Posted June 14, 2013
Alaska Quarterly Review :: Bellevue Literary Review :: Carve Magazine :: Consequence Magazine :: Fairy Tale Review :: Irish Pages :: Lost in Thought :: Mandorla :: Moon City Review :: Pleiades :: Poetry South :: Radio Silence :: Slice
Volume 30 Numbers 1 & 2
Spring & Summer 2013
Review by Anne Graue
Alaska Quarterly Review (AQR) is “a journal devoted to contemporary literary art.” This double issue is indeed artful, and reading through the selections is like wandering through a museum one has loved since childhood, from school trips through failed first dates and on into the future of adult wanderings, each stage of life a visitation filled with misgivings, missteps, and misunderstanding.
The two seasons (Spring and Summer), presented together, form a beautiful package under a cover of a “close-up of a birch uprooted by ice during spring thaw,” giving readers something from Alaska that is at once poetic and rough. The seven works of short fiction and two novellas are eclectic and modern, simple and complex. Flannery O’Connor said, “The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.” Fortunately for the readers of this issue of AQR, the characters in the works of fiction find themselves precisely at those crossroads where they convey truths about humanity. Using dialogue, description, conflict, and whatever elements are at hand, the fiction writers crafted modern stories with universal themes. Guilt is palpable in Patricia Schultheis’s “Pitiful,” as we follow the immediacy of characters who believe one among them has committed murder. A sad narcissism is interwoven throughout Matt Carmichael’s “The Reenactor.” In all of the fiction, a thematic urgency is couched in craft.
The artifacts sifted from the debris of individual lives comprise the theme of the four nonfiction selections. “Maple Lane” is a mining of Anne Kaier’s past as told to her by her parents and through home movies. As she searches the caves of her early memory, from birth and early life as a newborn with ichthyosis to an adult, she searches her own feelings among her parents’ reconstructed actions and emotions surrounding the birth of her and her twin brother, who was unafflicted. Kaier’s exploration yields precious metals of thought and diamonds of love from the uneven earth that is her past. The remaining three essays in the journal are retellings of an early career (Edward Hower’s “What Can You Do”), a family crisis (Mary Koral’s “Lock Up,” and a search for process in poetry (Leslie Ullman’s “A Brief History of an Imagination”), all drawing readers into the separate and distinct lives.
Reading this double issue of AQR causes one to delve into themes of suicide, murder, death, self-mutilation, failure, and loss. Kristin Robertson’s “Swan Song” is a message to a suicidal friend that explains how the body will resist dying and “feed blood to the most resistant heart.” In Mark Kraushaar’s “The Ring Toss Lady Breaks a Five” readers can only nod at the last two lines: “Things happen, she says, you / can’t take them back.” Gary H. Holthaus’s poem “Meadow at Night” asks, “How can you miss / what you never had?” Finally, in the last poem of the issue “My Daughter’s Journal,” Steve Gehrke laments that he can already “. . . see the freshness / of the world begin to fade in her, that root system of other selves that boredom or discontent / nourishes inside of us as we age. . .” In each of these poems there is loss and an admission that life or someone has failed to protect or reassure someone else.
The collection here satisfies a poetry lover’s need for the archetypal, the contemplative, the observant, and the narrative. All are represented in language carefully crafted by the poets and seductively selected by the editors. From the first to the last, the poems in this double issue ask readers to contemplate the objects in our lives that become important to us over many years of living and consider them the artifacts of meaning when we are gone. From a daughter’s journal to masterful paintings to a photo on a page from Field Guide to the Fossils, no item is bereft of meaning, and everything that we come across could be significant. In Don Stap’s “Remnants,” the speaker lets someone know about the treasures that are to remain unknown and out of reach. Walnuts, the feathers of spoonbills and cedar waxwings, the shell of a box turtle, “Nor the round stone, a conglomerate, / heavy as lead, from the bed of the railroad / tracks, Kalamazoo, autumn, 1971, dusk,” are available from the speaker’s life. Each stanza describes artifacts of a life that someone has not earned.
The return on the investment of time and money is worth it; the catharsis is priceless.
Volume 13 Number 1
Review by Julie J. Nichols
This issue of Bellevue Literary Review starts with eyewitness descriptions on the effects of last October’s Hurricane Sandy on New York’s Bellevue Hospital. The piece, titled “The Night of the Hurricane,” archives recollections from resident physicians of NYU’s Department of Medicine and is a tribute to the brave staff members who had evacuated Bellevue Hospital, hauling patients and equipment down stairs and through halls one by one to safety in the midst of enormous devastation rendering the building silent for the first time in more than 275 years. In her foreword, Editor-in-Chief Danielle Ofri writes, “Dollars, hours, gallons, and acreage can seem almost flimsy when trying to understand the effects on a human level—the patient who was carried down seventeen flights of stairs, the administrator who never left the hospital for a week, the employee whose home was destroyed . . .” We are relieved to hear that though “there still remain many displaced elements,” there is hope that “the hospital community will be fully restored soon.”
I’m impressed even more with this issue knowing that it was produced under such constraints. Although the prizewinners of the annual contests and the new writers presented here do not address the destruction Sandy brought on, their work validates the best in human nature as it confronts displacement, disorientation, disease, and the imminence of death. Despite disaster, good judgment and fine language prevail.
The 2013 Goldenberg Prize for Fiction, judged by Jane Smiley, was awarded to Kathryn Trueblood for “The No-Tell Hotel,” a piece so convincing it sounds like creative nonfiction, and yet it is structured so cleanly that if it were cnf, we would commend its fidelity to conventions of the best literary fiction. The narrator is a single mom whose son brings home the dregs of high school, kids whose parents “have kicked them out, or are stretched too thin to help out, or can only offer beer, bong hits, and Top Ramen.” Her practical compassion not only allows her to respect these homeless kids, but impels her to cook for them, listen to them, and protect them. There’s no softening the blows here—the most important scene takes place in the home of one of the kids who has abandoned his mother with MS. Recognizing that the mother needs help, the narrator assists her, talks to her, and holds her as they wait for the ambulance. The neglectful boy isn’t bad, they say to each other, “just young is all.” Their strength is in their support for each other and for the boy.
