Posted August 15, 2013
A Cappella Zoo :: Apalachee Review :: Burnside Review :: Catamaran Literary Reader :: Catfish Creek :: Cruel Garters :: Exit 7 :: The Iowa Review :: Nimrod International Journal :: Parcel :: Smartish Pace :: Soundings East :: The Tusculum Review :: Upstreet :: Witness
Review by Julie J. Nichols
According to Wikipedia, Professor Matthew Strecher defines magic realism as “what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe.” The article goes on to say that “magical realist texts create a reality ‘in which the relation between incidents, characters, and setting could not be based upon or justified by their status within the physical world or their normal acceptance by bourgeois mentality.’” Who wants to think of themselves as having a bourgeois mentality, accepting things as “normal” and thereby obstructing magical realism? Not me. This issue of A Cappella Zoo—entitled “Bestiary” because, I assume, it’s the best of the first demi-decade of this labor-of-love journal of magical realism of all kinds—completely dismantles whatever bourgeois mentality I, or you, may be harboring. It will charm you, in every sense of the word.
Each story or poem hints at some surprising relationship to both mainstream literature and fantasy, some haunting intersection that will leave the reader musing, laughing a little, vexed and vindicated in that secret place where we know the world is much, much more than it seems and that rightly-chosen words capture and create that fact in ways mere bourgeois thinking cannot.
“When the World Ends” by Nicole Miyashiro, for example, has the flavor of a story you’ve heard once before, somewhere, but forgot quickly because it had too many frightening implications for you. Jace, the narrator, is commissioned by some mysterious entities to take pictures, but the purpose of the pictures is withheld. Gradually he realizes that things are disappearing randomly; the pictures are to capture them before it’s too late. He has a poignant relationship with a woman he rarely sees, who thinks of him at apparently the same odd moment he thinks of her so that their infrequent emails cross. His conviction that the pictures he’s taking coincide with the disappearance of important things (plants, people, places) suddenly becomes a conviction that he is about to lose all that’s dear to him, and he races desperately to take pictures of all of it, including this far-flung friend. The voice is rational and likeable, the setting detailed and realistic. When we realize with Jace that what’s happening is too strange to believe, we become frantic. The story stays with us, won’t let us go.
But that’s true of all thirty-six stories, all twenty-nine poems. “Dearest Dirty,” a sort of children’s tale written by Tina Hyland and illustrated in calligraphic black and white drawings by Gavin Faherty, is Griffin and Sabine for a polluted, maybe post-apocalyptic world, with a melancholy conclusion. Many of the stories are about the world ending. I suppose we can’t write magical realism if we think the mundane rhythms of the world continue ad nauseam to the far horizons. At least these writers can’t. Gina Ochsner, author of The Necessary Grace to Fall, is the guest editor of this issue, and in her introductory interview with ACZ’s founding editor, Colin Meldrum, she lauds the “frolicsome, mischievous nature” of the works published here, their “clear cogent vision and articulation,” how “fun” they are, “how vivid and marvelously constructed.”
Amber Sparks’s “When the Weather Changes You” starts, “The year the earth froze hard as diamonds and the sky rained ash, my great-grandparents met and married. . . . The details surrounding that fact are . . . more like smoke than story. More like mirrors than memory.” What follows is, in similar voice, those details—and they are strange indeed, but they could be true, literally or figuratively—a girl who wants only to be alone, a fat man who offers body heat to stave off the coldest winter in the world’s remembrance, and a difficult marriage with one offspring, the grandfather of the narrator. Stories need not be made up to be magical realism. The fact is, reality is magical, if it’s told that way.
Here’s another set of opening lines: “The trick is to clearly mark all the vits and don’t pop too close or too far away. And small caliber, of course. But it’s gotta pierce” (Robert Edward Sullivan’s “Popper’s Choice”). This one sounds a little like Riddley Walker, or Clockwork Orange, with a vocabulary not of our world and a leaning toward self-destruction simply because staying alive isn’t worth it any more.
“Wife number one has the strength of a grizzly and skin as solid as sandpaper . . . Wife number two has great powers of hearing and eyesight, capable of finding me even in my most unusual hiding places . . . Wife number three is a sex machine” (John Jasper Owens’s “Postcards From Home”). What a great opener! Three wives at once—where will this story go?
The variety of forms (prose poems, flash fiction, short story, longer story, formal poems, free verse) and subject matter (the afterlife, the end of life, the beginning of life, the time between lives, rewrites of old folk tales, brand-new myths, sex, sex changes, child sex, sexlessness) leaves you gasping. Support this litmag by reading, donating, submitting—this is good work. It moves the cosmos beyond itself. Kudos, and all good wishes for the demi-decades to come!
Review by John Palen
Apalachee Review is an attractively designed magazine hailing from Tallahassee, Florida. The editors are Michael Trammell and Jenn Bronson. The quality of work is high across all five genres presented—fiction, poetry, essay, book review, and visual art—with fiction getting a nod as the particular strength of this issue.
A good example of the excellent storytelling in this issue is Coby Hoffman’s short story “California.” Everybody around Louisa Waters is unhappy—her miserably married parents, her cousin and best friend “Toothbrush,” bullied at school as gay—even Louisa herself, trying to make it through her teens in Carson City, Nevada. Things get even unhappier, though, when she finds a matchbook from the Kit Kat Ranch in her father’s jeans and gives it to her mother.
Before long, her parents are in full breakdown mode, and Louisa and Toothbrush are headed out to the Kit Kat. Louisa wants to catch her dad in the act, while Toothbrush, a virgin, wants to get some cred as a heterosexual. This can’t end well, you think, and you’re right. The only ray of hope in this skillful coming-of-age story is that Louisa has the sense to leave the misery behind and catch a bus out of town.
In “Arrangements,” B. A. Varghese puts a new twist on the conflict between romantic love and traditional arranged marriages. It can hurt when romantic love doesn’t work out, Rajiv finds out when cultural gulfs put an end to romance with Neeli. But it can also hurt, this young computer scientist learns, when the woman he has chosen from a photograph turns him down because “she wants to marry a doctor.” In the end, Rajiv reflects that the only sure thing in life is the taste of fried banana chips—”a love both salty and sweet.”
Well written short stories also are included from Jacqueline Doyle, Melissa Slayton, Michaela Burney, M. S. Mendoza, and C. D. Mitchell. Mitchell’s “Healing Waters” offers a new take on the story of Susannah and the Elders—one that will leave you with unexpected sympathy for the elderly, former minister who can’t keep himself from sneaking up and looking.
