Magazine Reviews

 

Posted December 16, 2011

Anobium :: Bat City Review :: The Coffin Factory :: Ecotone :: Epiphany :: Glimmer Train :: Hunger Mountain :: The Missouri Review :: Poetry :: Southwest Review :: Spoon River Poetry Review :: Strange Horizons :: Voices de la Luna ::

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Anobium coverAnobium

Volume 1

Summer 2011

Biannual

Review by Sean Stewart

Anobium embraces and celebrates the strange and surreal. As a reader, sometimes this works for me and sometimes not. This is the first issue of Anobium, and I think for what they are trying to do, it's a strong start. I liked the design, for one: the journal is pocket-sized, perfect-bound, and features subtle yet effective graphic design by staff artist Jacob van Loon.

There were three writers in this inaugural issue that really poked me in my reading eyes: Luke Irwin, Rich Ives, and Jonathan Greenhause. Irwin's “The Kid and I” is a curious sci-fi tale featuring a young disabled assassin and his “chauffeur” who communicate through psychically transmitted literary allusions. The strength of the story lies in Irwin's development of the unique, almost tender at times, relationship between these two individuals: “I roll over to face him. Whatever is burning through his body, I am here. I adjust the breathing mask, and he awakens, tears in his eyes. I grab a venting hose and let out the gas in his stomach then cut the feeding line and quietly curse its majestic bleep. He sends Dumas.”

Greenhause's intriguing poems connect together through a character named Sebastian. We find Sebastian eating words on the subway, out in the country crashing an underground dance class, in a lab under experimentation by chimp-scientists, and navigating the ups and (mostly) downs of love. Sebastian endeared this reader with his innocence, and I found myself sympathizing with him in his various plights and cheering him on when he struggled.

Rich Ives writes cryptic slices of fiction. Accessibility of these pieces at the macro level varies; however, one can drop in almost anywhere and discover bits of truth. Reading them from top to bottom transports a reader into a dream-like state, as if entering another world saturated with more esoteric realities than our own. I enjoyed all four of Ives's pieces, particularly “The Angle of the Moonlight” and “Sunlight, Another Shadow.” This latter is short but charged with atmosphere, warranting a quote: “Smoke at dawn and the lights still marking the pier. The hour of fallen nests, leaves scuttling along the tiny sand dunes. Brittle thorns of lightning lengthen quickly across the sky. Weather won't be kind, but its indifference allows us all we need.”

The issue closes with a piece by Joe Meno and an accompanying interview. I've only read one of Meno's books, although I'm familiar with him from his Punk Planet days. It was interesting to get caught up on his career and see how far he has come.

Overall, Anobium should satisfy those readers that enjoy plumbing the outer limits of literature.
[www.anobiumlit.com]

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Bat City Review coverBat City Review

Number 7

2011

Annual

Review by Robin Devereaux

Are you up for a side trip to Bat City? The landscape is compelling and the water’s fine. Compiled and produced by the University of Texas at Austin, the Bat City Review demands, as Editor Caleb Klaces states, “to be read closely.” Jam-packed with wonderfully wrought poetry and provocative prose, this issue is the perfect companion to take along on a weekend trip or for curling up by the fire on a chilly evening.

I am a lover of stories, and there is a part of me that has abhorred “literary prose” that, many times, feels lofty and “too smart.” The short stories in Bat City, while literary, are grounded by genuine emotion and characters we can connect with. In “Poduszka” we meet Jenny and Leo, a young couple at the cusp of change. With Jenny as the narrator, writer Aja Gabel explores the adventures in communication—and miscommunication—that take place in intimate relationships, and how that communication is influenced by our experiences, families and mores.

In contrast to this earthy story, “Dearly” by Sara Flood is surreal and psychologically disturbing. Flood cleverly draws the reader into an Orwellian landscape, holding the hands of our protagonists, Wendy and Henry, a sickly, elderly couple caught in a futuristic world without hope of survival. When Wendy rebels, the story takes a turn and we learn that this futuristic world was created and exists only in her husband’s mind, and that he has forced his wife—by way of a drug-induced stupor—along for the ride through his psychosis.

The story “Dearly” seems to fit hand-in-hand with the compelling cover art, Camelot, by oil painter Echo Eggebrecht. The image depicts a barren landscape populated only by jackals and figures that are conquistadors at one moment and alien beings at another. This painting is the perfect gateway for the prose and poetry that lies within Volume 7.

The poetry compiled between the pages of Bat City is visual, visceral and risky. “The Fair Incognito” by Averill Curdy is a longish piece that plays like a beautifully shot 1940’s film:

         Imagination out-
        strips event. Each patron
    believes she smiles for him alone,
    gulled by the moth-wing deceptions
of her eyes. . . .

The last poetry selection, David Wagoner’s “The Last Dream,” anchors the collection appropriately. It begins:

You aren’t quite asleep.
What you can see right now
and what you can almost hear
        is a play behind your eyelids
        (which are so heavy
        they might as well be light),
and it’s no longer a story
in the same shifting, shifty
the usual quick-change sets. . . .

