Magazine Reviews

 

Posted 15 February 2012

Agni :: The Antioch Review :: Bateau :: Beloit Fiction Journal :: Big Lucks :: Border Crossing :: The Briar Cliff Review :: The Chattahoochee Review :: Fiction International :: Fifth Wednesday Journal :: I-70 Review :: Journal of Renga & Renku :: The Louisville Review :: Nimrod :: Prism Review :: Puerto Del Sol :: The Raintown Review :: Seneca Review :: Toad Suck Review :: Vlak

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AGNI coverAgni

Number 74

2011

Biannual

Review by Shannon Smith

This stellar, solemn issue of Agni begins with Sven Birkerts’s “The Golden Book,” a lament about certain things that have been lost in time, and certain things that can be rediscovered through writing, photography, and books. At the forefront of what has been lost, he implies, is the bookstore—in this case, a Borders that provided him with his first post-college job in Michigan. What can be gained from reading and looking at books is a sense of immersion, that each time one returns to an image, line, or story, there is more to be sensed, more meaning to be wrung out of it.

Jennifer Percy’s “Azeroth” was one of my favorite nonfiction pieces. It follows the story of the narrator and her boyfriend Aleksandar, who, after the Serbs invaded, left his Bosnian village. Now, he and the narrator return to visit. The piece charts their relationship and the growing distance between the pair.

The narrator, who lives in America while her boyfriend lives in Germany, becomes convinced that her boyfriend is having an affair. As their relationship disentangles, we discover that he is having an affair of sorts—with a computer game; he is addicted to playing World of Warcraft. One of the story’s strengths is that it explores sentiment and sentimentality, without ever becoming sentimental.

Elizabeth Kadetsky’s nonfiction piece “Bombing the Ghost” contains one of the most enduring images in the issue, an image of resilience. The piece is about a girl, who, after hitting the streets of New York City armed with cans of spray paint, comes home to find that her mother has taken acid. The new M line has just been added to the NYC subway, and the girl contemplates this—how wrong it seems, later deciding that her discomfort was nothing more than a fleeting thought. “They’ve switched things up on us enough, we know we’ll get past this problem of adjustment,” she says. “We got over the conversation of the RR, the splitting of the NR, and the dissolution of the QB. We adapt.” “Bombing the Ghost” ponders memory, and the construction of memory. It also looks at the devices humans derive to push themselves along.

On a lighter note, Kathleen Winter’s poem “Hamster Thrown from Monster Truck” hinges on the amusing premise that the “we” narrating it are not familiar with hamsters—or even gerbils—but are familiar with monster trucks. They’ve seen monster trucks and are trying to imagine the situation in which a hamster could be ejected from one. The poem closes with yet another image of resilience, with the line, “We hope the hamster’s landed / on his feet.” Winter’s poem has a light touch, yet it hints at darkness. The issue of Agni contains many interesting meditations and twists on expectations.
[www.bu.edu/agni/]

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The Antioch Review coverThe Antioch Review

Volume 69 Number 4

Fall 2011

Quarterly

Review by Shannon Smith

The 70th anniversary issue of The Antioch Review is mammoth. This 385-page issue serves up the best of the past ten years of The Antioch Review. Some of the luminaries chosen for this issue are Stephen Jay Gould, Daniel Bell, Clifford Geertz, Aimee Bender, Gordon Lish, Benjamin Percy, Eavan Boland, and Federico García Lorca. This best-of celebration is a wonderful place to turn for any who are looking for interesting pieces by established writers.

Opening with Steven Jay Gould’s essay entitled “Ground Zero,” this issue presents an overall tone of the utmost seriousness. Rather than a sense of play, The Antioch Review examines the solemnity of writing. A story that seemingly runs contradictory to that theme is Leon Rooke’s “How to Write a Successful Short Story,” but even this piece—with its humor—is a meditation on writing itself.

This desire to investigate the intellect can be found throughout the issue. Bruce Fleming’s essay “The Deep Springs College Cowboy Lunch” explores life at Deep Springs College, a unique all-male environment where students live and work on a ranch for two years, and then, more often than not, go off to the college of their choice. “Twitchy,” Sallie Tisdale’s essay about her teeth, examines a different type of intellect—it considers her feelings for nitrous oxide at the dentist’s office. A number of the essays in this collection take a similar form; they start with a small personal detail and then broaden to some historical or other phenomenon. For the most part, they are evenly and excellently paced.

Even the fiction in this issue follows this attitude of intellectual solemnity. Edith Perlman’s “Aunt Telephone” features a young, single psychiatrist named Milo and his place among a group of families that make up a tight community of mental health professionals in Boston. As the girl who narrates the story grows older, she sees Milo’s role morph within this family dynamic, and her attitude towards him changes from adulation, to anger, to tolerance.

Perlman’s story is a narrative feat that explores a close community and how that community takes care of its members. Her writing shows compassion and tenderness, and this attitude—a respect for humanity coupled with a desire to examine and even explain human relationships—is one of the defining attitudes of this issue of The Antioch Review.

Richard Kenney’s “New Year, with Nipperkin” stands out among the poetry in this issue. It starts, “And so the world begins again / In mild disarray,” which seems an apt summary for our times. The dark humor of this poem makes it one of the few pieces in this issue that could be classified as funny.

The 70th anniversary of a literary journal is certainly a cause for celebration, and a journal as dedicated to its mission as The Antioch Review deserves attention.
[antiochcollege.org/antioch_review//]

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Bateau coverBateau

Volume 4 Issue 2

2011

Biannual

Review by Cara Bigony

Tomatoes, children, cats, drinks, and boats. Reading a poetry journal in one sitting can be problematic. You notice odd, inconsequential connections between poems, like those listed above. An excellent categorization of this issue of Bateau is that which the editors put forth: transformation and morphology. Themes aside, the charm of Bateau is in its understatement and uniqueness. Including the work of thirty well-accredited poets, this issue is a mish-mash of inventive, quirky poems that play with form and content, impressively pinpointing elusive emotions and giving artistic value to the most banal moments.

Fani Papageorgiou’s “How to boil an egg” was like no poem I’ve ever read. Reading it is, at first, like hovering over someone watching both the news and a cooking channel. Then the TV mutes and you hear just their own raw, unprocessed thoughts:

Remove your egg from the fridge
There is a story about a small girl lost in a blizzard
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 
Peel off the shell and enjoy
Intimacy is not a fusion but a conversation.

Between these, Papageorgiou teasingly walks us through the cooking process much more thoroughly than the emotional one.

Prose-poems “Fernando” by Anna Moriarty Lev and “Exoskeletal” by Robert Glick both capture children’s tales with a strong visual bent. In just over a page, “Fernando” follows a young boy into adulthood. The poem reads like a series of simple sentences, but it’s not hard to understand the implied emotional depth within the spaces between. Lev also succeeds in capturing a young child’s perception of the world: “Fernando had once tried to build a [fort] that touched the sky, one that he could reach out of and brush his fingers against what he imagined to be blue pudding, with wet cotton clouds moving around in its surface.”

“Exoskeletal” is equally refreshing (and keen on detail) in its descriptions of a boy’s escapes into nature: “Ascending to an upper branch, Bernard reached the object of his desire, a three-clovered plant that he wanted to bestow on his intended, a curly-haired girl named Marie, whom he had once spied squat-peeing in the jungle jim sandpit.”

Michael Earl Craig has five poems in the issue which often blend humor and anger, or humor and sadness, or humor and reflection; but throughout, there is the wonderful sense that writing these poems is fun for him—no matter how serious or angry his speakers are. In “Tomatoes Disrespect Us,” he leaves the humor up to the title and lets the poem itself zoom in on one man’s hostility. The scope of this poem, both in length (about thirty words) and image (limited to the kitchen table), makes for a short but powerful sequence of snapshots.

In Craig’s “What Will I Call This Poem,” a similarly unfriendly speaker on a plane scoffs at fellow passengers. One of the funniest lines is also the one in which the speaker’s hostility is most intense as he decides to concentrate his anger on the peanuts the stewardess distributes:

A man ahead of me has had his psyllium husk
confiscated—he’s relaying this with emotion.
It seems peanuts have made their complicated way
back into our lives. I am rehearsing the words
“Fresca please.”

