Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted May 15, 2013

Absinthe :: Arc Poetry Magazine :: Aufgabe :: Big Muddy :: Court Green :: Fjords :: Kaleidoscope :: The Long Story :: Mānoa :: Poetry :: Potomac Review :: REAL :: Windhover :: Zymbol

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Absinthe CoverAbsinthe

New European Writing

Number 18



Reviewed by Sarah Gorman

Published out of Farmington Hills, Michigan, Absinthe identifies its contributors with the help of more than 40 editorial advisors, including Aleksandar Hemon, Adam J. Sorkin, and Sonja Lehner. These advisors, themselves writers and translators, along with Absinthe’s editors, have selected for this issue a preponderance of Eastern European works, including contributions from Romania, Moldova, the Czech Republic, and Croatia, as well as Spain, France, and Scandinavia.

The magazine’s focus is on quality English translations of work that would otherwise not be available to most readers in the U.S., and the appreciation of literary translators is one of the strengths of the publication. Photographs of each contributor accompany generous biosketches, and in two cases the translators contribute commentary on their translations—a one-act play by Vlad Zografi and a novel excerpt by Marco Candida.

In addition to Candida’s piece are fiction pieces by Hernán Migoya, Iulian Ciocan, and two Galician authors. First-person narratives and themes of sex and religion dominate, served up with irony and black humor. It seems as though the current economic and cultural upheaval in the region may have soured the attitudes of the fiction writers represented here. Migoya’s farcical account “A Man Alone in Paris” circles around and around an episode in which a visitor to the City of Lights plays at soliciting sex he is not sure he wants from a woman who may or may not be sincere in her request for six hundred euros. Escaping from the encounter, the protagonist “zipped out of the building with a mixture of intense terror and no less intense relief, bordering on something close to happiness.” Soon, he says, “a wave of euphoria came over me: and to celebrate my fortuitous emancipation, I took myself to McDonald’s and splurged on a value meal, super-sized.”

The poetry in this issue includes Pia Tafdrup’s “Bird Table,” from her collection The Migrant Bird’s Compass. A member of the Danish Academy and the European Academy of Poetry, Tafdrup evokes both time and eternity:

My mother’s mother put out bread
in cold weather
for the birds on the terrace. Received song
and fighting and company
in exchange.
  My mother did the same.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
  One day I will also
feed birds.
Watch them come
to my table, where no one
will be an uninvited guest.

Zografi’s complete one-act play “Kiss Me! Confessions of a Bare-Footed Leper,” along with its translator’s commentary, lead off the issue—a tribute to the editors’ opinion of this author. Although Zografi is a scientist, with a Ph.D. in atomic physics, as well as a writer and critic, he chooses to address religious themes in this work, in an approach that his translator Ileana Orlich likens to that of Samuel Beckett in Waiting for Godot.

Of particular historical interest in this issue is a section on the language and literature of Galicia, where Spanish crossed with Portuguese to produce a unique literary environment. Home of Santiago de Compostelo, Galicia occupies the far northwestern corner of Spain and has been home to the strong cultural influences of the region. Suppressed during the dictatorship of Franco, the Galician-Portuguese language today is spoken by more than half of the Galician population. Jonathan Dunne contributes an introduction to his translations of the poetry and fiction of Xabier Cordal, Antón Lopo, Anxo Rei Ballesteros, and Manuel Rivas, one of the best known writers of Galicia today.

The editors offer recommendations of four recordings of pop music by European groups, cultural snapshots from Copenhagen, Prague, Rome, and Helsinki, and commentary on the career of Rainer Werner Fassbinder by Michael Stein, a writer now living in Prague. (Stein created the blog-turned-website, a lively source for news of contemporary Central European literature.)

The international theme resonates with many readers today. Absinthe has done some useful groundwork, and with the names and links provided in this magazine, U.S. readers with a hunger for expanding their awareness of contemporary literature can seek out the full spectrum of new European writing, prospecting wide, as in this issue, or deep, as in the upcoming Absinthe 19, featuring works from Turkey.

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Arc Poetry Magazine coverArc Poetry Magazine

Volume 70

Winter 2013


Review by Karen Rigby

The seventieth issue of Arc, an annual journal published in Ottawa, Canada, features an email interview with poet Elizabeth Bachinsky, in which she writes: “We really are living in hybrid times.” A fitting remark both for the “cultural capital” writers find themselves living with and for this intelligently edited gathering, which takes as its theme “Reuse and Recycle: Finding Poetry in Canada.” Poetry editor Shane Rhodes contributes the titular essay, considering reuse and recycling in the context of found poetry: its background in Canada, its shifting motivations, and its internet-driven permutations. With few exceptions, however, most of the work in Arc considers reuse obliquely and explores material subjects through honed language rather than through the repurposing of archival or computer-generated texts.

As a first-time reader of the journal, I was especially taken by the poems—the different image banks they draw from, their singular music. Penned mainly by writers who have published full-length collections, the work is accomplished in form and subject matter. Here, everyday “cereal, vitamins / razorblades” exist alongside The Nutcracker. Horology, herringbone, and heaven inspire the authors as readily as taxidermy birds. Rilke’s famous opening line (“We cannot know his legendary head”) is re-contextualized in a poem on the trial of Omar Khadr. Pop culture (Archie Bunker re-runs), technology (camera-phones), travel (Hollywood), and sexuality (Pamela Anderson posters) mingle with animal imagery drawn from the northern hemisphere—and this is only a sampling.

In addition to familiar subjects, several poets employ reuse through repetition, including Caitlin Shayda Jones in “The Ducks and the Ducks”: “The ducks were born with suitcases and lei. Then ducks with / furrowed red mouths. Ducks made into candles wearing / scarves. Wooden ducks with straw bows and varnish . . .”

Jack Hannan in “On the infinite map,” a straightforward reflection on expectations, human vulnerability, and false optimism:

People came as they were, or as they wanted to be.
They thought, I am driven.
They thought, is this longing?
They thought, but this is fear. This is anger.
They sang the song called “What is love?”
They said drive, they said longing.
They said, as a matter of fact . . .

David Seymour in “This Object has been Assigned Aesthetic Value,” with its anaphora “The compartments,” and Elizabeth Bachinsky in “This Is How”—all of which steadily accumulate toward thoughtful, stinging conclusions. Varied as the works are, they often share an appealing sense of melancholy or darkness, well-earned and expansive: no self-pity, no facile observations.

