Posted April 15, 2014
ABZ :: apt :: Beloit Poetry Journal :: Bomb Magazine :: Brick :: Chtenia :: Fence :: Graze :: The Hudson Review :: Mid-American Review :: The Missouri Review :: The Nassau Review :: Notre Dame Review :: Raleigh Review :: Redactions :: Rip Rap Literary Journal :: Saw Palm :: SRPR (Spoon River Poetry Review) :: WomenArts Quarterly Journal :: 300 Days of Sun
A Poetry Magazine
Review by Elaine Fowler Palencia
With this issue, ABZ becomes a biennial journal rather than an annual. It’s a shame it will come out less often, because the poems here arise out of deep feeling, place, and lived experience. They are about things that matter. No wonder the volume is dedicated to the memory of Lucille Clifton “who always knew how to make poetry even when it hurt.”
ABZ is published in Huntington, West Virginia, and there is a nice mix of poets known to the region, such as Richard Hague, Mark DeFoe, and William Jolliff, and poets “from off,” as they might say in Huntington. Sometimes literary journals try to be all things to all people, but that is not true of this issue of ABZ. While it welcomes a variety of subjects, styles, and origins, it particularly honors both its region and a tradition of storytelling. In doing so, it acquires a profile that is welcoming and accessible to any reader.
Rick Campbell’s “A Small Poem for James Wright” takes us almost to Wright’s hometown of Martins Ferry on the Ohio/West Virginia border. Almost, because the young hitchhiker who wants to pay homage runs out of money and turns back. “I knew where to find you. / Time was still on my side,” he tells Wright years later, no doubt still holding to the unfulfilled promise of that aborted trip, now fulfilled by telling the story in poetry.
The narrative impulse is strong in many poems. Jolliff’s “A Boy and His Dog” tells how a farm boy leaves a hayfork turned up, and his beloved collie is pierced in the stomach while chasing a rat, but not killed. Recollecting all this in tranquility:
He sickens with the memory, the negligence
first, but then, how he couldn’t get a good shot.
And what his father thought and could not say.
And how glad he was to see that house burn down.
“River of Mantises” by Geraldine Connolly takes us to a Pennsylvania grade school and a “sugar-spun egg case” inside a jar. When the baby mantises boil out, making for the window, the children twin with them in their blind, exuberant energy and heedlessness of the future: “We followed their hunger / into the wild, devouring world.”
Steve Scafidi’s lilting “Whiskey for Sorrow and a Song of Disgrace” mourns and mythifies the loss of a farm to urban sprawl by imagining the deceased owner buried on the soon-to-be-despoiled land, standing up, “like a dead king in his green glass case. / The knots of his ears like relics of a saint.”
There is whimsy and lightness as well. Lola Haskins’s “Making Water” celebrates an act “So simple it is almost never shown on film.” And isn’t it fun? “It’s the small acts, the many times a day,” counsels Haskins. “I ask you heart, why did we disremember joy?”
Melissa Tuckey, whose Tenuous Chapel won the 2012 ABZ First Book Poetry Prize, contributes four poems. Her “History of Small Spaces” reminds the reader in a fresh way of William Carlos Williams’s dictum, “No ideas but in things.” The tight focus on objects as doorways to memory and feeling immediately slows us down to the speed of contemplation (“The silence of plums / calligraphy of potato vines”) and then, at the end of the poem, sets us free from contemplation altogether: “After awhile you quit asking / where fruit flies come from.”
ABZ is a small but powerful collection of highly accomplished work. The alphabetical arrangement of authors relieves the reader of having to guess about editorial reasons for juxtaposing work or leading with this or that piece, so that each poem stands on its own, a fresh beginning for the reader.
Review by Mary Florio
According to neuroscientists at the University of Florida, lobsters may be the key to bomb detection. In other words, reality is fast approaching the fantastic, so for the modern surrealist to distinguish herself, she must court the right sound in the right place with the right pitch and endless imagination. The right place just might be apt, a publication of Aforementioned Productions.
apt showcases a range of talents in this “Surveillance Issue.” Writers eschew traditional forms successfully; the reader constantly considers truths among intriguing points of view, inventive structures, reason propped up against fractured skylines. Unlike other postmodern efforts, where the oddity and ambiguity may permit dodging the meaningful and the political, the writers of apt experiment, yes, but with a careful and brilliant purpose.
Take Matt Thompson’s short story “P.O.W.” The speaker is a stunning secret; we continually learn and revise what we’ve learned about him. It is not so forthright as Priya Chandrasegaram’s “How to Spoil Your Daughters During a Civil War,” which precedes it. While Chandrasegaram’s story manages the fantastic with a strong and steady hand, Thompson’s narrator is closer to a Salinger heartbreak, and the only thing I am sure of is love. Thompson’s narrator describes his mother’s toes early in the story, and one chalks it up to Checkov’s gun on the wall, where we expect the toes to figure in later, but can’t be sure because of the lyrical variability of the voice. He delivers. “I’m okay with just knowing that there are still toes like that in the world,” the narrator says after his mother has died and he is passing by a passel of hookers in sandals. That was the most powerful sentence possible, for an overwhelming signal of reconciled grief.
Per their introductory note, the editors have historically shied away from themes, but this collection is unified subtly, with that characteristic purpose we see in its pages. The editors note, in introducing the issue, “It may be unsettling to consider the ways these stories, poems, and essays view the world, but that will fall away when you remember all the ways in which we consistently survey ourselves.”
Poet Sam Cha manages to capture this spirit in a pair of poems titled “[Seoul, June 1995, Night]” and “[Harvard Square, Marathon Day 2013],” respectively. The horror is not told, but illustrated to the sing-song rhythm of a plague-era chant:
Now they run from bumblebees, from ants—they dash ahead into the graveyard on Church Street, where they chase pigeons, throw breadcrumbs, hair streaming behind them the exact shape of April. When the firetrucks start passing by, they hoot along with the sirens for fun. They count the headstones one by one.
Justin Waldron’s story “Meat” describes a character with a deformity that is at once a result of an accident at a meat-packing plant and a tool to make others uncomfortable—or so the narrator suggests. The perception of his own self-hatred is clear, even though his story is deliberately categorized and fragmented. The reader is reminded of all of the refuse of labor wars—bloodier fights when energy was more manpower, less oil and coal. He makes clear how the game has changed to the disadvantage of the worker, how a young man can be manipulated into thinking the accident is his fault, an extension of extant spiritual emptiness.
On a more ephemeral octave, C.E. Garrett’s short story “Plaint for the Meteorite,” is wonderfully spoken in the third-person. In some ways, we may recognize the lobster smelling explosives—one does not automatically believe in the combustion in the story, but it reads so well that we don’t mind the exaggeration. The last paragraph of the story lifts the tale into a fabulous arc, one that makes perfect sense even against metaphor and allusion.
All of this commentary concerns apt’s annual print version. The publisher’s website provides considerable guidance (and an archive) to its historic digital editions and supplies a helpful checklist for writers. A note to the business model: in 2011, apt added the print facet of the journal, which had been previously an online venture. This decision marks a fascinating departure from many print journals going in the other direction, a sign of innovation and vitality.
Volume 64 Number 2
Review by Travis Laurence Naught
This issue of Beloit Poetry Journal is chock-full of powerful poems with interesting word presentations. Eleven authors contributed fourteen individual pieces to a short, impactful magazine. Editor Lee Sharkey rounds out the volume with an interesting article in the Books in Review section titled “Poems in Conversation.” Of the many ways to write and present poetry, I agree with Sharkey that some of the best are mobile selections “spanning time and cultures in a spirit of reciprocity.” Snapshots of instances are often most celebrated as successful pieces of work in the literary world, but our current society is in constant motion and its best poetry should be appreciated for moving in that direction.
Carol Anne Davis had three of her poems for Eva Hesse included (#1, #6, and #7). Each of them are presented sideways in the journal, making it necessary to physically turn the magazine for readability. Each of them were striking visually, I felt as if I were viewing the centerfolds of the magazine, as well as from a language perspective. One of my favorite lines, or stanzas, or sections (depending on how a reader would choose to define the three-column presentation of words) reads, “tried to work: going badly but what can I expect / of a god-child the children w. / tilted long faces women w. same.” The entire poem speaks to me of the type of jealousy that also carries reverence, as can also be read into the previous quotation. All three Davis poems span two pages and are worthy of being framed for their presentation and excellence.
Another uniquely presented poem in the magazine is “Hairstylist Sam Villa—Premier Orlando Main Stage” by Nicelle Davis. At a glance, it is apparent that excessive use of the forward slash helps frame the visual image of scissors, accenting the haircutting themes in the piece of work. Deeper inspections of the phrases, the ways they are arranged on the page, their meanings, made me realize there was more going on than just a trip to the barber shop. A single phrase, “We are relying on / our pattern and disconnection / to make things happen,” seems to be placed to clue in the reader that there are multiple things going on at once. I could comfortably study this poem for a long time and keep finding new things I like about it.