This kind of compassion infuses all the writing in this journal. Jacqueline Kolosov’s essay “Dust, Light, Life,” winner of the Burns Archive Prize for Nonfiction, recalls Virginia Woolf’s “Death of the Moth” both in its braided form and in its allusions to that and other literary works. Megan Kimble’s “Click,” another work of creative nonfiction, feels like poetry, juxtaposing the shoulder pain of the moment with the accident that caused that pain, as well as projecting into the future.
Kelly Vande Plasse’s gentle, straightforward poem “October Snow” chronicles a ninety-year-old man’s last days from the point of view of his posterity come to his bedside to see him home. Three-line stanzas bring us to his bed, hint at his defiance, and demonstrate their care until, at last, the lines shorten and stop at “This great stillness— / his last gift to us.” Similarly, Stephen Gibson’s “Portraits” offers verbal snapshots taken between 1890 and 1910 of corpses snapped “in time.” The repetition of the phrase “this time” is the most haunting aspect of this poem. Tom Pierce’s short story “I Am at Peace in This Eternal Moment” makes fun of “alternative” modalities such as Reiki and affirmations, but the aged, remorseful narrator’s memories of his wife’s grief when their only child died before birth come forward as the one real thing in his life, a pain that binds him to earth and allows him to connect with whatever’s left.
In this gracious issue, a score of poems and a dozen works of prose acknowledge the harshness of our material lives as they celebrate the power of the human spirit to meet that harshness with mercy and good intentions. Beautiful language only affirms the strength of our humanity.
Review by Kenneth Nichols
The cover of this issue of Carve Magazine depicts a fractured two-story home engulfed in flames, and the image is appropriate for at least two reasons. The journal’s title and its ethos are inspired by the works of Raymond Carver, who certainly knew how to depict households in disarray. Further, the stories in this issue each relate to some kind of disaster, whether natural or personal.
In “The Possibility of Fire,” Jessica Barksdale’s first-person narrator confronts a domestic disaster. The narrator’s husband was physically abusive and even hit her in front of their two sons. After Robert left, “rehab fixed him up for a new wife” who took off after the man had a stroke. Now, the narrator has assumed the responsibility of caring for Robert, who is still abusive in spite of his inability to move his limbs very much or to speak clearly. Barksdale begins the story in compelling fashion; her narrator confesses that she wonders what it would be like to kill the man. Although Barksdale’s work is populated by people whose lives are unhappy, their respective disasters do not leave them broken.
Jeff Moscaritolo’s “A Chance to Get Involved” takes an unexpected look at the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami that knocked out Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The second-person story is told from the viewpoint of an American man whose wife is so affected by the devastation that she heads to Japan to try and help. After Bess abandons her husband, he finds it increasingly hard not to notice one of his fellow teachers. The narrator finds himself frozen before “the vividness” of Chloe Olsen’s face, “the colorful hues—pink cheeks, golden ringlets of hair, soft, dark lipstick, blue eyes.” Moscaritolo gracefully paints the picture of his protagonist’s loneliness in the wake of his personal disaster and ends the story in a tantalizing manner. As long as we are alive, he seems to say, there is the possibility that we can take steps to improve the lives of ourselves and others.
Carve sets itself apart with its focus on the writing and editing process. Each short story is accompanied by a comment from one of the journal’s editors that illuminates what made each piece stand out. The “Reject!” feature is an interesting idea in which the editors republish a piece that they had previously rejected, but that was published by someone else. The Carve reading committee liked Molly Laich’s “Make Do,” but turned it down because they felt the craft felt “a bit stilted” and the “ending was anti-climactic.” The story was later picked up by Corium Magazine, whose editor joins the discussion, describing why she accepted Ms. Laich’s piece. This look behind the curtain should be heartening for any writer who has felt the sting of rejection.
Writing is often a solitary pursuit and it can be difficult to know how our own processes measure up to those of other writers. Karen Celestan’s “Higher Ground” is set in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the piece is followed by a lengthy interview in which Celestan describes her motivation for writing the story. “Higher Ground” is a deeply personal work for the author; other writers may enjoy knowing that they are not alone when they get teary while composing a new story.
Although Carve is an invaluable resource for writers, the very slick journal will certainly appeal to anyone who enjoys the written word. In fact, enjoying the diverse selection of stories and learning the circuitous path they took to publication may inspire a reader or two to put pen to paper.
Review by Kenneth Nichols
As George Kovach points out in his editor’s note, “the standard definition of war, one society imposing its will on another by militant force, fails the test for full disclosure.” Consequence Magazine adeptly fills the many gaps left open by such a clinical conception of what war really means to those who endure it, soldier and civilian alike. The issue offers a wide range of literature that both forces and invites the reader to confront some of mankind’s more unpleasant tendencies.
Last year, David Abrams published his knockout first novel: Fobbit. After a long career as an active-duty military journalist, Abrams has focused his literary attention on fiction. In the second-person story “Guns,” Abrams places the reader in the character of a young man who has had a complicated relationship with firearms. The story is split into three sections; in the first, “you” are young and disappoint your father with your hunting skills. In the second, you are in basic training and are just barely certified to use your M-16. In the third, you struggle during what may be the first time you fire your weapon at a real human being. Though the story is somewhat brief, Abrams offers a potent reminder that soldiers are more human than G.I. Joe.
On November 5, 2009, a lone gunman opened fire at Fort Hood, killing thirteen and wounding more than thirty. The sole suspect, U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, used a Belgian-made FN Five-seven semi-automatic pistol to exorcise whatever demons possessed him. Lee Hancock’s “Interview with a Gun” is not a dry recounting of a horrific event. Hancock entwines the Hasan narrative with her own personal experience with firearms and a larger analysis of the excessive affection Americans seem to have for guns. After the Sandy Hook shooting, Hancock went to a sporting goods store, only to find a large crowd looking to stock up on guns and ammunition. “There is no escaping their fear,” she concludes. ”It will stalk us, just as surely as the grieving will ask after every mass shooting—why do we keep letting this happen? The grieving keep waiting for the obvious answer—something has got to change.”