Full-color art by Montreal-based Dil Hildebrand portrays the intersection of natural and man-made worlds, offering an arresting complement to the issue’s theme. In Haunted House, trees cast shadows on ruins. In Bioshelter, a torn mural occupies the center of what could be a post-apocalyptic scene. Possible Woods includes fragmented shapes, dream-detritus or the aftermath of another unspoken event. The artist’s palette is primordial, yet earth-browns enhanced by greens and blues also evoke the toxic and decaying—an intriguing juxtaposition to the writing, which similarly reveals beauty in unexpected places, as in Andy McGuire’s line “We pored over its oxidized frame” and Jan Conn’s “The green metallic hysteria we thought of as extreme sky.”

Other highlights include a multilingual essay on translation by Erín Moure, French poems by Nicole Brossard with English translations by Moure and Robert Majzels, a selection of poems from 2011-2012 poet-in-residence Rob Winger, and reviews of contemporary books.

Now in its thirty-fifth year of publication, Arc is elegantly produced and deserves recognition. Recommended for fans of dense imagery, subtle emotion, commanding voices, grace baring its teeth—to recycle and appropriate Bachinsky’s words, this is poetry that shows “how to wield a sword. A real sword, fool.”

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Aufgabe coverAufgabe

Number 11



Review by Sherra Wong

Aufgabe is a tome. It weighs 1.5 pounds on my bathroom scale, and that’s a paperback without any glossy pages. The journal publishes once a year, and the 2012 issue contains American poetry, a section of poems by poets from El Salvador in the original and in translation edited by Christian Nagler, other poems in translation, essays, reviews, and “notes.”

The heft of the physical journal extends to its contents. Aufgabe is not an easy read; it is a lot of work. You read it because you’ve made up your mind to educate yourself and to become the literature nerd among literature nerds, not because you want to relax or have some fun. It seems to aim for an audience that has a background in—I’m trying to decide whether I dare to use the words “modern,” “postmodern,” “avant-garde” without having written a paper about any of them, but you catch my drift—poetry, or literary history. In any case, I come away from this issue feeling excluded from the MFA or perhaps the MA-in-comp-lit-plus-critical-theory club; but then, if that’s your crowd (literally or literarily), Aufgabe may just be your cup of tea.

Often, when I begin to read a poem, I feel as if I’d been dropped into the middle of nowhere with a garbled map. The map I have in mind is grammar and common usage. A noun is no longer a noun; an adjective is now a noun; a verb, not known to take an object, now takes three. The fragments that follow the sentence seem to bear no relationship to each other. An extreme example:

                DOLE will not allow
epileptics. Flaneurs waiver National
Interest. What sleepwalker waits
promotion when competition is lexical
when panic is lexical when prophecy
is lexical when flesh makes ligation
possible . . .

This is from Radical Co-prosperity: an Illokano sonnet duplo by Sean Labrador y Manzano (“a pun made possible by the 1898 Treaty of Paris,” says the contributor’s note). I have no idea what is going on, or where I am physically, grammatically, emotionally, or sonically. Flaneurs might be able to waive National Interest, but then what is and whose National Interest? What is the DOLE—with its small heart, or perhaps a lack of funds or imagination—that refuses epileptics?

After about fifty pages of these, my brain hits a wall. Certainly, as reader of poetry, I don’t expect to be spoon-fed. In fact, I would have just gone and read an essay or a newspaper if that’s what I’m in the mood for, but most of the poems in Aufgabe don’t extend an invitation, in the form of context, or continuity of sense or metaphor or even mood; they assume that you’ve been told the password in advance. There may be pleasure in these poems, but it is meant for a select crowd.

The more accessible poems are those in the El Salvador portfolio. The tiny “Freedom” by Otoniel Guevara overflows with lyricism, despite a puzzling choice in the translation of the last line:

A full moon was the most erotic flower that could hang the night
Each time the fireflies unroofed the darkness
I remembered you with your dress of exploding full moons
Such and as it will be

The last word in the original, serás, is literally “you will be.” With the previous line addressed to a singular second person, its translation into the third-person “it will be” keeps me wondering whether this is a glaring error or a deliberate choice.

For the casual reader, many of the poems may have been better understood and enjoyed if they had included a short introduction. When I come to the last poem, Hugo García Manríquez’ s rendition of an excerpt of the North American Free Trade Agreement in Spanish and English, I wonder if there might be context I can hang on to: this would be political, this would be about how the NAFTA depressed workers’ wages, etc. Most of the piece is printed in gray; certain words are in black. After Googling for the text of the NAFTA and figuring out the words in black are in the original treaty—and not added by García Manríquez—I find out from his note that his decisions are driven by textual and sonic concerns. Which is interesting and enlightening, even though the choices I might have made with the text within the same framework would have been different from his.

Aufgabe prefers density and experimentation over clarity and has a high tolerance for the unconventional. If you’re looking for the avant-garde, poetry without “suburban epiphanies”—as I once heard a panelist say dismissively about certain types of poetry at a conference—this may be for you.

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Big Muddy coverBig Muddy

A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley

Volume 12 Issue 2



Review by David R. Matteri

The Mississippi River holds a special place in American literature. Mark Twain wrote extensively about it in his memoir, “Life on the Mississippi”: “The Mississippi is well worth reading about. It is not a commonplace river, but on the contrary is in all ways remarkable.” Big Muddy, a literary journal published by the Southeast Missouri State University Press, is as remarkable as the mighty river it is named after. This journal delivers stories, poems, and essays related to the Mississippi River Basin and its bordering ten-state area, but you don’t have to live in this area of the United States to enjoy the writings collected in this issue.

“The Tattoo Artist’s Confession” by Charles Jensen is a colorful poem with attitude. Jensen loads his writing with rich detail like the tattoo artist in his poem: “What I create my clients keep hidden: / melting daisy unfurled around a thigh or, / on the back, an eagle soaring / high above the scapulae.” Such artwork does not come easily. The clients must endure a certain amount of pain as the ink merges with their skin

                    Some men whimper, some breathe
          heavy, panting, their backs
hairy but for where I’ve shaved
          to do my work. I smell their sweat,
                    vinegar and salt, but it
          does not deter my sting.

Those who have been under the needle of a tattoo artist will appreciate the beauty found in this poem. Perhaps someone will even have this tattooed on their back after reading.

Casey Pycior’s short story “The Current” is a coming-of-age story set in the Elk River valley of Southern Missouri. The protagonist is a boy who is beginning to understand that his body is changing. With this change comes the primal urge to mark territory and single out the alpha males of the pack: “At school it was clear who were still boys and who were becoming men.” Masculinity is at the heart of this story. The boy goes on a canoe trip with his father, who tries to teach him how to be a man: “A man’s got to stand up for himself because if he doesn’t, well, then no one else will. You hear me?” The trip begins pleasantly enough, but as they paddle downstream they are hounded by abuse and violence from other people, and the boy sees how flawed his father really is. Their journey reminds me of The Odyssey, but there are no sirens or Cyclops. The monsters the explorers face are all human and challenge the boy’s conceptions on how to be a man. This story is definitely worth reading.

