Posted February 15, 2011
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Artifice announces that its editorial aims are to showcase “by context and content” work “aware of its own artifice.” Issue 2 is certainly true to this mission, beginning with the self-conscious Table of Contents, divided not by genre but by more abstract classifications (“Those That Tremble As If They Were Mad”; “Innumerable Ones”; “Those Drawn With a Very Fine Camel’s-Hair Brush”; “Others”; “Those That Have Just Broken a Flower Vase”; “Those That From a Long Way Off Look Like Flies”).
Self-aware artifice-ness is evident in the stylized language of Brandon Blackburn’s faux-historical prose tale, “Black Snails by Sunrise” ("‘Tis not merely a hedgerow maze such as may be found anywhere throughout County Derbyshire”); in the syntax and diction of Kent Leatham’s short numbered poems, “Driving East is Madness Much (435)”: “Since driving east is madness much— / (“Danger! Us straight! Weigh your demur!”; in the brashness of Elizabeth Hildreth’s poem, “My World” (“Is like telling the Prom—Go fuck yourself,” the poem begins), which is an English to English translation of Brandi Homan’s “Explaining Poetry on a First Date”; in the structure of Andrew Kirk Farnsworth’s “Endnotes (Recent Instantiations of Blind-Shift),” numbered fragments, presented in varied font sizes and types; in the architecture of M. Kitchell’s “Architecture, Anamnesis,” with its brackets, varied fonts, reverse type, text in blocks, and streams of unbroken text:
Extra strength sleeping again where you are this time here besides can’t feel your shape slope an incline weight of a body pushing the mattress down where could you have gone why aren’t you here sleep walking again better get up find you find me the moonlight descends into our tomb.
and in the marvelous sounds of “down the atlantic” by Tony Mancus: “We have beyond-the-sky left: this big / countryful of sweeping departures. Hallways / of ash-can and smoke”.
Rachel Yoder captures the essence of the artifice’s
implications in “Translation Machine”: “Of course, language has
its limitations. We use language to try to express these
shortcomings. The point here is that we do not yet have a tool
to perfectly understand each other.”
Volume 61 Number 2
Review by Renee Emerson
The latest issue offers a high quality mix of poems exploring international themes and the idea of language. It announces the 18th annual Chad Walsh Poetry Prize winner, Charles Wyatt, for his poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Wallace Stevens,” and includes an extensive review of the anthology Best American Poetry 2010.
“Why, Oh Why, the Doily?” by Janice N. Harrington, the longest and most striking poem in the issue, carries a theme of obsession, looking at the small, ordinary object of a doily from every angle. Harrington compares the intricate work of crocheting a doily to the art of writing:
…The words fall
from her crochet hook, linked
into white lace, a white page.
Words tangle in stringy ink,
almost manic, a speaking in tongues,
looped, caught, tucked under a stitch
of breath. Memory rises as if
it were a doily of lace, beautifully edged,
holding what once mattered.
The poem changes form and tone in each section, shifting from free verse, as in the previous example, to biblical language in the sixth section with “Consider the doily,” to a mock dictionary definition in section 7:
1) lacemaking 2) crochet—history 3) handiwork, women
(see also geometry)
Many other poems in the issue hold a fascination with words and the tongue, such as “Glossing Glossolalia” by Judy Little and “Self Possession” by Anne George Meek. Meek writes:
In Judea, the ancients hold the scrolls
near to themselves: within caverns, the papyri
roll out songs and laws, in fragments,
The body is finding
a library that the dead
have left behind.
around a peninsula called
the tongue. It wears
a blue-white cloud
and a shroud of salt. I wear
This issue is a great read for those who love poems with
an international and intellectual bend, and that focus more on
ideas than the ins and outs of everyday living.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Not Volume 1, Number 1! The inaugural issue of The Common, published at Amherst College in Massachusetts, is numbered “Issue No. 00.” (Why is that so pleasing?) This is a “mock issue,” a prototype, says editor, Jennifer Acker in her Editor’s Statement. Hence, the non-numbers. This mock issue is not “an official publication,” insists Acker. It’s more like a trial run. (And all of the contents may not make it into the first “official” issue, she says.) This new triannual intends to be a “public gathering place for the display and exchange of ideas…that embody…a sense of place.”