Finally, the collection of prints by artist Anthony Campuzano sandwiched in the middle of the collection is meaty and thought-provoking. Campuzano uses paint, ink and graphite to transform his love of writing, reading and words into works of art.

As you journey through Bat City Review, you may come upon sights and landscapes that fascinate, frighten, repel or attract. Whatever the case, I think you might want to hunker down and stay for a little while, take in the sights and connect with the natives. Happy reading.
[batcityreview.com/]

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The Coffin Factory coverThe Coffin Factory

Issue 1

2011

Triannual

Review by Shannon Smith

On its website, The Coffin Factory states that it “serves as a nexus between readers, writers, and the book publishing industry," with a mission to "provide great literature and art to people who love books, including those who do not usually read literary magazines.” It strikes me that the debut issue upholds this mission.

The Coffin Factory contains pieces by such illustrious and renowned writers as José Saramago, Roberto Bolaño, and Joyce Carol Oates. The magazine is obviously trying to reach a wide audience by dipping its toe in today’s popular literary writing pool. At the same time, though, there is a standout story by the somewhat more obscure Bernard Quiriny. His piece, “Blood Orange,” ventures into the surreal and is about a man who must peel an orange-like skin off a woman before he can have sex with her. The Coffin Factory offers crisp, interesting writing in a familiar vein, but also offers a sampling of outliers for readers whose inclinations might lie in different styles and directions.

In addition to fiction, and essays about fiction, The Coffin Factory also takes an interest in the current debate over MFA programs in an article by Fred Reynolds. Unlike much of that debate, which focuses on the usefulness of MFA programs, Reynolds stews over whether MFA programs still belong in English departments or not.

The Coffin Factory also contains abundant artwork. There are beautiful photos throughout the magazine by a host of artists, and a couple of art-specific sections where photography, not writing, is the focus. Rape of the Mind, photographs by Jenny Jozwiak, showcases the abandoned surgical facilities of Kings Park Lunatic Asylum in Eastern Long Island and features the beauty that lies within decay. Jozwiak’s photographs turn the disrepair of chipping paint into striking art.

Easily my favorite article in this issue is the interview with Barbara Epler and Tom Roberge, respectively, the President/Publisher and Publicity Director of the esteemed publishing company New Directions. The pair covers the history and mission of New Directions, as well as its future. They also discuss New Direction’s unique approach to marketing and the influence bookstores currently have on people’s reading habits.

Overall, this is quite a varied magazine, containing fiction, essays, interviews, and artwork. Not only are the genres varied, the audience they seemed aimed at targeting is quite broad— perhaps a nod to the magazine’s mission statement that it is for all “people who love books.” In its opening issue, The Coffin Factory lures the reader in with what is possibly familiar, and then branches out from there.
[thecoffinfactory.com/]

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Ecotone coverEcotone

Volume 6 Issue 2

Spring 2011

Biannual

Review by Sean Stewart

I fell in love with this issue of Ecotone at founding editor David Gessner's first mention of John Hay, one of my favorite nature writers. The issue proceeded to draw me in further and further, as I accompanied Poe Ballantine during his down-and-out struggles in Hope, Arkansas; drifted through former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins' dreamy poems; mired myself in Stephanie Soileau's tale of two siblings, each stuck in a different rut; and stared transfixed at Magdalena Solé's color photos of the Mississippi Delta. Next I floated above a poignant slice of childhood from Nancy Hale and stood by Joe Wilkins as he sent boys still short of manhood into a dark bar, following childish desires and finding much more. From there I traced Peter Trachtenberg's enchanting map of his cats' forays into the outside world, saluted Sam Pickering as he said goodbye to teaching, and in the final pages unsettled myself outside a remote cabin spun out of Kevin Wilson's chilling words.

There were also two familiar surprises in here for me. The first was John Porcellino's comic “Christmas Eve.” I've been following John's work for years, trading my own zine for his long-running King Cat Comics & Stories over the course of the last decade. It's always a pleasure to discover his work in a new and unexpected venue. The second surprise was Kimberly Meyer's essay “Holy City of the Wichitas,” about the site of America's longest continuously running outdoor Passion play. For some time, I lived in North Texas, about an hour south of this place. I traveled up to the area on occasion to hike and explore what passes for mountains in those flat parts of the country. When I first walked through the Holy City, it felt like I was passing into another time and place. I had no context for this unusual place, having stumbled across it while investigating the wildlife refuge it sits within, marveling at the bison, longhorns, and the roadside prairie dog town. I remember entering the Holy City’s little gift shop in a daze, a surreal experience unto itself. I left Oklahoma that day still not quite sure what I had observed. Years later, I am grateful to Kimberly for penning her extraordinary account of the history not only of the Holy City, but of the sacred Indian land upon which it stands. She touches on the many complex socio-cultural and religious facets of this unusual American landmark.

