Literary Magazine Reviews
Posted October 16, 2012
The Antigonish Review :: Big Fiction :: Clockhouse Review :: Crazyhorse :: Dogwood :: Enizagam :: Fiddlehead :: Glimmer Train Stories :: Hayden's Ferry Review :: Hiram Poetry Review :: Knock :: Meat for Tea :: Rattle :: Santa Monica Review :: Storm Cellar :: Thrice Fiction :: Willow Springs :: Zone 3 :: 6x6
Volume 43 Number 169
Review by Mary Florio
Although The Antigonish Review is partially supported by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Nova Scotia Department of Communities, Culture & Heritage, the publication does not overreach into a philosophical or political interpretation of the American experiment. Some might imagine that public funding could encourage specific response at the expense of story, but these stories, essays, and poems are not exclusively about Canada and Canadians. The issue is rich with diverse elements—such as references to Tunisia, teenage nihilism, mortuary science, and Egypt. The writing is disciplined, and because of this convention, I can carry the magazine everywhere; it is a talisman against lost time. And that’s the best symptom of clean prose—the ability it affords the reader to weave in and out of the narrative without feeling lost.
The closest I could get to an anthem is M.E. Csamer’s review of Pith & Wry: Canadian Poetry, an anthology edited by Susan McMaster (Scrivener Press, 2010). Csamer executes the review with a lyricism that speaks itself with poetic sensibility. She writes: “To be Canadian is to belong to an enormous place . . . we have the room to step back and take a second look at what seems different, threatening; to find the humanity in it, to voice that finding. But also to voice the land without us, its colossal indifference . . .”
In the center of the volume, Csamer articulates her philosophy of what Canada means to her as a writer: “Our land is vast, our stories, myriad. And breath is spare. When we call across such distances, we need always use our best words.”
Csamer’s claims are a convincing capstone for the journal. But using the “best words” doesn’t always mean the writers found a need to keep their gloves on to do so. Daniel Quinlan’s “Ann’s Father’s Approval,” evolves as a sudden, modern gothic. I deconstructed the story to see how far Quinlan departs from form, and I interpreted the departures from the form as essential—the specters are more horrific in their realism.
The journal is well-organized and cohesive in many ways; themes that recede and reemerge do so seamlessly. I took a close look at Stephanie McKenzie’s poem “For Sylvia Plath’s Ariel” against McKenzie’s third poem in the publication, “After the Methadone Project,” and then against Laura Durnell’s short story “Life Goes On Without Me.”
McKenzie begins “For Sylvia Plath’s Ariel” with a kind of refraction: “Yet women might follow you mad. Ariel gives name to / our sickness. Surpasses. . . .” Following through, there is something vaguely bibliographic about McKenzie’s conclusion: “In witness thereof we all affix seals: blood taken from book, / words high-strung winds. Love looked for in dust / never found.” And by “bibliographic,” I mean to source the present to the past through literature, a way to create a new perspective through thorough examination of what has come before.
I approach Durnell’s “Life Goes on Without Me,” with antiseptic hands—this story is a fascinating examination of a very old narrative. I might be referring to a new narrative of mental collapse, a narrative stripped of the mysteries of Plath and Ginsberg and Fitzgerald—perhaps, somehow, the upshot of “The Big Chill” or an unauthorized James Taylor retrospective. In other words, this is a story that concerns suicide, but not in the way you might expect. It may be that, in this generation with our ready tabulations of norepinephrine, we fail to romanticize mental illness, and Durnell, like so many of the authors in this collection, exercises considerable control.
The classic complications that arise from illness and death are very well-represented, but they are done so with a kind of reverent rebellion. David Zieroth’s “Grave Poem” sketches out in a classic form a visit to a grave that ends up searing the living—a meditation on life, death and the accident that joins them in stunning rhyme and meter.
Leslee Mann’s short story “Might Have Beens” begins with alphabetic electricity. “I’ll start with how he killed her,” she begins, explosively. This introduction becomes but a beam in a much larger plot architecture, even though it might serve as a cornerstone to her message. In terms of plot, her prose follows the multifarious responses to the tragedy of the attacks on the United States on 9/11, which is larger in scope and casualty than the death of an invisible person in an unnamed neighborhood. But her message could be centralized on the theme of individual loss in the context of greater loss: the idea that the loss of just one life can diminish all of us, everywhere, not just in New York or Belfast or Nova Scotia, but anywhere. Everywhere.
Long shorts with style
Review by Julie J. Nichols
What a find Big Fiction is! The magazine publishes only three to five “shorts” or novellas of 7,000 words or more, bound in a beautiful hand-designed letterpress volume of just the right size: perfect for a weekend away, an afternoon of rich leisure, an evening curled up by the fire. This issue is a delight to hold, to view, to read carefully. The editors’ intention of visual and tactile beauty aligned with literary delectability is fully realized. The green, tastefully mismatched typography of the title takes up a small top left corner of the white cover, which is filled with a red etched fiddlehead fern. “No. 2” takes up minimal space in the bottom right corner, and in the title corner the image of a young fiddler playing unobstrusively.
For the fiction, length is what matters: somewhere between a conventional “short” (which has a market in so many lit mags) and a novella (which requires a different kind of publisher), this “big fiction” allows a story to unfold, in any number of ways, beyond the range of the usual. The editors invite traditional or experimental genres. The bottom line is “substance, texture, urgency”—fiction that’s “generous, transportive, and a little wild.” There are three stories in this issue, each one a gem. All three of these authors are experienced, award-winning writers. The editors at Big Fiction have excellent taste.
Stephanie Carpenter’s “Mr. Codman’s Women,” written in the present tense and without quotation marks, was inspired by an 1888 legal case in which a real Mr. Codman left all his money to his mistresses, excluding his wife and daughter altogether. Incensed, the female relatives contested the will on grounds of insanity. In Carpenter’s retelling, Mr. Codman is, yes, a little insane, but so are the women; his mistresses lead him on, wildly, and his daughter (my favorite of these females) forces him to release her inheritance early on grounds that he’s ruined the family name by his philandering. She takes the check and runs, and he finds that he misses her grandly, longingly. Carpenter has us following Mr. Codman’s and his wife’s return to reality with sympathy; readers will take great pleasure in the late-nineteenth-century setting, the pistols, the greatcoats, the dastardly actors and lascivious mistresses. I can’t give away the end, but it’s generous indeed, and full of substance.
Equally excellent is poet Jordan Smith’s “A Morning.” This is the most “traditional” of the three pieces in this issue (called, collectively, novellas, in the magazine’s website description of the issue), but its language resonates beautifully from its first paragraphs, which are long, richly textured, and immediately transportive. The artist Kirk looks back on his life with some regrets as he looks forward to a visit from an old “friend” with some reticence. The relationships between him and this “friend” and him and his wife, and the art they each produce and pretend to appreciate, constitute the weight of this intensely satisfying story. Not a sentence, not a word, is out of place.
The centerpiece of the issue is the longest, “Long Story, No Map” by Jerry Gabriel. It begins on “the day before Choi fell from the roof,” but then it circles back on itself to tell the story of Carl, an unemployed wanderer whose aimless drifting lands him in a college apartment complex where he’s recruited by Mr. Choi to help him re-roof the building. There’s a postmodern feel to this story, a somewhat regretful anti-salute to Millennials and lost young adults, but ultimately there is an urgent greatness in Carl and in Choi that made me want to reread the story immediately.
