Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted 15 May 2012

2 Bridges Review :: Adanna :: Arroyo Literary Review :: The Bad Version :: BULL :: Burnside Review :: burntdistrict :: Cimarron Review :: Court Green :: Crazyhorse :: CutBank :: Elder Mountain :: Exit 7 :: Front Range :: Gigantic Sequins :: Green Mountains Review :: The Healing Muse :: Hunger Mountain :: The Kenyon Review :: Kugelmass :: Magnapoets :: NANO Fiction :: PEN America :: PHOEBE :: PMS poemmemoirstory :: Prick of the Spindle :: Room :: Thin Air :: Tin House :: Tiny Lights :: Whitefish Review :: Yalobusha Review :: Yellow Medicine Review

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2Bridges Review cover2 Bridges Review

Volume 1 Number 1

Fall 2011

Review by John Palen

Published by the New York City College of Technology, 2 Bridges Review is a new magazine that seeks to publish both unknown and established writers and artists. The magazine is named after the East River Bridges that connect downtown Brooklyn with downtown Manhattan. Editors Kate Falvey, George Guida, and Yaniv Soha say that “between these bridges a community of writers and artists has found a home in the former warehouses and factories of New York’s most literary outer borough.”

In this journal’s very first issue, Dorianne Laux has a lovely poem, “Clay Bowl,” about dropping and breaking a “small object I loved / to gaze upon / while brushing my hair.” Unassuming in language and concept, it is a disturbing meditation on what such losses can do to our hold on identity. After picking up the shards and standing, she catches herself in a mirror,

though it was someone else
who gazed back, a being
whose blue eyes darkened,
a soul I didn’t know
but who seemed to know me

“Clay Bowl” is a reminder of how much power remains in the poetry of epiphanies of everyday life, when the writer’s imagination and craft are strong.

Laux, whose latest collections are The Book of Men and Facts About the Moon, both from W.W. Norton, isn’t the only poet of stature in this inaugural issue; although, her poem is one of the best. Billy Collins, Colette Inez, Gerry LaFemina, Kwame Dawes, Sandra M. Gilbert, Lewis Turco and Harvey Shapiro are among a number of established writers who have contributed to an illustrious start for this new kid on the block.

Among poets less well known to me, I like William Herman’s “I want to know someone,” Mervyn Taylor’s “Mother Moon,” and Crystal Williams’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” This last poem involves young girls sparkling with the joy of self and self-absorption, “bean-headed boys” who throw rocks at their bus, and an elderly bus driver who embarrasses himself by going after them. But he leaves an indelible and loving memory of himself—“chasing that grim darkness down / on platform shoes, / the bells of your pants / whipping like wings.”

Brad Barkley’s short story “The Reindeer Sleigh” and Danielle Ofri’s “Monday” are standouts among engaging fiction selections from Helen Maryles Shankman, Nick Ripatrazone, Lisa Pacenza and Sarah Van Arsdale. Ofri, in a chapter from her novel Malignancy, takes us inside the crazy, meaning-questioning world of an urban emergency room. Barkley’s zany story is a thrill ride with an inept young guy who may have found himself and got his girl back by falling head-first off the wagon. At least he thinks he has. But maybe not. But she’s left messages on his cellphone . . .

Peter Bricklebank’s nonfiction “Wet Sponge” is a tour de force about disgusting stuff in your sink that you never imagined could be turned into art. Well-written memoirs by Marilyn Krysl and Jean Feraca round out the contents, along with art and photography by Nicholas Wilson, Christopher Woods, Todd Behrendt, and Robin Michals.   

After this caliber of an inagural issue, I hope to see 2 Bridges Review come out regularly and often.
[2bridgesreview.blogspot.com]

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Adanna coverAdanna

A Journal for Women, about Women

Issue 1

2011

Annual

Review by Bethany Zohner

The stories in Adanna are not only for women and about women, but they are also all written by women, each illustrating in some way, either directly or indirectly, what it means to be female.

“Mulberry” by Yelizaveta P. Renfro uttered some of my favorite lines in the journal and captured the heart of Adanna for me when she wrote:

Significance accrues only in hindsight, one filament spun out at a time, encasing the moment, hiding it from light, from danger, the only way we know to preserve memories, to nurture them. We become ourselves through stories. And our stories are the cocoons that gently hold the things that cannot be uttered.

I found myself also particularly struck by Jessica McCaughey's nonfiction story “I Tell You Something,” about a woman tutoring a Taiwanese woman who she learns was accused of neglect when her youngest child drowned in a pool. As the narrator expresses, “I am winded, overwhelmed by how difficult it is to understand our own stories, let alone tell them in a language that forces our mouths open awkwardly, that pulls sounds and inflections from us that at another time in life, would have sounded silly, a squawk.” I love how the unifying elements of womanhood transcend other differences.

Not only does the short piece reflect a fraction of the difficulty of being an international student in an English-speaking world, but it shows, in part, some of the masked pain that women wear as they strive to overcome life’s difficulties. I also got the impression from this line that the need to tell stories, regardless of how difficult they are to tell, was another reason for the birth of the journal.

The poems cover topics from the joy of love to the pain of loss, to the betrayal of abuse, and the experience of growing up and learning what it means to be a woman. I loved the lines of the poem “The Guest” by Patricia Fargnoli about a French woman who came to visit the narrator and her brother every summer after their mother died. The poignancy for me is echoed in the last lines:

We sang as she rowed,
not ever wondering
where she came from, or why she was alone,
happy that she was willing to row us
out into all that beauty.

Thus the author ends on a peaceful note of gratitude for the influence one woman took the time to make.

The magazine's editor, Christine Redman-Waldeyer, in telling her story of growing up and the events that inspired the birth of the journal, states that “Like many women of my generation, I wanted to be utterly female and do what the boys could do . . . I hope that Adanna will be one more place to celebrate the lives and writing of women.” “Utterly female” summarizes the whole essence of the journal. It is born out of a feeling that women need another outlet to fully express themselves in written form and be able to share their unique yet familiar experiences with other women. That said, while the intended audience is obviously female, men may also admire the perspectives it offers.

Adanna expresses itself in poetry, short fiction, short creative nonfiction, essays, and book reviews. The journal has an overall uplifting tone to it, making its readers feel as if they belong in the slew of experiences and poetic fragments of life. I can see Adanna becoming a welcome friend to its readers as they lose themselves in shared experience.
[adannajournal.blogspot.com]

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Arroyo coverArroyo Literary Review

Volume 4

Spring 2012

Annual

Review by Sarah Gorman

Arroyo Literary Review, published by the Department of English at Cal State East Bay, takes advantage of its geography and the demographics of the San Francisco area to establish its identity as a multicultural literary feast. This issue features several international contributors, including writers associated with Peru, Japan, India, and China. Sixteen poets are represented—only three with a single poem—poetry translations from the Chinese and the German appear, and award-winning translator John Felstiner is interviewed. Four short stories ring changes on themes of love, creativity, and the absurd. The compact size and the feel of the cover communicate accessibility and quality. There is really nothing about this magazine not to like.

The editors devote a page preceding the list of contents to The Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary’s definition of arroyo: "(in the southwestern U.S.) a narrow channel in the ground that is usually dry but becomes a stream after heavy rain.” The image both represents the magazine’s interest in poetry and evokes in the reader endlessly bifurcating impressions of the ability of artists to wring meaning from experience.

Willy Lizárraga’s short story “True Artists Only Have Impossible Loves” communicates the writer’s exuberant joy in language, as in these two descriptions: “the only lesbian fundamentalist-professional-illegal-alien-Marxist-Freudian trombone player in the world” and “Brendan MacMurry carrying his contrabass on his back while riding his bloody Harley and eating a carne asada burrito with extra cheese and guacamole.” He finds the opportunity to take a sideways swipe at creative writing classes by having a character say that the classes produce “bad writers who write well.” The work is an elegy to San Francisco during the 1980s, when the city appeared to be built “entirely of uninvited fears and broken dreams.” Lizárraga’s first-person narrator allows that perhaps “that’s why [he’s] a writer, to get even with time.”

In his interview, Felstiner offers unambivalent opinions about the art of translation. Although he acknowledges that being “bilingual is asking a lot” of a translator, he adds, “I’m not always happy with what one sometimes sees [such as] three-person translation—poet, language expert, translator.” (The success of Coleman Barks’s renderings of the poems of Rumi, based on translations from the Persian by John Moyne, has made the 13th-century mystic the best-selling poet in America today, but perhaps Felstiner would allow this exception.) Felstiner reveals that his translations from the German of Jewish poet Paul Celan, who survived the Holocaust, are intended for readers who “care about the essential existential challenge of articulating the unspeakable.” His translation of Celan’s poem “Deathfugue,” placed by the editors on pages facing the original in German (“Todesfuge”), retains some German phrases in the English version. The decision to focus on the challenges and practice of translation adds depth to the magazine’s focus on diversity and internationalism.

Heather Altfeld contributes four poems, including the epistolary monologue “Scheherhazade,” from her upcoming manuscript Letters to My Father, The Vizier. An excerpt from “The Desk of the Night-Clerk: Confidential” echoes elements of Whitman’s wide-ranging compassion and imagery, but experienced through a postmodern acidity:

    A prayer
gavels the long blond table of saints
for the man down the block, who is bashing
his girlfriend into asphalt in the rain . . .

Included in this issue of Arroyo Literary Review, elaborate wood engravings by New Hampshire artist Beth Krommes invite the reader into tenderly rendered landscapes, domestic scenes, and imaginary vistas. “Over the Town” recalls Marc Chagall as it clearly represents Krommes’s unique vision. She has illustrated children’s books, winning a Caldecott Award in 2009, but her works offer substantial visual pleasure to adult viewers as well.

While Arroyo Literary Review showcases talent in the Bay Area, it also solicits unpublished work from writers and artists throughout the U.S. and world. This fourth annual compilation offers so many delights that readers should anticipate great things from next year’s issue.
[www.arroyoliteraryreview.com]

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The Bad Version coverThe Bad Version

Volume 1 Number 2

Winter 2012

Quarterly

Review by Shannon Smith

The Bad Version is a new literary magazine, and this is only its second issue. While showing many signs of promise, the magazine is clearly still suffering some growing pains. The mission statement on their website says that the name of the journal “comes from the collaborative art of screenwriting, where the first attempt at a scene, that wild idea that gets the process going, is called a ‘bad version.’ Likewise, this magazine is dedicated to beginnings: to pieces that are taking risks, trying to broach new ideas, experimenting with new forms, starting new conversations.”

Unfortunately, it seems that a few too many pieces in the journal are still heavily routed in that “first attempt at a scene”—that is, they seem rough and unpolished. This is especially applicable to the essays, which can be meandering and extremely verbose, often suffering from the lack of clear form and direction. I do not think this roughness stems so much from their “new forms” or “new ideas,” so much as the authors are clearly excited about what they have to say, invested in it, have interesting ideas, but have not fully honed the expression of their arguments in a long form.

What’s really interesting about The Bad Version, however, are the short commentary pieces after each selection. It seems that each author in the journal was asked to write a response to someone else’s piece. These short pieces are thoroughly interesting, and they provide idiosyncratic takes on each piece in the journal as well as starting a conversation about the piece. The responses note favorite details that move the stories along and moments that essays hinge on as well as help to elucidate obscured passages or endings. Utilizing these short responses is a courageous idea that will lead into the brave conversations The Bad Version seems to want its pieces to start.

Out of the five essays in this issue, Sanders I. Bernstein’s “The Quest for Fantasy’s Power: Muggles, Millennials, Magicians, and Everybody Else” stood out the most. While the essay does suffer from some problems of form, it provides an interesting exploration of how Harry Potter could possibly have managed to unite a generation that is otherwise dependent on and defined by niches.

Daniel Howell’s “Martha Ruth Marcy May Bekorah Marlene,” one of the more succinct and direct essays in the journal, offers a nice exploration of cults, with a personalized touch, as he looks at a family member’s participation in a group called “The Community.” Howell’s writing veers skillfully between observations, abstractions, and investigations. These ideas come together quite well, not scattered and all over the map.

As for the fiction, an excerpt from Jesse Baron’s The World Islands and David Rice’s “Ainsworth Gym” were my favorites; though, both suffer from having characters that seem more like shadows of characters—characters who are defined more by what the reader brings to their conception of the type of person being written about than what is on the page. That, though, is a fleeting and momentary problem in the stories; it’s a problem that’s hard to define because both authors are playing with archetypes but utilizing them as well. Barron’s piece, especially, provides insight into expat life in Dubai, while at other times being a more conventional story. Rice’s piece evokes modern horror tropes and then attempts to subvert them—sort of—because he still needs these tropes for the story to succeed.

While I think the quality of writing in The Bad Version is promising but not exceptional, the journal does have a great layout and design. The spacing of its font, where the writing zooms almost all the way across the page, comes across as a combination of a zine and journal. The cover art and drawings scattered throughout lend this issue the same feel, and perhaps that is really the most apt summary of The Bad Version: it’s more akin to a zine than a literary journal, and its homemade feel is something to admire.
[thebadversion.com]

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BULL coverBULL

{Men’s Fiction}

Number 1

2012

Biannual

Review by Kenneth Nichols

BULL {Men’s Fiction} is best described as “handsome,” both for its subject matter and its appearance. The journal boasts a clean, striking design and attractive line illustrations by James-Alexander Mathers and Patrick Haley. I expected BULL editor Jarrett Haley to explain his journal’s subtitle in its debut print issue. Perhaps Haley’s silence is an indication that he wishes the reader to forge his or her own concept of what “men’s fiction” means.

Most of the stories in the journal are somewhat short, including “Urban Archery.” Curtis Dawkins captures the reader with his first sentence: “All week someone had been shooting arrows into my backyard.” The narrator doesn’t know why he keeps finding arrows buried in his lawn at a 60-degree angle. The next-door neighbor uses the backyard as a neutral corner between arguments with his wife; the narrator invites him inside in the interest of safety. Dawkins’s descriptions are precise, and the story’s primary flaw is a compliment: the narrative ends far too soon and the reader is left with a great desire to see what happens in the white space after the final sentence.