For anyone who has not encountered Ecotone before, I strongly encourage you to seek out this journal that has taken “reimagining place” as its call to arms. I know that I will be visiting again.
[www.ecotonejournal.com]

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Epiphany coverEpiphany

Spring/Summer 2011

Biannual

Review by Caitlin Reid

Epiphany is “committed to publishing literary work in which form is as valued as content.” This emphasis on craft results in a balanced mix of excellent fiction, memoir, and poetry from both new and familiar authors.

Epiphany's fiction selection ranges from traditional short stories to highly personal flash-fiction pieces that could almost be called prose poems. Matthew McGevna's “Monologues to God” is my favorite example of the former, and M.R. Sheffield's “Children” is a powerful example of the latter. McGevna's coming-of-age story follows two brothers in a world where a stepfather's love is paralleled by his use of physical and psychological violence. M.R. Sheffield's “Children” is a panicked, obsessive meditation on children falling through the sky. Image-driven and guilt-ridden, this experimental piece criticizes voyeuristic news loops that allow us to see “Their baby faces tumbling in high definition.” Wherever they fall on the spectrum of traditional and experimental stories, all ten fiction pieces in this edition of Epiphany are good reads.

Old-fashioned, high-quality storytelling makes an excerpt from Domingo Martinez's first book, The Boy Kings of Texas, completely captivating. Martinez delivers a lyrical and unblinking account of family life in the border town of Brownsville, Texas. The characters in Martinez's memoir are brutal as often as they are lovable. Gramma is a shotgun-wielding matriarch who takes out life insurance on the men in her life in a bid to make her own luck. Martinez's sisters will make you laugh as they daintily pick their way through the muck of their impoverished childhoods. Their father is the kind of man who risks a drug-smuggling run based on the advice of a witch doctor with a crystal ball. While it is hard to describe poverty in a lighthearted manner, Martinez chooses humor and wisdom over tragedy in his storytelling. Like his grandmother before him, Martinez gets through his childhood by “coping with circumstances others would find crushing, terminal.” The Boy Kings of Texas is currently available from Lyon Press (an imprint of Globe Pequot).

I enjoyed all three poems by Owen Andrews. “After Verlaine” ponders the difference between a loved one dying and a loved one leaving a relationship. Andrews’s speaker asks: "What can I scatter, pour / or burn to drive out your / strong spirit, cursed or blessed?"

The poem exorcises no ghosts. It does connect both reader and writer in the inevitable task of moving on, even when haunted by possibilities. Andrews writes of the dead, “Because I have no doubt / they're gone, they slowly fade.” The question of the poem is, how do you kill an expired hope?

An unexpected highlight of the poetry in Epiphany is a selection of five poems by the German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. Translator Susanne Petermann writes that Rilke’s French poems “number nearly 400 and remain virtually unknown.” My favorite lines come from “Vois-tu, la-hout, ces alpages des anges.” As the daughter of a vintner, I appreciate the second half of the poem's literal description of the wine-drinking term, terroir:

But your air, what treasure in the bright valley
all the way to the peaks!
Everything hovering and reflecting there
will end up in your wine.

In a journal that showcases many new voices, it’s also exciting to discover lesser-known works by a canonical master like Rilke; I'm happy to discover this journal full of well-written stories and poems.
[www.epiphanyzine.com/]

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Glimmer Train coverGlimmer Train

Issue 80

Fall 2011

Quarterly

Review by Mark Danowsky

Co-edited by two sisters, Susan Burmeister-Brown and Linda B. Swanson-Davis, Glimmer Train is a well-regarded magazine containing primarily short-stories. While many of GT's authors have impressive lists of past publications, other writers earn their first publication here. This issue includes stories by Geoff Wyss, Jenny Zhang, Daniel Torday, Evan Kuhlman, Nona Caspers, Olufunke Grace Bankole, Daniel Wallace, and Ken Barris. There is also an interview with Victoria Barrett by Debra Monroe.

In “Silenced Voices: Ragip Zarakolu,” Sara Whyatt, Program Director of the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN, describes the hard-knock life of Turkish publisher Ragip Zarakolu. Zarakolu opened Belge Publishing House with his wife in 1980, in Istanbul, and was under constant threat, culminating in the bombing of his publishing house building in 1995. Whyatt notes that Belge publishes “books that would otherwise not find publishers in Turkey, specializing in minority and human rights, including Kurdish and Armenian.” Zarakolu and Belge continue to be under fire today, and Whyatt provides contact information for those who want to call “for an end to the trials against Ragip Zarakolu and others who write and publish on minority and human rights.” This information as well as updates on PEN's actions can be found here: PEN International.

