and secondary school’s library collection and in the mailboxes of serious readers, no matter their Russian language skills.
[www.chtenia.com]

 

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The Main street Rag coverThe Main Street Rag

Volume 15 Number 4

Fall 2010

Quarterly

Review by Karen Rigby

Known for its colloquial writing, The Main Street Rag, in its latest issue, features an interview with Steve Roberts, author of the Main Street Rag poetry book Another Word for Home; six fiction entries (though one is also, perplexingly, labeled as “Commentary”); over 100 pages devoted to poetry, including writers such as Lyn Lyfshin; five book reviews, and a page of feedback from readers.

A handful of typos, a layout that occasionally includes poems by different authors on the same page, and a whimsical “Passenger List” in lieu of the more standard table of contents contribute to the homespun aesthetic. If the journal sometimes reveals its seams, readers and potential contributors will nonetheless find a strong community when it comes to unpretentious poems.

Lines such as,

Beginning in March it is important
To wonder why we are important
If what we do is swill important
Wine and discuss, while drinking, important
Issues of the day…

as well as “I’d drown a thousand midnights in the sea / to recreate just one I spent with you” represent a frequent approach throughout the issue. The poets often favor the occasional abstraction as well as familiar subjects. One poem offers a “Recipe for Success as a Poet” and defiantly concludes with the exhortation:

Do not listen to idiots telling you what you should or should not do
with your life.
Enjoy!

Another poem describes the young by remarking, “How restless in their youth.” Poems inspired by Ginsberg and Bukowski appear alongside poems that pay tribute to the everyday, from the New York Yankees to American flags. Banalities do not appear as something to eschew, but as a part of life, equally deserving of attention. As such, The Main Street Rag remains largely true to its purpose, which is in part to present “work that is alive with the poet's own experiences.” Still, one might hope for greater imaginative risks.

It should come as little surprise that the issue’s standouts are Rikki Santer’s “Charles Darwin Visits the Beagle Point Mall,” a poem which melds shoppers and commonplace objects with extravagant animals, and Tamas Dobozy’s impactful “Oscar’s Cabinet of Curiosities”—a story that mines the wisdom in tragic circumstances with a fable-like quality. These alone would make the issue a pleasure to explore.
[www.mainstreetrag.com/]

 

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Mississippi Review coverMississippi Review

Volume 38 Numbers 1 & 2

Spring 2010

Biannual

Review by Kenneth Nichols

This issue of the Mississippi Review somehow evokes a European tone, though the journal is firmly rooted in the Deep South. Editor Frederick Barthelme’s selections for the Review’s fiction and poetry prizes are united by the narrative risks taken by the authors. These gambles pay off for the most part, resulting in work that grabs more attention than conventional work while still fulfilling the reader’s craving for the standard story elements, including plot, character and setting.

David Driscoll’s “Circling in the Air” is a memorable story because of the skill with which the author immerses the reader inside the consciousness of Wang, a quality control worker in an underwear plant. Driscoll’s choices combine to bring life and dignity to a person about whom we would not otherwise think. Inspector Number Seven is no longer a number on a tag you find folded into your “whitey-tighties.” Wang’s charming first-person narration very quickly turns the reader into a friend, and the events of Wang’s life convince the reader that both tragedy and mercy have meaning for each of us.

Jim Ruland transports the reader decades earlier and a continent away in “Where the White Foam Kissed My Feet.” Ruland recounts the story of Klaus, a U-boat radio operator who is the sole survivor of the sinking of his vessel. Just as much of a character is the Jenkins-Wren Maritime Manor, the facility in neutral Portugal in which Klaus recuperates from his wounds, both physical and psychological. An interesting examination of the joys of loneliness and isolation, Ruland’s story features many lines as graceful and delicate as his title.

Perhaps one reason writers do what they do is the chance at forging a kind of immortality for themselves or for others. Tribute poems are certainly nothing new, but Martin Lammon’s “The Holy Land” combines joy and grief, creating the best kind of eulogy. Instead of thinking of death as a loss and its undiscovered country as a void, Lammon reminds the reader of the universe’s yin and yang:

The mud puddle is holy to the sparrow
and to the mud. The empty space
between branches is not empty and is
holy, mid-leap, to the gray squirrel.