Earlier in this issue, a couple of poems tackle human history in bleak, though important ways. D. E. Steward takes a wide arching look at the instantaneous snuffing out of cultures in “Junea.” The poem is ancient Italy; is the origin of Mafioso; is the ultimate hit, with Vesuvius erupting. It expands beyond those boundaries near the end of its text with references to cell phones and 9/11, Japanese potters and Fukushima.
John Canaday, in “General Leslie Groves Counts to Zero,” does a wonderful job reminding me that the creators of one of the most destructive devices known to man were quite human and might have even carried a sense of humor within themselves. It is not a subject taken lightly, but rather a wake-up call that humanity is capable of multiple viewpoints about a subject and coping with the task at hand is a requirement in high stress situations. One of my favorite lines is, “our gadget will ignite the atmosphere, / wipe out the world—or just incinerate / New Mexico. A joke, to smooth frayed nerves,” stated by Oppenheimer, according to the author. Whether or not he actually spoke those words is not of great concern to me, but the fact that Canaday was able to reach past the weight of the world to find something that might have happened, that’s what makes this poem important to me.
All of the poems in this journal posit things that need considered. I hope you pick up a copy to consider them.
Review by Michael Caylo-Baradi
A gold square dominates the cover of Bomb’s 126th issue; it sits in the middle of a naked male figure’s chest, which appears to be a subject of a woman’s painting; her hand is partially hidden behind the square, the explicit center of intrigue in Peter Rostovsky’s Photoshop painting Autopsy (2012). Painting appears to be the ironic instrument of autopsy here, a way of dissecting. Conversely, the square underlines an intrusion, and omits something in the drama between man and woman, or hides it. The square seems out of place in the composition, as though it comes out of nowhere, ”bombed,” if you will. Thus, the image implodes with questions, conundrums.
This issue continues to uphold the magazine’s tradition of bombing its audience with the new in art, imploding with witty and informative conversations between novelists, filmmakers, performers, musicians, poets, and sculptors, with samples of their work.
Filmmaker Amie Siegel “turn[s] the architecture of relationships, the structure of fiction and its edges, inside out,” writes Lynn Hershman Leeson, herself a filmmaker. Leeson and Siegel’s conversation published in Bomb keeps pinging back to Siegel’s latest work Provenance, a film that “traces the furniture of Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret backward from collectors’ homes to exhibitions to auctions to “restoration”—and finally to Chandigarh, India, where they originated,” according to Siegel. The work hopes to recover an object’s origin, the traces of how it came to be. Certainly, the subjects are not mere objects, but entities owned by two giant figures in architecture and interior design who planned and designed the city of Chandigarh. How Siegel maneuvers her camera to document the furniture’s recent auction at Christie’s impacts the being and meaning of the furniture in question.
Alan Felsenthal’s brief review of Lav Diaz’s Norte, The End of History (2013)—which was an Un Certain Regard selection at Cannes in 2013— could have been a conversation with the Philippine director as well, since Felsenthal himself has advised us to “avoid reading the synopsis from online reviews” and urges us to live with Diaz’s world for four hours, a world in which “Adam Smith has won”—a line used in one of the characters in the movie. Felsenthal suggests that Diaz offers a world without escape, without hope.
Eduard Màrquez’s flash fiction “The Tattoo” offers a perspective on escape wherein a figure in Willem de Kooning’s painting Two Women in the Country, “detached herself from the canvas and, leaving a train of oil, enamel, and charcoal, exited the museum through an office window left ajar.” Perhaps that woman hates being stuck in the country, and wants to live the city, outside the quiet world of museums, outside de Kooning’s mind, his art. Does she care about clothes at all? Surveillance camera operators must love to zoom in on her, curious about her sketchy appearance, as though de Kooning refuses to let the lines of her body connect. Marquez’s story throws a comic comment on how art escapes and frees itself from the imagination of art, to exile itself into the real, or feeds its content into the real, to blur the boundary between art and the real. One can argue that Bomb produces that kind of effect—that blur—in its audience, when artists talk about their work.
Indeed, Garnette Cadogan’s conversation with Edwidge Danticat offers a closer view into Danticat’s latest novel Claire of the Sea Light, that “the anxiety in Claire is not at all about exile . . . but about a parent not being able to care for his child,” says the novelist. Danticat understands that however layered the meaning of ‘exile’ is to her critics, its foundations, once applied to work like hers, rests on the color of one’s skin, which, in many ways, restricts the meaning of a work. Thus, she underlines a different restriction here, in order to uphold her novel’s universal dimensions. These opposing restrictions inspire ways of grounding the novel in the world of Danticat. While they are insightful, these explanations can reveal too much. Perhaps this is the blur in her work, like the woman escaping in de Kooning’s painting. It’s as though Claire has stepped out of the novel through the confines of an interview thread, through Danticat’s voice, once again.
Editor-in-Chief Betty Sussler’s team has assembled an issue that might steal your attention from your next subway stop; your next BART stop is Downtown Berkeley, but you end up in Richmond, and in your head Mary Halvorson and Kai Althoff are deploying notes to lines in Paul Hlava’s “Ellen”:
We’re losing time
like drunk pirates who
wake in a rowboat
in the Empire’s naval port
we move with force
against the currents
that carried us there
You now feel like the gnat in Hans Witschi’s The Gnat (1993), a green, diabolical figure, monstrous, and you’re ready to fly away from whatever is framing you, back to where your wings were mere pages from a magazine stand.
Review by Brian McKenna
Have financial constraints or a lack of vacation days turned you into a regionalist against your will? Don’t fret, the new issue of Brick is here to take you on a whirlwind tour, sans pat downs, turbulence, and the high cost of airfare. Aptly labeled “an anthology of enthusiasms” by former editor Michael Ondaatje, Brick is filled with the work of writers and thinkers whose preoccupations are as categorically eclectic as they are geographically diverse. From the ice fields of the North Pole to a paradise in the mind, from Tokyo to Arizona’s San Rafael Valley, the latest issue of Brick gathers the essays, interviews, letters, travelogues, poetry, fiction, reviews and musings of writers eager to give you a guided tour of their personal enthusiasms. And while the magazine’s content is eclectic and truly international in scope, it’s never willfully obscure. Rather, Brick’s eclecticism feels like an extension of its editors’ trust in the ability of good writers to determine what is substantial for themselves and make that substance meaningful and entertaining to others.
Their faith in the power of good writing pays dividends in British writer Geoff Dyer’s essay “Lessons of Darkness and Other Lessons.” Dyer’s essay, which originally served as the introduction to a catalogue for an exhibition on Arctic photography, deals with the hypnotic power of the photographs taken by the original Arctic explorers, photographs he shrewdly likens to, “A stash of stills from a lost Herzog film in which the documentary sublime and the painstakingly fictive are impossible to distinguish.” Paired with mind-bending and time-ravaged photographs from the lost expedition of Salomon August Andrée, Dyer’s articulate observations come startlingly close to conveying the ineffable qualities of the photographs themselves, qualities that makes it “seem . . . as if the place itself somehow achieved the means to record and preserve the bizarre activities of the people visiting it.” Dyer’s lucid response to the surreal murk of these photographs would make Herzog proud.
In his short essay “Trailer Monasticism,” John Melillo ponders the peculiar resonance of images both real and imagined. He compares an abstract painting by Paul Klee with his own youthful desire of one day living in a trailer in the middle of nowhere doing nothing but reading books, a dream Melillo remembers as the first time he ever “gave concrete shape to an abstract impulse.” In the short span of a couple pages, Melillo manages to create a stirring meditation on the function of the contingent in life and art.
Equally fascinating was Forrest Gander’s interview with influential Japanese photographer Eikoh Hosoe. In the interview, Hosoe, who is best known for a series of photographs he took with Japanese writer Yukio Mishima entitled Ordeal by Roses, gives a detailed and fascinating account of his first photo session with the enigmatic author. Gander’s familiarity with Hosoe’s life and work helped make the interview an engaging blend of biographical detail and art theory, providing a compelling introduction to a photographer I knew very little about.
Given Ondaatje’s description of Brick as “an anthology of enthusiasms,” it’s easy to see why Jim Harrison, a man well known for his enthusiasms both literary and otherwise, has taken up permanent residency as a contributor to the magazine. Harrison’s indomitable personality and supreme confidence as a storyteller are on full display in his short story “Gramps le Fou.” The tale of an aging writer’s struggle to cope with the troublesome effects of all the “brain junk” he’s accumulated during his exhausting life-long struggle to translate experience into the written word, Harrison’s story brims with insights both comic and cosmic:
He had told the neurologist that it would be nice if he could get up in the morning, start the coffee, and slice a mango without saying, “Dawn found him carving a mango.” The neurologist seemed slightly alarmed and wanted to make an appointment for him with a psychiatrist.
Ostensibly a quest story, the protagonist’s hike through an Arizona canyon in an attempt to find a lost dog collar provides him with a chance to digress, in true Harrisonian fashion, on matters existential, prosaic, and sexual.
The writers in Brick seem bent on pulling together disparate ideas in much the same way as Harrison’s protagonist. The magazine is full of entertaining and enlightening digressions from writers trying to organize or at the very least itemize their own “brain junk.” Having just finished reading Brick’s latest issue, I have to say that I feel a bit like a flea market myself.
