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Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted August 30, 2011

Alimentum :: The American Poetry Review :: apt :: Bomb :: Camera Obscura :: Columbia Poetry Review :: The Gettysburg Review :: Jersey Devil Press :: Modern Haiku :: Neon :: New Millennium Writings :: New Ohio Review :: New South :: Parnassus :: Pilgrimage :: Poetry East :: Polaris :: Whiskey Island :: Yellow Medicine Review

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Alimentum coverAlimentum

Issue 12

Summer 2011


Review by Jennifer Vande Zande

Admittedly, I was smitten with the idea behind this summer’s issue of Alimentum long before I’d had the opportunity to read it. This biannual literary journal, which dedicates itself to the subject of food, has gathered together work for its twelfth issue with a focus on food memories. Whether they are good—that first icy Bombpop of summer—or perhaps, not so good—think glace fish mold—we all have them. The editors at Alimentum have chosen carefully its ensemble of voices for this issue. Collectively, they offer up a very soulful celebration of first foods.

In her nonfiction work “The Piece of Politeness, ” Joanna Clapps Herman invites readers to sit down at the kitchen table with her Italian family—a place you’d no doubt be happy to find yourself, so long as you understand the rules. Herman’s family is steeped within a tradition that holds certain food etiquette sacred. The tradition, according to Herman, is “based on a culture of scarcity of the very old world in southern Italy and Sicily, where it would have been shameful to show any hint of actual scarcity in your household.” These customs play out like a well-rehearsed dance between host and guest: “Never take any food that you are offered. Not at first, even if you are at your aunt’s house. You must refuse any and all food when it is first offered. […] Only after the food has been offered repeatedly, then put on a plate in front of you, and the host has insisted, […] are you even to consider eating a modest portion.”

Herman recounts the first awkward meetings between her family members—most notably, her mother—and her non-Italian husband during their courtship: “My mother, the ruler of rules, had already met him and disapproved. I was an unmarried daughter, but I was her unmarried daughter.” As her two worlds rammed together, Herman cleverly illustrates the careful balance she precariously held between the two. Acceptance into the fold does not come easy and coming together over food is sometimes as much of a test as it is a rite of passage.

While Joanna Clapps Herman recounts her story—demonstrating the power food has to bring people together, Vivian Liao writes of how food can act as the thread that holds an individual together. “First Impressions” is the tender story of Yang, husband, father and cook forced to work aboard a merchant ship out of China for an extended period of time in order to provide for his young family. Liao gives depth to sensitive Yang, whose plight is loneliness and food his refuge:

When every bowl in the dining room had been cleared, he retreated back to the small quarters he had been assigned, where he could not escape thoughts of the black sea outside or the taste of bile in his mouth which he tried hard to keep down. Despite his queasiness, he found himself quite hungry, anxious to taste the small goubuli buns Fan-Len had packed for him. As his teeth closed around the soft floury flesh, the traces of pork and cabbage settling on his tongue, he thought of his small wife, alone in their kitchen. He swallowed, and a hard lump lingered in his throat. The hand holding the goubuli dropped to his lap; the other hand wiped away tears.

Liao’s story reminds us of the power familiar foods have to satisfy our hunger—be it physical or emotional.

I would remiss if I did not to mention Traci Yavas’s smart, plucky poem, “Those Biscuits”:

Stop feeding her those biscuits, he says.
You’ll make her fat.
I grew up on those biscuits.
Dunked in soup beans,
Drizzled with honey,
Drowned in maple syrup,
Dappled with butter.
Those biscuits have built my bones and
Rounded my curves.
Those biscuits lie within me like secrets
I’ll carry to my grave.

Thank you Ms. Yavas, for putting so assertively and eloquently what so many of us have wanted to say at some point in our lives—but didn’t.

Also included in this issue is a well-written interview with Amanda Hesser. Hesser, an award winning cookbook author and long-time food writer for the New York Times, recently co-founded with Merrill Stubbs. Hesser explains the inspiration she had for this new website that serves the home cook: “Americans had gone from just consuming media to knowing so much about food that they wanted to express themselves. So many had sought their own platform through blogs. And that was really interesting to us. There was a lot of good recipe writing and beautiful food photography happening online but no place to centralize it and celebrate great cooks. There is a great tradition in the United States with community cookbooks. We thought what if you brought that concept online?”

This delightful journal dedicated to the literature of food possesses undeniable appeal. Alimentum explores the power of food within our lives, not simply to satiate us, but to help us understand who we are and where we came from.


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The American Poetry ReviewThe American Poetry Review

Volume 40 Number 3

May/June 2011


Review by Bracha Goykadosh

The American Poetry Review is an old school classic. Like the New York Review of Books, its large, newspaper sheets enchant readers who nostalgically yearn for the days of yore before Wasteland iPad apps and “liking” poems on Facebook (or the social media engine of your choice). This is not to say that APR is a musty old rag littered with obscure and dank Poundian cantos. Intriguing interviews and poetry grace its pages.

Ernest Hilbert’s interview with Donald Hall delighted me—a reader who is generally interested in the molding and evolution of American poetry, and a fledging poet (aren’t we all?) who gladly accepts poetry advice from masters. Hall, who was the Poet Laureate of the United States in 2006, gives an engaging and insightful interview. He shares his memories of Robert Frost and Ezra Pound, discusses working with George Plimpton on The Paris Review, and his late wife Jane Kenyon. His advice to young poets includes “be willing to revise” and “lie—for the sake of assonance.” He encourages young poets to “for God’s sake, read the old poets.” I’m no Byron, Shelley, and Keats fan (a trio of lyrical treats? I think not), but from his interview, I trust Hall. If he says read Chaucer, this I will do.

Readers who have little patience for interviews and want only the beef, do not worry. APR showcases exquisite poetry from writers such as Matthew Dickman, Stanley Moss, D.A. Powell, and Kazin Ali.

One of my favorite poems was Ditta Baron Hoeber’s “rose rising.” Composed of nine free verse poems, this larger poem functions as a unit to capture the speaker’s anxiety about a departed lover. Hoeber implicitly and explicitly invokes Samuel Beckett—she recalls the author, stating “beckett writes without any punctuation at all words are strung so that pauses fall when needed” and then utilizes this same lack or disregard for punctuation by only occasionally placing periods or commas. Hoeber is successful, the pauses fall when needed, but this is in part due to the white space incorporated within the poem. This same white space evokes the speaker’s alienation and disconnect.

The set of “three poems” by Kazin Ali captivate. He shares the same surname as Agha Shahid Ali (I know, I know, it’s as common as Smith) and his poems share the same haunting, elegiac quality. In “The Fortieth Day,” within four two-line stanzas, Ali captures rebirth from within destruction. Invoking the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark, Ali writes:

Seeing your way clear
Of endless storm
A raft carries you across
The unstruck sound
You leave off the body
No one’s playing
Every body looking for something
Newer than death

The startling nature and purity of Ali’s little poem remind me why I read poetry to begin with—to find something strange within something familiar and old. But I suppose, this reminder is not only exclusive to Ali’s poem, but the entire journal. The American Poetry Review is a celebration an examination of poetry and poetics.