The editorial board is impressive, including, among others, Dan Chiasson, Claire Messud, Honor Moore, Ilan Stavans, Richard Wilbur, and James Wood. The TOC is no less so: translations of work by Marina Tsvetaeva and of work by Yehudit Ben-Zvi Heller (translated by the late Agha Shahid Ali), poetry by Honor Moore, Mary Jo Salter, and Don Share; an essay by Ted Conover; fiction from Sabina Murray, and Jim Shepard. Place as represented by the visual arts makes an appearance in a series of illustrations that seem, in the most uncanny of ways, more like photographs, from an 1874 book by James Nasmyth, archived at Amherst College.
Conover’s essay is from his recently published The Routes of Man: How Roads are Changing the World and the Way We Live Today. Conover has an easy-going style that maintains a sense of seriousness and exhibits a keen intelligence at work while exhibiting an almost casual fluidity. A balance of personal story and larger concerns (are roads good for humans and bad for other creatures?) makes for fine reading and sets a high standard for the place of the nonfiction essay in future issues of the journal.
Fiction is of similar superior quality, rich stories told in highly polished, but utterly readable styles, weighty tales, but not weighted down. Neither, happily, begins with a scene of sex gone wrong, beer bottles being tossed from the back of a pick-up truck, a hospital waiting room, or a comparison between the protagonist and a character from a television sitcom. Another very optimistic sign of things to come for this journal!
It’s a little harder to get a sense of what types of poetry the journal will favor, but I’d say an eclectic, generous vision is likely at work. There is certainly no spring-flowers-in the-rain nature imagery in this mock issue when it comes to the role of “place” in verse. Here is the conclusion of Ben-Zvi Heller’s “Jerusalem Light,” translated by Agha Shahid Ali:
In this hour
she lights her towers
or perhaps after blessing the fire
she has raised her hands
to cover her face with light
And placing herself in another realm of poetry’s possibilities is Mary Jo Salter in this excerpt from “The Gods”:
I always seem to have tickets
in the third or fourth balcony
(a perch for irony:
a circle of hell the Brits
tend to call ‘The Gods’),
and peer down from a tier
of that empyrean
at some tuxedoed insect
scrabbling on a piano.
The Common is attractive, beautifully designed and
produced, slender, elegant, simple. The work is polished,
refined, and serious. There’s definitely a place in my life for
this uncommonly good little journal. I look forward to the first
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
This issue opens with a moving tribute to and a series of poems by widely published poet and former Fiddlehead editor Bill Bauer (1932-2010). Bauer was a Maine native and long-time resident of Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, where the journal is published. It’s hard not to tear up on reading his first title here, “If I Don’t Tell You, No One Else Will; or, How Lucky You Are To Have Your Whole Lives Before You.” Lucky, too, to have a journal as pleasurable—and as enduring, the journal is in its sixty-fifth year—as Fiddlehead. Bauer is joined by 25 accomplished poets and fiction writers and a half-dozen smart book reviewers. This issue’s cover, too, deserves mention, a beautiful muted watercolor of seashells in a silver bowl by Fredericton native Andrew Henderson.
There isn’t a piece in the issue I wouldn’t recommend, so I’ll concentrate here on a few favorites, which include Jane Silcott’s fine story, “Fallen Apples,” about the surprise encounter between a woman and the young man she recognizes as the son she gave up as a baby: “She wanted to tell him to tone it down. He shouldn’t flirt with people old enough to be his mother. She was his mother, for God’s sake.” The prose is compelling, managing to evoke strong emotion, while exhibiting just enough control to keep the emotion from getting in the way of smart timing. Stories by Erika Van Winden (“A Feature about My Face”) about grappling with cancer and Kevin A. Couture (“Lemonade Free”) about grappling with alcoholism are also deftly composed and satisfying reading.
I was impressed with poems by Aislinn Hunter, in particular, “To Begin Properly We Must First Admit the Mantle of History,” which begins:
And so, one day, the world begins.
A vastness so eternal, there are not enough letters or words or days to
When we speak, it becomes small: the speck of our concentration.
Little fish brains, hearts slick as minnows.
How some animals express more with the flick of a tail.