My favorites among the essays were Ernie Quatrani’s “The Catch,” in which the author and his heroin-addicted son approach a tentative reconciliation through two hundred tosses of a baseball, plus a dash of humor; and Irene O’Garden’s “The Birthing Tent,” a sharply observed visit to a county fair attraction where people take their children to watch the blood, struggle, beauty—and sometimes death—of animals giving birth. Other essays making the cut for the magazine’s editors come from Cassandra Kircher, Janet Yoder, Paul Laffan, Chris Kite and Katherine Riegel.
A selection of poems, nicely mixed between lined and prose, rounds out the issue. Keep an eye out for the work of Stephanie Lovegrove, whose “Speaking of Apples” reflects on how regional accents offer a way to put down roots in a new place, and Karen Eileen Sisk, whose “Full Nude” and “Partial Nude” deal with emerging sexuality in fresh language and insight. Kudos also to Michelle Myers, whose three poems mark her very first publication. Other capable poets represented here are Doug Cox, Matthew Gilbert, Peter Huggins, Caroline Klocksiem, Whitney Mackman, Jeff Newberry, and Michele Santamaria.
Volume 9 Number 1
Review by Melanie Tague
This issue of Burnside Review brings with it some big changes. While it is still unmistakably an issue of Burnside Review, a new poetry editor, John Pursley III, and a new fiction editor, Adam O’Connor Rodriquez, have brought a new energy to the journal and are taking the journal to the next level.
With the constant steady flow and even line breaks, Sandra Kohler’s nine-part poem “Recasting” is set up to make the cycles on which it centers completely unavoidable to the reader. The poem starts out in a sleep cycle:
Every night I travel out of this country
to a place somewhere between midnight
and five where I stand at a mirror fixing
my hair, afflicted in dream with the same
unruliness of things-in-themselves I wake to.
Starting the poem off with the word “every” calls upon the reader to think of repetition, “every night” this is what happens. But Kohler does not stop there; she makes sure to insert several dreams throughout the piece. The cycle of life is also meditated very heavily on with the emphasis leaning toward death:
There is a myth somewhere that tells us what
to eat and when, how to consume sorrow,
bear the onslaught of time. I haven’t learned
that language yet, the characters inscribed on
the mossy green flesh of stones. The moment
comes. . . .
This really is a compelling piece of work and worthwhile to read.
The poem “Excavations” by Rosalie Moffett is a delicate and sensual poem driven by meditative qualities, starting:
My black dog dug holes
all through November
and I studied: cave as a verb. Cave as a thing
does, yielding. The dog,
The reader is being asked to meditate along with the narrator on the action word “cave,”; it brings the reader to a delicate, even vulnerable place, which is the essence of the poem. The poem grows more sensual with each stanza:
Of all the surfaces, the mouth heals
the fastest. Most things, when held
in the mouth, dissolve. The exceptions: coins,
quartz, your edges. I try you and try you,
A. M. O’Malley’s “Banana Skin” is a first person narrative; however, the narrator is not the protagonist, but, rather, the protagonist is the narrator’s mother. The reader follows the mother and her daughter throughout the course of their lives together. The whole story comes in the form of short, factual sentences, skillfully laced with emotion:
A gang of bikers beat her up for snitching on a robbery, they put her bloody head under a hot faucet I remember the sound of yelling and running water. They tried to steal her cowboy boots, pulling on them while she was in the tub, but my mother kept her toes curled and kept her boots.
The narrator seems to use these factual statements as an attempt to distance herself from any emotion she should be feeling. It is as if adding “I remember the sound of yelling and running water” at the end of the sentence will negate the implied impact it had on the narrator and will allow the reader to negate it as well. This is not the case though; this constant intertwining of fact and emotion pull at the reader continuously in the same way the narrator is being pulled while actually experiencing the happenings in the story.
It is also worth mentioning that this issue of Burnside features a couple of poems along with an interview with Rae Armantrout. The interview serves as a compliment to the two poems and allows you to see more in depth how Armantrout crafts her poems.
So yes, Burnside Review has undergone a couple of major changes when it comes to the editorial staff, but do not fear. If anything, it looks as if the journal is only being taken in an upward direction.
Volume 1 Issue 3
Review by Sherra Wong
Color is what first struck me with Catamaran Literary Reader. A quick flip through the pages reveals not only the abundance of visual artwork, but also the vibrancy of their colors and movement. The cover is “Jump #5,” one oil painting among four in the issue by Sarah Bianco which depicts several people in different stages of a leap downward against a background of yellow, blue, and red. It’s hard to tell where they will land. I want to guess that the cover was chosen to match Catamaran’s emphasis on the “California regional themes of environmentalism, personal freedom, innovation, and artistic spirit.” For ages, people have come to California to live their dreams. For many, the move must have felt like a leap into a beautiful unknown.
The work of the other visual artists featured in the issue is as gripping as Bianco’s Jump series. Philip Rosenthal’s lush birds and flowers in “Point,” “Fish,” and “Pollenized” are out of proportion, without depth or perspective, and seem to be arranged in particular geometric patterns. It’s as if the birds and flowers were paper cutouts pasted onto a board, giving them a look between life and death. The same is true of “Two Characters with Gilded Faces” and “Power Figure” by Ivan De MonBrison.” Both feature line drawings of two figures whose faces are splashed with yellow and a little red. Is the yellow a mark of life, holiness, death, or something else? A cormorant perches on the edge of a cliff in Michael Schlicting’s “Cormorant Cleft”: light shines into the cleft, but the cormorant stays a silhouette on the dark side of the picture. My heart stopped at Christopher Felver’s “London,” a black-and-white photographic collage of a silhouette of a naked person holding on to what looks like a horn jutting out of the top of a building. I can only imagine that he is swinging. Meanwhile, a plane passes in the sky. Defiance and loneliness bursts out of the image. The bus riders of Joe Ravetz’s photographs return us to a California that is by no means representative of the whole state, but certainly uniquely and recognizably Californian: urban, life-hardened faces, diverse, on the way to somewhere other than here.
The natural world looms large in much of Catamaran. Stephen Haddock chronicles his fascination with jellyfish in “The Other Jellyfish.” Descriptions of types of jellyfish, which read as if they were lifted from a science text, are inserted throughout, and they become unexpectedly poetic interludes in the text. On land, Trane DeVore leads us through the Sonoma County countryside of his childhood and the Japanese mythology of trees in “In the Depths of Groves.” In “Dance Music for Suicides,” John Straley is a masterful guide through the Alaskan landscape, seascape, and dreamscape of his hero, who busts into his ex-wife’s house for drugs and tries to commit suicide in his wedding tuxedo before getting scooped up by his son and mother and reporting to prison. It’s raw and funny, but the hero’s apparent reconciliation with his son and society feels a little sudden and thin.
