Posted January 15, 2014
Arcadia Literary Journal :: Black Warrior Review :: Free State Review :: Glimmer Train Stories :: Grain Magazine :: The Greensboro Review :: The Idaho Review :: Lumina :: A Narrow Fellow :: Southern Poetry Review
Review by Sherra Wong
The Vietnam War, love affairs, a few ERs, a catastrophic case of acne and its scars: trauma and its aftermath are the subject of this issue of Arcadia, guest-edited by Benjamin Reed. Perhaps because of the nature of trauma, the dramatic and the weird take up a greater-than-usual proportion of the issue, but quieter and more quotidian disruptions are given their places, too. Despite the fragmenting and wounding effects of trauma, the work in this issue is accessible and gripping, at times sad but never depressing.
Fantastic opening lines are the uniform feature of almost every piece of fiction and nonfiction. “When I was a little girl, doctors would call our house and cuss out my mother” (“Sensory Deprivation,” Jordan Rossen); “My son is laughing. He is about to have a part of his body amputated, but he’s laughing . . .” (“Wrapping Paper,” Catherine Campbell); “I hate it here. I hate Disneyland . . .” (“I Step Aside,” Tanya Chernov). The crispness and the immediate tension hit me fast and leave me no choice but to keep reading.
“Sensory Deprivation” tells of a twelve-year-old girl inadvertently hurting her baby sister and the subsequent rupture in the faith in her mother. The story moves quickly but has a heaviness to it, as if it were a container for the girl’s guilt and confusion, and it is packed with nuance and efficiency.
In “Wrapping Paper,” Campbell talks about the decision to have the floating thumb, which her toddler son was born with instead of a hand, amputated so that he could be fitted for a prosthetic. The story has a wonderful control of time: it skips back and forth between two days and two years, between medical appointments and her marriage, and never loses the reader at the other end of the thread. It is quite a feat.
“I Step Aside,” too, is told in short bursts, almost like the punches that the boyfriend in the story lands on the narrator before she leaves him. Like the authors of “Sensory Deprivation” and “Wrapping Paper,” Chernov sidesteps the easy temptation of melodrama or moral judgment and stays honest: “And I did miss him. It sickens me to say so. I missed him until I didn’t.”
“Getting Over It” by Hali Fuailelagi Sofala is listed as a poem, but it feels more like montage: five paragraphs all start with “When he hits me with his red SUV” and then list a reason for the contact. They are excuses; they are indictments, but they all display an empathy for the driver, the speaker herself, and the circumstances in which they find themselves. “It is because I am walking in his blind spot”; “it’s the loneliness of going home.” Even when she imagines that he hit her for more damnable reasons—“because women like me are always in the way”; “as a white man, he’s tired of having to change his track for people like me”—she speaks from his perspective and gives voice to his frustrations. The piece chooses to be interesting rather than preoccupied with proving a political point. It reminds me of why we love stories, and I am grateful for it.
A few poems examine the body from different perspectives or use the human body as a metaphor. John Liles looks up close in “Sutures,” as if leading the reader stitch by stitch: “An act of amending // by mutual pressures.” One can easily misread “amend” as “mend,” but “amend” and “mutual” pressures hint at more metaphorical wounds inflicted on or by another person. Lindsey Illich turns a house into a body:
Windows for eyes, a saltbox profile,
a house where we could work it out:
a theory of wainscotting,
the intricate psychology of parquet,
The captions for Aubrey Edwards’s photographs of a Vietnam veteran, Rock, are short monologues that read almost like poems. Under a photo of a scar of a bullet wound, Rock says,
One time that I got shot [in Vietnam], I was dead. They was about to unplug me off the machine, and a doctor came back up before they was fixing to put me in a body bag, pressed on my chest a couple times, and the machine went back, boop-boop-boop-boop, and so hey, there I was.
There you go: fine voices, no self-pity, stories that make you go whoa.
Volume 40 Number 1
Review by Melanie Tague
In order to commemorate its 40th anniversary, Black Warrior Review decided to focus on “time travel.” The pieces selected for this issue meet the aims of time travel in such interesting and intriguing ways, this is one journal you will want to make sure to read front to back.