Readings from Russia
Review by Sherra Wong
“No one can embrace the unembraceable,” the editors of Chtenia commented on the task of reading for this issue, “Storied Moscow.” Indeed, Moscow evokes a rush of impressions like no other city: six-month winters, intrigue, people from Tashkent and Minsk rubbing elbows and trading blows, the center of violence, dreams, disappointments, and majesty for so many. I’m willing to bet that the Stolichnaya (“of the capital”) brand of vodka wouldn’t ring with the same aplomb if it were associated with, say, Washington, D.C. or Ottawa. The editors have done an admirable job of going beyond the familiar, however; the pieces in the issue range from historical records to writers who are hardly known outside Russia, to the lesser-known works of famous writers as well as snippets of Pushkin and Okudzhava in a new spotlight. The quirky volume makes me feel as if I’d just stumbled into a dusty section of the library, opened a worn hardcover that hadn’t been checked out since 1957, and discovered a treasure trove.
Take Sigismund von Herberstein’s “Notes Upon Russia” and William Richardson’s “A Pestilential Distemper in Russia,” presented side by side in the beginning of the issue. Both date from before 1800. Both are written in a journalistic style, whose dispassion lends force to horrors such as the killing of an archbishop by a mob and officers’ use of the plague to extract bribes. They give a sense of the distance—physical, psychological, and cultural—between Moscow and the rest of Europe that has lingered to the present. In the next article, Alexander Herzen compares the virtues and vices of Moscow and St. Petersburg in 1842 with deadly and precise humor: “In Petersburg, people in general . . . are extremely foul. It is impossible to love Petersburg, yet I feel that I would not live in any other Russian city. In Moscow, on the other hand, everyone is extremely kind, but it is just that they live with a deathly boredom.” Petersburg is European, worldly, and arrogant; Moscow is Slavic, earnest, and full of an innocent pomposity. Herzen writes with affection for both.
“Khitrovka,” an excerpt from Vladimir Gilyarovsky’s novel Moscow and Muscovites, describes the city’s underbelly. The neighborhood is home to people who, in the words of Gilyarovsky’s friend, “have crossed the Rubicon of life.” These are child beggars who have learned to prey on the kindness of strangers by the age of three, prostitutes, alcoholics, and ex-convicts recently arriving from Siberia. But Khitrovka is not without its own honor code and royalty. Gilyarovsky conveys such empathy for the characters that, when the Soviet authorities finally razed Khitrovka at the end of the excerpt, I was almost wistful.
Yuri Nagibin reminisces about his childhood in “Clear Ponds,” a Moscow neighborhood of the same name. The directness and pain with which he recalls his youthful love for a girl are Chekhovian; the subject may be mundane, but his sensitivity render the story at once unique and universal:
We were able to sit undisturbed on the bench by Clear Ponds and discuss for the thousandth time why she didn’t like me, or rather, why she did like me but not in that way. Not like our former youth leader Shapovalov, not like the singer Lemeshev, not like the pilot Gromov, not like the actors Conrad Veidt or Boris Babochkin, I would argue with her in my mind, knowing all of Nina’s deepest infatuations. The remoteness and grandeur of these competitors relieved me of any jealousy, but it did nothing to cure my gloom.
Dmitry Zverev’s black-and-white photographs are remarkable for their emotional immediacy and their ingenious composition. A woman watches the ice break from behind a barrier in “Mirrored Floe”; the floe reflects the patterns made by the snow and the paving stones behind her. The photograph’s perspective gives the woman a childlike appearance. “Light to Dark” captures a young crowd coming through a gateway. The play between light and shadows keeps the figures in constant motion. In fact, they remind me of the dancers in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” In “Red Square Pas de Deux,” a man and a woman reach out to each other, as if for mutual support on a frozen pond, in a Red Square blanketed by snow. Behind the mist in front of them are the domes and spires that symbolize history, power, and so much of what is Russia.
At the end of its slim 128 pages, “Storied Moscow” does leave me with a feeling that the city is impossible to embrace; I would have liked, for example, more on the post-Soviet Moscow of Mercedes-Benzes, struggling migrants, and simply ordinary people going about their lives. But perhaps that is for another two, or three, issues of Chtenia to come, and I would look forward to them.
Volume 16 Number 1
Review by Michael Caylo-Baradi
As an introduction to this issue of Fence, Rebecca Wolff covers all the bases in her editor’s note: poetry, nonfiction, and, yes, fiction (because confessions and revelations often feel like fiction). Wolff’s tone is unapologetic, proud of her position, her power as editor: “It is in my power to bestow power, to share it.” One can argue that she’s flaunting this power, waving it in your face in a mixed mode of fuck-you and endearment, which is not unusual, since we live in the age of Facebook and Twitter where being in and over each other’s face has become common ritual, where our perceptions of privacy are constantly challenged by this urge to be social. Thus, the tone of this issue loudly and approximately adheres to the tenor of Wolff’s piece: forceful, hammered, on steroids, bitchy, suspicious of melancholia, and persistently fresh.
Melissa Broder’s poem “Inflate the Slide” is inflated with defiance: “Trade a man / who loves you / for language.” This is beautiful, crisp, and clear. So much power here, like a lasso with a sure grip. Addictions make you feel that way; although, I’m curious about the male figure in this poem, about the kind of love he can give, its quality, which no doubt is not good enough to the voice in the poem. Soon, their world “blows up.” This must be the apex of passion in the poem, which then settles down to this:
there is a pink bed
and two girls
in pink smoke
on my dick
they feed him
he gives them
Kent Leatham’s poem “Patrimony” appears to converse with Broder’s poem and ups the ante of male reproduction; it is a meditation from a man who was conceived via a sperm donor. Now the son is doing what his father had done before, whoever made him. The twenty-eight-year-old squirts semen in a cup on a regular basis. He accepts his condition but feels “Screwed / hung / fucked-up.” The poem’s loud mantra is: “Friday night. Jacking off again.” It’s a disturbing rhythm. Indeed, he wants to share his semen, to give the world life from his own body. The absence of woman becomes palpable in this long poem, or perhaps they only exist in the sticky pages of porn at the sperm bank. But what he wants is to know his father. This is a sad poem that has no time for tears, but drips of sperm like porn on permanent rewind. Certainly, this issue of Fence loves the erotic, its habits, and subversions.
This issue’s unforgettable, longest, and complex piece turns to the Middle East, a short story by Zachary Lazar titled “In the Presence of My Enemies,” about an investigation on the murder of a Jewish poet named David Bellen. The journalist working on this story is Hannah Groff, an American of Jewish descent, “a crime writer with a fractured style,” who likes to write about “rock stars, serial killers, drug addicts, [and] sexual ‘deviants.’” Groff suspects that at the heart of the crime is Bellen’s last book, Kid Bethlehem, which contains poems that retell the story of King David through a “modern guise”: the real-life Israeli gangster Yehezkel Aslan, who died in 1993. In another part of the story, Bellen likens King David to Tony Montana in Scarface. Groff is drawn to Bellen’s fantasies of creating parallel stories between King David and gangsters in the 20th century, real or imagined. Why this obsession to desecrate a revered biblical figure in Judaism and Christianity? Groff’s investigation turns inward, to some extents, as her physical presence in Israel and Palestine reorients and reconnects a part of her to ideas of herself as a Jew.
Lazar’s story is part of the journal’s staff fiction section, which contains four stories. There are three more, guest edited by Rick Moody, all excellent stories that deserve to be read by aspiring fiction writers. The last section in the journal, “other,” is clearly a space for work that does not belong to fiction or poetry. Rick Moody’s song “Tornadoes” is a song humming back to us, a perfect piece to put cap on Editor Wolff’s party until the next issue: “I’ll protect you from intifadas / And from methamphetamine / From the boredom of the Great Plains.”
Review by Kirsten McIlvenna
Graze, a perfectly delicious foodie literary magazine, is printed in two color: black and green. The design works throughout and pulls the pieces together. This issue features a fantastic cover with various life-like foods in the library: an ice-cream sandwich lies on his back, a piece of pizza sits on the floor, a burrito browses the stacks, and plenty more characters populate the page. Inside, you’ll find plenty more fun.
Jamie Lee Knight’s poem “The runaway tea train” is playful, yet skillfully crafted: “The biscuits crumble, and the saucers / are in trouble, chipped and cracked, / barking a dry laugh when cups land.” And the aroma of Natalie Andrievskikh’s prose poem “That simple” is sweet: “as if you went apple picking in August and brought home a whole bucket, and you stuck bunches of peppermint leaves and clover between the apples . . . and the apples are under the table next to your bed, and they smell; you can feel them smell in your sleep.”
“Michigan Blueberries” by Marilyn Cavicchia is broken into four small stanzas, divided by roman numerals, and it shows the delicacy of life. It seems to hint at a woman who has cancer (“when I knew she was poisoned, / bald under her nightcap.”) and how she should be treated with care:
Flying to see her. In my carryon,
under the seat, countless crushable
worlds, so easily bruised,
pulped if not handled tenderly.