Although wars are conflicts between nations, they are fought by individuals who need a leader to motivate them. Bruce Fleming makes the argument that that the United States military-service academies may not be worth the investment they receive from the government. Fleming, a professor of English at the U.S. Naval Academy, notes the excellence of officers produced by the far-cheaper ROTC programs that can be found at many colleges. Fleming offers advice to the military academies. In short, he believes they should stop infantilizing students, enroll older candidates and enforce rigorous academic standards.
Poet Martha Collins contributes two interesting poems that examine war from the perspective of non-combatants. “Hanoi Morning” and “Not Being There” are influenced by the Vietnam conflict. In fact, the poems are dated “1995, 2010” and “1993, 2012,” respectively. It is indeed difficult to forget that some Americans, “. . . gathered in public / places with posters and blankets / and dope and music,” while other people the same age were “. . . losing things: arms / and legs, innocence, sanity, girl- / friends, wives, buddies . . .” and more. Collins reminds us that contextualizing warfare is a long-term struggle for both warrior and pacifist.
The inclination to make war is a sad human inevitability. The need to create art and express thought through literature is equally powerful. This issue of Consequence Magazine gives voice to those who are often silenced by the shouts of the powerful. Kovach explains that “Guns” and “Interview with a Gun” represent “two degrees on a spinning moral compass, and examples of what we don’t talk about when we talk about war.” The rest of the work in this volume could be placed on that same compass.
Review by Anne Graue
Like all cherished fairy tales from childhood, the Yellow Issue of Fairy Tale Review invites its readers on a journey with memorable characters and promises treasure. The typical reward of the fairy tale as we know it, though, is more elusive in the selections in this issue, and we are asked to listen carefully. Guest Editor Lily Hoang says to “tiptoe forth with caution or come with sword drawn.” Sage advice, for some of these modern fairy tales come equipped with evil, real and imaginary.
The tone-setting quotation from Ray Bolger, the actor who played the beloved Scarecrow in the film version of The Wizard of Oz, opens the gate and sends readers on their journey: “It’s going to be very lonely on that Yellow Brick Road now.” Among the loneliest are Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella, inviting us to remember their stories, cast them off, and accept a few new interpretations.
The first treasure is the Table of Contents as it is annotated and allows readers to nibble on selections before committing to a lengthier snack or full-course meal. The titles are familiar and yet estranged from our collective knowledge of fairy tales. Snow White is accompanied by seven satellites, for example, and the mouse, a frequent character in many tales, is coupled with a serpent rather than the anticipated lion. A curious gender-bending title of a retelling of Hansel and Gretel translates to giddy anticipation for what is to come, a characteristic of all good fairy tales.
Each selection contains precise language of many hues and configurations, story plots that surprise and terrorize, and magical imagery that requires the readers’ suspension of disbelief for the duration. From Dawn Manning’s “Cinder,” the couplets below demonstrate a control of the poetic craft with the ability to captivate the reader with the story of mythical sibling rivalry:
Chasing Cupid like a fool,
Venus barring the way. In her rage
Psyche smashed her own sisters
against the rocks, then
let her broken heart smolder
for a thousand years until need
overtook her and she let it
Nick Francis Potter’s horrific and exquisite prose piece “Josh Henderson is Anne Boleyn” is hypnotic as Josh’s sisters allow him to pretend to be Anne Boleyn for three days—one for each year of her reign—during which he must perform three miracles. Potter’s subtlety in building to the awful, but expected, denouement of his story of evil sisters offers chilling matter-of-factness with sentences such as, “The Henderson parents don’t notice having four girls on this particular Sunday, only noticing a much smoother routine in getting the children ready and into the Astro van, each thinking to themselves (their parents), what a wonderful job we are doing, raising these children.” Readers can only wince and wonder how the parents can be so stupidly oblivious to what is going on and from where such denial might come.
The stories by Shawn Andrew Mitchell (“The Hillbilly in My Pocket”) and Theresa O’Donnell (“Sugar Snatch”) have a similar enthralling power through the use of imagery and plot elements are capable of keeping readers spellbound in language that seems effortless but that requires an acceptance of the existence of a Hillbilly only a few inches tall and a young woman so sweet that everyone wants a literal piece of her. Mitchell introduces us to the pocket-sized hillbilly in the first sentence, asking us to accept the possibility. Once through the first paragraph in which the hillbilly “curls up next to a basket of apples on the tablecloth and saws away like a toy car without a muffler,” the reader is hooked. Similarly, in “Sugar Snatch,” O’Donnell pulls no punches with her first sentence: “My vagina is magical.” What reader would want to stop there?
References to yellow appear in nearly every selection from “there was a hint of honeysuckle on the wind,” to “lemonade,” to “yellow songs” to the final two poems by Changming Yuan, “Yellow Kinship: For Yuan Hongqi” and “East Idioms: Nine Detours of the Yellow River.” But these allusions become less important in the experience of reading through the stories, translations, and poems of the magazine and the more significant themes emerge. As Lily Hoang assures us, “the works in this issue are as effulgent as yellow itself, but lurking—as yellow always lurks—is something sinister and bold, the color forcing itself up and out, revealing, transforming. Yellow yields metamorphosis.”
Reading this issue of Fairy Tale Review is a transformative experience, one that readers won’t want to soon forget, and like all cherished tales—even the most frightening ones—the works in this year’s issue tempt us back into their unique and powerful worlds and transform us ever after.
A Journal of Contemporary Writing
Volume 7 Number 1
Review by Sherra Wong
“For me the main motivator in my practice is, quite simply, communication—and a communication that is as unambiguous as possible. I am not looking for novelty but a straightforward way to express an essence or idea, which I hope will be accessible to most people,” writes Jim Maginn in “Modus Operandi,” a sort of afterword to his photographs of traditional Irish musicians printed in this issue of Irish Pages. Maginn apprentices himself to “the humanist tradition,” where photography is “a continuing and compassionate engagement with people.” That just about sums up this issue of the journal for me; only just about, because I would add that it is also a gorgeous experience.