Well, that was true of all three stories, actually. One member of the editorial board of BF is a master printer who “prints what matters on a 104-year-old Chandler & Price and a Vandercook proof press from the late 1960s.” The others are writers and “puzzlers,” equally committed to “what matters”: truly admirable fiction, beautiful presentation, lasting quality. For lovers of any of these, Big Fiction is an indispensable gift.
The Literary Journal of Goddard College
Review by Lesley Dame
Clockhouse Review’s best quality is that you don’t know what to expect. You’ll read a traditionally formed story about family dynamics, and then you’ll read a fake academic paper about medieval witches. Weird, but refreshing. Although CR boasts the usual suspects (poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction), it also features some unusual suspects such as graphic narrative and drama. Although it’s awesome to see these forms in literary magazines (more, please), I don’t think I’m the best judge of their quality. Truthfully, I find graphic narratives bizarre; although I can say that the one in this issue (“Stomach Hole” by Mike Mosher) is truly fascinating in its bizarreness.
Like I said, in the fiction, you might find a traditional story. You might find a paragraph or two of flash fiction. Or, if you’re lucky, you’ll find you’ve been thrown into a choose-your-own-adventure. Although variety is the spice of life, my favorite piece is pretty normal in form, though possibly odd in plot. “Feast of the Fishes,” by Robert McGuill is an exceptional story that mingles a father/son camping trip with the very real danger of starvation. The father takes his son on this trip with the condition that they catch all their food. No provisions are brought along. Seriously loopy, I know, but it’s a point of pride for the father. Rather, I think it’s a way of exerting some kind of control in an otherwise out-of-control situation: divorce, the Big D. This piece is beautifully written and intensely gripping. Toward the end, the boy goes off alone and comes across two fishermen who feed him until he’s practically bursting. When the boy returns, the father presents him with a can of sardines, which the father procured by trading his valued watch, a symbol of the marriage. The boy, not wanting to tell the father about the food he had consumed, eats the sardines despite his growing nausea. The ending is genius, I think, in that it doesn’t provide closure, only a sense of the characters changing, the boy losing his innocence and the father, perhaps (I’m not sure) gaining some back.
CR’s nonfiction is a real gem. I always think this is hard to accomplish; I’ve seen a lot of bad nonfiction in my years. For a few moments (pages), you’ll find yourself facing life from various perspectives—a mid-aged woman considering a very necessary hysterectomy and the prospect of never having children, an educated woman pondering her economically and educationally disadvantaged childhood, or just a man observing a yellow boat and finding companionship and contentedness in this simple joy.
I enjoyed all the nonfiction, but I liked “Magna Mater” by Elizabeth Dalton best. Maybe because I am a woman, a mother, a sister. Or maybe because I, too, struggle with the occasional hypocrisy of religion and what it means to be female in this strange world. These are complicated and often personal issues, but Dalton talks about them with wisdom, a subtle humor, and an immense amount of love and patience. When she talks about her Catholic upbringing and playing communion with her sister, I think of my own sister and how she wadded up pieces of bread to place on my tongue. I am no longer Catholic, but the urge to worship Mary, as Dalton discusses, is also something I can relate to. Mary is the archetypal mother, a woman who has been glorified but was just a woman who loved her son and desired above anything else to protect him. Any mother knows the truth in this.
Dalton also speaks of her daughter, a college-aged woman who balks about the unfairness of being a woman. Dalton says “There is this, I tell her as I touch my belly: You can carry a baby.” Again, no mother would trade this for gender equality, although it’d be nice to have both. And later, when her ill sister delivers a premature baby, she says, “my sister has done the work of god on this frozen evening, I thought—demanding order from chaos, separating land from water. She has given birth to a squirming new world, I thought, and she has named him Jesse.” This is a terrifyingly powerful ending to an essay that breathes life. Depending on your religious affiliation, you may think this is blasphemy. For me, it’s sheer beauty.
And then there’s poetry. Although I’ve said that there is no theme to the issue, there is a subtle emerging theme as you read, that of faith and/or lack thereof, as you can see from the “Magna Mater” above. “Penance” by Leslie Paolucci begins with “I pay a price for my lack of faith” and continues about the things that can go wrong (a baby’s sunburn and the anxiety of waiting for a late loved one during a storm) and not having faith to turn to. She wonders if faith is worth it, if she should accept the gender inequality prevalent in organized faith in return for something to turn to. These are difficult questions, and there are no easy answers. Instead, she ends with, “I will hide beneath the bed // as the storm rants outside my window, thinking / when this is over I should sweep up all this salt.”
“Benediction” by Jenn Blair is a fabulous way to end the magazine. It begins “It matters that you moved upon the earth / rose in the dark alone and washed your face / and had the thoughts you had / which sometimes gave you grief / and sometimes life.” It’s poignant in its simplicity. You matter, it says. The good, the bad, the boring—every day you lived is special. The last stanza is very moving:
And it matters how you stood that day
watching the tree in flames
as autumn’s cold sun
briefly transfigured the earth
your face—at the same moment—
radiant as what you gazed upon
more beautiful of course
than you ever had the faith to believe
The poem captures that rare and splendid moment when you are overcome by joy in a mundane moment. Everything stops, and no matter your beliefs, for that brief moment, you have faith in whatever there is out there. Whatever makes this world spin, it spins for you. Not a bad thought, and a very gratifying note to leave you with.
Well, one more note. Although the contributor’s bios are said to appear on the website, so far there is just a list of names. I’d say these guys and gals are the up-and-comers to watch out for in the years to come.
Review by Shannon Smith
This issue of Crazyhorse is full of interesting, off-beat writing, as befits a magazine with the journal’s oversized design.
Anthony Tognazzini’s “I Want to Drive the Forklift” announces the central desire of the main character in its title. The narrator opens with the declaration, “There were many things, I later learned, that I did not know about the forklift. Would that have stopped me from wanting to drive it? I do not know.” A simple gambit of an opening, but one that builds tension as the reader waits for the moment that the troubled narrator—mostly likely unsuccessfully, the reader fears—finally tries to drive the forklift he has been instructed not to touch while he is employed taking overnight inventory in a warehouse.
Emily Doak’s mysterious “Hatchlings” is written in the first person plural, narrated by a group of locals in Florida who tell the story of the kidnapping of Samantha Sadler, heir to the Sadler Peanut Butter fortune. The story moves along as the locals mature, and while it starts with the kidnapping of Samantha as a young girl, it ends with her revenge twenty years later on an older woman, a girlfriend of her father who was supposedly involved with the kidnapping—although that was never proven. The revenge involves a cardboard box and a Florida swamp in the middle of the night. Employing “we” as a narrator lends the story a spooky, omniscient but not completely clued in feel, as most of what is being narrated is town legend and hearsay.
Christine Sneed’s “In the Bag” concerns a purse that a college student, Wes, finds and shows his younger sister, Wendy. Wendy is envious of Wes since he went away to college, has mysteriously saved up what to her is a large sum of money, and at night snuck his girlfriend into his bedroom, long after their parents had gone to sleep. Bored and restless, trapped in a retail job in her hometown, Wendy becomes obsessed with the owner of the purse and a letter she finds inside it that tells someone named “Mitch” that the writer of the letter was pregnant with his child, but no longer is. Wendy is curious about “B”—the letter writer—and whether Mitch ever knew he could have been a father of B’s kid. She pursues this knowledge in a spooky manner. The story is, at turns, dark and funny.
This issue of Crazyhorse also contains a number of captivating poems. Perhaps the best title belongs to Carand Burnet’s “We Were Only Folklore.” Tina Brown Celona and Joshua Ware’s “Walking around the Park with You” starts, “You want to be invisible / but also specific.” The poem then offers a delightful number of details against abstractions. Marcin Orliński’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” introduces a new house to someone (possibly) and contains lines such as “It’s January, a burnt out bulb / slowly rolls by.”