In “The Heart is a Strong Instrument,” Jon Morgan Davies turns a difficult trick by writing a story that takes place in virtual reality, but he does it in such a way that it makes sense and seems real. HouseGuy_42 is an avatar in an online virtual world during its most exciting time: before it becomes a mainstream punch line on Letterman, before pre-teens catch wind of the fad. HouseGuy_42 (and the man behind the keyboard) had been dating Janice_Bodiceripper for three months, going to virtual parties, treating freeloader friends to in-game snacks, and reaching the world’s limit for physical interaction (someplace between first and second virtual bases). Then the game changes. HouseGuy_42 learns the ultimate lesson of the digital age: no matter the societal impact of technology, people remain the same.

The contemporary acceptability of instinct is also the focus on Tom Bonfiglio’s “Separation.” Jon and his wife Jill have been together and in love since they were pre-teens. They live in a nice neighborhood that is thrown into slight disarray when folks learn that Fred Bryce, the area’s newest homeowner, spent four years in jail for lewd and lascivious behavior with a thirteen-year-old. Fred and his wife unexpectedly become friends when Jon and Jill refuse to sign a petition to force the man to leave. The story illustrates that fear and legislative absolutes are the enemy of community. Bonfiglio treats sensitive issues with respectful honesty and paints polarizing characters with the complex humanity they seldom receive.

Ryan Glenn Smith’s “Ventura” is a gritty and fun page-turner. Barry’s Pontiac Ventura doesn’t have a functioning radio or a slick paint job, but Barry installed a newer, much larger engine to make it fast. The car’s top speed is the reason Reggie, a friend with a checkered past, asks Barry for a ride to the bank so he can deposit a check. Imagine Barry’s surprise when Reggie emerges from the bank clutching a garbage bag full of money and tells him to punch it. While on the lam, Barry weighs friendship against jail time while Reggie enjoys himself. Unfortunately, making a lucky getaway after a bank heist doesn’t mean a person is smart enough to keep the money.

Managing Editor Jared Yates Sexton contributes the journal’s only nonfiction piece, an interview with Chuck Klosterman. Sexton asks his subject provocative questions that lead Klosterman to reveal a great deal about his process and to explain the trajectory of his career. In spite of the success Klosterman has had, he still fears that it’s all “just going to end one day.” Although self-confidence is a traditional marker of male adulthood, Klosterman—like many of the characters in BULL’s stories—confronts the world in a complicated manner that is appealing to readers of any gender.

Reflecting on this idea of "men's fiction," I consider BULL’s protagonists to be spiritual brothers of the men who populate the fiction of writers such as Raymond Carver and Lee K. Abbott. The men in these excellent stories are more nuanced than society sometimes believes. These men are motivated equally by primal desires and contemporary cultural expectations. These men like things the way they were, but are doing their best to adapt.
[www.bullmensfiction.com]

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Burnside Review coverBurnside Review

Volume 8 Number 1

Spring 2012

9-month

Review by Alexandra Hillen

Burnside Review is a beautiful and compact little book. Subdued and nostalgic tones greet the reader via full-sized photographs on both covers that complement each other and set the feel for the contents: introspective and aesthetically conscious poetry that begs the active attention of the reader. Burnside begins sans editor’s note or introduction, opting instead (and starting with the cover) to let the selections speak for themselves. As each page is turned, the magazine reveals a strengthening theme of contemplation of the human condition, with a sprinkle of Americana and a return to the nostalgia of the cover.

Burnside includes translated poetry with several pieces by Edith Sodergrän, translated from Swedish by Brooklyn Copeland. Translated work often has a striking camber once laid in English, as do these pieces. An excerpt from The Day Cools is one such piece. It’s a short poem, organized into three complimentary couplets with a final third line at the end that splays contrast and interest: “You sough a woman / and found her spirit— / you are disappointed.”

The poem is straight forward, a refreshing contrast to many of the more cryptic poems in the issue. The simple camber of the lines, and then the splitting of the pattern by the last sentence, really solidifies the poem as a strong piece. It is starkly human, as are all of the pieces in Burnside.

Toward the middle of the issue is a refreshing touch back to the here and now. Assistant Poetry Editor John Pursley III includes an interview with collaborative poets G.C. Waldrep and John Gallaher about their recently published book of poems, Your Father on the Train of Ghosts. The interview provides an excellent intermission from the poetry pieces with a good bit of entertaining conversation. It reads like a comfortable bit of dialogue and reveals a working relationship between the two poets that operates like a friendship. Pursley leads the interview around the process of writing the book and then focuses on topics in modern literature. The piece is an interesting read for novices and for the more experienced reader, and it was a good call on the part of the editors of Burnside to include it. The interview is followed, tastefully, by several poems by the author pair.

This issue of Burnside has a tendency to include poems that are murkily cryptic, poems that intentionally flash to the reader images rather than making sense lyrically. "Attention Disorder" by Evan Hansen does so as a convention of one incapable of focusing on a single image. The poem begins as “A mall parking lot bespeaks / a kind of collective shame,” carrying the reader through images of parents and marigolds before returning to the lot where “migratory birds” will “never again make / this home for their black, quick eyes.” The poem uses flashed images, stemming from one central place, as a kind-of visual journey for the reader that is circular and complete.

The editors of the magazine make it work by punctuating these types of poems with some that are crisp and whole. “I Dream I am the Girl Toward Whom Columbus Rushes” by Mary Szybist also utilizes brilliant imagery, but does so in a cohesive and straight-forward way. It is the chronicle of an imagined experience, of the awaiting of a girl to be discovered. The sentiments of the speaker are solidified in a few choice lines, expressed instead mostly through the “roses spilling red // and yellow petals” and other natural images ripe for the fresh eyes of a traveler.

The contrast between the two types of poems in Burnside swings the reader on a kind of pendulum, as though looking from a fuzzy polaroid with warm colors to a clear black-and-white photograph. The nuances of each are emphasized in the contrast, and it creates a wonderfully coherent magazine that begs to be read.
[www.burnsidereview.org]

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burntdistrict coverburntdistrict

Volume 1 Issue 1

Winter 2012

Biannual

Review by John Palen

Sometimes, very good things can happen on a shoestring when capable people decide to jump in and fill a niche. That seems to be the case with burntdistrict, a new poetry journal from Omaha, Nebraska.

The print edition I received had a minimalist masthead, nothing more than the names of the two editors, Liz Kay and Jen Lambert. The back cover says the magazine is named for a six-block area of downtown Omaha that was once teeming with brothels, “corruption, abuse and disease,” but that is now a community on the upswing with condos, locally owned businesses, green space and sports venues. “Within the dark corners of the original Burnt District,” the statement says, “the city saw the potential for light.”

Inside the inaugural issue, I found one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had in a long time—page after page of fresh, taut, biting poetry in a variety of styles. Two examples:

“One must stay beautiful and lean / against that Devil’s Door / or Wheel of Death, so still / one barely breathes,” Joanna Person writes in “The Knife-Thrower’s Wife,” a perfectly realized exploration of the intersection of beauty, sex, and danger. Each line sticks and quivers like an expertly thrown blade. “He’s bowing to applause. I wave / slowly to the trembling child / struck by what might have been.”

In “Song of Subconsciation,” Amy Hassinger gets skillfully into the Whitman groove while gently undercutting it with excess:

Oh, to subconsciate.
Oh, to always dip like a dipper.
This is the energy behind the moon.
The blueness, the greenness, the entities of color.
I inhabit an eternal conflagration.

But it’s a hard, un-Walt-like thump that ends the poem:

But oh, the simulacra of smiles
the face, an apology for itself
the barren raspberries
the dead toads in the tank
Damn it, the dead toads.

I could go on. Poets whose work I particularly liked include Vikas Menon, Paul Hostovsky, Nate Pritts, William Trowbridge, Becca Barniskis, Alex Lemon, Sheila Black, Kelly Fordon, Benjamin Sutton, Gary Dop, Marge Saiser, John Stanizi, Allison Campbell, and Erika L. Sánchez.

The magazine’s only serious flaw is that it doesn’t tell you enough about itself in the print edition—no information about how to subscribe or submit. You can get this information, however, online.

There you can also learn that the two editors are both MFA graduates of the University of Nebraska, and both have published in a variety of journals. Jen Lambert is an English instructor at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha. Liz Kay was the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize and the Wendy Fort Foundation Prize.

I like this magazine a lot, its contents, look and feel, and the care with which it’s edited. Give it a hand up if you can.
[burntdistrict.org]

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Cimarron Review coverCimarron Review

Issue 178

Winter 2012

Quarterly

Review by Hazel Foster

Cimarron Review, with its clean, slim design, wants to be read. The cover art speaks of rural America, and the pages blister with the richest poetry. The fiction and nonfiction, while skillful, act like a gap-stuffer, filling out the space between poems.

“Invocation,” a poem by Melissa Stein, leads the issue using natural rhythms to list incidents of sexual harassment and abuse:

and the one who, on his mother’s porch in suburban
Utah, one orange-mooned night, put his hand up
against my throat and squeezed, and squeezed,
pushing me back till my skull hit
the sharp edge of the chair’s wood arm—

Stein steers the poem toward the unexpected in the next few lines, suggesting the conflicting emotions that can emerge when faced with any of the situations. This turn helps anchor the honesty of the poem and draws the eye to every poem going forward in the issue.

“Itch” by Angela Voras-Hills, another spectacular poem, steps away from the literal. In these lines, bugs swarm and devour apocalyptically:

The man lying on shore watched the boys
splash, disappear, while filling his mouths with flies,
then spiders, sparrows, like the old woman
who’d swallow anything living
to get rid of the tickle inside her.

Each image extends the scene deeper into the bizarre. The word choice, the preciseness, expresses the tension of the events:

The train carries a woman in a winter coat,
carrying dirty bags full of dirty bags and empty bottles.
This is silently about the flies pouring from a slit
along the seam of her coat as she stands,

“Itch” and “Invocation” are indicative of the poetry is this issue—crafted and honed and speaking to the level of work accepted and displayed in this magazine.

For a taste of the prose, try “Family Stories” by Coby Hoffman. Usually, I find pieces with stoned characters juvenile. The I’m-so-stoned plot line is an overplayed archetype in freshman creative writing classes and is generally unsuccessful. In this case, the protagonist’s state of mind—his distance from the events at hand as a result of his intoxication—mirrors the state of his relationship with Sofia. He wants to be close to her, but the rift is too great.

Sofia’s telling me about her Uncle Frederick and something about his kidneys and there’s this Salvadoran woman stealing identities and Social Security checks, but I was too high and in love to put it all together. Even in sweatshirts and jeans, Sofia was an elegant girl, a Cleopatra with sleek black hair and dark eyes that glistened like swimming holes. She was also clumsy, fidgety, a nail biter, and she could have used a set of braces. She had her backpack slung over one shoulder and she looked like she hadn’t slept.
“I need you to come with me,”’ she said.
“Of course,” I said. “Whatever you need.”
This was the girl I was supposed to marry.

But the story isn’t about how it all works out in the end. This is a story of the dissolution of infatuation. And though it might be disappointing to the type of reader who enjoyed the epilogue in the final Harry Potter book, it’s real.

Cimarron Review showcases some of the best poetry I have read in the past year. Read this as a reversal of the typical literary magazine—the prose fills out the issue, balances the reading experience, but the momentum belongs to the poetry. This magazine is simply stellar.
[cimarronreview.com]

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Court Green coverCourt Green

Volume 9

2012

Annual

Review by Aimee Nicole

I earmarked dozens of pages while reading through the magazine as it is absolutely brimming with bright pieces that speak for themselves. Many poems are just a few lines but force the reader to stop and ponder the full impact and resonating meaning. After I read Charles Jensen’s one sentence poem, I got up and started telling everyone in my house about the amazing poem I just read: “Planned Community.” I mean, wow! There is setting, characters, description, action, movement, sound, and the list goes on. So much is accomplished in just a short sentence. Court Green putting out a dossier for short poetry was not a tall order; there are many more fantastic poems just like it.

Evan Lavender-Smith writes a paragraph-length prose poem titled “Huge Trouble.” It begins:

Mom said God is not real. I told Dad what Mom said. Dad said even though God is not real for Mom God could still be real for me. I told Mom God is still real for me. Mom said only crazy people still think God is real. I told Dad Mom called me crazy. Dad said you are not crazy. I told Mom Dad said I am not crazy. Mom said Dad is crazy. I told Dad what Mom said. Dad said Mom is talking crazy.

And on it goes. I laughed all the way through. The proper nouns of Mom, Dad, and God is a bold move for characterization and turns titles into people. The banter back and forth really illustrates the confusion and movement of the child from one parent to the other, with God sort of being the overseeing entity that does not hold a physical place in the argument. Finally, the bickering reaches its climax when “Mom said talk to God and then we will see who is really fucking crazy. I told Dad what Mom said. Dad said Mom is in huge trouble.” The repetition in the poem helps keep the reader organized, and wit and bite shine through the clarity.

While Aaron Smith includes several insightful poems, his first, “What it Feels like to be Aaron Smith,” sucked me into his mind and refused to let go until my mind had been thoroughly washed in his essence. It’s almost as if I became him, became his thought process as the words fall across the page in his second person narrative:

Though you would never admit it, you’re still shocked by pubic hair in Diesel ads on Broadway and Houston, and you wonder what conversations lead up to a guy posing with his pants unzipped to the forest. Maybe the stylist does it, but somebody had to think, let’s show pubic hair, and was that person nervous about saying, hey: I have a great idea: pubic hair. You think about David Leddick’s book Naked Men Too, and the model with the cigarette whose mother photographed him with his jeans falling off and his pubic hair showing and how that’s weird and you can’t even begin to process how someone would let his own mother photograph him nearly naked and why a mother would want to.