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apt coverapt

Volume 2 Issue 1



Review by Jennifer Vande Zande

After twenty-four online issues, apt, in existence since 2005, has done something uncommon in today’s literary scene. At a time when many journals are abandoning print altogether to establish themselves exclusively as online venues, no doubt as a strategic move toward long-term viability, apt has decided the two mediums can and should exist alongside one another. For its 2011 inaugural print issue, apt has brought together the work of Curtis Tompkins, Janelle M. Segarra, Christina Kapp, and David Bartone among others.

Vincent Scarpa’s “God Is in Agriculture” takes up no more than a page and a half; its power, however, is in its restraint. It is the story of a farmer, his wife, and their precarious relationship with their future:

Tony Granik looks up at the silo, that blue angel of death, then over the acres that reach out as far as drowning arms. It’s two weeks until harvest, and he knows the corn hasn’t gotten the attention it needs. He knows that during growing season, corn is like a newborn baby, that it needs love and water and a close eye on it. Granik knows all the variables of a year’s work: fertile soil, good drainage, full sun, space and infestation. Babies grow for nine months, corn for ninety days, and Tony Granik finds out in two weeks which will harvest better. Which, if either, will be worth the investment.

Scarpa digs deep into his characters’ psyches, flushing out both hope and hopelessness in this short piece of fiction.

“Evinrude” is Brian Bahouth’s piece about a sixteen-year-old boy who sets out on an unyielding quest to build a machine that will allow him to recreate the elation he feels while flying in his dreams: “An instantaneous connection between thought and flight made every joyous escape from gravity a carnival of free will. The waking flightless world was barren and colorless by contrast.” In the end, it is an eighteen-horsepower engine that this boy finally decides to affix to the back of his johnboat—rated for no more than three. Bahouth’s wonderfully eerie imagery had me circling back to revisit his disconcerting resolution.

I also appreciated N. A’Yara Stein’s ease of phrasing in the poem “To Have and To Hold”:

Border radio sings 50 thousand watts out of Mexico,
melds static with the papery rustle of palm fronds in fan breeze.
As if in prayer, he bows his head as she refills his coffee,
pirates a flash at the spot where he wants to pin a kiss.

In the editors’ note, Ranldoph Pfaff, Carissa Halston, Robin E. Mork and J.F. Lynch write, “In a time when readers are crying that print is [finally, honestly, genuinely] dead, we’ve moved to the tangible page.” Forge ahead apt. Trust your instincts and broaden you readership. Being bent on doing things your own way may just be the fuel behind your success.


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Bomb coverBomb

Number 116

Summer 2011


Review by Jeff Vande Zande

MoMA advertises in Bomb. To be more specific, MoMA advertises on the entire back cover of Bomb. I noticed it immediately, and it wired my expectations for what I would find inside. MoMA doesn’t advertise in just any magazine.

If in response to the above, you asked, “What’s MoMA?” I would answer, “Bomb isn’t for you.” To be honest, Bomb isn’t for me. That’s not a slight against the magazine, not by a long shot. It’s also not meant to be a slight to mine or anyone’s intelligence. Bomb’s readers aren’t necessarily more intelligent than the readers of other magazines, though there’s no doubting that they are intelligent. The readers of Bomb—I’m speculating a bit here—have refined taste and a very nuanced interest in the arts, especially the artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, and other people behind the arts.

One of my favorite extended conversations was between the late mythologist Joseph Campbell and Michael Toms of New Dimensions Radio. It was a remarkable interview. Of course, Campbell was phenomenal… that’s a given. Interestingly—and as should be—Toms offered a great deal to the dialogue as well. Throughout their lengthy conversation, Toms brought insights to the table that allowed Campbell to expand on his own thoughts in directions that he may not have otherwise.

Interviewing is truly an art form. At its best it becomes genuine conversation. Michael Toms, perhaps intuitively, understood the craft. In the same spirit, the editors of Bomb, through their careful pairing of interviewer and interviewee, lay bare their desire to orchestrate an artful conversation, and not simply have a standard Q&A.

The conversations in Bomb are art. Period.

Mickalene Thomas talks with Sean Landers, a former teacher of hers at the Yale University School of Art. How brilliant of Bomb to bring together a cutting-edge painter/visual artist with her professor from a decade before, a successful artist in his own right. The talk is layered, sometimes challenging, but always honest.

Then there is the conversation between harpist Joanna Newsom and fellow musician Roy Harper. Because Newsom admires Harper as much as he does her, she often turns questions on him, and readers are left with the sense that they are getting two interviews for the price of one.

Additionally, Tin House’s Rob Spillman interviews Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina. I try to imagine interviewing Wainaina, and I can almost hear myself asking, “So, wow, that’s quite a name. What’s that like?” I simply don’t have the background knowledge to enter the conversation. Here, instead, is one of Spillman’s informed questions: “So when you write, do you make a conscious decision to ever use Sheng or Kiswahili or anything outside of English? Language is so important to you, and there are so many different language influences on you, how do you decide what to use?”

Bomb isn’t only about interviews. There are erudite reviews of books, films, art exhibits, artists, and experimental plays. Plus, the magazine includes the First Proof department, which is Bomb’s literary supplement. Fiction and poetry… all of it skillful, and some of it stunning and absolutely necessary. Elissa Schappell’s short story “Monsters of the Deep,” a tale of two misfit high school students, still haunts me to the point that I feel their scars are my scars. The issue’s poetry offers alternative definitions of what poetry can be, and I mean that absolutely as a compliment.

I’m glad Bomb exists. It’s the kind of thing that makes me doubt that America is as culturally bankrupt as television would lead me to believe. Bomb’s readers are highly educated. They are also arts-minded as well as arts activists. To call them curious would be an understatement. Better to call them hungry for more. They want more than the artwork or the artist’s biography. They want something personal, particular and passionate. They want the artistry of the perfect interview, which is what Bomb delivers.


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Camera Obscura coverCamera Obscura

Volume 3

Summer/Fall 2011


Review by Mark Danowsky

Come for the literary fiction and enjoy some fine photography while you're here. This issue is worth the cover price just for Adam Peterson's award winning story “It Goes Without Saying.” The story follows a travel writer as he navigates a personal crisis while attending a conference abroad where he is the guest of honor. Peterson incorporates apothegms of travel wisdom, without pretension, and avoids the pitfall of didactic lecturing while incorporating just the right amount of comic relief: “The world went on around him, he just wasn't home to watch it. This was another mistruth of travel writing. The distance one felt when getting away was an illusion. Everything, including the traveler, fell hopelessly forward.”

Apart from Peterson's story, which is by far the most accessible to a mainstream audience, two notable pieces of fiction include Barret Baumgart's “The Landfill” and J. Caleb Winter's “Faith and Burning.” Baumgart's troubling, short piece involves two men working as security guards at a landfill and is along the lines of a modern tale by Edgar Allen Poe. Winter, however, takes the reader to a rural setting in a world of vices. In “Faith and Burning,” the narrator relates: “I had buzzed my head for boot camp, bought a .22 rifle and shells from the bulletin boards, and wore a shirt that said, Meet new and interesting people, and kill them, in the Marines.” Though at odds in approach, both stories force the reader out of comfort zones and into terra incognita without leaving the States.