The cumulative effect of this award-winning poetry and prose is a kind of pleasant displacement. While some pieces may be too abstract for fans of realism, there are enough experiments between the journal’s covers to satisfy and enlighten any reader.
[www.mississippireview.com/]

 

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The New York Quarterly coverThe New York Quarterly

Number 66

2010

Quarterly

Review by Micah Zevin

In the latest issue of the New York Quarterly, we are reminded why it has survived for over 40 years while so many other literary journals of import both large and small are now defunct. The diversity of poetry in this journal makes it extremely inviting as if many disparate voices are having an energetic conversation so stimulating there is no need of a proper segue.

The poems in this issue cover a wide range of subject matters, from the political to the personal to the humorous to the profane. Before we get to the poems though, we are greeted with an unexpected treat, two Craft interviews, first with the poet Bruce Weigl, the second with Steve Cannon, founder of Gathering of the Tribes, who both address and offer their unique perspectives on the writing process.

Poet Michael Cirelli finishes off the poetic dialogue with an analytical essay titled simply and seriously, “the State of Contemporary American Poetry: Hip Hop,” which accounts with great aplomb how the musical genre has gone above and beyond the American poetic tradition, as the poems in the journal do and argues for its further recognition and respect in the poetry world.

“A Correspondence” by Jenna Le uses a letter between friends in which the friend discusses her dog Claudia’s romantic proclivities to speak to the loneliness of the narrator. “As the days passed, I began to believe / that I was an umbrella, tasked with sheltering / a wet, hairy creature.” Here, the metaphor of dog is both funny and solemn.

Michael Eastbrook’s “Memories have minds of their own” takes a subject matter wrought in nostalgia and extracts seemingly precise slow motion movies we associate when recalling the narrative of a first meeting with a loved one.

Patti comes out of the backroom
in her thick white bathrobe,
white towel piled on her head
and I am immediately thrust back 45 years:
I see her young and sweet and vibrant,
high up in the stands of the football stadium
excitedly watching the game.

As the narrator in this poem points out that memories are unreliable, they also display power and value in their simplicity and in the accuracy of their emotive truths.

The lyrical hip hop poetic playfulness comes through in the poem, “Finale: A Manifesto” by Elisavietta Ritchie, a poem inevitably about poets and how they are now omnipresent and forever pouring forth words of all shapes and sizes. She states,

Their ashes form processed manure for more poems.
Old angst transforms each crop of new seers
into souls who spill evermore soul-guts to print.

Ultimately this poem is about poetry as a continuous cycle of invention born of us and the earthly things and subjects that we write about and that enshroud us.

“Dawn” by P.M. F. Johnson is a feast of nature and its relationship with human senses and feelings often brought on by this particular time of day: “bring me breath from other rooms, / fire me into your day, / eyelid tickler, watcher at the window / from which pools of darkness retreat / bitterly into the alleys.” When you read this poem, it is as if dawn is so rapidly approaching with its onslaught of images and activity on this earth emanating from the cities we live in.

Sometimes farewells are painful but especially so in Kate Murphy’s poem “Bidding a Breast Good-bye,” an ode to her lost breast. In the poem, the narrator tries to convince the breast to stay, instead remembering the good times she had with it along the way, (a method to release the pain): “Remember / those blond boy heads / Nuzzling, catching hold. / Baby mouths full, drizzling.” It is as if she’s writing a love note to her now lost body. The emotion expressed here is raw and natural and although invoking clichéd imagery does not come off as clichéd but instead a touching dialogue between two friends.

And finally although lighter in subject matter than the last poem discussed, “Auto Biography” by Loren Goodman also deals with the erosion of something dear from a distance, albeit this item is a car and not flesh and bone:

under living last Russia’s car
rolls mechanic drizzled butter
the gym is actually quite peaceful
where at 7:52 a.m. I am writing this
to avoid being home…

This last poem’s unique combination of humor, escapism, surrealism and serious craft shows the diversity and range of voices and styles represented in this journal.
[www.nyquarterly.org/]

 

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The Paris Review coverThe Paris Review

Number 194

Fall 2010

Quarterly

Review by Tanya Angell Allen

Those who wish to participate in the latest literary world gossip should read The Paris Review. Articles have been written about its new editor, Lorin Stein, for months. Moreintelligentlife.com reports that the 37 year old former Farrar, Straus and Giroux editor is looking for “the best of the best, period—except I don’t really believe in The Best.” According to New York Magazine, Stein’s publishers told him they were looking for “boldness.” The Financial Times reports that “the magazine’s relationship with reportage has ended.” Poets are lamenting the choice of Stein and new poetry editor Robyn Creswell to reject all of the poems previously accepted and slated for future publication. (Many of the rejected poems can be found at The Equalizer.)