Adeena Reitberger’s “Here is Always Somewhere Else” is a powerfully vulnerable nonfiction piece that takes the reader on a trip of the author’s past, present, and wonderment of the future. The work is split up into eleven different sections that follow Reitberger’s life in chronological order from her childhood to present day. The piece answers “how she got to where she is” and is written in a delicate manner that reflects the constant reminders given to her by her parents and her Jewish heritage:
“You never know what can happen,” our mother said. “It’s best to prepare for the worst.”
Even Superman was not impervious to the world’s dangers. Seventeen days after my thirteenth birthday, he was thrown off his horse and he permanently dislocated his skull from his spine. . . . Superman’s accident coincided with the beginning of Lani’s difficulties at school . . .
Horses play a significant role in this story, they serve as the main way for Reitberger to make sense life’s events as well as the moments that will occur as she travels forward in life and as she travels back and reflects upon the past.
“Snapshots from a Wedding” by Ben Roberts is a unique time traveling piece that places the reader in an old English setting while depicting snapshots from what appears to be a modern wedding. The story speaks to how antiquated some rituals of a standard American wedding are. The snapshot form also allows the reader to realize that while photos are often taken to remember an event, overtime their meanings become lost, and they no longer stand as a perfect memory of that time. The reader will see dialogue such as “Speak thou, Miriam. The maidens come tambouring and proclaiming their dreams.” Next to the description of a woman receiving a text reading, “Woman what have i 2 do w/ u?” It is an interesting piece with a lot to say and is definitely worth checking out.
Wendy Xu has two poems featured in this issue, both addressing the past, present, and future in their own way. In “The Shape of It” the speaker opens herself up to accept the past, live in the present, and embrace the future: “I wake up and inherit the world / as anybody has left it.”
“It” seems to represent the speaker’s life in general, and Xu uses this “it” as a placeholder for the human condition as she writes:
I greet my strangeness and crawl
inside it like a sleeping bag.
Now I will solve my problems.
Now I will emerge in the shape of my destiny.
Xu’s second poem “Holiday” is well worth reading too; don’t forget to check it out.
There are so many other great pieces of work in this issue that it is hard for me to leave them out. This means you should probably pick up a copy for yourself, time travel a bit. It will be the best thing you have done for yourself in 2014 by far.
Review by John Palen
This magazine hasn’t been reviewed before on NewPages, so remember that you heard it from me: Free State Review is great. It’s a pleasure to look at, hold, and read, and the writing is as fresh and consequential as a sun-drenched, below-zero day. Nobody’s just messing around. Even the contributors’ notes are little works of art.
The issue opens with The Chattahoochee Review Editor Anna Schachner’s short story “Sylvia” about a young woman marking time after college; her poet boyfriend Collins, who “spoke very loudly, as if he had no conscious understanding of others’ presence”; and her distant parents. The title character is a skink (a kind of lizard), a present from Collins. Sylvia is the still, watchful center around whom these human characters gain clarity about the limits of commitment, the necessity of the odd.
Other memorable prose includes Sandra Ramirez’s “Stray,” Kevin Lavey’s “Skylight,” and Jennifer Key’s perfect flash fiction piece, “The Horizon Has a Way of Disappearing”—a meditation on the foreclosure of child-bearing: “For the young woman the destination had been clear: a yellow doorframe of light she walked towards, never asking herself whether she wanted to live inside that house. To choose to be on the outside looking in—who could be that brave?”
There’s a feast of poetry here, all of it with traction in the experience of life. My favorite is Meredith Davies Hadaway’s “Ribbon,” a series of tight strophes on the tease of ribbon “like the satin strap that / slides from collarbone to elbow”—but that is nevertheless
a diversion from the disarray
of each disheveled minute, every
hour’s sloppy kiss, the scent of
wet pavement, the one true gift.
Other poets with outstanding work are Gary Blankenburg, Gary Fincke, Sue Ellen Thompson, Nancy G. Hickman, Heidi Shuler, and Jeff Sural (congratulations on his first publication).