One look at Camera Obscura and you can tell nobody was pinching any pennies in its production. This reviewer is not the first to point out that the photo quality is impressive. The color is intense, so vivid, in fact, that it easily compares with the quality of Taschen or related art books. Each photograph in this issue is evocative and can stand alone. Still, sometimes they play off each other: Matt Walford's light and playful “Pink Dresses” contrasts well with the sincerity of Claudio Allia's “Flower Pots.”

Camera Obscura's artful layout and presentation make for an enjoyable reading and viewing experience just as a good notebook adds to the weight of each word the writer pens.


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Columbia Poetry Review coverColumbia Poetry Review

Number 24



Review by Bracha Goykadosh

Re-reading through Columbia Poetry Review (read first for the pure pleasure of reading, and second for reviewing), I noticed that I had dog-eared a third of the pages of the journal. Why have I marked all of these poems? I wondered. Were they all really that good?

Judging by the names on the back cover of the journal, yes, they should all really be that good. D.A. Powell, Dean Young and Amy Gerstler, to name a few. Literati, rejoice! However, we are all taught as young children not to judge books by their covers, or even the words on their covers. This venture should be no exception—let us take a look inside.

Leif Haven’s terrifically funny and engaging poem, “Joy Division All the Time,” enumerates the speaker’s job “as a bell hop, inn keeper, valet and room service at this bed and breakfast where rooms were four hundred plus a night.” His conversational tone and seemingly mundane subject matter (his job, his haircut, folding laundry) evoke Frank O’Hara. Unlike O’Hara, however, Haven does not provide pithy little stanzas, but instead meditates on juicier, longer paragraphs, such as: "I was half drunk on stolen wine pushing / somebody else’s hundred thousand dollar car that I didn’t own into the street but by God I / got it down there. I don’t remember if the owners got the feather boa or not, but I’m pretty / sure they still tipped."

Haven’s poem presents a rarity in the world of imagery, metaphor, assonance, and alliteration: character. That is, instead of the speaker being a loud voice through which images and flits of thoughts can be conveyed, the speaker is a tangible and audible figure. Which is not to say the poem becomes a work of fiction, as some of you might like to argue. By creating a strong character presence in his poem, Haven successfully conveys all those poetic treats MFA professors squeal gleefully over: metaphor, depth, lyric, etc.

The range of poetry is laudable. Paula Bohince’s elegant “The Oak” is completely different, style-wise, compared to Haven’s poem. A tight, beautiful construction:

The oak sags
with yellow ribbon,
mice burrowed
in its hold
on siblings,
as infant clothes do
in a bureau.

Bohince has effectively de-familiarized her readers. Comparing the mice in an oak to infant clothes in a bureau introduces a layer of gentle purity and softness. By exquisitely juxtaposing these two images, Bohince’s poem transforms a scene to a story.

One thing I am always concerned about as a reader of poetry is accessibility. That is, are the poems readable, or do the poets indulge in too much witty wordplay, invoke obscure muses, and/or rant? Perhaps I dog-eared so many poems in Columbia Poetry Review because, while the poems refrain from density and pretentiousness, they are all engaging and intelligent.


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The Gettysburg Review coverThe Gettysburg Review

Volume 24 Number 2

Summer 2011


Review by Charles H. Davenport

On its homepage, the editors of The Gettysburg Review proclaim an unwavering commitment to literary excellence and “emotionally stimulating” art. This issue of the quarterly journal certainly attests to that commitment, making it easy to see why the editors have earned many awards over the past several years. With so much that is good, choosing which pieces and which writers to highlight is a challenge.

Two short stories, “Civil Twilight” by Timothy Hedges and “Buddha Jumps Over the Wall” by Sukhee Ryu, are especially moving. The settings for both stories feature urban landscapes inhabited almost exclusively by the socially marginalized—the dregs of Detroit and the seemingly sequestered inhabitants of “Koreatown” in Los Angeles—and both authors infuse their writing with such exquisitely detailed scenery that readers can be forgiven for mistaking these pieces as memoirs rather than fiction. The narrator in “Civil Twilight” is Augie Salvatore, a Detroit bus driver whose father, Mayo, is a retired bus driver dying in an unglamorous city hospital. While Augie navigates the same littered streets his father did, he struggles to reconcile the impending loss of his father with the reality of his own life, which mirrors that of his father’s. But the city Hedges paints is not one filled with hopelessness, rather it is one whose residents are entrenched in a battle for dignity and self-worth.

While Hedges covers the span of just one bus ride, Sukhee Ryu’s story encompasses nearly the entire life of her protagonist, whose name we never know. Ryu begins her tale: “What I am going to tell you concerns a woman. Of this woman’s life I know nothing certain, and what I do remember about her is scant enough to be recorded in its entirety in just a few pages.” True, but the story is really about the narrator who learns to appreciate the most basic elements of his native Korea, especially the soup, “Buddha Jumps Over the Wall,” from which the story derives its title. Living mostly alone and losing his life savings in an investment scam, the narrator finds comfort in a few brief glimpses of a waitress and the simplicity of soup.

The Gettysburg Review also presents powerful pieces by a number of notable poets. Among them are David Wagoner and Rebecca Hazelton. In his poem, “Taking Leave of My Senses,” Wagoner says goodbye to the one who taught him how to see, touch, hear, taste and smell, and he does so “one ganglion at a time.” He wonders, now that this friend is gone, what he will do, realizing he may not be far behind:

…so what on earth
am I going to do now? Here’s mud in your eye
and mine and in our ears and on our tongue
and up our nose and under these fingertips.

In her poem, “Elise as Marie Antoinette at Her Toilette,” poet Rebecca Hazelton begins with a confession: “I dream of a disco heaven.” And, in her heaven, “the prettiest boys are sodomatic in the strobe […] and the record never skips.” But, she reminds us, society (real life?) is never free of the machinations of gender:

It’s always the same
yellow fluff
that molts into a mother,
then gets its head cut off
when the pearls cease
to descend in an ordered string.

In the end, Hazelton returns to her dream, her longing to free her body of its societal confines, and she would do it “for the crowd’s love—my unwashed darlings / who could think for a moment I’d deny / you bread, cake, or anything.”

The essays in this issue are outstanding. In “Bad Birds,” John Nelson makes the case that birds have not always had it so easy in America. While we may now sing the praises of the bald eagle, the sparrow, warblers, and many others, it wasn’t always this way. In fact, Nelson explains, the promiscuity of many birds was once considered an abomination, an actual sin. Even the dining manners of such highly revered birds as the bald eagle were once compared to those of a tyrant, because only a tyrant would kill harmless animals or eat carrion. But Nelson is making the much larger point that if it is foolish to apply human moral standards to birds, then “it is even more nonsensical to justify any human behavior on the grounds that, like the birds and beasts, we are destined to rob, cheat, rape, or go to war over vital resources.”

The Summer 2011 issue of The Gettysburg Review is filled with too much good writing to do it justice here. The editors certainly deliver on their promise.