The poems are disciplined. Sentences are sentences, stanzas are stanzas, more often than not with equal number of lines in each; when rules are broken the breaking is done gently, without calling attention to itself. See, for example, Vona Groarke’s “Music from Home” on New Year’s Eve: “and the fiddle in all its finery / leans into silver promises / it cannot hope to keep.” The familiar pairings (the inevitable “keep” against a “promise,” for example) come arm in arm with surprises that make my heart leap: music described in visual terms and an assignation of color (or sound?) — silver — to a promise, which is an abstraction. The deft positioning of the various e and i sounds, long and short, stressed and unstressed, remind me of Larkin.
Irish Pages features pieces in Irish, Scots, and Scots Gaelic. Here’s the beginning of the English version of Aonghas MacNeacail’s “Am Fìor Ghilead,” or “The True Whiteness”:
because snow arrived
yesterday, with its settling
like linen over every hill and
house-gable, and with its
folding around young eyes,
for which it is perfect proof
that paradise was possible,
Can you say anything more hopeful and at the same time melancholic about snow than that “it is perfect proof that paradise was possible”?
MacNeacail’s Scots Gaelic poems are printed with facing English versions, but the Scots poems had only glosses for the more unfamiliar words and, for the Irish pieces, entire pages without any reference to English at all. On one hand, the choice to leave out English limits the audience and may make some readers feel as if they were being kept at arm’s length. On the other hand, it speaks of the confidence of people who are secure of their place in the world. I am not sure whether people in fact feel secure about the status of these languages and/or dialects (don’t ask me to explain the difference) where they are spoken, but the normalcy of publishing Irish stands as a quiet manifesto: this is not a political rally, but simply how we live.
In Deirdre Mask’s estimation, the Irish are not always aware of the strangers in their midst. Her “Fitting In” reflects on being black and (and/or?) African-American in Ireland: a variation on a topic that has been in vogue for some time, but her essay is still fresh, fun to read, and, on the whole, free of self-pity. I do wonder at a paragraph near the end, where she hopes that the children she may have with her white husband “will not have to choose between black and white,” and that they will never have to feel that “they have to fit in.” They are comments on the world where she grew up and lives—for example, she observes that she has done well in this world in part because she “speak[s] Caucasian fluently”—but, at the same time, having to fit in doesn’t seem to have been so bad for her.
Irish Pages holds other riches. Fans of W. G. Sebald will find Sebald’s same meandering, dreamlike voice in Jonathan P. Watts’s memories of Michael Hamburger, a translator who appears in Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn. Robert Anthony Welch, a longtime professor at the University of Ulster, recounts a disastrous meeting of academics in “The Legion of the Rearguard” involving one Professor Welch; it’s supposed to be fiction, though I rather wish it were not. Timothy Kenny’s portraits of Detroit and Pristina are sober, lyrical, and unembarrassed where the narrative becomes personal.
“The dystopian, misanthropic, sterile, detached or cryptic is now commonplace,” says Jim Maginn. There’s none of that in Irish Pages. It reaches out—it stamps the heart—it’s lovely.
Review by Julie J. Nichols
In the foreword to the first issue of Lost in Thought, published in July 2011, Editor-in-Chief Kyle Schruder explains that his modus operandi was to contact writers and visual artists, solicit either previously completed or new work, and pair images with fiction of 1500 words or less. If a writer submitted a finished story, Schruder approached an interested artist with the option to make a new work based on that story; if an artist submitted a completed photograph or drawing, Schruder approached an interested writer with the option to write a story based on that image. The pairings should “create something entirely new,” according to the current website. They should inspire the imagination. They should lead you, or permit you, to lose yourself in thought.
Most gratifyingly, in this fourth issue, they do, individually and collectively. Schruder is to be commended for the design of the magazine. It’s very beautiful to look at, and, as he intended, the pieces are thought-provoking. Even without their accompanying images they’re intriguing and imaginative, but with them, they’re wonderful.
For example, it’s impossible to know which came first—Brandon Keehner’s sharply pastel rhino head, with its wrinkles from chin to ear to two great horns shading from pink to blue to gray and its amusing striped birthday hat, the exact shape of the smaller horn? Or Pamela Davis’s terse poem “RSVP R.I.P.” chronicling “the count for the Extinction Ball,” with its references to “the last Javanese rhino,” Madagascar’s lemurs, and Crossover Gorillas? Either could have inspired the other. They’re a perfect fit, both just the right touch whimsical, the implications of both deadly serious.
Loren Arthur Moreno’s “House for Sale”—a staircase of text columns in which we read the story of a gay man, a real estate agent, assigned to sell the house in which his most recent partner abused him—is juxtaposed with Lisa Petrole’s haunting darkened photograph of a man whose ghostly yellow-pink head, blurred, is superimposed over his tilted (shamed? remorseful?) blue one. The couple in the story that are looking at the house are not well matched. Though the narrator can’t tell them what happened to him there on the stairs, or there where the mirror hung, he can urgently hope for the submissive wife a different outcome than his own.
But the pieces in this issue aren’t all political, not at all. “Nubs,” by Josh Denslow, is a glorious work of speculative fiction. In a world where everyone is born with incipient wings, and almost no one actually activates them, the narrator and her friend long to know what it would be like to have them. On her eleventh birthday, they find out. The photograph on the facing page: what’s in the background? The image we can identify is the back of a boy leaping—jumping? flying? He doesn’t have wings. He may or may not land safely. The image is perfect for the story, and the story is brilliant.
