Posted January 17, 2012
Alaska Quarterly Review :: Bellevue Literary Review :: Black Lantern Publishing :: Booth :: CaKe :: The Carolina Quarterly :: Faultline :: The Helix :: Magnolia :: The Main Street Rag :: New Orleans Review :: Off the Coast :: Palooka :: Paul Revere's Horse :: Phantom Drift :: Post Road :: River Teeth :: Silk Road :: Straylight :: Tin House
Volume 28 Numbers 3 & 4
Fall & Winter 2011
Review by Julie J. Nichols
I believe (but I might be convinced otherwise) that my favorite piece in this issue of the Alaska Quarterly Review is Charles Wyatt’s “An Accidental Dictionary”—a listing of strange, delicious, and mostly obsolete words taken from three late-twentieth-century specialty word-books. “Bomolluck: . . . not a thing in the night, but what you fear in the night. It can sit on your chest.” “Kist: a basket for the baby Moses or Noah’s ark or Queequeg’s coffin, or the cup of the sea, or the stinging stars pursuing . . . and the heavens see only fog, neither rising nor falling. Tuned. All attention. Will.” “Gardyloo: . . . there is no truth in truth and I have lost my cats.” To word lovers like me, these changeling glomerations of sound are glorious, and Wyatt’s explanations are grand spills of imagery. I can’t resist the temptation to use them to talk about the rest of the issue.
For example, Andrew Peery’s “Dead Girls” is complex, the way all good fiction is—there’s more than one story going on here, they unfold as we go, we are made progressively more curious and concerned for these characters called “Claire,” “Steve,” “the girl,” and “the cat” (who is female)—how are they related? What will happen to either girl, or all three (cat included)? Claire is a doctor, pregnant by another doctor (not Steve), who has initiated Steve into the use of drugs-for-sanity-on-the-floor; Steve is the resident in charge of “the girl.” The drugs aren’t the issue, here, although they’re an issue. Instead, relationships are. The cat is a beautifully rendered symbol for both the human girls and the panicky, heartachey relationships doctors have with those they treat. This story embodies Wyatt's gardyloo: Steve is not sure where the truth is, and at one point, significantly, he loses his cat.
“If You Help the Same People Too Often,” by J. Malcolm Garcia, goes avering, its characters, clients of a Family Services agency, as Wyatt would define the term, like “loseneers (escaped captives of the Turks), iuweeliers (specialize in fake gems), swijgers . . . the bird that crashes into window glass and then dies or does not.” The tone of Garcia's story is wonderful—disillusioned, disappointed, full of pained integrity. The tone of “The Widow’s Grievance,” by Mary Kuryla, is also pitch-perfect: the widow is a crack shot, confessing to and at the same time accusing her husband and neighbors of passion, murder, mayhem—Wyatt's gapesnest. Kuryla could vie with Wyatt for my “favorite” category.
But nobody’s competing here, really. As we know, the pleasure of any excellent literary magazine is that it offers one admirable morsel after another (“baragouin: the astonishing white bread”), and in the case of this issue of AQR, ten short stories, eight stunning works of nonfiction, and poetry by twenty-eight poets.
I have been talking about the fiction, but Wes Hempel's “The Canceled Invitation (Notes on Griffith Park)” is Wyatt's lib: "first, a charm, then to castrate, then to suckle, then to sleep […] an odd journey for a quarter note of a word, the worst part of any tune whistled in the night.” This essay about the strange, and in some ways awful journey of discovering oneself among itinerant gays in Los Angeles charms, informs, and dismays with its honesty. It will knock you over. Other essays about shoplifting (“Pocketing” by Peggy Shinner), fuel wastage (“350 Pounds” by Marybeth Holleman), and mothers (“Mother’s Hands” by David Singyke and “Growing Up Among Skeletons and Radios” by Adriana Páramo), are all singular, like the stories Wyatt describes under mithe: “they exist whole cloth, they crawl out of the ground after the hardest winter and make soft lights from the ends of weeds. They launch and signal from the night.”
Then there’s the poetry. Greg Vargo’s “Alternative Etiologies of the Common Cold” is a smart, splendid take on those “causes” we try so hard to conquer (communication, weather, susceptibility). Other flawless poems offer new eyes with which to perceive illness: “Terminal Illness Through the Wrong End of a Spyglass” by Anna George Meek and “Echocardiogram” by Meredith Davies Hadaway. There is also Sherman Alexie (“Sasquatch Goes All Darwin on Your Ass”), Kathleen Spivack (“Words for ‘Water’”), David Wagoner (“Pulling Up Stakes” and “Puddle”), and other well-known poets; possibly my favorite is Margaret B. Ingraham’s “Of Moment,” in which a relationship is metaphorized in the migration of birds: “their coming once more by memory—theirs and ours.”
Over all these fine works I buccinate: "blow the trumpet,
puff the cheeks like cherubim, ring the ringing in your ears,
shatter glass, spin the river moils.” This is a terrific issue
of a terrific literary magazine.
Volume 11 Number 2
Review by Julie J. Nichols
Last week my creative nonfiction writing class workshopped a piece about one student’s experience with ADD in elementary school. He described zigzag thoughts, hypersensitive ears, rising frustration, and a positively entertaining rage, in a perfectly modulated eight-year-old voice; he then took us through the process of diagnosis, disastrous prescription of inappropriate meds, and ultimately courageous development of a customized program that enabled him to manage the disorder satisfactorily. His understated irony, his consistent voice, and the beautifully appropriate imagery made the piece one of the most successful our class has seen this semester.
The point of this bit of background information? Illness and its management are among the most common, and most human, of our experiences. To write them well is to give profoundly-needed expression to an essential aspect of being human.
Such expression is the purpose, mission, and beautifully-executed work of Bellevue Literary Review, celebrating its tenth anniversary this year as "a journal of humanity and human experience." In another life, I was a hands-on energy healer, working on people with a wide variety of complaints in intimate, heartfelt partnerships of giving and receiving. Sometimes there were life-altering results. If the writing in this issue resonates for me on a deeply personal level, how much more must it resonate for those in the medical and psychiatric professions, whose practices and procedures are so intrinsic to the plot points and images here. And it resonates even more for anyone suffering the afflictions, attempting the cures, enduring the effects, and adjusting to the consequences of the very human condition of illness and treatment. There is a gut-deep gratification to reading this fine issue. The offerings here are extremely satisfying literature, well worth your attention because you’re human—and good writing heals.
"Medicine has the x-ray; literature has the poem," Alberto Rios says in "Medicalarium," and further on: "Medicine has the patient; literature has the reader.” This lovely prose poem could be a synecdoche for the entire issue. There are poems about death, “Death is Private” (Hal Sirowitz) and “The Order of Mothers: What Friends and Relatives Said” (Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan), which are poignant and true:
Which of us can walk into the place
where death presides and know just what to say
and do, and say and do it, nothing more
and nothing less? No person that I know.
But poetry, that mix of memory
and measured time and what can be reprieved,
with grave decorum tells the bad news, mourns
with tact, and running out of things to say
reaches the last line, ends it, shuts the door.
(“Fast-Thinning Throng” by Rachel Hadas)
Shavonne Wei-Ming Clarke’s story “Third Wife” could also be considered to be about death, and so could “Two Countries,” a story by Elisa Fernández-Arias, but, like so many of the pieces in this issue, they’re also about many other things—the pain that leads up to and away from death; desire; other cultures.
More pieces dealing with cultural prescriptions about the body, both current and historical, include “The Disordered Body” (about the 1853 Yellow Fever outbreak, Amanda Auchter); J. S. Brown’s delightful personal narrative “The Codeine of Jordan,” in which she battles more than the physical discomfort of a UTI in a foreign land; and “The Colostomy Diaries” by Janet Buttenwieser.
But because Bellevue is also, famously, a psychiatric institution (see David Oshinsky’s wryly informative “Bellevue: Fabled History Narrowed to a Fragment”), many of the pieces in this issue also revolve around emotional or mental illness. Two directly address “Boundaries”—the ones between patient and analyst: Ronald Pies’s sweet story by that name and Louise Blecher Rose’s rollicking “Transference,” throughout which readers might cringe in dismay, as I did, even as they laugh, and actually like the obsessed protagonist quite a lot.