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Jersey Devil Press coverJersey Devil Press

Issue 22

July 2011

Online Monthly

Review by Henry F. Tonn

This is an attractive, well-organized journal that does something I really like: the stories are presented both in regular script or can be downloaded as a pdf. Their contemporaries often do one or the other, and it is nice to have a choice. The editors describe their interests the following way: “Our tastes tend more toward the offbeat and the absurd, the unclassifiable and the insane, stories most other publishers can’t be bothered with.” Well, they certainly have been successful in finding and publishing work to their taste. I had a great time reading their offbeat and usually humorous tales.

I liked all five stories in this issue, some of them being absolutely hilarious. “Golden Hours” by Colleen Chen is about a man who has the short-lived ability (due to the blessings of a fairy) to pee on anything and turn it into gold. Unfortunately, he keeps getting beaten up, robbed, and arrested, preventing him from turning this gift into any wealth for himself. “Jesus’ Nephew,” by Joe Thompson, outlines the vexations of a man who has been reincarnating for two thousand years and now has made the mistake of getting a woman named Sherri pregnant and the two of them are delivering the baby in the handicapped stall of a bathroom in an Arby’s restaurant. If this sounds implausible, it gets even more peculiar from there.

“Jolly Roger” by Michael Sions concerns a young man with a decomposing body in his basement that eventually becomes a skeleton. He wanders around telling people about it, getting a variety of reactions, while periodically talking to an insurance salesman who wants to sell him insurance alternately for floods, tornadoes, and greyhounds. Lastly, “Red,” by Christopher Owen, is a variation of the “Little Red Riding Hood” story which begins: “'Here,' said Red’s mother, a half-smoked and ash-laden cigarette dangling from her well glossed lips, 'take this basket of ennui to your grandmother.'” You know, there is nothing more gratifying than getting rid of the ennui laying around your house.

I haven’t enjoyed doing a review so much in years. If you’re tired of the stuffy literature coming from the big guys, take a break and have a few ho ho’s with Jersey Devil Press. Bizarro at its best.


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Modern Haiku coverModern Haiku

Volume 42 Number 2

Summer 2011


Review by Bracha Goykadosh

Perhaps of all the poetic forms—sonnet, ghazal, villanelle, sestina— the haiku is the most elegant. A tiny, carefully constructed edifice, its 5-7-5 pattern must contain within some image or message. And of all the poetic forms, perhaps the haiku is the poetic form that is most contemporarily relevant. For those of us who are constantly texting or emailing, brevity is king. It’s not surprising that there is a form of Twitter haikus called Twaikus.

Modern Haiku captures both the revered grace and contemporary appeal of haikus. This journal consists of haikus, senryūs, and essays on the haiku. Additionally, this particular issue contains a mini-chapbook titled spectrum by John Martone.

Each haiku is exquisite. Charlie Close writes:

what now?
Mother’s house full
of old glass

Close evokes an object of fragility within the maternal sphere in these brief nine syllables. More provokingly, we can see this delicate object, this old glass.

Later in the journal, Peter Joseph Gloviczki writes:

my wife asks me
who I am

This haiku can be read in two ways. If superficially reading, one can assume that the speaker’s wife asks him who he is because of a costume. Yet, at the core of this haiku seems to reside alienation and uncertain identity.

Lee Gurga beautifully writes later: “the scent of paradise a dead bird in my hand.” The sense of abjection Gurga invokes by mentioning the “dead bird in my hand” starkly contrasts with the “scent of paradise.” One would not expect to see these two thoughts juxtaposed. However, imagining the bird as an exalted being, a being able to fly and transcend worlds, reveals the bird’s connection to paradise. Furthermore, Gurga invokes the tactile by mentioning “in my hand.” He can touch and feel this dead bird—and in a sense, so can we as readers.

My favorite essay in this issue was Roberta Beary’s “Haiku Artifact.” In this very short essay, Beary writes about an old issue of Modern Haiku she found, with a note inside from the founding editor Kay Titus Mormino. We can sense Beary’s excitement about this discovery. Additionally, the note is included within the text.

The journal also contains a series of images and haikus together—creations that combine two mediums: word and color.

Particularly if you have mild attention deficient disorder (and most of us—God bless the seven second TV commercial—do), the bite-size (fun-size!) poems in this journal appeal. Modern Haiku celebrates the poetic form.


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Neon coverNeon

Number 26



Review by Robin Devereaux-Nelson

They say that good things come in small packages, and this gritty issue certainly backs up the claim. Neon is a perfect take-along for the train, bus or plane, tucked in a pocket or a bag, and will transport you to a world full of stark visuals, poetry and prose perfectly accompanied by sharp black and white photography.

How apt the striking cover art by photographer Mario Alberto Magallanes Trejo, depicting cement pilings, a stark city-scape in the background. This body of work essentially has an urban feel, with the exception of two poems by Gregory Dunn, “Northern Lights” and “You’re Not At The Top Of The Food Chain Here, My Friend.” Dunn’s poetry takes us on a whimsical, refreshing vacation out of the city of Neon and into the wooded wilds. L.E. Butler’s story, “Pitch,” also adds a softness to this collection, a dream interlude, that is full of longing—and truth.

The remainder of the collection has an industrial feel that tastes of metal and muscle: from the mechanical, steam-engine driven poetry of Grant Loveys to Nemone Thomas’s mesmerizing science fiction/horror piece “Safe Keeping”:

Dixie sees the thing on the tracks first. “It’s a body.” The track is a long, long way below the bridge. Matt has binoculars. “It’s a skeleton.” We take turns. It is a skeleton. Not a clean one; bits of old tissue are still sticking to it. It’s dark, like those mummies that people find in bogs. Brendan thinks that as well as the remains of tissue, it’s wearing clothes. Shreds of trousers, at least. We wait for a long time, but no train comes. I want to see a train go through the body, and I wonder if the others feel the same.

Thomas explores the dark desires of human beings living an automaton-like existence, who create titillating, scary adventures as if they are children stuck at a boring vacation spot.

I read Amy Schreibman Walter’s poem “The Frustration of Barbie,” both silently and aloud, thoroughly enjoying the piece’s rhythm, candor, humor and bitterness. Walter’s poem speaks of a woman’s frustration, of spoiled connection:

His three-piece suit is slipping.
She lowers his grey pants to his ankles.
Naked, Ken is missing a man part;
his crotch, a sick joke.

At the poem’s conclusion, Walter’s sets Barbie free Thelma and Louise style, with Barbie driving herself off a cliff on a coastal road in her Dream Car, “She is liberated, liberated. Glistening with potential.”

I was also struck by “Emergence of the Robot” by Ashley Maser, a concise piece that melds the contrasts of technology and humanness to create a tight word sculpture. Maser’s poem, “The Leaving,” connects the reader to the issue of abandonment, and the ways we are moved to mundane tasks as a way to mask the pain of desertion by someone we’ve loved.

As a collection, Neon packs a lot of punch for its minimal size. This thoughtfully-planned little book is a definite keeper.


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New Millennium Writings coverNew Millennium Writings

Number 20



Review by John Palen

Imagine a roomy, comfortable venue somewhere in Knoxville, Tennessee. You’re there just in time for a marathon read-in: Fiction writers, memoirists, poets, almost 100 of them, coming up one after the other. There are widely published writers, college writing teachers, and students in MFA programs, and there are other folks who identify themselves as neurologists, gardeners, grandmothers, homebuilders. A couple of young people present their work for the very first time anywhere, and it’s good, and everyone applauds and encourages them: Keep writing, keep it up.