Bud Smith’s “Hot Rock 1964-1971: Side four” and Michael Seidel’s “There’s Just This” are achingly gorgeous short-shorts about teen love, hard love. The images that go with them (by, respectively, Corinne Perry and Ilyse Krivel) are stark, haunting, and dramatic. The character in Smith’s story is in a gay relationship, but she’s irresistibly drawn to the male narrator. Perry illustrates Smith’s story with two photographs of a young woman’s face, first surrounded by flowers in the center of a vinyl record disk, then, on the next page, splashed in glitter in a circle of its own. In both photographs, the girl’s eyes are closed. Her world is larger than it looks. In the same way, though very differently, Krivel’s photographs illustrating Seidel’s prose poem lamenting a first (?) lost love, emphasize the interiority of the experience: “There are garbage cans all along the beach,” Seidel’s speaker says. “I get up early, grab fish by the tails and skip them like stones along the lake’s green surface. // Wonder if the fishes’ dizziness is as great as mine. All these months and later still. // I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.” Krivel’s three photographs show beach scenes at dusk, the shadows long, the waves quiet. No people anywhere.
In every case, as in these examples, the juxtapositions create, as Schruder intended, something more than either the story or the image. They are lovely, brief, and memorable. They leave me lost in thought.
Review by Sarah Gorman
A literary, though not a little, magazine, Mandorla is published by the Department of English at Illinois State University in Normal, in collaboration with Southern Methodist University, where its founding editor, Roberto Tejada, is a distinguished professor of art history. Tejada’s interest in interdisciplinary research and synergies infuse the magazine with a focus on the creative process and the synthesis of multiple art forms. This 542-page tome is the 15th issue of the magazine, which started in Mexico in 1991 and has been published yearly under the current aegis since 2004.
The name of the magazine is Italian, literally meaning “almond.” The almond shape will be familiar to most readers from its use in images that range from the coat of arms of Guam to the official seal of Johns Hopkins University and from the halo of light surrounding many medieval renderings of Christ and the saints to art portraying Buddha and the Bodhisattvas. Geometrically, the mandorla is the space where two overlapping circles of equal diameter meet. The mandorla has been described as a yonic symbol, was adopted by the Freemasons as a repeated theme in their imagery, finds its way into the practice of sacred geometry, and makes its appearance in art based on the teachings of Kabbalah. To mystics and philosophers it represents the space where opposites— science and art, masculine and feminine, heaven and earth, past and future—intersect, and thus the growing edge of consciousness, where new truths emerge. The editors’ view is that the title “alludes to the notion of exchange and imaginative dialogue that is necessary now among the Americas.”
The magazine is multilingual, with most works in English or Spanish; this issue leads off with a macaronic poem by LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, “What the Wind Whispered to the Little Dolphin,” which includes words from Hawaiian, Yoruba, Cherokee, Malay, Quechua, Papiamentu, Tagalog, and Nahuatl. Though the most varied, Diggs’s work is not the only macaronic form published here. The experimental characterizes much of the work in Mandorla. Underlying some of the creative experimentation appears a rage against the machine, including even (or especially) the limitations of language itself. Hip-hop, Portuguese, and various regional dialects of English appear, in many cases daring the reader to follow the author down his or her thorny path to meaning.
Camilo Roldán’s fascinating “Introduction to Nadaismo” provides a scholarly preface to his translations of Nadaist works by Gonzalo Arango and Jaime Jaramillo Escobar. Though there is a political element to this Colombian literary movement, its primary identity is as a cultural phenomenon. Roldán considers that Nadaismo “has played a major role in the history of Colombian literature and popular culture. . . . [and contributes] to the individuation of Latin-American literary traditions in respect to the dominant, Euro-centric canon . . .” Arango writes in his poem “The Nadaistas” that “The Nadaista is young and resplendent with solitude”:
is an eclipse beneath pallid neon
and the telegraph cables
is in the uproar of the city
and amongst the skyscrapers
the marvel of a flower stained purple
in the ruins of madness.
Some translations appear in this issue—notably a lengthy excerpt from the poem “Sagesse” by H.D. (the American Hilda Doolittle, 1886-1961) by Ana Rosa González Matute, a Mexican poet—but many works require knowledge of, if not fluency in, Spanish. One of my favorite selections is the only work shown in two columns—English on the left and Portuguese on the right. Here, Matthew Goulish contributes a record of “Writing from the Performance,” in which he describes the genesis and execution in Rio de Janeiro of a piece of performance art inspired by a fragment of text by the poet Elizabeth Bishop. This record is at once mundane and transcendent—it’s within the mandorla formed when life and art intersect.
Poetry, fiction, memoir, essay, drama, visual art, an interview, and excerpts from larger works all appear in this issue. The literary critic Anna Deeny contributes the excerpt “Things We Lament: Marosa di Giorgio’s Clavel y tenebrario,” a lovely disquisition on meaning in the late Uruguayan poet’s work, relating it persuasively to the military dictatorship under which she lived, the crucifixion in Christianity, and the book of Lamentations.
“Two Ekphrastic Texts from Ford Us Over,” by John Pluecker, are a prose poem and a poem that describe reproductions of a couple of pieces of Western American art. Pluecker provides little context, but writes with an immediacy that communicates the appeal of this literary form, in which one art medium is used to experience another. The interconnection of visual art and literature here is a mandorla in action.
Cover art for this issue (in color) and a three-page portfolio (in black and white) is by Christine Nguyen of Los Angeles, a musician and artist. Her images are deliciously organic, and her inspiration by the freedom found in nature fiercely evident.
It’s a good thing that Mandorla is an annual. Even a bilingual reader could need a whole year to absorb both the content and the implications of this issue. The challenge entailed in moving through the works is well rewarded by the stimulation of the senses and the welcome test of comfortable concepts that result.
Review by Sherra Wong
Is it backhanded to say that most of Moon City Review 2013 is promising? The truth is, the issue is eclectic and accessible. The prose narratives tell their stories in a straightforward manner that hold my attention, and the poems leave little doubt as to the image or sentiment they’re driving for. But as I read, I often find myself wishing that many of these pieces had received one more editorial pass: so little separates them from promising to satisfying.