There are stories here from the point of view of doctors (one, “The Beauty of Reflex Hammering” by Jacob L. Freedman, is especially hilarious), patients (for example, “Periscope," fiction by Anne Elliott, and "Fantaisie in F Minor, Op. 149,” prose poem by Jaydn DeWald), and writers (Paul Harding’s discussion of how he approached epilepsy in his Pulitzer-Prize-winning Tinkers goes on the reading list for my creative nonfiction writers for sure). Kyle McCord insists that "The Poem Is Not the Anatomical Heart,” but in this anniversary issue of Bellevue Literary Review, there’s no question that heart, soul, and art are in the poems, the stories, the great nonfiction.
Rios ends his prose poem with this plea: “Let the doctors and
the detectives and the plots and plans be memorable fiction, so
that when we close the book, we can sigh and move on with our
lives.” When you close your copy of this issue of BLR,
you too will sigh, and move on with your life, more healed and
at peace than you were when you began.
Volume 2 Number 5
Review by Jennifer Vande Zande
Aaron Milstead’s short story “The Pickled Man” was such an easy and captivating read that I suggested to my twelve-year-old son that he read it as well. As I predicted, he devoured the story of Wilber Will’s World of Wonders that features a mysterious oddity floating around in a pickle jar. That night, at around two a.m., I awoke to a shadowy figure standing at the foot of my bed. I knew immediately that figure was my son and that he’d just had a nightmare featuring, not surprisingly, the pickled man. After putting him back to bed, I thought about the power of Milstead’s story. It had left an unsettling impression on my son—one that lies just below the cerebral surface—long after he’d finished reading it. It is the titillating payoff that you hope for when you read something particularly spooky. This is exactly what Black Lantern Publishing’s fifth issue offers its readers with its collection of short stories, poetry, flash fiction, and artwork, all within a macabre theme. Despite my recommendation to my son, this is not a collection intended for children. BLP offers an assortment of haunting contemplations that deal with the subject of death and ushers readers to a darker side of literature.
“Their Holiday Home” is Michael Martin’s 2011 Pushcart Prize-nominated short story. Mrs. Hessell, the flawless, fragile wife of a wealthy prince, plays hostess to a reporter (the story’s narrator) and photographer. The two are banking on an interview with the notoriously reclusive prince at his sixteenth-century family castle in Italy. Once within the confines of the ancestral home, set deep within the mountain range of the Dolomites, Mrs. Hessell, acting as docent, leads them on a bizarre tour. The men graciously indulge the mistress in hopes for the big payoff that’s apparently seated somewhere within her husband’s second floor study. The tour begins at an enormous fireplace set ablaze in the reception hall:
“When we arrived this time,” she bubbles with laughter, “a family of field mice were nesting on the mantelpiece. Can you believe it? The sweetest little things.”
I can picture it and I can imagine Mrs. Hessell’s adoring eyes and her gentle nurturing of the delicate little creatures.
“Juliano was upstairs,” she continues, “the Prince always goes straight to his study, but he must have heard me cry out with surprise. He rushed down here.” She shows me the route he took through the room, “to the mantelpiece and bit the heads off all the little mice.” She looks at me wide-eyed, her white teeth almost transparent in the blaze from the hearth. “Their tiny bottoms and tails fell on the floor,” she giggles. “Maria had to sweep them into the fire.”
The pair soon discovers that Mrs. Hessell has a darker agenda planned, which culminates as they finally reach the prince’s study and open the door. It is a terrifying discovery.
Not all of the writing chosen for this issue of BLP is fueled strictly by visceral fear. Erika Brumett subtlety and beautifully reflects upon a death that happens to occur one Halloween night in her piece, “The Wizard is Away”:
Days shorten. Shadows lengthen, eyes flicker
through flesh carved yellow. In the living room,
no living; in the trachea’s black hole,
no breath. The husk of scrubs, hospice leaving.
At the front door, a four year-old Dorothy,
Toto, and papa, in tow. To the dead,
behind the curtain, pay no attention.
For Baby Ruth bars, she gives ruby clicks,
heel-taps to trick time, to treat all of Oz.
Also of note: the short story, “The Poisoner” by Edward Alexander; “Winged Words,” poetry from Roman Belo; and a pen on paper drawing to accompany Brumett’s poem from the enormously talented artist Alex Pelayo.
Black Lantern Publishing, which began in 2009 as an online magazine, is now available four times per year as a print publication. Editor Rebecca A. Huggins has selected work for this issue that promises to get inside your head. Indulge in it. It is an irresistible journal full of the weird and fantastic that lingers with you, a bit longer perhaps, than you were prepared for. Just ask my son.
Having cautioned that Black Lantern Publishing is not
for children, it should be noted that BLP has recently
premiered their new imprint Crow Magazine. (Create. Read.
Observe. Write.) This electronic magazine is available three
times per year and is designed for middle and young adult
Review by Henry F. Tonn
Run by the MFA program at Butler University, Booth publishes something every week on their website and has a print publication each spring. I have never seen the print edition, but found the online material quite intriguing. I was especially impressed by their selections of poetry.
“Maxwell’s Demon” by Elizabeth Hazen has a nice eloquent flow to it. The following, though taken out of context, may entice the reader to read more:
the nature of my longing, but even you
cannot exist without consequence: your gaze
alone alters everything you see. Like mine,
your presence interferes, unbalances, warps
And here is a sample of “The Dreams of Wives” by Elizabeth Harmon Threatt:
I give you my hand
to break the fingers if you want
and the small reed-bones
on the back of my palm to snap
while you catch new grass
between your toes, blades sinking
deep through your brittle heels
Or “Sovereignty” by W.F. Lantry:
I cleared the loose dimensions of a glade,
cut saplings down, untangled every vine,
rank poison ivy, devil’s thorn, red grape,
tore out coarse undergrowth, and carried limbs
storm fallen, to the bramble edge, then mowed
our meadow grasses almost to a lawn.
Booth isn’t afraid to take chances with its fiction. “Uniform” by Andrew Scott, published back in May 2011, begins: “Colin Myers first slept with his neighbor four days after his eighteenth birthday, but he’d wanted Wanda Mitchell for two long summers.” Then proceeds an excellent fantasy story that would appeal to most red-blooded American men who have oft had such a fantasy. Another appealing story, found in the January 2011 collection, “What They Did with the Body” by Mike Meginnis, begins: “Once the community had agreed that Mr. Reed would have to die, including Mrs. Reed and the sheriff and all the sheriff’s deputies, everything was simple and easy, and the murder came quite naturally.” While everyone can agree to do away with Mr. Reed, they can’t agree on what to do with his body, so they divide it up among themselves. This—as one might suppose—creates a few problems.
In its weekly offerings, there is often a merging of prose,
poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, so that one is not always
certain about the proper classification, and designations are
not made by the journal. But that’s all right. It works. This is
a good online website to visit, and I suspect the annual print
publication contains some gems for the reading public as well.
Review by Aimee Nicole
This fifth publication of Cake contains exceptional writing, including poetry, fiction, reviews, drama, and interviews. Breauna Roach’s poem “Scrambled” left me a bit unsettled, but there is no doubt as to her genius. Roach begins by revealing her discovery that cupcakes are never found in a garbage disposal, they are sweet desserts that would be shameful to waste; however, eggs are a whole different story:
He scrambles their brains over
the red eye of the stove.
Mixes their would-be legs with
their would-be scalps
He doesn’t realize the fetus dripping
from pieces of shell
is the size of a sprinkle on
Her father scrapes the leftover eggs into the garbage disposal without even considering the potential for life contained within. Roach’s words gave me goose bumps with their raw honesty; however, I appreciate her successful storytelling and poignant images.