The review features clean, readable type and well-proportioned layout. The bright yellow cover half-frames an oil painting by Bruce Leopold. The magazine hails from Annapolis, Maryland, and is edited by veteran journalist Hal Burdett. Keep an eye out. This magazine is a comer.
Review by Julie Nichols
One of Glimmer Train’s many claims to fame is its signature black-bordered cover, its distinctive logo title, and the always interesting art—this time, a drawing of curly-tailed pigs making their way home through winter-deadened wheat, erupting in curls from the snow like the animals’ tails. Perhaps the most significant claim to fame, however, is the magazine’s reputation for excellence. Selections from GT have appeared in nearly every annual anthology of “the best.” Its smart look, its dedication to literary fiction, and its consistent attention to the needs of writers reaching for their best, make this always a magazine to watch. This issue is no exception.
Matthew Ducker’s “Middleweight” is a textbook lesson in pacing and structure. Expertly ordered scenes, flashbacks, crises, and rests engage the reader throughout this poignant depiction of a chronically second-place weightlifting competitor. Through the eyes of his wife, he emerges both hero and human, worth cheering for, though maybe not for his physical strength. Ducker establishes the setting and the conflict with these concise lines: “She had left the Zenith turned on in the living room . . .”; ”The radio was a console model with a polished walnut case and a glass dial that looked like a porthole . . .”; “[When] the broadcaster mentioned the Olympics, she caught her breath . . .”; and “It wasn’t the first story or even the second. There was fighting in Norway and a primary election in Pennsylvania . . . Then it was confirmed. The Finns had made an announcement.”
Roger, her husband, is not devastated; he still has hope, he’s still full of nice-guy optimism, as the flashback of their original meeting shows. But that affability may contribute to his mediocrity. In beautifully choreographed scenes detailing sometimes his growing disappointment and sometimes hers, the story reaches a climax paralleling a crucial earlier scene but with significantly different results. Readers’ admiration for the structure of this story is equaled by pleasure in its sympathetic characters and timely themes.
“Everyone is Waiting” by Soma Mei Sheng Frazier tackles another timely theme—how first-worlders respond to oppression—in an edgier way. The narrator, a dentist whose wife has recently died, is moved by written pleas he sees in magazines for donations to overseas causes, but the power of this story comes from his more complex reaction to closer pain. His obsession with numbers—in a waiting line, in statistics, in his own examination room—shows his tendency to detach. But his need to connect after the death of his wife necessitates a new perspective. Frazier’s story, like Ducker’s, is expertly constructed, the number motifs a stark contrast to understated images of grief and multiple levels of pain.
In a similar way—but a very different story—Amina Gautier juxtaposes that eternal need for connection with cultural and family difference in “Aguanile.” Here the narrator is torn between her fiercely loyal family in America and the grandfather in Puerto Rico who abandoned them years ago. He shares his love of jazz music with her in a visit and through phone calls, but his crimes against the family cannot be forgiven. This is not a unique story; the push/pull of divided family feeling is everywhere, heightened by space, time, and opposing priorities. But Gautier makes it a strongly felt, true, individual story through the narrator’s meditative tone as she recounts, with anger and sorrow, both her grandfather’s thoughtless deeds and his wishful efforts to make amends.
Glimmer Train doesn’t carry poetry—another of its signature characteristics—but “Suddenly, the Apocalypse” by Josh Swiller comes close:
. . . the voice in my head that says, “This is wrong” and “This is unsustainable,” sometimes I sit him in the rocking chair by the front window and give him a piece of chocolate pie and say, “Ain’t it something, brother, ain’t it something?” as he goes on shaking his head…But see, when he finishes the pie, he puts it on the floor (note to self: get a coffee table), and he looks around, unsure, but unsure isn’t as tough to work with as upset, so…we go outside and . . . me and the voice that has been so adamant that my life had made some wrong turn or had been subjected to some grievously cruel and unfair fate, we tidy up the yard.
There’s more of this almost-whimsical reverie, but not much. When it’s done, the world is new, and good. What a gift! This issue of Glimmer Train is full of them.