Adam Clay’s poem “What’s Left When Memory Unravels?” was especially unique in format. The poem itself brings to light the circumstances that brought our distraught speaker to undefined “madness”:

The idea
that nothing lasts
might be a cliché,
but it makes perfect
sense in the middle
of April.

Clay’s line structure and his language work together in this direct discussion of an identity crisis.

Visually pleasing throughout, this journal’s minimalist poems often share a page’s layout with more detailed forms. Not only does this allow for an agreeable visual palette, but it’s also one of many manifestations of the issue’s sensitivity to poetry as a visual experience. Paula Koneazny’s “Speculatrix in Red Shoes” employs a hectic mish-mash of italics, line breaks, indents, slashes and dashes that overpowers any message in the words themselves. It is sandwiched between two very unfussy forms by Dennis Saleh and Maureen Seaton. It is these short poems, in which the words almost become invisible, that I found most powerful.
[bateaupress.org/]

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Beloit Fiction Journal coverBeloit Fiction Journal

Volume 24

Spring 2011

Annual

Review by Jeff Vande Zande

If I hear writers talking about literary magazines, I often hear them getting excited about some new magazine on the scene. They talk about the experimental aesthetic or the unique formatting or the promise of aggressive marketing. They talk about what they’ve submitted and what it might mean to get something accepted. They talk as though the magazine might just be the next Paris Review—or the next Beloit Fiction Journal, for that matter.

Statistically, more often than not, in three years, those new magazines are gone. The editors get burned out. The formatting is obviously too expensive. The marketing isn’t the surefire approach that they’d imagined. Too many submitters and not enough subscribers. To the point, it’s just short of miraculous when a literary magazine can sustain itself beyond five years.

The Beloit Fiction Journal has been publishing annually since 1985. It’s worth taking a moment to do the math—twenty-six years. On their website, Fred Burwell writes about the history of the magazine’s first issue, how the student editors debated the merits of stories in the “publishable” category—(“Fierce arguments developed between different factions—the avant-garde artistes, the mainstream English majors, the traditional-minded, the experimental.”) —and how finally the magazine came together under one guiding principle: “Only the quality of the story mattered.”

Burwell writes, “By the end of spring semester 1985, we’d selected a good variety of stories.” Nothing ostentatious in such a statement. Pretty simple. Then again, maybe a magazine’s approach should be simple. Let the quality of the stories be the only thing that matters, and then select a good variety. That’s how they did it in 1985, and it seems that’s how they are still doing it in 2011.

I can honestly say that I sat back and read this issue of the Beloit Fiction Journal—story after story—and admired almost every piece in it. Each story took me someplace different: Alaska, an Indian reservation, a suburban mall, and an Independence Village for retired folks, just to name a few. The situations were as unique as the settings.

In Dinah Cox’s “The End of Something Better, the Start of Something Worse,” we get the sordid love triangle between two college girls in their early twenties and their thirty-five year old lover, Gordon Steve. Things get really strange when a third woman stops by Gordon’s house and drops off a baby. Without bewilderment, Gordon takes the baby and, after a moment, asks, “What does he eat?” In a very satisfying way, the arrival of the baby tests the tenuous strength of the trio’s sustainability.

In Mark Wisniewski’s “Intervention,” we get a woman who thinks she’s in control of her life, which turns out to be a weak façade, especially after she learns that her best friend is pregnant. Admitting that she once dragged a mini-mart cashier into a back room and had sex with him, she offers the reader an explanation that sounds both like philosophy and denial:

As much as I’m not now exactly proud of having done it, I do have to say I believe everyone able should have sex like that, out of nowhere, with a stranger, once before they die. It reminds you how open and willing and attentive people can be; how you yourself will always harbor lively desires; how you wield more power than you think.

Bringing us back to a more mundane condition—and yet showing us that there really is no such thing as mundane—Melinda Moustakis’ “The Last Great Alaska Lumberjack Show” gives us a couple in their forties dealing with impotence, an aging parent, and challenging teenage children. The story is told from a second person point of view:

You stand on a new, fresh log, and raise the axe. “When have you, Miss C Average, ever wanted to go to school?”
“Ever since Dallas or Dakota or whatever his name is,” says Slug from upstairs.
“Shut up,” says Moody. “You know the rules,” you say. “No dating anyone named after a city or state.”
“Oh my God,” she says. “You’re so...you’re...”
You pull the blade out and swing again. “Maybe if you got better grades you could think of something,” you say.

Anybody with teenage children is laughing and crying at the truth in that exchange.

The Beloit Fiction Journal. No, it’s not new on the scene. It’s not boasting about how cutting-edge it is or wearing a tradition-be-damned attitude like a badge. It’s simply doing what it’s been doing since 1985—publishing good and varied stories worth reading. No need to forecast how colossal they’ll be. If this issue is any indication, they already have a history of doing it right that speaks for itself.
[beloitfictionjournal.wordpress.com/]

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Big Lucks coverBig Lucks

Number 4

2011

Quarterly

Review by Shannon Smith

Big Lucks, much like its name, has a quirky but earnest mission statement. “We at Big Lucks feel as if the most exciting and noteworthy writing lurks in the unlit depths of the ocean, amid the lifeforms and creatures humanity was never meant to see. It’s our goal to be the vessel—the nuclear submarine—that helps these new life forms breach the repetitive ebb-and-tide of this metaphorical ocean’s surface.”

As with its nuclear submarine metaphor, and luck itself, Big Lucks is full of surprises; this issue contains plenty of traditional (but short) short stories and poems, but also many pieces that break with formal conventions. A number of pieces seem powerfully concerned with place and setting. The first-person narrator adds an elicit excitement to Philip Dean Walker’s opening story “Unicorn.” It is about entering and exploring a broken-down, abandoned building that junkies use for sex and shooting up. The tone is dark, but the narrator’s youth and exuberance are palpable, marking the story with a unique contradiction.

Andrew Beck Grace’s “The Storm, in Fragments,” starts with the warning, “I’d like to tell you a story, but I’m afraid it’s going to be fragmented,” and proceeds to relate a tale about the narrator’s connection to the various tornados that have impacted his life. The writing is brisk and broken, jumping back and forth skillfully in time, searching out the emotional power of each of the individual fragments that make up this story, many of which are deeply rooted in the narrator’s relationship to place.

“This and That,” a prose poem by Ricky Garni, continues with this focus on place and being. By writing about a t-shirt John Lennon once owned—a t-shirt with the words “THIS IS NOT HERE” on it—Garni explores the difficulty in believing that place can be a definition, something that defines someone.

Another standout piece, Amber Spark’s “Five Kinds of Human History,” blurs the line between story and prose poem, consisting of a number of named prose poems that combine into one piece. My favorite title that she has chosen for one of these pieces is “The Reviews of Our Marriage Were Not Very Good.” It imagines a couple who wait for the reviews of their marriage in the morning papers. They wonder if anyone else will notice that these reviews, and their relationship, are not on firm ground.

Big Lucks is a young, promising journal. Its tone is often one of humor, but a humor tinged with sadness. The writers published in these pages write with precision and astute observation about the worlds and situations they describe.
[biglucks.com/]

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Border Crossing coverBorder Crossing

Volume 1

Spring 2011

Annual

Review by Ken Brosky

Published by Lake Superior State University, Border Crossing shows just how vibrant a small journal can be. Many of the poems stand out, but it’s the first two lines of George Bishop’s “Watching Dolphins In the Harbor With the Homeless” that really stand out in my mind: “I found myself / carving silence into a shelter.”

Another striking poem is Ron Hutchin’s “Five, Before Dawn”:

In daylong night, I dream the dreams
Of evolution, from sheep fading
To thunder changing gears.

Rajia Hassib’s short story “Aerodynamics, Wingspan, and How Planes Fly” is a well-written short story about a grandfather who becomes agitated while trying to make a paper airplane fly. The plane is made from a folded Egyptian dollar bill, and can’t seem to fly as well as another plane made of an American dollar. The grandfather, suffering from dementia, becomes obsessed with the flight of the Egyptian dollar. The suffering in this particular scene is heart-wrenching.

Much of the issue is reserved for various contest winners, who show strong promise in their future writing endeavors. Jacob Riley’s essay on the sustainability of aquaculture is interesting. Aaron Fader’s poetry winner “Fickle Songs” is beautiful. The runners-up are all creative in both substance and style.