In Cynthia C. Scott’s “Old School,” food is how, while growing up, she determined the status of her family’s wealth and strength. It starts,
After the union went on strike at the factory where he worked, Daddy became a scab, and for weeks we had nothing but spaghetti and hot dog slices, Spam, and cherry Kool-Aid for dinner . . . This was long before the divorce, when our family was still intact, when our Daddy was the only breadwinner in the house. He was old school.
If the food is delicious, she knows that the family has money, and when it’s not, she knows there is trouble. Consumed with pride, her father refuses to let her mother work, and eventually her parents split.
The most experimental award in this issue goes to Akil Wingate for “ennui.” Switching between a first-person narrative and how-to’s (how to make coconut brownie cake, how to remove a stain from a hardwood floor, how to make spicy fried chicken, etc.), “ennui” is a somewhat depressing story of a divorced man who sees no point to his life: “I hate this feeling . . . I have nothing to do. I cannot clean today. I did that yesterday. . . . I cannot read a book or watch the T.V. They offer me nothing lately. I can lie here. I can tell myself to get up to go to the bathroom and take some pills.” But even though his life is so pathetic, I can’t help but feel bad for him, and I can’t stop reading the prose. It’s interesting the way he makes use of his time: “I can imagine myself losing control and eating until there is no trace of it left—and then tomorrow I will have a task at hand, I will have something to accomplish: I will have to make bread again.”
And there is plenty more prose, poetry, and art in this issue to devour. Graze is an appealing magazine, to hold, to look at, to read.
Volume 66 Number 4
Review by Brian McKenna
“As Han-shan observed, / sometimes there is no Zen, / only hermits plodding up and down Cold Mountain.” These opening lines from Dick Allen’s brief poem “As Han-shan observed” nicely paraphrase a key question at the heart of several essays and reviews in The Hudson Review’s latest issue. Allen’s memorable poem from the current issue not only describes the human tendency to find dogma where none exists, it also calls into question the degree to which an accurate portrait of a person’s interior life can ever be drawn from the exterior evidence available to others.
Bruce Whiteman, in his essay “Saphho; or, on Loss,” surveys the many subjectivities translators have created for Sappho throughout the long history of her work’s translation into English. Whiteman highlights the enduring appeal that the biographical vacuum surrounding Sappho and the fragmentary nature of her work have held for readers and translators alike. Reflecting on the extraliterary attraction that Sappho’s work held for writers within the modernist tradition, Whiteman asserts that “poetry inevitably incites us to emotions that are part of its being in the world, even if they are not precisely encoded in the words. Reading Keats, who can ignore how unbearably short his life was?” Whiteman’s essay shows how Sappho’s ability “to remind us of the continuity through 2,500 years of emotion and the inner life of an individual person” accounts for the disparity between the size of her surviving oeuvre and the excessive interest it has provoked.
Charles Martin’s review “Whose Salinger?” offers compelling evidence that J.D. Salinger biographers abhor a vacuum even more than nature does. On his way to reviewing David Shields’s and Shane Salerno’s recently released biography Salinger, Martin surveys the history of Salinger biography, enumerating the many legal, critical, familial, and personal obstacles that have frustrated previous attempts at crafting a balanced analysis of the reclusive author’s life and work. Martin also discusses memoirs written by Salinger’s one time girlfriend, Joyce Maynard, as well as one written by his daughter, Margaret Salinger. However, Martin gives Salinger himself the final word regarding the possibility of organizing the details of a life into anything beyond thoughtful conjecture: “The more I age, senesce, the more convinced I am that our chances of getting through to any intact set of reasons for the way things go are nil.”
James Santel, in his essay “On David Foster Wallace’s Conservatism,” focuses his attention primarily on Wallace’s nonfiction and interviews in order to investigate exactly how the late writer’s valorization of the conservative principle of individual choice stemmed from his belief that we are ultimately isolated within ourselves. Santel details the ways in which Wallace’s “hope that human beings could transcend the limits of selfhood and language to reach one another in meaningful ways” was undercut by a “small-c conservatism” and “deference to individual choice that arises from the inevitability of solipsism and isolation.” Santel’s essay raises provocative questions about the ways in which “Wallace’s unwillingness to offer conclusions sits uneasily alongside his evident desire to change his readers’ thinking.” The essay eloquently describes the ferment of a hermetically sealed mind yearning for a connection it cannot put stock in.
In his round-up review of recent poetry collections “Levels of Ambition,” David Mason goes on a search for vitality in modern poetry, using an excerpt from W. H. Auden’s oratorio For the Time Being for comparison. In doing so, Mason highlights what he sees as the shortcomings and achievements of recent collections by Franz Wright, William Logan, Debora Greger, David Lehman, and Stephanos Papadopoulos. Though comparing anyone’s work to Auden in his prime is likely to prove unkind to the contemporary, Mason’s choice proves to be an inspired one, especially in aiding his appraisal of Franz Wright and William Logan, poets he finds one dimensional. Describing the simultaneously wearying and exceptional aspects of each poet’s writing, Mason asserts that “Wright is all confession, all open sores and sensitivity, while Logan is a prolific ironist.” While calling out modern poetry for a perceived lack of ambition isn’t a new criticism, Mason’s approach feels fresh.
As always, this latest issue of The Hudson Review also contains significant creative work from established poets and writers, but what continues to make The Hudson Review one of the premier journals of literature, arts, and culture is the academic rigor and penetrating intelligence of its essayists and reviewers. Whether they’re writing essays on literature; chronicles of film, dance, art, theatre, and music; or reviews of recently released books, the writers take great pains to situate their judgments within a larger critical context in ways that are engrossing and inventive.
Volume 34 Number 1
Review by Elaine Palencia
The latest issue of this well-known journal is like a house that turns out to be much bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside. Here are its rooms: poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and book reviews; a translation chapbook; three entries from the 2013 Fineline Competition; and two winners from the 2013 AWP Intro Journals Awards.
The poetry and fiction partake of a trend that has come to fruition in post-apocalyptic YA novels and movies. I would call the gentler MAR mode post-apple-pie-America or maybe post-middle class life. In “In the Century of Fumes,” Rochelle Hurt writes, “the city was full of tin can men / who cracked their morning / eggs on their foreheads.” The metaphor of urban alienation delivers us at the end to the “pythons inside / those tin can throats.”
That sense of unease and foreboding is only intensified by Matthew Moser Miller’s “Letter to the Monkey Wandering Muskingum County in Need of Medical Attention.” The animals are loose and danger is everywhere in a new world order. Certainly, there is no help for the monkey: “The doctors will not drive rut- / laced dirt roads. We do not even / heal our own.”
One can run for it, of course. Ryan Habermeyer’s short story, “In Search of Fortune Not Yet Lost,” borrows from fairy tale and fable to tell of a family who disastrously moves to a dead-end dirt road in the middle of a cold nowhere. The first sentence lets us know what we’re in for: “They had heard the rumors not to live beyond the prairie.” In Rose Whitmore’s story, “Avenue of the Giants,” a father, his children, and a stripper on the lam take refuge in a redwood forest. Nature may restore them, but it isn’t going to be easy. Perhaps the origin of all this edginess is to be found in a traditional story like Kawai Strong Washburn’s “Tantalus,” in which today’s vehicle-mad young men can’t help but kill themselves in testosterone-fueled searches for identity; or in the wickedly funny social commentary of Jennifer Murvin’s “What It Was Like to Love Her.” Here a tight group of backbiting women friends lose one of their own to cancer. Their willed shallowness is poignant, universial, and fear-based. For in the end, "it will be as if we never existed, and we will not be missed."
The chapbook, “Breaking Open Nuts with Teeth of Rain,” contains eight poems by Cuban writer and activist Ernesto Díaz-Rodríguez from his book A Contra Viento (Trafford, 2011), plus translations and an introduction by Ricardo Pau-Llosa. This important work is informed by the twenty-two years Díaz-Rodríguez spent in Cuban prisons, seven in solitary confinement, before his release in 1991. Work arising from such suffering makes everything we comfortably say about the uses of art much more concrete. The surrealism of these poems is not mere word play, or mind play, but an affirmation of poetry as the expression of the inexpressible, in words that cannot be paraphrased. It is also a way to avoid being understood by those who would kill both message and messenger. The most moving poem, “Así Lo Quise Yo” (“I Wanted It That Way”) describes the speaker’s impossibly tiny son:
I wanted it that way
so he could climb up the rainbow
on a silk thread
and run through the ant tunnels
to the very center of the Earth.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
so no one could ensnare
his path with iron bars.
Perhaps the most wildly original and funny piece is Matthew Gavin Frank’s nonfiction tour-de-force, “A Blow to the Head for St. Louis Barbecue,” in which images circle back to connect with each other in the most surprising juxtapositions, adding up to a quirky view of an American obsession. “Here’s what we know: The pigs’ ribs don’t remind us of the xylophone. Here, there’s no music when, with the sledgehammer, we strike them.” Later, Uncle slaughters a pig and “excises from the pig all the parts that don’t remind us of xylophones.” Through all kinds of refractions, we and the pig are one.