Yasbel Fernandez-Acuna’s poem “Speech Therapy” was very tongue-in-cheek and impressed me with its ingenuity. Fernandez-Acuna’s vision of Noah and the Ark was fresh and quite pleasing. The poem begins:
For years I was comforted
by the fact Noah stuttered.
My take on the flood: Noah stuttered
and everyone made fun of him.
God got so mad, he decided to drown
everyone who had ever made fun of Noah.
Everyone has insecurities, and the personal connection Fernandez-Acuna feels toward Noah’s stutter draws us in. I had never considered that Noah may have had a stutter and was interested to read this writer’s account of the flood. In this account, the animals were saved because they can’t talk and therefore could not make fun of Noah. He explains why Noah’s family was saved. Then after presenting his entire theory to the reader, a short stanza finishes off the poem, “Years later I find out / Noah never stuttered, it was Moses / and my entire theory was shot to hell.” This ending made me laugh because we all make mistakes and sometimes try to turn misheard facts into concrete pieces of history. The truth can come out and destroy years and years of theory.
Among the diverse pieces of fiction, Jeff Newberry’s story “An Authentic Life” really stuck with me. Meet the narrator: a guy in high school with poor self-esteem because he is overweight and the son of a garbage man. He only has eyes for Andrea Brown, a popular girl at school who dates Scott, a high school bully and “prick.” The narrator daydreams about getting even:
So you pull up in your used green Nissan, the one your father helped you buy after you got the job sacking groceries at the Piggly Wiggly, and you take a can of gasoline from the backseat. And you walk around Scott’s house, dousing it. Then, you walk around the front of the home and you drop a match and the flames lick up the sides of this perfect suburban dream home, and you enjoy the way the siding curls and melts and how they all run from the house screaming. . . .
But he admits that he is too smart to pull something like that. After all, high school only lasts four years. The narrator does not like to be in front of an audience and tries to stay out of the spotlight. He was bullied throughout high school and when he goes to college, he decides to start over and becomes even more reclusive. He writes plays and excels in the classroom. His screenplay is chosen to be screened with live actors, and he could not be more excited. But the narrator continues to alienate himself, and decides the world is full of conformists and refuses to become one of them. His high and mighty views and behavior push people away, including a new love interest. This well-developed story is a delight.
Alexa Bryant interviews Marita Golden about her most recent
book, The Word. When asked about the importance of
stories, Golden responds by saying: “We are always telling
stories, whether we are gossiping, praying, daydreaming, or
writing. Stories hold and create a space for our possibilities
as well as our fears. Stories are the engine for all
civilizations and all relationships.” Golden sheds light on the
fact that we all tell stories, regardless of our occupation or
economic standing, and this compact issue of Cake houses
some fine examples of just such stories.
Volume 61 Number 1
Review by Sarah Gorman
“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?” As the venerable Carolina Quarterly enters its 64th year of publication in 2012, the answer from discerning readers, and good writers, must be yes. Poetry, fiction, essays, reviews, and graphic art accepted by the CQ’s editors provide a select tour through recent works of both polished and emerging writers and artists. Thematically, this issue features that which is certain—death and Texas.
George Singleton’s “Fresh Meat on Wheels” demonstrates the talent that led to the author’s receipt of a Guggenheim fellowship in 2009 and recognition from the Fellowship of Southern Writers in 2011. This incisive yet loving sendup of the best and worst of traditional southern culture, as revealed through the doings at a sixth-grade sleepover, would have pleased H.L. Mencken. Singleton, though, earns his effect from a kinder wit than that which coruscates Mencken’s accounts of southern life. Implying rather than exposing its mechanics, this delightful work rewards multiple readings. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, poignant, and satisfying.
A newer talent which does reveal the scaffolding of the writing process is that of Pamela DiFrancesco in “The Chuck Berry Tape Massacre.” The account of mother love swamped by mental illness, child neglect, singing, and rock ‘n’ roll unfolds through discrete scenes that the reader pieces together only gradually. Despite surreal juxtapositions, jerky movement, and painful scenes, DiFrancesco finally bestows on her characters redemption and even immortality. She communicates the tragedy of human suffering, whereas Singleton’s detachment conveys its absurdity.
A review of Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence by CQ’s intern Jonathan Pattishall proves that a student may write incisively about the work of an eminent scholar. The review calls attention to a book that would likely repay the attention of lovers of good writing, and also demonstrates that the reviewer himself is no slouch when it comes to writing a sentence.
Of the eleven poets represented in this issue, Nancy Carol Moody is notable for her imagistic “When They Ask About My Face”: she uses “autumns” as a verb, and candidly likens the texture of her complexion to that of “a peppermint held / too long against the palate.” Zachary Vernon embeds three poems by Wilmer Mills into the account of a telephone interview Vernon conducted with him, a particularly satisfying way to be introduced to a poet. Mills could be identified as formalist, pastoral, agrarian, and even mystical, but Vernon takes pains to avoid reductionism in his observations about Mills’s work. In “Telos,” Mills counsels coolness in the face of the certainty of death: “Man, even pills expire. / So why not shelve / The matter of impending human doom.” Instead, “Let breathing be a comfort to you there. / Delight in the softness of your eyebrow hair.”
Austin, Texas photographer Amanda Mullee’s work is represented with nine images. Mullee works “in the tradition of documentary photography,” seeking “to capture a sense of mystery in the seemingly ordinary moments of life” (an apt characterization of this issue of CQ). Her cover photo of an impassive teenager meeting the viewer’s eyes through the open window of a driver’s side car door seems ordinary, until one checks the title: “Chandelier.” A closer look at the photo reveals a medium-sized crystal chandelier suspended from the car’s ceiling.
Among the nonfiction works, one strong piece could be read as flash fiction: Janis Butler Holm’s “Ripple Effect.” In ninety words, she made me smile and tore my heart out. Thomas Horan’s “Eat the Cake” starts as a stream-of-consciousness recollection of cakes he has known, but develops seamlessly into reflections about the deaths of his Uncle Billy, a wonderful bulimic baker named Constance, and his father. Horan concludes with the prophecy that, at the time of his own death, he won’t be thanking God he “didn’t eat that last piece of armadillo cake.” Instead, he will be reminiscing “through a nurse-induced opioid coma, about the pieces of cake I did eat.”
New Orleans native Sybil Kein, interviewed in late 2010, wrote the only book ever published in Louisiana Creole, Gumbo People, in 1999. A musician and scholar, she was honored by the Sorbonne for her scholarship on Creole culture. Like Native American children, Kein was punished by both teachers and family for speaking Creole, her first language, in school. She grew up practicing both Catholicism and Voodoo. “It was like having an extra set of prayers and an extra set of rules” for good living. Voodoo, she says, originated the saying “What goes around, comes around.”
This issue of Carolina Quarterly repays many-fold the
time invested in reading. Production values are high, editing is
impeccable, the content blends variety with quality, and it even
feels good in the hand. Chapel Hill scholars are indeed
fortunate that, as the back cover states, the publication is
“Free to UNC Students.”
Review by Shannon Smith
Faultline is the journal of the English department at the University of California-Irvine. The journal has a quiet, slightly offbeat feel to it. Much of the fiction is the kind that could be about people you know—but, then, there’s just something different, something slightly magical and slightly weird about it.
Two stories in this issue stand out immediately: “Good for You” by Lauren Spohrer and “The Man Who Killed Sun Moon” by Adam Johnson. Spohrer’s story concerns an unhappy woman who writes a note to a local newsman, Cliff Conway, and then goes to see him. He invites her to lunch, but then is not in his in office on the agreed upon date. The woman enters his office regardless, and then answers a phone call from his wife. Later, the newsman contacts her because his wife is concerned that he stood up the unhappy woman. She is invited over for dinner, and I don’t want to spoil the rest, except to say that the end is quite funny and quite sad.
Adam Johnson’s story, an excerpt from his recent novel, The Orphan Master’s Song, is about the daily life of a man who is presumably an interrogator in North Korea. Johnson’s story attempts to personalize and humanize a society that is not usually given an individual identity (though recent works like Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy have also been changing that).