This issue of Glimmer Train also contains a number of tales about family dynamics. The most captivating of them is “We Love You Crispina” by Jenny Zhang. Zhang's story, told from the perspective of a child narrator, Christina, evokes a truly impressive range of emotions from the reader. Christina’s working poor family is trapped in devastating poverty and cannot seem free themselves from this vice no matter how many times they move to a new apartment and try to start over. And yet, the story is rife with humor. Zhang showcases how smart fiction can transform harsh realities and deliver them in a way that is not pedantic and instead makes for a fulfilling read:

The worst of it was when I was six and lived in Washington Heights in a shared room that was all mattress and no floor. My skin itched like there were little tiny ants carrying sticks of fire and doing somersaults and cartwheels all over my skin.

And later in the story:

When we moved to Bushwick, we all slept on the same mattress again, because there wasn’t any room for my smaller mattress, and because the hoods on our block stole it before we even had a chance to drag it up the stairs to our new apartment. They also stole my dad’s car radio every few weeks, and then sold it back to him on the street corner by the Jewish deli.

In Evan Kuhlman’s “Toy Soldiers,” we are privy to the changing family dynamics of the narrator and his kid brother after their mother marries a military man they call “The General.” And the dynamics in Daniel Wallace’s “The Mailman” are uniquely portrayed as a widow corresponds through the post with her deceased husband and struggles to ward off thoughts that her grip on reality may be slipping away.

"26 Bones" by Olufunke Grace Bankole demands close reading with these opening lines:

My father and I were pinned by inadvertence. The trouser-draped calf of his dead leg trapped the hem of my dress to the door of hi Peugeot 505. Had he known he was touching me, he'd have yanked the leg with a hand. But he was unaware of all this because he couldn't feel either: the leg or my dress.

It is evident in reading the stories selected for publication in Glimmer Train that strong, unique narrative voice is an important element, and one the magazine consistently provides.
[www.glimmertrain.com/]

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Hunger Mountain coverHunger Mountain

Issue 15

2010

Annual

Review by Robin Devereaux

Sometimes you need some literary chow. Your brain gets to feeling a bit peckish—in need of a good read. If so, this issue of Hunger Mountain will provide you with a veritable reading buffet. Take care that you don’t stuff yourself too quickly.

Using Ray Bradbury’s “The Thing at the Top of the Stairs” as the theme, Hunger Mountain is a cornucopia of verse, fiction and children’s literature topped with a spicy photographic gravy by artist/photographer Heather Gray.

Bradbury’s “Thing at the Top of the Stairs,” for which Bradbury won the Bram Stoker Award in 1988, was inspired by the author’s boyhood fear of waking in the night and having to walk to the bathroom in the darkness and the possibility of confronting the monster that he believed hid in the attic. Likewise, the works presented in here reflect each writer’s deepest fears, making this issue a spookily delicious read.

One of the most fun courses in this literary meal are the “Bradbury Lists” of things that go bump in the night—or simply in the mind—such as this portion of Jedediah Berry’s list poem titled “Wednesday, August 25th, 2010, Catskill, NY”:

the bottom drawer
the back of the closet
the far end of the attic
alone with my parents’ friends

Hunger Mountain sprinkles twenty-one of these savory and spicy list poems strategically throughout the issue, keeping the reader’s blood pumping and mouth watering.

Notable poetry in this issue includes two winners of the 2010 Ruth Stone Poetry Prize: Nancy K. Pearson’s “Opening Day” and “Between Land and Water” by Ashley Seitz Kramer. Other favorites of this reader were “Trucker’s Lament” by Casey Thayer (“Loneliness needles him like a ghost limb / on Sunday nights”) and Jayden Dewald’s “To Penia, With Love”:

It was grim, Brothers Grimm season.
Our flies looked like tiny grim reapers.
We muttered pinkienail blessings over
Our boiled beets and too thin porridge.
A thick blanket of unanswered prayers
Under which, all night, I lay shivering.

It is unusual, but refreshing, for a literary magazine to include Young Adult and Children’s Literature selections. Hunger Mountain includes five fun, thoughtful works, one of which is Jaramy Connors’ 2010 Katherine Paterson Prize-winning story “Steve.” Connors addresses one of the most debilitating fears of a teen in this poignant tale: that of acceptance and the choices one begins to make. Running with the pack or being an individual.

The icing on this literary cake is the photography by Heather Gray. These sensual, thought-provoking works make a statement about the history of women, the fear of domesticity, and the power of the feminine. As a section placed between the sharp flavors of this literary sandwich, Gray’s artistic style adds an amusing note both inside as well as on the cover.