Volume 41 Number 1
Review by Sherra Wong
As I read this issue of Grain, a quarterly from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, I kept flipping to the back to find out who the writer is: how was it possible that I had never heard of this person, and that person, and the editors who have eyes for such great, sensitive, and unassuming writing? With one story and poem after another, this issue of Grain made me miss my train stop on the way to work, gasp, and wonder. I’m very, very excited to have discovered it and now to tell you to read it, too.
The issue’s theme is “Home-Myths,” which seems to have engendered more stories of being away from home and visions of home, rather than of home itself. The narrator in Molly Lynch’s “Patron Saint of Lamborghinis” works as a cook in an oil rig camp. She sets the scene economically: “I was one of the nine females in a camp of over two hundred men.” There’s no way you’d stop reading after that, is there? And indeed it is not possible to stop, for what follows is lovely and perfect, a voice that reminds me of Jane Eyre. (The sonic and psychic resemblance clicked into place for me even before the narrator had disclosed her name, halfway through the story.) The story ends—to continue the analogy—at where Jane Eyre was sure that Mr. Rochester would marry Blanche Ingram. Lynch juxtaposes the delicacy of the narrator’s feelings with the bleak landscape and the vulgarity around her, and both she and we are left, inevitably, a little bruised. The fine supporting cast adds an uncommon depth.
Roam and Hoof, the main characters in Kristyn Dunnion’s “Fits Ritual,” presumably lost their homes some time ago: they are homeless men who team up to eke out a living by stealing. Hoof ends up losing more. Dunnion never descends into sentimentality or sensationalism about the homelessness or Hoof’s eventual loss. She also has a perfect pitch for the rhythm of speech. This is Hoof talking about a nurse at a homeless shelter:
She takes piss, blood, all the pathetic details of my reject life, gives me big science in return. She puts me on a joyless regime once she figures out what I got. The biopsy at St Mike’s is the worst. If you ever think your insides hurt, try letting some white-coated goon stab you with a sinister needle. You’ll know pain like a lover then.
There’s a touch of resignation (“the pathetic details of my reject life”), contempt for the book learning and mainstream society that may have rejected him when he was younger (“gives me big science,” “white-coated goon”), and wit (“you’ll know pain like a lover then”). Hoof is a pleasure to listen to, and Dunnion a pleasure to read.
The quietest and most ordinary-looking poems in this issue hide little knives for the heart. “Redneck Bar” by Mark Lavorato rolls in easily with straightforward complete sentences and plain language: “I was not enjoying myself.” He watches three women dance in a bar, and it becomes a
Glimmer of something so inspired
it’s worth raising a glass to
The part of our story
so good, so far
It’s wistful and cocky at the same time: well, is it going to keep on being good, and what is he going to do to make it happen?
In dee Hobsbawn-Smith’s “Homesick,” the prairie home is beautiful (“The faded light, gone / pale as your grandmother’s mauve apron”), but its stillness is marked by “the knife-edge / grind of routine” that “brings you crashing / to your knees.” It’s the edge that shows up in routine anywhere, in a prairie or in the city, and almost certainly at times in the home.
John Creary’s “NSFW” is a little different: like most things that are NSFW (Not Safe for Work), the fun is all over the place. The sexy, the everyday, and the double-entendres ride next to each other in the back of the white car, without pandering, and with just the tiniest hint of titillation.
Don’t miss, either, Tanya Bellehumeur-Allatt’s chronicle of “The Twelfth Year” of her life, shuttling around the Middle East as a child of a UN staffer; Catherine J. Stewart’s two poems, both about a childhood with ducks, both brimming with loss, or resignation, or missed opportunities, it’s hard to know what; and the complex gazes of the people in Eliza Griffiths’s drawings, never quite directed at the same place.
It’s all very fine work. Read it, Google the writers, and then read some more.
Review by Melanie Tague
The Greensboro Review has been around now for almost 50 years. Since the journal started up in 1965, it has developed an international reputation, meaning each issue plays host to the best work from both emerging and established writers. This issue is packed with work that seems to gravitate around feelings of longing and desire and the various ways these two emotions shape and impact our life. Every piece reaches out to touch the readers on a different level and engage them.