I appreciated also Jan Conn’s “Years in a Leaky Boat” (“Now the field of the dark poem ripples”) and excerpts from “Chase Sequence” by Stewart Cole (“Born to learn not to navigate, / but to be drawn, pulled toward the ever-magnetic north / of forward, the vanishing slit in the morrow.”) And I was moved as much by Bauer’s poems as by the news of his death. In “Landscape as Time” (from his 1978 book The Terrible Words), the poet, describing a stone, concludes:
It has neither grown nor diminished much in all of its
plausible history nor has it a mind to tell the truth simply
it is grey it is lonesome it is mindless it is unlovely smoke
comes and goes on the mountain
The chance is minute but it is yet a chance that it could
be picked up and carried in a small boy’s pocket all the way to
the sea but even if that were to happen it would be of little
How compelling, how beautifully composed, how sharp and
smart—and much, indeed, of consequence—you’ll find between the
covers of Fiddlehead.
Volume 5 Number 2
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
“Some time ago, we decided to devote most of one issue to Irish Pages/Duilli Eireann to contemporary writing in Irish, so as to illustrate the still-thriving literary life of the island’s old language. We appreciate that much of the this issue will be inaccessible to many of our readers, but hope that those without Gaelic will nonetheless glean some sense of the rich Irish-language dimension of contemporary Irish literature,” write the editors. And we do!
At a hefty, 230+ pages, this Gaeilge issue, handsomely produced on wonderfully dense and bright white paper stock, is a rich and fantastic entrée into the world of Irish literature. It will make you wish you could read the Irish; inspire you to read Irish writing in translation; and impress you with the depth, breadth, and range of Irish culture.
I loved Patricia Craig’s essay “To Scullabogue: Backwards from Belfast: Against Sectarian Preconceptions” and Hugo Hamilton’s essay “Immigrant Poets,” smartly written, brightly balanced between personal observations and analytical commentary. And the poetry! The original Irish and English translations of Celia de Fréine’s “Letters”:
It was not enough for you to watch letters
tumble from my lips,
to see them hover,
forming words as they reached the ceiling
because, when you read these words
you weren’t able to believe them.
And a poem I can’t understand, but can nonetheless appreciate, “Haiti 2010” by Seán Ó Leochaín.
“I’m writing this on a Sunday evening as a soft velvety dusk
hugs the hills. The glen is awash in a glow of purple. I’m more
in tune with this lovely twilight of blackbird, lark and cuckoo
than I am with the cacophony of a city and its stammering
orchestra of bass-tuba traffic. In this open space I have a
freedom to look, listen and dream. In this rural amplitude I
give my soul to my senses,” writes Cathal Ó Searcaigh in “The
View from the Glen,” a marvelous bilingual essay about poetic
influences from the natural world (Li Po, Tu Fu, and Mary
Oliver). Give your soul to Irish Pages.
Volume 3 Number 2
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Along with the expected personal and family stories in prose, “memoir” in this issue includes the journal’s Best Graphic Memoir pick, “The Rejection Collection: A Visual Poem,” by Corey Ginsberg, a clever composition created of a series of photos of phrases from rejection letters received and the author’s musings about these hurtful strips of paper and their disappointing news: “How was it that my standard, hour-long wait in line at the Miami Post Office, enclosed $20 reading fee and eight months spent floating in ‘status of my submission’ Limbo didn’t even afford me an entire sheet of paper when I was rejected?” In the end Ginsberg’s rejection collage project seems to have been more encouraging than discouraging, as expressed both in the piece and in the lengthy “About” notes (a convention the journal uses for pieces with visual content). In any case, it turned into an acceptance!
“And” includes a dozen and a half “narrative photographs” by Bill Clark, the work of 8 poets, and a review of a “must read memoir.” Clark’s photos are wonderful, in large measure for their sheer breadth of vision, from a vast view of “Open Road” to a close view of children huddled together on an amusement park ride. From streets, to buildings, to people, to vast landscapes, Clark has a keen eye and an original perception of space, light, and geometry. In his “About” note Clark writes of the impulse to, and influences on, his work as a narrative photographer. It concludes: “Now, I look forward to going on that ‘warm spring day’ and, with one-finger one-motion click, capture images with a beginning, middle, and end…and maybe a ‘maybe.’”