Fiction contest winners, M.D. Nelson, Sarah Becks, and Jade Patton display talent both in their writing ability and their creativity. All three stories are worthy of praise, and as a subjective judge who’s always impressed by a well-written first-person narrative that doesn’t sound like 19th-century drawl, I especially enjoyed Nelson’s “Let’s Say It Was a Tuesday.”

Last, but not least, is Lynn Pruett’s “Chicken,” a short story about a mother who isn’t all that she seems and about a family struggling to maintain itself within the city. There’s more to it, more not worth giving away. Suffice it to say Pruett is a fantastic writer capable of capturing the tension of a family get-together with perfection. It is a fine way to cap off this issue of Border Crossing.
[www.lssu.edu/bc/]

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The Briar Cliff Review coverThe Briar Cliff Review

Volume 23

2011

Annual

Review by Kenneth Nichols

The worst part about The Briar Cliff Review is that it only comes out once a year. The journal, published by Briar Cliff University (Sioux City, IA), is packed with uniformly excellent work. Editor Tricia Currans-Sheehan managed to find poetry, prose, and artwork that are technically sound and satisfying to a wide range of readers.

Leslie Barnard’s “Drift River” won the journal’s fiction prize, and for good reason. Somewhat reminiscent of Ron Rash’s work, the story is a first-person piece told from the perspective of Carter, a fourteen-year-old young man who looks up to his older brother. Carter wants Joe to teach him how to hunt, how to run a business, and how to be a man, but Joe is more focused on Ms. Bishop, a young teacher at Carter’s school.

Barnard captures the adolescent’s conflicting desires to keep and share secrets. Perhaps most important to Carter is the secret spot on Drift River he and his brother shared: “a little outcrop of scoured bedrock you could only get to by picking your way across a wide, pitted marsh, then tunneling through a wall of stickers on all fours. The water was clear there, the fishing easy.” The end of the story leaves readers with a sad and potent image, along with the desire to reach out to those people in our own lives who appreciate us more than we know.

In decades past, the American poet was a much more prominent source of emotional counsel and social conscience. Gaylord Brewer, with his poem “Two Years,” reminds us that grief is often best confronted—or prepared for—with great verse in hand. The narrator of Brewer’s poem contemplates and commemorates the loss of a loved one. Although it seems that Brewer’s narrator laments the death of a child, nearly anyone can understand the weight of his grief: “You will never again tremble / through that bloody morning. / For this I am grateful. / How you suffered to stay with us.”

While America is indeed officially without defined social classes, Kim Eson’s “Meteor Dreams” examines the many economic and cultural strata that govern how we relate to those around us. As a Korean girl growing up in East New York, Eson attended school in a primarily “black and Hispanic” community and viewed her community through an “outsider[‘s]” lens. This openness allowed her to befriend Crane, a young black man who, like Eson, resisted the isolationist rules of their subcultures whenever possible. Eson’s story illustrates the confrontation between the need for justice and the hope for personal safety that has so often engendered human suffering.

Philip Michael Hook contributes two interesting pieces of graphic art to the issue. In what I am guessing is his “Beyond Appearances” series, Hook uses charcoal, graphite, crayon, and pastel to depict serene Midwestern/Plains scenes: a placid wintertime forest in one and a soft corn field in the other. A fiery, uncomfortable rage is artfully scribbled beneath these landscapes, hinting at the tempest within us all.

Equally notable is the journal’s museum-quality layout and graphic design. With its large, thick pages, The Briar Cliff Review is a great coffee table journal, appealing to those who simply want to flip through and look at some art or sit back and read a story.
[www.briarcliff.edu/bcreview]

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The Chattahoochee Review coverThe Chattahoochee Review

Volume 31 Numbers 1 & 2

Spring/Summer 2011

Quarterly

Review by Hazel Foster

In her editor’s note, Anna Schachner talks a lot about her vision for the re-visioning of The Chattahoochee Review and “the need for awe.” With this issue, Schachner has demonstrated the accomplishment of this vision. The Spring/Summer 2011 issue of The Chattahoochee Review is stuffed with work worthy of the word “awe.”

To start, read the appropriately titled “Why I Read” by Augstín Cadena, translated by C.M. Mayo:

I see people who do not read: they are so limited in their lives, even in the good things. They do not see beyond their immediate surroundings; they are incapable of changing anything because they neither know what there is to change, nor how to go about it. They don’t understand other people, not even their own loved ones, because they do not have the habit of reflecting on the yearnings, motives, and passions of human beings.  . . Besides, what would a man see in the fields of La Mancha who does not know who Don Quixote is? Dusty roads, nothing more.

Cadena expresses nearly every cliché point that can be made about reading, but does so in a sincere and simple way. This is a fitting essay to kick off an issue sure to entertain even the most voracious reader.

While all of the fiction in this issue is supreme—some of the best I have read in the past year—I particularly enjoyed “The Last Love of the Lilliputian Casanova” by Timothy Schaffert. This short story reads like a biography. The Lilliputian Casanova is, as so named, a sit-in-your-palm sexual libertine. He falls in love with his female equivalent, a pint-sized beauty, Violette:

In the portrait, Violette poses with her naked back to the camera, her plum-like rear dimpled and as tiny as a summer-plumped chokecherry, her hair kept up with ivory combs stuck in; at her feet is a coat, having dropped from her shoulders, the fur a black-tipped white—the winter color phase of an Old World mouse. Violette, about to bathe, lifts one leg to touch her toe to the water, to test the heat, her tub a French cocoa mug, wisps of steam rising in twisting ribbons of vapor.

If real biographies were written with such gluttonously beautiful language, I’d read them. The story progresses through time, charting the evolution of this miniature sexualized love story, ending, as most biographies do, in death. If you read only one piece, read this one.

With most literary magazines, I drool over the fiction and have to coax myself into fawning over one of the poems. No coaxing needed here. In fact, there are too many poems to fawn over. I especially found myself drawn to “Rush” by Robert Wrigley. The narrator repairs his scarecrow only to find that the crotch has become home to a litter of mice:

The winter snow broke his arms.
He’d lost his hat and his head,
and I needed to rebuild him from
the mud up, and so unzipped his fly
and there they were: a family
of mice nested in the crotch
of the pants that had once been mine,
a squirm of pink pods

The scarecrow becomes a metaphor for the narrator himself. The self-reflection is subtle. The images are careful but strong. And the poem stands out among an onslaught of brilliant work in this issue.

Read The Chattahoochee Review. Subscribe. I sense that this magazine is going to continue to publish important work for the explorative reader.
[depts.gpc.edu/~gpccr/]

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Fiction International coverFiction International

Number 44

2011

Annual

Review by Cara Bigony

This issue of Fiction International welcomes “deformity in all of its guises,” a description pulled from James Carpenter’s story “Extravagant Meanings.” In this story, a writer looking for literary fodder starts a shelter for troubled souls. He describes his “house of freaks,” as I’d describe what you’ll find in this issue of FI: “The physically infirm, the congenitally twisted, the morbidly obese and the anorexic and the bulimic, the mentally ill and mentally handicapped, the morally confused, the addicted.” It’s intense reading, to say the least. The plots are fast-paced and adventurous, and many of the stories’ lasting impressions are, on a human level, unsettling. It is also one of the more formally challenging and innovative journals I’ve read in a long time.

The structure of Renato Escudero’s “Playing at Divorce” arguably determines our understanding of the love triangle between Bob, his ex-wife, and his aunt. The story—a combination of play, dialogue, and prose—is equally incestuous. In one scene, Bob and his Aunt are lying under the kitchen table writing a play about themselves when Bob’s ex-wife finds them. Self-referential by nature, the odd synthesis of play and prose is confusing at times, but does add new, juicy dimensions to the love triangle.