For example: Neil Mathison’s essay “Dodd Narrows” chronicles several hours of navigation through a strip of sea. The pacing is elegant, the tone reflective. The bursts of brilliance are breathtaking—“[I]f the water is still . . . reflections double the world”—but they never tip into pretension or sideshow, keeping their place as vassals to the narrative. Toward the end, however, the essay veers sharply from the course it has charted for the reader: the central drama occurs in flashback, and on land. The last few paragraphs attempt to tie together the threads, but they feel rushed, and not quite deserving of the loveliness that came before.
It has been a long time since anything in a literary magazine has gripped me like Joe Meno’s “Janice Goes Swimming.” The story opens with a masterful blow-by-blow account of violence, and what is astonishing is how it paints an entire life through interior monologue, in one paragraph spanning four pages, in the middle of an action sequence, and in the beginning of the story. These are all risky choices, and I lap it all up. By the time Janice limps home after the robbery in the first section, I am convinced that she will break out of her ho-hum existence, and I can’t wait to find out how. The tension even carries through to the languid days that Janice passes in Mexico, and the humor is subtle. It has action, it has heart. Which is why I wish the ending were more than what it is: an ambiguous coda that leaves me feeling that Janice’s dilemma is the same as it has always been, and that the author hasn’t made a decision about where she’s going.
The poems are similarly uneven. The mundane details in Jeff Alfier’s “Black Hawk Crash, Tal Afar, Iraq, 2006”—if the details of any war can be described thus—steer the poem away from sentimentality and accentuate its desperation and loneliness. By its title, Peycho Kanev’s “Eternal Circle” seems to announce a grandiose idea, and the poem itself reads like Frank O’Hara on a sad day. I wonder if Francine Witte’s “Probably” ended too early; the speaker spends the poem’s first twenty-three lines describing how a breakup wears on her father and mother, and only at the end of the penultimate line disrupts expectations with the fabulous, and mysterious, “he was / probably drinking a toast to himself.” On one hand, the poem quits while it’s ahead, but I feel as if I had been cut off three-quarters of the way through a Law and Order episode, when events take a surprising turn. So much waits to be unpacked in that toast, and the poem has already ended.
Other poems never quite get off the ground. In “The Triggering Town,” Richard Hugo admonishes: don’t get stuck on the triggering subject of the poem, or else you will run out of things to say. Travis Mossotti’s “Totem” and Charity Gingerich’s “Beauty Is a Mountain We See When Driving Our Car” both seem stuck on their triggering ideas. They want to impart a lyrical feeling, but without shedding that desire—not to mention Hallmarkish phrases such as “My heart is ringing its little bell”—the reader discovers nothing she doesn’t already know and remains unmoved.
Like “Dodd Narrows,” the exquisite, intuitive pacing and no-nonsense narration of Renée K. Nicholson’s “In Sickness” draw the reader into the heart of the writer’s experience. Nicholson reminds you time and again, however, that she is “keeping you at arm’s length” even when she is telling you how an illness has snatched away her most cherished wish. This authorial voice interrupts constantly, and I can’t decide whether it is annoyingly self-conscious or whether it lends the piece a bitter quality that becomes its essence. The authorial and narrative voices, though, both ring true: I do believe that that is how she feels, and no test other than honesty is required of one’s feeling.
Read Moon City Review 2013 for a good effort, straightforward voices, and the occasional delightful weirdness. Expect a few bumps on the road in the forms of typos, clichés, abstractions that cry out for unpacking, and the pedantic hoping to pass for beauty—but, and especially if you’re a writer, you may decide that their lessons are worth the time.
Volume 33 Number 1
Review by Anne Graue
Possibly every reviewer has made a reference to the Pleiades constellation when reviewing Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing (& Reviews). The connections are hard to miss. Just as the constellation has many stars, some of which shine brighter than others, the journal is a collection of many polished works that resonate even if one has to examine them closely, as if with a telescope. The stars are also known as the Seven Sisters, and here the connection ends, at least for the Winter 2013 issue in which none of the pieces seem to be siblings but perhaps distant cousins of one another, at times a few steps removed.
The short stories in this issue are all of high quality, written with precision and timing, rising and setting along with readers’ expectations. Eric LaFountain’s “Eyes in Back, Eyes in Front,” is a heartbreaking story of a young boy who loves his Uncle Saba, a man sentenced to ten years in prison. The fear in Timothy’s second-grade mind is palpable on the page. Saba is his champion, the uncle who teaches lessons, “like how cheeseburgers from the White Hut tasted better with fried onions, or how the kids in his class who didn’t believe in Santa were just idiots.” LaFountain gives readers the experience with narrative skill and a voice that understands that families can be families in spite of what they do.
Heart wrenching in different ways are Jon Gingerich’s “The Tourist” and Jacob M. Appel’s “Marston Moor.” These are stories of people known to all as the family or couple who live on the street; inside of their lives, though, is torment and happiness, unrequited feelings and bitter truths.
Brian Jay Stanley’s metaphor-laden essay, “Odyssey of Desire,” first presents a thesis, his “realization that our highest happiness consists in the anticipation of happiness, not in the possession.” After numerous paragraphs with quotations scattered among them, he reveals that he is “becoming resigned—to desiring” and “settling into restlessness.” Reminded that he stated that his disappointments in life have not come from failing to get what he wanted, “but from getting it,” the reader may feel the same about reading Stanley’s essay.
The poetry in this issue is as stellar as the constellation, ranging from a powerful narrative poem from David Kirby about an encounter with Jesus and his dog to Frances Justine Post’s “Self-Portrait as a Pack of Hounds” that reveals the speaker in a plurality of a pack that is a poignant description of the self: “We slobber and peal down the trail. Our noses searching / for your pulse. Nuzzle, growl, we dig / and fight and dig, crashing through the brambles.” Her metaphor carries through each stanza, and the reader is right there to the end. Additional poetic highlights are Rebecca Hazelton’s “Book of Absence,” in which readers are invited to mourn the loss of a forest, and B.J. Best’s imagining of the love affair between “Ms. and Super Pac-Man.” These poems make picking up a copy of this issue worthwhile.