A standout among the prose memoir works is “For Gloria,” by
Celestin Zimulinda with Patricia Pasick, is a series of letters
about the author’s childhood in Rwanda and the separation from
and death of his sister. His writing can be heartbreakingly
lyrical: “Memories began to walk toward me from childhood, like
storks returning to their summer homes.” Moving and beautifully
composed is the journal’s Third Prize for Memoir in Prose or
Poetry, “Peniel (Ithaca)” by Mary Ann Hogan about her life in
Palm Beach County, Florida, a landscape she never expected to
know, let alone call home, and how she landed there. Her prose
is lucid, smart, and fresh. I liked, too, “Paris When it
Fizzles,” by Paul. C. Dalmas, a short musing by a Frenchmen on
having given up French. Whatever you do, don’t give up on
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Published by the Kanto Poetry Center at Kanto Gakuin University, Poetry Kanto publishes English translations of Japanese poems (along with the originals) and “exciting English language poetry from anywhere on the globe.” The journal is handsomely produced and clearly an effort of editors passionate about poets and poetry. The work of ten poets is presented here, each series of poems preceded by a long bio and photo of the poet.
The issue opens with co-editor Alan Botsford’s lyrical, almost dreamy “Note.” Poetry, he says, will “go down and then come back up again telling us what we don’t know is another thing entirely. If tears flow sometimes, go with it. If fears glow at other times, walk beside them. Show your compassion and forgiveness, say how much you understand that your undoing is not their doing when, undone, you’re merely a shadow of yourself on the trail to a new body, loved into words.”
Loved into words this issue is the work of Kurahar Shinjirô (1889-1965; author of six books though he is little known today) with its delicate nature imagery—
1200 years ago
the image that one potter left behind
lies in a thicket of sorrels
in the twilight.
The roots of the sorrels are colored in evening glow.
Also the work of Ayukawa Nobuo (1920-1988), a Japanese poet who is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, with its surprising and powerful conclusions (“You are playing dead forever, aren’t you?”); Kisaka Ryo, decidedly contemporary (“This moment in the city, left unclaimed… / I picture / the bean-sized lamps / on all the phones scattered throughout the sprawling metropolis / and have them stand for stars”); Alicia Ostriker, J.P. Dancing Bear, Katherine Riegel, Bill Wolak, Ginger Murchison, Temple Cone, Judy Halebsky, and Yoko Danno, which includes a long prose poem (presented in English and Japanese), “A Woman in a Blue Robe,” with its curious and compelling beginning:
Who are you?
Why are you here?
Where are you from?
Who are your parents?
May I have your name?
Do I have to answer all of your questions right now when I’m totally occupied with finding a trash can? Don’t be disturbed by my apparition, noble Monk.
Poetry in English reflects a predilection for lyrical elegance and control, as in Murchison’s spare and moving “The Pear Tree”: "that, for years, flowered / has fallen / home to the borers."
Similarly refined and restrained are Riegel’s list poem “Hydra,” composed of the thoughts of “Charlotte Alessio Manier, a 4 year-old, on looking at her reflection in the back of a silver pinwheel”); J. P. Dancing Bear’s “Gacela of the Beethovens” (“We should not speak in solitudes; like Beethoven lying / in the coffin of his piano.”); and Cone’s “Orchard” (“All night, the gambrels creaked / and the orchard turned to dew.”)
Halebesky’s bilingual (English/Japanese) work is striking. (She has lived in Tokyo for the last three years.) “Ocean Beach to Tokyo,” concludes:
I would fall for you with branches
with asteroids, feathers, pollen spores
petals, parking tickets
a plane could crash
we could survive
This little journal, with its cross-cultural inspiration and
impact, could make any reader of English interested in
Japanese poetry, and any Japanese reader interested in poetry in
English. Could as in will.
Poetry & Poetics
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
“For every poetic action there is…Redactions,” is the journal’s tagline. This issue’s “poetic actions” include poems by two-and-a-half-dozen poets, including such well-known names as David Wagoner, J.P. Dancing Bear, and Gerry LaFemina, and the less-widely established, but quite widely published Jeanine Hall Gailey and Walter Bargen; as well as “poetics,” substantial reviews of poetry books and blogs.