There are prize winners: A. Molotkov, B. K. Loren and Vic Sizemore for fiction; Deirdra McAfee, Travis Ladonuel, Carol J. Arnold, and M. M. De Voe for short-shorts; Amy Andrews, Josh MacIvor-Andersen, Ellen Graf, and Jann Banales for nonfiction. The two big crowd pleasers are the hilarious “Time Capsule” by Arnold, and MacIvor-Anderson’s “Bread and Company,” a memoir about the aftermath of meeting God in dreadlocks in a diner.

Late in the evening there’s a stir. Who is that walking up to the platform? Is that Nikki Giovanni? It is! She’s a Knoxville native, of course, and local journalist Jack Neely interviews her about the arc of her life from ‘60s militant to gentle, whimsical children’s book author and writing teacher.

These days Giovanni launches book tours from Knoxville’s grand old Tennessee Theater, but when she was a child she wasn’t even allowed inside. When she first saw the amenities, in her 40s, she “had a revelation about the segregationist mindset. ‘Of course they don’t want you to be in here […] They don’t want you to see it’s not as shabby as any place else! Back then, white toilets were always clean; black toilets were always dirty.’ But then she laughs. ‘With integration, of course, all toilets are dirty.’”

Tonight Giovanni is at the marathon read-in because she agreed to be a poetry contest judge. Before announcing winners, she reads one of her own poems, “when the girl became a poet.” The piece is full of tenderness, anger, bitterness and surprise—the best work of the evening.

But that’s nothing off the winners: Barbara Knott, Pamela Uschuk, and Jim Glenn Thatcher, as well as a number of honorable mentions. Uschuk prefaces her “Shostakovich: Five Pieces” by saying she wrote it “in a white heat during a recital by violinist Kasia Sokol,” to whom the poem is dedicated. In the third movement, “Elegy,” she writes:

There can be no poetry
or music without lilies or bullets,
the frail lace of birch bark peeling
under a tyrant’s arthritic hands.

What a wonderful evening—uneven, yes, but accepting, supportive, welcoming, with generous dollops of the real thing. The way it needs to be sometimes.


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New Ohio Review coverNew Ohio Review

Issue 8

Fall 2010


Review by Kenneth Nichols

The population of the Buckeye State is famously diverse, blending urban and rural, conservative and progressive. This diversity of perspectives is reflected in Issue 8 of the New Ohio Review. The editors eschew an opening comment, allowing the poetry, fiction and nonfiction to speak for itself.

The lively prose in Patrick Hicks’ “Living with the Dead” carries the reader through the story of a young man whose family runs a funeral home. Though surrounded by death (particularly the passing of a young woman from his school), Brian has learned that “no one teaches you how to enjoy life better than the dead.” His pursuit of romance in the story seems somehow sweeter when filtered through the perspective of a teenager who understands how very special it is to make a connection with someone who wants to connect with you.

Beth Marzoni’s four poems in the journal earned her second prize for the New Ohio Review’s Prize in Poetry. Her work blends stream-of-consciousness momentum with perceptive social observation, employing a close personal lens to comment upon our national challenges. “Giving the Bird” does this especially well, comparing the country’s partisan discord to the kind found around the dinner table during Thanksgiving. In a way, the comfortable ceremonies of the political realm mimic the yearly retelling of the same family stories.

Irene Keliher’s nonfiction piece “Putting Girls on the Map” deconstructs the image of the antisocial geography bee nerd. Keliher depicts her journey to the national competition as a powerful rite of adolescent passage, leading her to an adult epiphany. The trip laid bare her mother’s dimensions: “powerful, weak, maddening, comforting.”

The issue concludes with a series of seven brief reflections from excellent writers who reconsidered their thoughts regarding significant works of fiction. Particularly interesting is Peter Turchi’s confession of his unashamed affection for Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Turchi celebrates Capote’s charming, masterful diction while reminding the reader that popular culture can be entertaining without being vacuous.

This marriage of the traditional and experimental makes the New Ohio Review a worthy refuge for any literary-minded person and this issue’s combination of genres creates an interesting reading experience.


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New South coverNew South

Volume 4 Number 1

Winter 2011


Review by Robin Devereaux-Nelson

I am of the firm belief that all writers should read a lot. The problem with this is, most of us still schlep to “real jobs” and grab our writing time when we can—that hour after the kids go to bed, or early Sunday mornings, in the basement, when everyone else is still asleep. How are we expected to have time to read, for pity’s sake?

New South’s Short Prose and Long Poems edition solves this time issue for us. This meaty collection is chock full of little reads that you can slip in between the morning commute and catching the elevator, between loads of laundry, or on the bus—five or ten minutes of literary bliss for the unbelievably reasonable price of five smackers.

In this beautifully assembled collection, the stories are poetry and the poetry tells stories. These selections mesh together so well that the reader is unaware of sliding between two literary forms, short prose and long poem. The work is gripping, often graphic, always heartfelt. These obviously carefully-chosen pieces are connected by blood and bone.

There were many moments of heart and gut-wrenching emotion reading the stark truth of Adam Tavel’s “Our Currency of Air” which describes the emotions of a new father watching his catastrophically pre-mature son in the neo-natal ward, the shame of prejudice in Sarah Fawn Montgomery’s “My Brother the Cholo,” and the haunting “Hunger Moon” by Judy Jordan. “True also,” Jordan writes,

what I’ve heard:
on the seventeenth day
of no food
you leave ground,
float a foot
above gravel and grass
a foot above
the mere, mortal world.

Everyday experience connects the reader to the writer in “The Manatee Exhibit” by Paula Carter, “She Tries to Explain What Happened” by Susan Morehouse, Stacie Evans’s “The Invisible Son,” and “Novocain” by Helen Hooper. Folded between the beautifully pastel-rendered cover art urging “Eat me” and “Drink me,” these stories beg the reader “See me” in all my simplicity and complication.

Short prose, long poems: brilliant! The opportunity for exposure to a wealth of talented, gritty writers in a pocket-sized tome. Kudos to New South’s editors for this amazing collection. With luminous moments too numerous to mention, this edition is a must have for readers and writers alike.


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Parnassus coverParnassus

Poetry in Review

Volume 32 Numbers 1 & 2



Review by Patrick James Dunagan

Parnassus is a brick. At 500+ pages, it holds forth as a mammoth among literary journals (Fulcrum and Vlak being two others having recently published issues that come immediately to mind). The other night at Glen Park Station after a poetry reading, a friend, who himself happens to edit a literary annual, remarked that he finds such a size far too unwieldy and awkward to get around in as a reader. Yet nonetheless, there’s a rather charming and fascinating draw towards large volumes. They possess a seductive quality that’s difficult to resist as they always bring on the feeling that the next round of reading is going to yield another surprise. In this regard, the new issue of Parnassus does not disappoint.