In this poem, Smith continues to dare things normally questioned inside and really bares it all for us to see. While that takes great courage, it produces great writing. The ending is a sort of afterthought: “but you probably shouldn’t—no, you shouldn’t write that.” Yet he does, and the reader becomes enveloped by his presence.

There are just so many nuggets of essential and thought-provoking truths. Suzanne Buffam writes two perfectly crafted sentences that act as an explanation, a description for the title “On Aging Gracefully.” Then, Elaine Equi also masters the short poem with “Caught in a Downpour,” consisting of only one short line. These writers prove that you do not need a novel or an epic to evoke emotion and deep thought from your reader. When one takes the time to mull it all over, some of these poems have depth like the sea.

After I finished reading, I felt that Robert Creeley’s sentiment in “One Day” adequately put how I felt about the poems in this issue: “perfect. / They all fit.”
[www.colum.edu/courtgreen/]

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Crazyhorse coverCrazyhorse

Number 80

Fall 2011

Biannual

Review by Hazel Foster

Crazyhorse, its pages wide, heavy, and flexible, curls over the hand. The paired-down design seems to say, “let the work speak for itself.” And the work does just that. A well-handled mix of genres, styles, and subjects makes this issue of Crazyhorse exciting to read and disappointing to finish.

“There Were No Mirrors in That Farmhouse” by Molly Bashaw is the winner of the Lynda Hull Memorial Poetry Prize and sets the magical tone of the issue. The poem’s images pair the speakers with nature unexpectedly:

Peacocks screamed us into ourselves.
In the wood, in the wool, we welled up, about to appear.
We could not decide if our faces were most ours
in the yellow hawthorn, the cornhusk, or milk.

The details build as the speakers take on new roles in relationships to the nature around them: “we tied ourselves to the dun mare, we held on / to wooden handles, we covered ourselves / with wool and buttons.” Each line pulls the reader into this uncomfortable grating of common and absurd. If you read only one piece in this issue, make it this one.

Magical realism grabs the issue with Tessa Mellas’s story “Beanstalk.” Lucy is middle-aged, and her baby is green, born that way:

face splotched with yellow like variegated leaves, hairy wispy white, corncob silk. All across his body, tiny buds are sleeping. On his arms, a dusting of moss. Veins spider from his to his temples and ears. Only his feet are the color of flesh, but not in that pink baby-soft way, more sallow like roots. A philodendron baby. A baby verdant and lush with chlorophyll stirring inside his skin.

As the story progresses, the baby, Jack, grows under the water-and-light nourishment his mother provides. He sprouts vines, and his buds bloom into flowers, and the story becomes at once beautiful and dangerous as the vines grow into the floor and over Lucy. Fans of Karen Russell and Kelly Link will especially appreciate the hints of fairy tale and folklore.

The editors also chose pieces that ground the issue. “Revising the Storm, 1991” by Geffrey Davis, a poem in three parts, acts as both memory and apology.

days earlier, the baler—perhaps in a rush, perhaps distracted
by anticipations for the evening flesh—left the bales of hay too close
for the flatbed to pass between. And so the men told us to roll hay
to be muscled away from the storm, from the coming rain that
threatened every mouth on the farm—my arms eight years old, yours seven,
neither strong enough to stay ahead of the truck . . .

While the first section is the flesh of the poem, the second and third sections explore the idea of revising memories. The speaker looks back on this storm and wishes he could change it, and the poem takes on the tone of an apology, a tone of regret. Many poets attempt to infuse their poetry with this emotion, but few manage to do so as sincerely and simply as Davis does.

In short, pick up Crazyhorse if you’re looking to be surprised, humbled, enticed, or inspired.
[www.crazyhorsejournal.org]

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CutBank coverCutBank

Issue 76

2012

Biannual

Review by Kenneth Nichols

Published by the University of Montana, CutBank turns a neat trick: the journal reads like a great radio station sounds. Each short story, poem and piece of nonfiction flows into the next in an interesting, thematic way. A short story about a man who tickets rainwater collectors precedes a pair of poems about the calmer ways in which rain complements our lives. A short story featuring an uncle who stands in, slightly, for the boy’s father is followed by a nonfiction piece in which the author seeks to understand his uncle’s suicide. In this way, Editor-in-Chief Josh Fomon has created a sense of momentum, propelling the reader through the slim volume.

A look around America’s contemporary celebrity culture reveals that fame and fortune are often assigned by fate instead of talent. Josh Denslow’s short story goes one step further in considering the societal ethos, reminding the reader that “Not Everyone is Special.” The story takes place in a world in which 95% of the population has a “Power.” The usefulness of the Powers range wildly, from the ability to become invisible to the ability to turn pepperoni into sausage. The first-person narrator, on the other hand, has failed miserably in his attempt to discover his Power and fears he’s one of the Powerless minority. Ultimately, Denslow’s story affirms that true Power and true achievement come from hard work and dedication.

While I am fascinated by particle physics and string theory, I can only understand the concepts on the most superficial of levels. (I am quite sure many literary-minded folks agree with me on both counts.) Ryan Spooner’s nonfiction piece “Ineffable” uses theoretical physics to put life—both ours and his—into perspective. Spooner relates each of the ten dimensions to the human experience, a neat trick considering how few we can perceive with our senses. Learning about the hidden complexity of the Universe made Spooner feel “fascination like Rudolf Otto spoke of as mysterium tremendum et fascinans: attraction to, but at the same time repulsion from, the ineffable otherness of the unknown and the unknowable.” We understand that people, like lines, are two points connected invisibly. Spooner entertainingly illustrates how we and the people we love are “a line between two everythings.” Spooner’s most important accomplishment is the reminder that, although scientific progress has far surpassed the understanding of the laity, we are still bound by the innate tendencies of forces seen and unseen.

Sean Bernard’s “Water” is a short story that is as calm as it is engrossing. The first-person narrator is a young man who can’t keep a job but always manages to get another. Cast by fate to Tucson, he gets a job citing homeowners who violate the municipality’s water conservation policy. His boss soon turns him onto another opportunity: destroying the vessels in which residents have collected rainwater. Walking suburban alleys, he sees worlds he’s never known existed: “enormous and intricate systems of tubes and trash bags and woven banana leaves that cascaded into ceramic cisterns.” He observes that the residents preserved water “like the very ancients.” Just as the narrator gets comfortable in his situation, he wants to leave. Bernard is trucking in powerful conflicts: the nomadic life versus civilization, comfort versus excitement, and stability versus freedom.

CutBank’s poetry editors seem to like verse that is cast in a wide range of forms. Some of the poems live in the traditional left-aligned form, while others meander about the page or mirror themselves on the opposite page. This eclectic taste reflects the overall character of CutBank: the pieces respect traditional forms but violate them when necessary.
[www.cutbankonline.org]

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Elder Mountain logoElder Mountain

A Journal of Ozarks Studies

Volume 3

2011

Annual

Review by Kevin Larsen

I opened the third volume of Elder Mountain: A Journal of Ozarks Studies with some trepidation. I have limited knowledge of the Ozarks and literally no exposure to Missouri’s highlands, so I worried about reading and reviewing a journal dedicated to publishing poetry, fiction, and nonfiction about an area which was completely foreign to me. But, I need not have worried so: this volume is rich with details that help reconstruct the Ozarks in terms of place, people, and culture.

The emphasis here really is on the people of the Ozarks, and I’ve found that, even with such a definitive landscape, they are people I can identify with. Through sixteen poems, three stories, and two essays, their stories provide insight that is at first localized but then expands into something universal.

This volume of Elder Mountain begins with a civil war era story, “Tell Me a Story That I Might Love You” by Steve Yates. The story begins with Leighton and Patricia “as they rolled toward a marriage that seemed a capital idea in a ledger book, but took as yet little account of anyone’s heart.” As they ride together, the disagreeable couple recount stories from their past, of friends and family, more anecdotal than personal experience, and, through their storytelling, a subtle spell of love, or the beginnings of love, is cast. Similarly, the two other fiction pieces, “Rest” by James Fowler and “Pancake Mornings” by Iris Shepard, reveal how stories can create bonds between disparate people.

The essay “Why I Am Trying to Learn to Fly Fish” by Jack Emerson, probably my favorite piece in this volume, turns a story about fishing into a thoughtful piece about parenting and family. Emerson is sentimental—in a good way—heartwarming, and quite funny at times: as his father says to him, “You know how to put a worm on the hook, don’t you? . . . You put ‘em on so they don’t come off.”

This volume also includes three scholarly essays. Lynn Morrow traces the history of the term “Ozark” in “The Vernacular Ozark(s): Our Placename Revisited”; Bonnie Stepenoff unearths the anti-war sentiments of an Ozark poet in “The Anti-War Poetry of Mary Elizabeth Mahnkey”; and Brian C. Campbell brings an agricultural aspect in “Seed Swap in the Ozarks: A New Old Approach to Agricultural Biodiversity Conservation.”

I have to say that the three scholarly essays at first seem a bit odd next to the poetry and the short fiction. The essays are interesting in and of themselves, well written and highly informative, but it is somewhat jarring to go from reading poetry to reading an academic essay and then back to poetry again. For this reason, I think this volume is best read in pieces, rather than from start to finish. Thumb through and read what catches your eye, then come back and do the same later; it shouldn’t disappoint.
[www.blogs.missouristate.edu/eldermountain]

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Exit 7 coverExit 7

A Journal of Literature and Art

Inaugural Issue

Annual

Spring 2012

Review by Lesley Dame

Exit 7 is as beautiful, bizarre, and bewitching as its cover suggests—a man standing amongst seaweed near the shoreline, with flippers for feet and a fish’s head who appears to have emerged from the sea, a whole new creature. Exit 7 is a whole new creature, glistening and brilliant.

I know you’re all waiting for me to say that Exit 7 “blew me out of the water.” Clichés aside, I was thrilled with this magazine from beginning to end. I wasn’t expecting much from a first issue. There are so many first issues out there, and many magazines just don’t succeed. Exit 7 is a rarity. Its poems, stories, essay, and artwork are excellent.

The front and back covers, and the collection presented mid-magazine, consist of Maggie Taylor’s superb antique photographs overlain with strange, interesting objects. Her “Girl with a Bee Dress” is sad and defiant (the girl’s expression is open-eyed and almost quivering-mouthed), hopeful (she’s holding a bright pink flower), scary (she’s wearing a dress of bees!), and slightly embarrassing (they begin to fly away, threatening to expose her naked body). All of Taylor’s pieces hold a whimsical, yet threatening, quality. They go against nature, and that’s unnerving but somehow spiritual.

Next, Exit 7 is predominantly poetry. My copy is riddled with pastel flags sticking out at all angles. Technically, we’re talking about free verse poems, great images, fabulously quotable lines. Thematically, anything goes, but I find it interesting that many of the poems are directed at the readers with an instruction-like quality. For instance, “When you meet a man who puts you in your place / with just his eyes, stick around for what he has to say” (Micah Ling), or “Open the window to hear the ocean” (Christopher Louvet), or “Grow a sweet potato and tell me there’s no god” (Nathaniel Perry), or “Curl inward, become a log” (Erin Keane). Not all of the poems have this instructive tone, but they do force the reader to participate, not just observe. I have so many favorites, but I really enjoyed the three prose poems by Melanie Braverman from The World With Us In It that ended the magazine The second prose poem is about ghosts and begins:

The ghost in the closet is scarier than the one in the bedroom, a sensitive friend says one night over Irish beer. Why shouldn’t it be, cold where the winter wind pours in, bits of insulation leaking from the pipes? It’s dark in there and now it’s full of shoes, the last place I wanted to clean before we moved in, pulling a skeletal mouse from the shelf and cryptic metal street signs and hangers reduced by rust.

I like this poem because it is all at once weird, sad, funny, scary, and personal. The moments are ordinary, joking with friends, moving. Yet, the interior landscape is desolate, bleak. Later, Braverman says “What will we do with our ghosts?” like someone would say “What will we do with this mess?” after a child’s birthday party. Our figurative ghosts are real and alive, and take up space in our lives.

There are two fiction pieces in the inaugural issue of Exit 7. “Shocks and Struts,” by Jim Ray Daniels, is about two brothers who get mistaken for each other. Bobby, a recovering alcoholic, has pulled his life together, but Steve is still drunk and fumbling through life. Bobby is frustrated and annoyed with Steve, but he also sees himself in his brother—which makes it hard to let go of their relationship.

“The Postmaster’s Dog,” by Jeff Wallace, is about a lower class girl, Jenny, who finds a dead dog in the woods and confronts the owners about it. The postmaster’s wife denies the dog is theirs as they have already replaced the dog with a newer, livelier model. Although the postmaster’s family seems to have the best of everything, Jenny realizes that money isn’t everything. Both stories are equally good and suspenseful, both dark and hopeful.

There is one essay in this issue, and it is top-notch. Greg Schwipps’s “An Essay in Five Parts” is formally titled “Some Comments I Had Prepared in Case You Asked About the Line in the Acknowledgements Page of My Novel Where I Mention That My Folks 'Were the Kinds of Parents Who Thought Crows Made Good Pets, and I Owe Them a Great Deal For That,' But Then You Never Asked”

Um, yeah. How could this essay not totally rock after that introduction? Okay, here’s a quote to win you over: “You stroll around the farm and even mow the yard on a riding mower with a giant crow perched on your shoulder. You are some kind of half-assed Hoosier pirate.” This essay is laugh-out-loud funny. It depicts the life of Joe, the family crow, from the time the Schwipps rescued him from his nest until his disappearance, when “You look around his hanging flower basket nest and find only one clue: a perfectly clipped flower, left on the concrete below, like a message or a symbol.” Joe’s loss is sad. You’ve spent the entire essay cheering for Joe, desperately desiring your own crow, mentally beating the other kids who think your family is odd, and then you lose the crow. You lose your childhood, your innocence. “You spend the next few years of your life growing animated at the sound of the crow’s caw, listening for one that sounds almost human.” We’re all waiting for the return of something great, are we not?

