Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted February 28, 2011

Alimentum :: The Fine Line :: Flyway :: Freefall :: Hanging Loose :: The Hollins Critic :: Iron Horse Literary Review :: The Kenyon Review :: Poetry is Dead :: The Sewanee Review :: The Straddler

[Back to Lit Mag Review Index]

Alimentum coverAlimentum

Issue 11

Winter 2011


Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Alimentum toasts its 5th anniversary with tasty bites from members who regularly sit around its table: Fiction/Nonfiction Editor and Art Director Peter Selgin, Web Editor Eric LeMay, Managing Editor Duane Spencer, Poetry Editor Cortney Davis, Assistant Web Editor Ruth Polleys, Art Director Claudia Carlson, Menupoems Editor Esther Cohen, and Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Paulette Licitra each deliver a morsel. Every course on the menu is nutritious and filling in its own way, but one of my favorites is Selgin’s “The Muffin Man,” a history of and personal treatise about his relationship with that now ubiquitous treat, the muffin. From the “flat, round, spongy, air-filled concoction prepared with yeast-leavened dough and cooked on griddle” (the English muffin) to “granola muffins, cappuccino muffins, strudel muffins, pumpkin, blueberry, applesauce, yogurt, oatmeal, and chocolate chip muffins—muffins whose entire purpose in life seemed to be nothing more or less than denying their muffinhood,” Selgin captures the surprising rise (pun intended) of this American phenomenon.

The Alimentum staff welcomes to the table many talented guests, including poets Ricardo Pau-Llosa and Coleman Hough, and fiction writers Zack Kaplan-Moss, Ann Barry Burrows, and Amy Halloran, among others. Burrows creates a compelling historical narrative in “Long at Table,” which begins with an opening that deftly whets the reader’s appetite for more:

As I clear my throat, all of you point your chins my way, cast the lines of your gaze like I was the mast and we sail together with fair winds and following seas. Raise your glasses and join me in a toast, then I’ll tell you what you cannot imagine: long before I performed around the world on this floating queen of a vessel, I was a twig of a girl overlooked and always hungry. Then came my teachers.

Halloran’s “The Nurse’s Monastery,” is like the best component of repast, nourishing in an understated way, leaving the reader satisfied but a little confused about how these odd ingredients have come together: “I am a nurse but I don’t dress like one because I don’t want people to think I might help them.”

We wash it all down with “Wine” of fine structure and a lingering finish from Pau-Llosa: “This is the clock we welcome. / By sips and gulps are the calendars undone.” And from “Roja Veja”: "beg us not to eat but put aside and ponder / and savor the words of its residue."

Congratulations to Alimentum on five savory years.


top of page


The Fine Line coverThe Fine Line

Issue 2

Winter 2010

Online Biannual

Review by Barbara Ellen Baldwin

This issue is an eclectic, sometimes compelling online presentation of poetry, fiction and art, which features established authors, and neophytes in a surprising mix. The site is charmingly accessed by "Blue Leaf," cover art by Christopher Woods; a little sip of Lewis Carroll's work greets the reader. Nice touch.

“These Blue Flowers,” by Andrew Jones, appears with each deftly chosen line nuanced with color. The poem is an homage to what can be saved, savored and what cannot. The speaker's flowers appear first as:

...merely blue carnations once tucked
in damp newsprint and sold by a street vendor
off King's Road for stray pounds from
the pockets of my cheap navy blue raincoat.

The flowers are a gift, but more. As the poem blossoms, they begin to mark places and times. Jones elevates his kept carnations for a time, even “an awkward blue stain” from pressing the blossom is held with care. The poem's end reminds all that objects, however treasured their beauty, are ephemeral. I loved the confidence, and command of rhythm in this poem; I will never look at simple carnations in the same way again.

Doug Holder's work shows mastery, depth, and a brevity that results in memorable lines. In his quiet, dour night-walk piece, “It is late and the fruit is bad,” Holder's images click, click, click for the entranced reader. His intent is to illuminate time out-of-sleep, the tiny losses accumulating in the dark. In the opening, his night walker heads where insomniacs always find themselves: to the kitchen.