Hunger Mountain offers a variety of flavors, sure to soothe the savage breast of any hungry reader.
[www.hungermtn.org/]

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The Missouri Review coverThe Missouri Review

Volume 34 Number 3

Fall 2011

Quarterly

Review by Cara Bigony

In this issue’s featured interview, author Dan Choan says, “A big part of my life has been feeling out of place in one world or another and trying to adjust to that sense of being alien all the time.” Displacement is a central theme in the fall issue of The Missouri Review, and the journal’s diverse settings keep readers moving as well. Most pieces at the beginning of the journal place readers abroad, showcasing the magazine’s attention to current political issues. It is about two-thirds of the way through that the stories take a turn toward cityscapes. (Burt Kimmelman’s urban nonfiction, Peter LaSalle’s NYC story and Kristine Somerville’s essay on graffiti art.) The final piece of fiction situates readers in rural Maine in Stephanie DeGhett’s story “Balsam.” We are constantly moving in this issue, but what ultimately unites all the included pieces is a thoughtfulness and quality of writing that make this issue a humbling, excellent read.

Jerry Gabriel’s story, “Dishonor,” the issue’s first piece, addresses issues relevant to international war at the individual level. Gabriel artfully mingles the story’s global, political thread with the isolation of Phillip Dante, a soldier just returning home for Iraq, struggling to forge connections with his family and ex-girlfriend. Triumphant in avoiding the tendency to glorify war and PTSD, Gabriel’s story delicately handles Phillip’s difficult transition home. Burt Kimmelman’s essay and Shara Lessley’s poems that follow explore similar themes. Though Kimmelman’s piece feels directionless at times, Lessley’s poems encourage readers to look at the effects of Middle Eastern conflicts on a personal level. Her poem “First Days: August” evokes powerful images of Iraq’s landscape from a foreigner’s perspective.

Peter LaSalle’s three-part story “Oh, Such Playwrights!” and Kristine Somerville’s essay on graffiti art both focus on people outside mainstream society. LaSalle’s piece tells the story of Kaleb, Bill, and Jim, whose tales are joined solely by their status as playwrights living in New York City. The last-page revelation that the three men spent a night stuck in a bar during a NYC snowstorm organically connects these characters’ lives and will make you want to read the entire piece again. Equally captivating is Somerville’s essay, which is both informative and insightful: “[It] was urban youth’s creative response to the bleakness. It was a way of making the city their own. Through art they claimed space and power.” Whether or not readers appreciate graffiti, Somerville insists, “we can all understand the allure of a blank wall and the eternal desire to declare, ‘I was here.’” Her eloquence and insight, while tracing the history of graffiti art, insists on new respect for an understated art form.

Stephanie DeGhett’s story “Balsam” is the journal’s only piece that thoroughly envelops readers in a rural setting, and in my opinion, contains the issue’s most effective writing. DeGhett’s fictional town of Clemency, Maine is reminiscent of Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, existing as an all-consuming entity for readers and characters alike.

When Abbie’s boyfriend suddenly leaves town without explanation, Abbie is living in an apartment attached to her ex’s mother’s house and decides to stay through the Christmas season. “[S]tranded among strangers,” Abbie opens a Christmas-tree stand on the outskirts of the small town and finds unexpected comfort there. DeGhett’s descriptions of Christmas’s “fearsome peppermint breath” and the “cold glitter of snow” are small examples of the wintriness that can be felt in the story’s every sentence: “She wasn’t entirely prepared for this, for a winter that was more than simply cold, more than snowfall, but a world that settled upon you, mantling thought, leaving you to tunnel through it with your own body heat, creating your own path with each burrowing step.”

On its website, The Missouri Review boasts its ability to find the best writers, and this fall’s issue is no exception. I quoted frequently in this review so that you wouldn’t have to take my word for it when I say that beautiful sentences fill, and warrant, the 180 pages of this journal. For its quality of thought and writing, this fall issue of the journal is well worth buying, annotating, and savoring.
[www.missourireview.com/]

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Poetry coverPoetry

Volume 199 Number 2

November 2011

Monthly

Review by Joanna Kurowska

One is prone to read Poetry expecting not only to find good poems, but also that something will be said about poetry. In this issue, the about reverberates most abundantly in Michael Robbins’s insightful review on three volumes, Clavics by Geoffrey Hills, Moving Day by Ish Klein, and Come and See by Fanny Howe. As Robbins suggests, poetry can be one thing—or that thing’s very contradiction: “where Flarf’s virtue is in its failure to hang together, Klein’s poems exude counterintuitive coherence.” This broad definition seems useful in dealing with a collection of poetry so diverse as in this issue of the journal.

Each of its thirty-nine poems oscillates somewhere between a distinctive idea that holds a poem together and intentional “incoherence.” A good example of the former is Dean Young’s poignant poem “Handy Guide” that depicts man’s relationship with the universe. While describing man’s world as incoherent, the poem revolves around this distinctive idea: because of their incongruent desires and the hierarchies they have created (“adjectives of scale”), people have isolated themselves from nature/universe:

Don’t even think you’ve seen a meadow, ever.
The minor adjustments in our equations
still indicate the universe is insane,
when it laughs a silk dress comes out its mouth
but we never put on. Put it on.