Kyle Muntz’s excerpt from his new novel Voices, is a story to be read out loud. If words can be more than poetic, if they can be sensual, his are. Whether in verse or prose (he alternates between the two), his sentences are short and crisp. The lust-filled narrator is also grounded by his insights, keeping the story from ever feeling too sentimental. You could open up to almost any page and find bits of wisdom that have been quietly slipped into the narrative:

We heard a siren from out front roaring. Two cars pulled onto the lawn. People took off running: transformation into an escaping wave  . .  We ran into the woods. The party fragmented like a star.  . .  Her arm bled, a trailing drop. It got washed off in the rain. She said yeah, ragged, leaning into me. I held her. She sighed. The night danced on her lips. When it was for her, the night could dance. She was real poetry: for her every bow bent, every corner turned. We didn’t need supplicants, and we didn’t need love. Every light blazed, every star shined. It didn’t matter that they’d come for us. We were already gone.

The excerpt ends with a fragmented dialogue between the couple that so smoothly morphs from prose into poetry that it’ll make you want to buy Voices.

Carol Novack’s “My Own Worst Enemy” is a demanding story about a man with split-personality disorder who sees everyone else in his life as a split personality, too. Each section of the story is a unique combination of Ted/Oliver and his ex-wife Mitzi/Doris. Novack’s constantly shifting “I” is clearly marked by bolded section titles which combine the different personalities’ names to show who will be present in the chapter. The penultimate section’s title “One Happy Family” makes for an interesting plot twist and showcases how Novack uses her unique format beyond its basic function. Personalities, not people, demand our sympathies in this story:

Was Ted as Oliver beginning to come to grips with having become his own worst enemy, or had he lost himself in Oliver so completely that the lesson in empathy was also lost? Would Ted as Ted when unbecoming Oliver (if ever) recognize Oliver’s ontological doubts, self-castrations, and heartbreaks?  . .  What chance did Oliver have, under such traumatic circumstances?  . .  [There was] so much to do to make up for the loss.

One of the only traditionally presented stories in the issue is “Maxine” by Camilla Palmer. Best defined as a tender coming-of-age tale, this piece deserves our attention as much as the crazy adventures that surround it. What’s great about this piece is that it doesn’t try to be more than it is: Maxine’s day of playing hooky. While the story is filled with action, in typical slice-of-life format, small indulgences like lying in the sun and eating Pop-Tarts are described with as much care as the more exciting events that unfold later that day.

FI also includes three successful pieces of short fiction, each barely over a page long and are as intense as the rest of the fiction in the journal as the stories tackle (respectively) the subjects of suicide, a man’s tour of duty, and a hostage situation.

The varied forms in this issue are enough of a reason to buy the journal. Though, there are times when the forms borderline on too experimental, perhaps at the expense of the fiction itself. The only major critique I have of this journal is that while titled Fiction International, most pieces are written by English speakers affiliated with American universities. The expectation that International means “works in translation” will not be met in this journal.
[www.fictioninternational.com/]

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Fifth Wednesday Journal coverFifth Wednesday Journal

Issue 9

Fall 2011

Biannual

Review by Lydia Pyne

The Fifth Wednesday journal explores “the idea that contemporary literary and photographic arts are essential components of a vibrant and enduring culture.” This commitment to a “vibrant, enduring culture” is, in other words, a contemporary milieu of writing that allows the reader to explore fiction, nonfiction, poetry, photography, interview, and book reviews bound together under the auspices of Fifth Wednesday’s commitment to contemporary writing. This issue is like an abstract tapestry collage of stories and poems that—at first glance—seem to have very little that weaves the pieces together. On second glance, you realize it comes together simply by being interesting and vibrant.

Perhaps the short stories are the most compelling aspect of this issue of Fifth Wednesday—indeed, pieces like Raima Evan’s “The Magician’s Assistant” and Rachel Furey’s “Stealing Scalpels” are where Fifth Wednesday really hits its stride. These strong, character-motivated narratives, with interesting themes and ironic twists, draw the reader immediately into the stories. Both pieces paint a picture of the desperate, awkward social pathos of a child trying to make sense of right and wrong in their world and world-view. It’s as if both authors show readers what it’s like for a character to be introduced to the idea that the world is relative and then show how the character copes with this realization.

Morty, in “The Magician’s Assistant,” must come to terms with lying to his parents about taking a job as a magician’s assistant—finding in the process that he excels in drawing. Meanwhile, Riley, in “Stealing Scalpels,” tries to reconcile stealing for what she sees as the high cause of saving frogs from being dissected. Both of these short stories brilliantly juxtapose simple characters with complex themes and unanswerable questions with underscored dialogue, and they leave the reader unsure of how the short story will end—comically, poetically, tragically, or some mosaic of all three.

This issue of Fifth Wednesday contains two fantastic interviews with authors Ed Roberson and Elizabeth Strout. Both interviews peel back the onion-like layers of each writer and give readers insight into what makes the authors tick creatively. The interviews not only ask how Roberson and Strout “got to where they are” as writers, but, perhaps more importantly, also emphasize that the path to creative, interesting writing is varied and fundamentally driven by the internal forces of the author.

Poet Ed Roberson’s background and training in the sciences create a certain credibility for his writing—a membership, if you will, into scientific circles. More interestingly, however, is that his background, his training, and his experience work to create empathy toward the natural world and the complexities of natural processes that allow him to speak to audiences “in a unique way.” (As a side note, not all of Roberson’s poems focus strictly on the natural world—one of the most interesting pieces published in this issue of Fifth Wednesday is “Who You Callin’” in which a helicopter is described as the “ladle of rescue.”)

Author Elizabeth Strout’s background and writerly ambitions, however, are quite different. Her interview leaves the reader with a picture of a quiet Pulitzer prize-winning author, surrounded by notebooks and the strata of drafts and ideas. Strout’s interview illustrates not only her creative process as a writer but her reactions to her work after it’s been published. Both interviews are solid reminders that good writers can write good things in many different ways.

The poems, nonfiction essays, fictional short stories, book reviews, author interviews, and photography (a special nod of appreciation for Petra Ford’s “Left-Handed Encounters”) come together in this seemingly un-themed journal. Its contents and its authors all display fantastically modern contexts and work to continue to define Fifth Wednesday’s literature as complex and vibrant.
[fifthwednesdayjournal.org/]

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I-7- Review coverI-70 Review

Summer 2011

Annual

Review by Jeff Tigchelaar

The poems in this issue of I-70 had a certain flow not always found in literary journals—or even single-author collections, for that matter. It is a feature made even more remarkable given that the work here is presented alphabetically by the author’s last name.

The issue’s first four pieces for instance (by Carrie Allison, Thomas Fox Averill, and Stanley E. Banks) hinge on parent/son relationships. The next seven (Sarah Barber, Walter Bargen, Bill Bauer, Rachel Bennett, Victor Contoski) deal in dreams, horses, lilies, or some combination thereof.

Later, Bill Hickock’s “Bombs Away” directly precedes Judith Bader Jones’s “Letting Go,” while Alarie Tennille’s “Flamenco Dancer” is followed immediately by William Trowbridge’s festive dance celebration, “Dia De Los Muertos.”

Could it have something to do with a regional sensibility? (A majority of I-70’s poets reside in or around Kansas City.) Maybe. Though probably not. While I’m certain these coincidences were not lost on the editors, it seems more to be a case of a journal coming together incredibly and inexplicably well.

I-70’s overarching unity, however, didn’t make itself known to me until later. I’ll admit I turned first to the poems whose titles stood out—leapt out, make that: “My Father Never Called Me By My Proper Name” (Stanley E. Banks), “Arlo and Trude Speak in Different Tenses” (Charles G. Reynard), “Jack’s Bumble Bee Tattoo” (Kevin Rabas), and “The Body Part” (Elizabeth Schultz).

I can’t help but read this way. And while sometimes there’s disappointment when a poem doesn’t seem to live up to its title, there was no such letdown here. Observe Banks, who manages to mix humor and heartbreak:

I asked him once why he called me Poppa Dad. I believed it was because he thought I was mature like a grown man even though I was only eight. He snapped back at me, “I call you Poppa Dad because you look like an old man with a big head and big ears.”

And Reynard, who presents two people—and two very different ways of dealing with the prospect of death. Here’s Arlo:

Aimed forward,
he cannot afford to worry
about such things. His glimpse back
at the hurtling years dizzies him,
cloudy vapors wither him.
For the ways we miss our lives
are life
, according to the poet.
He must not miss his only her.