Likewise, RCA O’Neal’s “What Lay Around the Bend” draws the reader in with fantastically precise descriptions—although the deliberate archaisms are distracting—but I wish I knew, after the child had made the acquaintance of the mysterious girl in the garden, what changed between them or at least what changed in him.
Patricia Smith’s “Slither” is sexy:
This is illegal in scattered America. Left flabbed pink arm
links negro languid one and bedazzled bodies mangle
and steam an urgent corkscrew. Breath splatters nick ripple.
We are loud and racial in Florence, where the dawn drips
thin orange and the clock dribbles Dalí. . . .
Pleasures pop like little fireworks throughout: “bedazzled bodies mangle,” “steam an urgent corkscrew,” “[b]reath splatters nick ripple.” Even though sometimes I wouldn’t be able to say exactly what is going on, I don’t care. The poem straddles the border between mystery and obscurity perfectly. It is sensual and friendly, and it seduces and disarms.
Like the vessel of its namesake, Catamaran invites the reader on board, carries her into the open, and puts her in contact with the world. It pulses with life.
Review by Mary Florio
Loras College, which publishes the national undergraduate literary journal Catfish Creek, sits near the banks of the Mississippi River in Dubuque, Iowa. The contributors hail from colleges across the country, but it is through Loras, which is serving as a kind of modern-day Paris in uniting these writers, that we see their work collected and their spirits compiled.
It is hard to generalize about a volume of work rich with diverse voices and styles, but categorically, the writers of this year’s volume have taken artistic risks that read exceptionally well. Take the poetry of Truman State University’s Kirk Schlueter, who published “Love Poem #2,” a prose poem, and “Allen Ginsburg’s Ghost,” which, while framed in two stanzas, manages a brisk, aerial narration. The conversational tone (albeit a smart conversationalist) makes the surrealism entirely fresh. The ideas in each poem are like pop art—candy-colored and funny and indispensible.
The writers of nonfiction also invert the expected and take stylistic risks. Shane McGowan’s “Braid in Blues” and Keely Lewis’s “Taste and See that It Is Good” organize facts and ideas in segments. McGowan explores the legacy of Bob Dylan ephemerally—you can hear Dylan’s music in the language McGowan uses to evoke tribute and craft homage. Lewis’s essay, in a near parallel structure to McGowan’s, addresses generous, liturgical ideas in the context of faith and family. The third nonfiction piece, Ashley Bowcott’s “The Weight of it All,” is more straightforward. Bowcott documents a dysfunctional workplace where one of the cooks abuses his rank (both inside the restaurant and outside) to humiliate and abuse women. Her anger, and the way she reasons through it, is tough and sinewy. She may be young, as is material to the piece, but her thoughts are as clear as mirrors.
Rebecca Shepard displays a powerful mastery of language in her story that borrows Hemingway’s writing for her title, “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.” She has a mastery of abstract imagery and ideas that nonetheless read well. Readers seek emotion and transitions, but these elements are hard to pin together so nicely as she does in three words: “November, years ago.” Shepard’s story originates in a rowboat, but even a third of the way into it the reader may have questions about the narrator’s identity. The fluidity of gender, age, and other characteristics is key to the emotional storyline that ropes back to the title of her story. In Hemingway’s famous line, all of the variables are left to the reader. Shepard does no less, except that you feel place—the water, the lighthouse, the capacity or incapacity to love—as real elements of a careful, well-crafted beginning.
Rebecca Ciota’s “red numbers upon polar curtains” is presented in a similar style as Lewis’s essay. There’s a certain amount of courage to writing fiction in segments because it is employed so often as a way of super-imposing structure on a narrative that fails the litmus test of traditional forms. Ciota successfully creates the elements of story without falling into that trap, and she makes her work rich with allusion and ideas. Perhaps the traditional forms fail to span the wide scope of her intellectual commitment. At any rate, she opens with Dostoevsky and ends with “scotch’s fire blazed and then went stark cold,” so this reader is ill-equipped to meddle with the arrangements in between.
There is not a lot of parody in the journal, or transparent imitation. Reading through the near 60 pages, I felt that the editors had succeeded in creating a forum for experimentation and applications of innovative forms that are emerging or have recently emerged. When the internet was new to many of us in the 1990s, John Barth published a short story riddled with hyperlinks, and because the story appeared in print there was no way to actualize the link. The point is that these writers don’t cop out on the challenge to create strong writing and excel even in an age where more of us get our news online. There is no poverty of language, no meditations on the end of everything as we know it, nothing that scrimps on scenes or sacrifices the preoccupations of our forefathers. Rather, these writers have persevered and have created something almost as good as Paris, for now, here, somewhere outside of Iowa.
Review by Melanie Tague
The mission and vision of Cruel Garters is “to publish both well-established and newer voices in a small, stripped-down publication that minimizes literary trappings and focuses on the work itself.” They state they prefer “the short, lyrical, and odd but are most interested in work with its own voice and aesthetic.”
The inaugural issue of Cruel Garters features six poems by six poets. The journal is indeed a very stripped-down publication; the inside of both cover pages are used as space for poems. The aesthetic continues with the use of a typewriter-esque font on quality linen paper and absolutely no distractions from the works themselves. There is no index, and there are no page numbers: just poetry.
In “King Hoon’s Spectacular Speech” by Jennifer L. Knox, the reader is automatically thrown into a stream of consciousness and can only become curious about what has or is transpiring. The first sentence simply states, “I feel lack mostly . . .” Knox does not just leave the reader with the knowledge of lacking something; she is successful in using the poem as a whole to make the reader truly feel the “lack” that the narrator feels. Knox inserts a string of cliché questions that make the reader aware that there is something that is desired, that more should be said or is wanting to be said but, cannot be:
I feel lack mostly . . . hunger and some
hmm-ing. Example: I could eat
a pine cone about now. “How much
is too much?” Who cares. “How much
is not enough?” That’s way more
important: life and death, right? . . .
On a side note, the poem also mentions William Shatner and hard-boiled eggs in the same sentence. It is worth reading, even if just to see how those concepts are meshed together.
For any Game of Thrones fans, the poem “It’s Not TV” by Jerome Sala will satisfy. The poem focuses on the interactions between Queen Khalisi and a witch, as well as tackling what makes a TV show different from a book. Throughout the poem, excerpts of dialogue between Khalisi and the witch from Game of Thrones are carefully placed along with narrative lines. The dialogue functions as a way to pull the reader directly into the action as a book might: “The witch who betrayed her is tied to the pyre too. / She says: “I won’t scream.” Khalisi: ‘Yes you will. / But I don’t want your screams, just your life.’”