“The Correct Way to Breathe” by Mary Jones, written in the first-person is, on the surface, a story about the main character’s struggle to cope and find a cure for or find peace with the fact that she suffers from a disease called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). However, as the reader digs deeper into the story, it becomes apparent that the author is using the impossibility of curing chronic bodily pain as a metaphor for life and the realization that pain, be it physical or emotional, can never be avoided. Throughout the story, Jones weaves in beautifully painful lines to lead the reader to the same realizations that the main character grows into: “I think–if he [the doctor] likes me, maybe he’ll try harder to fix me.”
Even while talking about the main character training her dog, Jones manages to grab hold of the reader’s heart and pull it into the story and stare at it: “The hardest trick to teach is stay.”
Doug Ramspeck’s poem “October Mud” is an intriguing poem that can be analyzed on many levels with its unique fusion of a nostalgic rural American feel through the speaker’s mention of barns, fields, horses, and hoof prints combined with the conjuring of ancient world sentiments and mysticism and a certain scientific dryness that works to both give the poem weight and create distance within the poem. Ramspeck brings each of these aspects together to formulate a poem about desire; it begins: “For a long time the spirits thought they were / the alterations, the cadences. They lived in the ribs / of moonlight, in the robes of falling leaves . . .” The poem ends by bringing the reader into a fully visible but very distant reality.
This issue of The Greensboro Review eloquently ends with a poem by Bruce Bond titled “The Inheritance,” which speaks to the drudgery life can become and evokes the feelings of guilt someone mourning a loved one feels from not being sure the deceased lived a fulfilling life.
The first lines, “My mother’s calendars gave heartache / a geography, a map . . .,” provoke a double meaning as the speaker tries to decipher why his deceased mother has kept these calendars over all the years:
So when she died
when I found them in a drawer, I wondered:
was their useless use meant for us.
Or was it just too difficult to toss
their sacrificial order, the hours they kept.
So yes, I tossed them, never to forget.
Each piece of work in this issue is guaranteed to reach out and draw the reader into it in a unique way.
Review by Julie Nichols
This issue of The Idaho Review is a gem; it begins in glory and the energy never sags. From its whimsically sinister cover (Bill Carmen’s fabulist The Earialist), through its parchment endpapers and beautiful inner design, this issue bountifully rewards the reader’s full attention.
Rick Bass’s “How She Remembers It” opens the volume. Bass’s writing is elegant and lush, like his northern Montana landscapes. So gentle that the crisis is hardly recognizable as such. A grown daughter remembers a long-ago father-daughter journey:
She didn’t know then that something was wrong with him, and that he wasn’t going to get better—though she did know that there was something wonderfully right with her, something gloriously good about the strange way the elements of one’s world line up, sometimes . . .
There is an incident. Though neither violent nor life-threatening, it makes a deep impression on the child, who remains innocent throughout:
It is said that periods of deep emotional stress are sometimes accompanied by an increase in extrasensory perception, and inexplicable, startling connections or recurrences. Lilly believes it. . . .
[She] has never heard, however, if such an increase in ESP, or such taut connectivity, can be linked also to periods of deep contentedness and extraordinary peace. As if there were also an equally ordered world above, to which the endings of one’s nerves are more receptive, not due to their being frazzled or stripped bare, but stimulated, nurtured, by—what other word is there for it?—the condition of being loved deeply, and loving in return.
It’s a great pleasure to read such a contrast to the fashionably bitter, sarcastic, and fragmented stories found so easily today. Fortunately, this volume of The Idaho Review never succumbs to that contemporary temptation. Following Bass, are three poems by Robert Wrigley. The rhythms and rhyme patterns in “Despair” belie its title; its (and its companion poems’) images of rural isolation a rare comfort, familiarly Western, lonesome, beautiful.
Bass and Wrigley are established writers, their polished lines a benediction to any magazine. Shawn Behlen, Yasmina Madden, and Castle Freeman, Jr. may be somewhat less renowned, but all are accomplished, their stories here unfailingly pleasing. Freeman’s title delights: “The Disposition, the Estonian Girl, the Trainee Woodchuck, and the Smoke,” and the narrative arc does not disappoint, unfolding through oblique dialogue an average of five or six words long, clipped, sharp, funny, as small-town grease monkeys get the better of big-city lawyers with unbeatable, unexpected logic. Behlen’s wedding-party protagonist isn’t very likeable—she’s more like an antagonist—but her supporting cast knows more than she does, and so do we. Behlen’s pacing, his jump to the “I do” at the end, is perfect. Like both of these, Madden’s story, of a bartender and his grandnephew, surprises with its impossibility and its inevitability. It may be this quality of surprise and inevitability—rightness—that gives this issue such a refreshing aftertaste. Nearly every one of the thirteen stories and four poets has it. There’s not a clichéd, predictable moment in the house.