Overall, this issue of Crazyhorse features great, unpredictable writing.
A Journal of Poetry and Prose
Review by David R. Matteri
Dogwood has returned to print after a year’s hiatus with Sonya Huber as the new editor. Huber aims to take this university magazine in a new direction with an online presence and the inclusion of creative nonfiction alongside their usual offerings of fiction and poetry. Readers won’t be disappointed with this restart. This issue features solid writing and the winners of the 2012 Dogwood Awards, with special guest judges Katherine Riegel and Ira Sukrungruang.
Terry Godbey’s prose poem “Platitudes” is both funny and tragic as it examines the mind of a cancer survivor. There are two speakers in this work, the survivor and possibly a friend who is trying to make the other feel better but is not doing a very good job: “Try not to think about it so much. I’ll try not to slap you for saying that . . . There’s an angel sitting on your shoulder. So that’s why it aches. I thought it was from my chemo port.” Godbey writes from experience as she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, and her work illustrates how humor can be the best defense against such a devastating illness.
Reading “A Canzone Basking in the Pre-Apocalypse” by Nicole Stellon O’Donnell is a dream-like experience. The speaker drifts in and out of sleep as she listens to a late night talk show host speak of the coming apocalypse. I particularly enjoyed the use of color and imagery in this piece:
Skiing the empty trails with the dog whose feet are quick
to leave me behind, I notice the sky billowing red, ending
the winter day early, peeling off seconds of light. Daylight is quick
to abandon us. Iced in red light, I stare.
Desperation bleeds from the poem as the speaker contemplates her own mortality and the fleetingness of our lives: “At times / I imagine the gray empty of after, but then I find we are all up late, timing the minutes crawling by. Every compass pointing south toward the desert / in the early dawn, we all wait for destruction.” A great poem to read with the lights dimmed and on the verge of sleep.
The first prize award for nonfiction goes to David Patrick’s powerful “Elegy for the Guns.” It is an essay about his father told through his obsession with handguns. But there’s more going on here than a love for the second amendment. Patrick’s father treated his guns like precious works of art:
Changing grips was like Dad’s version of playing with dolls. He’d get it ready for business with hard black rubber grips. He’d dress it up with grandiose fawn-colored wood grips: grips with so much extra wood that they looked like fancy Old English letters with scrolling serifs, the two halves held to the frame with a handsome brass nut and bolt that looked like an elegant brooch.
Guns were not his only hobby. He also painted landscapes and made casts of his hands and face, but the guns continue to be the heart of the essay. Patrick uses this juxtaposition of beauty and violence to unravel his father as both the man who raised him and as an artist who inspired him. The essay reminded me of a foreign exchange student who once asked me why Americans are so obsessed with guns. At the time I told her it was just a part of our tradition, but Patrick’s essay showed me that there is also a dark beauty within guns that can bring people together. Next time someone outside of this country asks about our love for guns, I’ll direct them to Patrick’s essay.
Nick Scorza’s “Love Stories” took first place in Dogwood’s fiction category. It is a story “about Martin and Alice falling in love, or falling into something that resembles love.” Martin and Alice work together in a large chain book store but only see each other as they change shifts. Martin then gets the idea to use books to communicate with Alice, which so happens to include famous love stories in Western literature. Scorza avoids melodrama to tell a love story (or something that resembles love) in a way that is both believable and moving: “Love lingers and evolves. It persists when it is not wanted, metamorphoses just as it becomes familiar.”
Sonya Huber and the Dogwood staff should be pleased with their restart. There are great stories and poems here that deserve a lot of attention. I highly recommend this journal and encourage you to watch out for their next issue.
Review by Aimee Nicole
Enizagam is a breath of fresh air in the literary world. It proves that you don’t have to hold a master’s degree in order to enjoy, edit, and critique good literature. The young students at Oakland School for the Arts edit this literary magazine written by adults and for adult readership every year. Though it is a highly esteemed magazine, I had never gotten the pleasure of reading it until this issue, and it sure didn’t disappoint.
“Night Shift” by Nicholas Kriefall paints a picture of a woman getting ready for another night of work. She is living in a bad area and through the poem we learn that although she works hard, she does not have much money but makes do with what she has:
The dryer is broken:
Her stockings hang crumpled
From the window like snakeskin.
When she puts them on
The hairs on her legs, arms
And neck rise.
On her way out she applies lipstick
In the broken hallway mirror
Like a spider web telling her to stay.
Though the poem was written simply and did not use fancy language as a crutch, the reader dives deep into this woman’s life and can easily visualize her apartment, the stockings and mirror, and especially her movements. She, like so many of us, has fallen into a routine, and the way out is unclear.
I really enjoy when writers detail a narrator’s rituals so that I can see every movement. Kelly Morton writes “Louisville Slugger” employing this technique. Although seeing through a narrator’s eyes who suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder or autism often lacks emotion, their rituals are very methodical and that in itself is their emotion and passion:
He taps on the door twice to enter. The boy picks up his
brand new Louisville Slugger and swings it
around the room, then walks three steps to the closet and
places it inside. The boy opens his backpack
and places his books on the upper left side of his antique
writing desk—English on top of Social Studies
on top of Arithmetic and Latin buried completely at the
bottom. The boy sharpens four yellow, number
two pencils and places them, erasers down, on the right side of
the antique writing desk.
The poem continues to detail encounters of family members and days at school. It almost seems like a short story as we get to learn so much about this boy and the people around him.
M.K. Metz offers us a short one page piece that makes us consider our lives and our purpose. “Sixty Seconds Left” graces us with sixty seconds (counting backwards) where we lose all freedom of choice and must contemplate and finally face our life thus far. It is so freeing to read through someone else’s memories and regrets:
This may not be the best time to wonder why you never joined the SLA with Patty Hearst or why you didn’t say anything to Bob Dylan when he passed you on the street once in New York, caught your stare directly and said "It’s me." Or why you never said I’m sorry to Laura after that New Years Eve in Joshua Tree when you both got drunk and argued in the same motel room that Gram Parsons overdosed in years before. She called you several times after that. You never picked up.
While this piece helps to face the past and relive important moments, it also encourages us to change in the future. It tells us to be kind to ourselves, to let go of the sadness that litters our memories. It was so easy to imagine my troubles, worries, fears, and sadness board the train in California and wave goodbye as it sailed off away from my future.
Review by Julie J. Nichols
There are enough apt images in this magazine to build a new world whole. In three of its quarterly issues, The Fiddlehead publishes short fiction: not here. Here you’ll find reviews of Canadian literature, as is usual in the journal, but then in addition, purely poetry—enough to populate your mind with figures and tropes and patterns of sound until winter comes to call. The Fiddlehead (a reference to a fern unfolding) is, according to its website, “a veritable institution of literary culture in Canada.” Published in New Brunswick for over 65 years, it is “a regional magazine with a national and international reputation.” Especially if contemporary poetry interests you, it’s easy, in this issue, to see why.
The poems are arranged in five sections. The first is a retrospective of Eleanor Wilner, American “war poet,” or, as Editor Ross Leckie puts it, “epistemologist of war.” Two poems about parachutists’ missions gone wrong strike (wound, awaken) us with images to account for how we learn about war. In “Landing,” the narrators (townspeople, we assume) observe “. . . a pure white cloud that hung there / in the blue, or a jellyfish on a waveless / sea, suspended high above us.” The poem continues:
we saw it had a man attached, suspended
from the center of the flower, a kind of human
stamen or stem . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
So you can guess
the way we might have felt
when it landed in our field
with the hard thud of solid flesh
and the terrible flutter of the collapsing
lung of silk . . .