The narrative role in this poem brings the action down and pulls the readers out of the direct action; it makes them audience members, like they are watching a TV show:
When the branches have burned
and all the agonizing screams have been screamed
Khalisi is still kneeling there, unharmed, naked
except for some ashes where her clothes have burned off.
For an inaugural issue, Cruel Garters looks to be on the right path to achieving its goals. It seems like as soon as you pick up Cruel Garters and start reading it, it is finished. However, keeping in mind that the aim is for each poem in the journal to get undivided attention from the reader, it is all right that it is so small.
Reviewed by Kenneth Nichols
Published by faculty members and students of West Kentucky Community and Technical College, the Spring 2013 issue of Exit 7 features fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and art originating from a wide range of geographical and stylistic traditions. The volume is slim and handsome, bookended by images of paintings by Bo Bartlett, whose work is also showcased in the middle of the journal.
In an introductory note to the art collection, Tom Butler describes Bartlett as “an American realist with a modernist vision.” The paintings are indeed extremely realistic; the subjects are depicted in a style that brings to mind a blending of Norman Rockwell and Rembrandt. These “all-American” scenes are brought to life with a shrewd use of light that guides the eye. Bartlett diverges from reality or exaggerates it to make important statements about contemporary society. In “Old Glory,” a little girl draped in an American flag wears the bright hint of a halo. Bartlett’s work seems like a great counter argument to friends who think that contemporary art consists solely of mid-gallery toilet seats and light-switch-or-artwork experimentation.
Who among us can say that they don’t enjoy biographical poetry about Charles Babbage, the nineteenth-century thinker whose ideas contributed to the development of modern computing? Neal Aitken addresses two poems to Babbage that are related to times during which Babbage fell in love and when he toured Mount Vesuvius. The geniuses among us may see the world in ways the rest of us simply can’t grasp, but they are still human. Aitken points out that Babbage may have had an unparalleled understanding of mathematics and science: “For you, the world has always been knowable. An endless stream of equations / expanding or contracting around an idea, a description of natural forces.”
In the end, Babbage is still as “unsteady” and as “uncertain” as the rest of us when it comes to romance.
Lynnell Edwards’s “Heron” is a short story about a middle-class family in the midst of some difficulties. Chase and Beth were not in agreement when he bought their new boat. The story is a slow burn; Edwards paints a portrait of the passive-aggressive way in which couples can sometimes deal with their problems. Chase and Beth may think they’re fighting about the boat, about allowing teenage daughter Meredith to have a bit of champagne, and about which of them is better suited to drive the truck at the boat launch, but they’re really clashing over much deeper issues. The story ends on a discordant note; the reader will enjoy imagining what happens in the white space that follows the final sentences.
Jay Hopler contributes four poems, two of them translated from the German. Hopler recasts the lines of Goethe and Rilke with a light touch and preserves the magic in the phrases of the originals. His own compositions employ a different style; “Le Due Sacre Famiglie” paints a beautiful picture of the sensory experience and feeling one might have in Rome’s Piazza Navona:
The late-October sun is setting
Through the high dome windows of the church of Saint Agnes
Shafts of yellow-gold-orange light sweeping slowly across the
The columns of pink
Exit 7 has a lot going for it; this issue boasts an august list of contributors and its poetry editors have eclectic taste. With only two issues behind them, the Exit 7 team shows great potential for their third and beyond.
Volume 43 Number 1
Review by Kenneth Nichols
American soldiers maintain a fine tradition that is far removed from the work they do abroad: they create great literature that helps the rest of us understand the true nature of the battles fought on our behalf. Kurt Vonnegut helps us understand World War II in the European theater, and Tim O’Brien offers the rest of us a visceral account of how it felt to be an American soldier in My Lai only months after the massacre. This issue of The Iowa Review spotlights the work of soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler judged the entries submitted to the 2012 Jeff Sharlet Memorial Award for Veterans. Hugh Martin, a veteran of the war in Iraq, took the prize—and quite deservedly so. His poems are exceptional; their power radiates off the page. Martin’s work varies in tone and structure and demonstrates a gift for strong imagery. A citizen caught digging alongside the main road is assaulted by an Iraqi sergeant who swings his Kalashnikov “with both hands / like a tennis racket.” As a result, “the blue bruise under his eye / is like the skin of a cold plum.” It’s difficult not to cringe when you read about a serviceman who
above the porcelain sink and reaches his right arm
over his left shoulder, popping pimples near his spine
like he’s searching for a button . . .
Cole Becher, a Marine who served in Iraq, offers the excellent short story “Charybdis.” The first person story follows several men who have returned from a tour of duty in the Middle East. After eight months of slinging around a mine detector, the narrator misses swinging the AN//PSS-12 “around people’s yards, hitting the likely spots with a cool efficiency, as if searching for bombs were an Easter egg hunt.” The men have some trouble adjusting to home, particularly Conrad, who buys a cheap metal detector and patrols suburban neighborhoods. When residents ask him what he’s doing, Conrad responds in his pidgin Arabic. We already understand that our soldiers receive the training they need to wage war and to protect hearts and minds. The powerful story reminds us that we may need to offer our better training to facilitate the transition from soldier back to citizen.
In his essay “On Drones,” John Teschner contends that the “United States has severed the connection between the warrior and the field of battle.” Technology, he believes, has ushered in an impersonal kind of warfare that can cause new and devastating trauma for soldiers and their families. Teschner prudently concludes the piece with a reminder of the true consequences of war: deceased soldiers and broken families.
The contest finalists represent only half of the work in this issue. A highlight of the other half is Raymond Fleischmann’s “You Need to Stop This, You Need to Disappear.” Carolyn, a divorcee who lives with her teenage son, finds herself enthralled by a woman across the apartment complex who stands naked in the window every morning at seven o’clock sharp. When she would watch, “she felt like a ghost watching the haunted—there and not there all at once.” Carolyn isn’t attracted to the woman, but the same can’t be said for Cameron, that teenage son. Seeing the woman happens to jumpstart some important mother-son discussions. The two definitely have problems, but Fleischmann very gracefully paints a portrait of a parent and child who love each other dearly and will someday bridge the gap that separates them. Perhaps my favorite facet of the story is the way that Fleischmann leaves the significance of the mystery woman open to interpretation, both for the reader and for Carolyn.
As editor Russell Scott Valentino points out in his editor’s note, the works in this issue—whether penned by a veteran or not—are thematically united. Although the hardest work of war is done by soldiers, that work is inextricably linked to the societies they represent.