Sometimes the “incoherence” pertains to imagery, whereas the poem itself constitutes a seemingly coherent narrative, as in Marcus Wicker’s “Animal Farm.” The poem depicts a social structure reverberant of racial, class, and colonial divisions; its “incongruent element”—and its focal point—are the black squirrels:

History tells us black squirrels
can’t afford robust landscaping
but will pay their mortgage—
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
They avoid overexposure, make tanning
trend. Black squirrels
they fit in, get along. Know no one.

Given the black squirrels’ unsettling presence, the last line sounds ironic; the fact that the squirrels have been previously “relegated to lots with a view / of the highway” intensifies the irony.

An example of intentional structural “incoherence” is Robert Vandermolen’s “Wild Turkeys.” As if to reflect the casual, multidirectional activity of the mind, the poem resembles a record of disjointed impressions:

The room was frowsty. Ten men
Were discussing the legacy of Wendell Willkie
Those little cupids of nostalgia
Fading into doubt…
All that fussing
Followed by a creamy silence—
Oh mother, my daughter said, you’re so ‘80s

A poem’s level of “coherence” may indicate to what extent language itself is its author’s focus. In his “Ode,” Ray Amorosi employs the significance of the tongue as both a “strange muscle in my mouth” and as a speech-medium: “What’s forgotten is on the tip. / Sides slip out the truth.” While the image of the tongue holds the poem strongly together, the depictions of the tongue’s various positions as well as the employment of idioms (tongue in cheek, forked tongue, etc.) evoke, a bit in a manner of the Baroque conceit, the ambiguity of language and its games.

Coherent or (intentionally) incoherent, poems are meaningful as long as they reveal—to borrow Michael Robbins’s phrase again—“tense, strange, convoluted set of human interactions”—and that’s what the poems in the November 2011 issue of Poetry do. If one conspicuous aspect of this very diverse collection were to be found, that would probably be the appearance of “we/us” as an entity remaining in a more or less disjointed relationship with the world. Besides Young’s poem already quoted, such “we” appears in John Hodgen’s “Capital One”: “I hate everyone, all of us who have sent him into flames”; in J. Allyn Rosser’s “(This Line Intentionally Left Blank)”: “believe me we wouldn’t / have resisted anything / but the truth”; and others.

Powerful images recur in the volume, as for example that of aged parents who are “more full of a certainty that could not be glimpsed / or dismayed” in A.F. Moritz’s “Bedivere/Horatio”; Marianne Boruch’s King Tut “looking straight ahead into the future / where we live”; John Rybicki’s confession in “If”: “If I could lift and rock each coffin in my arms / I would start with hers”; and others.

The issue contains also fifteen collages by David Shapiro. Designed, as Shapiro declares, in the tradition of postcards of Rimbaud and Baudelaire, these collages employ various materials, including photographs, works of art, everyday items, as well as recurring floral and faunal motifs. In the ensuing “Improvisations,” Shapiro evokes the remarks by many poets and artists regarding art—his own and art at large. We also find an oxymoronic remark on poetry: “I could see no greater role for poetry . . . than its utter Kantian uselessness.”

Finally, though placed under the common vignette “Poems,” John Koethe’s “Like Gods” is in fact a tiny philosophical treatise dealing with the issue of man’s cognitive solipsism or “entanglement of self with self.” This piece, too, contains a remark on poetry: “I and here and now are ever present, yet they vanish in the act of apprehension, as a poem turns into language as you write it down.” This suggestion of a gap between a poem and its articulation seems particularly meaningful in the context of the entire volume.
[www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/]

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Southwest Review coverSouthwest Review

Volume 96 Number 3

2011

Quarterly

Review by John Palen

Christopher Bakken's skillfully paced essay “Octopus Ear” begins serenely with a dive off the coast of Greece, where he takes students on tours. Before long, though, he's climbing down Mount Olympus in terrible pain from an ear infection, confronting his grief over his wife's mental illness, finding unexpected kindness from a young waitress, and simultaneously laughing and weeping in a gust of what the Greek's call harmolypi—“joyful sadness.” Part observant travel writing, part gripping personal narrative, the essay gets this ninety-six-year-old magazine off to another good start.

Equally engaging are two essays about art, literature and the lives of people who make them. In “Botticelli Boy,” Rick Barot interprets Whitman's “This Compost” and Botticelli's Portrait of a Young Man, unpacking techniques that undergird their excellence and linking both works to their makers' sexuality in conflict with the times.

Carter Wilson’s essay, “Serving Two Mistresses: María Escandón's Life With Rosario Castellanos and Trudi Blom,” unearths the fraught relationship between a trailblazing Mexican woman writer and the impoverished girl who at the age of eight became her cargadora—a combination "bearer," playmate and “mere object” on whom she could vent her frustrations. There is irony in the fact that Castellanos wrote about the oppressed, indigenous people of Chiapas with unique insight.

This issue also includes a short story by Castle Freeman, Jr., “The Secret Sits in the Middle,” that will haunt your consciousness long after you've read it. Rolaine Hochstein, Jaina Sanga and Grant Faulkner contribute fine short stories as well.