This last month I’ve had a good time dipping in and out of Parnassus rather at random. As authors are only cited at the end of entries, and since nearly all the contributions run to several pages, it’s a welcome opportunity to start reading a piece without knowing whose writing it is. The various works share a certain flow, or rather several, which run throughout the volume as a whole. One item leads into or out of the next. Primary subjects under discussion include figures such as James Merrill and Guy Davenport, two widely divergent poetic minds. Opera and music along with the art of translation are given prominent criticism. And Mark Halliday’s imagined (?) conversation about American Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of New Poetry between a group of grad students and a professor over beers quickly serves as a mini-treatise on the art of book reviewing itself.

Though limited in quantity, the reproductions of artworks included serve as fitting compliments to accompanying texts. As Deborah Pease offers a poem portrait in words of Jane Freilicher’s painting Pierrot and Peonies: “It has the air of being a dream, […] All is simple and calm / like slowly revealed truth, […] She dreams of the painting, / Dream inside the dream.” Nell Blaine’s portrait Jane Freleicher on 21st Street appears on the page following Freilicher’s painting. In this manner, text leads into conversation with image, which in turn enters into dialogue with another image. Such correspondence continues with Robert Morse’s painting The Surly Temple, which gives an inside glimpse of the central characters from James Merrill’s close social milieu, which is covered in the included excerpt of Langdom Hammer’s forthcoming biography. This enriching mesh of visual contextualizing of printed text is only one highlight among many.

Easily one of the most pleasing poems of the year appears here. The Greek poet Nasos Vayenas, translated by Richard Berengarten and Paschalis Nikolaou, appears with “Jorge Luis Borges in University Street” and it’s a stunning sight:

Your voice sends sap through my bones.
Deep down, you’re a Greek.

It’s not for nothing that Vayenas would adopt Borges as a countryman. Greek poets have a heritage that haunts Borges:

You’re pursued by Homer—in a black cab.
Out on the town all night.
Bedraggled, disheveled.
He stubs out one cigarette after another.

It’s almost worth having this issue just to read this one poem over and over again. And if it gets you to reminiscing about Cocteau’s film Orphée, everything works out great since Stuart Klawans’s essay “Narcissus Sees Through Himself: On Jean Cocteau and the Invention of the Film Poet” is snugly resting in here some several dozen pages back before the poem, amply supplying reasons to revisit and sit with Cocteau’s work.

This sort of cross-hatching weave of conversation between various contributions is what I find enchanting in the brick format of the literary annual. As has been hopefully demonstrated, it gives the reader opportunity to have multiple reading experiences with the volume as a whole—sometimes with the same text, mixing and matching it with different companion-texts.

As much as ever, the editors of Parnassus continue to pull contributions from as wide a spectrum of literary endeavor as possible. This is perhaps the one literary journal that comes closest to having something for nearly everybody. The only missing element would be some youthful, less established voices. All the contributors to this issue appear to have at least one or two books out from fairly established presses or else have work published in other journals of significant presence. I’m left wondering about all those others out there avidly publishing with smaller presses and journals and/or the over-abundant online zines of today. This is no plea for more of an “under forty” crowd of hipsters, just mere acknowledgement of what is not to be found here.


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Pilgrimage coverPilgrimage

Volume 36 Issue 1



Review by John Palen

The pleasure starts as soon as you pick up this magazine. Striking black-and-white linoleum block prints by Melissa West on front and back covers are worth lingering over before you even get inside. Their design and typography call so little attention to themselves that you may not even stop to think about how beautiful type can be when it’s handled well. Instead, you sit back and let yourself be drawn effortlessly into some wonderful writing.

My favorite is Mylène Dressler’s essay “Found,” a set of six encounters with people as diverse as a homeless man, two wealthy birdwatchers in Central Park, a woman in the waiting room of a hospital where Dressler’s huband is about to be diagnosed—she doesn’t know this yet—with cancer. Slowly and naturally the linkages emerge in the writer’s constant mission to collect details about “what can happen, which is what a story is.”

Another fine essay, “Qadisha,” by Iver Arnegard, keeps hints of danger and loss alive just beneath the casual surface of a day trip with a friend in the mountains of Northern Lebanon. The author puts us where he is, driving mountain switchbacks, hiking through cedar forests, accepting an old woman’s gift of apples. But at their destination, a cave in a deep gorge, the reality of tragic life breaks through as Arnegard first hears the legend of Saint Miriam, who lived disguised as a man so she could be a monk. Unjustly accused of rape, she spends her last decades alone in the cave. As monks prepare her body for burial, they discover what she had been hiding. “As I look up at the stalactites overhead, a draft stirs from somewhere toward the back of the cavern, where the shale walls disappear into darkness. I try to imagine spending nearly a lifetime here. But I can’t.”

Jennifer Sinor’s biographical note hints that her remarkable piece, “Returned,” might be nonfiction, although it might not. Either way, it’s a powerful journey through a mother’s emotions as she loses and desperately hunts for her young son at the beach. (At the end, she finds him, unhurt.) Other notable essays are Shiv Dutta’s “Teddy’s Story,” and Susan Marsh’s “The Great Oyster Shell Escape.” Rosalyn Parrilla Garvey’s light “Egg-lectic Musings” shows that puns can still be fun.

The poetry ranges over a wide field, from a translation of Rumi, experimental prose poems, an untranslated poem in Spanish by the bi-lingual cleric Samuel Arizpe, and a number of other finely crafted works. My favorites are Marilyn Krysl’s long “Ocean Sob Song Rant Song,” Dennis Maloney’s “For Sandy Taylor,” and Chris Ransick’s “194 Things to Do,” which begins:

First, decipher directions
on the human body,
intricate charts and diagrams,
the loci of muscles and
nerves, the shy imagination.



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Poetry East coverPoetry East

Number 70

Spring 2011


Review by Mark Danowsky

This issue of Poetry East is a compendium of 100 short poems evenly divided into four sections―Morning, Midday, Evening, Night. While readers will be treated to a few poems from household names, what is far more significant is the natural flow from one piece to the next regardless of who authored them. I have never heard literary magazines, or poetry collections for that matter, referred to as "page turners," but there is a kind of lightness in these poems that leads to precisely this end. Take for example Andrea Potos's poem "Abundance to Share with the Birds," which evokes the image of hair strands removed from a brush taken up by the wind to be collected by birds for a nest.

The title of this issue (Wider than the Sky) takes its name from Emily Dickinson's poem “The Brain–is wider than the sky,” in which she writes “the brain is just the weight of god.” It should be noted that there is some talk of a higher power in this issue of Poetry East, but these instances are not so pervasive that readers who might otherwise prefer to avoid such discussion ought to be put off.

Many poems in this collection have a kind of magic in their simplicity. In Harvey Shapiro's "East Hampton Reading" we are told of an elderly man at a poetry reading who has all of his work memorized. Or Jeannine Dobbs's "The Legacy," which is both a tribute to the people and places discussed within but also as a reminder of what poetry as an art form has to offer us―in this case, the gaining of satisfaction from the smaller pleasures in life. Sara Willingham's poem, along this same line of thought, "Still Grieving,” is a meditation on the great significance we find in events that even we who experienced the event might consider too benign to bring up in conversation. Somehow these notions find their place within the realm of poetry.

Jack Myers explains the importance of poetry's glorification of the seemingly mundane with precision in "The World's Highest Mountain" where he writes: "In the end if the work each one has done / has made a space inside for someone else, it's sacred."