Volume 56 Number 2
Review by Julie J. Nichols
Read vertically top to bottom, the final words of the lines of Ronald Wallace’s “Sex at Seventy” form this haiku by Issa:
In my hidden house
No teeth left in the mouth
But good luck abounds.
A gentle, happy way to look at aging, yes? Then read Wallace’s sonnet—or at least the last part of it:
You there! Yes, you! Who says the
old aren’t sexual beings, too? Is your mouth
filled with laughter? We’re laughing, too, but
it’s a beautiful laughter, laughter so feel-good
it becomes us. We are the laughter, and, with luck,
will be the laughter, no matter what abounds.
Nimrod is 57 years old this year—a remarkable achievement in the world of litmags. Every year their spring issue is themed, often dedicated to writers from a specific region of the world, and this year, the theme is “57+,” a wondrous realm, according to Wallace and the almost 100 other poets, prose writers, and artists whose work fills this optimistic, mature, altogether gratifying issue. As grad-school and assistant-prof numbers grow and their need to publish rises with them, a certain generational attitude tinges many litmag offerings—experimentation (not a bad thing), nihilism (a trendy thing), stories about being a grad student or a new assistant prof (a common and conflict-ridden thing, certainly grist for the story mill). But what we have here are stories and poems observing from a high vantage point. Problems have been (and continue to be) encountered and resolved to one degree or another, so there’s a certain tranquility in the face of One More Obstacle. The skills and techniques of writing have been mastered to a degree, along with confidence in the voice and the viewpoint, so the need to dazzle is less of an issue than the need to share what’s been learned.
Oh, but there’s plenty to dazzle the discerning reader. Wallace’s “golden shovel haiku sonnets” are only one (well, five) example(s). Venerable names like Ted Kooser, Stephen Dunn, and Henry Morgenthau consort with writers from all over the United States as well as Australia, Canada, China, Haiti, Slovenia, and other far-flung locations. There’s more poetry than prose here—a statement about the mindset of a certain age? Maybe. Or maybe poetry is the genre of memory-image, or loss, or both, as in Matthew J. Spireng’s “One”:
I must, back then, have learned
or how now do I know one, or two or
more? It might have been a lesson
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
or a revelation, one moment
no difference to me between
one and two, then: one
and one and one . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
One little boy, perhaps still
an infant, discovering one thing after another.
This lovely poem is juxtaposed with a perfectly matched photograph (by Glenn Herbert Davis, but excellent editing and sequencing is no coincidence) in which a little boy lies on the ground in a woodsy camp, raising a single stick to the misty sky. One. Yes.
The great advantage of alert, creative age is that there are so many memory-images to call upon. “The Commission,” by Anita Vitacolonna, presents a couple choosing items to be included in a still life—”woven raffia from the Congo, // a Dogon mask, a leatherbound volume from Florence.” Vitacolonna continues, “Kumquats overflowed / a dish resting on Florentine leather . . . // . . . We watched / as brush strokes transformed the narrative of our lives heavy with objects.” Concise yet image-heavy, sound-aware yet luminous, this poem exemplifies the clarity age can bring.
So does Vince Sgambati’s story “What Took You So Long?” The middle-aged protagonist has moved away from the scene of a shameful divorce only to discover new things about himself that his wife must have known all along. Sometimes only time and trouble can bring the illumination we need, and afterward, happiness of a new kind.
Another fine prose piece is Susan Eisenberg’s “My Parents’ Health Declines,” an energetic, almost-lighthearted index of the steady deterioration older age often brings—poignant but not pathetic: “They continued to do their own shopping. He held onto the cart for stability and slowly circumnavigated the store while she darted down each aisle they passed . . .” You can hear Eisenberg’s mellifluous language; it doesn’t let you mourn.
The subject matter of the issue as a whole isn’t necessarily age, though; it’s more the wry intelligence that comes only after life lived long and sharp. The issue is a resounding success because the country of 57+ is a rich one. Congratulations to Nimrod as it moves fearlessly forward into the last part of its own rich sixth decade.
Review by Mary Florio
The magazine Parcel is a city of mirages, each component story its own minaret and long stretch of shadow. One such structure is Rebecca Emanuelsen’s short exercise “Transmissions.” I found it especially evocative of the power of allegory. The characters channel various spirits from different continents and eras. We have the brooding Bronte men and the sequestered Burnett children, the precocious du Maurier innocents and the brittle old women who will always transcend time with the ultimate lubricant of such travel—old money. I felt that Emanuelsen teased this reader too much with allusion, where the word “quite” infected the page and the aforementioned characters did seem borrowed from other casts, but she wrote a story I couldn’t put down. The premise is that of a bookseller who becomes entrapped in a strange thread. (Yes, it leads her to an unexpected peace, but you won’t guess where). Her opening is perfect: “Olette wakes one morning to find a string running taut from her left ear canal out through the crack beneath her bedroom door. She sits up and touches the place where the thread connects to her head, perplexed by its presence.”
In a Kafkaesque vein, the story romps on, marrying surrealism with very tactile concerns such as the business of bookselling and the executive management of someone else’s heartbreak. It is a great example of plot succeeding to match certain key touchstones of the past—development, dramatic action, conflict—in a modern context where we have elements of pastiche, ethereal parody and, yes, allusion to Europe’s great Romantic writers.
At sixty-five pages, Parcel is slim, with its editorial leanings toward the archetypal. The poetry is closer to Williams’s plums than Stevens’s blackbirds, and the syntax and vocabulary could be classed as more readable than the Times or even the Post. While the publication is fine on the whole, I found Travis Smith’s “Thank You Anonymous Sponsor” and Danielle Shutt’s “Seasonal Thing (For William, Who Won’t Appreciate It)” especially compelling. The world, frankly, is in need of more love songs, and I thought Shutt managed a very clear pitch amid her rice and salt and starscapes. The objects she invokes, like Smith’s patented nouns, are not unusual, but cultivated for inclusion somehow. Each writer takes the ordinary word and makes it overwhelmingly new. Take the start of Smith’s poem:
thank you anonymous sponsor
for the alphabet like atoms
for what you mixed in
with the wind today
this higher-proof this aquavit wind
I wouldn’t be surprised to see
shavings of light blown off
from magnolia leaves like shingles
to see the e ripped from hello
out of a passerby’s mouth
Of course the “e” could be ‘postmodern,’ but the writer does not seem to angle for classification; these poems are not meditations on the state of letters in America today. Neither poet expressly abandons the notion that we are the stewards of the alphabet or, like Shutt, that this particular love song is different than what came before. But they are driven, perhaps, by a kind of necessity, that perhaps the forgotten angry men of France are still angry today, even when they are channeled from a small press in Kansas.