Donna L. Shrum takes us back to the American Civil War in her essay “The Life and Death of the B.P. Cheney.” Here we have a fascinating look at an often overlooked part of the war, which is the birth of the Confederate navy on the Mississippi. That vast river has always been a vital roadway for the United States. The Confederates realized the importance of this river and need to control it if they wanted any chance at winning the war. The Confederacy had no real navy to speak of, and their coastal cities needed several months to produce a single ship: “The obvious quick solution was to steal what they didn’t have.” Shrum weaves an exciting yarn of the people involved in this part of the war and the conflict it created. Archibald Anderson Hunt is the Confederate pirate who hijacks the B.P. Cheney, an armor-plated steamboat that would serve the Confederacy’s needs on the Big Muddy. Hunt sells the Cheney to the Confederacy and is hailed as a hero, but is later accidently killed by one of his own men during a battle. Shrum’s essay is a great read for any history buff.

“Leviathan” by William Jablonsky is a modern day tall tale about a man fighting a giant catfish. The narrator is a mother telling her child the story of how the father disappeared while on a quest to catch an almost mythical catfish. A one-armed man with a can of Schlitz approaches the father while he is fishing one day and tells him about the giant fish. The father is skeptical at first, believing that the one-armed man has had too much to drink. But then he sees it: “There was a mighty splash, like a meteor plummeting into the river. Your father looked again, in time to see the monstrous forked tail breaking the water.” Being the consummate fisherman that he is, the father sets off on his quest to capture this monster fish. He gets more than he bargained for when he finally snags it on his fishing pole as it drags him and his boat on a wild ride down the river. Any sane person would let go at this point, but the father is made of stronger stuff:

You might reasonably ask why, if he were in peril, your father would not just let go of the rod. But he never would. Ever. In another life, had circumstances been kinder to him, he might have been out on the open sea wrestling a marlin or great white up to a gleaming deck. To him this was the same; the fish was his salvation from the clipper plant, home improvement projects, and mind-numbing barbecues with your aunts and uncles.

This story is wildly funny and heartwarming. Such a tale deserves to stand side by side with other American folk tales such as Paul Bunyan and John Henry.

The last poem I would like to mention is Mark Poor’s “Whale Domination,” which can be labeled as strange, yet darkly funny. It is a short poem, only four stanzas long, and it is about a girl who “loved to shoot her gun at fish and some / Times mammals too.” I love Poor’s clever rhyming scheme in the second stanza:

            As “Prelude to a Faun” she bade her i-
     Pod croon. She walked to sea but stopped at beach
         Where families and old folks straggled by,
Then drunk and stoned she cocked her cheek to breech.

But then a whale breeches the surface and uses its fin to knock her into a cage: “girl and gun locked in sin, bounced up and down / While other whales grinned, sang, and watched her drown.” Take from this what you will.

Overall this issue was a lot of fun to read. There are solid poems, stories, and essays that range from the serious and to the absurd, and there’s even a rollicking western packed in here. Like the Mississippi, this journal is well worth reading about.

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Court Green coverCourt Green

Number 10



Review by John Palen

Court Green devotes a big chunk of every issue to a dossier on a special topic or theme. This year it’s sex. There are many fine poems here, but before I get to them, I want to make an observation based on reading so many poems about sex in one bunch.

Writing about sex with the intention of recreating the experience poses an unusual challenge. Unlike writing about food, travel, art, music, and cinema, writing about sex is difficult to make anywhere near as good as the real thing. Catalogs, bragging, and lists of shocking activity get boring, and efforts to mimic the craziness of sex through crazy language are tough to decipher.

That said, many sex-centered poems in this issue show us how it can and should be done. Denise Duhamel, for example, has three fine poems laced with anger, comedy, confusion, and sadness. In “You Don’t Get to Tell Me What to Do Ever Again,” the narrator finds that while sex is always—literally and figuratively—at hand, what we want and need from it can be maddeningly elusive. Freed from a marriage-gone stale, she finds herself

jerking off
as the hands of my imagined and real lovers,
dead or gone, reach down from the ceiling
sprinkling me with rose petals . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
and I pretend I can do whatever I want.

A focus on desire rather than the act itself is often an effective strategy for the best among these poems. Albert Goldbarth uses it in a long, six-part riff entitled “A Partial List of Unacknowledged Sex.” He begins by comparing pollen in the air to chaperoning a party of fifteen-year-olds where no one can acknowledge the “static sex electricity” in the room, “so thick that a single errant loosed spark / from a carpet or petting the cat will make / the entire room into a bomb.”

Humor is a great strategy. In “Sex Education,” Ron Koertge shows us adolescent boys watching dogs “doing it.” They think it’s hilarious until “Mrs. Berryman came out in her slip,” wearing a smirk “like none of our mothers.” After a flip of her cigarette and a wink, “. . . tag or Red Rover seemed / stupid. It had to be football so we / could handle each other and bleed.”

And then there’s the dark side. Most Americans have come around to the idea that rape isn’t about sex, it’s about violence and power, for which sex is merely a means. Emma Bolden takes us into the center of that experience with her stunning, “Somewhere She’s Holding in Silence,” a tour de force and one of the strongest poems in the issue.

In the contributors notes, writers were asked to identify the most unusual place they have had sex. As one would expect, there are plenty of stairwells, vehicles, elevators, landscapes, and witty answers like “Indiana.” Bolden, in addition to writing a superb poem, supplied the best answer: “Chex? Where’s the most unusual place I’ve had Chex? Probably in the hallway of my dorm whilst walking to the laundry room.”

The non-dossier half of the issue includes memorable work by Mary Ruefle, Kathleen Ossip, Maureen Seaton, Eric Burger, Matthew Thorburn, Terence Winch, Robert Hershon, and many others. There’s also a selection of spare, anti-poetic poems by the late Ed Smith, edited by Bruce Hainley.

The dossier theme for next year is creative response, in poetry, short lyric essay, or non-academic prose, to the life, work, and legacy of the late James Schuyler. Get those pencils sharpened. Judging by this issue, the competition is likely to be fierce.

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Fjords coverFjords

Volume 2 Issue 1



Review by Mary Florio

The experience of a minute occurs differently on a train, in sixty parts, rather than the measurable clattering of east coast winter hellos, vowels in mini-seconds through the incisors. Traveling by rail has been the essential inorganic character of thousands of recollections of the Western canon. Like the prospects of vaudeville and print journalism, it was meant to last forever. And thanks to a moving, technically masterful essay by Barbara Hass in the current issue of Fjords, it does. Her essay, “This Wilderness We Can’t Contain,” is imaginative without losing the tight management of its political and philosophical themes, without unraveling the travel narrative in the irresistible surrealism of the setting. In unpacking the 2011 flood of the Missouri River, she captures an essential rail experience—with the expert and shifting lens of the other elements that contribute to environmental disaster.