Juxtaposed next to it, “Bailing Out—A Poem for the 1970s” gives voice to a whole squadron of parachutists who drift in unwanted air currents into a grove of trees (“Whose woods these are I think I know,” reads the epigraph to the poem) that hangs them all up, dangling without help, without ground under their feet. These images batter us: perhaps at first there’s beauty in the method of escape, the props of warriors’ work, but they are soon seen as mirages; the narrators are “searching in the aimless way / of unmoored things / for whatever human ballast gave / direction to their endless drift.”
Wilner’s “History as Crescent Moon” is a shape poem, itself a crescent moon, or rather the horns “of a bull / who was placed / before a mirror at the beginning / of human time” (the shape is the same), “beside it, red / asterisk of / Mars / *”—a mythological interrogation of what war is if I ever saw one. The sardonic lament of “Leda’s Handmaiden” echoes that interrogation:
Though everything can be forgotten
(or so sunk in memory’s swamp
that the shape to which emotion clings
is lost), consequence goes on,
Later in the poem, it continues:
. . . Our daughters,
practiced in the arts of grief, are
widows all. Cold beds, moth-eaten coats
hung on history’s hook, a name
that flutters like a sleeve.
These layered images of history and war, grief and irreplaceability, reverberate like shock waves to remind us how violence (dissatisfaction, conflict, war) overtakes us. If you didn’t know Wilner’s work before, you want to know more of it now.
Other images are equally arresting. Anne Compton’s “Signs” gives us a male “fall” (autumn), with a “lick of frost in his gorgeous mouth,” relieving the languishing female “August,” who says “a woman’s / life is a diminishing thing: Crest and slump, the same.” I may never think of August in quite the same way.
Charles Wright’s “Fortune Cookie” deconstructs our perception of stars, “not too cold, not too hot, / Time in its peregrinations a stop here and stop there”. In newcomer David Riebetanz’s almost-sonnet “The Open Night,” “Happiness is a black mug drunk down low, / Or a glimpse of a proud woman drawing red hair / Back behind her ears with both hands, slow.”
A section of the journal called “The more precisely we gauge the presence the less we do the future” contains Craig Poile’s “Fertility.” This poem traces a gay couple’s journey from a support group for couples who can’t conceive, to triumphant parenthood itself. The resonant images here include a heterosexual woman struggling out of her grief to sympathize with the narrator and end with him holding the hands of his two daughters, “never free of knowing / How life would be without them.”
Here there are ninety-nine poems, thirty-seven poets, Canadian favorites and newcomers, a thousand images to transport our small perceptions in all dimensions. If I leave you with any image it should be of yourself, buying this issue and re-forming your world as you devour and inhale it page by page—a delicious drowning.
Review by Mary Florio
Founded in 1990, the glossy literary magazine Glimmer Train Stories showcases mostly emerging talent and hosts a bevy of contests to help cull those voices. I did not appreciate the fruits of their model until I read this issue, which carried me cover to cover, through a labyrinth of sound, structure, and emotional and literary sophistication.
Amateur art critics I know will ask about the moxie or chutzpah of some of the abstract expressionists—Pollock and Rothko, to name a couple—to class experimentation with the “high art” of the Impressionists. Sometimes these conservative museum-goers will permit a Dali or Picasso show, but they simply refuse to tolerate the more then-modern schools simply because it is perceived that the technique is overrun by the concept. In this issue of Glimmer Train, we are privileged to see fine experimentation in league with classical forms. The editors have keenly addressed those conservative readers who need to see the canonic in league with the mad dreams of Alexi Zentner and Philip Tate. In this spirit, I will suggest that reading this issue is a lot like attending a beach party thrown by Fellini with the occasional visit by Charles Baxter, except that Charles Baxter does actually appear in this magazine, and Fellini does not.
Alexi Zentner tells a story (“Finis”) that is structured to convey the narrative in a simultaneous format, so that decisions made in one frame unfold into one column, while a different choice unfolds into a different column, and the reader may read both columns and follow the decisions in a bifurcated, dual story that splits and splits again. The philosophical and stylistic elements of this framework are successful to me as a reader, and while the technique is not unanticipated, I reveled in Zentner’s artistic reach and the editors’ panache in publishing it.
Philip Tate’s “Gas” also departs from standard linear form. Using numbered dreams, he creates a web of stories that are joined by the perception that some are “real” while others overlap with elements of hazy conjecture. Fortunately, Tate does not borrow a trope from the excuse of “inherent instability model” where surrealism is supported by the argument that the narrator is conveniently unreliable—Tate invents his own unreliable narrator in a potent ruse that also affects a political commentary—which is innovative and successful.
Every single story in this journal is successful—and by that I mean my life has been improved by reading them—it is the diversity of form and the complexity of the ideas and the strength of the language make it successful. In “Whiteout,” there is the systematic, driven Mason going home in a blizzard that is itself a white force, like the cocaine Mason carries in his car; there is the compassionate use in Hermann’s sketch of a healer forcing himself to be healed; there are overwhelming tides of tight prose that do not lose—in that discipline—the melody of our tradition.
In addition to the stories, Jeremiah Chamberlin interviews Charles Baxter, and Carmiel Banasky interviews Karen Russell. Baxter’s insights into contemporary literary trends are important enough that I am going to close this review now and read the interview again, word by painted word.
Review by Kenneth Nichols
Hayden’s Ferry Review announces itself immediately as an important publication, and not just because of its justifiably stellar reputation. This twenty-fifth anniversary issue boasts a top-shelf list of contributors, and the journal itself is heavy and substantial in the hand. This issue puts a special focus on the “artifact,” an object with “unique meaning both within its context and apart from it.” This focus is explicit in the issue’s reproductions of artifacts from notable writers, but is also implicit in many of the poems and short stories that fill the rest of the pages.
What do we gain by seeing a page from Aimee Bender’s dream journal and her subsequent notes that would become her story, “The Rememberer”? What about a scribbled notebook draft of a G.C. Waldrep poem? This peek behind the curtain offers us insight into the creative process. Writers can’t expect to train themselves to think in the exact manner as Michael Martone does. Writers can, however, push themselves on a similar path of development.
Liz Prato’s “This is Your Birth Certificate” represents a slightly skewed take on the personal memoir. Prato annotates her own birth certificate, an artifact that was issued to her adoptive parents and features a birthdate that is off by seventeen months. Prato’s longing to understand her origins comes through in her comments. She points out that she was called by a different name for her first two months, a name that is on the original birth certificate: a document she is not allowed to see. Prato’s choice to cast the annotations in the second person creates a slight narrative distance, but reinforces the deep emotional implications of her adoption.
Nick McRae considers still another kind of artifact in his poem, “Psalm 137.” The author laments that the artifacts of manhood and boyhood have changed in the past several decades. So few Americans know what it is like to scour the woods for escaped winter calves or to dress their own deer. (Perhaps someone should create an app for that.) Where, McRae asks,
are the children who squatted by creeks
in dark pine thickets, hovered over the waters,
dragged their fingers through loose silt,
feeling for the delicate forms of crawdads and tadpoles—
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
who, bodies light and scrubbed red, dozed through hymns
and sermons on thick-aired church days and woke
to the sobs of old women while the organ droned?
The titular allusion is an apt one; nostalgia is one of humanity’s only true constants.