Others may be breathing out zzzzz's under comforters, but Holder's seeker finds:

It is late at night
And the fruit
has gone bad.
Its bruises remind me
of all life's hamfists
and the things
I never had.

I'm a desperate fan of “life's hamfists.” Who hasn't looked back at their time on the planet, counting fumbles before triumphs?

“Discussions Twice A Week At My House,” Brandon William’s peek into an editing workshop, is chilling and familiar. The poem's characters are engaged in endless critique. Williams, in speaking of the kinder comments, notes:

…These are not critiques for which
we are prepared. As students,
we are set up for criticism; to take it,
to return it two-fold. And this
is something we have mastered
to the point that accepting beauty
is as difficult as ignoring the speed-bag
Kyle likes to hit when we talk.

The poem ushers us into a homey setting, the speaker sitting “on the floor with my feet / on my ottoman, reading or eating or typing / but always insulting." The repetition of Kyle’s fists on the punching bag stands for the hostility and repetition of their conversations. They lose their neutrality; ego compels them to:

...ignore what we cannot attack,
ignore when we cannot poke holes
with our pencils into their hardbound masterpieces.
The few who escape our razor- wire tongues
hear no praise, for silence has become
the best we can offer.

Allen Kopp's fiction piece, "Map of the World," anchors in the safer school days of pencils and corduroy. Still, children, in any year, don't want to face the mine fields of mockery. The piece is nostalgic, but the writing shines:

On the first day of the new school term, Joanne Torrance was sullen and unhappy. She wasn't ready for summer vacation to be over; she wanted to be able to stay at home and do as she pleased all the time. It wouldn't have mattered to her if school had never taken up again for as long as she lived.

I enjoyed Joanne's war with her ineffectual teacher. I was instantly snapped back to elementary school, where there is always one individual who possesses a lizard's portion of kindness. Everyone remembers That One, the tyrant with no sense, or talent. Why make students targets, on the first day of school? Because you can:

When Joanne's turn came, she went to the blackboard and picked up the pink chalk and wrote her name in neat cursive script underneath the babyish scrawl of the person who went before her. Then, she turned around and bowed from the waist instead of curtseying. A howl went up from the class and she flushed with embarrassment.
“Now, Joanne, I have a simple question for you and it isn’t that difficult. Are you a girl or a boy?”
Again a howl of laughter erupted from the class. They were enjoying her discomfort, which went a long way toward relieving the tedium of the first day of class.

It was the wrong thing. It was the right thing. The author makes us want to go back and savor winning, by being our own best innocent selves.

This issue is graced with original art, features a group of diverse writers, and is truly worth the read. The wonderful art pieces punctuate the prose with color and originality.


top of page


Flyway coverFlyway

Journal of Writing and Environment

Volume 13 Number 1



Review by Sima Rabinowitz

As a journal dedicated to literary works focused on “the environment” (here, interpreted as the natural world), Flyway is an unusual publication. The magazine is atypical, as well, for its inclusion of a complete chapbook of poetry (selected through a contest), Lois Marie Harrod’s “Cosmogony.” Selections from contest finalist Corrie Williamson’s chapbook are also published in this volume. An interview with fiction writer Ann Pancake, poetry from four additional poets, five essays, and three short stories round out the issue.

Bios include contributors’ notes about the genesis or execution of their pieces, and of her chapbook, Harrod writes: “Probably anything I say about my creation of Cosmogony is inaccurate. I don’t mean I am lying—or lying my way to truth. A poem is like a memory, revised as revisited, often without memory of the tweaks and turns taken.” She concludes: “Words are what I write to know the world I love.”

Harrod’s poems grapple principally with the pain of living in a world the poet wants to be able to love better than it seems to allow or warrant. “I am thinking of how pain / fills a space and then leaves it empty,” she begins in the first and title poem. Theft, terrorism, unrequited love, the small crimes of daily living, artless days, world-weariness, and any number of other ills and sins follow, from serious to barely noticeable. These poems, nonetheless, are not harsh, edgy, or excessively rough. They do, in fact, in their gentle unfolding, demonstrate a great devotion to and desire for a lovable world.