Stephen Dixon’s “Another Sad Story” is one long paragraph of mourning in the voice of a man knocked off his feet by a phone call from a sheriff in California who “has some very bad news for him.” Anyone who’s suffered a death in the immediate family recognizes the disorientation, the grasping at memories, the attempt to recover normalcy—and anyone who hasn’t experiences it by proxy in this brief but affecting piece.
In Kent Nelson’s “The Chapel of Misgivings,” the protagonist, a disappointed and disappointing womanizer, follows the trail of an ex-girlfriend’s life only to have his own turned irrevocably upside down. Don Waters’s “La Luz de Jesús” and Nicole Cullen’s “Long Tom Lookout,” the two longest stories in the collection, unroll toward their conclusions like excellent novels, their characters uncovering their true motives in language that never misses.
Strong characters, stories with satisfying endings, and beautiful writing make this collection eminently worth buying, keeping, and giving to your best reading friends.
Review by Mary Florio
You will need a pen and paper for this one. Two columns. Two Nobel laureates. Two radically different approaches to prose. In the first column, we have Faulkner and the Gospel of John. In the second column, we have Hemingway and the architectural concept that form follows function. Many journals published today feature prose that ascribes to one camp more than the other. But Lumina seems to capture the two styles precisely down the middle. The balance is perfect: in the fiction column, we have three of each and two that cross camps. In the nonfiction column, we have twenty-five percent Faulkner, seventy-five percent Hemingway (which makes sense considering he was a journalist with a night job), one excellent satire, and one chiseled memoir of sex and acid in the 1980s.
Molly Tolsky’s short fiction “Sugar Chest” meets criteria of both camps in a haunting and familiar cadence. In the spirit of Faulkner, she creates a moving meditation on abandonment. But while the subplot may be abstract, the objects and story line are palpable. She assembles the accoutrements of realism—we have a Capote-like cat and a Carver-like diction, but then she topples the strictly realist exercise with the same mystique that she began with: “I’m the house sitter for a family that’s never coming back.”
The other short fiction that most skillfully crossed the divide was Benjamin Schaefer’s horrific “Canning.” I have never read such artful pacing. The narrative was strictly realistic, with each pop of a jar or chilling “angel” dialogue conveyed in detail and order. But the tension and concept are more surreal than I think the Hemingway camp could stomach. You could certainly suspect “A Rose for Emily” to be on Schaefer’s shelf.
You could argue that Sam Martone’s short fiction “Last Tour” and Steven Ramirez’s “Este Pendejo Real Attack Death Video Free” toe the line too—their voices are brave and arresting and yet anchor their tales to brisk storytelling. Martone’s exploration of The Museum of Mourning is an inventive break from the how-to explosion and shows a lot of courage to make the story work as successfully as it does. Ramirez explores a different journey, and the reader must engage with it wholeheartedly as one would do with Faulkner and the Modernists—the benefit is tremendous, and the story is best when unpacked critically.
Another blisteringly intelligent story was Leah Schelbach’s short fiction “Bracelet.” In this issue of Lumina, George Saunders comments that Schelbach’s story was a “thoughtful and beautifully written examination of the way that religion . . . can affect human interactions.” Schnelbach is not just tackling a forgotten topic, she’s showcasing an intellectual dilemma that is rich with possibility.