“What We’re Reading” shoehorns in twenty-two signed reviews, mostly of books published by small and university presses. It provides a useful introduction to new writers and writers who should be better known. The type is smaller in this section, so not as comfortable for reading, but allows for many writers and reviewers to be showcased.
Volume 36, Number 4
Review by Julie J. Nichols
In his lucid, wise introduction to this issue of the highly-reputed Missouri Review, Editor Speer Morgan invokes paradox and opposition, those twin universals of human existence, as the theme of the day. “Falling man” is the image on the cover and the title of his survey of the issue’s contents, and in referring to “the potential uncertainty of the given” as the driving principle of its stories, essays, and poems, he’s utterly correct. But I’d also argue that another theme, present in equal abundance, is beauty of language, deep respect for the right words in the right order, every bit as much in the prose as in the poetry. This—as always—is a magazine for the connoisseur. There is nothing amateur about it.
Take, for example, “The Edge Effect: Surfing with Peregrine Falcons in La Jolla,” Nick Neely’s soaring profile of lay ethologist Will Sooter, written in language that parallels the swooping, stooping falcons he observes and photographs. Several of Sooter’s stunning shots illustrate the pages, but you can’t help falling in love with Neely’s phrases, too:
Strands of kelp looked like the raw vertebrae of whales. Here would come a wave, exposing tiny bean clams, no larger than a toenail and smoother. Purple, pastel orange. Instantly the little angel wings would scoot upright, replanting their edges in the sand.
Here’s another sampling:
Also “mock combat”: . . . It’s a prolonged chase, punctuated by moments of tumbling. First they “mirror” each other, flying side by side, as if tied by their wings. Then tag: rock toward your brother, talons extended, cacking. Fly on your back for an instant, talons grappling . . . We were like kids at an airshow.
The sentences reflect the energy of the peregrines’ flight and the gleeful enthusiasm of their watchers. The end of the essay, a scene in which Neely himself flies among the birds, lands us gently, not altogether ready to stop our glide, back on solid ground. If man falls here, it’s on purpose, to mimic the birds of the wild.
Another gripping essay, Jonathan Fink’s “The Dreamers,” chronicles two sides of the oil boom in Midland, Texas—the conspicuous influx of jobs, the equally glaring impermanence and ugliness that go with it. His investigation came out of an assignment given to his students to choose a clearly problematic question associated with a distinctive place; they must interview individuals whose points of view reflect multiple sides of the question, and they must question their own assumptions. Fink interviewed workers brought to Midland by the boom and citizens who have watched its effects; the interviews demonstrate not only the requisite open mind, but also a perceptive ear. There is no easy conclusion. Booms have busts. Midland is somewhere in the middle of that arc, and the simmering tension is unmistakable.
Jane Gillette’s short story “Meditation XXXI: On Sustenance” resonates like another piece of creative nonfiction, with a snarky narrator whose commentary on food snobbery waxes as diametric as Fink’s about oil booms. But this is beautifully-structured fiction, and the “one scene” toward which the entire story funnels brings together so elegantly the irony of the narrator’s squinty perceptions that we’re hooked long before we ever get to it. The protagonists’ gourmet restaurant Locavore is juxtaposed deliciously against the town’s other diner, Bessie Sue’s. Locavore is meticulously run by a foodie willing to buy “expensive, politically complicated” licenses and to persuade local farm families to produce year-round for her. But many times more paragraphs are devoted to Bessie Sue’s, who menu includes:
thick, aromatic onion soup (concocted of canned bouillon, fried onion slices and Velveeta), a wedge of iceberg lettuce served with bottled blue cheese or Thousand Island dressing, main courses of chicken smothered in raspberry jam, a big filet, a small filet, fish of various kinds (flown in more or less daily), spinach ravioli (mass-produced by a company outside Denver) . . .
When the fate of Locavore’s owners is revealed, the truth that “God eats the world in little bites” is both the excruciating conclusion from which there is no escape, and the epiphany that redeems them.
Jennifer Atkinson’s poems show landscapes wild and decaying. Kristine Somerville’s photo-illustrated essay on the life and work of the dancer Ruth St. Denis narrates her early life full of external obstacles and her later life full of internal ones. John Fulton’s wonderful short story “What Kent Boyd Had” mimics The Things They Carried in an Updikean, middle-American- tragic way, and Sarah T. Schwab’s interview with playwright and director Dennis Talbott laments the lack of funding for theater, yet encourages artists to use the situation to their advantage. Poetry by Michelle Boisseau and Alexandra Teague give marvelous form to the oppositions of (respectively) micro/macro and weapon-skill; and the review by Andrew Mulvania of new biographies of Sylvia Plath resounds with the perversities of her life story. Throughout, ambiguity reigns in the most excellently-written way. This is an issue to covet. Nobody gets home free.
Review by Melanie Tague
The 2013 issue of The Nassau Review revolves around the theme of “Ekphrasis” or descriptions of other works of art. Each piece in this issue stays true to the theme and gives the reader things to think about on multiple levels. The work in the journal will make the reader not only contemplate what the piece of art they are reading is doing, but it will force the reader to meditate on the implications the work has on another body of work, be it a painting, an instructional manual, a pornographic magazine, or a sculpture. In many instances, the reader will be asked to consider the act of creating in and of itself.
In Jefferey MacLachlan’s prose “Instruction Manual,” he masterfully constructs an ekphrasis not only of an instructional manual, but also of the art of dolls. The work begins, “This diagram should be self-explanatory,” and it quickly becomes clear what the diagram or instructions are for: a teenage doll for a dollhouse. The work continues, “The girl’s jewelry should unfurl like sloppy wind chimes.” Here, MacLachlan has begun to deepen the meaning of his work by weaving into it a commentary on the norms or expectations of women in society while also sticking to the “instructional” theme. This piece of prose has so many tightly woven aspects there is no way to unfurl them all here, so make sure to check it out.
One poem that stood out in this issue was Michelle Bonczek’s “This is not a Piece of Art.” This work is an ekphrasis on pornographic magazines that also critiques society’s views of women. The poem begins, “It is her body, the back opening / one layer at a time . . .,” referring both to the body of the woman and the physical magazine. Bonczek guides the reader to the idea that pornography is art as she continues to describe the image: “So trusting is she she lets you / tie her paper hands down. How delicate / her eyes refusing to meet yours.” The words bring the picture that is being looked at and lusted over to life, making the moments and actions feel tangible to the reader.
“The Wax Butterfly” by C. Scott Davis is a fiction piece that is written as a third person narrative and told in six short sections. The story can be considered ekphrastic because it is describing the art of the art sculptor or even the art of creation. The story takes place “long ago” and follows a great wax sculptor named Estian. Estian is commissioned by two separate groups of high priests; one group commissions a wax statue of their Earth Goddess and the other of their Sun God. When Estian has finished sculpting, he is left with shavings of some of the finest wax he has ever used, so he decides to make something like he never has before, a beautiful butterfly of “vibrant colors.” The final section of this story follows Estian as he learns why humans do not have the capabilities to create life with their art.
There is so much to say not only about the individual work that is within the 2013 issue of The Nassau Review, but also about the journal as a whole. There is no way to display to the reader the impact and creativity that this issue of The Nassau Review will spark inside of each reader. If there is only one journal you’ll pick up this month, consider making it this one.
Review by Julie J. Nichols
“What’s Up?” is the title of this issue; on Robert Kareka’s cover, “Muddy Feet” are up, waving around in beachy air. But a lot more is up, too. Most of the time, the appeal of literature is its pointing beyond itself, like a Zen finger, to the “world under the world.” Language’s gaps and leaps, the cumulative sound and meaning of particular arrangements of words, lead us past mere materiality into the reality behind it, so that we close the pages transported and enlarged, though we couldn’t put our finger on the exact paragraph that did the trick.
John J. Clayton’s short story “Whispers” chooses not merely to hint at that reality. Instead, the extra-material world assaults Peter Weintraub, the story’s protagonist, in the form of voices under voices, knowledge behind facades, distressingly direct and accurate. Peter sees his doctor, gets pills, talks to his wife without disclosing the real issue. He knows, through his unasked-for awareness, what troubles his boss, who has never exactly been his friend. Peter extends compassion. There is no solution—the trouble doesn’t disappear, and neither do the voices. Direct access to voices, to “what’s up,” is worrisome. It’s not easy or peaceful. But compassion matters—to Peter’s boss, to Peter, and to us. What’s up in this story is grace, complicated, hard to share, but unmistakable.
When Weintraub is trying to explain his strange behavior to his wife, he says, “There’s a world under the world. Everything is connected.” She is naturally concerned by his mystical testimony, uncalled for and unexplained as it is. Earlier in the magazine, Brian Swann’s prose poem “The Net of Indra” echoes (or presages) the mystery. Indra’s net is a metaphor in Mahayana Buddhism: hanging over the palace of the Vedic god at the nexus of the universe, it bears a brilliant jewel in each node. Every jewel reflects every other jewel. Of course Weintraub can sense what others are feeling, for he is a node in that net, reflecting. Swann’s poem connects a petroglyph, a bird, shards of light, “kaleidoscope of shivers like rain, a spectrum where the marble feet of the cold walk up to the window and daylight comes . . .” Its form mirrors its meaning, or makes it—everything is everything else, of course, of course.