The same can be said, I think, of most of the pieces in the magazine. Michelle Eames offers a smartly composed essay about how living things, from ocean quahogs to humans, are aged—not how they age, but how their age is assessed. Julian Hoffman writes with concern and expertise about conservation issues concerning Lake Prespa near where he lives in Greece. Patricia Monaghan writes about her experience of the special and unique quality of glaciers, balancing ecological history, art history, and personal experience.

Managing editor Liz N. Clift closes her Editor’s Note asking “what will be natural in the future?” It will be natural, I am certain, to look forward to future issues of Flyway.


top of page


Freefall coverFreefall

Volume 20 Number 2

Fall/Winter 2010-11


Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Freefall is true to its name, and you never know where you’ll land. John Wall Barger’s prose poem “Scream” begins on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 and winds up in India in the early years of the next century:

My mother saw the Beatles at the Ed Sullivan Show in ’64, she was 16, George was her fav, the way he bobbed his head!...Forty-six years later, my mother & I stumble off a night bus north of Dehli, onto a dusty parking lot, as lightning bolts split the sky, white veins of a god, over the Himalayas, thunder roaring close by.

Wall Barger’s is not the only scream or the only surprising transition. Nancy Lee also gives us a boisterous prose poem, “Four Men Stole Munch’s Scream”:

Two carried the mouth and two the burnt horizon. Ten years later, it was taken again with the Madonna. The Scream had moisture damage and Madonna suffered several tears on the right side…The gods made her a trade for silence. Gave her a piece of the horizon. Carried away her mouth.

Jeanie Keogh’s short story “Out of True” includes a funky little chart of pros and cons assessing the status of her romantic relationship. Richard Harrison defies his own constraints with a long prose poem “Haiku” that is very Haiku in its un-Haiku-ness: “The Haiku is not my form, but I keep returning to this one that I am not writing.” And writing preoccupies Rosemary Griebel, too, whose poem “Insomnia” has not helped me with own severe sleeplessness, but who has, to her credit, contributed to my appreciation of poetry’s ability to make a wakeful night worthwhile: “someone at a small window writing the world / while a distant keening in her head will not lead her back / to sleep.”

Ron Schafrick’s story “The Boy from Ireland” is a terrific example of how to create a character the reader can care about with relatively little backstory and detail. This is one of those stories in which nothing happens, but we get inside the mind of a character we end up caring about, which creates its own sense of drama. I find this is often attempted, but rarely successfully executed. And what more can we ask of fiction?

Finally, Laurie D. Graham’s “Astrometry” is all the proof I need that Freefall deserves its self- assessment as “Canada’s Magazine of Exquisite Writing”:

Night stretches over the field, moth-bitten and complete.
I’m wary of the too-perfect geometry, its bevel over the wide earth.
Vantaged in this containered city block, how does triangulation work
on this field I’ve got going…
And all the fields recalled with a ranging, improvised clarity.
I go back in and sit on the bed and don’t speak,
a lightbulb left on
in the hope the moth can find it.

Find Freefall at, and let go.


top of page


Hanging Loose coverHanging Loose

Number 97



Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Always a great balance of established and lesser-known poets and fiction writers, this issue’s more recognizable contributors include Philip Dacey, D. Nurkse, Simon Perchik, David Trinidad, and David Wagoner. Their work is strong, as always. Dacey’s offerings are consistent with his by-now-long-and-respected tradition of creating poetry of the biographies of famous artists of many genres—dancers and writers this time in “American Choreography” and “Vaslav Nijinksy on Walt Whitman.”

Perchik is as mysterious and lyrcial as ever in “L24”:

Under your tongue these stones
the dead leave empty
—what you warm
basks next to words
no longer side to side
sung the way evenings
still turn back

Nurske is also true to favored subjects and is always especially effective when describing places, in this case “Twilight in Canarsie”:

In these long slant-lit streets, she says,
you will find footsteps that once made shoehorns,
waffle irons, or pearl cufflinks, and storefront churches
where voices adored the Living God while tambourines
clashed a little behind the beat…

I liked also “Earth and Sea and Sky” by Emmett Jarrett, which creates a poem that re-creates the very movements and relationships it intends to elucidate:

It is clearer to Gloucester
where the earth
drops off
the steep rocks
into the water.