Rabas gives us Jack, whose “blue sketch / of a bee in the crotch / of his thumb” serves as a reminder “of who and where he once had been. // He pointed to the tattoo. / ‘I sting,’ he said. ‘I sting people / into truth.’ And Schultz both encapsulates and anticipates an internet (or, web) age where “fingers, anxious arachnids” hop-scotch on keyboards, “smell and taste numbed, / run, run, run programs / until it’s impossible to stand / waiting for the body part / to be downloaded on demand.”

But then there were the poems whose unassuming titles only served to heighten the sensation of delight and surprise in store. One such piece that snuck up quietly only to then smack me silly was Barber’s “Daylily Letter,” which should be read in full, but here’s a sample: “I rock / on the porch all evening, but you don’t come / with two fingers of scotch in a jam jar / across the street to me.”

Indeed. And how about Victor Contoski’s “Dark Post Office,” where:

Beyond the town
far out onto the prairie
you hear the ebony trucks of night
revving up their engines
like roaring lions
preparing their dark deliveries.

And then there is Bill Bauer’s “Yellow Dress,” a poem with one of the most phenomenal endings I’ve ever read:

I had such great plans for us
the last day I loved you

Also enhancing this edition are a handful of fine photographs by editors Greg Field, Gary Lechliter, and Maryfrances Wagner, as well as sixteen curious and whimsical drawings—interspersed, it appears, at random on the same pages as some of the poems—by Philip Miller. An author photo and short tribute to Miller, who passed away in 2011, precede his three poems. The journal also showcases two contributors: Featured Poet William Trowbridge, with five poems, and 2011 Gary Gildner Poetry Award Winner Mark Wagenaar.
[www.i70review.fieldinfoserv.com/]

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Journal of Renga & Renku coverJournal of Renga & Renku

Issue 1

December 2010

Annual

Review by John Palen

What are the connections linking these three stanzas?

mosaic pieces dissolve
into a Turner scene
he photographs
her naked body
out of focus
a star is born
…a billion star years away

And these?

a puff of wind sends
a thousand seeds adrift
birdsong descending
onto the meadow
becomes a skylark
Lazy Sunday afternoon
a ride in grandpa's Buick
 

Once you get it—once you see that each stanza simultaneously picks up something from the previous one and turns the poem in a new direction—you understand something basic about the ancient Japanese art of linked verse that is this magazine's focus and title. At their best, the poems take you on a tour of existence into places you thought you couldn’t get to from here. And once the penny drops on “skylark” and “Buick,” you understand the zany wordplay that often serves as a guide.

The first stanza set is from “Billows of Pear Blossoms” by Hortensia Anderson and Eiko Yachimoto. The second is from “Knee Deep in Dandelions” by Tomislav Maretic, Mary White, Barbara A. Taylor, and Andrew Caldicott. Either is a good place to start on this magazine's inaugural issue, but you probably could dip in almost anywhere with equal surprise and pleasure.

I'd recommend finding one or two poems that you like, savoring them and pondering how they work, before going on to any of the prose essays. These do provide helpful background, especially H. Mack Horton's “Gradus ad Mount Tsukuba: An Introduction to the Culture of Japanese Linked Verse.”

Horton describes how poets hired to produce art of high seriousness for the Japanese court took a break from their day jobs to collaborate and compete on the linked verse called renga. Eventually, the masters of the form raised it to “serious and perhaps even canonical status,” and turned to lighter, sometimes bawdy linked verse called renku for relaxation and fun. This, in its turn, was raised to high art by Basho and others. Eventually, renga and renku became “more a topic of study than of active composition” but currently are undergoing a revival of interest not only in Japan but elsewhere globally.

Another interesting essay, this one focused more closely on technique, is John E. Carley's “The Mechanics of White Space (or Basho Cranks-up the Action).” If you're having trouble seeing some of the linkages in the poems, Carley's explanation of Basho's innovative “scent linkage” can help. And for those who want to explore further, there’s an annotated bibliography.

But lest this all sound like puzzle solving and scholarship, the journal demonstrates that, high art or not, the fun has never gone out of linked verse. Some is written over months by mail or email. Some is composed in sign language, or in all-day and all-night sessions surrounded by drink and hubbub. While most is collaborative, some practitioners write alone, just themselves and their alter egos. Some stanzas are “contributed” by folks like Basho, Shakespeare, or Rachel Carson.

Rules abound. The moon must be mentioned in this stanza, a blossom in that one. But the rules seem to exist to be broken. Or mocked, as in this pair from “Winter Clarity” by Josh Wikoff, Billie Dee and Moira Richards:

a three-line
non-seasonal, 15-syllable
verse goes here?
the renku master
refills his sake cup.

There's even a crossword puzzle.
[www.darlingtonrichards.com/index.php/journal-of-renga-renku/]

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The Louisville Review coverThe Louisville Review

Number 70

Fall 2011

Biannual

Review by Ken Brosky

It’s difficult to pick just one short story as a “favorite” in The Louisville Review’s 70th issue. I’d much rather suggest that a disproportionate number of them are beyond good and deserve accolades. However, a few stood out especially.

Kim Bradley’s “Cheating Time” deals with a woman named Jackie, who is fresh out of prison, and the relationship she has with her sister Cassie, who makes money by conning people—an act made even more despicable by the fact that one of her trademarks is introducing invasive species to guarantee repeat business. “Cassie diagnosed problems, whether homeowners had them or not, and if they didn’t, she saw to it they acquired one. She set up a greenhouse out back of the house, and nurtured exotic seedlings that had only one goal in life and that was to root deep and kill out native species.” The writing is great, and the dynamic between the sisters works well.

Tamar Jacobs’ “Out of His Hands” is about a young Vietnamese boy who’s attempting to deal with a traumatic moment: namely, his mother’s suicide attempt. Xuan, the boy, is at an age that feels alien and suffocating—having to also deal with a conflicted girlfriend and his constantly shifting role within society doesn’t help. Xuan is a fantastic character, superbly written, and he seems to float from scene to scene, always waiting for a line that the narrator refuses to provide.

Speaking of lines, there’s also a one-act play by Joe Oestreich. “Los Camioneros: A Play in One Act” is about a smuggler and a truck driver who both find themselves on the wrong side of the law when a “shipment” goes bad. The dialogue for the most part works well, although the female character—Carla—feels at times a little too brutish to fit in with the story. When she says “This is the INS’s wet dream,” I had to pause for a moment to try to envision Carla saying it.

This issue of TLR features several selections of poetry worth sharing. “Falwell” by R.T. Smith captures a scene in which the narrator watches a famous televangelist:

“The Word will burn a sinner,” he said on TV
I sent monthly checks from the egg money.

It is one of my favorite sections. Another:

When he bit
hard into the apple he chose out as the very best,
did he harvest that godly knowledge we’re all
yearning for but fear?

Allison Seay and Lisa Vinsant Connor also have great poems. Connor’s “Passport Dreams” invokes a fly-by of imagination and is especially pleasurable:

England offered nothing but
rain, double-decker buses, and
Shakespeare’s empty house.
Bowler-hatted men in bars
Enunciated every word
with precision.
Then Tarzan appeared.
We made love in the alley.
Big Ben drowned out my howls.
The English never noticed as they
plodded past the Palace at Westminster.

A second section of poems, entitled “The Children’s Corner,” is featured in this issue. Kids have a way with the vernacular that sometimes makes me jealous. They can mince and mix words in sentences in a way you’re taught to forget after a thousand English classes, and sometimes it’s depressing to see what you’ve lost.

Rainer Pasca’s “Rumi on the Table” is like that. It’s about a pet cat sitting on the table. It’s also about writer’s block. The last two lines make me want to scream because they’re so perfect. “I love you, Rumi. / You’re the king of gold.”