Paris Review readers should enjoy debating whether the first two issues stand up to their hype. Certainly there’s some excellent work in this issue, including Carol Muske-Dukes’s “Condolence Note: Los Angeles,” and April Ayers Lawson’s “Virgin,” about a man whose new wife refuses to have sex with him. The “Writers at Work” series continues with one interview with French writer Michel Houellebecq and another with novelist Norman Rush and his wife Elsa.

Former editor Philip Gourevitch, author of We Wish to Inform you That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, maintained an emphasis on “reportage.” Stein’s movement away from this is one of his more controversial acts. So also is the new absence of photojournalism. The issue instead contains a portfolio by artists Tauba Auerbach and Colter Jacobsen. Curated by Lauren Bornell, it includes pictures of such things as Auerbach’s broken glass and the alphabet, and Jacobson’s sailors and cliffs.

Above all, this issue reveals Stein’s passion about writers themselves. Authors use titles such as John Tranter’s “Four Poems After Baudelaire” and Lydia Davis’s “Ten Stories from Flaubert.” The main character in Sam Lipsyte’s “The Worm in Philly” gets stoned and tries to write a children’s book about “the great middleweight Marvelous Marvin Hagler.” J.D. Daniels talks about how much dealing with rejection as a writer made him want to hit someone, which partly lead to his taking up Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

In John Jeremiah Sullivan’s “Mister Lytle: An Essay,” Sullivan details his stint as a caretaker for the increasingly senile Fugitive writer Andrew Lytle. Lytle apparently once made a pass at Sullivan. The scene of Lytle’s rejection, in which he wears a “Wee Willie Winkle-style nightshirt and cap” and says “Forgive me, forgive me…Oh, beloved” is heartbreaking. Sullivan writes, “the reason I risk being seen to have ‘outed’ a man who trusted me, and was vulnerable when he did—is that you can’t fully understand that movement, which went on to influence American literature for decades, without understanding that certain of the men involved in it loved each other.”

Lamentably, not many people outside of the literary field know much about the Fugitive Movement. Probably not all members of the magazine’s hoped-for audience are writers. The Yale Daily News recently reported that Stein talked with students about how he’d like The Paris Review to reach a younger, more tech-savvy audience: “He is searching for pieces that could be ‘stuck up on the fridge’—stories and poems that resonate because they are about real life.” Perhaps this will play out better in future issues. Most of the work in this one is only likely to be put up on the refrigerators of literary people who already gossip about excellent magazines such as The Paris Review.
[www.theparisreview.org/]

 

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The Pedestrian coverThe Pedestrian

Empathy

Number 1

August 2010

Quarterly

Review by Lesley Dame

The Pedestrian is curious. In the best sense. A compilation of essays written by long-dead writers and today’s up-and-comers, The Pedestrian is dedicated to immortalizing what some may view as a dying art, the essay. With the rise of creative nonfiction, the essay has been sorely missing from many modern journals. The existence of this magazine is promising, and, like any good essay, ripe with curiosity, wonder, and philosophy.

The title of this first issue of The Pedestrian is called “Empathy.” Future titles will be “Tools,” “Play,” and “Quiet,” but I think “Empathy” is the best place to begin. For, an essay is generally rooted in observation, which naturally leads to an imagining, and hopefully an understanding, of the feelings of others.

The journal starts off with an essay by G.K. Chesterton, titled “Lamp-posts,” originally printed in 1921. What struck me most was his continued reference to his modern world and how advances like the omnibus quickly become commonplace. Cell phone, anyone? What’s more, he refers to the vulgarity of making objects common. The omnibus becomes just a “bus.” The beauty of the word “omni,” meaning “all,” is removed. While today’s common objects are much different than the ones existing in Chesterton’s early Twentieth Century London, there is a similar sense of de-sensitivity and loss of wonder.

Older, reprinted essays include works by C.S. Lewis, Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginia Woolf, and Madeleine L’Engle. Newer essays feature talented writers like Phillip Lopate, Silke Georgi, Anne Goldman, and Anna Walker Jones.