Translators have a job that is both difficult and fascinating. In a brief interview, Jay Rubin discusses his English translations of Haruki Murakami’s short stories. The Murakami short stories that follow the interview earn an additional layer of enjoyment when you know how hard Rubin labored to translate not just words, but shared experiences.
Michael Leone’s “Personal Statement” is a story in the form of the personal statement. The character P. Jonathan Scudarro is hoping to earn a grant from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Instead of proving his worthiness, Scudarro provides an autobiography that is extremely entertaining, but not very persuasive. Scudarro surely would be among our greatest scholars if it hadn’t been for misfortune: “Unfortunately, in a calamity of epic proportions, the treatise that I spent over ten years researching and writing perished in a thunderstorm, and the one extant final copy was innocently donated to Goodwill by my girlfriend (probably my ex by now, but I hesitate to characterize her this way).”
This issue of Hayden’s Ferry Review offers great value, holding an awful lot of work between its covers. The pieces incline toward the higher end of the literary spectrum and particularly reward second readings.
Review by John Palen
The rawness, dissonance and clamor of contemporary American urban life are present in several fine poems in the latest issue of Hiram Poetry Review.
City life can be mysterious and impenetrable, as it is in “Minor Prophet” by Graham Hillard. The poem’s speaker encounters a homeless man bearing a revelation scribbled on a scrap of paper. “I dreamed this and wrote it down, / says the crazy vet,” who wants Hilliard to decipher the message:
Do you know it?
His hands are shaking.
Do you know it?
I don’t. His revelation
has been specific. I leave him
in crumbling penitence. The city beyond
is Nineveh. Somewhere
he is carrying out his orders.
The city can unfold its layers more slowly, as it does in Jim Daniels’s expansive account of a trip to the store for milk in “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” which begins:
Sunday after dinner I walk out front
to a trumpet player on the roof
of the rotting apartments across the street.
He blows like he’s calling on the funky troops
of section 8 housing to rise up and admire
his angelic self. In the rain, I decide
I have a soul again. . . .
Or it can turn around and bite you, as it does in Jason Tandon’s tight twenty lines on chain-reaction road rage, ironically titled “Sermon on the Mount.” After a near-miss with a pedestrian, the poem’s speaker has lost himself in a fantasy of anger and forgiveness until, the speaker says, “I awoke to a blare of horns. / The driver behind me / threw up her hands / and asked if I was fucking retarded.”
Hiram Poetry Review, which has been around almost a half century, finds fresh, accessible, well-crafted work to publish. Other notable poems in this issue come from Nathan E. White, John Paul O’Connor, Michael Jemal, Tim Leach, Daniel John, David Rogers, Justin Hamm, Rawdon Tomlinson, and Edward Butscher.
Gabriele Zuokaite, a high school senior from Lithuania, and Douglas Collura offer gender-balanced and riotous takes on sex, while former Review editor David Fratus contributes a perfect cat poem, “Winter mornings, early.”
The only downer in this issue was the high incidence of typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors in the back-section book reviews. In particular, William Johnson’s review of Jack Gilbert’s Collected Poems was seriously marred and deserved more care.
Review by Aimee Nicole
Knock is published bi-annually by Antioch University Seattle and has lots of flavor and flair; it is comprised of poems, fiction, essays, excerpts from books, interviews, and some fantastic color art and one hybrid piece. It must have been difficult to choose which artists' and writers' names would be featured on the cover as this issue shocked me with a tremendous amount of quality work. The editors certainly live up to the expectation of publishing “cutting edge” writing.
“The Post Office” is an excerpt from a one-act play by Stacey Levine. While the post office clerk is rather chatty and at some points I found myself questioning credibility, I was thoroughly entertained while reading. The man walks into the post office to simply fill out a paper requesting that they hold his mail while he goes on vacation, but it does not go as smoothly as planned. The clerk begins a long process of seemingly pointless conversation that continues to confuse the customer who cannot understand why he cannot go on his way. As in all good writing, there are little gems of truth that really spark your imagination and that can connect with your personal life:
Customer: It’s wrong to look back and regret, Gosh, I hate regret.
Clerk: Regret is real; we can’t avoid it.
Customer: It’s arrogant.
Clerk: I notice that you wear not durable, intelligent shoes, but slippers of the kind that girls wear in fairy stories. That alone is evidence that you do not live in the real world, where regret breathes in our ears just as do friends.
As the story progresses, it becomes clear that the post office clerk remembers the customer from a past encounter, and it is truly a journey following their humorous conversation. I just hope the customer’s mail gets held without issue; the two end up so far off topic, and the issue is never resolved!
Janette Fecteau is featured for poetry, and although two poems are included in this issue, I wanted more! Her poem, “Janette’s Theory of Sex and Death” includes such vivid description. Here’s a snippet: “The man I want oozes sex / and death from scars so deep I can / ride my bike right through them.”
Her other poem, titled “Trial,” is about a woman who cheats on her husband. They are in the process of getting separated. It is an interesting look from the wife’s perception as she was the perpetrator in ending the marriage (she was, after all, the cheating party); however, you can really get a sense of her sadness and regret that the marriage is ending. So many changes are to come, and she admits: “I desire you more than salt.” This is an interesting comparison as salt should only be used in moderation, and can be seen as a special treat for many adults in order to maintain good health. She wants him more than that specific desire. This excerpt is from the beginning of the poem:
separation. I cheat on you,
make speeches that last five years.
Then revoke your access
to our bed. You migrate
from couch to sofa, homeless
in your own house. Keys
left for granted with loose change
on the coffee table, the spare room
in shambles. . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
You say you’ll move out
in springtime, that’s what
separation means. Immediately
I see the dogs, apart, sadder
than they’ve ever been
in long careers as more faithful carriers
of our pain.
Fecteau does something really interesting. There are two columns on the page, and the second column is basically the first column told in reverse. Yet oddly, it all makes sense. The same descriptions and word choice and backbone is all there in the second column. There are minor word changes to ensure flow; however, this was an interesting choice on her part. It works flawlessly and I truly commend her for creating such an interesting piece of art.
While it is always difficult to describe art in a review, I feel that it is necessary to disclose the pure genius behind the art of this issue. Tracy Lang includes some interesting pieces that are of a beautiful purple and blue hue. She includes a description that inspiration is drawn from “the rustic scenes in and around her Bainbridge Island studio, housed in an old sheep barn on the edge of the woods.” She also admits that graffiti, and the many layers that graffiti entails, is reflected in her work.
The illustrations for the magazine, which do not appear to be credited, are also incredible and maintain a satisfying depth. One of the standout pieces is about halfway through the magazine and showcases a gorgeous skyline with people performing many acts (dancing, karate, skateboarding, yoga posing) along the buildings and clouds. In bold letters along the top is: “Better Living Through Safety,” which of course goes along with the issue theme, the safe word issue. There is a billboard that says: “Less Darts, More Arts!” and is signed from The New Management. The page is very powerful, and I know that the world would be a whole lot safer with less violence and more art. This issue is a must-read!
The Valley Review
Volume 6 Issue 2
Review by David R. Matteri
Meat for Tea is a quirky little journal from western Massachusetts that showcases fiction, poetry, and art of eclectic taste. Themes jump around from absurd, realistic, and even to a small taste of science fiction in a blend that is peculiar yet satisfying, like bacon in earl gray or pork in green tea. You get the idea.
Three poems by John Yamrus appear in this issue, which fit well with the journal’s nonconformist quality. These poems are ridiculous, but in a good way as if Yamrus is laughing at his own work. Lawn furniture, writing poetry in hot tubs, and a lady “known / for stripping down // and / throwing / her boobs / over her shoulders // for / drinks” appear in this trio of laughable absurd poems. It is not surprising then that Yamrus’s poetry is inspired by Groucho Marx and “that nameless guy who writes on toilet walls.”