The poems tend to be dense with concrete detail. This is the case whether the setting is rural, as in Maggie Schwed's “Considerations, Walking the Fence Line,” or in the gritty city, as in David Moolten's “The Gleaners.” Daniel Corrie takes us cosmic in “Now,” and the esteemed David Wagoner shows he hasn't lost a bit of his capacity to surprise and delight.

Also in this issue are essays by Carolyn Osborn and Helen Barolini, and poems by Peg Boyers, Doug Sanders, Dave Smith, Lisa M. Steinman, and Joshua Weiner, as well as a slight, early poem, published here for the first time, by Tennessee Williams. Edited by Willard Spiegelman and Jennifer Cranfill, Southwest Review is published by Southern Methodist University.
[smu.edu/southwestreview/]

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Spoon River Poetry Review coverSpoon River Poetry Review

Volume 36 Number 1

Winter/Spring 2011

Biannual

Review by Robyn Campbell

 

 

What in the absence of color will staunch
this dreaming, what without fire will cauterize,
clot? Can nothing—not doubt nor distraction
nor sleep nor dopamine—stopper this seeping
apace?

Andrew Osborn’s “Scabs of Ichor” opens the latest issue of the Spoon River Poetry Review, introducing a number of themes that permeate the journal as a whole. In these lines we see a need for expression, an unintended yearning felt by the artist (perhaps specifically a painter, since we must “watch as the brushstrokes / of silver-salt-sensitized egg whites . . . cook to yield a girl’s face”). Here there is a strong relationship between the maker and the made, the art described not only as something pouring forth from deep within its creator, but as ichor, the blood/fluid of the Greek gods, golden, immortal. Osborn’s piece accurately describes—in conjunction with several other selections—the overall feeling of SRPR: a return to the past, a mythologizing of one’s roots, a desire to explain the troubling (or mundane, or beautiful) occurrences of our daily lives.

Kristin Prevallet’s “The Gulf of Mexico,” from the larger work “Everywhere Here and in Brooklyn (A Four Quartets),” further communicates the sentiment of returning to the past. When faced with the immensity of the Gulf, the narrator muses, “City dwellers / Live to forget the attraction of all living things / To water’s pull of raging weather.” The attraction is something undeniable but ignored because “we have other machines to worship,” despite the connection formed by similar molecules. Edward Hirsch’s “Prayers of an Unbeliever” recalls shared human experience as well, taking us through the streets of the Old City, Warsaw, where there is no trace left of the horrific acts committed by the Nazis because “it’s all been disinfected.” Unlike Prevallet’s city dwellers, the narrator here makes a conscious effort to remember where he came from, to find comfort in the remembering:

Lord in whom I can’t believe,
I am going to walk through the Old City
and then lie down with my love
in this dirty world
which is both the Song of Songs
and the Book of Lamentations.

Towards the middle of the issue comes a collection of poems by Austin Smith, SRPR’s featured Illinois Poet, and an extremely well-executed interview by Editor Kirstin Hotelling Zona. The two discuss the essential base of Smith’s work, his “fascination with the sensation of home as, at once, a source of salvation and self-annihilation.” He deals heavily with the subject of the Midwest—or, a return to the Midwest—the burden of growing up on and then losing (and leaving) his family’s dairy farm. Tragically, he admits, “I can’t be [on the farm] physically, so I have to be there poetically. But it’s a dangerous place to dwell, and oftentimes I feel like I’m being sucked into a world that doesn’t really exist.” In “Mission,” a particularly telling poem, the narrator comes back to the Midwest “as light / returns to a black hole, having / thought itself sufficiently disguised / as music.” Smith’s work is memory—the guilt of memory—disguised as, or wrapped in, poetry.

When reconsidering his poems after reading the interview, it’s difficult not to see him as the man described in “Bedtime Story”: “bearing the mirror of the moon / on his back” because the sun told him that “a beautiful woman / would step out of it naked as if out / of a bathtub.” Both men seem to suffer from the weight of what they carry, seeking an end, a calm moment during which they can put down their mirrors. “Aerial Photograph, Glasser Farm, 1972” and “Romeo and Juliet in the Tomb” are also particularly impressive works, meditative in their lengthy sentences and lack of stanza breaks.

Maya Jewell Zeller’s “The Filling,” Linda Strever’s “How To Love,” and Joseph O. Legaspi’s “Threshold of Revelation” all stuck out to me as well. And while it began as a simple attraction to the authors’ stylistic choices (take, for example, a striking line from Legaspi’s piece: “A conundrum this union / of identical bodies, fusing in hungry, irrational / ways, squeezing a camel through a needle’s eye”), I soon realized that these poems also dealt with desire, a hunt for understanding. My own attraction signifies the issue’s cohesion and its accessibility, both of which make for a good read. It is a series of framed photos, compartmentalized moments and thoughts that we can flip through, reference points in our own journeys.
[www.litline.org/spoon/]

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Strange Horizons logoStrange Horizons

June 2011-November 2011

Online Weekly

Review by Henry F. Tonn

I am not a fan of science fiction, but I decided to check out Strange Horizons, an online publication of speculative fiction, poetry, articles, reviews, and art. The first two stories bored me but the third was engaging, and I was hooked. I read a bunch of them.