Another present-day essayist, Roman Krznaric, writes an essay titled “Empathy with the Enemy,” which talks about Mahatma Ghandi’s “unwavering belief in the need to empathize with one’s enemies.” Krznaric argues that although Ghandi’s message may be overly idealistic, “Empathy enables us to recognize the individuality of others and find common ground, which are necessary ingredients of any genuine and long-lasting reconciliation.” However, with empathy often comes moral dilemma. How do we reconcile our ideals of what is right with what our opponents believe is right? When a ruling-class tortures its citizens, it’s hard to feel anything but hatred for them. Yet, knowing how they tick is essential. Krznaric says:

This raises a crucial point that is often misunderstood, no matter what a person’s politics, religion, or moral code might be: the process of empathizing does not destroy the possibility for moral judgment. You can gain an understanding of somebody’s worldview without having to agree with their beliefs or principles. Moreover, the ability to step into someone’s shoes can place you into a strong position to reason with them and persuade them to change their views.

Discovering the roots of people’s beliefs and values can be the starting point in creating change. Needless to say, empathy is a rusty tool that needs to be oiled. They say you catch more flies with honey; showing your adversary empathy will yield better results than mere hostility. Krznaric’s essay is intelligent and timeless.

Krznaric also mentions The Theory of Moral Sentiments, by Adam Smith, from which several excerpts are reprinted in this issue of The Pedestrian. Smith’s book was first published in 1759, yet the message is similar. One cannot be moral without empathy (Smith uses the words “sympathy” and “compassion”). In order to make the right decision, we must understand the points of view of each party involved. Only then may we make the best choice for all.

While printing old essays may seem like a peculiar choice, The Pedestrian represents a graceful balancing act between old and new, reminding us that essays are both historically important as well as currently relevant. Furthermore, this issue delves into a complex topic whose examination may prove essential to an emerging global society.
[www.thepedestrian.org]

 

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Roanoke Review coverRoanoke Review

Volume 35

2010

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This volume of the Roanoke Review features the work of 8 fiction writers, including the journal’s three fiction prize-winners, 24 poets, and an interview with poet and novelist Lee Upton. Contributors’ notes include the writers’ statements about the genesis of their pieces and/or their writing process. Poetry and fiction are characterized by affable, accessible voices, and moving stories.

Here, for example, is an excerpt from Susan Howard Chase’s “Second Grade, Small Town New England, 1947”:

In February Miss T. hauled
a new child into class,
more snowsuit than boy,
a Chinese face buried
in a hood. I thought
he was an Eskimo.
She yanked at zippers,
herded him as if he were
more than one person
to a seat near the back
where he stayed.

And another from “Bud Vase” by Colleen S. Harris:

There was nothing special about the vase
except that I wanted it. Except that he bought it
for me, my father with the calloused hands given more
to a chuck under the chin than gifts of delicate porcelain.

Understated first lines are a hallmark of this issue’s fiction, including Adrienne K. Franklin’s “In Due Season” (“Cordelia couldn’t believe she had overslept on wash day of all days”); Leslie Haynsworth’s “Two Left Feet” (“The body part washed up behind your sister’s house last Tuesday); Ben E. Campbell’s “Taking One the Distance” (“So this is how it goes down”); and Alice Stern’s “I Hear You Talking” (“The Baerli’s didn’t use napkins”).

I enjoyed the interview with Upton, who is a terrific advocate for poetry’s power and promise:

As for writing poetry, it’s self-reinforcing; it’s exciting to work intensively with patterns of sounds and meaning. I don’t understand why almost everybody isn’t writing poetry as often as they can; poetry is a great rescuer and redeemer, and it can give us almost-immediate experience of imaginative freedom. I think of poetry as a pocket of breath in an avalanche.

[roanoke.edu/A-Z_Index/Roanoke_Review.htm]

 

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Silk Road coverSilk Road

a literary crossroads

Volume 5 Number 1

Spring 2010

Annual

Review by Lesley Dame

Published by Pacific University in Oregon, Silk Road includes fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. As diverse as these three genres are, so is the work presented within each.

The fiction surprises me, as the quality of work is ranged. In my notes, I rated pieces from A+ to C-. I would never give any story a D or an F, as each story is well-written. However, a couple of the shorter pieces are abstract and inaccessible. They sound great but have no universal truth. That being said, there are a couple of really great stories exhibited in Silk Road. Warring for first place, my two favorites are titled “Circus Matinee” and “Breakneck Road.”

“Circus Matinee” is written by Bonnie Jo Campbell, Silk Road’s featured fiction writer and writing teacher at Pacific University. They are lucky to have her. The story is about Big Joanie, a large, ugly woman selling snow cones at the circus, and the tiger that gets loose behind her. Time slows and stops in this story—we learn about Joanie’s history, her fears, and her pain. She sees the tiger in the reflection of a man’s aviator sunglasses and cannot turn around to look. It’s a poignant and haunting tale. One of the final lines, “Big Joanie will know the face of the animal that devours her” gives me chills. It’s an odd premise, but it works.