I appreciate the opportunity to be introduced to the work of poets who are not household names, but whose original voices are appealing and who are nimble poetic talents. They are, in many cases, accomplished and prolific. Among these are Michael Schmeltzer (“The Memory of Glass”), Nathan McClain (“Man Reflecting on Man”), Kathryn Nuernberger, whose long poem, “Translations,” kicks off the issue: “I want to believe we can’t see anything we don’t have a word for.”
There is a good balance of narrative poems and work with more lyrical tendencies. There is nothing crass or excessively edgy, though poems here tend toward the acerbic and emotionally cautious; and there is nothing overtly sentimental or impossibly innocent. I admire the economy of Linda Cooper’s “Lament of Empty Shoes” (“How do I describe / the moment you know your heart / is going off by itself again?), and Lucille Lang Day’s skill at turning a family story, “Journeys,” into a piece that feels less claustrophobic and narrowly focused than many family poems often do:
Over and over, in my round and spindly
cells where the past softly breathes,
my mother, who told no one
she was descended from the Pilgrims
and the People of the First Light,
who brought them corn and deer,
names me “Light.” Over and over,
I ask myself, Where am I going?
How will I know when I’m there?
If you’re looking for smart new poems, you’ll know you’re
there when you pick up this issue of Redactions.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
A special tribute issue of this journal of Midwestern African American Literature is devoted to Allison Joseph, Aquarius Press Legacy Award Recipient, five of whose poems appear here. The cover is an evocative portrait, “Mattress Man,” by accomplished photographer and fast-becoming ubiquitous poet Thomas Sayers Ellis, whose poem, “Absolute Otherwhere,” appears in the issue. Sayers Ellis has an eye for desolate views and an ear for inventive diction: “We know there’s a recognizable We, / an I-identifiable many.”
Legacy Award honoree Joseph, who directs the M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing at Southern Illinois University and serves as Poetry Editor for Crab Orchard Review, has published six books of poetry and a chapbook. The Legacy Award honors “a distinguished woman writer of color from the American Midwest actively involved in providing opportunities for other writers.” She writes in “Stand Up,”
To be human is to be noisy
wave a finger
or a fist, lifting up and out of your seat
when the whole swath of humanity
would prefer you sit down
Isn’t this truly the work of poetry, to make us stand up when everything tells us to sit down (and shut up)!
The issue also includes a conversation between poet Curtis L. Crisler and Joseph; a conversation between scholar and critic Dikè Okoro and poet Sterling Plumpp; an interview by John Murillo with poet Mitchell H.L. Douglas; and prose and poetry by another four-dozen writers. I liked, in particular, poems by Stacia Brown, “Combat” (“i felt your face, disfigured, / kissed the pleats of keloid, / puckering your jaws, you / were cold, flushed with / camphor and distance”); Carolyn Rodgers, “Cubistic Body World” (“behold. the body of the world. / it appears that / no one will have / the distinct / odious honor of dismantling / of killing it. // it is tearing / its own self / apart”); and Anastacia Tolbert, “altar call girls who listen to the radio” (“little midnight black / powerful lipped / dna coiled tea cup / pour yourself a blessing”).
DaMaris Hill contributes fantastic poems based on the book Colored Amazons: Crime, Violence, and Black Women in the City of Brotherly Love, 1880-1910; Ebony Golden adds to the issue’s satisfaction with “speak/easy,” difficult to render accurately here because of the importance of spacing on the page (how the words move and breathe), but compelling on many levels (“you know a horn reaches beyond the body around the ache through the secret”); Rochelle Spencer’s story “Cold, Dark Matters” is smartly composed and wonderfully readable; and a short-short by Julie Iromuanya, “My Brother Told Me,” straddles the fine line between fiction and nonfiction (there is no genre classification) that makes me appreciate the narrative potential of both all the more.
My favorite aspect of Reverie is the reverie of titles: “Somethings” (D. Anderson); “Ode to Harold’s Chicken” (Kelly Norman Ellis); “Girlfriend, there is no spoon” (Amanda Johnston); and “The Anti-Dead Homie T-Shirt Manifesto” (Mitchell L. H. Douglas, also interviewed this issue).