In conclusion, Exit 7 is surprisingly awesome. Its inaugural issue blew me out of the water (there it is, folks). Amazing poems, stories, essays, and artwork. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next year!
[westkentucky.kctcs.edu/en/student_life/exit7.aspx]

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http://frontrangemt.org/resources/_wsb_keyvisual.jpgFront Range

A Review of Literature and Art

Volume 6 Issue 1

2011

Annual

Review by Simone Suddreth

Front Range “features work from writers and artists, not only from the Rocky Mountain West but from all around the world.” These writers, many of them award winners, seem to share a focus and connection with nature and their relationship with it. While poetry dominates the journal, the few short fiction and nonfiction stories add diversity and depth to the journal. Front Range looks for artists who have works of “high quality,” which allows the journal to explore many aspects of the human condition. Also, the artwork placed throughout the journal offers another perspective on the human experience that Front Range looks to capture. Almost all the images published are landscape photos, but perhaps the most unique and interesting photo in this issue is one taken by Ira Joel Haber called “Reflections.” This photograph shows the reflection of a mannequin in a shop window, which calls into question self-reflection in a bustling modern world.

Each work included in Front Range explores a different human experience; however, a few works stand out among the others. In his poem, “Orgasm Prison,” John McKernan uses fresh words to create playful and beautiful images. “You collect light through stained glass / a string of black pearls on silver thread [. . .] Your dreams have sounds in them / Owl Whimper Flick of horse hide.” McKernan, now retired, has been published in elite magazines such as The Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker.

Some authors, such as Penelope Scambly Schott, have multiple works published in Front Range. In this edition, she has three powerful poems: “Gold Rush,” “The Layered Rock,” and “Where a Spring Rises to Become Buck Creek.” Her poems explore the voice of a strong and self-reflective woman living among the chaos and spirituality of nature. “The Layered Rock” struck me as her most venerable and touching poem:

Today I hear a birdsong
below my feet.
Am I walking upside down
on the lid of the sky . . .
Before her marriage
my daughter kept phoning
For the first time in years
she called me Mommy.

She also follows the stanza about her daughter with one about her mother, creating a lovely balance between the important women in the narrator’s life who have raised her and those whom she has raised:

When my mother was a kid
she used to chew warm tar.
She spit it into a lilac bush
next to the porch steps.
That’s the most personal thing
my mother ever told me.

These two portraits of her daughter and mother are simple, but incredibly telling.

Scott T. Starbuck’s “The Ledge” offers us a story about divorce and identity from a man’s perspective. The piece, only three short pages, paints a soft and intimate look at a man struggling to let go of his past and accept change that leads to growth. After hiking for hours and feeling defeated, the narrator compares his present journey to his divorce. “Finding a solid foothold, I watched the arc of a red-tailed hawk overhead. Did those wings evolve quickly? Was it work? Was it a choice or merely inevitability finding its form?” Stories such as this create variety in a journal that is predominately focused on poetry. They offer respite and dynamism.

Front Range is a thoughtful journal filled with both new writers and seasoned writers who have been published all over the country. Regardless of their publications, all are talented and have truly demonstrated their high quality in this journal.
[www.frontrangemt.org]

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Gigantic Sequins coverGigantic Sequins

Volume 3 Issue 1

2011

Biannual

Review by Kirsten McIlvenna

With a title like Gigantic Sequins, you may suspect to open a journal full of brilliant and flashy work, but, inside, what you’ll actually find is a whole collection of poetry, fiction, and art that is brilliant without being flashy. Dispersed in between the writings is art from Gillian Lambert and Sarah Schneider that at first seem odd or grotesque, but, with a closer look, you see that there is beauty in the strangeness, and you feel compelled to stare, to think, and to mull over the meaning of the images—proof that the art is doing its job.

The poem that I can’t help but go back to again and again to read is Kimberly Grey’s “saudade.” An intro to the poem indicates that “saudade” is an “untranslatable [Portuguese] word referring to the feeling of longing for something or someone that you love and which is lost”—a word whose definition in itself is poetic. Even though this word is “untranslatable” to English, I think that it is a feeling most, if not all, of us have felt:

    We loved each other like brutes.
What I wouldn’t give for one last you, my broked
half, to be again
what fractures you, what wholes you back.

Another poem that I spent a lot of time on is Candice Wuehle’s “Invitation to a 40th Birthday.” Each line of the poem is numbered (1-40), and the words are spaced throughout the lines causing breaks in reading. I like how the form makes you slow down, to take in each word, and to really ponder on the significance of each phrase.

Kelli Trapnell’s “Ceramic” is a piece of fiction that transports the reader into a dream world, a place where bizarre things can happen. Written in second person, “you” are the main character. However, the most interesting character is a nameless boy with a very large head:

The balloon-head sits up, and unzips his gaping, jagged mouth to speak. Cold darts ripple through you, and you don’t hear the words he says. You are too busy keeping your bones from melting. Your heart is a rock, your stomach a monsoon. You look away and remember to breathe.

The reaction “you” gets from it is compelling and eerie—made even stranger as later in the story he is covered in ceramic and singing “It’s a Small World After All.”

In “Woman with Parasol” by Meg Cameron, the subject matter is more everyday but no less powerful. In it, a husband sits and circles names in the obituaries section of the newspaper while his wife gets ready for work. The main speaker ponders about the lack of communication in their marriage, and, for an instant, his wife is “illuminated” just as the woman in Claude Monet’s “Woman with a Parasol”:

She stands and walks to the sink. I watch. She stops there, her back to me, looking down at the mug in her limp left hand; her wedding ring sparkles from the ray of mid-afternoon sunlight streaming in through the bay window. The green and blue stained glass reflects on her pinned hair. She is illuminated.

Although the story is short, it relies on the images and symbols to bring about a message that is as truthful as it is sad.

In “The Chicken Man Walks the Quarter,” by Amanda Auchter, we are given yet another angle for which to view this magazine. The poem masters rhythm and cadence as we follow Fred Staten (“also known as The Chicken Man . . . a New Orleans nightclub performer and considered by locals as the unofficial King of Voodoo”) walk the French Quarter in New Orleans:

my gris-gris, chicken claw,
snaketooth. I walk the streets:
Burgundy, Dauphine, Bourbon,
offer bags of ju ju to the junkies
with their needle-drawn prayers,
each turn a beautiful, bad road.

I love the words that Auchter uses in this poem to create the atmosphere of sound such as “the city’s blue music of bottles” and “listen to its desperate magic—gunshot, backfire / a bottle tapped with a stick, keeping time.”

And, of course, there is more in this magazine that makes it shine without hitting the reader over the head with its glamour. I enjoyed reading this publication from start to finish and found that, once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down until I read it all.
[giganticsequins.com]

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Green Moutains Review coverGreen Mountains Review

Volume 24 Number 2

2011

Biannual

Review by Mary Florio

If F. Scott Fitzgerald stopped writing in 1940, and the movement subsequently classed as “confessional poetry” emerged in the late 1950s, what kind of legacy might the modern writer extract from this kind of heritage? Take Fitzgerald’s themes forced through the turbulence of Plath (who plays a role here, later) and, let’s say, Ginsberg (who also plays a role here, later). The year is 1931, and seeking real life solace, Fitzgerald published “Babylon Revisited,” a story of a father seeking to obtain custody of his daughter and rinse away his reputation from Jazz Age mania and hedonism.

Andrew Brininstool’s short fiction “Stick Figures” brings back this crucible and does so with the kind of creative, adept language that one might find in the elastic vocabulary of Plath, the insights of Ginsberg. The upstanding step-father Paul has an “ellipsoidal skull”; the ex-wife is precisely “apnetic.” The writer uses this characterization to populate an exchange at the ex-wife’s Christmas party where a neighbor and the narrator are discussing the narrator’s daughter’s kindergarten artwork: “Well, Sonny, I hope you have these [the stick figure drawings] insured. Looks like you’ve got a future Matisse on your hands.” The narrator responds that he hoped his daughter would go into market finance: “artists’ lives are often sad. I told him any loving, responsible parent would want for their child a life of emotional detachment and a Roth IRA.”

You really have to read the whole page, but the laughter and delight at the wry humor make it worth picking up the magazine.

The story is balanced, which departs from the Fitzgerald with his staccato maneuverings between sadness and anxiety. When asked what makes him happy, Brininstool’s narrator thinks of his ex-wife just when she told him she was pregnant with his child so many years ago. (We are to know that she was lovely with a glittering line of Vaseline on her arm for a tattoo.) When he thinks of his origins and assignment of happiness, he further realizes that it is not that moment in the tattoo parlor per se, but rather, “I know that in that moment I felt only sheer terror and confusion, and what makes me happy is the memory of that moment and not the moment itself” (emphasis added).

These are just shards of what is a powerfully executed, moving incantation in a powerful collection. While the work (even the nonfiction) is strongly rooted in tradition, the writers are not governed by precedent and instead own and recast those who came before us. Our forefathers coerce us even in the titles, doing the hard work of setting the scene for departures with panache.

Bob Hicok’s poem “A love (of not Adam but Eve) poem” evokes the Creation Myth. Evoking, perhaps, Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California,” Sue Burton’s poem places us at: “The Abortionist Goes to the Grocery Store.” We cross an ocean to experience Olena Kalytiak Davis’s poem “Kafka and Milena About to Meet in Vienna (2009).”

Not all of our storylines do the same amount of psychological work; in Cameron Gearan’s poem “About the Nanny Who Was Raped the Summer I Moved Here,” we are driven to a vivid, emotional masterpiece. Daring to invoke the canon, Kate Gleason’s poem “Watching the Morning Mist Near Mount Sunapee (While Flipping through Plath’s Ariel and Homer’s Odyssey)” melds tradition and perspective into a rhythmic song. And where would we end the locker room roster but with Bob Hicok again, this time invoking Francis Bacon.

For the sake of full disclosure, the Muse, Jesus, X and the enigmatic Girl from Taneryville all have their feature cameos in Anna Maria Hong’s poem “Muse & Me,” Dzvinia Orlowsky’s poem “Jesus Loves Fat People,” Anis Shivani’s poem “Sonnets to X,” and Sandee Gertz Umbach’s poem “Girl from Tanneryville, Johnstown Flood 1977.”

So far, we’ve tread the easy ground of citing the elemental. But it is through the trope of the elemental itself, specifically, the conceptualizing of an atom, that I think Green Mountains has its greatest victory. In Dana Rozier’s essay “The Wave Function,” a relatively short integration of science reportage and a weighed and measured love story, the reader is asked to reject all typical ways of interacting with a narrative—the messages are broken down and framed in precise theoretical vignettes that she calls “A Superposition of States.” I am not a physicist, and I read through the piece a few times to kind of sound out its weaknesses if possible, but from the vantage point of your common reader, I liked it. I thought she was testing the waters, helping break new ground in a volume that makes a tradition of taking existing matter—atoms, bees, The Odyssey—and making it new again.
[greenmountainsreview.com]

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The Healing Muse coverThe Healing Muse

A Journal of Literary & Visual Arts

Volume 11 Number 1

Fall 2011

Annual

Review by Ryan Price

No other compilation of creative writing has ever touched my heart in quite the same way as this issue of The Healing Muse. I read page after page of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry all living up to the to the editor’s introductory note: “This issue [bears] witness to love and faith, to people dedicated to shepherding loved ones through procedures and side effects, through altered bodies and weary minds.” The journal, and certainly this particular issue, beautifully portrays the “ravages of cancer” as promised by the editor. The Healing Muse tells tales of life and death, hurting and healing.

Throughout the journal, readers will find fifty-one poems, eleven works of creative non-fiction, seven works of fiction, and twenty-eight visuals. Works from each genre manifest the human experience from a one-of-a-kind, disease-oriented point of view that readers would undoubtedly have a hard time finding elsewhere.

Elizabeth W. Carey’s non-fiction “Waiting Room” is perhaps my favorite piece of the bunch. Sensory details and vivid descriptions tell the story of waiting for her father’s death. In one of the best displays of writing The Healing Muse has to offer, Carey writes, “Thank god for the straight-shooting hospice nurse. . . . She put it to us, my mom and me, to be the ones to care for him; to help him go; to let him be; to push his ice flow into a cold, dark sea.” Carey’s piece, quite appropriately I might add, received The Healing Muse’s Dearing Writing Award (DWA) for Prose.

The poetry is exquisite. Receiving the DWA in the poetry division, Joan Cofrancesco writes, “Each time a surgeon cuts through my skin / I hope he is like Van Gogh with a Brush.” Unique relationships among the medical field, the humanities, and everyday happenings litter the pages with inspiration and a new respect for life—and death. Adding to this issue’s theme, the poet, Diane Halsted writes in “Off-Track Bet”:

no surgery but chemotherapy
with its misery of nausea
and loss of lovely silver hair.
We already know what quality
of living comes vomitous and bald.

Perhaps I’m a biased reader due to my own tragic encounters with cancer. However, my loss is not necessarily unique. A quick look on the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) website shows that in 2008 nearly twelve million living Americans had been diagnosed with cancer. Equally terrifying is NCI’s projection that says over forty percent of men and women worldwide will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. Many readers know these findings all too well. The Healing Muse heroically publishes works that not only face cancer and other diseases head-on, but also, as the editor says, encourages “a dialogue among all those engaged in healing: clinicians, patients, caregivers, and friends.”
[www.thehealingmuse.org]

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Hunger Mountain coverHunger Mountain

Number 16

2011

Annual and Online

Review by Erik Thalman

Hunger Mountain is a beautiful, elegant journal. It offers a wide assortment of reading experiences. The usual fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction are here, but there is also a young adult and children’s literature section, which includes a long poem by Heather Smith Meloche entitled “Him.” It’s a clever, visually enticing poem; its form varies in the length and structure of lines, and, paired with the poet’s apt use of white space, it creates a journey for the eyes. The poem recounts a simple teenage romance, but the wonderful use of imagery and rhythm breathes new life into the old story:

In the middle of it all
A toilet flushes. A door swings open. Light
    sprawls across boxes of coffee stirrers, bags
        of sugar, my bare legs and back. Coffee Haven guy sits
            up from underneath me, peers around my torso . . .