So what’s up in this issue is the poignant whimsy of probably-not-so-random chance, the longing for understanding in a life that transcends such a simplistic goal. Rumit Pancholi’s poem “Bifurcate at L’Enfant” places its speakers (and us) at a crossroads—the first-date crossroads of courtesy and sharing, “The trips we’d long / to take, those we’ve taken but ache to repurpose // with a loved one,” a series of linked and lingering couplets whose images tremble like the nodes of Indra’s net with the reflection of what might happen, what might have been.
Todd Davis’s “Drouth” flings dead fish on a desiccated cornfield in the wild hope that they’ll bring rain: “Soon the dark light farther down began to fade. Fish lost / the paths they followed in the weeds, bodies floating to the top / where we skimmed them to scatter in the fields.” The tragedy feels beautiful in the mouth, the “drouth” a wellspring for language if not for luck with crops.
Douglas Silver’s opening story, “Oklahoma City,” has as many subplots as a short novel; the sixth-grader protagonist is bullied until the Oklahoma City bombing, when a misunderstanding leads everyone suddenly to treat him normally for a short, sweet time. In Corinne Demas’s “The Clock,” the gulf between rich and not-so-rich widens and then clinches, like a wince. What the rich fiancée hopes her less-wealthy beau will not notice does not, after all, escape his view, and he breathes a surprised sigh of relief that the loss of her is inevitable.
Michael Perkins’s memoir “Beats and Bronk” dishes up a duo of curiosities, first that a party full of Beat-era celebs could be boring, and second, that a “master spirit” could be such a dear and wonderful friend. Greatness mingles with intimacy in random inconsistency.
Surprise, then, is what’s up—but a sort of inescapable revelation, unquestionable once out in the open. Even the reviews that finish up this issue of NDR assure us that what’s up is both wondrous and everyday, slippery and undeniable. Poetry—its music, its Jewish techno-modernity, its role in the contemporary world—and Bret Lott’s memoir, about whose Christianity the reviewer is ambivalent, are illuminated with clarity and intelligence, as are the several volumes reviewed briefly in the concluding “Editors Select” section. Despite numerous minor typographical and editing slips (words left out, apostrophes missing), this issue of NDR deserves close attention. Everyone ought to know what’s up.
Review by Mitchell Jarosz
The mission statement of Raleigh Review reads, “We believe fine art should challenge as well as entertain.” While many of the pieces in this issue fit the description of traditional poetry and prose, there are significant pieces of work that do indeed “challenge as well as entertain.” Throughout the journal, again and again we are presented with imagery in a modern style that drives the pace in bursts of short statements and thoughtful comments that ask to be revisited.
If we read the pages in order, the first poem starts by making us feel as well as think; it is Dorianne Laux’s “Romance,” which begins, “I know we made it up, like god, but god / it hurts. . . .”
And in a most interesting production is a poem by Emily Wilson entitled “[from August on].” It looks and could read as a piece of fiction, but the lines and images give us the feel of a narrative poem. The structure itself challenges us through flashbacks and unspoken comments. Its final comment speaking to a Zen-like realization: “This is what my dad has learned of love: it is like owning the riverbed, but not the flow of the water.”
Similarly, “Room 44”, one of the finer pieces of fiction, by Gregory Josselyn, reads lyrically while generating images of work and people many of us can readily identify. The speaker’s view of a routine and unappreciated job is juxtaposed to her appreciation of her boyfriend’s work, and her admiration for his patience. “My boyfriend plays piano. I like saying that. My boyfriend plays piano. I like telling people at parties that the man who kisses my hip bone and pulls my hair out of the drain charges complete strangers £110 to watch him slam his fingers on a bunch of keys.”
Another challenging, if a bit disturbing, piece of fiction is Jacqueline Doyle’s “A Night with No Moon.” Burglars find more than they expected when they search the closets of a house for loot, finding instead a young woman’s unburied secret. We feel the fright a simple man feels as he re-tells that story and attempts to find reason in his own inaction in a past relationship:
“They say that the unburied will haunt you. I don’t know if it’s that baby or Joleen’s, but I can hear it crying sometimes in my sleep. I wake up in a sweat, my heart pounding. What could I have done?”
The editors have apparently gone to some lengths to choose fiction pieces that read like poems because the imagery, rhythm, and pacing come to us again in the failed balloon flight described in Susan Frith’s “Flight Over Paris.” A carnival balloonist carries on her late husband’s traditional performance, hoping that to rise in the balloon will allow her to rise above her feelings of loss and understand more of life, only to meet the same fate:
Sophie tosses out ballast. With each stone she buys another moment to look around. She thinks of her Jean. What did he notice on his last descent? For a time she has envied him this secret. She passes over a church steeple, sees a flower stall shut for the night, and wonders why an old woman is crying alone on her balcony. Things move faster now. Sophie crouches and crosses herself.
Finally, while the visual artwork only includes a few ‘teasers,’ the compositions by Debra Wuliger provide interesting viewpoints and perspectives that are both light and playful, offering an introduction to the written works. The journal is moving to biannual publication, so, hopefully, there will be more visual art as well as even more entertaining and challenging literature for us to enjoy.
Poetry, Poetics, & Prose
Review by Travis Laurence Naught
Poetry takes many forms, and this issue of Redactions is a stark reminder for me that I just don’t “get” some of those forms. I did run across several bits of writing worth investigating with more depth, but for the most part I was left grasping for meaning. All 26 poets represented should be commended for the hard work which they have had accepted, but readers need to know that this issue is more challenging than casual perusal, and I found very few moments of slack-jawed inspiration. Much like some of the grueling pages I had to go through in my graduate program, I am left feeling a stronger reader for focusing my attentions on finishing this magazine.
Let’s start with a few of the pieces of work that really stood out to me.
Jon Palzer’s “In Solitary” takes readers into confinement. It carries a parenthetically wrapped subtitle of “upon hearing how one POW stayed sane.” The stanzas that follow it do not disappoint. Simple language surrounding such a terrifying experience creates a commendable presentation. Lines that especially stood out to me include “But still I leave this corner to find somewhere / else to go, shimmy as though in a low tunnel” and “Never have the time, I say, never have enough / patience. Can’t stay in one spot to long.” I’m unsure whether or not the story is based on personal experience, but remain glad that the story has been told.
Post-apocalyptic is a trending subject matter that Jeannine Hall Gailey sheds a light on in the block style poem titled, “Epilogue—Or, A Story for After,” It’s about an elder talking to a new generation in a campfire style scene I hope never to have to encounter. A sample of this work’s strength can be felt in the following line: “a house made of a square and a triangle, a single daisy in the yard, and two smiling stick figures. This is what we dreamed of . . .”
Michael Robins, Anthony Frame, Carine Topal, and Mary Biddinger are four of the poets who were able to get two poems each published in this issue. The fifth poet, Michael Meyerhofer, blew me away with both works. “Quetzacoatlus” uses the metaphor of flying dinosaurs to study poetry. Maybe my affinity for this poem proves my inner nine-year-old is still alive and well, but with phrasing like, “Nowadays, you can only see Poetry’s remains / in museums—guarded, roped off, impossible to touch,” I think it’s safe to say this piece of work is a winner. “Breakfast” is his other poem, offering an accessible look at the connection between society in general’s daily life and its connection to poetry.
I do want to throw in an example of what I meant as challenging work. Michelle Donahue’s “did you know” still has me scratching my head. First off, the title is neither capitalized nor does it make use of proper questioning punctuation at the end. Hopefully a couple of you are laughing as you read this, because I know that is a pedantic thing to point out, but here are a couple of lines from the poem for your consideration: “there is no coral only moose / I do not see & wolves & water which looks like / my ocean but tastes wrong.” I’m willing to make myself look uneducated by stating I’m glad there is space in a magazine for things I don’t understand because it helps me keep learning as I read.
Poetics is a section of the magazine which takes up eight pages and is titled “Tom’s Celebration.” There are reviews of poetry books and poetry stylings. Over the course of reading through it, I wanted to have access to the other sections that this magazine has included over the years because of how in-depth it is.
Prose is the final section of the magazine. Angela Woodward, Jon Steinhagen, Nathan E White, and Louis Bourgeois are the authors represented by their relatively short (compared to other magazines) two-page pieces of work. “She” by Angela Woodward was my personal favorite. It carries a snappily worded pace and is about the narrator looking up entries in an online dictionary. I found myself rereading the piece because of its structure and sound as I perused the page. “Under street I found the modern meaning illustrated with a concrete cityscape. This dissolved into a muddy track, and then into a bare impression of paw prints disappearing into the underbrush.”
This is a magazine for the poetry hard-nosed. Do not order this lightly. Pick up your copy of Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose only if you are willing to put in the work! I promise you will get something out of it if you do.