“We cannot predict the outcome / Of our lives, imagine it /
In one color,” writes Raymond Berry in “Black Stars.” Reverie
is anything but monochrome.
Volume 16 Number 1
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
This strong issue includes the winner (Timothy Mullaney for “Green Glass Doors”) and runner-up (Susan Magee for “The Mother”) of Salamander’s first-ever fiction contest, three other stories, a memoir essay, and the work of more than two-dozen poets.
Julie Marie Wade’s coming-out essay, which, according to her bio, she classifies as “lyric nonfiction” is of particular interest, a terrific example of creative nonfiction at its best, combining the strengths and interests of poetry (rhythmically satisfying, controlled, restrained, above all) and narrative (a story one wants to follow).
The prolific and widely-recognized Franz Wright contributes memorable prose poems, including “In Memory of the Future”: “When I get tired of staring at words on a page, owlet, when I am finally good and sick of marring white space with black ink, my hands and face filthy with it, cut off, immured in my own mind, then what?”
Runner-up Magee’s story is especially pleasing reading, not so much for its medical theme (so much writing these days about bodies, health, illness), but for its original approach and unique style: “When the Mother finally woke up in the hospital’s ICU, her Husband was the one who broke the news: Catastrophic Obstetrical Hemorrhage. He said it twice, although the Mother had already figured it out.”
Poems by Eleanor Paynter, “Outside the City Walls,” Benjamin Landry, “Espalier,” and Bruce Willard, “Bird Call” are worthy of special mention.
I liked, too, Molly Patterson’s story, “Moving Fronts.” Patterson has an easy, affable style that draws in the reader with ease and we’re hooked before we realize it:
The clouds were tumbling over themselves heading in from the west, folding and swallowing and rolling in the thick air. There was no space between their stippled bottoms and the blank stretch of land. There was hardly any air to breathe. Gracelyn stopped walking. Off to one side was the snaking line of trees along the Nodaway River. In front and behind was the two-lane highway. Behind was also the town.
She squinted up the road. Maybe she would walk all the way up to Tarkio. It would take her a few hours to go and come back, but she didn’t care, she just wanted to be moving…
This issue also includes a translation from the French by Andrea Moorhead of a poem by the Quebecoise writer, Elise Turcotte, author of 10 volumes of poetry. I wish the journal had included the original, but nonetheless, I appreciate the translation:
you’ve laid down your cards
even your lies
have given up.
Florida Literature and Art
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Florida is a wildly unique collage of environments, from the gritty urban core of Miami to dense crocodile infested swamps; from the upscale shops of tropical Longboat Key to the historic architecture of Jacksonville, where the nights are distinctly northern with their chilly edges. This journal reflects this rich diversity from the edgy, tongue-in-cheek poetry of “spotlighted” poet Denise Duhamel, to the arch intelligence of prose stylist Janet Burroway (an interview and a story)—I have always admired them both.
Spotlighted, as well, in this issue is the gifted poet Ricardo Pau-Llosa, also interviewed here. Following is an excerpt from “Seat 19-F Window, Flight to San Juan”:
of continents is that their edges might have wished
to lurk in reef and wallow timeless
in the shifts of water painted by simmering salt.
Then these masses would always be
unprepared and young, better apt
for that strange gleaning in another’s eye
Pau-Llosa’s poems are followed by a tremendously appealing portrait, in muted tones, of the poet, painted by Heriberto Mora, one of dozen works of art reproduced in this issue, all quite marvelous in their own ways and as different from each other as the spectacle of Disney World in Orlando from the flat-roofed houses of central Florida’s forgotten towns.
Volume 4 also features a “flash” (e-mail) conversation between Daniele Pantano and Campbell McGrath; an interview with popular novelist Dennis Lehane; satisfying essays by Christine Hale, Pamela Galbraeth, and Tampa Review editor Donald Morrill; a number of short stories; and poetry by Nick Vagnoni, and Gianna Russo, among many others. Fiction is clever and engaging, original stories that do not try too hard to exert their originality. Poetry is vivid and immediate, without being overly self-conscious.
Janet Burroway says in her interview with Ryan Little that
she worries sometimes about there being more writers than
readers. As long as there are journals as smart and engaging as
Saw Palm, there will be at least as many readers as