(An editor's note lets us know that Jarrett died of cancer while the issue was in production, and it made the poem all the more poignant.) Noteworthy, too, are poems by Indran Amirthanayagam, a tremendously prolific writer from Sri Lanka; a story by Jim Feast; and prose poems with circus themes by Anna Maria Shua, translated from the Spanish by Steven Stewart.

Hanging Loose always includes poems from high school students, often frighteningly accomplished considering the age of the writers, which this time around includes “Sunday Kitchen” by Isabelle Burden:

Dry light overhead,
Stirring in a pot of coffee.
In a blank paper kitchen she said
I want to eat it slowly.

I loved also ten paintings by Sean Grandits, oils on canvas with all the rich, strangely un-real quality of oil paintings, and all the uncanny more real-than-real expressions of the figures portrayed.

Hang on tightly to your copy! There’s a lot to appreciate in this issue.


top of page


The Hollins Critic coverThe Hollins Critic

Volume 47 Number 5

December 2010

Five Times

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

The Hollins Critic is one reason why print publications must never be allowed to perish. You simply cannot duplicate, imitate, or recreate this type of pleasure online. Just 24 pages, a sleek, understated experience of intelligent reading. One full-length essay; a few short reviews; a few well-chosen poems. You can read it one sitting, though you may wish to make it last longer. This little publication always reminds me of the adage “less is more.”

This issue is comprised of a smart, readable, enlightening essay by poet and Spalding University professor Lynnell Edwards on the work of poet Cecilia Woloch; book reviews of poetry, mostly from indie presses I might not know of were it not for The Hollins Critic; and poems by Jennifer Clement, William Miller, Burn Thompson, and Weston Cutter. From the essay on Woloch, to the poem on the back cover/mailing page by Cutter, there isn’t a superfluous word, nothing that isn’t exactly right, right where it is. “What if dust,” begins the poem “From What Tree” by Cutter. Every line in these polished two-dozen pages is equally economical and compelling.

Edwards’s essay, “Dreaming the Long Carpathian Dreams,” focuses on the place (position/role) of place (personal and geographical space) in Woloch’s poetry. The essay is a close reading of texts, yet it is happily free of off-putting and alienating academic jargon. This is not to say that the reading is “popular” in sensibility, only that it is meant to help readers appreciate Woloch’s work, rather than to make it appear accessible only to erudite and privileged insiders (“critics”). She relies on Woloch’s autobiography to elucidate the poetic texts, an approach that may be questionable (in theory) on some levels, but which is compelling and instructive in this case. Ultimately, I found this approach wholly logical and acceptable, given the poems and their genesis. Edwards does an admirable job of balancing quotes from the texts, biographical information about Woloch, and critical analysis. I think the goal of any such essay should be to inspire one to read (or reread) the poet in question, and Edwards certainly does that.

As I write this review, hundreds of thousands of men (yes, only men) are protesting in the streets of Cairo, and so I found William Miller’s poem, “Brady’s Pictures,” the final lines quoted here, timely and relevant:

From the rice paddy
to the burning mosque,
he was the grandfather
of tv news.
Sadly, he might have
stilled all cannon fire,
raised the last flag
for the south.

As people rise up in protest and mosques burn, I am grateful for intelligent thinking, writing, and reading, like the work I have come to depend on in The Hollins Critic to help me gain perspective on everything from poetry to protest.


top of page


Iron Horse Literary Review coverIron Horse Literary Review

Volume 12 Number 5

Fall 2010


Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Good things do come in small packages. I’d rather read 47 terrific pages (a small journal by most measures) than two or three times that many mediocre ones. This fine, slender issue includes nonfiction from Kevin Kerrane (a favorite of editor Leslie Jill Patterson’s) and Gary Fincke; poetry from Mathew Thorburn (another of Patterson’s favorites, she says), Marie Gauthier, Liz Kay, Fritz Ward, Emily Symonds, Jim Daniels, and Andrew Kozma; and fiction from Amy Knox Brown.