I love her sentences, and her pacing, on a minute level. She manages surrealism rather than letting it overcome her prose: “. . . the train had taken us to a fairy tale place where land wasn’t land and lakes weren’t lakes, an area of magical paradoxes.” Her lyricism is measured. Watching the torrents of rain through the train windows “was like being in a zoo for floods.” Her analysis is concise and elegant. “There’s a lot of down time in nature.” And “Same water, different story . . . Well-behaved rivers had fooled us into thinking we could domesticate water.”

Fjords, a sprint of a journal at less than 100 pages, succeeds in its humor, literary analysis, poetry, and art with a kind of balance you don’t always see in the longer journals, perhaps because with a smaller ship, the crew must be nimbler. For example, there are no contributor notes in the volume. You can find short author biographies on the website, but this collection doesn’t really need them: the voices are clear and the work speaks for itself.

Take Erik Martiny’s “Sartorius,” an essay that turned my generally miserable outlook into unchecked joy. The journal has requested that quotes of this volume be limited to three lines, so I can’t show you how the first three paragraphs of this essay are some of the funniest I’ve ever read—and even a three-line excerpt won’t do the author’s humor justice: “I had what you would call an eccentric childhood . . . my parents were not what you would call Surrealist artists or anything so it wasn’t as if my mother was Leonora Carrington, getting up at night to snip a lock of hair from the sleeping heads of unsuspecting guests . . .” Martiny maintains the quality but segues away from the family and toward a kind of coming-of-age. I hope that this piece develops into a larger work where he can weave together his talent for representing art with his literary acumen.

One of the best features of Fjords is its accessibility. A certain crisis in American poetry might be that the Modernists’ references were too obscure, and those that followed represented a backlash of the obvious. Any extreme in an art movement is going to exclude others, and while it is a privilege to watch trends beget variation on a trend, I think that it is vital for poets of our generation to take the approach that Fjords does, that is, dare to create smart, intellectual work, with enough of a hand-up for those of us who did not major in the Classics.

Take Philip Fried’s “Canticles,” an achingly beautiful poem that can hold its own. Here is the final stanza: “Thou art beautiful, O my love, and terrible as an army / with banners.” Reading the poem in its entirety a few times provides you with a strong affinity for the language. But Fried provides some exposition, and we learn on the opposite page that the language comes from “Song of Songs” and “the terminology of modern warfare,” specifically the Afghanistan war. By providing the reader with some background, the poet invites her to deeply engage with the poem, instead of isolating her and reminding her of her own inability to understand the communication. I think it frees the poet—not just the reader—because the poet can then delve and experiment and not agonize as to whether the work, surely of beauty, is not as incomprehensible as it is lovely. Obscurity was meant for chemistry—carbon and bonds—not songs of love and war.

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Kaleidoscope coverKaleidoscope

Number 66

Winter/Spring 2013


Review by Cara Bigony

“Accept the changes, Celebrate the advantages, Find Purposes.” This quote from Mike Shirk, a disabled artist featured in Kaleidoscope, exemplifies the humanity, humility, and honesty you’ll find in the issue. A magazine dedicated to discussing disabilities through art, fiction, poetry, and personal essays, Kaleidoscope is inspiring. This “Significant Relationship” issue (the last print issue before they transition to a digital model) offers comfort to caregivers, understanding to outsiders, and hope to the disabled. Kaleidoscope is different than almost every other literary magazine I’ve read; it is art with a purpose—with a humanitarian agenda and a palpable sense of community.

Tenderness and strength appear throughout the journal in simple interactions. James B. Nicola’s “The Beauty of Gray” shows a caregiver’s life, without romanticizing its daily challenges. And “In Chemo,” a short poem by Kenneth Raymond (Joe) Massingham, the whole process of chemo is glossed in order to magnify one session and image of a loved-one’s touch of his arm. With equal grace and candor, other poets such as Travis Laurence Naught and Sarah Rizutto turn to the judgments, loneliness, and the pervasive feeling of difference that haunts their disability-defined social interactions.

In Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry’s “Imagine,” a couple navigates illness from the inside. Her story cautiously exposes the specific type of disappointment one feels when having a disabled child. She artfully manipulates the detail of being handed a flyer in the hospital into a metaphor that brings us as close as we can get to her experience.

The personal essays in this issue should be published as an anthology. Darien Andreu’s “The Importance of Plato” outlines “hospital time,” illustrating the routine of living in a hospital, a daily living schedule so vastly different and removed from “healthy” routines. Like many stories in this magazine, the smallest gesture assumes major significance. In one moment, finally free from the hospital and able to pet his dog, the author regains temporary control of his life, and sees it as a blessing. And while some stories nestle into a narrative arc, Amy F. Quincy’s essay starts in an extremely vulnerable moment of having been pitched from her wheelchair:

After much discussion, we decided she should grab me by the ankles and pull me over the threshold. I wanted her to hurry before some neighbor walking the dog saw me out of the wheelchair and came to investigate. I should have been more worried about someone seeing my mother dragging what looked to be a dead body into the house.

With a sense for irony and humor, her writing is intimate. Without sugar coating and without negativity, she’s simply telling us, how it is, day in and day out, to live with her disease. She explains the medical, exposes the familiar, and divulges her daily struggle with it.

One of the most moving parts of the journal is its art, but the oils and watercolors are not done justice in black and white. Luckily, the journal’s transition to digital (starting next issue) should solve this. Aside from this printing setback, Tommy Roberts’s “Reflections” and “Monet’s Garden” are two impressionist-inspired landscapes done in watercolor. And his acrylics on paper titled “Freedom,” showing more than twenty hands reaching to the sky, conveys a remarkable multiplicity. His art is uniquely tied to his personal struggle with muscular dystrophy, which he and Sandy Palmer synthesizes elegantly:

The landscape of life includes rough terrain, valleys, mountaintops and a multitude of colors, shapes and textures. When he looks at a landscape he wants to paint, he says, “I select areas and interpret them on the canvas.” He doesn’t attempt to paint every single leaf, branch, or blade of grass. He looks at the entire image and pulls out the areas that intrigue him.

Sandy Palmer’s compilation of Michael and Beth Shirk’s work is equally comprehensive and outlines the couple’s history, and their mixed media and watercolors.

If you can’t buy the last print issue of Kaleidoscope, I urge you to bookmark it on your computer and keep an eye out for its digital issues coming soon. This journal is every bit as literary as every other journal out there, and it has a purpose. And that feels good.