Another intriguing and pleasant find was the “Menagerie: Special Feature” section, which presents “stories, poems, and thoughts about beasts.” Adam Levin has a funny little piece about his memories of throwing his cat “The Frost” across the hall, only to see his pet run back for more. Dani Shapiro writes a short prose meditation on a friend’s suggestion that her pet Norwich terrier could be her spirit guide. “I don’t know about spirit guides,” she writes, “but I do know that he’s full of spirit: bristly, grumpy, protective, complicated, anxious, and has the intense, all-knowing gaze of an old soul.” And William Olsen’s prose poem “Our Heron” is a luscious read: “A heron is a how-to book on twilight. Open anywhere. How-to is a lonely word. Lonely is a start. Try saying so. Try making up and try inconclusion. Try twilight.” The piece concludes “The mosquitoes would have drowned in our hearts if they could have.”

The most surprising and distinctive feature of Hunger Mountain is its visual elegance. The cover is eye-catching—a little girl beside a farmhouse, lemons and yellow flowers scattered across the verdant grass at her feet, hens wandering. Linda Adele Goodine is the featured photographer, and her pictures are rich, colorful renderings of farm-scapes, beautifully vivid. The journal also offers a unique feature called “Widgets” in which Dana Wigdor pairs little, artfully simple pencil sketches of semi-structured shapes and floating forms with short poems suggesting a way to approach the sketches.

I highly recommend Hunger Mountain for its variability and literary richness, but more even for its lovely visual presentation.
[www.hungermtn.org]

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The Kenyon Review coverThe Kenyon Review

Volume 34 Number 2

Spring 2012

Quarterly

Review by Mary Florio

The Kenyon Review, from its heartland perch in Gambier, Ohio, has captured the map of American experience for some seventy years. Over time, it has grown to represent international literature and the arts, with a lively internet presence and a summer residential writing program. It has been easy to obtain (a submariner once purchased a gift subscription for me from a faraway port), which is important in a business sense; some publications have mysterious distribution practices, and now, more than ever, each literary magazine should be ubiquitous. To this end, over the past year, The Kenyon Review has been available on electronic platforms, which is a great advantage to the otherwise unforgiving minute, as Kipling might say. I hope more literary journals are available electronically so that, as a reader, you can salvage from the loss of time—waiting on a train or a bus, stalling in the supermarket line—remnants of loss, joy and redemption.

This issue of The Kenyon Review did not shy away from its pledge to represent international voices: Julia Grawemeyer translates Tahar Ben Jelloun who was approached by Jean Genet for a translation of his own in a magical narrative. Derek Palacio’s short story “Sugarcane” decodes medicine and Communism in a powerful narrative that eclipses place, any radical shifts of time, the economy of sugar and sex and even intellectual identity. Marilyn Hacker translates Jean-Paul de Dadelsen’s poems “Women of the Plain” and “The Last Night of the Pharmacist’s Wife,” which resound with such imagery as:

The wind above the glaciers that rushed here from the desert
comes barely cooled to torment the tall pine tree’s branches.
When everything is in labor, how can you sleep, how
can you die?

You can feel it in your teeth, even in translation. Sara Khalili translates Shahriar Mandanipour’s “King of the Graveyard,” which is dedicated to Iran’s forbidden graves. The story is at once an examination of a social and political reality and a skillfully etched human reality that cannot be submerged in the story’s setting. Lines such as “Who knows whose dust it is?” will seize you because, despite the disciplined prose, this is not exclusively reportage—this is art.

Nhi Huynh and Minh Nguyen’s short story “First Confession” shares the gritty realism of Palacio’s “Sugarcane” but is set in an impoverished Vietnamese community and mission school during the end of the Vietnam War. Like the Mandanipour fiction, it is impossible not to be affected by the setting, but the fresh outlook and innocence of the protagonist ground you in other ways with anchors that are personal, not necessarily journalistic—a pet dog is served for dinner, stomach worms are extracted manually, sucked right out of the protagonist’s body, and you are firmly grounded in family, in the overwhelming backdrop of hunger as the boys struggle for social rank, as the bombs fall.

The timbre is diverse. J. Allyn Rosser delivers a radical poem “Housing the Id” that transcends nationhood in a song to the psychological collective. Linda Gregerson and Rusty Morrison push the boundaries between genres and perhaps kinds of realities. Luke Mogelson provides the short fiction “Sea Bass” that opens with a strong portrait of a father loosely linked to a Sacramento lumberyard and moves forward with the relentless grace and the lyrical energies of a summer music festival.

I hope that when you pick up this issue of The Kenyon Review that you will read it backwards. Tania James’s short-story “What To Do with Henry” is a brilliant heartbreaker, or, as one from Queens would call it, a true “ball buster.” (I’m taking liberties with the slang.) If you were from the Far Rockaway reach of Queens, you might hate it before such diagnosis because it’s an affront to reality to cry over fiction, and this story will make you cry.

Much of this issue will evoke strong emotions, maybe even strange emotions. In the “First Confession,” I was moved by the oblique sacrifice, the way that authors Huynh and Nguyen communicate strong feeling with an item entirely unrelated to the emotion—the request for food, for example, being a way of exhibiting dissent. Economic disempowerment does not always produce philistines, but the emotional feelings produced by the very real “Bridges and Tunnels” nonfiction by Suzanne Farrell Smith, or especially the very surreal story about the chimpanzee (“What to Do with Henry”) strikes the part of me loosely from Queens as perhaps overly sensitive. But Smith’s carefully narrated memory of a Lionel collection and a different kind of transportation that destroyed a family, will evoke pause, consideration and reflection.

These stories are simply told, riveting, smart and total ball busters. For this reason, after Smith’s piece, I read the rest of this magazine starting from the back, in some way hoping that the burn of the writing lessened with the elapse of pages. Fortunately, it did not.
[www.kenyonreview.org]

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Kugelmass coverKugelmass

Number 2

2011

Biannual

Review by Erin F. Robinson

For a fledgling magazine only on Issue 2, Kugelmass has snagged some pretty impressive comedic authors. It offers 13 writers of essays, stories and “whatnot” and starts us off with “nonsense from the editor,” David Holub. It promises uncompromised humor, and it definitely delivers. It’s not humor in the slapstick sense, but in the emotionally distressed, heartbroken psychosis variety, which makes for some pretty hilarious thought processes woven into essays and stories.

First we must receive a lesson in funny from the “Ask Dr. Funny” column by Jonathan Silverman. He shows us there is a science to funny and that jokes can be deconstructed to find that they are actually anti-jokes (“a joke whose aim is not to be funny in its content but in its telling”), such as the old “Why did the chicken cross the road” joke. He explains, “The joke’s power is in its transitive power not in the actual telling. It’s similar to someone rubbing a pencil lead on a quarter and having you roll it down your face.” Silverman’s dry, empirical explanations for what is funny end up being ironically hilarious themselves, as he even questions his own funniness and has a moment of self-doubt. His column sets the stage for the ridiculousness to come.

There is something so comforting in being able to laugh at the misery of others. This issue is delectable in that fashion. Dan Kennedy’s “I Believe This Was the End of My Clothing Catalogue Copywriting Job” is pathetically raw. He gives us three examples of the ads he got fired over, each one progressively sappier. A poor recently-dumped guy just trying to make it through his workday, writing an ad for a cashmere skirt that goes something like this: “Tomorrow when you’re gone, I swear to God, I’m right back to being dead. Upper-waist of wool and cashmere blend. Trimmed with woven fringe. Dry clean only.”

“On having Small Hands and Feet” by Daniel Nester is an earnest defense from a man with small hands, letting us know that he is aware of the fact he has small hands, and he is working on accepting the stereotypes that come with it. Sleuthing around for answers for his small hands, he writes, “After reading a book on birth defects, I asked my mother if she smoked while she was pregnant. ‘Why would you ask me such a thing?’ she says, and takes another drag of her Marlboro Light 100.” The absurdity of this piece is what makes Nester so endearing, small hands and all.

Ellen Ferguson’s “Tina Fey Ruined My Beach Vacation” is an insanely hilarious satire about a woman on vacation who turns slightly into a stalker when she spots Tina Fey on the beach beside her. Of course, she blames Tina for her crazy antics. Her stalker journal reads:

On Wednesday she went by for more ice cream while I sat at a sidewalk café eating shrimp Caesar salad, so I had to send my daughter to the ice cream place, and have her buy another T-shirt, while I paid my bill hurriedly—I had to use cash, Tina, since I had to get to you, and my funds were dwindling, and I did not appreciate this. Whatever.

This can’t be a humor journal without some good-old one-liners, and there is one at the bottom of each page such as, “One of the saddest things I’ve ever seen is a robot in a wheelchair.” You can almost hear someone hitting a microphone and saying, “Is this thing on?” Warning: Do not read this journal while in a busy coffee shop. You may get strange looks from people as you shoot coffee through your nose with tears streaming down your face and a stomach ache from laughing so hard. I’m not saying that happened to me, but I’m not denying it, either.
[firewheel-editions.org/kugelmass]

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Magnapoets coverMagnapoets

Issue 9

January 2012

Biannual

Review by Tanya Angell Allen

This issue might be the last of Magnapoets, as Editor Aurora Antonovic is taking a year-long break to work on other projects and assessing whether to let her publication die or give it a new birth. The cover—a gorgeous red photograph of the Horsehead Nebula, taken by Don McCrady—is a perfect tribute, as nebulas are either the remains of old stars or material for new ones.

The international magazine, which first came out in 2008, has had a good run. Antonovic has used her own small press, Magnaprint, to print both the magazine and poetry anthologies on topics such as love, epiphanies, and the four seasons. The press has a penchant for Japanese forms such as haikus, senryus, and tankas. Past issues have also had interviews with major poets such as Robert Pinsky and Charles Simic. One issue was bilingual. One contained a supplementary booklet with contributor’s responses to a “Proust questionnaire.” There’s a sense that an imagined community has formed around the magazine’s writers and readers.

The latest issue, though, is uneven. The quality of the poems range from clichéd, abstract doggerel to ones with decent lines such as “And I once speared a carp with one hand. / Its mouth was awful & ancient in the sun” (Rick Marlatt) and “a young frog mistakes / her for a little mirror” (Will Cordeiro on the half-moon reflected in a river).

There are a couple of interesting duet poems, including the pleasant “Hollyhocks and Smocking” by BM George and ML Grace. In a special self-portrait feature, there’s a Louis Simic-like “Playing Chicken on the Long Island Rail Road” by William Cullen, Jr. and Patricia Prime’s haibun “Deliveries,” which uses prose and short poems to describe different delivery men. There are no great or startling poems in this issue, but there are some quietly pleasing ones.

Perhaps Antonovic’s struggle with this magazine comes from the fact that she is currently the only editor. The magazine receives 3,000 to 7,000 poems each submission period, and according to her post on “what goes into the making of a print magazine,” “No poet waits more than one month to hear if his/her work has been accepted.” She also mentions frustration at having to find a new printing press and hints about other writing and editing projects she herself would love to complete.

Antonovic sounds amazing and energetic and has done impressive things with her magazine. If she decides that it’s time to put it to rest, great—there should be no shame in ending a project as successful as this. If she decides it should continue, that’s great, too. The subtitle of Magnapoets is “taking over the world one poem at a time.” Judging from its history it might well be able to do so, especially with the help of a larger and more discriminating staff.
[magnapoets.typepad.com]

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NANO Fiction coverNANO Fiction

Volume 5 Number 1

Fall 2011

Biannual

Review by Aimee Nicole

This edition of Nano Fiction was intriguing from the bright cover art to the flash fiction that jolts you along like a wooden roller coaster. The artist behind the front and back covers, Jason Poland, includes an artist statement and comic strip in the shape of honeycombs titled “The Sting and the Sweet.” In his statement, Poland explains how he took up beekeeping in 2008 and learned that each queen bee seeks to kill her sister queens. She who survives, reigns; however, in his comic strip, he shows two sister queens seemingly joining forces but remaining in diplomatic battle for queendom. On the covers, the queen sisters are holding hands and have a gothic essence about them, especially in their facial makeup and markings. The images are quite stunning, but only through following the comic strip does the real story begin to unfold.

But of course, onto the writing itself. The flash fiction pieces range from a paragraph of several lines to just over a page. Nothing drags on and merely flashes useless bits of scenery and description. The beauty of flash fiction is certainly the ability to tell an entire story with brevity and sincerity. But still, the meat and potatoes, so to speak, the characters and the plot, must still be forces to be reckoned with if a successful story is to be told. And this issue of Nano Fiction does not disappoint. Though there are named finalists and a winner of the 2011 fiction prize, I would like to present what I believe to be the most poignant pieces that shook me to the very core.

Chantel Tattoli crafts a beautiful piece from the point of view of maids at an upscale hotel. It begins: “The other maids tuck and dream, while they pick up M&M wrappers and thongs. Dreaming when they leave what will never be enough towels, not even here, where the thread count is very high. The other maids, they hope. One day when it’s least expected one of these business-men will be La One.” Everyone seems to be dreaming for a way out while the work minutes tick by, but these women are dreaming of a better life. Gloria goes to bed with a wealthy guest, but when it doesn’t work out, she does not lose hope. Instead, she says, “He just wasn’t La One.” Drina, another maid, takes pleasure in the “devastation” of empty bottles and belongings left behind. The final sentence has a resounding, hollow sound: “The rooms are lives people walk out on every day.”

Some stories left lingering thoughts behind that I found myself being reminded of for days after reading. Christopher Citro’s story “No, I will not be your Girlfriend” discusses the mirror-like setup of the human body. Everything is either centered (nose, bellybutton, mouth) or placed evenly on each side (arms, legs, nipples). Except the heart, he points out. Apparently when the heart was smack in the middle of our rib cage, it was at a “structural weak point.” After evolution, the heart now lies securely and safely on the left side of our chest. Citro writes: “It illustrates the innate ability of the human heart to get out of the way of danger.”