Because the tightrope of this style writing is gossamer, the journal is worth further study. For example, I’ve been studying Hemingway, and when I read Parcel for a kind of counter-point, I realized how challenging it is to say something profound in geologic language. The critics have observed that there isn’t always an easy way to describe American writing, that we lack the vernacular for it. If that is the case, then it is good to reach out and try and find the expression that suits you best—find the words that adhere to a compelling philosophy of language for you, your loved ones, and a rainy day.
Review by Melanie Tague
If there is one thing you can count on when it comes to literary journals it is that Smartish Pace will always produce a solid body of poetry in each and every issue. This issue is thoughtfully constructed, well crafted, and satisfying. Coming up on its fourteenth year of publication, Smartish Pace is only getting stronger.
“Dislocation” by Diya Chaudhuri tells the reader exactly what the poem aims to do the very moment you read the title. Chaudhuri uses the poem to dislocate the reader but never far enough that you lose sight of what is occurring—just far enough to leave an ache of dislocation. The poem begins by immediately twisting the reader back and forth: “Some gray resistance, some compulsion / towards preserving these hollow bones.” The idea of resistance, which is an opposing force, and compulsion, which is a compelling force, come together to immediately tear a reader two ways. The poem continues: “today will begin like all days since: the stamp unlicked.”
Megan Harlan’s “Bastide” is named after a medieval fortified hill-town in Southwest France. The poem asks the reader to walk along beside or become the “I” in this poem. The first line is in the present, but you are quickly taken back in time:
I cannot hear you over so many dead wars.
They cling to the sky-carved stones
of the tower walls and a language run riot
with rhyme, crusade as sweet-talk,
Harlan strategically places imagery of medieval times, and the poem is strong and steadily paced. The poem can be about the physical location or about someone speaking upon an old relationship that is dead but whose skeleton (“the city”) still remains.
Don Bogen’s masterful poem works to show ironies of a hospital, how hospitals are needed to preserve life but are also places for death. Death happens with or without them, but life does not always. There are three key components to each of the twelve sections of this poem: specific aspects of a hospital (some more abstract than others), a specific stage throughout a typical life cycle, and the history or lifecycle of hospitals as institutions.
In the first section, titled “Grounds,” Bogen builds a strong foundation for both his poem and the readers’ sense of the word “hospital.” While describing the aesthetics of a hospital, Bogen also compares them to “mansions, cruise ships, or resort hotels,” giving the reader a sense of luster that is reminiscent of youth and new beginnings. Next, Bogen focuses on stages of life or how humans experience the “life cycle” in relation to hospitals:
thumps on your heart, thickens your blood, they need
for you to drink this grayish milkshake now.
Here is a skullcap for your newly balded head,
While the reader witnesses all the tragedies and miracles a hospital produces along with how they impact life, Bogen makes sure to not forget the life or history of the hospital as well: “charting our own collapse. The hospital, / then, as heap of rubble, memento mori, / a transient guest house housing transients.” There really are so many finely tuned levels to this that the best way to experience it is to read it for yourself.
As usual, Smartish Pace has delivered another great issue, packed with amazing poets. The only way this could disappoint is if you don’t like poetry, but that is just crazy talk.
Volume 34 Number 1
Review by Mary Florio
After everyone decided that Google changed the way Americans think, certain technocrats decided that we read differently too—gone were the days of “linear” reading: enter the temporary narrative, with Chaucer in the bathroom, Proust in the kitchen, Ginsberg in the den, collectively a kind of horizontal homage to Lowell or anyone who could compete with the subtitles of the foreign films playing in the bedroom. It could be that these alphabetic adventurers simply wanted a literary magazine, with twenty-five different voices in one compact book of leaves. Soundings East, for example, captures that American premise well. It showcases the end of moral innocence (Doug Margeson’s “The Education of Arthur Woehmer”), the liberation of internees at Santo Tomas University in the Philippines in 1942 (Anne-Marie Cadwallader’s “Waiting”), and a love story complex enough to cross time and space and species (Janet Yoder’s “Getting to Misha”). But what I found especially nonlinear about the enterprise was the way that the writing began.
Michael Passaflume’s poem “Runaway” begins biblically, “Back when the world was young / and people died for a reason . . . I used to be one of the fastest . . . rounding the bases of a backyard / baseball diamond like a fuse doused / in gasoline.” You recognize something in the simplicity, maybe recalling Stuart Dybek or the winds of your youth.
Doug Bolling’s “Travels in It” also begins mythically, opening: “The year we touched the sun.” I could continue with his fine first verse, but who wants to when you can stop there and dream about what comes next? One might recall Icarus and in that neural pathway all of our childhood apexes when we too felt “brilliance streaming / through the west / window,” as Bolling has it.
I enjoyed Phyllis Mass’s “Please Do Not Respond,” that also starts with a vat of gasoline: “A portrait of my father with Frida / and Trotsky on the back wall.” Rollicking, we suspend our disbelief through the next three stanzas and burst at the last line which captures the sentiment exactly. I won’t tell you what it is, but it is an efficient stroke of ink.
Amy Schulz channels other gods in her poem “The Phantom Weight of Fire.” She begins, “Voltaire thought he could weigh fire. / He set the trees burning in the forest at Cirey / as servants stood by with buckets of water.” Facts, of course, are dead, but she invokes the forefathers with grace and redeems the bold premise with a narrative she comes to own.
Timothy McLafferty begins like the newgrass song you lost somewhere on the road to West Virginia, starting his poem “House” with this elegant introduction: “You won’t know if I don’t tell you and / if I don’t tell you / you won’t know, but it was December”. It is convincingly beautiful—a haunting set-up that left me riveted to the end.
The smart beginning, Donna Baier Stein suggests in her poem “The Yellow Brick Road,” is perhaps its inverse:
has an end I hadn’t
noticed before now.
I’ve worn out so many pairs
of shoes, some red, some stained
with juice in the shape of an unknown continent.
Soundings East is a creative effort that can be read horizontally, like those reading habits of the technology bubble cited above; it can achieve this feat because it is a unique showcase of writing with exceptional beginnings. Across the collection, the individual efforts are intrinsically realized. By that I mean to suggest that they carry through the promise of their beginnings to their measured ends, lovely in each feature, each composite whole.
Review by Sherra Wong
Halfway through The Tusculum Review, I feel like I have to come up for air: so much of it seems to take place in a small space, i.e., the writers’ and the characters’ heads. The poems jump from one time or image or location to another within the space of two lines, though individual sentences and fragments offer the occasional reward. Some of the essays are entirely cerebral, while others are a more traditional mix of storytelling and meditation. The stories, while mostly well-written, don’t quite hit the mark, and I’m left wondering: is there more?