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The Long Story coverThe Long Story

Number 31



Review by Julie Nichols

Reading a long short story is a special process somewhere between starting up slow and circling around for the long haul, as you do for a novel, and nabbing on the fly the conflict and character quirks thrown out by the early paragraphs of a short story which are swiftly brought to some end. So I respect and admire the unique mission of The Long Story: to publish stories of eight to twenty thousand words (most between eight and twelve thousand) and let the reader develop a relationship with the ideas and people unfolding between the first and twenty-thousandth words.

I especially appreciate the editorial taste for stories with a “human and thematic core,” demonstrating a quality that “comes from knowledge gained through implicit knowledge of the Western humanistic tradition along with interest in the same themes that engaged the great writers of the past.” Graciously, the editor, R. P. Burnham, provides a partial list of other literary magazines that consider long stories, from Alaska Quarterly Review to Quarterly West. The biannual Big Fiction also particularly celebrates the long story. But The Long Story identifies itself as the only journal dedicated to the genre in quite this way, and consequently it has a singular appeal for certain readers and writers. It raises high expectations.

Danielle Metcalf’s “Judgment Day” fulfills those expectations. In it, a raging fire approaches the home of Doris Faye, a widow of 23 years, now nearing seventy. At the beginning of the story she wants the flames to consume her, to purge her of guilt and free her from loneliness. At the end of the story, she wants to escape the fire and live. In between, she fights with the fireman who comes to save her, resists him by going deeper and deeper into her house—deeper into her own memories and motives. The reader believes in the characters that surface, flinches from the roar of the encroaching fire, breathes an enormous sigh of relief at Doris’s final choice. But I’m not spoiling the story, because its pacing keeps the reader engaged, anxious to see Doris’s conflict resolved appropriately for her. And that might just be on the side of death; she has her reasons. This is Metcalf’s first published story, and it’s a fine one.

Haunting images from Rex Sexton’s “Trouble Town,” the story of a young man living a “ghost existence” in the Chi-town slaughterhouses, stayed with me long after I finished reading it. Ingbar’s an artist in a tough world. “Perhaps it was the blessing of imagination that kept everyone out of the prison that was life,” the narrator says early on: “he recalled how he and playmates used to blow up chicken gullets like balloons for the girls to carry around on strings, and played pirate with sharpened stockyard bones, which they sheathed in their clothesline belts . . .” But this is barely the beginning. Singled out as a newcomer in the slaughterhouse, he must do violence to make his place. In some ways, the imagination of his childhood fails him—as it must. We cannot be children always. But in other, important ways, his imagination saves him. The sensory details—from the memories of his childhood through his imprisonment and beyond—give us to know, consistently, that the inner life carries its own salvation. Even in Trouble-Town, life offers enormous opportunity. If this is not adherence to “the same themes that engaged the great writers of the past,” nothing is.

Remember Paul Bunyan? There are five of them in Meagan Ciesla’s parable, “The Tallest Men, the Broadest Shoulders.” Climate change, corporate greed, worker exploitation all have their place in this tall (think “long”) tale—a fascinating, clever response to what might have been a prompt, or an internal urge, to extend and embellish a well-known story chock-full of universal themes engaging not only the great writers of the past, but also those of today.

Unfortunately, there seem to be a couple of editorial slippages. In Ronald M. Gauthier’s “Modern Black Boy,” are what look like typos intentional? “O’Hara County” half the time, “Ohara” the other half? A portrait of Richard Wright taken as a “photo opt”? These are a disappointment; where the stories deserve our sustained attention, as does this one about a Black librarian’s fight for his library, there should be no such distractions.

Ultimately, these and the other seven stories, along with poetry by Kathy Fitzgerald, Paul Nelson, and John Wheatcroft (happy surprise to find excellent poems in a journal dedicated to long stories!), fill 167 closely-typed pages with engaging plots, neat structures, and round and diverse characters. Long live The Long Story!

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Manoa coverMānoa

Volume 24 Number 2

Winter 2012


Review by Sherra Wong

In the United States, the word freedom is talismanic, introduced from kindergarten as the American creation myth and held up by politicians and news commentators, rightly or not, as the premier American export. We own the idea—so the subtext goes—and the rest of the world struggles to become like us. So when I hold in my hand the Winter 2012 issue of Mānoa, called On Freedom: Spirit, Art, and State, I wonder how each piece and photograph defines freedom: does the definition conform or aspire to the American definition, and is it first and foremost political?

Mānoa is published by the University of Hawaii Press, and “strives to bring the literature of Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas to English-speaking readers.” The cover of the issue is a photograph by Linda Connor of a monk, looking almost dashing in sunglasses and standing with his arms crossed under clouds gathering for a storm. Right then and there Mānoa suggests a multifaceted picture of freedom: the monk seeks an inner spiritual freedom, and his posture hints at defiance; but the storm threatens overhead, and he cannot do anything to stop it. Inside on the facing page, there is a photograph of a man peering out from behind a small barred window, his face complete framed by a stone wall that appears to be part of a structure. The photograph, also by Linda Connor, is called “Kashmiri Summer Worker.” Is he free to leave? The man looks directly at the camera, and his eyes are hopeful.

Woeser’s essay, “Garpon La’s Offering,” is a fresh take on the classic narrative of an artist’s eventual triumph over the suppression of his creative freedom by political forces. Gar “is sacred music dedicated to the Dalai Lama and performed only during special, high ceremonies.” Woeser tells the story of Garpon La, a master Gar musician who had joined the troupe as a boy before the Tibetan uprising against the Chinese in 1959, was imprisoned in a labor camp for 22 years before being rehabilitated by the Chinese authorities in 1982. The subject is the stuff of melodrama, but the essay reads like a conversation, interspersed with Woeser’s own thoughts, interruptions, and hesitations. It is a gentle indictment, and a quiet celebration.

Other pieces explore the boundaries of personal freedom in the face of economic and social circumstance. In “The Snow of Memory,” Mutsuo Takahashi’s mother leaves in search of her own freedom after her husband’s death. Phil Choi recalls the choices that the women in his family have made in “Choosing Burden,” including an aunt who passed the burden of raising a second child to her mother, thinking it would be temporary. The prisoners of Zhang Yihe’s “Death in Prison” barter away the dead person’s belongings: within the prison’s four walls, what little freedom there is must be snatched and stolen. “Stand Up and Whistle” by Andrew Lam is my personal favorite: the narrator’s uncle escaped from war-torn Vietnam, but an affliction of his body follows him everywhere in America.

“Our horoscopes are poor,” wrote Tin Moe in a selection from The Years We Didn’t See the Dawn. Moe was imprisoned by the military dictatorship in Burma on account of his opposition to the regime, and he eventually escaped to the United States, where he died. The excerpt’s fatalism echoes the entangled temple bells in another of Linda Connor’s images: what begins auspiciously cannot last. Moe recalls:

Along the shore,
Gathering up fallen blossoms,
Drinking water from the spring, this joy I had;
But having is but for a moment
Not having is for a lifetime.