Perhaps the most notable poem in the journal is Bob Hicok’s “Statistics in a Classless Society.” The poem starts with seemingly nonsensical statistics like: “Two ninths of seven-eighths of the three quarters / of everyone dreams of the prissy overthrow / of the government by standard poodles,” but, by the end of the poem, concludes with the forceful: “One percent of the people / own thirty-four point six percent / of the wealth. You can’t make this shit up.” Such moves—from the dreamy, to the punch in the face—are endemic to this journal, and part of what makes much of the writing in it so effective.
An interesting series of prose poems by Michael Garriga runs throughout Faultline. Each piece presents a different time period, but all seem to deal with duels. The duels range from dueling pistols to dueling versions of the story of a scalping to dueling cars racing on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. Garriga’s tales offer different points of view on recurring events, and the lack of overlap in the details never fails to surprise the reader.
Faultine also features artwork from David Hernandez, Scrappers, Ann Ploeger, Jacob Heustis, and Leah Ruby. My favorite is a large tan square by Heustis that features a slightly off-centered mouth (lips, teeth and tongue only—no face) locked in a scream. Next to the image, writing, as if from a child: “I’m having so much fun.” The picture’s simultaneous sense of sarcasm and playfulness makes it quite alluring. It contributes to the unsettling feeling that arises when reading many of the well-crafted pieces in this journal.
Faultline is a unique journal with an unpredictable
sensibility—a sensibility well-honed in both humor and the
Review by Caitlin Reid
The Helix is a biannual literary magazine run by students of Central Connecticut State University and is comprised of drawings, paintings, photographs, prose and poetry. Like helical strands of DNA, the art and literature printed in The Helix represents vast permutations of human experience and possibility.
There are over thirty-five images in the art section. Photographs "Untitled 4" and "Untitled 5" by Leslie Boppert are my favorites. Boppert’s images play with light and perspective to give viewers the impression that they are sitting inside a giant pinhole camera. “Untitled 4” displays a shaft of light peeking into an Egyptian pyramid. “Untitled 5” is taken inside a deep window or tunnel perfectly halved by the sea and the sky. Both photos create the sense of a hidden space protected from view, where one has the advantage of seeing without being seen.
The magazine offers a wide variety of quality writing. “The Nail,” a flash-fiction coming-of-age story by Nicolas Phillips, is written in a clear, sharp style similar to that of Lydia Davis. I’m amazed at the detailed narrative the author achieves in a page and a half. Without spoiling the story, I will reveal that dancing the funky chicken can be hazardous to one’s health.
On the longer side of things, Tom Hazuka includes an excerpt from his memoir, Exile in Gringolandia. An ex-Peace Corps member returns to Chile as a middle-aged man and remembers how surreal and oppressive it was to live under the political atmosphere of Chile in the late 70s. Despite much of the story taking place in Pinochet’s shadow, Hazuka devotes a substantial portion of the narrative to the strong bond between the old friends: “Four glasses clink in celebration. Hugo reaches over and softly pats my head. 'Is it snowing in Connecticut?' he asks, dead serious. It takes me a second to realize he’s commenting on my new gray hairs that are spreading like dandelions gone to seed.”
Hazuka spends a lot of time in the excerpt trying to reconcile the passage of time. He remembers how alive everyone felt when they were in their 20s and carving out vibrant young adulthoods, “only four years removed from the murderous days after the golpe.”
In addition to the prose, there are many good poems in The Helix, and my favorite features a dead baby. Mackenzie Griffin’s "Ghostman on First" describes a kid playing "waffle ball" in a yard which houses an infant’s grave. The speaker imagines the parents’ loss and confronts the notion that babies are as mortal as the elderly. I had a similar experience as a child which made me feel sad but pleasantly haunted. I can imagine the new, doubled sense of loss the speaker feels when she finds out:
the baby was never really
there at all. The stone
was just a memorial, the
baby was somewhere else,
without even you up
above to keep it company.
If you’re interested in seeing more quality student work put
together in a thoughtful, eclectic magazine, check out The
A Journal of Women’s Literature
Review by Aimee Nicole
Magnolia: A Journal of Women’s Literature broke into the literary world just this year. The first guest editor, Gayle Brandeis, is an author of both young adult and adult fiction and has also been honored for her work as an activist. A little blurb on the back of the collection promises that Magnolia is “a diverse collection that will open your eyes, challenge your thinking, and break your heart.” And Magnolia certainly delivers.
Two poems in this collection exploded in my mind, and when the dust had settled, created instant love. It is rare to find a literary magazine where you fall in love while reading and have to read a piece over and over again, yet I was fortunate enough to have this experience twice during my reading.
Sami Schalk presents us with a poem titled “Naming.” She reintroduces us to several famed women who have changed the world. Schalk literally names these women in accordance with the specific greatness they have achieved and the echo of these names in the reader’s head is enough to spark high emotion:
I name the women who spoke truth without hushing their voice,
who say racism
Frannie Lou Hamer
who say sexism
who say homophobia
Audre Lorde. . . .
The poem reminds me of a eulogy, yet retains the poetic flow we expect from a literary magazine.
Every word, every syllable, and every line in Sari Krosinsky’s narrative poem “In Transit” had my full attention. The writing is superb and the poem tells a raw story that intrigued me. With most work, certain lines stand out to me which I can easily quote and include in a review because they are simply that fantastic. In Krosinsky’s work, it is exceedingly difficult to select an excerpt. I just want to type the whole poem. The narrator heads into a public bathroom at the bus station to brush her teeth. It’s 4 a.m., and just before she enters the bathroom, a man tells her that he is in love with her:
When I come out, the man is waiting for me. He wants to marry me. He wants me to come back to his apartment. I wonder what he’s doing in the bus station if he lives in Philadelphia. He follows me outside, still proposing. I tell him I’m going to have a sex change; that’s why I’m here. He loves me no matter what. I say goodbye.
She is on her way to an appointment with a therapist in order to start taking testosterone. The emotions she is feeling, I am feeling—I can literally imagine her sitting in the cab and telling the driver that she has no money even though he doesn’t believe her. I can picture her spending her last four dollars on pizza and Coke. Krosinsky weaves not just a poem, but an experience and breathes life into her words, allowing her readers to be a part of it. The final stanza leaves me thinking:
The bus station is fluorescent and dirty and real. The buss pulls in, scratched steel like a dead missile, eager to be filled with screaming babies, drunks, people going home. And we’re eager, too.
We are all in transit in different ways, just as we are all
at a different point in our lives. The excitement and realness
is in our transit and our experience. Krosinsky reminds us that
it isn’t always about the result, but the different snapshots of
time and emotion that lead us there.
Volume 16 Number 4
Review by Sean Stewart
I really like the way Main Street Rag fits in my hand; it's the perfect size for a literary magazine. It's also cool that MSR publishes letters from readers. In my experience, that's a rarity for a literary mag, but one that I think adds to the experience of reading a magazine. It's always fun to see what other readers have to say. Publisher/Editor M. Scott Douglass clearly puts a considerable amount of work into Main Street Rag, and marks each issue with his own “Front Seat” and “Back Seat” columns that bookend the contents. Not shy about veering into political territory, Douglass launches this particular issue's “Back Seat” into a commentary on American economics and class struggles, offering up his own solutions on tax issues (two options to choose from!). This sort of diatribe within a literary magazine may seem out of place to some readers, but I found it refreshing. It helps to project the image that MSR is quite comfortable in its own skin.
The feature this time around is Douglass's interview with fiction writer Michael F. Smith. In April 2011, Main Street published Smith's novella The Hands of Strangers, which received a starred review in Publisher's Weekly that subsequently led to significant interest in the book. This was Smith's first book, and it's clear from the interview that Douglass is nearly, if not equally, excited and pleased as Smith is with its positive reception. The interview leans topically toward Smith's experience with trying to get published and with working with Main Street, as well as an overview of the book's themes and Smith's creative process. Douglass seems genuine in his desire to help out emerging writers and is happy to see them move on to the next level of success beyond his own small press.