Miah Arnold presents us with a bone rattling story about a woman who starts collecting teeth in “How She Rathered.” She steals these teeth from under countless pillows, filling a sack in less than one hour. Finally, “At home, when she emptied its contents into her tub, they nearly filled it. Without the salivic gleam of their usual context the teeth looked like kernels of bathtub.” She fills the bathtub and lays down in the teeth, submerging herself in them. Finally, she swishes the “loose teeth between her own teeth.” You have to read the story to discover the end, but I could not help but be haunted by the woman who swims in loose teeth as a way she discovered “to be something less upsetting than a woman.”

Finally, I will leave you with Jessica Young’s story titled “Dreams.” To this narrator, the typically scary dreams are “the familiar ones”—not, for example, about big, scary reptiles or having to land an airplane. Rather, the real, scary dreams are “the ones where it is dark, but nothing happens. The ones where I eat every piece of food I can find and still feel hungry.” There is a void. An emptiness. Something inescapable: “I try to run, and I do, but in slow motion, as if my body is encased in honey.”
[nanofiction.org]

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PEN America coverPEN America

Issue 15

2011

Biannual

Review by Shannon Smith

PEN America is the journal of the PEN American Center, and so has access to a venerable stable of contributors for each issue. This issue, the theme of which is “Maps,” is no exception. It contains many short pieces, some less than a page long, by a number of esteemed writers. Writers were asked to respond to a prompt: “We hope you’ll allow us to accompany you as you reencounter a world you’ve come to know through literature . . . Or, if your mood is more essayistic, tell us about maps that guided or misguided you as a writer.” As one might imagine, the responses are quite varied, highly personal, and mostly interesting.

Amitava Kumar, for example, writes of returning to his native India after some time in graduate school in Minnesota. While reading a poem in a Hindi magazine, he comes across a line that has always stuck with him, “the map of whose urinal is bigger than the map of my village.” That pithy line goes through his head nearly every time he steps into a bathroom, especially in the West, and he says, “[I was] offered a map of my own private modernity: Your class was revealed by what you had—not in the bank, but in the bathroom.” As do many of the other entries, Kumar’s writing simultaneously transverses both mental and physical space in its mapmaking.

Another memorable response to the thematic prompt is Roxana Robinson’s “Wharton’s New York,” in which she describes how trapped Edith Wharton felt by the city’s brownstones and grid where there is “No whimsy, no charm, and no splendor: every opportunity the same.” Robinson notes that while parts of Wharton’s New York are still there, are still the same, much has changed its context—the house where Wharton was born, for example, now has a Starbucks on its ground floor. Robinson concludes by noting that Wharton not only would still recognize New York, she’d understand these changes for she understood how “fashion and affluence determine who lives where.” Robinson uses Wharton’s writing, much as Wharton used her own writing—to comment on class and geography.

One of the longer responses to the prompt is Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’s “Streets of Pittsburgh.” Sayrafiezadeh chronicles with the sort of humor that stems from despair and a lack of hope, a story that seems to offer—for a brief, fictitious moment—an illusion of hope. Sayrafiezadeh doesn’t mention any other writers or narratives in his piece, but the story clearly stems from having literary illusions, that is “dream[s] of good things to come,” while one’s daily life seems miserable. Sayrafiezadeh’s tale relates an impossible to sustain relationship that offers a brief escape from the monotony of office life.

In addition to the responses to the prompt about maps, this issue of PEN America also contains longer pieces of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, “conversations,” and artwork. As in keeping with PEN America’s mission, many of these are translations. One of the standouts, a fiction piece called “In Transit,” by Elvira Dones and translated by Clarissa Botsford, is especially powerful. The main character has just emigrated from Albania to America and is meeting her family. As revealed through the course of the story, she was born female, but has spent her life—since the day her father wanted to marry her off—dressing and living as a man. Her village in Albania accepted this change, which it seems she underwent to better take care of her family. But now that she has moved away, her cousin—the only one other person who is old enough to know about the change—wants to know if she wants to live in America as “Mark” or “Hana.” The story is a powerful commentary on emigration, village life, gender, family, and responsibility. The writing is quite plain and clear, and it never seems heavy-handed.

Another striking piece is Yvette M. Louisell’s memoir, “How to Survive in Prison.” The piece is constructed in the form of a list; there is a year and, next to that, a few sentences summarizing actions that Louisell took. There are 23 years in the list. The actions repeat and some are intertwined; the tone is matter-of-fact and contains statements like “2004: Realize that you’ve been in prison as long as you were free.” There is no sweeping arc to the narrative; it is life as time progresses.

The theme of “maps” allows this issue of PEN America to explore various cartographies of space. This issue contains a wide variety of writing, most of it with an international bent. It was a pleasure, while reading this issue, to be introduced to these unfamiliar and diverse geographies.
[www.pen.org/journal]

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PHOEBE coverPhoebe

Volume 41 Issue 1

Spring 2012

Biannual

Review by Kirsten McIlvenna

Phoebe “prides itself on supporting up-and-coming writers, whose style, form, voice, and subject matter demonstrate a vigorous appeal to the senses, intellect, and emotions of [its] readers.” I found this issue to be proof of that: with each turn of the page, I found more new and exciting forms and subject matter. As a writer who can’t seem to hit a creative bone without form, I loved reading each and every one of these pieces—sifting through the forms and pondering on how each one opens up something new to the story or message.

Most noticeable and enjoyable for its structure is the first story in the magazine, Crona Bardoff’s “A Good Life.” In it, Bardoff tackles all sorts of forms—short sections with headers, conversations/interviews, lists, and even a resume—to ponder on the idea of what makes a “good life.” I especially like the cattiness to which Bardoff shows our expectations for what a person should do and how that person’s success is measured. She muses about how people don’t actually drink coffee because they enjoy it; you drink it because “you have to,” because “it can be poured over ice, and there is nothing left to do,” and so that “you have something to hold in your hands.” The entire piece pokes fun at the impressions and expectations the world has for us.

Caylin Capra-Thomas uses a multiple choice form in her poem “Blank Faces” to discuss the idea of strangers. And Heather Bartlett allows the narrator of the poem “Tonight I Am My Lover” to “slip into other identities”—each identity having its own space. In it, the narrator is at first attuned to the lover, how she undresses and blushes, but the speaker gets distracted imagining the identity of the neighbor, a child on the news, the child’s mother, etc.:

    Sometimes she blushes
and sometimes I coo
but tonight I am someone else—the neighbor
across the hall who wonders
why our lights are never on,
who keeps close eye
out the peephole for a glimpse
of petite brunette.

The poem delicately shows how the speaker’s anxiety distracts from being in the moment with the lover.

In the fiction piece “The Vast Hammocks of Maine,” Trevor J. Houser creates a character who tells his story from day-to-day as a worker in a wine-shop whose only sex-life is with a married woman he delivers wine to. Told from the first person and in present tense, the writing intrigues me in the way the speaker notices and comments on his surroundings and life. I can’t help but find humor and enjoyment from this character’s pathetic life and his voice and view of the world. In the end of the story, the character goes to the health clinic to get checked out after his sexual fling is over:

I take a number and sit in the back of what looks like a fourth grade classroom. I notice there are eight or nine other people, all black. One of them is a young girl. She is in a tube top and fuck me pumps. It is ten-thirty in the morning. I try to read the newspaper, but it is hard to concentrate. There is a TV bolted to the wall blaring a third-rate fictionalized account of some lothario gang-banger named Randy and how he learned a lesson on why he shouldn’t share needles and fuck every ho he sees. I feel bad for Randy. I am Randy’s peer now.

Phoebe is then broken into a special feature section titled “Guts” in which Poetry Editor Daniel D’Angelo writes, “In the face of the inevitable, poetry straddles permanence and impermanence, dream and reality. It can carry us away on viewless wings, and it can reimagine or reinforce the way we feel rooted to our biology.”

My favorite piece from this section does just that. Sean Carswell’s “Another Beauty” constantly switches between reality and the imagined, leaving the reader unsure of who is real and who is made up, not revealing which is which until the end—and even then questions are left unanswered. The story begins:

Carl made up a dead girlfriend to get the neo-Nazi at work off his back. I wasn’t there. I don’t know the whole story. Carl doesn’t tell whole stories. He drops fragments here and there. I collect the fragments and glue them together. But here’s what I assembled.

In the same way that the narrator puts together the fragments, the reader must also do so, as if reading a puzzle. This is the reason that I love writing and reading pieces with interesting forms so much—to be able to pick them apart and put them back together again—and the reason that I enjoyed all the pieces of Phoebe, making it a magazine that I will certainly pick up again.
[www.phoebejournal.com]

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pms 2011PMS poemmemoirstory

Volume 11

2011

Annual

Review by Aimee Nicole

Poemmemoirstory, also known as PMS, is both written and edited by women writers. This annual magazine includes exactly as its name suggests: poems, memoirs, and stories. Many literary journals have a certain aesthetic or style of writing that remains consistent throughout the pages; however, I thoroughly enjoyed how diverse each piece was. In addition to various topics being discussed, the approach to writing and how it looks on the page changes with each writer.

Michelle McMillan-Holifield writes an incredible poem about life, death, and time. She contemplates the cycle of life with beautiful words that craft image after image. Without falling back entirely on religion or the afterlife, McMillan-Holifield discovers the effect of our beings on the only world we know—the world around us.

His skin, old as history old,
gray as a memory, airs slightly
so one scale is dry
and beside it, one moist
like a pallet, dollops
of the same color in varying states
of rest—or unrest
of ever-motion
of constant thing being
while it dies, while it knows
it is dying.

She continues to describe the breakdown of life into the nourishment for the future. Rather than considering time passing as time, she alludes to the concept of present, past, and future as “an ever.” We do not depart this earth without purpose but become an essential part of sustaining the future generations to come.

Sabrina Ito gifts us with a beautiful poem that looks like scattered words on a page, seemingly without rhyme or reason, and spacing that is quite daunting. The poem is titled “Hafu,” which is the Japanese term for half-race. The imagery is astounding and so descriptive; here is the first stanza with accurate spacing:

the    cherry    blossoms    on    this    street    are    white
    in    morning    they        release    cloudbursts
lucent    petals        cling    to        pale        cheeks
    like        love-starved    children

The poem continues to weave a story about a young girl who gets beaten on the way to school every morning. She admits that she was good at just being invisible and staring ahead, not crying. Nowadays, it is important for writers to realize that practically every story has already been written. It’s not just the story that is important, but how the story is told. Ito excels in telling her story, in making it unique.

Brittany Michaelson provides us with an interesting memoir about her severe anxiety problems. She constantly worries about germs, coming into contact with germs which lead to sickness, and catching cancer from the next door neighbor. Everything in her world is contagious. Michaelson describes her experiences with anti-anxiety drugs as well as withdrawal effects. After describing the unique world in which she lives, Michaelson presents us with a metaphor that really helped me, the reader, put her condition into perspective:

Anxiety creates a lens, changing one’s view of the world. It sometimes feels as if the whole of reality has shifted, as if the very cells in your body have rearranged. Though it alters your internal landscape, it does not alter reality.
You feel you have transformed physically and mentally. Your brain runs its own court case: every possible angle is presented, every side argued. But the only one on trial is you. You are both judge and the condemned. You find yourself guilty for caring too much. You hold yourself hostage for being human.

What an interesting concept: holding oneself hostage for being human. Until we all learn to accept the unique quirks and individuality that make us human, we are all holding ourselves hostage, holding ourselves back from our full potential. Appropriately, Michaelson includes a quote by Anais Nin: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” We all have a unique lens through which we see the world that we adjust at will.

Lisbeth Prifogle wrote her memoir “Pretty” in three parts. While each part was exemplary in its own way, I was particularly enticed by the second part which takes place in Al Asad, Iraq in February of 2008. Prifogle is eating with Sergeant Browning in the chow hall and dish about their secret girl behaviors. As a marine, she has had to learn how to balance her femininity with her duties in a combat zone. We learn that Sergeant Browning paints her toenails pink; in private she can feel girly with pink toenails even though they are hidden in her boots all day. Prifogle makes sure that at least one night per week she leaves her hair down rather than tucking it away in a hat. Privacy is the only appropriate time for these women to feel feminine. Prifogle admits: “I don’t want to feel pretty in uniform. I want to yell at the girls with blue eye shadow, ‘Who the fuck are you trying to impress? We are in a fucking combat zone. You are a Marine, not a Woman!’”

While the two women are eating their meal that afternoon, a man walks up to them and breaks their conversation. She immediately worries that she is about to be reprimanded as he has called her Lieutenant; however, she learns that he not an officer but a civilian. Without wasting any time, he says: “‘I’ve been here for two years and I’m getting ready to go home in fourteen days.’ His hands shake. ‘You’re probably married or engaged, but I just had to tell you, you are the most beautiful woman who has stepped foot on this base.’” She doesn’t respond with much more than a thank you, and she gets teased by everyone at the chow hall the next afternoon. But that moment really sticks with her; Prifogle sees many imperfections in her physical appearance but is struck that a man thought that she was pretty. In the middle of a war zone, there can still be beauty. There can still be hope.
[www.pms-journal.org]

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Prick of the Spindle coverPrick of the Spindle

Issue 1

Fall 2011

Biannual

Review by David R. Matteri

After nearly five years of being solely an online quarterly, Prick of the Spindle has finally released its first print issue. The goal of the journal is to “both recognize new talent and to include those who have a foot planted in the writing community.” It was satisfying to see this journal continue its goal by taking its first step into the print world with a display of impressive literary work.

Bonnie ZoBell’s short story, “Lucinda’s Song,” features an elderly woman having an affair with a married man while fending off her overly protective son and the homeowner’s association. ZoBell’s piece has one of the funniest introductions I’ve read in a long time, and it had me thinking that the protagonist would get along well with Betty White:

The night Ramon Fernandez first turned up at Sunday bingo hosted by the Sisters of the Precious Blood, Lucinda Sanchez couldn’t have care less. He and all those old hussies in attendance could kiss her 80-year-old ass. And, frankly, it wasn’t such a bad ass. They might be surprised.