In the second section of this issue are the reviews of poetry collections recently published by small presses. Among the reviewed are prize winners and poets no longer with us, such as Hayden Carruth and Rachel Wetzsteon. Each review presents a collection with candid critiques and textual examples. Mark Halliday’s review of Wetzsteon’s two collections, Sakura Park (2006) and the posthumous Silver Roses (2010) is a tender look at the work of a poet in pain and sharing it in her poetry. All of the reviews are aimed at increasing the readership of poetry by showcasing the work of significant poets.
Although not every piece in the issue is as memorable as the next, the collective works in this issue of Pleiades are worth the time it takes to observe and identify as we might the constellations in the night sky.
Review by John Palen
This issue delivers a lot of interest in relatively few pages by coming at writers from more than one angle. This is particularly effective in the treatment of Carolyn Elkins, a fine poet now living in North Carolina but with roots in the Mississippi Delta, where Poetry South is based. We’re given a generous serving of Elkins’s poetry, seven poems, as well as an interview with her by the magazine’s editor, John Zheng. As a bonus, Zheng discusses three additional poems with the author in some detail and prints the texts in full. Here, all in one place, is an introduction to a poet whose skill and imagination run deep.
Depth, as it turns out, is a recurring motif for Elkins. “Deep Field Gravitational Lensing” recounts her physicist son’s attempt to explain his work to her. He looks for the invisible patches at the edge of the universe, the “absolute illusions” that can be traced back to show what exists—or rather, what did exist, because, as he says, “space is time, / when you look this far back, / when you look this deep.” Her poem “The Inversion of the World” meditates on the way sunlight and breeze pass each other morning and evening in the mountains, “like they’ve struck an uneasy bargain, / some kind of Persephone exchange, / one released from the deep clefts of the world.” And in “Well Water,” Elkins describes drilling in New Mexico that requires far more depth than the protagonists imagined. The poem is a perfectly realized metaphor for any number of things, among them poetry, love, marriage . . .
Zheng’s interview with Elkins covers such topics as her belief that the most important thing for a poet is to “feel her emotions more strongly than most people.” This leads her to discuss poetic form and the passage of time as ways in which emotion is controlled in the service of art. Elkins’s work indeed offers that balance. Each poem here is succinct and direct (and one is a sonnet), and each also realizes an emotion—awe, joy, desolation, or the strain of a family relationship—that is genuine and honestly portrayed. Elkins is the author of Angel Pays a Visit, Daedalus Rising, and Coriolis Forces. She is also associate editor of Tar River Poetry.
This issue gives readers several bites of the apple with the work of Theodore Haddin (two poems and a review of Dana Gioia’s Pity the Beautiful: Poems); and Angela Ball (three poems and a review by Kimberly Allen of her 2007 book Night Clerk at the Hotel of Both Worlds). More biting and ironic than Elkins’s poems, Ball is likewise succinct and powerful. “She tried to deserve a family,” Ball writes in “By Way of Explanation,” a 17-line summary of a faculty wife’s marriage. “She married someone who relished these efforts / Fully and temporarily . . .” Gioia himself contributes a lovely translation of a poem by Antonia Machado.
Other rewarding poems in this issue include work by Chicago blues poet Sterling Plumpp; Minneapolis housewife, mother, and needlepoint teacher Holly Day; Mississippi poet and teacher Kendall Dunkelberg; and Idaho poet and teacher Ron McFarland, whose “Wildfire in Florida” is a gem of a childhood memory poem about the consequences of not knowing how far the hose will reach.
Review by David R. Matteri
My first job out of high school was at a small theater that played artistic, foreign, and independent films, but right next door to this theater was a rowdy biker bar. I was always fascinated by the juxtaposition of the theater’s well-to-do patrons of the arts and the leather-clad highway warriors who would sometimes swing by to purchase large tubs of popcorn drenched in butter. Radio Silence, a unique literary journal that blends literature and rock & roll, reminds me of that wonderful cultural clash. In this journal are stories and poems from some of the strongest writers of the previous century and essays that analyze music from influential rock bands and musicians.
I had never heard of Don Carpenter before reading Radio Silence, but now I am addicted to his writing and want to read more. This issue presents two of Carpenter’s short stories, “Road Show” and “The Crossroader.” In an introduction to Carpenter’s work, Editor Dan Stone describes Carpenter’s style as: “tough, spare, vulnerable, and unsentimental, like . . . Ernest Hemmingway without the European sophistication.” Racism is at the heart of each of these tough and vulnerable stories. “Road Show” is about a band that is forced to hide their black performer in the back seat of their car so they can find a place to stay for the night, but tensions flare and passion leads to murder in the small cabin they rent in the woods. The narrator of “The Crossroader” tells a story about how a black man wanders into his small town in Eastern Oregon and stirs up trouble by beating the white men in games of pool and poker. The threat of violence hangs over the nameless black man’s head as he tries to outsmart the locals and get out of town alive with all the money he won. Carpenter’s stories are tightly written thrillers that pull you forward at a frantic pace. I am glad that Radio Silence has introduced me to such a wonderful author.
The twin worlds of fantasy and science fiction lost a great writer last year when Ray Bradbury passed away at the age of 91. Dana Gioia pays tribute to this author’s vast body of work in his essay “Ray Bradbury’s Butterfly Effect.” Gioia first discovered Bradbury’s fiction as a teenager and admires how his stories went above and beyond the craft of most science fiction writers of his time: “He took the premises of science fiction, fantasy, and horror—pulp genres that exploited sensationalism and wish-fulfillment—and humanized them with sensitive characterization, evocative prose style, and simpler plots.” It took a very long time for critics to recognize Bradbury’s impact on literature, but that never discouraged the man from writing what he loved: “I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows, or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.” Included in this tribute to Ray Bradbury is his “A Poem Written on Learning That Shakespeare and Cervantes Both Died on the Same Day.” Like the literary giants he canonizes, Bradbury’s legacy will never die as long as there are readers willing to follow him into realms of fantasy and wonder:
Their graves, their stones, I refuse.