Tess Gallagher’s “Blind Dog/Seeing Girl” describes a dog who can neither see nor hear, but the girl lets the dog travel without a leash so that the dog collects “mistakes and self-forgiveness.” The dog’s handicaps limit where they can go, but the girl insists on protecting the dog’s freedom. Unlike the aunt in Choi’s essay, the girl chooses to shoulder the burden because she intuits that “. . . we are each / lost, and beholden / to the other . . .”: the one who is physically freer forfeits her freedom willingly, and is rewarded.

The choice of freedom as a theme is a delicate one, especially for a journal dedicated to literature from and about Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas. It is difficult to come to the issue without fearing that it would teeter on the edge of cliché, simplification, and propaganda. But the strength of Mānoa lies in its juxtaposition of work that was translated into English and work originally written in English. Those who set out to write for their compatriots are not tempted to exoticize or over-explain, and the American writers in this issue exercise admirable judgment in molding their perceptions of the overseas into their work. That is also honest and true. To tell it like it is: that, surely, is a measure of freedom.

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Poetry coverPoetry

Volume 202 Number 1

April 2013


Review by Anne Graue

If any magazine could create a mythology in one edition it would be Poetry. To accomplish this in one issue is next to miraculous, but this is what they have done in the April 2013 issue. Christian Winman and a small cast of editors make their work look effortless, the selections of work by established poets speaking for a larger humanity.

The inside cover features a poem by Anslem Hollo (1934–2013). First published in the longstanding journal in January of 1969, the untitled, nine-line poem reminds us that poetry is timeless and always relevant. It also sets a tone for the issue, a memorial to the past and a mythology that suits the present.

Reading this issue should be compulsory for writers and poets even if the only pages read are the ones containing the three sonnets by Adam Kirsch accompanied by photographs. Kirsch’s all-encompassing statement in the last line of “Revolutionaries, 1929” provides readers with an enduring truth: “Everything that is burnable must burn.” Within his sonnets are the truths of human existence laid bare in the photographs and the words he puts to them.

The work of the universe, present and significant, emanates from most of the issue’s poems. The relationship between working on earth and becoming Godlike is evident in the memorialized poem and weaves its way metaphorically through each, ending with Jamaal May’s poetic treatise on thunder in “Hum for the Bolt.” The ominous last line, “I am this far. I am this close,” is a portent of how things may or may not come to fruition.

Subsequent poems hearken the reader back to the overarching theme, as in poem after poem, the past and present merge into one story, one meaning, through allusion, imagery, and astute storytelling. References to Polyphemus, Rome, and the proverbial Fox and Grapes help us anchor meaning in our own storytelling past; combined with images of suffering, death, and everyday life, the collection of poems in this issue culminate in the lovely gifts of Eavan Boland which retrace personal history and make it universal.

All of the mythologizing and images of the gods in this issue are followed by a commemoration of the publication of Ezra Pound’s “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste,” published in the March 1913 issue of Poetry. The three updated versions of Pound’s essay by Marjorie Perloff, William Logan, and Sina Queyras contain lines that, if ever let out into the world of social media, would become memes for sure, perhaps superimposed over pictures of kittens in berets with quills in their paws. A few I would like to add to my own office wall. Perloff’s mini-essay explores Pound’s “Don’ts” through Frank O’Hara and comes up with five rules for poets, any of which could be a cynical version of Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet.” Logan and Queyras have the stuff that memes are made on, rules that few poets these days seem to heed: “Don’t think what you have to say is important. The way you say it is what’s important. What you have to say is rubbish.” and “You might love a sonnet, so love the sonnet. It doesn’t mean you have to write one.” Reminders to treat the art of writing poetry as an art whether Tweeting, Facebooking, or writing it down on (gasp!) paper.

My time with this month’s issue of Poetry was time well spent; I’m going in again.

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Potomac Review coverPotomac Review

Issue 52

Winter 2013


Review by David R. Matteri

The Potomac Review publishes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from a wide selection of established and emerging authors. From the homepage of their website: “Our philosophy welcomes variety, and through it, we create an organic flow of ideas to contribute to the literary conversation.” The conversation in this issue is definitely worth checking out.

I was impressed by the selection of strong fiction in this journal. “A Cliffside Home” by Tyler Evans, for example, is a funny ghost story with a tragic center: “There has been a ghost haunting our townhouse since my wife had her sixth miscarriage last month.” The ghost in this story has no solid form or clear identity, but it does imitate the everyday actions of our narrator: “It applies shaving cream to the area that I can only assume is its face. The lather glows luminescent in the air beside me for a moment before collapsing to the floor as a boiling froth.” The ghost attaches itself to the narrator and his wife, much to the narrator’s displeasure. The wife, on the other hand, wants to keep it like the child they always wanted but never had. Things change when the wife discovers she is pregnant. The ghost throws a tantrum like a petulant child. It smashes dishes and furniture because it is afraid of change. Over time, the ghost drops its immature behavior and the narrator accepts it as a permanent member of the family. They watch TV together and laugh at absurd commercials in a scene that is brilliantly written and full of warmth: “We laughed because it felt good. . . . We laughed just because the world was funny, and cruel, and brief but it was all we had, and soon the laughter began petering out as drowsiness overtook me.”

“Minutes Away From The Happiest Place on Earth” by Casandra Lopez takes the reader on a tour of the unspoken neighborhoods surrounding Disney’s Magic Kingdom theme park. The story is about a young girl who is sent to live with her aunt after her father died in prison. Too poor to afford entry, the girl and her sister can only experience the park from a distance as summer fireworks explode in the sky near their decrepit motel. She watches commercials for the Electrical Parade with her sister at the motel and yearns to share in the joy she sees on the TV: “A part of me wanted to believe in the possibility of the type of happiness that seemed to radiate from the pores on the children’s faces.” The aunt takes off for work and leaves the girl to take care of her younger sister, Patty. The girl greatly misses her father but at the same time wonders if he was not as perfect as she thought him to be. Regardless, she takes on the role of protector and caregiver for Patty, but danger emerges as the girl and her sister cross paths with a pimp and his prostitute. Patty chases after a ball, but doesn’t realize she is running in the pimp’s direction. The sister tries to stop her, but she is paralyzed with fear:

I realized I wasn’t going to be able to catch up to the ball or Patty, so I shouted her name, but it came out of my mouth as a screech. I felt my face redden from the heat and worry . . . I ran my fingers through my hair. It felt limp and soft, which made me feel young and small. When my hair was styled and hair sprayed in place I felt older and stronger. It was part of the mask I wore out into the world, and there I was without it when I wished everything about me was bigger, louder and stronger. The man held out his hand toward Patty. She tentatively stepped closer to him and held out her palm.