I appreciate ZoBell’s portrayal of sex between a man and a woman who, to put it mildly, have some mileage on their years. Her style is warm and honest; she tells the reader, who is more than likely much younger than Lucinda, “hey, kiddo, these folks are old, not dead!”

Not all the fiction in this journal is cheery, though, as Adèle Cook drags the reader into a dystopian future where England is controlled by a fascist government in “Glorious.” What is unique about this piece is that it is comprised of six smaller pieces of flash fiction that switch characters and points of view. Each section is separated by “Freedom Press” headlines that carry ominous titles such as: “OUR GLORIOUS PM KEEPS HIS PROMISE; THE OLD MUST MAKE WAY FOR THE YOUNG.” The most haunting part of this piece occurs when the narrative switches to the second person where “you” are the executioner of two “fertility dodgers”:

Sipping hot coffee, you make your way to the detention room. They stand in neighbouring cells, able to talk but not see each other. “So, the next time you two love birds see each other, you’ll be standing on the scaffold. Your faces will be blazed across every building so you’ll be able to watch each other go.”
A grin twists your features as the woman sinks to the ground in a fit of grief and her husband calls: “Don’t cry. Don’t let them see they’ve won.”

Cook’s switch to the second person shows how fascism doesn’t just rise out of nowhere. It can come from ordinary people like you or me, and that is more terrifying than any iron-fisted dictator.

Cynthia Reeser’s interview with Sandy Longhorn tackles a fascinating subject: Are fairy tales still culturally significant? Longhorn writes poetry that is “grounded in the landscape and the people of the rural Midwest,” but she also instills a heavy dose of “non-Disneyfied” fairy tales into her poetry. She believes that new fairy tales are being made every day (she cites Pixar films Wall-E, Up, and Finding Nemo), and says that these tales have always been the backbone of human civilization:

At the root, a fairy tale goes beyond entertainment. There is cautionary purpose there, a moral lesson meant to build a stronger community. Even though we no longer gather around the hearth, we still have folk tales, just in a variety of media.

This interview reminds me of a storytelling festival I attended two years ago while writing for a community college newspaper. I remember how entrancing it was to hear these stories from ancient China, Europe, and Central America in this age of Twitter, Google, and Facebook. Fairy tales are certainly not disappearing any time soon.

My favorite poem in this issue is Jessica Cuello’s “Fed him, Loved him.” The poem is written in a series of couplets that depicts Book V of Homer’s Odyssey where Kalypso holds Odysseus hostage on the isle of Ogygia for seven years. Cuello skillfully packs in Kalypso’s obsession and the cleverness of Odysseus in as few lines as possible, leading up to a bittersweet ending for Kalypso:

She wants to seize his arms, force his eyes
on her. Bed is the last place
she holds him, and even here
he drifts, designs
his raft in his head.
Though she tastes bitterness
on her tongue, she cuts
the fabric for the mast.

Another well-written poem in this issue is Claire Stephens’s “What I Haven’t Told You.” The speaker confesses to an unknown reader about all the things she never told him or her. It starts off innocently as the speaker admits to seemingly insignificant things, but quickly spirals down into the darker depths of her subconscious:

You don’t know that Milo died, that
I wasn’t with her in the bathroom
that when I got back from school,
she was stiff and not cold but not warm,
and that I am ashamed to tell you Milo was a cat, and I loved her more.
That—and wait, this one’s funny—
that I thought if I was good enough I’d carry God’s second son?
That I would mostly rather be alone,
and that I’m not a sex fiend,
this is not a romance novel.

A literary journal can still function perfectly fine if it publishes online, but printing their material gives their readers a special kind of pleasure that the digital media can’t duplicate (we can’t blame them for trying, though). Longtime readers of Prick of the Spindle will be satisfied with this journal’s first step into the print world.
[prickofthespindle.com]

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Room coverRoom

Volume 35 Number 1

2012

Quarterly

Review by Mary Florio

Celebrating its thirty-fifth volume of publication, Room is an achievement in many ways, starting with the quality of its writing and cumulating in its mission. Room is Canada’s oldest literary journal by and about women and is independent of an educational institution. With many operational and editorial aspects managed by volunteers, there remains in the spirit of the journal a deliberate emphasis on the collective. As editor Clélie Rich quips in a retrospective (of sorts) “Roomies,” Virginia Woolf has a room of her own and a house full of servants, “Consider us, the collective, as those servants.”

Clélie Rich notes that it is Room’s “Journey Issue.” Her analysis matches mine; these are stories, essays and poems about journeys metaphorical and direct, personal and practical. But these stories, essays and poems are also translation exercises, literary creations that allow women to transpose messages and confessions into something that ties all of us together: reader, writer, and all of those parties similarly situated who are otherwise unspoken for. As literature does at its best, this collection provides an opportunity to exhume truths, provides a cognitive room, as the journal’s unofficial spokeswoman might say, of one’s own.

For example, let’s take Barbara Parker’s work of short fiction that opens the journal. In “Losing the Word for World,” Parker creates a translation of a daughter’s experience coming to visit and care for her father for four days; he is ailing of a neurodegenerative disease. In parallel, Parker weaves in the story of an anthropologist who is studying the native Malaysian Penan people and their forty words for sago palm. The transposition is elegant—Parker’s capture of the anthropologist’s terror as the ecosystem is ravaged and the culture decimated by logging companies is balanced against the father ravaged by disease where his language is under biological attack. But there is a third timbre, and that is the daughter’s relationship with her father, a relationship also under attack; she is late to see him and leaves promptly at the end of the fourth day. Every time I reach for that pulse of personal suffering that one might expect when one’s father is ill, she zooms back to the thread of the anthropologist. In this way, Parker is brilliantly restrained, and it keeps the story grounded. We know the speaker is experiencing a strong feeling, but it is transposed, locked up like a box of contraceptives, a braid of love and science.

Another transposition is Marilyn Moriarty’s essay, “Naked Italian,” whereby the essayist employs her translations of Frederick II and myths of the conqueror Robert Guiscard to illuminate her outlook and voyage to study Italian language in Otranto, Italy. The spine of the story is a woman’s journey for illumination through language, but the personal actualization is executed on a perfect pitch of translated passages framing and promulgating meaning that correspond to the essayist’s outlook. In this way, Moriarty captures the classical in a contemporary mode.

All of the journey stories can be framed as transposition stories, since the two are similar in some regards. Even Taryn Thomson’s short story “The Game” is a transposition story: a teenage game of flirtation is transposed to sexual activity and self-worth, ending in a line that foreshadows the future. “I lean into the pebbled wall of the school, gently smooth my hair . . . smear cherry lip gloss across my lips, and wait.” And like the Moriarty essay, this short story is so classical—the story of innocence on the cusp of its loss—that you glide through the tale with all of its tight weaving movements, and you also wait, having picked sides, as the school bell tolls.

I approach the poetry with a different brush and am very excited that Room had obtained some of Evelyn Lau’s poetry. Vancouver’s current Poet Laureate provided three poems on voyages and three on internal voyages or personal change. I found her lines in “Las Vegas” to transcend my expectations of the afternoon.

Ghost of smoke in the hallways.
Sour stench in the woodwork, behind the gleam
of renovation, the bamboo wallpaper,
gilt mirrors, the bed sealed in its envelope
of laundered linens. A dubious history.

Lau is a kind modern poet; she gives you enough of the story to survive (and enjoy) the ride, piecing together the stain glass fragments of her vision from the masterful whole. And while she provides architectural support, you are free enough from the design to make the song play on an octave in a range that you can hear, a melody with which you can eke out solidarity, fellowship.
[www.roommagazine.com]

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Thin Air coverThin Air

Volume 18

Spring 2012

Biannual

Review by David R. Matteri

This journal from the University of Northern Arizona is, as the title indicates, thin (only 78 pages), but it is dense with works that push the boundaries of fiction and poetry. Sometimes weird, often times experimental, and certainly not boring, Thin Air is a little, big journal that deserves attention.

“Massacre in Pink,” a piece of short fiction by Elise Kaplan, shows us how some folks deal with the stress of daily life. The setting is a New Mexico suburb where the narrator is watching a grassfire burn in the distance. She then hears “A small yell, a karate scream from a movie in the eighties. And a whack whack whack.” She then goes next door to see her neighbor smashing watermelons with a baseball bat as if he is Gallagher doing a Sledge-O-Matic skit. The narrator gets a turn with the bat and unleashes all of her rage and frustration onto the hapless melon:

And I screamed like I was taking revenge on the stranger who’d raped my kid sister in the alley behind the supermarket, on the missed opportunities requiring more money, time and brains than I possess, on the job that kept me underpaid and on my feet all day, on Hal’s dirty boxers on the floor and food crusted plates in the sink, on my own body once thin and pretty and now a mass of cellulite, dimples and veins. Thick gooey strands of watermelon clung to the bat.

The narrator and her new friend then sit down to have a smoke and some wine. It’s as if Kaplan is saying that sometimes we have to let our anger in order to stay sane. Sometimes, you just gotta smash a watermelon. Or two. Or fifteen.

For those who want something more titillating, check out William Greenway’s poem, “The Gods of Sex.” The poem is written in one long (perhaps phallic?) stanza that drips with sexual imagery as Gods of carnal pleasure “haunt the halls of cheap hotels, / ears pressed like doorknobs / to hear the grunting and grinding, / smiling and smacking, / leering us on through keyholes.” Whew. Anyone else need a cig right about now?

But if you’re feeling a little depressed, then Greenway’s “The Automated Suicide Hotline” can provide the catharsis you need. It is labeled as a poem but reads like a multiple choice survey for people with suicidal tendencies. There are nine questions to answer with four possible answers each, so you can play along. My favorite is question nine: “What is your greatest fear of the afterlife / a. hellfire / b. No Exit / c. 20 virgins and impotence / d. another life.” (I circled option C.)

If you want something a tad stranger, then try to digest Leslie Gottesman’s poem “Bananas after Dark.” The poem is short, but the images are vast, disconnected, and completely bonkers. For example, the second stanza reads, “drive the road and the moon. / Marbled tonic / drinks the crowd.” Don’t ask me what all this means. It might be showing the absurdity of life. It might be showing the mind of a lunatic. It might be making you hungry for a midnight snack. Whatever it’s trying to do, I like it, and it makes me laugh every time I read it.

Not everything in this journal is hanging out in the stratosphere. Leslie Pietrzyk’s “BASIL,” for instance, is more down to earth. It is a work of nonfiction where the author tells us of her time in college as a young woman during the early 1980s. Food plays a major role in her story. Pietryzk ate a lot of junk food, her diet consisting mostly of pizza, ice cream, and Burger King Fries (“Back then, no one ate well”). But at the heart of this piece is a failed relationship with a college boyfriend she had lived with. She cooks a spaghetti dinner one night, but the result is not what she expected: “The mélange in the bowl looked like stuff you dump out of a vacuum cleaner bag. Or the gunk that gets caught in the bottom of the screen door to the deck.” Pietrzyk and her boyfriend try to eat the culinary disaster but end up burying it (and probably their relationship) out back like some kind of dead animal.

I was pleased by this issue of Thin Air, even though some of the fiction and poetry flew right over my head. But the fun in reading lies in trying to catch those heavy works as they shoot off into the stratosphere.

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Tin House coverTin House

Volume 13 Number 3

Spring 2012

Quarterly

Review by Julie J. Nichols

This issue, titled “Science Fair,” does something remarkable. That’s not news for Tin House, which is known for being remarkable in regard to its high literary quality and appealing, light-filled design. But this issue is uniquely wonderful because it shows in a variety of ways how literature, which you love, and words, which transport you, are all intertwined with the materiality of science—and that’s not all science fiction (though there are some wonderful examples of that). It makes science mysteriously accessible to those of us who revel in metaphor and myth. It makes metaphor and myth accessible to science-eaters by showing them how one came out of the other, how both are in us, both make us what we are.

Andrea Barrett’s “Particles” is about an early 20th-century shipwreck in which two rival scientists—researchers of evolution theory—must learn to survive together. It’s a long, absorbing work of mainstream fiction, the kind you’re sad about when you turn the last page because the characters’ conflicts (both external and internal) are as current as they are historically accurate (aren’t we still arguing what evolution means, what its implications are, what attributes are “natural” and which modifiable by man?), the settings (both shipboard and landlocked) adroitly constructed and crystal clear. Also, the story heightens your awareness that even the best of us don’t get what we deserve, can’t always give what we hope to give. That’s what the best fiction does: it enlarges our sense of our humanity.

Which is Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s point in “The Hard Problem of Consciousness and the Solitude of the Poet” (42). She begins with an anecdote describing the explosion of joy when she realizes she is conscious, despite the despair that enwraps her as she bends over dry philosophy textbooks in a broken-down subway:

my mind was peremptorily invaded by a thought that knocked all other thoughts out of it, including the heartachey ones. The words it used to express this thought—they seemed to be shouting themselves in it—were Consciousness is huge! . . . suddenly my faith in hard and dry reductive materialism was shattered, never to be reassembled.

The essay takes us through a mazy intellectual journey that includes Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, and others before and after them grappling with the titular “hard problem” of consciousness. But Goldstein keeps coming back to humanness: “What if nature has properties that are just as remote from our direct experience as the exotic properties of theoretical physics . . . but we can’t get at them through science because they’re not susceptible to mathematical translations?”:

But there do, in fact, exist experts who have developed another language for expressing and exploring properties of matter that remain out of the grasp of science. The language they have developed is the language of fiction . . . of poetry. . . . In the grip of the poet’s language, every word as considered and necessary as the symbols in a mathematical equation, something transpires, the poet’s deep solitude mixing with my own, so that I am experiencing something undetermined and astonishing, and I am left gasping: Matter can do this? This?

“Science Fair” keeps asking this crucial question, and answering it with whimsy, rumination, speculation, Truth. Amy Leach’s “The Wild What” explains the universe of stars and chemistry in a lyric essay landing on asterisms and asterisks, horselife and hickorylife and ducklife, despotism longing for “sensitive territory.” Her language takes us deep into the configuring of constellations and the necessity for gentleness if such figurations are to last.

