Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted June 16, 2014

2 Bridges Review :: The Austin Review :: Black Magnolias :: Bop Dead City :: The Cape Rock :: Clare :: Communion :: Fairy Tale Review :: Hiram Poetry Review :: Iodine Poetry Journal :: Juked :: Kestrel :: MAKE Literary Magazine :: Minetta Review :: New Purlieu Review :: No Tokens :: Phoebe :: The Pinch :: rawboned :: Red Booth Review :: Sierra Nevada Review :: Subtropics

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2 Bridges Review Cover2 Bridges Review

Volume 3



Review by Melanie Tague

2 Bridges Review is a young journal that consistently shows a lot of promise; it is apparent that the staff works hard to find the best work from both new and established poets. This issue puts forth poetry, fiction, nonfiction, art, and photography where “the real and the imagination fuse.”

J.R. Solonche’s solidly constructed and well-crafted poem “Brooklyn Bridge” touches on the idea that your imagination and perception can deceive you, beginning, “How much smaller it looks in stone / and steel than in its photographs.” Solonche uses the deictic it as a means of elegizing not only the Brooklyn Bridge but also an image or idea. Solonche also uses this tool to help the reader recognize that it isn’t disappointment that occurs in a moment when your imagination is wrong, but rather sadness, as he continues by comparing it to old cemeteries, “It is like the old cemeteries cities let lie. / Like the ones they fence off, and surround.”

Zeke Jarvis’s “The Posted Limit” is a fictional work about a man who gets pulled over for speeding on the return journey of spending “the perfect day” with his terminally ill son. The father tries to avoid reality by imagining his son is not sick, but, ultimately, it is impossible to completely avoid reality. Jarvis presents this to the reader by making stark contrasts in what is and what should be. As the cop approaches the car,

The father looks at his son in the rearview mirror. The son is thirteen years old. He should be starting to scream at his father, telling him that he doesn’t get it. Telling his friends that his father is lame. Instead, they’re too often silent together, having too much weight to discuss and too little of levity to laugh about.

As the story continues, the father is prepared to do what it takes to hide his son’s illness because he doesn’t want the cop to pity him. But it can’t be hidden, and the officer utters, “You have cancer?” Here Jarvis slaps the reader with the reality that everyone had been trying to avoid. This is a well-written story, definitely worth a read.

Nonfiction “The Frozen Sea” by Patricia Horvath looks at how imagination changes reality, and in some ways how reality is always changing. Horvath discusses her childhood illness and how it was the cause of the lack of a relationship she had with her father: “the wall that had formed between us all those months he was too busy to visit, months I could visit no one.” But it is her imagination that allows her to think this was the cause; in reality it is her gender. In Horvath’s journey, her reality is constantly being changed. It is a wonderful examination of how it is necessary to live through these changes and let your imagination make sense of things, but when you find the truth, it won’t be something you created, but rather something that presents itself to you.

This volume of 2 Bridges Review has been finely crafted to bring the reader a cohesive body of work from some great writers; there is something in it for everyone.

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The Austin Review CoverThe Austin Review

Volume 1

January 2014


Reviewed by Anne Graue

The first sentences of the work in this issue of The Austin Review are some of the best I’ve read. Each one drew me in a little differently but with a similar level of intensity. And although the first lines of all nine pieces are of equal measure, here are a few examples:

“Last week, I received my first piece of posthumous spam.” – Lisa Wells’s “Advice from the Afterlife”
“There’s a hole in our fitted sheet that we are watching tear larger every night.” – Caitlyn Paley’s “If I Sent a Telegram from Korea, It Would Say All of This but Haltingly”
“It was the second Christmas without my brother and we were waiting for the President to call.” – Boomer Pinches’s “Between You and Every Horizon”
“A more diligent essayist than I might research and catalog numerous and various last words, searching for patterns of meaning and wisdom from departed sages, but I am interested only in two.” – Patrick Madden’s “Aborted Essay on Happiness”

Each piece, having raised the standard in the first sentence, remained at that level without dipping below. In the “Literati” section, Sheila Heti starts the issue by sharing portions of her blog meant to track her brain’s progress while reading the book The Brain That Changes Itself. Thoughts from her blog are sometimes humorous—”I know I am a placebo’s wet dream”—and sometimes profound: “It seems that memory is connected to story, and further, that story is connected to emotion.” This touchstone piece is perfect to open the issue with its truths, and its lies that bury and unearth true things simultaneously.