A notable exception is Katie Cortese’s portrait of her father, “Mr. Fixit.” Her father has lived with periodic bouts of cancer since he was a child, and he also has a knack for fixing things. His vulnerability and humanity show through the episodes that Cortese has chosen, which are understated and free of sentimentality. Her control of the pace, as well as her intuition for the amount of time each scene deserves, are admirable. For example, she describes what her parents went through when they decided to adopt a baby boy: “There were four years of disappointments, $20,000 lost to a lawyer who took their money and ran, fifty-page applications in triplicate, and a photography session of our dinner table laden down with pot roast and candles and the good silverware to prove we were a family that could provide.” She named no emotion other than disappointment, and yet the hope—almost supplication (and in fact the lead into St. Anthony is pitch-perfect)—for the child is etched deep onto the page by those few details. There is a lively supporting cast as well: the mother who is planning the surprise birthday party for her husband, the grandmother, Cortese’s own difficulties, deftly hinted at, of being an adult child who lives far from her parents.
Lori Horvitz’s “The Golden Cord” opens with the news that her dog has disappeared from a friend’s farm and backtracks to the three terrible Internet dates she had had night before. The descriptions of the dates are hilarious, though the dates are so strange that they leave me wondering whether (1) the stories are real or (2) if she has had exceptionally bad luck in love. For such a fun read, the ending is somewhat unfortunate: it wants to draw a parallel between the dog’s disappearance and eventual return and the author’s romantic misadventures. The result is hurried, heavy-handed, and bland, as if it has to tie up the story with a neat bow in the remaining thirty seconds before the commercial break.
Some of the poems suffer from the same flaw. “Physics” by Nate Pillman builds up to a haunting image—a lit cigarette in the mouth of someone swimming—but the last line, “how it seemed like nothing in the world could put out that light,” is such a downer, especially when the poem is about a night “after graduation”: the narrative suddenly becomes a cliché on youth. F. Daniel Rzicznek has already told us how everything is “blessed” in the universe of his “Book VIII from Greenbottle’s Holy Season,” in fact listing all sorts of unexpected things and situations with sometimes-sonorous language, but then he sums it up for us in the end: “Blessed the blessedness—all things blessed,” which falls flat. Not so, however, Broc Rossell’s “Vestigial,” which spends the entire poem reeling in the reader toward its heart and still manages to jolt in the end.
Don’t let the look of Jeremiah Shelor’s “‘Untitled’ (Watercolor on Paper, 9 x 12 in.),” the single paragraph that runs on for seven and a half pages, scare you off, nor how it wanders from the window of the author’s study, to the memory of a zoo in his childhood, to Sunday school sermons and Japanese folklore, seemingly without direction. The monologue has a dreamlike quality to it at times, such as when it leaves the discussion of the kitsune, shapeshifting foxes in Japanese mythology. He wonders whether he had met real kitsune in his presumably American childhood. It ends where it began, with the image of the author drawing an animal whose likeness is elusive: “The ghosts of the erased lines remained where I had tried many times to capture the curve of her tail, faint contours of graphite fanning out in ever widening loops.” And in fact, in the beginning, when the piece began to wander away from the cardinal at the study’s window, I felt as if I were being carried out “in ever widening loops.” I can’t tell whether it’s a coincidence or a subtle masterstroke, and that is my favorite kind of surprise.
Most of The Tusculum Review seems to want to keep a distance between itself and earnestness. More often than not, the emotion and intelligence in these pages comes cloaked in what feel like literary or academic exercises, rather than told through the vehicle of experience.
Review by David R. Matteri
Richard Farrell, the creative nonfiction editor of upstreet magazine, opens the 2013 issue with a short essay about a boy who finds unexpected treasure: “Sea levels rise dramatically . . . Thousands of stones have washed up and cover the beach, as if the sea’s reliquary has emptied its contents at the child’s feet.” The stories, essays, and poems in this issue are like the stones found on Farrell’s beach: polished and smooth to the touch.
“Everything is Negotiable” by KC Kirkley is a story about a father facing a strange crisis in his kitchen: “It looked at first as if someone had left a small black wire on the ground. It had that pointless, meandering look of a discarded thing. A thin black line lying across the tile of the kitchen.” Over time, this black line grows and widens until there is a gaping hole in the floor leading down all the way into the dark earth. The narrator and his family react to this hole as if it were a broken window or a clogged sink—annoying, but not out of the ordinary. The absurdity of this situation is like Kafka visiting the suburbs (without any oversized vermin), but also reveals cracks in the narrator’s personal life:
Having a crack or a hole in your house says something about you, like you don’t have your shit together if your home is gashed deep like ours was. What kind of a man allows such a thing in his own home? On the other hand, I was attracted to the hole, in a way. Its unknown depth was captivating, its pungence a reminder of my creatureliness.
Sarah Scoles presents a short story about the struggles of youth in “This is a Very Cool Thing We’re Doing.” Parents can be extremely embarrassing in the eyes of their children, such as our narrator’s mother: “During my fifth-grade year at Stenstrom Elementary, home of The Stallions, my mother dressed up as the school’s mascot on Fridays.” Our narrator is already an outcast in her school. Her good grades earn her the title of Hall Monitor and she imagines her classmates want to be just like her. The reality, though, is far different: “Unfortunately, what actually happened was that I said, ‘Please don’t throw your trash on the sidewalk,’ and they said, ‘What, are you a bitch or something?” When our narrator discovers that her mother is the mascot, she is assigned to guard her for a school event. It is not something she is looking forward to: “No one respects the authority of ten-year-olds, especially when ten-year-olds are me, and I can’t even stop them from throwing their Airhead candy wrappers on the ground, so how am I supposed to stop them from hurting my mother?” Our heroic Hall Monitor struggles against bullies and her own desire to appear cool in front of her classmates. Scoles does a great job writing from the point of view of a child and the central conflict near the end is intense and had my heart racing.
There is a rich selection of creative nonfiction in this issue, but my personal favorite is Bruce Cohen’s “(Closed) American Barber Shop.” Cohen writes about a barber who served his family for so long that he became a kind of mythical figure in their lives:
Bruce Lyons was the type of barber who refused to cut your hair to your specifications until you earned the right . . . If you were unfamiliar with the unspoken rules of his shop and meticulously described the type of hairstyle you wanted . . . he would simply stare you down then politely tell you to go fuck yourself, go somewhere else.