In terms of blending genres, an imaginative pairing early in the journal is Marin Sardy’s nonfiction story “He Is Our Father” with Joe Ponepinto’s fiction “Nixon in State.” In Brittany Baker’s interview with David Shields, with excellent foreshadowing from the latter writings, Shields says: “Any work trapped in genre conventions feels to me very unlikely to capture human consciousness and human behavior in 2013.” This is exactly why Sardy’s and Ponepinto’s pieces are so outstanding. Neither one is limited by their genres—stylistic sleights and fantastic detail make one as likely to belong to one or the other. And because Lumina’s editors did not differentiate between fiction and nonfiction except in the table of contents, the reader must suspend disbelief on both counts and forge on.
In a related vein, Meg Thompson’s essay “Me and My Misophonia” is an incisive satire of medical memoirs. She explores all of the aches and pains of this sub-genre in perfect metaphor. For every labored interaction with a spouse and gradual coming-of-age emotionally with a “condition,” she has a witty realization, part of a portrait of the profound and ridiculous.
In conclusion, there were two pieces of literature that I prized especially: Janic Erlbaum’s nonfiction article “Utopia” and John Fenlon Hogan’s poem “Susurrus.” Erlbaum writes,
You used to be able to smoke in diners . . . the chewy, vegetal state of the unlit cigarette, the sulfur flash, then the acrid singe against your soft tissue. The smoke wending its way gorgeously through your veins, all the lights turning green, the avenues splitting into smaller and smaller streets until your fingertips buzzed.
You can feel it through every synapse. And Hogan begins, “To whomever or whatever, however it may concern” and carries through to, “I had theories for raindrops.” It’s like Ashbery, only somehow closer to your heart’s chambers.
Lumina is a showcase of some of the best writing in an American press. Its balance and beauty resonate beyond a classification or an estimation or a statistic. A living word, it resonates across the page.
Journal of Poetry
Volume 1 Issue 2
Review by Anne Graue
My heart leapt at the title of this poetry journal, at the thought of one of my favorite Emily Dickinson poems granted prominence in the title, promising readers a connection to this master. The poets granted space in this issue exhibit a level of skill bordering on Dickinson’s inimitable greatness, some stopping just short of poems that endure and take the breath away.
Most of the poets in this issue have contributed two or three poems, and two, Sean Dougherty and Elisabeth Wood, have been given space for four and five poems respectively. As I read through each group of poems, I found myself anxiously awaiting the next poetic voice to come.
Elisabeth Wood’s opening poem “Dining Room” is recognizable as a tribute or homage to William Carlos Williams even without the epigraph. The five couplets present the reader with a table after a dining experience adorned with a letter and an empty wine bottle. The mood is set at the start with the “Two curled wicks / candle wax pooled // on linen cloth,” evoking the empty feeling of oneness in the room. We know what is coming. Of the five poems in Wood’s collection, the voice is truest in “superfly,” a poem that flows on natural waves in a verbal sea of nostalgic images that surprise and comfort:
me and johnno we talk to each other like we are colors
other than pastry and putrid cuz we like to hide behind
words that make us feel as cool as we wish we were but
me and johnno know better.
I recognize this voice of freedom and reality; it feels true.
More experimental and almost cryptic are Dougherty’s poems in the next largest grouping in the issue. These poems need to be read a few times to grapple with the images, allow them to gel or come into focus clear enough to sense a movement from beginning to end. I am unsure of the end of “Breakfast After Long Love.” The lines, “gazing and glowing counterpoint / of your sorrows sleeping / soundly, in the Mountains of So Long You,” shake the thematic flooring under my feet, and I am caught off balance in the tremor.
The rest of the poems in the collection come in pairs or triplets without regard to thematic cohesion. The issue is a compilation of poets who have distinct voices and who focus on images, leaning on them for meaningful support. Rikki Santer’s “Dangling Avant-Garde” offers an “upside-down Butoh dancer / dangling avant-garde, / eyes rimmed in red / ankles bound by hemp.” Ending in a question, this poem leaves me wondering what the collected images mean or if they coalesce in some kind of extended metaphor. If I sound unsure, I am. As with other poems in the issue, I am on unsteady ground.
A number of poems are brief, minimal glimpses from a variety of voices. Some appear as momentary thoughts on the pages as in Tim Suermondt’s “Paris” and Mary M. Brown’s “Today.” The glimpses show readers what the poets see, smell, taste, hear, and touch, much as Dickinson does with her images and metaphors.