Under a section entitled “Truths,” David Olimpio offers this: “A kind of trick of the senses happens when you touch a dead thing.” The piece holds true from beginning (“It was Glenn who found the dead cat.”) to end, not only in his relating his own experience but in his broadening the experience for the reader. The three additional selections under this heading offer their own truths. See this in Lisa Wells’s remnants of memory of a woman who died, in words spoken about and to her, questioning, “Do the dead hear?” and informing, “In the Sufi tradition, saints’ ‘birthdays’ are celebrated on the anniversary of their death, the day they leave their flesh and rejoin the Beloved.” And again in Caitlyn Paley’s thoughts on typhoon season, clean laundry, and volcanoes, and Patrick Madden’s essay on the last words and judgments of Gerard Manley Hopkins and William Hazlitt.

In the “Lies” section, we find profound untruths we try to convince ourselves might be true, but never in a million years do they come close. Characters are important in the four pieces in this section, divulging their realities in their actions, inaction, and dialogue. Lily and Annabelle are sisters caught between divorced parents in John Jodzio’s story in which Annabelle admonishes her mother to “Quit using us as pawns.” The siblings in Boomer Pinches’s story share parents who act and react out of fear and ignorance during an unnamed war. Told from the middle brother’s point of view, the situation could not be more hopeless for understanding or communication. He questions his own fear of sharing something honest with his brother who has written home from “The War,” triggering anxiety at the thought of responding:

I sat with the pen in my hand and the paper blank in front of me. But I never wrote a word, not even his name. Part of me, I admit, thought it might be one of his jokes and I didn’t want to get taken in. I didn’t want to write something honest just to have him reply with a taunt. Or maybe he didn’t want a reply. Maybe he just wrote it and had sent it somewhere and he settled on me without much thought. But really I was afraid. It was the same fear that had kept me from telling him not to join the Good Army when we lay in our beds in the dark. What is that fear? What is so hard about telling your brother what is in your heart?

Derrick C. Brown’s “Hey Kid,” is probably the most enigmatic for me, and I find myself rereading it, thinking I am missing some weighty insight. The voice resonates, and I find myself thinking of Holden Caulfield. One truth I land on is this: “Flight lends me an infinite concern for far away little things—swimming pools are tiny sparkling rectangular crystals, are the things inside of salt.” I am in the plane, looking out of the window and nodding my head.

The most chilling of the stories, for me, is T. Kira Madden’s “Missouri Theme Park, 1986.” The family in this story embodies all of the dysfunction, fear, and anxiety within American families. I don’t think I glanced away or even blinked until the end.

I am in full agreement with Editor Michael Barrett in his brief introduction when he says The Austin Review “should be read fully, proudly, and without delay!” Each of the pieces in this issue will stay with me and may recur in my thoughts from time to time in the future. I hope so.

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Black Magnolias CoverBlack Magnolias

Volume 8 Number 1

Spring 2014


Reviewed by Anne Graue

The cover of the spring issue of Black Magnolias: A Literary Journal is striking, bold, and black & white, moving across the page displaying Alex Nodopaka’s Speed Wind Black Magnolias. It suggests an issue with writing that inspire movement and reaction; the issue does not disappoint on this account.

“Poetry is music, and nothing but music. Words with musical emphasis.” This, attributed to the late poet and activist Amiri Baraka, is true of the poetry in this issue of Black Magnolias. The poetry within is musical, rhythmic, metrical, and cadenced, holding to a tradition of powerful voices, some with hymn-like qualities that resonate.

In a sonnet, “Two Bars of Candy,” Richard Evans uses rhyme and strong images to tell a civil rights story both powerful and intense, in which “two bars of candy were his blessed meal / The power of the lord became his shield.” Two modern haikus by Raven Leigh cap the poetry section with these strong lines: “Be a tree in a / field watered with blood reaching / to the rays of life.” A reminder that with great change and progress come sacrifice.

Jacquese Armstrong offers a hymn in a free verse poem, “underground railroad (of the mind),” that takes readers on a journey to freedom, ending with a Harriet Tubman quote also embedded in the poem in the repeated phrase “KEEP GOING” and ending with, “. . . keep going / if you want a taste of freedom / keep going . . .” Armstrong’s four poems are equally powerful and poignant.

The three poems that open the poetry section of this issue are by John Kaniecki and are hauntingly present in their allusions to cultural icons, heroes, and musicians. I am particularly drawn to “The Folk Queen of Sub City (Dedicated to Tracy Chapman)” since I have always been a fan and recognize some lyrical elements of Chapman’s. Kaniecki’s rhythms are captivating and political. His “Redefining Genocide American Style” is reminiscent of Amiri Baraka’s “Black Art” with images of “Violent Gatling gun gore wars / Bayoneted babies and auction blocks / Cruel as Cyclone B showers . . .” The aberrant spelling of Zyklon B notwithstanding, it is a poem that shouts from the page.