Poetry-wise, the issue wanders from among the constellations (Louis Daniel Brodsky's “My Own Cosmos”), through seasons both real and symbolic (Leonard Cirino's “Fitted to the Wind”), to the Mississippi River (Maureen Martindale's “The Precision of the Accident”), and beyond the clutches of this mortal coil (Ariana Nadia Nash's “You Say You're Looking Forward to Death”). I have a couple of favorites. “Tenses” by Diana Festa:
Love favors tact over honesty –
I look away from the road ahead, do not
The narrative of days cannot be rescued,
and I don't know how to deal
with remaining fragments.
And Jason Jones Sheppard's “Bluegrass”:
It's all about the grass climbing up
the side of a mountain
when the prickly banjo begins to speak
through its thin skin,
and the mandolin hints
that there may be magic here
left over from ancient times
hidden in the darkness of a cave
or buried beneath the velvet verdure.
Of the handful of stories in here, the stand-out for me was David Jordan's “You Never Can Tell,” which offers an evening's tale of late adolescence in all its confusion and paper-thin fragility. In it, home-from-college Ryan Dunn begins to notice his “safe” girlfriend's younger sister in a way he previously had not. You can probably imagine a number of colorful endings for this one. I was not quite expecting the one that showed up.
The issue closes out with a few pages of book reviews,
showcasing a new novel from Michael Parker called The Watery
Part of the World, and poetry collections from Stephen
French, J.S. Absher, Lisa Fay Coutley, and others. Many of the
poetry collections reviewed are first chapbooks, so kudos to the
Main Street staff for promoting the work of new writers.
Volume 37 Number 1
Review by John Baum
I’ve always viewed the New Orleans Review as one of the silverbacks of the modern literary journal scene. Despite the obvious setbacks in dealing with Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath, it still surges ahead as one of the leading reviews with a promise of great work by great writers—those well-known, and those not. Some have said it is better than ever. This current issue does not disappoint, especially with Jacob M. Appel’s story “Prisoners of the Multiverse,” winner of the 2011 Walker Percy Fiction Contest. Not wanting to ruin the story for future readers, I will quote Nancy Lemann, judge for this year’s prize, in her introduction to the piece: Appel’s story “preserves the mystery” of a thing of beauty and delivers “what I seek in literature: inspiration, hope, and possibility.”
I must also mention Austin Wilson’s “War Story,” runner-up for the aforementioned prize. This piece offers a completely different aesthetic and tone, but delivers the same level of beauty and power, through the landscape of a narrator’s childhood in which he was the only child to a father wounded in World War II and a mother who helps pay the bills by teaching ballroom dancing. These two pieces are but an example of the strong writing to be found in this issue.
Samantha Cohen’s ruminations on “The Fig” are a brilliant example of nature writing with a not-so-subtle view on humanity—and a wonderful way to open the issue.
The poetry offerings are as different in aesthetic and structure as any I’ve seen in a journal. We are given Nikhil Bilwakesh’s poem “Disserting Ellen,” a piece whose center of gravity revolves around the refrain of a haunting line taken from Emerson’s journals; meanwhile, Joshua Edwards’ ”Enlistment” and “Last Day of the Year” are simple in structure, but rife with depth.
The poetry feature in this issue is on Srikanth Reddy. His work is mesmerizing—and like other poems in this volume, the experimental structure of his pieces stand out and help the lines move.
Barbara Brainard’s drawings comprise the art feature, offering a variety of black and white drawings of New Orleans homes, punctuated by sky and power lines. The drawings are void of people and cars, which gives them a tone of isolation, the power of which is increased by the knowledge of the city’s struggles as of late.
Overall, the New Orleans Review gathers twenty-six
writers whose work includes fiction, nonfiction, poetry, book
reviews, and even a review of the HBO show Treme, a
must-read for anyone interested in the evolution of both the
city and the show. This journal, a product of Loyola University,
deserves your attention.
Volume 17 Number 4
Review by Aimee Nicole
Off the Coast, based out of Robbinston, Maine, publishes poems, artwork, and reviews. It seems to me that this particular issue has a strong focus on nature and animals interacting within their natural surroundings. The title of each issue is chosen from a line or phrase from one of the issue’s selected poems. The Fall 2011 issue is entitled Everything Here. The editors make a very honest effort to live up to the promise of such a title.
Carolyn Gelland’s “Odin’s Eye” is separated into four parts. Each flows flawlessly into the next, despite a change in subject. From a dragon ship with its crew forging their way through a storm to a wolf running freely, Gelland crafts a narrative that contemplates a darker side of nature and how animals learn to adapt to that dark side.
The third section is titled “Dark Bird”:
A dark bird
drizzles a song.
surges with salt
and spins hissing
avenues that pull
storms from a dry eye.
“Drizzles,” “surges,” and “spins hissing” were verbs that intrigued me. Rather than being placeholders or vehicles that simply move the reader from here to there, Gelland uses words that belong together and fit seamlessly.
I have never had much interest in possums; however, J. Stephen Rhodes’s poem “Possums” really drew me in. Rhodes uses unique descriptions to introduce us to his take on these marsupials: “They hate automobiles and throw them over cliffs, / where possible. Otherwise, they bury them. We know a team / of possums who hauled a bank branch, along with its sign flashing time and temperature, to a nearby lake and tossed it / in.”
The images included in this edition were delightful and I wished that there had been more. Yaseen Anwer’s black and white photograph titled “Autumn Tree” is beautiful. The tree is centered within a vignette, suggesting an eye. It makes the viewer feel as though he or she is looking up through the lens of a camera and discovering the tree for themselves.
This publication of Off the Coast had its ups and
downs but I managed to discover some insightful and promising
Review by Kenneth Nichols
The subtitle of Palooka seems to indicate that editors Nicholas Maistros and Jonathan Starke have something of an outsider’s mindset. This “journal of underdog excellence” contains work that, according to Maistros, responds to the “storms” we experience in “different yet collectively elemental ways.” From the journal’s colorful and playfully disturbing cover art to its entertaining contributors’ notes, Palooka turns the difficult trick of making itself accessible to a wide range of audiences without talking down to them.
This second issue of Palooka contains works in a wide range of forms. In addition to the standard short stories, poems, and nonfiction essays, the reader will find Francis Raven’s extended graphic nonfiction essay in which he describes the process by which he helped his friend find an apartment in New York City. Instead of merely snapping pictures of the apartment, Raven documents the neighborhood in which Brett, “the type of friend that you can’t meet later in life,” may live. During the bus trip, Raven sees graffiti in the bathroom that urges readers to “run with scissors” he also finds a postcard in a local coffee shop that provides evidence as to how the neighborhood has changed. The tall woods and lazy green hills in view have been replaced, just as the coffee shop is so new that it is a bodega on Google Maps’ Street View. The places in which we live, it seems, are altered in ways both large and small.
The editors juxtapose a fourteen-year-old’s playful photograph with a reproduction of a mixed media piece that combines acrylic paint, a page from a music score and a quote from Goethe. This piece depicts two women in gowns painted in expressionistic style; one is dancing (seemingly blindfolded), while the other seems to be watching indignantly. Above the dancer is Goethe’s request: “Please send me your last pair of shoes, worn out with dancing as you mentioned in your last letter, so that I might have something to press against my heart.” The sheer variety of forms presented in Palooka may make the publication an interesting gift choice for a friend who might not be sure if he or she likes literary journals.
“Cat’s Eye,” a story from Kelly Morris, is as engaging as it is brief. The story’s first-person narrator (of ambiguous gender) recalls the turning point in an adolescence buoyed by contemplation of a clear night sky and complicated by an alcoholic father and self-injury. Morris deals with questions well, answering the important ones and leaving the interesting ones open to interpretation. The narrator and a friend recline on a blanket and debate the nature of the universe for months, sharing bug spray in the summer and hot chocolate in the winter. The relationship and its focus on the stars clearly help the narrator understand the world to some necessary level of satisfaction. However, on the night the narrator’s father finds out about these trips, “it ended.” Morris allows us to wonder what “it” was and what it represented to her narrator.