Morgan Lyons has equally gifted lines in equally gifted poems. From her poem “Beaches,” “Gulls surf upon the waves.” And from “Magic,” “Horses can talk / On Christmas Eve.” Reading poems like these can twist your mind in a way that you forgot was possible and maybe, just maybe, you can find inspiration in them.
[www.louisvillereview.org/]

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Nimrod coverNimrod International Journal

Volume 55 Number 1

Fall/Winter 2011

Biannual

Review by Julie J. Nichols

In "Mothman's Guide to the Here & Hereafter" Mark Wagenaar says, "All language is survival.” "All language is the revelation of our essence." This 33rd prize issue of Nimrod cries out yes! yes! look here! in affirmation of Wagenaar's lines. Every year, Nimrod awards the Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction and the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry; Amy Bloom and Linda Pastan were the 2011 judges for these respective prizes, and the results are breathtaking. Even the non-prizewinners are winners, offering evidence of our survival beyond time, in language that sings the essence of temporal humanness. A few examples:

Michael Garriga's "Fiesta de Semana Santa" takes place on Easter Sunday, March 29, 1891, the last day of legal bullfighting in San Antonio, Texas as seen through the eyes of three participants—Sueńo de Fuego (translates as Dream of Fire), age 5, weighing 584 kilos, the great death-dealing bull of the day; Ignacio Lopez y Avaloz, age 31, weighing 64 kilos, the famed matador from Spain who confronts the bull; and Jose "Pepe" Hernandez, age 33, weighing 61 kilos, the matador's sword-bearer. The bull's section is sound-heavy, the way a bull's thoughts might reverberate, dignified but furiously alliterative and consonant. The matador echoes the bull's rhythms and repetitions, stamping and stroking the toreador's dance of striving; and the final section is a brilliant synthesis of triumph and victory, as only the "witness" lives past this day, the ultimate vengeance his. What a time that must have been!

Shashi Bhat's short story "Another Dinner Party" is a soft lament for a dead husband, a grief-filled attempt to move forward in time although Shilpa, the protagonist, can hardly bear what time has done to her.

Similarly, Barbara A. Fischer's "Prodigals" captures a family returning to a homeland they rejected long ago, only to find, inevitably, that some of them belong after all. In all of these deliciously perfect prose pieces, the tension between past and present is as palpable as any character, essential as any action to the story's impact.

I must also remark on the elegantly-placed black and white photography. Nimrod's website assures us that “Visual art has always been a valued complement to the written work”; see, notably, “From Shadowed: Unheard Voices.” Joell Hallowell and Meg Withers "distributed a packet of seventy found photographs of women dating from the late 1800s to 1950" to twenty-seven poets. The poets wrote in response. The eight excerpts reveal moments of humanity whispered from and through time. Again, breathtaking.

Now for the prizewinners. It's tempting to quote from Suzanne Cleary's delightful second-place poem, "Italian Made Simple”: "Mario loves / the word eccetera, which he figures / will save him lots of time.” How easy it would be to catalog the titles of the prizewinning poems and stories, write again the words "revelatory" and "wonderful," and finish with eccetera! But I must do a little more.

Sultana Banulescu's story "Beggars and Thieves,” is a re-creation of the Bucharest earthquake of March 4, 1977. It earns its first prize, giving the reader distinctly-drawn, unique characters caught in their own mini-apocalypse when the tremors begin. The second-place winner, Kellie Wells' "In the Hatred of a Minute," is clearly the impetus for the choice of theme, since in it Time and God duke it out.

My favorite, probably because my own parents have gone through the difficult aging process described herein, is Stephen Taylor's Honorable Mention, "Jolly Old England." I love the three characters here—the narrator, none too young himself; his aged father, whose memory is fading; and a spectacular young waitress, who elevates them both with her kindness and respect. Time ravages us. But good will—and good writing—redeem us, every time. Thanks to this issue of Nimrod for reminding us of this so well.
[www.utulsa.edu/nimrod]

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Prism Review coverPrism Review

Issue 13

2011

Annual

Review by Sean Stewart

The wintry cover of the 2011 issue of Prism Review projects two RVs squatting on a frozen landscape under an ominous clouded sky. I liked it immediately, and it urged me to open and begin reading. The editors at the University of La Verne (California) dispensed with any editorial pleasantries and let their contributors' work spill forth from the get-go.

The journal opens with Becky Margolis' story “Weatherization,” winner of the 2011 Prism Review Fiction Prize. It's not a long story, but it's kind of gritty and makes you itch, maybe from all the flies: "She somehow managed to get the thing coiled around part of her head and, in her struggle to untangle herself, deposited a showering of fly corpses onto her sweater."

Come to think of it, many of this issue's fiction offerings made me feel uncomfortable in one way or another. I happen to like fiction that disturbs, though, so I was pleased. One particularly haunting story is Bipin Aurora's "The Girls in the Warehouse." Through dream-like recollections, the unnamed narrator tells of visiting a warehouse, what some said was actually "a place of ill-repute." Using repetition paired with unusual phrasing and cadence, Aurora draws the reader in to stand by the narrator's side as he navigates this strange place. Over the course of many visits, the narrator develops a tentative relationship with a Korean girl named June, one we know is not likely to last:

One day the rain came through the roof, it fell on the floor. It fell on the bed. It fell on the books—even the books. How afraid she grew. She was a brave girl, she was a strong girl. And yet how afraid she was—how suddenly afraid.

"The Night Game" by Meagan Cass is another tale riddled with awkward and bitter moments. In it, the first-person narrator, an erstwhile figure skater, learns to deal with family troubles and teenage stagnation by joining a group of tough girls who play ice hockey late at night on an undisclosed pond. The group is led by a whiskey-swilling girl named Connor, who, in her gruff manner, takes the narrator under her wing. At first, the narrator is too scared to skate, only watching from the sideline:

Then they are out there, skating fast circles to warm up. It's like no skating I've ever seen before. They move pucks back and forth fast, shoulders hunched, edges grinding, flecks of figure skating grace showing here and there in an elegant crossover, in a too-frilly turn, in a t-stop.

Later she comes to embrace the game fully, as it helps her work through everything else that is out of her control. It's a well-paced story, expertly weaving the narrator's home life with her experiences on the ice.

There is also a great deal of good poetry in this issue. I was taken by Brent Armendinger's three poems, all of them quite distinct and separate from each other. The first, "For Mount Baldy," is a prose poem of tangled phrases: "Giving the impression that a leaf. Giving the impression that a hello. A leaf is sleeping in its hello. In its crumpled crumpled telegram." The second, "What is a Prayer," relies on opposing side margin justifications to separate the poem into two parts. The following is a clip from the top section:

the blinking sky has nothing
to regret, nothing to begin when the street
dissolves into
our shiny stack of errors

Armendinger's final poem, "Catch and Release," is composed of two-line stanzas and, of the three poems, perhaps comes closest to offering a narrative:

We walked the river looking for that afternoon, for your father
like an echo—a son unraveled from the anchor he meant to be
rudder. Your mother never told you. How the quiet happened,
and I thought to bury myself in that snow I want to be for you,
but I know the whiteness is interrupted, the quiet
becoming tooth decay, the roof of our mouths.

Maria Ursula Anderson delivers another grouping of three poems that caught my eye. Each poem is named for a bird, nested underneath the trio's overarching title of "bird ritual in an age of deprivation." In "horned owl," we learn that "an owl owns the deepest burdens." And in "northern fisher's owl," Anderson's narrator wonders:

who will tail the wind now,
who will pump hot bands of chalk
onto petal eaves, the long hallways
choking the loamy loomed earth

Finally, in "eastern wood pewee," we read that "these are indeed pewee-days." I couldn't agree more. And what better way to while them away than by settling in with a copy of Prism Review?
[sites.laverne.edu/prism-review/]

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Puerto Del Sol coverPuerto Del Sol

Volume 46 Numbers 1 & 2

Summer 2011

Biannual

Review by Hazel Foster

Puerto Del Sol is always inviting. The volumes flex and relax into the hand. Art wraps around both front and back covers. Inside, readers will find prose, poetry, and reviews from familiar and new writers alike. This issue of Puerto Del Sol contains the winners and runners-up of the Puerto Del Sol Fiction and Poetry contests, judged by Dawn Raffel and Julie Carr, respectively. Let me tell you, these ladies know how to pick strong, well-crafted writing.