Kalamu ya Salaam’s “Govern Yrself Accordingly” is a free verse poem with a cadenced quality ending with, “feel free.” The theme is resonant, evocative, as the speaker has

the ministers
of emotional defenses,
confetti to all the guards and given
faithful and ever vigilant
several days off

“The Supernatural Agency of the African Epic Hero” by Christopher Peace is an academic sojourn into mythology and folklore which offers hope to readers of African narratives that present the epic hero as “a positive image of blackness, whose impression represents a mental recovery of a time when the African culture was powerful and self-sustaining apart from Western impediments.” An important element of literature, to be sure, for readers who may have only experienced an Africa in which “the African epic narrative remains lost or hidden to much of the world” due to the “harsh interruption due to colonial powers.” Peace’s essay continues to show how the epic heroes in the African narratives fit a classical definition of the mythical hero in which the supernatural plays a significant role. Delving into traditional folklore, Peace shares important themes that educate and entertain.

The narrative section of fiction fell somewhat short for me, and I did not feel as connected to the stories as I did to the poems or the essay in this issue. “Throw Rugs” by Dane A. Campbell begins as a story about two estranged sisters seeing one another after a hiatus and ends with a tragedy, albeit one reduced by the narrative. The metaphoric use of the throw rugs is evident when the visiting sister, Madeline, observes Sandra covering up a stain, “’Just like mother. Boy, she knew how to throw a rug over any stain. It’s how she did things you know, just cover it up, never fixing it or throwing it away.’” I understand this observation to be the overarching theme of the story, and Campbell, who does a fine job with dialogue, focuses on this throughout.

In Melinda Joyner’s story, “The Worth of Wealth,” I feel a disconnect between the title and theme but note the irony of the plot in which a student in an expensive private school suffers from her own choices and relationships, regardless of wealth. The story is in third person, but I sense that it would work better as a first-person narrative in the voice of Jordan, the school counselor, whose thoughts readers are privy to.

A few editorial inaccuracies are a distraction in the issue, particularly the use of “voyeur” instead of “foyer” and “splitting image” instead of “spitting image.” This issue of Black Magnolias is ambitious and attempts to showcase talented writers in each genre. The pieces convey strong and urgent themes that surface in American society, some truths that we as a society have not been able to shake or refashion. This is the work of great literature, and works in this issue rise to the definition, some more than others. I would come for the poetry alone.

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Bop Dead City CoverBop Dead City

Issue 7

Spring 2014


Review by Melanie Tague

Bop Dead City is a humble, independent, quarterly literary magazine. At first glance it may seem to lack the finesse of larger magazines, but upon closer inspection, the reader will be pleasantly surprised to see interesting cover art as well as poetry and fiction that can and will inspire us all to read more or to pick up a pen and begin to write. This issue focuses on work surrounding loss and attempts to grasp onto the ever-elusive intersection of what was, what now is.

In Nancy Hightower’s “The Forgetting (Bathsheba’s Lament),” each line of the poem reflects on the loss of a lover; the lines masterfully intersect to create the same chaos with the moment of longing for something you no longer possess. The poem begins: “my kisses don’t relax the grim, / corners of your mouth.” As the poem ends, Hightower elegantly touches on the idea of how quickly a moment can change:

but tell me: this little one if your arms now,
with her dolly-skin
and hushed cherry lips,
with her legs wrapped
tightly around you, does she bring you back
into the heat of battle?

The reader is left with a feeling of loss that isn’t quite digestible because the narrator’s own remembering is clinging on to the memories of what has been lost.

“Inheritance” by Ruben Rodriquez is the winner of Bop Dead City’s Second Annual Flash Fiction Contest. The main character goes to visit his father only to discover that his father has committed suicide. Rodriguez keeps both the main character and the reader from feeling loss in full by never directly addressing the moment at hand. Just when it gets close, Rodriguez points our attention to the near-past: “He should have used a longer piece of rope. He looked nailed rather than tied to the main beam that ran along the center of the basement ceiling.” The very next paragraph, the reader is taken to “Years earlier” where we learn the origin of the beam and that the father was an alcoholic. As the narrator of the story leaves his old memories, we are brought back to right after his father died, once again missing the moment of impact, “He was cheap, which explained his final awkwardness.” For one tiny moment, Rodriguez allows the reader to get close to the feeling of loss as the son begins to cut his father down from the beam.