Review by Sarah Gorman
Readers with an interest in the visual arts and graphic design as well as in literature will appreciate this publication. Rip Rap Literary Journal—designed and produced by students in the MFA program at California State University at Long Beach—allots generous space to bold typography and 4-color endpapers as well as individual artworks appearing throughout the volume. Physically, the journal feels and looks substantial, justifying its identity as an annual. If you are familiar with Rip Rap, you will know how to read it—at a non-linear and leisurely pace, letting yourself be surprised by what the turn of a page reveals.
This issue features short stories and poems; although (except for the interviews), work is not identified by genre in the table of contents, and the works are not grouped by genre. If you want to know whether “Violent Skies” is a poem or a story, and who the author is, you must turn to page 51 to find out. When you reach page 51, you find out that in fact “Violent Skies” is (or appears to be—no descriptions of media are provided) a 4-color woodcut, with the phrase “these are violent skies” appearing above portraits of two males, one younger/contemporary and one older/historical. Artist Ben DuVall has created a provocative image which will reward the reader who takes a leisurely approach to experiencing this journal.
Several poets feature themes of divorce or sexual disappointment, or provide an oblique look at sex, as in Bill Wolak’s “Lovemaking,” which describes certain habits of the Trobriand Islanders. Jeff Hallenbeck finds a happier resolution in “Sentence Diagram,” where he likens the arc of physical love to various topics familiar to English majors: syntax, reading, and, ultimately, deconstruction. Of his lover, he writes, “There was no wasted movement. / She was an Imagist in bed.” In “Elegy,” Mary Kinard treats that other great subject of life and literature. Her tone is angry, powerfully evoking the stage of grief that immediately succeeds deep loss: “They said you were gone. But they were wrong. / You woke for FTD.” Images of garden flowers, spring bouquets, plastic flowers, and silk flowers culminate in that of “red orchids” that jam the elevator: “Why didn’t we have the damned funeral right there?”
The debut publication of Zachery Mann, “The Perfect Zigzag,” appears to be a memoir rather than a short story, although the work is non-chronological and highly crafted. Encounters with death in discrete episodes from childhood and adolescence, beautifully and powerfully evoked, crash against the image of a little boy caring desperately: “. . . I’d make a fist and knock on my head twice, above my right ear, when I came across something I wanted to remember. This please remember!” Mann’s artistry extends from fluent narrative to powerful images (a toy dinosaur, a lightning flash) to satisfying form—he concludes with another reference to the fist knock. This work bookmarks the author’s name in the reader’s watch list—much more of worth can be expected from him.
Mathieu Cailler’s “Neighbors” brings to life a powerful, successful restaurateur and a fragile twenty-something who meet when she arrives to vacation-sit for her grandmother. Through interior monologue, believable dialogue, and sharp evocation of its Los Angeles setting, the story limns a transformation of the man from mature playboy to tender father figure. The protagonist reflects that “as his hair grayed and thinned, he began to understand there was never an age when life was easy—just an age where it became easier to pretend.” But then the writer masterfully captures the ability of love to emerge unexpectedly, in forms we no longer dare to hope for.
The visual art forms a major, independent, element of this journal. In addition to “Violent Skies,” Ben DuVall contributes four more works, in various media, scattered throughout the volume. Most of the visual artists are represented by more than one image. Notable is Dwight Pavlovic, who shatters concepts with his strong color and confident design. His works, including “Pronouncing Pennsylvania” and “The Instrumentality of Hands,” provide a strong spine of imagery throughout the volume. Pavlovic says that he is a self-taught multimedia artist based in West Virginia, originally trained in Religious Studies and History. No biosketch is provided for Alice Chiang, whose engaging “Taipei Apartment,” with its litter of painterly tools, evokes a flattened Matisse.
An interview with James Brown, author of the memoir The Los Angeles Diaries, is conducted by Mony S. Vong, who explores with Brown the creative process, details of his battle for sobriety, and his opinions about great literature. Among the questions and answers printed on the page emerges what appears to this reader a real connection between the more experienced and the younger writer—the interview feels like an intimate conversation, making for compelling reading.
Rip Rap is as laid back as it is exuberant. The confidence with which the student editors have produced this issue comes through not only in the layout but in the presentation of material. Pick up a copy of Rip Rap and you will be challenged as a reader. Challenged, and then tickled, and then fed.
Review by Mary Florio
Physically built like a monograph from the City Lights Pocket Poet series, Saw Palm weighs approximately 5 oz., literally, with a figurative weight of so much peninsula, so much history that the Atlantic can deliver against the Florida shoreline. The book is preciously constructed, and the contents arresting, dedicated with precision to the literature and art of the state, its denizens and diaspora. Unlike other journals, where metaphor can wheel the reader away from the centrality of theme or place, this issue is a very strong representation of what perceptions and realities a writer might assign to place. It is a great work of editorial cohesion in that the work inside all relates to Florida—even in some unexpected ways.
The journal is engaging, rich and diverse in theme and voice, but it stands out from other outstanding literary journals by its razor-sharp focus on Florida, and, by incorporation, on the South. Sarah Marshall’s short story “Patrimony” is a brave new take on the Southern Gothic, with startling portrayal of sex, crime and poverty of all kinds—spiritual, economic, familial. And though the reader is slowly immersed in the catastrophe, each layer of hell is wholly believable.
Jason Kapcala and Renée Nicholson’s short story “Waltz of the Pink Flamingos” evokes such a realistic situation in the South that I swear we just lived through it last Christmas. The humor, the light competitiveness among the siblings, the second-chance love attempts among older adults—would be apt in many American storybooks, but I felt the provision of a named sexuality to press a daring political assertion into the frilly realism. I think that in Sarasota, where the story is set, may be distinguished from the Deep South; the story suggests a finely fractured acceptance of sexual orientation that is less common in the Deep South. It is not a political story overtly; like the best social criticism, it is first a story about the human condition, all things that separate us a secondary matter of detail.
The poetry of Saw Palm is blooming insofar that the poems are true to beauty and cadence. I enjoyed the rebirth, the rain, the qualified songs of love in a curated sampling of verse. Mary Block’s poem “Outside Orlando” had been written following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, and it ends: “. . . Fathers water their lawns / at dusk. Mothers mop their living room floors and wait / for their sons to get home.” Notice the tension in use of ‘mopping’ a ‘living’ room floor. Notice the waiting, the dusk. The poem is short, of eighteen lines. Acutely.
As much as Block invokes Jean Toomer with the scrim the thickness of linnet’s wings, Eric Sheridan Wyatt’s short story “It’s Never Quite What It Seems” seems to wake the caustic sainthood of Flannery O’Connor. Overbearing matriarch—check. Middle aged protagonist on the edge of major transformation—check. The accoutrements of the region—check. The story is interesting on those matrices alone. We know that Chelsea, aforementioned matriarch, will have her comeuppance. It’s a promise we inherited from O’Connor. We amble through the plot, wondering which of the references will raise up all irony and leave us nervously laughing. Is it the alligators? Will Grandma Bean suffer meaningful chest pains? What about Jackson—what is his role in the after-dinner party? Wyatt suffers no cheap shots. The redemption comes simply, with one word telling the reader all we need to know.
The poetry in the journal is lightly connected: the reader will experience the Florida landscape and environment almost cohesively, almost as if the poets, placed on any opposing coast, had spoken about designations of red or methods of storm. We are unified by our memories of place. The fiction, too, seems to be significantly connected to Florida as a physical place and emotional terrain. The literature is not always overtly limited to Florida, but the writers employ strategic nouns, signs, and emblems to underscore the power of location and its people.
Volume 38 Number 2
Review by Travis Laurence Naught
Readers looking for poetic range in vast quantities, this is the issue for you! Over 100 pages of work that I would bet contains at least three things even the pickiest of perusers will enjoy. I found that I had to keep myself very present while reading through the issue because I would have gotten lost in the variety of words presented.
A primary example of content range is available very early in the issue. Editor Prize winning poems are presented toward the beginning of the issue. Jesse Nissim was awarded first place for a piece titled “Fire” in which the subject of poetry itself is analyzed. I understand that some people harbor negative feelings toward poetry about poetry, but lines like, “The poem had numbness at its center and tingling into its extremities,” and “someone . . . threw a hard object at the overhead light, breaking the bulb casing and sending a spark across the ceiling” prove worthy enough to me, and more importantly judge Juliana Spahr, as prize-worthy.
Getting back to the idea of range contained in this issue, one of the other poems selected for print from the Editor Prize contest was written by Leland James. “A Brief History of the Electric Chair” was a very haunting piece that tackled specific death row cases in lines like, “People say odd things, one very different / from another, when they are about to be / executed: ‘Good people are always so sure / they’re right,’ said Barbara Graham,” but also cast a wider net with lines like “No more jeering crowds with picnic lunches / on Sunday afternoons. No more last public jaunts / in oxcarts to the gallows. No more twisting.”