“Breakneck Road” is the story of Joe, a poor, drunk, uneducated, ex-thief who finds a newborn baby in a Coca-Cola box outside on a winter’s night. Another strange and fascinating premise. What follows is a tale of love and devotion. Josie Sigler presents amazing characters and forces you to sympathize with people you may easily refuse to defend in real-life.

Next is the poetry section. Again, the work is diverse and enjoyable. There’s a group of poems by Aku Wuwu, which are written in Yi and translated into Chinese by the poet, further translated into English by Wen Peihing. What’s remarkable about these poems are not only that they were created in a literal dying language, which adds a sense of sacredness to their existence, but that they are still relevant in English. “Crow” and “Garbage” are both rooted in Yi culture and mythology, but lines like “The film has been exposed / in our children’s eyes. / They don’t feel any of it” are both modern and American. With the rise of technology and increased globalization, Western culture also feels that loss of history and culture, though perhaps on a much smaller scale.

Another poem worth looking at is “Jellyfish” by Lillian Kwok. Many of the poems in this issue of Silk Road are verdant with water images, and “Jellyfish” is no exception. I find the jellyfish surreal and magical, at least in theory, and the poem definitely delivers this ethereal quality. It dives further into a delicious sensuality, as illustrated in this ending:

If only our skins were such fluid, intertwining membranes—
we could move together
pressed tightly in a gelatinous give and take,
mixing our electricity, with the water flowing through us.

Lastly, the nonfiction in Silk Road does not disappoint. The pieces range from a woman coming to terms with her fortieth birthday, to a modern dancer discovering her bliss, to an excellent essay about New York fire escapes. Each nonfiction piece is both introspective and relatable. I’ve never had a fire escape or stoop of my own, but Michelle Cacho-Negrete’s “On the Fire Escape” creates a sense of place that knocked my socks off. The fire escape becomes a place of celebration, relaxation, community, refuge, imagination, and ultimately, mourning. During my teenage years, my own fire escape was a fat oak tree in the front yard.

The most pleasant thing about Silk Road is that the genres are well-balanced. It’s not ninety pages of poetry with a one or two fiction and nonfiction stories. Each genre is well represented, making Silk Road a veritable crowd-pleaser!
[silkroad.pacificu.edu/]

 

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Telephone coverTelephone

Issue 1

Fall 2010

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This is a tiny little journal, literally, despite its large ambitions—“this journal is designed as an opportunity to bask in the general shiftiness of translation…serves as a home to foreign poetry, as a tool for developing new work, and as an experiment in translation,” the editors tell us—Telephone fits snugly in one palm. This inaugural issue features the work of Berlin poet Uljana Wolf whose original five poems serve as a “jumping-off point” for more than a dozen poets writing in English, including Mary Jo Bang, Matthea Harvey, Robert Fitterman, Erin Moure, and Craig Santos Perez, among others.

Wolf’s work is inventive, odd, and provocative, and the same can be said of the work inspired by her originals. Forms include prose poems, fragments of dialogue, epistolary formats (“Dear Committee: What a clusterfuck / to meet you yesterday a table / blinking with mortality” writes Timothy Donnelly). Writes Uwe Weiss,

Soon and soon and in between
something’s at it again.
HAIR: Don’t touch me.
THEMSELVES: I can’t.
THEM: Neither can we.
NEITHER: But I can.

I was impressed, above all, by Telephone’s concept, by the opportunity to see work from the German I would not otherwise have encountered, and by the raw energy of the poetic “responses” to the original poet’s writing. I am eager to see who calls in next.
[www.telephonejournal.org]

 

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Trachadon coverTrachodon

Issue 1

Summer/Fall 2010

Review by Tanya Angell Allen

The editor of the first issue of Trachodon, named after a dinosaur that never existed, writes in his editor’s note, “I want TRACHODON the magazine…to be this weird, sort of impossible thing. Something that’s up for debate because it’s always leaning a little toward the unreasonable. And, maybe, to be something that’s never quite finished.”

The one part of John Carr Walker’s statement that plays out is that Trachodon is “something that’s never quite finished,” as there’s more work to be done with this promising new publication. Judging by its two excellent short stories and interesting inclusion of articles on “artisan culture,” it leans toward a future that’s not only possible, but also reasonable and exciting.