Anyone who has ever been in a relationship will understand Joe Havasy’s comic, “A Scientific Fact.” One heartbroken bird sadly speaks of love to another heartbroken bird who sadly says “no.” The quick resolution of the dead romance will awaken the lonely teenager in all of us.
Editors Maistros and Starke experiment in the best of ways.
Like the journal’s namesake, Palooka enters the ring with
honest intentions and doesn’t let up until the final bell rings.
Review by Patrick James Dunagan
The Editor's Note for this issue suggests, "Texts, like lives, are precarious projects." And Iranian ex-patriot Moniru Ravanipur, whose writings are banned in her homeland, interviewed by Miranda Mellis, reminds us that, "Stories are a testament to their time, especially in countries like mine." Ravanipur knows too well the vital connection between writing and living. She describes how, "The short story for me is like a mirror that reflects different worlds—worlds that already exist, or worlds that could be or should be." No matter what else, writing allows for confronting and challenging any established order.
Complimenting Ravanipur's views, Michael Mejia's narrator, in his story "Night/Nurse/Novel Part III," believes that "a book should, in all ways, seem like it arrived from a future that will never arrive except in the book's encounter with a reader, who, stricken by the book, wounded by the book, maimed by the book, can never be in the same way after finishing the book."
Literary writing is a conversation that is not imagined from out of the ether. It is grounded in events of life and remains a part of life. This leads to an uncanny tendency of writers blurring texts and world affairs together, as the writing/reading crosses lines of reality. Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi's "Geiser Enters My Room, Or, Conversations with Max Frisch's Geiser" enters the terrain of inter-textual writing. Here reading merges with living:
The phone rings again. It is my brother. 'More dreams?' I ask. 'No,' he says, 'I am worried about the state of our nation.' I read the headlines as they run across the bottom of the screen. I catch a few words, a few numbers here and there, enough to understand that there are people dying, that there are people dead. Every nation, I think to myself. 'What?' my brother asks. 'We come from one nation,' he says. 'Express yourself in the singular,' he says. What I thought I had thought I had said out loud. Geiser takes the receiver from my hand. Geiser hangs up the phone. Geiser is nobody's puppet. Geiser has broken free. Geiser is a self-made man. Geiser is self-secure. Geiser is confident. Suddenly, watching Geiser, I remember what Cixous said Bernhard had said, (Thomas Bernhard), and I say it to Geiser who has come into existence by way of Frisch: 'In certain moments you have to cross over corpses, you have to kill someone in order to write.' Geiser takes a step back. Geiser removes his eyes. Geiser throws his eyes at me as though they were a pair of rotten shallots.
Such mixing of reading and writing with living ("Geiser" is a protagonist in the writings of Max Frisch, "Cixous" is the philosopher Hélèn Cixous) is endless, and somewhat hopeless, offering few answers, but continually opens the imagination, offering resistance and challenge.
So it is writing that does not end. Georges Perec's short, early essay "Wozzeck, or the Method of Apocalypse," here translated by Rob Halpern, declares that "The crisis of Western Civilization at the beginning of the twentieth century has given birth to works that bear witness to that crisis, without being able to go beyond it. These works of crisis are themselves crisis." Writing as the act of refusal to match expectations to be anything other than what it is. Jeffrey Herrick's poem "Alveromancy" challenges the limits between languages and sound, demonstrating the bridges sound provides language(s) towards sense:
Due lacks, O's mist
Aches, motes tout
Espirit, fey Fate
Eared from one tongue
Lunged where gee ha-has
Vibe rates at ought
Hard as heard.
Writing needs be heard. Paul Revere's Horse intends to be confronted and read. The editor's note makes an impassioned argument for the physicality of text as physical thing in actual lived space:
. . . what is essential within the literary field is that readers do not abandon texts, and that they do not abandon the memories of struggle and courage that writers have committed to those texts, and that we circulate them—indeed, outside of the electronic interface as well as inside—and insist on their continued importance to be on our desks after we have gone to bed, or to be on the shelf for reference thirty, or a hundred, years later. . . . recognizing how much is at stake in a work of writing, and of allowing writings to be building blocks in our lives and in our minds, and not just moments to be forgotten, as if they had never been.
This issue is filled with such works. Not merely to entertain
or distract, but rather to sound out the necessary call: that
human connection spanning culture, time, and place, bonded by
Review by Julie J. Nichols
It’s possible that the mark of an evolved soul is the ability to pass at will into whatever state of consciousness is useful or appropriate at any given time. Over twenty distinct such states have been observed, with names like reverie, lethargy, trance, and rapture. The question of when such states are useful or appropriate is the subject of story and song from time immemorial. That they are essential to our lives if we are ever to be whole is the conviction behind a compelling new journal whose title hints at this ability I’ve described: Phantom Drift.
Editor David Memmott gives the backstory: in 1987 he started Ice River Magazine “to explore . . . a literature of the fantastic. . . . A literature of curious cross-fertilizations. A literature of intersections. Literary science fiction. Modern fantasy. Magic realism. Surrealism. Fabulist tales of inner worlds outside of time. Political satire. Techno-altered landscapes.” The next year, an independent press called Wordcraft of Oregon grew out of the magazine, “putting into print,” as one reviewer puts it on WoO’s website, “literate, innovative fiction that falls outside the commercial norm.” In the years since, connections have been made with writers and editors, culminating in what Memmott calls a “convergence” of karmic energy reclaiming such explorations within these pages.
It’s a significant success. Issue 1 is a collection of stories, poems, scholarly articles, and uncategorizable prose pieces whose overall effect is to produce “Perfect Conditions for Magical Thinking,” the issue’s subtitle. The book is soft, a little wider than it is tall, bendy in the hand and wide-margined. On its cover is a kind of icon for this issue and for the driving motive of the journal. In Jessica Plattner’s painting “St. Christopher Carrying his Child-self Across the River,” the monk wades across a wide lane of water, on his shoulders his own mini-self, beholding us with a gaze stern and knowing. In Jodi Varon’s engaging interview with Plattner, we learn that this is a representation of the centuries-old parable of the saint ferrying an infant across a raging stream, only to find after they have safely crossed that the infant is the Christ. The model for both the monk and the child is Plattner’s partner, whose life history is symbolized in the landscape. Overlaying miraculous fable with the sensibility of modern individuality may be a working definition of “new fabulism,” which may itself be a name for what we do when we move between levels of consciousness. Everything in this issue invites us to do so.
The fiction is downright haunting. David Eric Tomlinson’s “The Ornithologist’s Last Wish”—another intersection of modern with timeless, the protagonists both blessed and cursed by the granting of their wish to “live happily ever after”—wouldn’t leave my mind. Neither would Brian Evenson’s “The Jar,” from first line (“After Blau begged for his hands for a year”) to last (which I won’t quote here, as it’s a mind-blowing spoiler about Blau’s hands).
And speaking of haunting, an engaging scholarly essay discusses the evolution of haunted houses in American literature from Poe to Danielewski (“Exploring the Haunted Palace" by Matt Schumacher). A considerable “literature of the paranormal,” constituted of texts from every era that reach into occult and psychic states, has in recent years become the subject of legitimate academic discussion; Schumacher and three other essayists expand that discussion, assuring us that Phantom Drift’s mission to show “new fabulism” will not stop at fiction, and most emphatically will not be all light.
In fact, the journal intends to create what Memmott identifies as “a zone . . . where the greyness of possibility defeats easy separation of black and white,” light or dark. Ray Vukcevich’s story “The Problem of Furniture” confronts the Jungian notion that multiple personalities vie within all of us for love. “The tiny woman in the back of my head sings me to sleep,” says the narrator of Geronimo G. Tagatack’s “Counting,” and shows how swiftly we are transported when we let our inner selves fly. Daniel Grandbois’s prose poem “The Gate” reminds us that “'When it’s done, it’s done.’ . . . Only then will it be possible to distinguish day from night.”
When is that, again, please? If we’re honest, it’s a mystery—like so much these destabilizing texts address.
But where he came from is not so important.
More fascinating are the methods he used to travel here and to find me.