I like how Lopez builds the tension and shows the grinding poverty and misery surrounding the “Happiest Place on Earth.”

Another great story that involves children is Brandon Wicks’s “A Few Notes on Useless Suffering.” This story involves two brothers. The older brother is a scholar of religious studies and the younger is a mechanic. The latter is facing a mid-life crisis where his wife suddenly disappears and he is left to care for his two young boys. He moves in with his brother to help support the boys until the mother is found. However, the boys are a pair of mischievous devils and disrupt the orderly life of the scholarly older brother: “They were a constant blur of motion which made sustained attention difficult, if not impossible.” As the story progresses, we discover that both brothers are broken people. The older brother is lonely because he never knew love or had a family of his own, and the younger worries that he has failed as a father and a husband. The story is at times funny (the older brother’s constipation problem is a constant source of juvenile humor) but also very moving.

“Sunburnt Cosmonaut” by Bradley Somer offers an absurd little story set in the big city. The story shows a complicated relationship unfolding in an inner city apartment complex, but the point of view starts (sort of) with a man’s pet goldfish plummeting from the balcony of said apartment: “Our story doesn’t begin with a goldfish named Ian’s perilous plunge from his bowl on the twenty-third floor balcony where he, for as much as his brain could process, had been enjoying the view of the downtown skyline.” The story rewinds to earlier in the day when Ian the Goldfish is swimming safely in his bowl while his owner is cleaning the apartment and urging another woman out the door before his girlfriend arrives. Meanwhile, the manager of the apartment wonders why this nice girl is dating that cheating “pendejo” on the twenty-third floor and wonders how, if he were younger and more handsome, “he would’ve asked her for coffee, told her everything and comforted her if she cried.” As this human drama unfolds inside the apartment, Ian the Goldfish is accidentally knocked out of a window and falls “like an angel thrust down from heaven, like a sunburnt cosmonaut rocketing back to earth . . .”

There are other great stories and poems in this issue, but there’s not enough space to write about them all. Instead, I would suggest you buy a copy and read it for yourself.

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Volume 36 Number 2

Fall/Winter 2012


Review by Mary Florio

In REAL: Regarding Arts & Letters, Billy Longino interviews Stewart O’Nan and extracts the following prescription: “I found that in a lot of the plotted fiction the plot was getting in the way of what I thought the novel does best: create depth and use time to illuminate character.” The interview explores O’Nan’s literary theory in compelling insight. Hearing the analysis also informs a reading of the rest of the journal, in which writers succeed in illuminating character.

For example, Katrina Denza explores a relationship that has ended with a powerful counterpoint of the protagonist’s care for capuchin monkeys. Her work might qualify for what O’Nan calls “plotted,” but the framework and pacing are ultimately so successful that you are grateful for the order because you are drowning in the protagonist’s loss, as she is. The attention to detail aligns you with her. If Denza pursued a less structured approach, you might not recognize the stages of grieving, the barbed detail that describes the particles of food drifting in dishes that no one had the passion to wash. Her story “What it Takes to Let Go” perfectly complements O’Nan’s general observation: “[It] speak[s] to the promise of America. That promise that Americans make to Americans and how we sometimes fool ourselves in terms of those promises, the expectations that we have, and the idea that we are Americans.”

In Denza’s story, we recognize an especially (but not exclusively) American malady, the death of a union because of the narcissism of the one who can best manipulate a selection of other marital wrecks. Denza gives you none of this detail, of course. She simply tells the story of a woman who cares for animals at a zoo, a woman of tremendous love and feeling, whose expectations almost topple her.

A counterpoint to Denza’s story is Carol K. Howell’s “Attached,” which might be perceived as a fairly graphic sexual tale of two older characters who love robustly, and, with some detail, physically. Love has and will always be somewhat romanticized; for millennia writers have sought to say what Howell says specifically instead by metaphor, and perhaps the death of poetry is really the fact that writing about sex can now be explicit, almost clinical:

They clutch and grind together, his mouth an open sneer of pain. She bumps him hard, drawing a gasp, then clamps down to wring every bit of pleasure she can for him. After all, he’s not getting five of them. He jerks, seizes. She clenches, grips. Locked together, they groan.

What makes this story awesome is the fact that it breaks a different taboo, one of the last taboos of our literary age, the taboo against women having a sexual life after age forty. And the fact that the two main characters are older (we don’t know exactly how old, which is a great device) and fall asleep in each other’s arms is incredibly iconoclastic, and a fine end to the volume’s prose selection.

Ben Hoffman opens the volume with “The Great Deschmutzing,” which captures a different stage of life with certain fine inventions. His ability to weave in and out of the second person is masterful, and the ending, with a five-column list, is unforgettable. The adaptation of the Yiddish is measured—a reader might guess that the tradition, adapted, is part of the idea behind the story, that the characters are moving, evolving, the way that the word “schmutz” has and does in this story. I liked the gentility of that engagement; Hoffman doesn’t come close to playing identity politics. In fact, Hoffman gives voice to a woman managing spheres of disaster—disasters and challenges that transcend all of the realms of protected classes. His eye for detail is perfect: the vortex of sex and love spins across the lives of so many of the characters, even the dead father to whom she speaks. And yet the story is funny despite the heartbreak, which is usually how it can be for loss, however unusual it is to capture the intensity of broken-hearted humor when it’s happening.

The poetry in this journal uniformly succeeds at creating art from recognizable forms. In other words, the poems speak to a particular fact pattern and create significance in clear syntax. I noted no obscure references, no surreal departures, a kind of even pacing as if you are traversing one of those broad Texan flatlands. In terms of branding, that kind of consistency sets a journal aside, because if you enjoy conversational poetry you might have found your homeland. In this way, the poetry in REAL is exactly that: clean, ordered, chiseled, and realistic art. And there is certainly a place for that precision on my bookshelf.

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Windhover CoverWindhover

A Journal of Christian Literature

Volume 17

Spring 2013


Review by Julie Nichols

Take note of the subtitle of Windhover. If you’re not a Christian, or if you don’t entertain at least a little curiosity about the claims of the Christian world regarding the salvific message and death-into-life of what Brian Doyle calls “that gaunt rabbi from Jerusalem two thousand years ago,” this may not be the journal for you. Every poem (there are thirty), prose piece (three, and two reviews) and work of art (several color reproductions by each of two impressive visual artists) requires at least some familiarity with the Biblical and cultural roots of Christian thought. Allusions to the life and teachings of Christ and to the tension inherent in faithful living abound in this issue. If you grok these allusions, this journal is an absolute treasure. If you don’t, you might be confused—or you might become a seeker, wandering a step or two toward conversion.