The description of Mr. Lyon’s place of business is fantastic; Cohen transforms the building into a secondary character that is just as rugged and colorful as the owner:
The barber shop contained a rusty barber pole that no longer spun, dusty bottles of Lucky Tiger, an entire shelf of archaic straight-edge razors, and an exposed kerosene powered heater that one of my sons touched and burned his fingers on, leaving a scar, which would not be permitted in any modern inspection.
Cohen and his sons got their hair cut at Lyon’s shop for decades until the man died of a heart attack. Not only does the author feel like his family lost a close friend, but also that the country lost a piece of its heart:
. . . the end of an era had whizzed by, that childhood had vanished, and that America was changing. The Mom and Pop establishments were locking their doors and putting up everything-must-go signs. We were being zipped through life with fast food and conveyor-belt haircuts in malls, drive-in mastectomies, online banking and internet dating. The human element of life seemed to be dismantling right in front of our eyes.
This is a great story that deserves to be read out loud in front of a crowd, perhaps even to your personal barber, so you can hear the laughter and sighs of the passing of an era.
Bill Zavatsky’s poem “In the Cloak Room” tells a story about a boy’s eerie memory from his sixth grade Catholic school. The speaker asks his teacher to be excused to the Cloak Room to grab something, which “wasn’t really a room at all, but a huge closet / filled with hooks and darkness.” The mood of the poem grows even darker when the boy enters the cloak room, seized by a strange urge:
standing in the dark among the coats and jackets
that hung like so many disembodied children,
all slightly hunchbacked. I clawed the air,
making my most horrible monster face,
my gestures timed to parody the shrieking of the nun.
The sharp criticism of organized religion is familiar ground to walk on, but the uniquely dark setting and atmosphere makes the poem a pleasure to read.
This issue of upstreet is solid with plenty of strong writing. After reading this, you may be tempted to keep it like one of those polished stones in Farrell’s essays and wait for the next wave of stones to roll in from this literary ocean.
Volume 26 Number 1
Review by David R. Matteri
Redemption is at the heart of Witness magazine’s latest issue: “Heavy with religious and secular meaning, weighted with emotion, and anchored in morality, redemption is a frequent theme in literature.” This vast theme is examined and exposed in this offering of stories, poems, and essays from an award-winning literary journal.
Dennis Kennedy’s short story “War Babies” is about an elderly brother and sister dealing with their personal demons. The brother is fixated on the fact that his personal history has an eerie connection with the Second World War:
Working back from the date of his birth, Ben Price concluded he was conceived on the first day of September, 1939. It horrified him that as Hitler entered Poland his father entered his mother, and he didn’t want to press the parallel too far—it was traumatic enough just to imagine the primal scene.
This strange fixation turns into an unhealthy obsession as Ben tries to fight off Freudian attractions to his dead mother. Meanwhile, his sister has her own problems to deal with. Haunted by her adulterous past and drug addicted son, Sarah begins to hear voices in her head. Some of these voices are from people she knew in life, while others are far more disturbing:
Sometimes she heard silly voices, like cartoon characters, Bugs Bunny or Porky Pig, “Hey, doc, put that down before you kill me” or “Get out of the carrot patch, you silly wabbit.” Fred Flintstone once shouted “You can’t go out in that dress, I can see your fat ass right through your panties, yabadabadoo!”
Kennedy’s story provides an interesting look into old age and how two people try to bring sanity back into their lives.
Daniel A. Hoyt’s “Girl X” shows how two young people go off on their own interlocked journeys for redemption. Jessica is a young woman who agreed to let her boyfriend videotape themselves having sex, but later regrets that decision when they break up and the video ends up in the hands of another man who threatens to post it online unless she sleeps with him. Jessica finds some solace in a group of local hipster Christians, even though their company only gives her an excuse to snack: “They were human Xanax, and even if they didn’t calm her down, they had an industrial-size jar of peanut M&M’s on the kitchen counter.” Weaved into Jessica’s story is Peter, a young man who lives with the Christians Jessica visits. Peter is a man who loves God and Eggo waffles with grape jelly. He also has a peculiar relationship with his body: “He was the kind of person who ate parts of himself, traces of fingernails, the pink fringe of frayed skin on his thumb, once a scab the size of a nickel that he had scraped and teetered off his knee.” Tension builds as Jessica walks to the house of the man blackmailing her, carrying a bag of cookies laced with rat poison. Peter likes this pretty girl and follows her, sensing trouble. Both absurd and suspenseful, Hoyt’s story is an engaging story that strings together sex, religion, and redemption in one package.
Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew’s “Snapshots of a Decade” is a short piece of nonfiction that is arranged like pictures in a photo album. The piece covers the major events of a young family’s life, beginning with 9/11 and the impact it had on their lives: “We don’t know it yet, but we’re crying for the hundreds dead, for the stunningly unified outpouring of compassion, for our president’s lackluster response, for the war he will start, for the security our country will never again presume.” Tragedy is followed by joy when the couple marries and receives a baby girl in their lives. Yet the wheel of life turns and tragedy strikes when Emily is diagnosed with cancer: “An ophthalmologist gives us a name: Horner’s Syndrome . . . When the search is complete, fear’s cold tendrils begin to clench my shoulders, too.” I appreciate Andrew’s use of imagery in this vivid piece that captures all the good and bad moments of life.
“The Crisis” by Timothy Liu is a short and funny poem that puts you in awkward situations. You are called in the middle of the night by your boss, who is in desperate need of a friend:
so you ask if she feels alright
and the next thing you know
she’s at your door, asking if
she can take a shower, only to
reappear wearing your robe
as she slides down next to you
You do not appreciate this unwanted attention and immediately make up a lame excuse to leave the house so you can hide out at a friend’s. Unfortunately, your friend greets you with “a bottle of bourbon / sloshing in his lap, his woman / out of town—a giant plasma / screen streaming live gay porn.” Redemption doesn’t seem to matter in this poem, but it’s still pretty darn funny.
Another one of my favorite poems in this issue is “Snow Series 1” by Donna Stonecipher. Written as a series of prose poems, Stonecipher’s piece includes messages of loss and a longing to return to a past:
He thought there must be a warming point at which sentiment melts into sentimentality, pathos into bathos. The black-and-white postcards of the Alps outsold the color postcards two to one. Staring into the ice we saw a ring, which no amount of carving with your pocketknife could deliver to my hand. Why, she wondered, aren’t whole industries invested in trying to stop the present from deliquescing into the past.
I like how each piece includes images of snow and ice as a series of connecting bridges. The result is a rich set of prose poems that are a joy to read.
There are other examples of strong writing in this issue, but I believe I’ve spent enough of your time discussing it. So go on and check this issue out. Even if you don’t find redemption, you’ll still have a good time reading this one.