It’s unfortunately unclear whether the first story—Ann Heydron’s piece about a young woman trying to date a man her autistic sister has a crush on—is titled “Shoebox” or “Shoestring,” as it’s listed as the first inside the magazine and the other on the front cover. Regardless, it’s a tight, spot-on story about a real-life situation. Whether or not one has ever been in exactly this sort of position, Heydron makes one feel that the way she portrays it must be exactly what it’s emotionally like.

Tom Weller achieves a similar effect in “Bumpo’s Honey,” about an underachieving adult man’s parents who go slightly overboard in welcoming his new girlfriend to the family. “We both agree that Honey is not perfect,” the narrator says, “but figure a woman is probably Bumpo’s best chance, figure there’s nothing like a woman to help a man bounce up.”

Both of these stories are equal, if not superior to, work in many established and professional literary magazines.

Besides an essay on art and two poems, Trachodon also contains two articles on “artisan culture.” One combines photographs of Amy Tavern’s jewelry with a statement about her move away from “production work” towards pieces that provoke others “to reconsider what jewelry can or should look like.” The other, Wesley Middleton’s “Welcome to the Free Zone: The Transformative Power of Brooklyn’s UrbanGlass,” is about the way a glass-making center in New York helps create community.

The pleasant experience of reading articles about artisan culture invites the question of why we don’t see literary magazines marketed more often in art galleries and stores for American crafts. Literary magazines—especially those which are exceptionally well-designed (as Trachodon might become in time, especially as the magazine becomes more established) make attractive, thoughtful gifts. Craft and Art Gallery stores usually attract aesthetically-oriented people who shop for others equally interested in the arts. Artisans themselves would also be interested in reading about others in their field, and might be inspired by fiction writers in the way that writers are often inspired by artisans and artists.

Though Walker says, “Being a print journal in this day and age gives us a head start on the unreasonable,” the magazine he founded might identify one reasonable way that the marketers of literary magazines might help keep the institution of literary magazines alive.
[www.trachodon.org/]

 

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Vallum coverVallum

Volume 7 Number 2

2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This issue’s theme is “renegades,” perfectly apt for the journal as a publication of “new international poetics.” New poems from the prolific and ever-renegade-ish Tomaz Salumun, translated from the Slovenian by Michael Thomas Taren and the author, serve as a fitting start: “The relation between you can and you cannot / is art, / therefore the line is art.” The “you can” is poetry from two and a half dozen poets, reviews, and provocative visual art from Tanya Cooper and the journal’s marvelous—appropriately curious and disturbing—cover by Mathieu Bories. The “you cannot” is ignore Vallum as a poetic force to be reckoned with.

There is, here, respect for the power of language to represent and link us to the metaphysical (“Slipaway,” from Dennis Lee: “Of the metaphysics of ice:/slip away, seaboard”), and an appreciation of the smart, deft, inspiring inventiveness of an original poetic line in the hands of a gifted poet (Stan Rogal’s “Henry’s Lament”: “O, there are horribles, yes, a’plenty”).

Vallum, too, elevates terrific translations, as Nelly Roffé translates herself in “Sépharade”:

“Grenade
Ville mauresque et sépharade.
Le laurier grand et solitaire”

becomes, “Granada, Moorish and Sephardic city. / There, lies the grand and lonely laurel."

Further, the magazine offers an understanding of the economic extravagance of poetic discourse in “My Father Speaks in Consolation” by Toni Thomas—“never condemns the night. / Marries the woman / with blue gloves”—and a predilection for poetry that values—and privileges—sound as a powerful vehicle of meaning. For instance, “Peintre” by Fiona Sze-Lorrain:

Then the bamboo clacked
in broad light, you
thought the image
had guiltily slipped by. Metronome
ticked, you wondered
about time.

Josh Bettinger’s “Open Letter to a Useless Bay” presents the magazine’s exploitation of poetry’s powers to augment a sense of disappointment, desolation, and, thank goodness, redemption: “a motherless coma, / inside a fish’s shadow; everything you knew I never needed.” This issue’s poetry is exceptionally fine.

Vallum offers more proof, as if it were needed, that some of the most exciting, inspiring, and inventive poetry is being published in Canada (the journal is produced in Montréal). The journal makes me want to argue with the claim made by Michelle Barker’s poem “Black Sheep”: “In the end I can tell you / being the black sheep / of the family / is not what it promises”. I am grateful for the renegade-ness, black-sheep-ness of Vallum.
[www.vallummag.com]

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