Take, for instance, the very first piece in the issue, “The Flood” by Joe Aguilar, winner of the fiction contest. It is about—you guessed it—a flood, but not just any flood; it’s the type of flood that covers entire countries. The narrator, who is deaf, and his daughter, Sandra, save themselves from the ever-rising water by taking up residence in their boat. Of course, most awesome premises are only backdrops for what transpires between characters. Here, the flood acts as scenery for the tensions between father and daughter:

He vomited. They sat together by the toilet, in the cramped bathroom, chins on their chests. The inside of his body felt scraped raw from hole to hole. A place exists beyond shame or fear where the body is only a body. They emptied themselves. Its smell became their smell. Each time he woke up he touched her cheek. He remembered the morning he’d roused in bed and the wife’s face had gone cold for good. Sandra’s arm had grown as fat as her thigh and she could not lift it. When her eyes opened they looked opaque, like membranes had sealed off the irises. Sunlight refracted from the ocean and sparkled on the ceiling, and he could almost hear it, the harmonic from friction between the wavelengths, notes pitched perfectly over notes.

I especially like such phrases as “his body felt scraped raw from hole to hole.” I can’t imagine a more fitting description for such sickness. In short, “The Flood” kicks off an issue of smart and inventive prose and poetry.

Further into the issue, the poetry definitely competes with the tenacity of the prose. For example, “A Pact” by Mary Biddinger reads:

We’d lay our guns together
on the dresser, touching but not
overlapping. It was like the time
my hand slipped right through
a peach. Of course we didn’t have
guns. We were too fast to need them.

Difficult as it is for me to pick favorite lines from this poem, the above exemplify Biddinger’s genius for detail. It’s as if Biddinger wrote a story and then continued to whittle it down to its most decisive ideas and meaningful lines. “You said you could taste the Detroit / in every angle of me.” This line made me pause to imagine what Detroit would taste like on a body. Being a Michigan native, the idea of Detroit as a flavor absolutely makes sense. I can taste it now.

In short, Puerto Del Sol never disappoints, and if you need somewhere to invest some subscription money, I highly recommend this magazine.
[puertodelsol.org/]

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The Raintown Review coverThe Raintown Review

Volume 10 Issue 1

September 2011

Biannual

Review by Jeff Tigchelaar

Forgive me. For some reason, I was expecting delicate. Reserved. Stuffy. Polite. But my assumptions about a journal of “metrical works, including well-rendered blank verse, sonnets of every variety, villanelles and triolets” were way off. The Raintown Review is kind of a badass.

Edgy verse and strong opinion—fierce, even—reign supreme in this publication. Even the cover defied my expectations, with its garbage-and-graffiti photo and its yellow title-letters against a backdrop of bright green (working nicely with Marybeth Rua-Larsen’s leadoff poem “Nothing in Between,” which begins and ends with the line “the bluest blue is green”).

One of the issue’s first poems, Karen Kelsay’s “Called Out,” is a seething address “To Rena, with your unseen tentacles / that slithered secretly against my Dad.” The speaker chides: “You were an ugly version of my mother”—a mother who, for years, “lulled unanswered questions into slumber, / allaying past suspicions—unlike me / who checked through every call and had your number.”

Bam. And speaking of vicious let me just flip all the way out to page ninety, where Raintown Associate Editor Quincy Lehr holds back nothing in his essay “Think Journal, Poetic Form, and a Sunny Afternoon I’ll Never Get Back.” Granted, I probably shouldn’t spend too much time reviewing a review of a review, but I’ll share a couple shards, at least. Lehr calls the journal he’s reviewing an “egregious violation” of a person’s right “not to be bored out of one’s skull,” opining that “its symposium on form may well be one of the most solipsistic and superfluous discussions in a little magazine in years.”

While Lehr does concede that “by and large, the [symposium’s] comments were not unintelligent,” he promptly goes on to eviscerate certain contributors—one of whom, he says, “like her work itself, goes on about herself too damn much before going on worse and yammering about Louise Gluck.” Another “elicited a ‘fuck you’ from this reader,” says Lehr, for “[his] reference to Aristotle as ‘The Philosopher’ in otherwise lucid remarks.”

Well! Okay! But let’s get back to the poetry. Despite what’s been said before, Raintown certainly isn’t without its kinder, gentler side. Observe Nausheen Eusuf’s “The Problem Child”: “I’m tired of my surly mood, / of being sad and mad and rude.” And Fani Papageorgiou, who, in “Give Us,” pleads: “Give us compassion and a wholesome way to talk / Imaginary lives, / The red-orange beak of a giant stork.”

One interesting missive from the department of imaginary lives is Austin McRae’s convincing portrayal of “The Caricaturist,” who’s aware of what a tricky business it is to accurately capture a person on paper: “The trick is knowin’ where to leave some space / for light to shine,” the speaker states. “You got to find a spark / that catches, flickers, gobbles up the dark / around the eyes.”

Sometimes the caricaturist cracks jokes to crack his clients’ shells. Sometimes, it doesn’t work. And sometimes, other issues arise: “There’s things you can’t leave out that make you slip. / This shy girl had a mole above her lip.” Then, “I drew it extra-large and she got red.” But rather than the girl storming off and leaving the drawing behind with the collection of “rejects” that hang in the artist’s trailer, something else happens altogether. (You’ll just have to buy the magazine.)

Another compelling portrait comes in the form of David Mason’s “Tribes,” an exploration of memory and loss and how the stories of others can become a part of our very make-up:

In another town
I meet a toothless man who knew my father,
his mind a web of streets and names and stories
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 
He ran a liquor store and saw all things
men say and do go in and out his door.
When he is gone a town will disappear.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 
I shake his hand and listen to what he says

Timothy Murphy, in his heartbreaking poem “Interment,” gorgeously conveys a shared life, from the two lovers’ first meeting (“One boy with a guitar and dreadful novel, / another, poems crammed inside his head”), on through their years of finding “seven hundred trees to tend / and eighteen types of apples to be grafted, / dogs to be fed and watered” and “manuscripts of poems to be crafted,” to a time, decades later, when the speaker finds himself digging beside two teenage trees, “slim oaks, their leaves yellowed by last night’s freeze”:

I delve a deep hole in the orchard soil,
singing my lover’s favorite Latin song,
Tantum Ergo. The digging is no toil.
My friend? Let me pretend he did no wrong.

It’s one of many poems in Raintown that employ end-rhyme to excellent effect, driving the piece home powerfully through repetition. Another perfect example is found in John Foy’s “Deer Rifle,” a tribute to someone who taught the speaker not just the art of shooting, but:

the craft of clarity and range, and how
to hit the target cleanly and destroy.
I see it in my mind so clearly now,
you helping me to stand steady, breathe,
and look upon what’s out there and believe.

[www.theraintownreview.com/]

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Seneca Review coverSeneca Review

Volume 41 Number 1

Spring 2011

Biannual

Review by Kenneth Nichols

Lyrical essays and poetry rely upon the power of metaphor and associative thinking to create a deeper, more personal interpretation for the reader. The writers in this issue of the Seneca Review walk a fine line, hoping to tickle the reader’s imagination while providing enough detail to ground the piece in something resembling the real world. Most of the time, the authors are quite successful, providing delicious food for thought.

Donald Platt’s “La Playa Los Muertos” is an extended observational poem about the author’s family trip to Mexico’s Beach of the Dead. Through the course of the poem, Platt finds new methods to do the work of the traditional travel narrative. We learn about the exchange rate, we meet some of the interesting characters residing in Puerto Vallarta, and we are placed in the fish-out-of-water mindset. All the while, the piece captures the reader because Platt chooses the most interesting details and casts them in sparse but suggestive language.

The worlds of history and poetry don’t collide nearly enough. Bridgette Bates’ poem “Torso of a General” reminds us that our understanding of history is the result of a partnership between right brain and left brain. During her examination of a thousand-year-old body recovered from a tomb, Bates ceases to think of the object as a “corpse.” The poem makes an important point about the process by which we understand the natural world. After spending so much time speculating about the general and the life he must have led, she hears the guards’ five-minute warning to the close of the museum, which reminds her of “the visiting hours of a hospital winding down. / The bedsheet pulled over a head for sleep.”

In his poem “Rebirth,” Keith Alexander suggests that the countless benefits of the feminist movement have been accompanied by at least one question society has yet to answer: what is the new place of the man in American culture, and how can he reconcile these expectations with thousands of years of patriarchal conditioning? The protagonist of the poem is “sorry he’s the father” and is “tired of being / what everyone avoids or protests, / the villain in diaries and soap operas, / a son of colonial officers in a blood history.” The final image in the poem suggests that the transition for males will not be easy or swift.