As a tribute to her, then, is inclusion of one of her poems, “The Lost Jewel,” on the back page and a brief biography in the list of contributors—an honor and yet a leveling of the playing field in which she is listed alongside contemporary poets and raising the standard. I am not certain if this aim is true or if it is a charming ploy.
The enduring feature of effective imagery is that it shakes us to the core and moves us to ponder meaning and even existence. The poetry in this issue of A Narrow Fellow is worth the time it takes to savor the fresh use of sensory images and to view the world from the poets’ perspectives, from their vantage points that approach Dickinson’s and are equally contemplative and certainly mindful.
Volume 51 Number 1
Review by Anne Graue
I am enamored of literary magazines devoted solely to poetry. I look forward to immersing myself in metaphor, surrendering to symbolism, and indulging in sensory imagery to my heart’s content. This issue of Southern Poetry Review delivers a compilation of poems of such craft and mastery that leaves me nearly speechless and most assuredly breathless.
The poets represented in this issue are the heavy hitters, the rock stars, the ones whose work we lesser beings aspire to be near, to hear read, or to have read pages of their published collections. Among the poets in this issue are notables such as Billy Collins and Claudia Emerson. The longer list of contributors includes the names of poets whose works grace the pages of prestigious journals and who have numerous publications, chapbooks, and collections after their names.
The poems in this issue are sublime, narrative, observant, and structured all at once, reaching the height of poetic proficiency. Having read poetry for as long as I can remember and having written poetry throughout my adult life, I read with an intent to understand, to enter the world of the poet, and to come away with more than I had on arrival. I come away with an abundance.
I am allowed to watch an 89-year-old woman complete a puzzle in Richard Krohn’s “Jigsaw Moose”:
Her hands, veins meandering among age spots
and knuckles, shake as she cheats with the box-
cover, Moose in Main, as if logic and squinting
could home a piece’s role into its setting’s
whole. . . .
I am there until the completion, the end, to find the miracle.
Claudia Emerson’s poem “Lock” shares an encounter with greatness at an Emily Dickinson Exhibit in which attendees view a lock of Dickinson’s hair:
and next to it,
the something rare, unexpected, lock
of her hair—the shape and circumference
reminiscent of a sparrow’s nest, the color
she likened to a chestnut bur. . . .
And then the description of those who
get close enough, they will never be any
closer than this to what it does not tell them,
and they are desperate for all that that might mean.
This poem leaves me breathless, wanting for something intangible to which the poet has given voice.
Every poem in this issue is a masterful mini-world where the ordinary becomes extraordinary and holds meaning worth my contemplation, that makes me ponder long after I’ve finished reading, long after I’ve left to my own world, made all the richer for these poetic interactions. These poems nourish.
Melanie McCabe’s “Foresight” lures me with her first few lines: “I know precisely what to do to avert disaster, / and do not do it. My friends are wary, // prudent; I can read their minds.” I’m taken into this world of the speaker who is alone even among friends and hears “reason, dictating, in a nearby room.”
Michael McFee’s “Snoring” is accurate, fulfilling description of sleep apnea by the unafflicted. The speaker fears the snorer had “snorkeled too deep and couldn’t quite / make it to the surface without choking on water.” The lines and stanzas resemble snoring with diction such as “hiss and bleat and gag and growl and snuffle.” I’m reminded of my father’s snoring and know why my daughter jostles me awake when I nap on the sofa.
In “Sea Daffodils” Maura Stanton tells of the scarcity of flowers that once were abundant, explains what has caused this absence: “Fingers of oil wash in, or a new hotel / Covers the beach where bulbs once thrust through rocks.”
Natural events noticed by the poets in this issue are made profound, from Billy Collins’s contemplation of a robin who “could be Immanuel Kant were he not so small / and feathered,” to John Bensko’s “Cricket” described as “a rasping // memory of warm / nights of childhood.” The poems draw attention to the nuances of life that may go unnoticed if not for their having been written.
Reading is an inefficient verb for my encounter with these works, and I am left bereft of vocabulary sufficient to my task as reviewer. My final words are an urging for readers to run to this issue and read every word; you will find yourself running back again and again for sustenance.