The magazine’s title presumably alludes to the nineteenth-century Irish priest-poet Gerard Manley Hopkins’s sonnet (“The Windhover”) evoking the flight of a kestrel, dedicated “To Christ Our Lord.” It contains the line Hopkins described as “the best thing I ever wrote”—I think this one: “. . . My heart in hiding / Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!” Windhover, the journal, is full of mastery. I recommend it profoundly.

The poems are lovely. To be a Christian can mean blind adherence to vanilla niceness—I know a lot of nicely vanilla Christians who tout clichés because they don’t know any other language and genuinely want to be acceptable in their communities. But I prefer another kind of Christian—the ones who are both human (that is, imperfect, funny, scrabbling along making a lot of mistakes, just like the rest of us) and a little more—they’re good, and thoughtful (not only thinkers but also considerate people, aware of others, ready to hear and help), astute, even wise, who seriously entertain the idea that God’s love is personal and real. Maryanne Hannan’s twelve-line “Concert” says, “God forbid we invite the tone-deaf / to be part of the choir,” but the tongue is in the cheek here; it ends, “God forbid . . . [we should] attempt anything / as important as God’s joyful noise.” The noise may be “grating, discordant, cacophonous,” but it deserves praise—a fundamental concept in Christianity, I think, that goodness abides and gives reason to be glad.

Robert B. Moreland’s “No Plan B,” a poem shaped like an airplane, compares Charles Lindberg’s Atlantic flight to the decision to believe: “Death or Paris, / no Plan B, / homeward / bound . . . // God’s promises believe or faithless die. // . . . Confess the fear, / no Plan B, / Heaven / bound.”

There are poems mourning physical death (Michael D. Riley’s “In Memoriam,” a soft elegy about a beloved deceased man’s reunification with the One) and spiritual or at least religious loss (both of Jennifer Clark’s fine free verse poems lament her inability to find a church, or a God, who satisfies). Kelley White’s pieces (one poetry, one prose) see death and pain through the eyes of children seeking meaning. The narrator of the poem, “Report (CY47),” is an abused child, quietly accepting help, hoping for release. The prose piece presents a five-year-old placing stones on graves of people who might have been her friends. These are moments in a world where right intent can as often lift as wrong intent can hinder.

My favorite pieces in this issue, though, are the ones that reimagine moments from scripture. There is a gratifying number of these proofs that to be Christian does not mean to lack inventiveness, originality, or insight. Sally Clark’s “The Widow’s Mite,” Michael D. Riley’s “Pilate’s Clothes,” Christopher Fahy’s “Iscariot (from Matthew),” and perhaps most especially, for me, Chet Corey’s “Cain’s Wife” and Max Harris’s “First Blood” all provide inspired new ways to envision their respective fragments of scriptural story. Harris’s entreaty in the voice of the baby Jesus to his mother on the occasion of his circumcision is formatted as prose, but the quietly percussive rhythm, the sensual images, and the focus on the feelings of the young mother, her bewildered husband, and her willing child—these are poetically rich and fertile.

I cannot neglect the art in this issue. In Micah Bloom’s breathtaking “Interventions” series, folk-art humans in moments of danger and distress are caught between winged heavenly angels, dressed in white and reaching to save, and Hieronymus Bosch-inspired red devils, gargoyles gurgling with laughter as they prevent the angels’ rescue. Life is so obviously like this: torn between safety and harm, we rarely know (but ought to acknowledge) the invisible forces at work making sure one or the other comes out on top.

These are the issues inherent in belief. Windhover, Volume 17, covers them remarkably well.

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Zymbol coverZymbol

Issue 1

Spring/Summer 2013


Review by Cara Bigony

Zymbol is steeped in summer. A journal of surrealist fiction and poetry, this issue’s transcendence—occasionally incorporating the grotesque—appears with a tinge of nostalgia for warm days that have slipped away. With this nostalgia comes a feeling of loneliness, and an issue filled with introverted voices trying to find a connection to the world around them.

Lost in a moment, Ben Nardolilli’s “The Latter Time” savors a brief escape from linear time. Taking a full breath of summer, his poem teases us to escape through our own associations. Disorientation caused by a fragmentation understanding of place and time is central in Kevin O’Sullivan’s poems. Easy to read and rich in imagery, “Hap” was a favorite of mine. His “Nunc Stans” questions time: “in a meaningless synchronization / a no-hands agreement of timelessness / on high and pocketed pointlessness.” Through a pocket watch, he stresses how arbitrary it is to align collective analog times and highlights the experiential, individual time’s tendency to exist outside chronology. His poems will make you think.

A bit more depressing but equally interesting is Zachary Kaplan-Moss’s “One.” The story takes on similar themes of isolation, and epistemological limits—especially as they are reinforced by modern technology: “Umbilical phone, tenuous link between self and other, the people we suppose we know.” Kaplan-Moss tells the story of a highly perceptive man on the edge of something frightening: “Though he had outlawed thinking about Andrea, he cannot rid himself of her memory. It stays around and decays like rotting meat. Andrea’s rejection has meant more to his life than her love ever could have.”

One story pulls us into a cat-mouse romance. Ilya Lyashevsky’s “Chasing It” has the most enticing first paragraph of a short fiction piece I’ve read in a long time. What seems like a simple study of a man who wants what he can’t have and a woman baiting him progresses from a simple chase to something much more complex. The story itself is written like foreplay and its developments whet our appetite through to the final turn.

A tension between freedom, limited agency, and responsibility become physical in this issue. It is released in a few stories by metaphorically ripping off masks, literally eating flesh, and pulling away skin. Leonora Carrington’s “The Debutante” evokes sympathy for an introvert who just wants to be left alone, who finds more comfort visiting animals at the zoo than she does among her peers. The story indulges the fantasy that springs from obligations—of letting someone take your place in the public world, while you hold fast recluse desires:

In front of the mirror, the hyena was admiring herself in Mary’s face. She had eaten carefully all around the face so that just what she needed was left . . . Tired out by the emotions of the day, I took out a book and, near the open window, I gave myself over to rest.

A fantasy of leaving the body, of transcending with the help of another, is eloquently re-explored in Jennifer Hollie Bowles’s “Alloponappally,” a short fiction piece in which the narrator creates a new reality with her lover Danny.

This main essay by Marta Ferrer Gómez with Anne James (Zymbol editor) is an interesting synthesis of the big surrealist contributors from Freud to de Beauvoir to Breton, as they look at gender relations in the changing Surrealist alchemical imagery. Though full of allusion, steeped in history, and highly specialized, the essay is approachable to anyone with a passing interest in the Surrealist movement.

Like one of Zymbol’s characters, drowning consciousness in drink, fighting to break free of painful memories and unrequited love, in this issue of Zymbol, experience reigns supreme.

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