Jessica Tyner’s “For My Father” steps away from the absurd and honors her father through the memories of road trips and garage sales. Tyner magnifies the smallest details to paint a great image:
Thirty years later, what I remember
is the “do you want this?” dipped
slow in a thick Oklahoma drawl
as you raised a one dollar stickered
ceramic horse with your callused
brown hands. The tough pancakes
from McDonald’s suffocating
in syrup. . . .
The speaker has no memory of her father being there for her piano recitals or her birthdays, but she will always have these memories: “the country song you sang / to make me roll my eyes, / and how good the endless coke and peanuts tasted.” Sometimes the smallest memories are all that remains of the ones we love.
Michael Alves offers two of his own poems in this issue that take us back to the realm of the absurd. I appreciate Alves’s ability to string together a complex system of words and images without sounding forced: “Daydreams tasting of norepinephrine / behavioral pushes of mesolimbic dopamine // the sensation of serotonin- / like a warm hand on my chest.” I also enjoyed his second poem which revolves around mathematical principles: “It’s in the statistics-”
to divide by one doesn’t make a difference,
to add the negative only takes away,
to replace the variable doesn’t alter the function-
the result is predictable
the outcome is in the nature of it.
These are strong poems from a talented wordsmith. I look forward to what he has in store next.
Rachel Hoogstraten’s short fiction “This String Walks into a Bar” reads like a modern day fable. The story is about Alan Thornton, a successful businessman who has never smiled in his life. One can’t blame him for his lack of mirth as both of his parents died when he was young. He enters a bar one night after work to enjoy a beer, but he is approached by an older man who wants to cheer him up. The older man then tells him a bad joke. This joke is so bad that it works, and Alan leaves the bar with a smile on his face. I felt like Alan by the end of this little story. Sure, it was short and the joke was exceedingly dumb, but I left with a smile on my face as well.
This issue of Meat for Tea also comes with a CD that features music by Something Else and Azuza Inkh and an Interview with David Yow. The music has a good beat with just a touch of blues and was like a chaser for the fiction and poetry in this journal. So go ahead and pour yourself a cup and have a drink because the meat in this tea is fresh.
Volume 18 Number 1
Review by Sean Stewart
The name Rattle for a poetry journal interests me in the way that names of things often do. There is the death rattle, a baby’s rattle, rattlesnakes. There are people’s minds rattling off the hinges, people’s cages being rattled, and people rattling their own cages or those of others. It could be said that the best poetry rattles our nerves. A little bit of all of this is represented in this issue of Rattle, the death rattle perhaps more than the rest. If I had to pick one poem to represent the issue it would be Rohan Chhetri’s “Not the Exception.” The narrator appears to recently have come close to death and speaks of it in matter-of-fact yet insightful ways. The final lines struck me as boldest:
We think death is
Aberration. Thousand automobiles out to run you
Down every morning. The precision of the machinery
Outside us. The survival of the everyday is a constant
Accident from which we will recover in death.
The word death occurs seven times in that poem. The words death, dead, dying, die, dies, or died occur 22 times in the first 50 pages of this issue. The words kill or killed occur three times. Then there are all the poems where these words don’t actually appear in print, but lurk instead between the lines. The words life, alive, live, or living only appear 10 times. I stopped counting these words after 50 pages because I was already behind deadline on this review, but I think we all know what this means. The death rattle is loud in our ears. Life is a less literal concept, less final, and so we hesitate to mention it in such direct ways.
The tribute this month is to law enforcement poets, many of whom live with death or its possibility every day of their working lives. There are police officers, military police, harbor patrol officers, private eyes, railroad police, and customs officials. What I gather from this is that anyone you see in your everyday life could be a secret poet.
There are a lot of poems in this issue. I read them all. Some are short, only a few lines, and others quite lengthy. I made a list of my favorites. That list grew too long and so I won’t mention it here. Let’s just say that Chhetri’s “Not the Exception” was not the exception (ugh, sorry for that). But things such as favorite poems are so subjective. I’d rather you seek the issue out and discover your own favorites. Think of this review as my encouragement of you in that endeavor.
Volume 24 Number 1
Review by Sarah Carson
This issue of the Santa Monica Review starts out with a bang—literally.
In the first story of the issue, Michelle Chihara’s “Female Lead or A Pitch for a Character-Drive One-Hour Procedural Television Show,” the narrator goes on a stream-of-consciousness brainstorming session for television drama that may or may not include a surgeon, a cop, a King of Heroin who has strewn bodies up and down the Texas border (see? A bang—literally!), and/or a ride into the Mojave Desert.
This followed by J. J. Strong’s “The Earth Moved” in which a former minor league baseball player traverses an earthquake stricken, post-apocalyptic-esque Los Angeles to get home to his dear Olivia, and I was sure I was in for an explosive trip through Southern California.
The Santa Monica Review, based at Santa Monica College, focuses on showcasing the fiction and creative nonfiction of Southern Californian writers, and, I must admit, I could feel California sensibility. I would even go so far as to compare it to those “Visit California” commercials in which surfers, movie stars, and wine enthusiasts all tout the diversity of people and lifestyles one should come visit.
The selection of work in the issue comes from a variety of genres and styles, but they all have one thing in common: these writers are solid, engaging storytellers. From Chihara’s and Strong’s high-energy narrators to slower, more reflective tales, the storytelling in this issue will keep you reading.
One of my favorite stories in the issue was T. Duncan Anderson’s “Shelter” about an employee at a homeless shelter in Iowa who is exploring the women in his life through the lens of his work with people on the fringes of society. Anderson’s narrator is young and maybe a little naïve, but the earnestness with which he is looking for a woman who can love a family is both endearing and heartbreaking, like in this passage where he talks with his anorexic, poet girlfriend about a his pregnant ex-lover, Laney:
“She’s aborting it tomorrow.”
“Good,” Laney whispered.
“Do you ever want children? Would you ever want my children?”
“No. I have more than enough to do raising myself,” she said. “Besides, you’re not ready to be a father.”
“You’d never know. I could be,” I said.
Another highlight was Tara Ison’s “Fish,” a complex, carefully paced story in which a young woman makes arrangements for her uncle’s death as he subsists on life support. As she waits for the uncle to die, the narrator makes continual visits to a fish pond at the local botanical garden:
The last of the crowd is finally gone, and she eagerly approaches the bridge. The little green river has rippled out to glass. The food sticks to her palm, and she imagines a scattering of flakes from her gentle, Lady Bountiful hand, the grateful fish swimming near with beauty and tranquility, taking nourishment from her, then swimming off and away with content grace. But the moment her foot hits the red wood there’s a wet flapping, a swell.
Not only will the fish that soon appears give you nightmares, but so will the surprising, heartbreaking ending.
What’s unique about this collection is that how easy it is to get excited about the writers it contains. Nearly the entire issue was brimming with talent. Personally, I’ll be looking for more from these writers elsewhere—and coming to future issues of the Santa Monica Review to discover more writers I need to be watching for.
Volume 2 Number 1
Review by Shannon Smith
Storm Cellar is slender literary magazine—this issue is less than 30 pages—whose website advertises “a special emphasis on the Midwest.” The cover is catchy, a colorful curiosity of overlapping images. Flowers and faces mix among abstractions, and it all looks a bit like wallpaper from the neon ‘80s. Despite the inclusion of only three pieces of fiction, one of which is no longer than a page, and poems by five authors, this issue of Storm Cellar holds up as an interesting, varied read.