Lend me their books, show me their Muse.
By end of day or, latest, week,
I bid Cervantes/Shakespeare speak
To brim my heart, to fill my head
With what? Good Don. Fine Lear. Not dead. Not dead!
Another great body of work this journal introduced me to is the poetry of Siegfried Sassoon. Sassoon was a British officer during the First World War and his poetry delivers stinging clarity to the lives destroyed by that terrible war. “Autumn” compares soldiers to falling leaves in a hostile season of change: “Their lives are like the leaves / Scattered in flocks of ruin, tossed and blown / Along the westering furnace flaring red.” My favorite Sasson poem here is “Suicide on the Trenches.” It is about a boy soldier who shoots himself “In winter trenches, cowed and glum, / With crumps and lice and lack of rum.” The poem is short with a rhyme scheme that is as simple as the boy it revolves around, but the simplicity of the words belies the enormous power hiding within:
You snug-faced cowards with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.
This journal is loaded with essays that examine rock & roll bands and musicians such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and riot grrl band Sleater-Kinney. It was refreshing to read so many critical essays on some of my favorite bands and it was a pleasure to be introduced to new songs and performers. I particularly enjoyed Andrew Beaujon’s short essay “Surprise Face.” Beaujon looks at the exuberant performances of 80’s glam rock bands, such as Van Halen and Poison, and the lost art of the “surprise face. Forming a mouth into a surprised ‘O’ during a performance “is a particular artifact of that period, a campy piece of showmanship” that dates back to early vaudevillian performances and comedy acts such as Lou Costello and Bud Abbott’s famous baseball sketch. Beaujon comments on how Nirvana killed hair metal, but power ballads in general continue to exist, just without the “cartoonish bewilderment” of the Reagan years.
Radio Silence is more than just a literary journal: it is also a nonprofit corporation that publishes print magazines and puts on live events with writers and musicians. A portion of all their sales is used to buy books and musical instruments for kids. You can check out their website for show times and to make donations for their mission to preserve arts education.
Review by David R. Matteri
Co-publishers Celia Blue Johnson and Maria Gagliano of Slice magazine want to take a moment of your time to share with you their rabid obsession with literature: “This issue of Slice was designed to interfere with your day. We want you to miss your subway stop because you were too busy turning the pages.” This is no joke, dear reader. Obsession is the theme of this issue and every story, poem, and essay is dangerously addictive to read. Subjects range from the mundane to the insane and every piece of writing is sure to keep your attention as your train passes you by.
“Twelve Letters to my Assassin” by Steven Wingate is about a scientific genius who is obsessed with a childhood friend/rival who promised to kill him when they were young. The death threat emerged over the naming of a species of salamander the two boys found by a river. The rival wanted to name the amphibian after a girl he had a crush on. The narrator refused and thus began a lifelong obsession and bitter rivalry. The narrator’s letters start out arrogant and condescending to his would-be killer:
11 April 20xx
I have decided to shorten your name, because if you are going to kill me as you constantly threaten . . . I need to get a few digs in and remind you what a pathetic copycat you have always been. What a slave to my genius your own genius cannot resist being.
As the letters continue, our narrator changes his tone and realizes he is not as clever as he thinks. This story is absurdly funny, like a Saturday morning cartoon, but also has a tragic heart that speaks of loneliness and desperation.
Joshua Bodwell’s “What is Stolen Can Never be Returned” shows us a different kind of obsession featuring an old woman spying on her younger, rowdier neighbors. Her husband was a consummate seaman who had died years ago to cancer: “He drank as he loaded bait buckets and he drank as he pulled traps. He was at his best when he had some suds in him. It’s strange, I guess, that a drunk everyone assumed would drown at sea ended up wasting away on dry land with a case of cancer.” The woman directs her bitterness and frustration on a teenage girl she sees stealing a pack of beer from another neighbor’s truck. Driven by a misguided sense of justice, the woman calls the police to “nab that little thief, and teach her a goddamned lesson about messing with other people’s things.” I like how Bodwell makes you hate the old woman’s snooping, yet sympathize with her loneliness.
We Americans are obsessed with our sports. Baseball, football, and basketball are just a few of our national obsessions, but there is another national sport that doesn’t get as much attention: Spelling. David Ellis Dickerson talks about his lifelong obsession with spelling bees in his autobiographical essay “For the Love of Words.” Dickerson was a spelling guru by the time he reached kindergarten and was reading at a college level by the third grade. He entered his school’s spelling bee confident in victory:
I kicked ass. The words were pretty easy, and I knocked them aside with relief. Salient. Echoic. Transom. I even nailed mugwump. By the final round it was down to just me and a third grader, and the only reason the third grader was still around was that he’d gotten even easier words than I had. I mean, come on: swampland? How is that even a spelling word? And don’t get me started on February.
Dickerson’s struggle ends in tragedy when he misspells the final word due to the ill advice of one of his teachers. But his obsession with spelling does not die in the third grade. Dickerson continues to participate in spelling bees as an adult. He learns that winning is not important when it comes to spelling because in the end everyone is “simply thrilled to be around words, and I just bubbled over with the fun of it.”
My two favorite poems in this issue are Todd Colby’s “Let Us Know You’re Here” and “Scram.” Colby strings together a wonderful set of words to create fantastic images and moods, as in these first few lines to “Let Us Know You’re Here”:
I stuffed my silver spacesuit
full of cashews. I wanted to explain
about how when I’m out there, and physics,
and the food they give me, well, I’m rambling.
Rambling seems to be the connecting theme of these two poems. “Scram” is all questions related to memory and a longing to return to another time with an unnamed partner. Here are my favorite lines in the poem:
Do you remember when the crowds
would disperse along the river and wander
into the hills split not only by desire but the muted
nobility of earnestness and palimpsests?
For some reason, this sticks out to me because there is a sense of good friends breaking apart and going their separate ways. Perhaps you can find your own meaning in these poems.
Overall this is a great issue full of great writing. This issue can certainly suck you in and make you late to work, but, seriously, don’t miss your bus.