(You who don’t believe, keep listening.) One day he imagined a cloud,
and there was a cloud.
So he imagined a train, and a train pulled up before him.
Once inside he imagined a railroad that shot into the fish eye of time, and
there was a railroad.
He imagined a journey so impossible it would lead him to a land of hard
bricks and gravity, and he found my world.
Then he imagined a man with blue rings of fire in his brain and he
So writes Stephen McNally in the second stanza of “In Memoriam.” Your “normal,”
waking-state paradigms can’t be comfortable in this magazine. I
carried it around for days as if it were a ticket to a place
I’ve been missing all my life.
Review by John Baum
Post Road offered me surprises that I don’t believe I have actually seen in other magazines. For instance, during my first official flip through, my thumb stopped on a page where Micah Nathan reviews The Stories of John Cheever, claiming that, although not a “titan like Hemingway or Faulkner . . . there’s room in the pantheon for gods of all types. We reserve a temple for him.” I can’t recall how many reviews (celebrations?) of Cheever I have read in modern literary magazines—because I don’t believe that I ever have. And then on the page opposite began Asad Raza’s review of the 1983 Lizzie Borden movie Born in Flames, a movie that, according to the author: “makes most New York movies seem like sentimental fawning.” These two pieces represent the eclectic, brilliant choices the editors have made in putting the magazine together, which I think is its greatest strength. It caters to many different tastes, and, according to the magazine’s website, each submission is read by three different people before accepting or rejecting it—thus ensuring a strong collection with each biannual issue.
In all, there are nine “recommendation” pieces that review, remember, and revere writers from all over the literature world: Samuel Becket, John Edgar Wideman, Cynthia Morrison, and Denton Welch, among others. It is refreshing to read these, as they are not crammed into the final pages, and they are well written with a wide range of subjects and angles.
The three featured fiction pieces are as varied as they are enjoyable. Caren Beilen’s “Meet Me at the Hedge, My Love” and Michael Martone’s “Chili 4-way” represent a less straight forward view of relationships than James Scott’s “How We Looked”—again, another refreshing choice.
The poetry selection is terrific as well, and two of the singular choices are the pieces by Martin Ott and John F. Buckley, co-authors whose contributor’s notes refer to their collaborative work as “ongoing games of poetic volleyball.” Also included are poems by Norman Finkelstein, Elizabeth Powell (Her second selection opens with the line, “I married the apocalypse”—brilliant.), and Weston Cutter (One of his pieces, an amalgamation of adolescence and jazz, absolutely sings!).
Along with poetry, fiction and nonfiction, the magazine boasts fifteen paintings by Knox Martin, along with a “guest folio” section which includes four prose pieces chosen by an editor—exquisite selections, all four.
The magazine covers an array of tastes and aesthetics, and
even though it has only been around a little over a decade, it
reads like a silverback journal that proved itself many years
Volume 13 Number 1
Review by Cara Bigony
One of the merits of nonfiction narratives is that they indulge human curiosity about others’ lives. The fall issue of River Teeth, a magazine dedicated solely to narrative nonfiction, includes eleven true stories, all of which quickly and convincingly pull you into the authors' lives for brief, powerful episodes. While some stories uniquely explore common phenomena like homesickness, others offer coveted glimpses into rare experiences. The four most memorable stories in the collection are those whose subject matter and narrative voice are equally captivating.
In “Attraction Next Exit,” Kim Dana Kupperman entices us on her road trip with her kindness and curiosity. One of the best parts of this story is how Kupperman eases readers into her complicated past. For instance, a reference to her mother’s suicide reappears throughout the story and snowballs into at-length discussions of Virginia Woolf’s famous suicide and the four loved ones Kupperman has lost to suicide. Another merit of this piece is how gently anecdote flows into philosophy in her internal narration. At one point, she stops to help a dying bird while driving:
Why did I persist in trying to save a bird whose death was unavoidable? Did I need a witness to my act of responsibility? Or was I motivated by guilt, a response I consider useless, a reaction I’ve refused to entertain ever since my mother’s suicide . . . Perhaps shame led me [to help]. . . .
Is regret—that twin of guilt—surfacing now as I fervently hope that I’m not riding around with a dead bird . . . stuck to the front of my vehicle? If there is a bird splattered against the grille of the car, I hope it remains unobserved, like other small and large acts triggered by guilt or shame or regret.
This same introspection can be found in Michelle Herman’s “No Place Like Home.” One of the journal’s longest narratives, Herman’s piece explores her experience with home, as a location and an idea, which manifests itself in her unending longing for the eleven apartments she’s lived in. In its psychological complexity, Herman’s account has a powerful, unsettling effect. What seems like simple, nostalgic descriptions often allude to the more complicated root of Herman’s feelings about home:
These visits have no purpose, it’s true. But why would that stop me from making them? . . . It has nothing to do with accomplishing anything. It’s about continuity. It’s about memory and love. It’s about once home, always home. And that building, that apartment, still feels like home to me.
These are the most direct terms in which Herman tries to explain her habit, and she never does fully delve into the causes of her attachment.
Cynthia Anne Brandon’s “Dear Ted, Jack, Jim or Some Other One-Syllable Name,” is a three-page letter that she wrote to a man she met two years ago on a camping trip. Though she doesn’t remember the man’s name, she can’t stop thinking about him. While Brandon mentions her discontent and envy of his nomadic existence, most of the details about their interaction are left out of the piece.
Another short piece, “Love & Fury” by Richard Hoffman recounts an hour spent at the kitchen table during which time Hoffman’s father finalizes his will and confesses to an affair to Hoffman and his brother. Amidst the one-hour sit-down, the narrator is pitched back into childhood memories, which he now sees in a new light. Perhaps the issue’s most consciously insightful narrative voice, Hoffman is able to step out of his retrospection and notes his inability to fully understand his parents’ marriage because of his role as “the child.”
I was impressed by the diversity of stories chosen for this
books on a bookshelf, each story seems to exist worlds away from
those around it. Though, not all the tales in the journal will
appeal to all readers, each of these eleven stories offers
well-told glimpses into the lives of the authors. This
authenticity, the resounding echo that this really happened,
makes their tales even more enticing.
Volume 6 Number 2
Review by Julie J. Nichols
As most people know, the Silk Road was a many-thousands-of-miles-long trade route linking Asia with the rest of the world in ancient times, a network of land and sea avenues over which civilizations traveled and cultures interfused. The goal of Pacific University’s literary journal is to “give readers a vivid point of exchange or interaction that could occur only in a specific time and space . . . ‘place’ is the touchstone the magazine uses for the pieces we publish.” In this issue, there are eight stories, six pieces of creative nonfiction, work from sixteen poets, and a provocative interview that “take readers somewhere crucial, defining and relevant.” The issue as a whole is a journey worth taking.
Steve Edwards’s “A Writer’s Story,” the winner of the magazine’s flash fiction contest, launches the issue with a reminder that memory and story making are allies, that to tell the stories of those who are gone is to rekindle their lives and refresh our own.
We take spins into Spain (“Waves Breaking on Asturias: A Tryptich” by Carrie Callaghan); Alaska (“Since Parting With My Betsy” by Raymond Fleischmann, centers on an Alaskan husky who’s “always been a pet,” and thus constitutes a problem when her owners go back to the lower forty-eight); Botswana (“Topo” by John Ashford, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana, describes the troublemaker the town cannot abandon); and Old Rag Mountain in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. This last is the site of “Scramble” by Jessica McCaughey, in which a famously difficult hike symbolizes everything a relationship is and isn’t and will, unfortunately, never be: “we get to wind down the last mile of this mountain on foot beside one another, proud of the slow, patient effort we have made all day . . . We will each order a drink, celebrate our ascent, and then we will choose to blame the rest of the silent meal on acclimation, on the rise and then relatively quick decline, on the unfamiliarity of very high elevations.”