Brendan McDonnell’s “The Prophet” is the stand out story, a piece about an undersized ninth grade boy who doesn’t fit in with the rest of this class. His way out is to discover the psychic powers of prediction on TV, and then attempt to practice with the help of a library book. He practices with dice after his bewildered father warns him that maybe he’s only improving with cards because he’s subconsciously learned how to count the cards and so can manufacture a better guess about what suits are left. The story takes a dry, understated tone toward its stumbling hero that allows solid emotions to build throughout, despite a somewhat outlandish premise.
Christopher Dungey’s “Double Fault,” leans toward Storm Cellar’s aforementioned emphasis on the Midwest. Taking place in Detroit, it occurs on the 1973 day Billie Jean King played Bobbie Riggs. The main character, Hector, drives all the way to work in a factory, only to skip work, spending the shift in the bar across the street from the Fischer-Body Pontiac where he’s supposed to be employed. “Double Fault” is full of precise details and skillfully balances the tennis match against the turmoil of Hector’s aversion to work, and his attempts to rationalize away his guilt for not returning home with the money he should have earned.
Cathy Bryant’s poem “Pretty” runs in its entirety: “Pretty / ugly really, / the beauty police.” Bryant’s short, surprising poem is one of the more affecting poems in this issue. David Lewitzky’s “Waltz Notes” contorts the history of the waltz into a poem, concluding, “And waltz, like revolution, and like me, has seen its better days.” The other poems in this issue are laid out on top of designs that appear similar to constellations drawn on graph paper, adding an eerie background to the writing.
Overall, this issue of Storm Cellar, while not long, manages to pack in some strong writing. Even the journal’s website refers to this issue as “slim,” leaving me to wonder if this summer issue, while substantial, might be overshadowed by other, longer, issues of the same magazine.
Review by Kenneth Nichols
Editor RW Spryszak begins this issue of Thrice Fiction by addressing the misconceptions some have with regard to “micro fiction.” Spryszak rejects the notion that flash fiction is “experimental” and has a very good point. “Experimental” implies that a piece isn’t fully formed “or that the writer doesn’t know what they’re trying to get at . . . by the time something is ready for public viewing the experiment should be over.” The writers whose work is represented in Thrice Fiction make use of the toolboxes of both poets and short story writers to create stories that are as emotionally potent as they are brief.
One of the great challenges of flash fiction is to cram discussions of complicated issues into a handful of pages. MaryAnne Kolton’s ”A Map of Reality” tells the story of Lloyd Dean, a recent high school graduate from a well-off family who made the mistake of impregnating a junior from a lower-class family. “Lloyd’s football scholarship from Duke was forfeited like an expensive watch, pawned, never to be retrieved. Bethann would get her GED at some point.” The narrator focuses on Lloyd’s half of the story. (Or is it his third of the story?) Although the pregnancy is recounted at breakneck pace—by necessity—Kolton manages to provide enough insight into Lloyd to justify the action he takes at the end of the piece.
In “Spilling Out,” Eddie Jeffrey’s narrator experiences the hell of battle. PFC Whelan endures the heat of the Nui Ba Den valley, terrified he will forget some crucial piece of his training. Then he steps into a punji pit, the “buffalo dung-dipped stakes protruding through the top of his boot.” When Whelan wakes up, he’s in the middle of a firefight. When he wakes again, he is in the hospital. The beating heart of Jeffrey’s short story is the one-sided discussion Whelan has with his doctor. What, if any, are the differences between those who volunteer for war and those who are conscripted?
Micro fiction is a genre that lends itself particularly well to depicting small moments in a meaningful fashion. The first-person narrator of Susan Tepper’s “Casino” is a beautiful woman who is spending her time with a much older and much wealthier man. When they stroll through the casino, “men look at him and nod and he nods back. It’s all this secret code thing men have. Rich men.” The narrator knows she is as much an accessory as her boyfriend’s cufflinks and believes she understands what motivates men. Tepper takes her examination of the relationship between rich men and beautiful women one step further: a gambler seizes her hand in hopes she will extend his winning streak. The resolution of the story implies that the narrator has gained some new measure of self-understanding, leading the reader to wonder what happens to her after Tepper’s story ends.
Another great strength of Thrice Fiction is its attractive design. Each story is accompanied by a relevant illustration that influences the reader’s understanding of the piece. The vignettes in Marcus Speh’s “Android Clippings,” in fact, are presented as though some reader from the distant future is encountering news stories from our present and past. There are many literary journals that will appeal to friends and family who don’t normally read them; Thrice Fiction is certainly a prime candidate to be given as a gift.
Review by Sarah Carson
Having somehow never heard of Willow Springs prior to this issue arriving on my doorstep, I was excited by the caliber of the authors listed on the cover: Amorak Huey, Kathryn Nuernberger, Roxane Gay, and even an interview with one of my all-time favorites, Tim O’Brien!
I’m happy to report that my excitement was warranted. Starting with an absolutely beautiful cover—a colorful, intriguing, slightly creepy painting with a bright orange background—the journal jumped out of the pile begging to be read.
The work featured in the issue was just as alive and vibrant as the colors on its cover, and there’s not a single piece of poetry, fiction, or nonfiction in the issue that doesn’t stand out on its own, begging to be read again.
One of my favorite pieces was Julialicia Case’s “Growing Like Houses” in which two young women in Philadelphia must navigate both the trajectory of their young lives and the disrepair of the apartment they share where mushrooms sprout overnight in the bathroom. The short reflection is filled with wit and insight and moments that make you eager to keep reading and to find out what else this narrator knows, such as this one, where the narrator is helping a student at an adult literacy center:
I go over to the man to see how he’s doing. His paper is filled with letters, lined up, squished together, no punctuation, no spaces, no recognizable words: “bympazinjhg,” he’s written.
I sit beside him. “Will you read me what you’ve got so far?” I say.
“I want to be a better man,” he begins.
The fiction also sings with the same kind of intuition and craft. Two of my favorites were Miranda McLeod’s “Mrs. Schafer Gets Fit”—a pointed portrait of a woman tasked with discovering her identity now that her young adult daughter has moved out without leaving a forwarding address—and Jess Walter’s “Eating Human Flesh,” in which an excited young writer makes a pitch made for a movie about the Donner family (earnestly titled Donner!). Both stories exhibited a sense of control in seemingly uncontrollable situations—McLeod in Mrs. Schafer’s pursuit to move forward while making peace with the past, like in this passage, where Mrs. Shafer weighs in at home:
The shower is heating up, the air around her growing warm and moist. Jessica, of course, would not find two-hundred-and-seven acceptable. If anything, it would make her angry. That Mrs. Schafer weighs this much to begin with, that Mrs. Schafer does not care. That, by cruel logic of genetics, Jessica herself could weigh two-hundred-and seven someday.
And Walter’s narration is a careful balance of ambition, naiveté, and cheese.
. . . Now we go closer again, and you see between the Indians, this gaunt creature, practically a skeleton, wild beard, barefoot, his clothes just tattered rags, staggering to the cabin . . .
. . . is William Eddy! The ranchers get Eddy some water. A bit of flour, which is all his constricted stomach can handle. His eyes well with tears. ‘There are others . . . in an Indian village near here’ he tells them, with barely enough breath to power his weak voice.
The issue also features a diverse selection of poetry and poetic voices—from a translation from Chinese to poems in prose to dreams and drinkers and enormous castles. Overall, the collection is full of adventure, moxie, and doggone solid writing. It’s certainly an issue I would recommend and a journal I’ll be on the lookout for in the future.