Like Patterson, I was impressed with Kerrane’s essay, “Pages from an Irish Notebook,” an essay that merges the description of a conference attended by the author, a personal family story, and the tale of an encounter with a contemporary, all related and unrelated in surprising ways, and all told in engaging and dynamic prose. And like the editor, I am a fan of Thorburn’s lovely poem, “Making a Run for It,” about Iceland:

The glacier calves an iceberg—
this happens maybe twice
an hour—splits off
hunks bigger than our car
of blue and gray and gray-green
that crash
down in the water, splash
and bob up
and make us glad to be here
safe on shore

I was taken, too, with Fincke’s essay “A Miscellany of Vanishing,” 19 short segments of personal, universal, regional, and global “vanishings,” written in tremendously appealing, approachable, and often entertaining prose. And I was pleasantly surprised by the collaborative poem of Ward and Symonds, as I don’t often find jointly written experiments to result in truly artful conclusions: “The gas pedal submits to force. / The brakes offer the luxury of forgiveness,” they write in “If Only the Moon Would Stop Turning the Volume Up on Silence.”

Submit, and subscribe, to Iron Horse; the volume’s just right.


top of page


The Kenyon Review coverThe Kenyon Review

Volume 33 Number 1

Winter 2011


Review by Sima Rabinowitz

It may or may not be intentional (though given this journal’s outstanding editorial management, it is likely to be deliberate), but the relationship between this issue’s cover and the poem “Desert” by Adonis, translated from the Arabic by Khaled Mattawa, is nothing short of exquisite. The cover photo is a 1938 “Night View” of New York City by the always-amazing Berenice Abbott. The Adonis poem begins: “The cities dissolve, and the earth is a cart loaded with dust / Only poetry knows how to pair itself to this space.” The poem and photograph are both, as they should be, impossible to describe accurately, except to say that each evokes a particular atmosphere that could not be a better example of the medium’s potential and success. “The city’s voice was too tender,” writes Adonis (such a beautifully translated poem). This is a long poem of shifting tones, expertly rendered, as Abbott’s photo is a composite of so many lights, creating one whole ultra-real vision.

These pieces are illustrative of the journal’s quality as a whole, which features the 2010 short fiction prize winner Megan Anderegg Malone, with finalists and seven other stories; three essays; and the work of a dozen and a half poets, including such notables as Ira Sadoff, Peter Campion, Doug Ramspeck, Rosanna Warren, Jane Hirshfield, Laura Kasischke, Natasha Sajé, and Franz Wright, among others. There are a few surprises, fiction from nonfiction master Scott Russell Sanders; a work of fiction based on nonfiction, “Yalla!” by Harriet Levin, based on conversations with the now famous “lost boy,” Michael Majok Kuch; and an essay on the filmmaker John Huston by Jeffrey Meyers.

Franz Wright’s prose poems stand in direct opposition to the mysterious and subtle tones of the Abbott and Adonis works, but are nonetheless representative of much of the work in this issue, and equally compelling. Here is an excerpt from “The Window”:

I know, it’s terribly mystical. So what. So is work; and work means something. It means that you do what you do, you do for someone else. You do it for someone who loves you, that’s all, someone who misses and needs you, if you are so blessed. I had my work—mine caused a little trouble, but I did it. I did what I promised. End of sermon. Can I ask you a question?

Can I ask you question? Have you read The Kenyon Review lately? Don’t miss it.


top of page


Poetry is Dead coverPoetry is Dead

TV, Beer, and Video Games

Volume 1 Issue 2

Summer/Autumn 2010


Review by Jeremy Benson

What I like most about the Poetry is Dead Magazine Society is how serious they take their role as the poetry imp. You can almost hear the stifled giggles breaking as you begin to catch the joke. “Poets tend to take the art form a touch too seriously,” writes Editor-In-Chief Daniel Zomparelli. “Try it next time you are around a poet… Just say something like, ‘the only true form of poetry is lyrical’ or ‘conceptual poetry is here to kill off the fossil we call lyrical poetry’ or ‘if it’s a project than it is not poetry’ and watch their faces turn red.” Art Director Easton West writes in his letter, quoted here in its entirety: “I gota actually wrtie some shit [sic].”