“Counting Cracks” by George R. Galuschak, published in the November 7, 2011, issue is a good old-fashioned tale about a town that has lost most of its residents to the nefarious Hum. A small, motley group of people in various states of medical disarray challenge the spygers who are protecting the supermarket where the Hum is busy humming and wreaking havoc on all and sundry. It is an entertaining story with excellent tongue-in-cheek humor.

“Souvenir” (August 15, 2011) by Genevieve Valentine is a decidedly haunting tale about “touches,” people who work for the homicide division of a police department who get telepathic visions when they touch dead bodies. The story focuses on two  touches who were once involved with each other and their struggle to maintain a normal life in a world that views them as abnormal. They are after another “touch” who may be a serial killer.

From October 17, 2011, “Librarians in the Branch Library of Babel” (with apologies to Jorge Louis Borges) by Shaenon K. Garrity is about “a library of infinite size containing all possible books.” And since it is infinite, it can never, logically speaking, become fully organized. The librarians have enough work ahead of them for an infinite number of lifetimes. Unfortunately, the City Council wants to close the library. What are the librarians going to do? Oh, dear… Being left brained, it fascinates me that people can come up with these ideas.

My favorite story was “The All-Night Truck Stop Polka Band” (in two parts: June 13 and June 20, 2011), another one by Shaenon K. Garrity. This was an absolutely delightful tale told with considerable humor. It’s about a thirty-one-year-old woman who is visited by her old band mates who say they were abducted by UFOs years ago and now they have superpowers. Unfortunately, the earth is going to explode within a week and they intend to prevent it—as soon as they come up with an idea. Meanwhile, they’ll crash at her pad and drink some beer.

This magazine also provides bizarre and wonderful art and poetry, along with book, television, movie, and music reviews, plus columns and articles, and much, much more, all current or residing in the archives. It’s one of the more impressive websites I’ve seen. By all means, pay it a visit.
[ www.strangehorizons.com/]

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Voices de la Luna coverVoices de la Luna

Volume 3 Number 4

July 2011

Quarterly

Review by Caitlin Reid

Part community news bulletin, part travel guide, and part literary magazine, Voices de la Luna drops the reader into the vibrant arts community of San Antonio, Texas. The magazine describes itself as "actively promoting poetry and arts in San Antonio by supporting other literary and arts organizations." Discovering the interdependent community of creative folks represented in Voices de la Luna’s pages makes me want to buy a one-way ticket to this great town.

There is an interesting write-up of an event which reads like an unintentional performance piece. “Art in the Dark” was a silent auction for blind and visually impaired individuals receiving rehabilitative and employment opportunities through a nonprofit called the San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind. Thirty-three local artists donated work, and each piece was covered in black cloth so that attendees might “see” them using only their sense of touch. My favorite part of this experiment in empathy is that the art was unveiled after the bidding took place.

The self-possession of San Antonio’s writers and musicians seems in line with the editors’ assertion that “poetry heals minds, and arts advance the quality of life.” The magazine includes the poems of schoolchildren, people in therapy groups run by Voices de la Luna editors, and major poets like Naomi Shihab Nye and Jim Daniels. My favorite poem is "The People I'm Becoming" by Elzy Cogwell. The speaker in Cogwell’s poem addresses the ways in which lovers lose themselves in each other, and in many ways become part of each other. Sometimes, lovers outgrow each other and move on, leaving a shell of themselves behind: “It was like she shed her skin / from those anguished years / and left it as a diploma.”

Another story of personal growth comes from “A Response to Destruction” by H. Palmer Hall. Hall, a schoolteacher, shares his reaction to the ten-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In the weeks after the attacks, H. Palmer Hall remembers how it was better for his students to fill their sense of loss with self-expression, and to be creative rather than dwell on destruction. “William Carlos Williams was so right in ‘Asphodel,’” Hall quotes:

It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

Along with an appreciation for the power of art, Voices de la Luna is also full of Texas pride. The bio of featured visual artist Sylvia Benitez notes her husband is "a sixth-generation Texan." In an interesting interview with Richard Becker, endocrinologist and co-owner of Becker Vineyards, the question of how Texas wine can compete on a national and international scale is neatly deflected. “We have a great advantage in Texas,” Becker points out, “because Texans love things Texan if they are good.”

This inclusive, open-minded magazine is in its fourth year and is published in four formats: high quality hardcopy, eMagazine, PDF, and website. Past issues are available in the archive section of their website, so there’s no excuse not to check out Voices de la Luna.
[www.voicesdelaluna.com/]

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