The translated poems in this issue are well chosen, from the unsettling poem "General, Your Tank Is Some Strong Car,” by Bertolt Brecht, translated by James Doss, to the powerful notions evoked in Laszlo Gyori's poem "The Weight of Earth," translated by Timothy Kachinske. Brecht's poem, from 1938, features a speaker who appears prophetic of the frightening mentality soon to arise with the Third Reich, whereas Gyori's piece asks us to conceptualize a world in which the earth somehow rights itself through blood shed on the battlefield.

Other notable poems include Teddy Macker's “Encyclopedia,” Antonia Pozzi's “Deserted,” which is translated by Deborah Woodard, Pablo Fernando Hernandez's “What I Know” translated by John Brotherson, Gary Metras's defeatist poem “Lint,” and an untitled poem by Cid Corman in which he writes, “There are things to be said. No Doubt.”

Poetry East has a minimalist sensibility and provides the reader with straight-forward words on a page. No nonsense, just poems. Readers of short free verse will not be disappointed.

Edited by acclaimed poet and professor of English at DePaul University Richard Jones, Poetry East is fit to stand alongside top tier literary magazines.


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Polaris coverPolaris

Volume 54



Review by Jeff Vande Zande

Polaris has always been about undergraduate writing, specifically the undergraduate writing of students at Ohio Northern University. The issue I reviewed, however, offered a slight twist on the focus. Editors Brian Hohmeier and Andrew Merecicky explained that “for the first time in the over fifty years of our history as a magazine, the staff and editors were pleased and excited to open up submissions to the global undergraduate writing community.”

Undergraduate writing is akin to minor league baseball, and I’m thinking particularly of Class A ball. I don’t mean that to sound as dismissive as it might. There’s a Class A team in the town where I live, and I attend. Most nights I see a fair to decent game of baseball, even if there are quite a few rookie-level errors.

I teach undergraduate-level writing at a community college. I also advised an undergraduate literary magazine for five years. I’ve seen a lot of undergraduate writing, which is to say—extending the metaphor above—that I’ve been to many minor league games. I always attend such games with the expectation that I’ll likely be disappointed at times, but also with the stubborn optimism that I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

I can say this much. The game I saw over at Polaris Field…it was good game of baseball/writing (oh, hell, I’m a little lost now, too).

Let’s forget the errors, I just want to talk about the game highlights.

The opening of Anna Mirzayan’s poem “I Will Search Out Your Shape” cracks like a line drive and let me know that I was about to read a really striking poem: “I will search out your shape—/ your parted mouth, the red esophagus, / a tongue limp with hunger / like the heavy sound of a bell.” The rest of the poem makes good on the promise of that beginning.

Experimentation in writing is often hard to pull off. When it does happen, though, it’s like watching an effortlessly executed double play: as beautiful as it is difficult. An example is this excerpt from Wendy Xu’s poem “System for Looking Ahead”:

It is a matter of the heart’s unwillingness to cooperate / the heart of the matter
Body slips up against a calloused hand, the dream where because I have you
I forget how to grieve for you. October designing our destruction. Meteor
From light years above—away / the astronaut reports. Those stars are not those
Stars. Light from a thousand dead suns / parting gift

Keep an eye out for Xu. I suspect she’ll be called up to the majors.

In my town’s minor league park, they provide entertainment between the innings. Sometimes it’s just as good as, if not better than, the game. This issue of Polaris is similar with its inclusion of over a dozen stunning undergraduate visual art pieces. Ironically, some of the most intellectually-pleasing prose was to be found in the artist statements.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t good prose from the writers themselves. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the essays, Max Ogles’s “Wordsworth, the Essayist: How Things Work,” didn’t end up in a textbook about essays. In the essay, he provides an intriguing study of the essay—a very misunderstood genre. Ogles writes:

For the sake of these misconceptions, I submit an explanation of the essay as simply as I understand it: the essay has the variable, versatile properties of water. It spreads itself to the limits of its container—an exploration, an observation, or maybe a critique—splashing to fill its boundaries and swaying to the rhythm of the author’s voice. An essay has no rigid formula, process, or structure. It trickles, drips, sprays, splashes, flushes, gushes, freezes, soaks, seeps, spreads, shivers, pa-lunks, and waves.

If that’s not a homerun bit of writing, it’s at least a triple—another of this issue’s really memorable moments, among many.

When the games in my town are going really well, I sometimes look up and am surprised to find that I’m in a minor league ballpark. I can say the same about Polaris. Sometimes I found myself thinking, “Wow, this was written by an undergraduate? Incredible.”

Having dedicated themselves to undergraduate writing for so long, the editors at Polaris know what they are doing, and what they are doing is providing a dignified and handsome forum in which to celebrate undergraduate writing.

Thanks, Polaris. Great game.


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Whiskey Island coverWhiskey Island

Issue 58



Review by C.J. Opperthauser

This issue of Whiskey Island is a good one. In fact, it inspired me to buy a subscription to the magazine. And I'm stingy, so that should tell you a lot.

Having never read an issue of Whiskey Island before this one, I can't say that this is any different from the normal aesthetic or tendencies of the magazine, but this issue shows a heavy bias toward poetry. And I'm very okay with that. Beautifully packed inside these pages of just over one-hundred, are great pieces of art, nonfiction, and reviews. The art is stunning and, I'll admit, a bit perplexing, but a welcome break in the middle of one's read. There's a section of reviews in the back so the reader can keep him or herself busy after the magazine has run its course, though I'll admit I went back and reread my favorite poems instead of hopping online to buy some more books.

And the poems. Oh, the poems. They are good here. Like the one titled “You don't taste like anyone I know” by Simone Muench:

Try blessing the windows
of tilted houses. Try Chinese medicine.
Try Mickey Spillane, a pitcher
of sidecars or Alfred Hitchcock hour.
Try feeding the children.
There is too much fish in Norway,
your aunt says, drunk on
juniper's jive-voiced fever.

The sounds and the beauty of the language here are enough to make me stop and repeat a line until I feel full of it. This is how many of the poems in this issue are. Another of my favorites, “Lake Erie Cars” by Daniel Bourne, is absolutely full of great imagery. And, being a product of the Rust Belt, it strikes home with me:

After a decade under water,
the pint job goes, the metal
opens up like skin.
The license plate rusted through.
Muddied numbers
like the markings on fish
must identify the species,
trace the name
of the drowned man inside.

There are poems in this issue that focus as much on jarring some emotion from the reader as they do making these beautiful sounds. One of them is called “A Clear Night in February” by David Starkey:

I crunch through the snow crust,
fleeing the warmth of our farmhouse.
Let him stew there inside on his rum
and life's worth of disappointments.
I'm seventeen: four months to freedom.
Someone else can bury this corpse-to-be.
Through the window I see him glaring
at the TV, heavy-lidded and murderous.

I'm a sucker for poems about fathers, and man, does this pack a punch. What a powerful beginning. The reader can feel the crunching of the snow, and the verb choices are superb: a man stewing inside on rum and disappointments. The poem is a window into a sad life, if not two, and it's strong.