One major highlight after reading a varied spread of work is the featured set by Illinois poet Jason Bredle. Every issue highlights a poet with a deep connection to Illinois, and since I live in Washington state, I really appreciate the opportunity to be shown hand selected work from outside of my region. Thirteen poems by Bredle are included, with my personal favorites being “Pinball City,” “Army of Dolphins,” and “Gore Monster.” Bits of surrealism and humor are laced throughout each work, highlighting a creativity that is sometimes lost in what can be such serious business. “Army of Dolphins” is a full-page poem that exemplifies this, with lines like: “we’d prefer to fight / an army of dolphins / and not a dolphin army.” After reading these poems, I was glad to get a chance to read the included interview, by Joanne Diaz, which dove a little further into Bredle’s writing style and inspirations.
Visual art also gets a shout out in this journal, but from a writing perspective. Katy Didden’s essay, “Portals, Placentas, and the Corpus Entire: Three Takes on Ekphrasis,” takes a look at three poets and how their differing styles were all able to use visual representations to guide their words. This is nineteen-page article dives into some intricate detail, but the following paragraph quotation hits the nail on the head as to why pictures and poetics work so well together:
While skillful observation might be a prerequisite for poetry, these particular poets have a panoramic scope. Each uses reading and research—in the form of epigrams, quotations, and anecdotes—not just as background for poems, but often as a subject, or at least a feature, of poems. In many ways, then, their use of visual material is an extension of the kind of information gathering that they already practice in their work.
Contributors in this issue of SRPR hail from Spain to New York, Israel to California. Kudos to the editors for their bravery in putting together a magazine that seemingly represents the vastness of submissions received, in content and geographically.
Volume 4 Issue 1
Review by Melanie Tague
WomenArts Quarterly Journal is a peer-reviewed journal published at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and is part of the Women in the Arts organization. It publishes a collection of poetry, interviews, and reviews, all created by women, in virtually any field of art.
This issue features an informative and interesting interview with the musician Anne King whose name you may recognize from Whose Line Is It Anyway? where she worked as one of the musicians on the show. King has also worked on shows such as American Idol and The Voice and currently is on tour with Rod Stewart. This interview explores how King finds success through taking every opportunity that is thrown her way and by building and being an active member in the artistic community. There is something in this article that any artist could learn from.
“How To Desire” by Wandajune Bishop-Towle is a poem that is strongly constructed and works on many levels to help the reader discover “how to desire” as well as create desire within the reader. The poem begins, “Be as a pencil, shaved raw, / a sieve, with openings the size of words.” Bishop-Towle creates desire not only with her words but also with line breaks—when the first line ends with the word “raw” it leaves the reader hanging in a vulnerable state wondering where to go next. The poem is constructed in an instructional manner and ends, “Lean. Lean further. Fall. Listen / the way a shutter’s hinge / listens for winter’s mountains.”
Another intriguing poem in this issue is Charlene Logan Burnett’s “Sleepwalking at Age Seven.” Written in a dream like tone, it fuses the real world with surrealist moments in order to create a dream-like state that the narrator is experiencing:
Lily of the valley grows in the woods. I smell the bell-shaped flowers. I was told not to eat the red berries, and I don’t, but I am so groggy, the floor beneath me turns to swamp.
I am drowning. Tree stumps float past. Tadpoles swim in my ears.
Burnett uses sleepwalking as a way for the young narrator to rationalize what they have witnessed and ends, “Someone reaches down and grabs me. A woman with red hair . . . The woman is my father. I am sure of it. As we float down the hall, I listen to the rustle of his dress. His green heels are flocked in moss.”
Caitlin K. Clark’s fiction piece “Variations on a Dying Swan” is an impactful story told in the third person that, in many ways, works to do what the journal as a whole aims for: showcases the work of women creators in as many ways as possible and tells the story about the stage of life and death. This story helps to bridge the gap between the stage of a ballerina and the page of a writer. On the surface, it is about a ballerina, who has fallen ill and faces death, living and never dancing again. The story begins describing how she used the pain of childhood ailments to inspire her Swan so that it would, “look weak, although dance required strength.” To cope, the ballerina imagines what it will be like to bring this part of her life to the stage and how the Swan will adapt. She envisions audiences finding her new swan even more beautiful than the last and when asked she will say, “My illness. I learned from my illness.” As the ballerina prepares to walk on to the stage of death as a testament to how passionate her dancing was, she feels “butterflies” and she tells the butterflies, “Shhh, there is nothing to fear. You have already done this, four thousand times before.”
This issue has lots more to check out including artwork from Monica Van den Dool as well as reviews and other works of poetry and fiction. So, head over to WomenArts Quarterly Journal’s website and pick up a copy of this issue today!
Volume 1 Issue 1
Review by Denise Hill
300 Days of Sun is a new student-run publication from Nevada State College Humanities Department featuring poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction and visual art and funded by a donation from Dr. and Mrs. J. Russell Raker, III in honor of their son Major Jonathan Russell Raker who passed away October 6, 2011 at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M. The students have done well to honor the Raker family and have also established their place in deserving continued support from their institution.
It’s clear by the selection and placement of content, the editors of 300 Days of Sun have sensibilities of the publication as an entity, opening with a photograph of a stretch of highway heading toward the mountains, and closing with a photo of a road sign indicating “END” with the desert in the background. Throughout, there is careful placement of like content: “Learning to Fly”—the art image a lifeless bird pooling blood—by Dominque Chavira follows the story “Georgette Silloughby” by Jane St. Clair, in which a young man chases, loses, then secretly harbors his yearning for his first love; the photograph of a concrete watering hole “Shepherd’s Tub, Owens River Valley, near Bishop, CA.” by Lanze Nizami precedes the poem “Drought” by Yvette A. Schnoeker-Shorb—and so on throughout. These pairings can sometimes seem forced and awkward in publications, but here, the editors have shown care to allow them to be obvious but not overbearing.
Of the poetry, Jodi Peterson’s untitled piece was the strongest example of imagery which stayed with me long after reading: “He found me folded up like a baby on the ground. / Limb by limb he unraveled me, / And laid me out to dry.” Yvette A. Schnoeker-Shorb’s “Damage” speaks to the environmental in recognizing “nature” in natural catastrophes (“blaze-to-haze summers”), such as the lives of birds and animals, and how much living minutia we overlook when assessing only human damage:
the nesting jays, for instance,
flying out of their parental habits
into open habitat, burdened beaks
dropping last meals before the birds
flee . . .
I loved the humor of Lisa Stice’s “The Truth about the Flying Nun,” which provides a series of condensed small-town character studies, including Bob the Bum and Ronald Zim,
who sat in front of the station
with his shotgun
and shot at elves
whenever they came by—
they never came by—
Trina Gaynon’s “That Winter Glare” in only eight lines creates a scene of silent stillness that was a great comfort in my busy day, while Lance Nizami’s “Treading” methodically courses from the personal to the universal in exploring our impact on the world around us: “We seek to simplify all curves / We seek to remake Nature in straight lines / We understand through mis-re-presentation.”
Of the prose, there is just as wide a variety of subject and style. “The Bigger Man” by Leah Browning quotes its influencing lines from “End of the Line” by Aimee Bender. Browning takes up the story of “a little man” who is adopted by “the big man” who goes seeking a pet at the local shelter. Taking the little man home, the big man then searches for and locates a little woman companion. The choices which follow bring out what being a bigger man demands of us all when considering our responsibility to others whom we love.
I read “Two Men and a Gun” by Frank Scozzari while traveling home via plane from AWP Seattle. Appropriately so, because Scozzari tells the account of two road weary strangers seated knee-to-knee on a midnight train to Athens who cannot trust one another enough to sleep, until “the gun.” Sublimely detailed moment to moment, as tired as I was in my own travels, I slowly savored this one to the end.
Another work that kept me rapt, Amy Forstadt piece “For Dummies” is painfully biting humor about infidelity and being the one to walk out of the relationship. Written in the second person, the main character ends up alone in a hotel room with the realization: “You didn’t think leaving your husband would end up being so boring.” And yet, “You can’t go back. How can you? You can’t.”
While I loved the detailed character study and relationship exploration in Robert Carter’s “Nic,” the ending was a severe drop off. After investing myself in all I was given, I get, “Then life happened. He tends bar in Seattle now and I hear he’s doing well.” What?! That’s like, “And then I woke up and it was all a dream.” Yes, I get it, that is how life happens, but the complete lack of any kind of reflection after all that had been developed just felt so wrong. This is definitely a piece cut too soon, and I’d encourage it to be continued it to its more “writerly” conclusion. Really, it’s a compliment: as a reader, I was NOT ready to be that quickly done with those characters’ lives.
Similarly, “Floodman” by Jarret Keene, while humorous along the vein of Carl Hiaasen, seems overly condensed in this version. I would happily have invested myself in a full-length novel to follow the socially awkward comic book collector, the helpful hooker, the aging stoned professor, and the cranked up devil worshipper! Yes, that’s I’m all saying; you really need to read it yourself.
300 Days of Sun has done well with this debut issue, though as keen as these editors are on selecting detailed works, they need to be as accurate in their own editing detail. There are definitely some bumps and glitches that need more careful attention in future issues, but I give some allowance for newbies and especially for students whom we should be encouraging with guidance. So, up the game next time, crew. You have the content, packaging skill, and draw to bring a strong publication to the game. So bring it!