Volume 27 Number 1
Review by Sean Stewart
This was the first issue of Zone 3 I’ve read cover-to-cover, and I was pleased with what I found. It’s an impressive, well-chosen collection of poetry and prose. Beginning with the narrative nonfiction, in “Puttanesca,” Kerry L. Malawista finds comfort in a special dish her friend made and brought to her following her daughter’s death. It is a straightforward and powerful piece that addresses and celebrates a simple gesture of humanity in the face of tragedy.
In his essay “The Fierce Green Fire,” Don Lago relates a story about Aldo Leopold that I’d heard before. It’s about how as an eager young man Leopold partook in a hunting party that came upon an aging female wolf swimming across a stream to her overjoyed pups. The men in the hunting party, including Leopold, opened fire on this happy reunion scene. When they approached the dying wolves, Leopold poked with his gun at the she-wolf, who snarled back, not surprisingly. Leopold related seeing a “fierce green fire” fading from her eyes. It was at this moment that Leopold began to understand the tenets of what would become known as ecology. Losing that “fierce green fire” meant losing the top predators in an ecosystem, thus dooming it to the subsequent problems we now know only too well.
Diane Kraynak’s essay “Lazarus” relates an experience the author had as a nursing student caring for a premature baby that had literally returned from the dead. Kraynak effectively uses the story of this fragile infant as a framework to personalize the steep learning curve associated with entering this difficult profession. Following the essay is an interview with Kraynak in which she discusses the essay’s development and some thoughts on its underlying themes.
My favorite poems in this issue come from Alex Lemon and H.L. Hix. Lemon writes short two-line stanzas packed with strong imagery, such as this one from “Whittling Your Legs Into a Rocking Chair” (amazing title, by the way): “The truth is being alive boils / You down into a toxic mush.” Hix is a bit more verbose and more literal, though no less powerful, as in these lines from “But Nothing Visible”: “It’s true we’ve gotten good at measuring, / but measuring can’t salve our ache for the measureless.” His opening lines all seized me, but none as tightly as this one from “As If We Were, As If We Were”: “I create lozenges compacted from listenings-in.”
This issue’s fiction loosely focuses on characters trapped in desperate situations of varying forms and levels, some self-imposed, others not. Alexander Weinstein’s magically realistic story “The City of Labarinto” relates the story of a man chasing after an elusive woman, leading him ever deeper into a constantly changing city from which he finds he cannot leave as easily as he entered. In the noirish tale “Who’s Afraid?” by Chris Gavaler, an aspiring teenage actress flirts with her movie monster-esque coworker at a second-run movie theater. Finally, in “New World Hero,” Dennis Vannatta’s narrator Sal leads a lonely life of singular focus, watching nightly over his neighborhood pizza place, once a terrible scene of racial violence that Sal is determined will never be repeated again.
If this outstanding issue is any indication of the usual fare served up in Zone 3, then I will be waiting in desperate anticipation for the next one to be published. Highly recommended.
Review by Lesley Dame
6X6 is an eccentric little number, a mini-compilation of avant-garde poetry. When you pick up the most recent issue of 6X6, titled “Enough About Pigs,” you know you’re in for a party. The journal is slim and funky, its bubble-gum pink cover accented with red letters and held together by a nifty red rubber-band for the binding. This poetry magazine, published by Ugly Duckling Presse, is a chapbook like no other, displaying the innovative work of six poets.
All six poets, while unique, tend to follow along these lines: strange images, interesting contemplation, devil-may-care attitude, gritty honesty, and a sprinkling of angst. You’ll have to decide for yourself if this is an aesthetic you find enjoyable. If anything, whether good or bad, I find the poems deliciously intriguing. I also like short, manageable poems in equally short, manageable magazines. I’m a toddler mom. I have little time to spare.
Steve Muhs’s six poems are short, often jarring pieces with a mixture of ordinary images and profound ideas. He takes the big bang, the cycle of life, science, God, and Freud and tosses in whiskey and salt and drug dealers and policemen. This sacred/profane dialogue is funny and raw. For instance, the one poem that actually has a title is called “A SPAGHETTI DINNER FOR THE KID WITH LEUKEMIA, EVERYONE IS EATING THEIR FILL.” This humorous title also makes you feel awkward and sad. You are laughing, and now you are ashamed.
Dot Devota’s poems are more serious than Muhs’s, with longer lines and almost no punctuation, which gives them a heavy, frantic feel. Devota’s rambling collection of images, like “the scab in the back of my throat / what used to be a blooming torso / pacing between elephant tusks / and the memory gravity leeches,” play a constant reel of anxiety through your mind as you read. You feel like you’re climbing to the top of a roller-coaster, only the cart goes faster and faster as you climb, and the descent ends abruptly, flinging you from your seat with fabulously haunting lines like, “the scene is of my massacres.”
William Minor’s first poem, “Beijing” begins: “The spectacle of a woman on fire is an ordinary spectacle.” Minor makes a lot of bizarre statements and then, sometimes, analyzes them with images and psychology (his own?). For instance, “Situations are reasonable. I like drinks and sausages.” These lines, which sometimes become repetitive and rhythmic, have me reading the same super-short poems over and over, just for the pleasure of the sound. This is a good thing. I can’t say I always (or ever?) understand these poems, but they are a great read.
Martha Ronk’s poems, like Devota’s, also rely heavily on collections of images. The difference here is that Ronk’s images flow more naturally and build upon one another. In my opinion, Ronk’s poems have the most urgency of the bunch. They are relevant and relatable and speak to modern issues, both personal and public. I think these lines from “The Obliquity of the Ecliptic” demonstrate these traits: “Bent over images (the damp morning newspaper) / (the back of another’s back) were then / the curl of interminable losses cornering us / in mutually exclusive positions.”
Every one of Levi Rubeck’s poems is titled with a series of X’s. I’m not sure if this means they are untitled, or indeed, titled “XXX XXX...” in varying degrees of X’s. No matter. Like Minor, Rubeck makes interesting declarations, like “Replace your scientists and we can / prevent the holidays.” Like Devota, Rubeck compiles odd, interesting images: “More affection from this gorgeous, / friend, she picked the catnip / of competition because synthesized human // pheromones reject cheap / imitations. A siren nests in the / inhuman Santa Monica winter.” Like all the others, Rubeck is working through some big issues. In this particular poem (18 X’s), I think it has something to do with religion.
By the time I get to the last poet in the magazine, I am expecting yet another unique poet who also has fascinating images, neat observations, and a dash of personal philosophy. Abraham Adams does not disappoint when he begins, “My own life is strange / commotions in fat.” In truth, he had me at “commotions of fat.” Still, I read on. What comes next is the strangest of all: “cradling their tectonic dowry / on repeat. // Masks in the little ponds, / are you these masks tied to figs // with their blossoming iron?” WHAT? (Draw out the “A” for about five seconds.) I have no idea what this means, but I enjoy it a heck of a lot. After this he says, “Most life is like you, / most airplanes worry,” and I feel comforted. I feel like Adams understands human nature completely regardless of my understanding of his images.
This is a weird magazine in the sense that it is cutting-edge and rare, and half the time I have no idea what’s going on. The fact that I don’t get most of the poems doesn’t mean I didn’t love every minute of them. And I’m also aware of my responsibility as the reader—although I may have to reread these poems several times, I know that with time, I will come to understand and appreciate them better and better. If you like the type of work that defies the laws of contemporary poetry, 6X6 will throw you one wild hootenanny.