The fiction in this issue is equally strong. The first line of a story by Susan Overcash Walker, titled “The Harvest Queen,” is perhaps one of the most interesting I've ever encountered: “We called her Prego, not because she was with child, but because when she showed up the first day of school her hair smelled of tomato and garlic.” Immediately, the reader has (or at least should have) a boatload of questions. And, in my humble opinion, anybody whose hair smells of tomato and garlic must have an interesting story to tell. And yes, the story is indeed interesting and enjoyable, as this first line might tell you.


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Yellow Medicine Review coverYellow Medicine Review

Spring 2011


Review by Charles Davenport

The Yellow Medicine Review: A Journal of Indigenous Literature, Art, and Thought has been publishing fiction, poetry, scholarly essays, and art from the perspective of pre-colonial peoples since the Spring of 2007. The cover art for the Spring 2011 edition provides a visual cohesiveness to the broad theme—the tradition of change in indigenous art and literature—addressed in its 256 pages. This issue contains works primarily from North American authors, with a smattering of writers representing indigenous peoples from other parts of the globe.

The journal’s reputation for opening the minds and challenging the self-image of its readers, especially Native Americans, remains intact. Its reputation is solidified with the excellent opening essay by Duane Niatum; and with breathtaking beauty, the poetry of Vivian Faith Prescott, Steve Meador, Kimberly L. Becker, Susan Deer Cloud, Denise Low, and em jollie sing with the unassailable strength of a great spirit that lives now, just as it did in pre-colonial times. There is also a powerful longing that can come only from the continuing incomprehensible loss of everything by which the self is created. In fact, the protagonists in the fiction of Ralph Salisbury and Zachary Benavidez question not only who they may become, but who they actually are.

In his essay, “The Tradition of Change in Contemporary Northwest Coast Indian Art,” Niatum lays out the rich history of the art of the Haida, Tlingit, Tsimshian, and Heilsuk, making the case that the art, like the people themselves, is a dynamic and evolving reflection of a culture in a constant state of change. In ancient times, Niatum writes, it was “widely believed that a new design for a form would come to an artist in a dream. So what was produced was a combination of old pattern elements used in a new way.” Largely two-dimensional, the art of the Northwest Coast Indian, even after contact with white Europeans, continues a path to more modern techniques such silk-screening.

While Niatum speaks with a voice that is academic, the poets in this edition convey a tone that is urgent, and perhaps cynical, in its depiction of everyday lives of indigenous people. Take, for instance, the poetry of Vivian Faith Prescott, a fifth generation Alaskan of Sáami descent. Three of her four poems tell of having to learn English at the expense of oral traditions in her native tongue. In “Language Development,” Prescott writes of her daughter’s visits with a speech therapist:

They told me she had trouble saying her THs
and Ls correctly. LLLLLLLLLL–all that air moving
through, spitting her ancestors out from the sides of her mouth.

In “Talk-Like-an American,” Prescott continues her poetic assault, wondering why ESL classrooms are filled with children from her village “who speak with Tlingit accents” but whose first language is English. Finally, in “Tight Tongues and Open Spaces,” Prescott speaks of how the children of her village are shamed and confused:

Our faces are streaked
black, because we can’t yet tell
our elder’s cultural pause –
from the space where her grief resides.

Since 1960, writer Ralph Salisbury has garnered numerous awards, including a Pulitzer Prize nomination for Light from a Bullet Hole. Now, at the age of 80, his writing continues to break new ground, as evidenced by his short story, “Soldier with Silver Dollar Skull,” which is actually an excerpt from an uncompleted novel. In the story, a young Native American soldier’s helicopter crashes and explodes. Injured, the narrator is captured by Iraqi soldiers and taken to a hospital where a sympathetic Iraqi doctor says: “here it says that you are a Native American, an Indian. Your people suffered from imperialist invasion before oil lured armies our way. I’d shake your hand, but that might hurt.” The narrator reluctantly agrees to allow the doctor to surgically remove pieces of his skull off his brain. Soon, the hospital is overwhelmed with injured Iraqi soldiers and citizens and U.S. soldiers take over. Because of his dark skin and despite his telling them he is “an American Indian,” the soldiers suspect he may be “honcho, theirs or ours.” And so, Salisbury sums up the depth and scope of prejudice suffered by Native Americans, making the claim that the indigenous people of North America live in a state of constant occupation.

The tradition of change among indigenous writers and artists is at the heart of this issue of Yellow Medicine Review. Its pages are filled with writing that confirms the resilience of North America’s first people and their oral traditions, while giving voice at the same time to the ongoing struggle for identity and place. Readers may find themselves rethinking what they know about themselves and America’s indigenous peoples, but isn’t that what good writing is all about?


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Alternative Magazine Reviews

Posted August 30, 2011

Z Magazine

[Back to Magazine Review Index]


Z Magazine coverZ Magazine

Volume 24 Number 5

May 2011


Review by Joanne B. Conrad

Claiming to be an "independent magazine of critical thinking on political, cultural, social and economic life in the U.S" and that "seeing racial, gender, class, and political dimensions of personal life as fundamental to understanding and improving contemporary circumstances,” Z Magazine “aims to assist activist efforts for a better future.” It is published by South End Press, and is committed to “the politics of radical social change.”

Z Magazine shows, indeed, progressivism with very interesting viewpoints on subjects not often covered by traditional media. The May 2011 issue contains 8 sections: "Memorials," "Net Briefs," "Commentary," "Activism," "What Happened in Wisconsin?," "The Libya Intervention Debate," Book Reviews," and "Zaps." The enlightening article "Court Watch: Caustic Political Speech and The Supreme Court," by Stephen Bergstein in the Commentary section explains the Court's assurance that "provocative speech will not be censured as long as no one is physically injured." Bernstein, an upstate NY civil rights lawyer, includes extensive historical documentation.

The Activism section covers issues such as food sovereignty, historical preservation in Turkey, Iraq's occupation, Hezbollah in Lebanon, education in New Orleans' Lower 9th parish, the "Food Not Bombs" project, and an interview about war, prisons, and torture in the U. S. and UK. Two articles about Wisconsin protests and four Libyan intervention articles are also included and all are worth reading. The articles about Wisconsin, Libya, and radiation expose important factors for understanding and dissemination.

Accompanying cartoons appropriately editorialize their articles, and pictures are mostly captioned, except for the Turkish historical preservation article, in which some are too small and unidentified. As an environmental controversy, readers would find them more relevant if larger and well-captioned. In addition to environmental impacts, the Turkish government's rationale for constructing a hydroelectric dam and reservoir are not addressed, e.g. are there any benefits that outweigh the concern for preservation? The author, Janet Biehl, provides very persuasive preservation arguments.

Z Magazine’s articles would be extremely useful if they are archived and the data available to researchers. After six pages of searching the internet for Hasankeyf, the Turkish preservation issue, the Z Magazine article did not show up. Their articles provide helpful viewpoints about controversial social issues. Z Magazine's international scope and relevant current content show impressive progressive philosophies. Another project of Z Magazine is their Z Media Institute which was started in 1994 by the co-founders of Z Magazine and South End Press to teach radical politics, media, and organizing; the principles and practice of creating non-hierarchical institutions and projects; and a special emphasis on vision and strategy for social change. Classes are held in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Over 750 students have attended ZMI since 1994, with ages ranging from 16 to 82.

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