This issue of the Seneca Review succeeds most when the abstract explorations of human existence are grounded in the concrete. In all, editor David Weiss and his colleagues have found work that challenges the reader to explore new ideas while extending a guiding hand.
[www.hws.edu/academics/SenecaReview/]

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Toad Suck Review coverToad Suck Review

Issue 1

2011

Annual

Review by Sean Stewart

Dubbed “The Transitional Issue,” this first issue of Toad Suck Review, based at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA), follows the demise of the Exquisite Corpse Annual, which ended when founder and editor Andrei Codrescu retired. The team at the helm aims to carry on the Corpse's “experimental sense of humor and international enquiries” while at the same time staying true to its central Arkansan roots. With gaping shoes to fill, the Toad Suck crew delivers an impressive first shot of literary whiskey.

The contents are divided under anything-but-standard headings: High-Octane Poetics, From the Blood, Arkana (a section devoted to Arkansans), Non-Nonfictions, and Critical Intel, among others. On the pages within, Poet Laureates mingle with new and emerging writers. Lawrence Ferlinghetti makes an appearance, as does David Gessner and C.D. Wright. Norman Shapiro translates Surrealist Jacques Prévert. Amazing woodcuts from Argentine artist Alfredo Benavidez Bedoya appropriately illustrate the far-out excerpt from David Grandbois' strange and dreamy book The Hermaphrodite.

A frenetic assortment of poetic forms and styles jigsaw themselves together under the category of High-Octane Poetics. Ferlinghetti's offering is a long conversation between “Cristo on the Cross” and Socrates:

SOCRATES: Hola, J.C.! Que tal? Qué te passa? What in the hell are you doing up there?
CRISTO: Y tu? What are you doing down there?
S: I don't like to be hung up on anything—
C: It's an acquired taste—

There are visual poems from Jack Collom and Alice Notley. Toshiya Kamei translates Mexico's Letitia Luna, whose poem “Wounded Days” is dark and powerful from the first stanza:

Tonight a foul smell fills the air
it's surely the smell of a dying country
as in those days of corruption
when my childhood was a flock of swallows
and my sick father
was never the same

Toad Suck devotes one section of this issue to Artists in Residence at UCA. One such artist is the respected Arkansas-born poet C.D. Wright, whose new book One with Others consists of one epic prose poem (based in part on true events) depicting a march by black citizens after Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death and what happens to the one white woman named V who participates in the march. This feature on Wright consists of a review of One with Others, an interview, and an excerpt from the poem.

I was also pleased to find an interview with David Gessner, having just last month reviewed and enjoyed the latest issue of Ecotone, the journal that Gessner founded at UNC Wilmington. Gessner is another current UCA Artist in Residence. The interview unearths some of Gessner's motivations behind starting Ecotone and his experiences with publishing the journal. Following the interview is an essay from Gessner about dolphins off the Carolina coast, the hazards they face, and the traditional fishermen that share their territory:

My initial reaction to seeing these animals near my home was an almost aesthetic one, like oohing and ahhing at a particularly pleasing painting. But dolphins are not paintings, and they are not symbols of my attempt to find a home. They are creatures with individual personalities who mourn for their dead and unborn, and who chafe against being trained, and who have names for each other, and who lived long before I did.

Under the fiction umbrella, there were two particular pieces that hooked me. The first was "Jason Williford," an excerpt from Kevin Brockmeier's new slipstream novel The Illumination. It's a haunting excerpt that left me craving much more:

His scar began to send out circles, a slow wave of them, traveling across his chest and stomach as his wound throbbed with pain. Fascinated, she pressed her palm to the spot and watched the light radiate past her fingers.

The other fiction I found alluring was the piece "Everything in Threes" by William Lychack, a somber three-part meditation on an aging monk's yearning to visit home one last time:

Is a wound for you to look at her like this, your mother, can feel that deep tug in your stomach to see her here, a fish hook swallowed and set deep, and a steady pull of her past you, woman floating toward the open gate behind you.

This was one of the best first issues of a literary magazine that I have read, and I look forward with eagerness to the future of Toad Suck Review.
[toadsuckreview.org/]

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Vlak coverVlak

Volume 2

May 2011

Annual

Review by Sarah Gorman

It’s 424 pages long, weighing in at a chunky 1.75 pounds; Vlak cannot be called a little magazine. It is a literary magazine, though, launched from Prague and flashing through the reader’s consciousness like a bullet train. With works from eastern and western Europe, Australia, North Africa, and the United States (and a single nod to Brazil), the issue brings together ninety writers and visual artists.

The reader’s curiosity about how the whole thing came together remains largely unanswered: an unsigned column on the masthead page addresses the theme of the overthrow of tyranny, alluding only glancingly to the editorial mission and history of the magazine. The related web site offers a little more background (though it does not feature the translation of “vlak” from Czech into English—it means “train”). The 2011 issue is the second to be published; a third will launch in Prague on May 15, 2012.

A blog posted in October 2009 sets out the publication’s mission:

VLAK is an international curatorial project with a broad focus on contemporary poetics, art, film, philosophy, music, science, design, politics, performance, ecology, and new media.
Our global-local environment is defined by intersections, hybrids, transversals: realities that are contested, interactual and always in the process of taking new forms.
VLAK invites contributions that [. . .] explore the ramifications of contemporary culture and attempt new critical and creative methods.
VLAK stands for the drive to experiment, to synthesize, to extend—holding to the principle that a vital culture is always experimental and thus always “at a crossroads.

The theme of liberty intersects the publication on many levels. Contributor Ali Daghman, who studied in Prague, was conscripted into the Syrian Army in early 2011 and killed in Syria on August 15, 2011, an entry on the magazine’s web site indicates. His academic essay on the politics of anti-colonial resistance, “Power and Resistance,” draws lines of influence among the writings of Michel Foucault, Edward Said, and Homi Bhabha, supporting the posthumous assessment that he was “intellectually fearless and committed.”

This issue’s contents invite the reader to assess independently not only subject but also form. Contributions are not defined as poetry, fiction, or criticism. A series of nine surreal word portraits by Johan de Wit, with every appearance of prose, is followed by a prose “Statement” by the artist devoted to his views on poetry.

Black-and-white images from dozens of photographers and multi-media artists fit comfortably into the 21 cm (8.5”) square format. Color brightens the cover photograph, an untitled piece by Adam Trachtman, of a landscape containing a train sign that reads “POZOR VLAK.”

David Hayman’s memoir of Robert Motherwell provides intimate glimpses of the painter’s work and life, including conversations Hayman held with Motherwell in his studio and archive in Connecticut. We learn that Motherwell “never liked” Lee Krasner and that he could be a reckless back-road driver.

The poetry editors celebrate the fearless and the joyful in their selection of verse. While the subject matter can be somber, the thrill of shaping language to express the palpability of the intangible inspires these poets. Ania Walwicz, in “5 Sections,” pays homage to Gertrude Stein as she revels in the playground of words. From her section called “Palace of Culture” we read “to feel better bit better bitte” and “words now not so lone lone alone now I make games now rebus said n that I / work it now work me” among the series of “la”s and “o”s that punctuate the dense page of text.

Adrian Clarke’s critical appraisal of the work of Karen Mac Cormack in Quirks and Quillets (1991) contains a closing assessment that can be applied to the prose poems—actually, all the content—in this issue: “‘situated’ prose poems are clearly not locked into a formal strait-jacket, rather they create spaces hospitable to the discovery of transformative possibilities; like the mandala or Navajo sand painting they may offer an appearance of closure, but the readerly activities they encourage are expansive—to the margins and beyond.”

Vlak is published through the Centre for Critical & Cultural Theory in the Department of Anglophone & Cultures Faculty of Philosophy at Charles University in Prague. Editing reveals occasional lacunae that mar credibility, offering the opportunity to raise the quality of the publication in the upcoming issue.

This train takes the reader on an exuberant journey. The ticket to ride links us to the global exchange of ideas, challenges to the status quo, and the re-examination of concepts about art. The editors and contributors seem to enjoy breathing the rarefied air within their somewhat closed system, but their invitation to join in and help shake things up sounds the note of sincerity. Any attempt to out-revolutionize revolutionaries can be daunting, but the energy and fecundity expressed in this publication will embolden the timid and enlist the brave. The issue can be read in full online.
[www.vlakmagazine.com/]

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