Zomparelli says that the issue is meant to run away from nature, the stereotypically Canadian theme, and plunge “head first into lowbrow culture.” Key features of the magazine include Kenneth Goldsmith’s essay on Conceptual Writing (something every writer should consider reading), a tongue-in-cheek survey regarding poets’ beer, TV, and video game habits, and a cut-and-paste excerpt from the Wikipedia entry on “Digital Poetry.”

Yet, curiously, as a document that is meant to challenge the traditional, sentimental ideas of poem-worthiness, its poems reside in sentiment. Work about television and video games—like “Cathode Ray,” in which Jacob A. David’s speaker could only afford “thirteen inches / of black and white / t.v.” as a kid, or “Lessons in Horticulture” by Catherine Owen, featuring cacti named after the Fonz and “that handsome cop from CHiPS”—are pure childhood sentiment, citing the shows and games in front of which writers like David Brock and Billeh Nickerson grew up.

Even beer, although legally adult, refers back to the memories of childhood, at least the coming-of-age. Josh Neely writes in “Synesthesia II”:

Sometimes the taste of good beer is all
foothills and flooded fields.
Sometimes it is the odor
of the barn my grandfather built
from pine, near a pond
in Georgia.

At the end of the day—about 5a.m., or whenever you’ve defeated Ganondorf—Poetry is Dead provokes a debate about low- vs. high-brow art. Their rhetoric assumes a dichotomy, but the work presented, flagshipped by Nikki Reimer’s “tv vs. the real,” has high- and low-brow comfortably achieving the same goals. And if those two can successfully run a co-op mission, then is there a need for the line between them at all?

Finally, Zomparelli interviews Donato Mancini about, among other topics, “accessibility.” Mancini answers:

I chew off my own thumbs with frustration every time I read the word “accessibility”. Like “_____ is dead,” tagging something as “inaccessible” is mainly a shock-jock style rhetorical gesture…Are clichés accessible or inaccessible? Is a person who wants to be friends with everyone trustworthy? Should poets try to write for every imaginable sensibility?...Isn’t tagging a work inaccessible like calling the audience stupid?...With 15,600,014 under-read books of poetry awaiting a reader, why would it bother you to find one you don’t grasp?

Speaking of television, I remember a long time ago, probably the first grade, hanging from the jungle gym at recess with a bunch of guys from class, all of us making fun of Barney, the singing purple dinosaur. The bell rang; as the others ran to get in line, I hung back with Dan, who turned to me and said, “I actually like Barney.” I get the feeling that for all its teasing and troublemaking, Poetry is Dead really, really cares about poetry. Oh boy, do they care.

(P.S. Props to the PIDMS for a TV, Beer, and Video Games issue that has a balanced representation of contributions from both men and women.)


top of page


The Sewanee Review coverThe Sewanee Review

Volume 118 Number 4

Fall 2010


Review by Kenneth Nichols

This issue of The Sewanee Review glorifies the intellectual and emotional benefits of immersing oneself in the cosmopolitan ideal of the Western tradition of knowledge. George Core and the rest of the Sewanee staff offer the reader a slow and relaxing trip around the world, using a Western lens to illuminate people and society from several different cultures. Interestingly, that lens is also used to remind us what the United States was like before blind ethnocentrism was considered a cardinal virtue.

Seeing a woman walking a Weimaraner inspired Robert Lacy to recount his experiences in 1959 San Francisco. Once proudly called “Baghdad-by-the-Bay,” the city was teeming with transcendent personalities, including Lenny Bruce, Allen Ginsburg and Willie Mays. Indeed, much of the article is a well-written sequence of Lacy’s memories about the city, but the ending provides perspective. After many years and several life changes, Lacy returns to San Francisco and learns that the city that shaped him now exists only in his memory.