Similarly, the language of Megan Levad’s ironic prose poems “Nanobots” and “Why We Live in the Dark Ages,” interrogates the way we educate our youth about science; they make me wonder what in the world we need to do to re-ground ourselves in the rigorous wonder that science and the humanities, together, require.

That question is addressed in an interview with the makers of Radiolab. Jad Abumrad, the tone-master of the show, says, “It’s sort of about mystery . . . a wrestling match between that impulse [to sit in your dorm room and smoke pot] and what the scientists are doing.” He and his partner Robert Krulwich tell Tin House editor Tony Perez that the key to the success of their collaboration is that they “start by mystifying something,” then proceed to “demystify it,” then “remystify it in a new way.” The essential task, they seem to be saying, is to show that “matter can do this—this!” in the midst of that “something warm that glows a little.” Matter matters—that’s the premise of “Science Fair”—but it’s the immaterial that makes it matter.

These works are the tip of the iceberg, a keyhole glimpse into the fiction, poetry, essays and reviews that comprise this issue’s exhibition of science, of life. Tin House has another winner here. This issue is, in a nonscientific word, magic.
[www.tinhouse.com/magazine]

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Tiny Lights coverTiny Lights

A Journal of Personal Narrative

Volume 17 Number 1

2011

Biannual

Review by Julie J. Nichols

Tiny Lights comes out of Petaluma, California. It may have “tiny” in its title, and it may have only sixteen stapled pages between its newsprint covers, but “lights” are everywhere in its pages. This issue—which was published in the summer of 2011—contains the winning entries in the “standard” and “flashpoint” categories of its annual essay contest, plus submissions by readers to two regular “columns.” The whole issue can be read in an hour. And what a pleasant, rewarding hour it is. Susan Bono, the founder and editor of this tiny journal, loves personal essay and personal voice, and the magazine is a vehicle for this love.

The two regular columns are called “Searchlights and Signal Flares” and “Flash In the Pan,” confirming with their titular brightness that the magazine “will not consider essays that celebrate brutality or gratuitous violence,” but instead commits to publishing what ennobles human experience without sentimentality or skepticism. “Searchlights” is a writers’ exchange. Questions are posted online; readers write their responses in any form under 500 words. The question for this print issue was, “What themes do you keep returning to?” Ana Manwaring, a Petaluma resident who edits and teaches writing, returns home. Catherine Crawford returns to nature. Claudia Larson, who has lived near Petaluma for years, returns in her writing to the prairie farm and family of her childhood; Nancy Wallace-Nelson is obsessed by the passage of time.

A “Flash in the Pan,” according to the website, “may have first appeared on a napkin, in a journal, or as a dream. 500 words or less, they are impossible to explain or categorize and equally impossible to forget.” In this issue’s four “flash nonfiction” pieces are voices from Georgia as well as from Sonoma County, delightful first-person stories in which irony and serendipity hold hands.

The two “Honorable Mentions” for “Standard” essays are by Christine Watson who writes of a chilling scapegoating perpetrated upon her by her British Columbia school board—a first disclosure after years of silence—and Ed Miracle, a once-upon-a-time submarine sailor whose “Submarine Dreams” reveal an underwater world most of us would never imagine. These are edgy essays, neither saccharine nor predictable. They demonstrate how much can be accomplished, and how well, in 2000 words.

Equally excellent are the three winners in this category. Anna Belle Kaufman’s haunting “O, Engineer!” tells the story of a life, a death, and a generous gift. Tim Bascom’s utterly lovely “Floating” remembers a night when a “very unusual” father introduced his children to the sound of corn growing and the feel of flying. Adrienne Ross Scanlan’s muscular “Nisqually Fish Fling” shows a pregnant woman at risk of miscarriage daring to stand for the sake of renewed life. Of these, Kaufman has been published in The Sun and Calyx; Bascom has won the Bakeless Literary Prize; and Scanlan’s work has appeared in many well-known journals. The “Flash” prize winners, though shorter (under 1000 words), are equally striking. The point is that although this is a “tiny” publication, what appears here is large in scope and quality. Its accessibility and personal nature make it well worth your investigation.
[www.tiny-lights.com]

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Whitefish Review coverWhitefish Review

Volume 5 Issue 2

Winter 2011/2012

Biannual

Review by Julie J. Nichols

The subtitle on the moonlit cover of this issue is “Illumination from the Mountains.” If you’re from the West (Whitefish is in the northwest corner of Montana), if you love mountains, if you’re not afraid of a worldview from the rougher edge of the country, this is a magazine for you. Look for “illumination” throughout.

Not tangentially, the issue is full of art and photography. Thoughtful commentary from the artist accompanies each piece. One of my two favorites is “Underwater Figure Skater,” perhaps because it was photographed near my own home in Utah. But aside from that, it seems impossible—a ballet dancer wearing blades, floating effortless and yet dynamic, thirteen feet below the surface of a pool? Scott Markewitz says, in a revelry of understatement about his piece, that “There are quite a few technical challenges to shooting underwater,” but the result is beautiful. Colors, composition, line—all make you gasp.

My other favorite of the twelve art pieces shown in this issue is “Flower Child,” a primitivist wood carving of a figure like Mother Ginger in the Nutcracker Suite, with many sets of legs under a peasant skirt, by Torin Porter. The presentation is professional and beautiful. The magazine’s commitment to Montana artists is impressive throughout.

Literarily, the commitment continues. Two excellent interviews, one with Tom Brokaw who owns a ranch near Livingston, Montana and the other with two Montana authors, are informative, insightful, and personable. Brian Schott, the editor-in-chief of WR, conducted the interview with Brokaw, and his admission of nervousness puts us in his corner as he presents a “wild”-ish side of Brokaw we don’t usually see. From Brokaw, Schott elicits insights on issues from war and citizenship to writing and wilderness.

Equally insightful are the views issue editor Matt Holloway and managing editor Mike Powers pull from Montana poet laureate Sheryl Noethe and fiction writer David Allan Cates. Noethe’s poetry is represented by three “Greyhound Bus Log” poems earlier in the issue, a series framing stories strangely familiar to anyone who’s waited at a bus station or ridden beside a wanderer from a different world. In the interview, she comments pointedly on the “old boys’ club” of readings and writers’ panels. Her and Cates’s mutual respect informs the casual banter of the interview, which touches on the relationship between imagination and compassion, the American myth, and a poet’s demons.

Of the many fine pieces of creative nonfiction, “The End of the End of Desire,” by Scott Nadelson and Debbie Clarke Moderow’s “Line Dance” are particularly notable. Nadelson, a teacher at Willamette University and in the MFA program at Pacific Lutheran University, recounts his growing anger at the contrast between haves and have-nots in Portland, Oregon. Ruminations on Schopenhauer and the effort to not want underscore his experiences with “collectors” (homeless people) and with a couple spending huge amounts of money to “lift” their home. His voice is reasonable, appealing; the images easy to visualize. Moderow’s briefer piece describes a dogsledding race, a preparation for something like the Itidarod. Informative, excruciating, it allows a vision of the rigor, the cold, the physical hardship, and the relationships between dogs and humans that make such a race what it is.

One other work of creative nonfiction deserves mention. Meredith Stolte, a freshman at Columbia Falls High School (just a few miles south of Whitefish), writes that the cabin her grandfather built is “Not Just A Place” but “a refuge, a gathering spot . . . a reminder of what truly holds any meaning.” That Whitefish Review has published this accomplished piece is a credit to both the magazine and the young author.

Poetry is here, too, and fiction. Melissa Kwasny’s pagan prose poem “The Shaman’s Cave” is striking:

The thresholds appear, arcs stained with hematite, red ochre. Which give way to zigzags and stars. Until the line that divides the worlds snaps . . . We are without shields. Intrinsic lack of the right weapon. To assume closeness that is not there is to feel betrayed: possible bear, possible star figure, possible god.

Jerry McGahan’s story “The Carolina Wren” is terrific, the characters complex and interesting, the plot juicy. The titular bird is hundreds of miles out of its range, and the wife and husband who live on the land it has chosen to occupy must resolve personal and relational issues as it warbles a stream of birders into their lives. Their differences of worldview and opinion in regard to the bird weave a tangled thread of love and loss as the story unfolds. This piece may be the crown jewel of this issue of a very fine magazine. Whitefish, Montana, may not be your native land, but reading this magazine, you’ll wish it were.
[www.whitefishreview.org]

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Yalobusha Review coverYalobusha Review

Issue 17

2012

Annual

Review by David R. Matteri

Issue seventeen of the Yalobusha Review opens with a quote by Barry Hannah: “The brain wants a song. You steal it, and then you smile a while, hoping it will stand, for your friends and even enemies, while we are alive and dying.” The type of song Hannah is talking about can only be found in good writing. This literary journal from the University of Mississippi delivers a satisfying playlist of fiction, poetry, and interviews that will keep you, your friends, and your enemies (alive or dead) smiling for a long time.

What pleases me most about this issue is the amount of weird and unsettling works. Take, for instance, the first sentence of Kristine Ong Muslim’s piece of short fiction, “Nobody’s Beast”: “When Jenna found the child inside the Kellogg’s cereal box, its pink form was just as big as her outstretched palm.” Delicious. Muslim’s work is based off of Paul Booth’s “Defiance.” Just try to look at Booth’s oil painting without letting your skin crawl (go ahead, just try). Muslim does a fantastic job of depicting the same surreal nature in her prose as she shows the reader what one woman does with a special prize she finds in her cereal box.

Another favorite of mine is Tory Adkisson’s “The Stuff of Nightmares.” Adkisson decorates his poem with monsters from folklore, myth, and pop culture to create a wonderful portrait of horrors. Here are some of my favorite lines:

Grendel might drag me from a mead hall
tonight by my hair & cut his teeth on my gristle
before a single dragon lurches from its cave to gnaw on
my entrails.

The speaker of this poem begins to address the reader directly, as if he or she is something that is terrifying and awe-inspiring. The last line of this poem will stay in my head for a long time (not like it is a bad thing): “Here, bite off my fingers so they can be your candles.”

“The Octopus Wrestler” by JS Khan lays on more weirdness with the story of “Stingray” Radcliffe Stevens and how he became sucked into the seedy life of professional octopus wrestling. Stevens becomes entangled by the lies and deceptions of his employer, who promises him “heroics beyond those witnessed at Rome’s Coliseum” but fails to mention the fact that the gladiators who performed said heroics were slaves to Rome. The situation is completely absurd (the sport of “elephant polo” exists in this same world), but the feelings of lost glory and entrapment are genuine; the reader feels just as entangled as Stevens by the end as he leaps into the pool in front of a screaming crowd one last time. This story also has some of the most erotic descriptions of octopus tentacles I have ever read: “all its elaborate grandeur, tendrils uncoiling in strands across a nebulous void, impossibly phallic, irresistibly labic, the loneliest creature alive yet possessing a gliding elegance like a woman in a lace dress.”

The issue concludes with interviews with Mary Miller, Michael Chabon, and Lynn Emanuel. My favorite interview is with Chabon, who explains the power of language. Getting lost in a good story is a “momentary sense of escape,” but the reader knows this and embraces it. “It’s a series of tricks but it’s a magical one, true magic, and it lasts no longer than it takes to read the story, but it’s still a wonderful thing.” Amen, brother. Yalobusha Review deserves praise for its latest magic act, and I hope it will continue to surprise and delight readers in future issues.
[yr.olemiss.edu]

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Yellow Medicine Review coverYellow Medicine Review

Fall 2011

Biannual

Review by Erik Thalman

Yellow Medicine Review is an illuminating, varied and enjoyable read. True to its subtitle—“A journal of Indigenous Literature, Art and Thought”—the magazine offers a rich bouquet of different literary experiences, distinct expressions of what it means to be Native American.

Susan Powers opens the magazine with a clever piece recounting a Facebook argument that came after she posted an article outlining the indignant Native American response to the military’s name for Bin Laden: Geronimo. Powers’s article is a refreshingly easy read, not heavy or overburdened with lengthy prose. That’s not to say it doesn’t pack a punch. She foreshadows the emotional power of many of the pieces in the magazine when she says, “Yes, after centuries of being told who we are, you’d think we’d have a little air-time coming to us, the chance to break past the Intellectual Reservation that locks us up more surely than any treaty ever did.”

There is literary richness in this magazine to be sure. Gerry Robinson offers a brilliant little piece of nonfiction, an account of a conversation she witnessed in her father’s pick-up as a girl. Her father stopped, on what looked to her like a barren stretch of wilderness, to offer a friend a ride, and the two began to chat with their hands in the old Cheyenne way, using English words only to clarify here and there. She describes how she stared openly at this man wandering the wilderness alone, how Indian he looked. “A knowing seemed to find me; he belonged to this land, and it to him.” Once they drop him off, still in the middle of nowhere, she says “I turned back around in my seat and began repeating the word to myself with my own hands; shortcut, shortcut.”

Gord Bruyere’s “Draw Sounds and Speak Them Back” is a fine example of the magazine’s poetry. Addressed to the Creator, the prayer-like poem is filled with vibrant imagery and rich, rhythmic sound-play:

made you the universe,
conjured you star dust
people-clustered the dark,
imploding exploding
sweat lodge birth canal
of thought earth life and words.

I was pleasantly surprised to find voices from other ethnicities in the magazine such as the poem “Free Flight” by Dina Omar, subtitled: “What it’s like being a Palestinian Woman and UC Berkeley while Gaza is Burning.” It’s a difficult poem to read because of the gruesome imagery, but it is morbidly beautiful and powerfully important. There is a particularly harrowing description of a boy wounded by chemical weapons:

we want you to notice because white phosphorous—starts small—
a scratch
a little burn
and water is like a small flame
within hours it eats away at flesh

I recommend Yellow Medicine Review for its varied reading experience and its textured and rich glimpse into the experience of being Native American, or ethnically different in a wider sense.
[www.yellowmedicinereview.com]

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