We explore exotic locales of desire; Ani Gjika was born and raised in Albania. Her poem “Last Day” evokes an India she resists but can’t leave behind. Ahmet Uysal’s “Broken Triplets,” translated from the Turkish by Nesrin Eruysal and Ken Fifer, evokes the Greek isle of Lesbos so sensuously we long to know it too. The mystery of the “Man in My Garden, Buenos Aires” by Jen Ferrera is never solved: “Muffled scraping and gnawing coming / from his naked shadow confuses (and comforts) me.” And “Where” by Loretta Obstfeld is a side trip into the surreal place of not-knowing, of losing:
Jesus knows where
your keys are . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The keys ditch you
while you’re talking on the phone
with your mother: your father
is getting worse. He’s dying.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
like birds: a wallet, dry-cleaning
receipts, your manners—all
head south . . .
There are three poems about beaches. “Beach Walk” by Tania Runyan is a delicious description of adolescent girls “along the shore,” displaying themselves for the lifeguard and “the boys.” In “Sneaker Waves” by Bonnie Jo Campbell, a log, or a tsunami, can sweep away whatever is loved if you’re not careful. And “MacAdam Takes to the Sea” by Andrew Philip breathes the air of the Scottish coast, a fisherman (perhaps) questioning his life, “waist deep into the loosened waves.”
And naturally, in a journal that celebrates place, there’s a
map. Bridget Booher’s “Body Map of My Life” ushers us on a
clever journey through her biography via scars both external and
internal. Throughout this little volume there’s the sense that
cultural diversity is that way too—both externally visible and
internally experienced. Masha Hamilton, winner of the 2010
Women’s National Book Award and author most recently of 31
Hours, tells Silk Road, “I learned as a journalist
that I was the pipe that carried information. I feel the same
way as a novelist. We’re trying to listen really hard to these
characters, to be empathetic to their concerns—and that needs to
be the same with a character like Jonas who is preparing to set
off a bomb or someone like Mother Teresa.” Listen really hard to
all the voices in Silk Road. They’re excellent writing,
well worth hearing.
Volume 5 Number 1
Review by Robin Devereaux
Straylight is pure, enjoyable entertainment. It is eclectic enough to satisfy any reader’s mood. This collection of fiction, poetry, an interview, and visual art is pretty darned amazing. At first glance, the selections may seem disjointed, especially for literary magazine readers who have become accustomed to themed collections, or high literary selections. Straylight is just plain fun, and the works that make up this volume are like a colorfully arrayed salad bar where you, Gentle Reader, get to pick the most enticing morsels.
First off, Straylight is visually pleasing, filled with vibrant, two-dimensional art and photography depicting three-dimensional pieces. From the graphic-novelesque cover art by mixed-media artist Lisa Bilgalke, to prints by Andrea Mercadillo, Robert W. Andersen, and Spencer Karczewski, among others, to pottery, photography and fine art. These thoughtful choices enhance the writing within. They stimulate the reader’s imagination and give Straylight a whole arts feel.
The fiction selections represent some fine story-telling: “Wyoming,” Rebecca Shepard’s story of longing; Jody A. Forrester’s “Beverly Hills,” an acerbic commentary on the shallowness of the culture of the rich and famous; and “Cherry Bombs” by Lawrence F. Farrar, a coming-of-age story, rich with beautifully developed characters.
The poetry presented in this issue is artsy and emotional, presenting the perfect foil for the magazine’s art selections. Mark Jackley offers a precise and perfect picture in his miniscule poem, “Kathleen”:
I saw a woman walking down the street,
twirling bags of groceries. End of a summer storm.
I remember when I loved you. It was beautiful, precious,
a bit illegal, and the city shone.
Ian William’s timely poem “Out of Work” is a stark piece of social commentary:
Seeing his skin, stretched transparent
like plastic over a Styrofoam meat tray,
and the striation of his muscles, an illustration
from an anatomy text book,
Job’s wife suggests
he root around a high-end dumpster, then gives him
details as if she had done it before…
Finally, the magazine is rounded out with an insightful and interesting interview of Seattle-based poet Dorine Jennette, author of Urchin to Follow, published by The National Poetry Review Press (2010), as well as several informative literary reviews of such works as Incendiary by Chris Cleave, and Pandora’s Succession by Russell Brooks.
Straylight offers diversity and panache—interweaving
the visual with the cerebral. It is a perfect fit for the reader
who enjoys a variety of styles and offerings.
Volume 13 Number 1
Review by Mark Danowsky
A little of this, a little of that, effectively used white space, not over-crowded by images or advertisements, Tin House provides for a generally pleasant read. This issue of Tin House is subtitled “The Ecstatic.” This, along with the sheer caliber of her writing, explains the inclusion of Kelly Link’s “The Summer People” in this issue. Her characters are most definitely of ecstatic stock.
Ask yourself to what length you’re willing to suspend your disbelief. This appears to be an unsaid challenge of a Kelly Link story. Channeling magic realist elements from the likes of Marquez and Borges, Link makes the impossible somehow plausible. In the following passage, Fran, who comes from an impoverished broken home, shows her wealthy classmate Ophelia how to work a toy called a monkey egg:
She wound the filigreed dial and set the egg on the floor. The toy vibrated ferociously. Two pincerlike legs and a scorpion tail made of figured brass shot out of the bottom hemisphere, and the egg wobbled on the legs in one direction and then another, the articulated tail curling and lashing. Portholes on either side of the top hemisphere opened and two arms wriggled out and reached up, rapping at the dome of the egg until that, too, cracked open with a click. A monkey’s head, wearing the egg dome like a hat, popped out. Its mouth opened and closed in chattering ecstasy, red garnet eyes rolling, arms describing wider and wider circles in the air until the clockwork ran down and all of its extremities whipped back into the egg again.
Reading a Kelly Link story is a reminder that fictional stories are limited only by the imagination of their author. Link’s imagination knows no bounds. “The Summer People” is a longer piece than some of her earlier work, but there is no change in the amount of creativity packed into this story.
In a section entitled “Last Word,” former Poet Laureate Billy Collins offers “A Word About Transitions.” He humorously explores the use of language in poetry:
Moreover is not a good way to start a poem
though many begin somewhere in the middle.
Secondly does not belong
at the opening of your second stanza.
Furthermore is to be avoided
no matter how long the poem.
Aforementioned is rarely found
in poems at all, and for good reason.
In an essay about contemporary interest in eco-Judaism and the lesser-known Tu Bishvat seder, Leah Koenig explains:
The apartment belonged to a bearded Vancouver transplant who was a central figure in Brooklyn’s eco-Jew community. We were there to celebrate Tu Bishvat—a minor Jewish holiday colloquially known as the “New Year of the Trees.” When I was growing up as a religiously clued-out Jew in suburban Chicago, Tu Bishvat was never a blip on my radar. Now I was surrounded by a group of fellow twentysomethings who had purposefully set aside a Tuesday night to celebrate a Jewish tree holiday.”
Also in this issue, an interview with and poetry by freedom fighter Ben Okri, several images from Matt Kish’s Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page, and poetry by Dorothea Lasky. In Lasky’s “Why it is a Black Life,” she writes, “Because nothing is permanent / And everything goes on and on not meaning anything / Because I am an animal / And I will always be displaced / Until I die” On a lighter note, Lasky’s other poem in this issue is titled “I Like Weird-Ass Hippies.”
In a 2008 interview with William H. Coles of Story in Literary Fiction, Editor Rob Spillman of Tin House explains that good writing will make itself known. He suggests that those thinking about submitting their work to Tin House should avoid two common mistakes: “Throat clearing at the beginning of a story” and what he calls “Doogie Howser syndrome”:
At the very end [of a Doogie Howser episode] he always sat down at his computer and typed into his diary “What I learned today is that friends are invaluable.” And even good writers will do this. They will keep you engaged for twenty pages and then they will pull back and say, “What I learned today is that friends are invaluable.” No, No. No, No. You’ve been showing us for twenty pages. You don’t need to.
Spillman also reminds writers to have confidence. “I don’t care what genre, what voice, where the setting, I will go anywhere if it is confidently told. If you firmly take me…that’s a hard thing, you know, to never apologize, jump in, and tell your story.”
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