Ann E. Berthoff’s essay “Coming to Canna” focuses on a place half a world away. The Isle of Canna, located off the western coast of Scotland, is one of the islands of the Inner Hebrides. A visit requires a five- or six-hour trip to the other islands in the archipelago; at last, Canna “emerges from behind Rum [another island] like a green whale.” Berthoff manages to make the geography of a remote island feel personal and communicates the history of the island through the biographies of those who loved it.

The journal contains a short story and several poems; the most notable of the latter is verse from Robert C. Jones’s “Kraków Sketchbook.” Science and literature have long competed to illuminate the workings of humanity’s purpose. Jones introduces a historian who contemplates the value of two of history’s greatest scholars. Did Copernicus and Goethe work in non-overlapping magisteria? What could one learn from the other?

The Sewanee Review, considered in total, asks a similar question: by learning from others, what can we learn about ourselves?


top of page


The Straddler logoThe Straddler

Issue 6

Fall 2010

Online Biannual

Review by Meghan Dougherty Cheek

The Straddler takes the cultural temperature of America and reads it back at a pitch and slope that we of the era of entertainment “news” are hard pressed to find in more popular venues. It is not a straightforward look at the nation, though the topics discussed are at first glance fairly frank. This issue is a fragmented offering of subtle depth, taking on the System, the Administrator, the Economy, and looking at them sideways, questioning conventional notions of responsibility and control, beauty and aberration.

“Advancing Oligarchy: A Conversation with James Kwak” discusses the aristocracy of Wall Street and contends that American oligarchy thrives on ideology and soft power as opposed to the bribery and blackmail of, say, the Mafia. We move from here to a dialogue around Lonerganian economics and the idea of participating in the economy with common sense and a sort of bending toward authenticity in “Encountering Bernard Lonergan alongside Richard Liddy.” In this article, we are offered a more human way to participate in the systems which rule the world. Liddy says that “there is a desire for wholeness in people, for meaning. Beginning with that is very important. And then part of that is to find meaning in your own desire for meaning. In other words, a more reflective awareness of your own dignity. Your own ability to learn and be creative and so forth.” This concept—such a small, personal theology— is a subversive tool when applied to something so macro as the Economy.

The idea of humanizing our participation in a series of inhuman systems is also present in the comparison of The Administrator in “Barack Obama and the Culture of Consultancy” and “Yojimbo and Administration.” In a review of iconic American presidents, The Straddler, in collaboration with James Comerford, expresses discontent with a presidency that has turned out to be a consultancy—a Consultant in Chief, managing the expectations and demands of a group of stakeholders and economizing “Change” to fit in certain pockets. But in “Yojimbo and Administration,” by Dan Monaco, the person of the Administrator is challenged—changed indeed—from an overworked Poseidon who hasn’t the time to tour his own seas, to Akira Kurosawa’s agile, generous samurai—breathing a Lonerganian insight and authenticity into a tired middle-manager.

Even the art in this issue is a bringing together of the human and inhuman. Mark Ostow’s first attempt at urban landscape photography, “Where the Boardwalk Ends,” is an acutely sad juxtaposition of Atlantic City’s excess and privation—remnants of a community going to pieces around the giant of an abandoned casino. Poems by David Scronce, Rodney Nelson, and Nathan Gunsch sparkle urgently and distinctively, as “Frinky,” fiction by Eddie Lombardi, sings out in boisterous whimsy. Elizabeth Murphy’s “Love Letter to Rane Arroyo,” is icing—a wistful reminder to care for oneself, to write more love letters.

Though The Straddler is not an existential exercise, the nine pieces in this issue invite the reader to a renewed examination of self and system: a continual asking of the question, “what does it mean to be authentic?” Again, from Liddy, “To be authentic is to use your eyes, is to ask questions, to check on the answers you come up with, to make good decisions—this is an ongoing process that we’re involved in every day. And there are ways that we screw it up, through all these biases that get in the way of asking the next question.” This issue of The Straddler seems to challenge—“What is the next question?”

top of page