If you want to see a great example of constructing a journal that is cohesive, issue seven of Bop Dead City is what you need! It is a magazine you want to keep your eye on; when things come from humble beginnings they often grow into amazing things.

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The Cape Rock CoverThe Cape Rock

Volume 41 Number 2

Fall 2013


Review by Elaine Fowler Palencia

This journal is a lean sixty-seven pages of poetry. No editor’s remarks, no advertisements or indices, no author bios, no other genres. The state where each author lives is identified in the table of contents and that is all. The attention in The Cape Rock is all on the work.

The volume begins with an interview with Debbie Benson, winner of the Vern Cowles Prize for a Trinity of Poems. Her winning poems follow. “After My Father Died” movingly visits her father’s garden after he is gone:

Grief was grisly, and filled our bellies & film-fixed eyes with
    cake all fall;
                                                   But the pumpkins grew,
                                           & left unpicked, they rotted to

“Our Common Fever” uses “fever” to connect with the previous poem through illness, now broadened to take in the human condition. “On Dualism” then meditates on bridging the human/animal divide, which is some solace for our situation.

The pieces throughout the journal are ordered so that a connection emerges. In “On Dualism,” images of a helium balloon and a bird’s “opaque eyes, dry as cherries” somehow prepare us for the roundness and color of moons and fruit in Jody Azzouni’s “Even God is tempted by fruit,” a reverberation that continues in the next poem, Don Boes’s “Balloon,” in which a man is running through a spring landscape:

                                  The greening
of the grid all over again. The season
is like one of those shiny unreadable
balloons snagged in the delicate branches
of a dogwood . . .

And here comes the moon again in George Looney’s “On the Politics of Graffiti & the Moon’s Dark Side” (“On the moon’s dark side, graffiti / won’t wash off. No matter / what’s scrawled in that obscure landscape”). The editors must have enjoyed arranging the poems in an associative chain. Jamie Donohoe’s “Cape-ability,” which begins with a moonless night, speaks of the necessity of negative capability to know ourselves:

                          you must
steep your deepest self
in nothing to know anything
but you.

The emotional tone of the selections is fairly even throughout but gradually becomes more elegiac. Another clutch of connected poems shows this. Michael Salcman’s “Why Struggle,” like Benson’s first poem, thinks about the aftermath of a death: “Fortunate in my stubbornness, I persist in leaving a track like a snail’s— / its haphazard slick may bring you back after I’m gone / exploring a final trail of words, undone but not deflected.” Laura McCoy’s “The National Museum of Ireland” displays corpses of bog men before we effortlessly move to Sandy McCord’s “Eseberg Burial,” perhaps the most memorable poem. Written with caesura breaks in each line and speaking in the voice of an ancient Scandinavian warrior contemplating the earthen burial of his ship with him in it, surrounded by grave goods; McCord evokes both early poems like “The Seafarer” and D.H. Lawrence’s “The Ship of Death.” To quote the poem in part would do it an injustice. Her next poem, “Hopperstad,” examines remnants of the Viking civilization that was superseded by Christianity:

Viking names are only marks
on gravestones in the yard.
Still, dragons perch on eaves
of the sail-shaped roof. Still,
the fjord opens out to the sea.

From here the linkages propelling us forward go explicitly into memorial and elegy. Traces of a departed friend linger in the pages of a book in Len Krisak’s “On Receiving a Book from a Poet Friend,” which is placed next to Wally Swist’s “In Memory of Jack Gilbert”:

To teach gently, then fiercely; and to discern the difference
Between the two. With you now irrevocably gone,
I envision you prospering on your own hardscrabble island
Much like Prospero . . .

V.P. Loggins’s “July 27, 1890” takes us to the field where Van Gogh committed suicide. I will stop here with the “chaining” of poems and encourage readers to seek out this volume and explore the interplay themselves.

Another recurring subject is language and writing. It appears in many guises. In Larry Starzec’s “The Flock,” we witness exactly the kind of unlooked-for moment that inspires one to write a poem:

                            Most things
are forgettable and forgotten.
What I remember is the flash
of birds, sparrows, dashing up
from the dried corn, maybe
a hundred all at once, like a cloud
of bees, wings fluttering frantically,
scooting up, then turning north
and just as soon veering south.
They appeared so quickly, then left,
that I was startled into slowing down.

Elizabeth Rees’s “Eating a Nectarine” initiates a clever conversation with William Carlos Williams’s “This is Just to Say.” She even admits, “I thought of cold plums / and complicity.”

The mindful arrangement of this issue should give hope to any writer looking for a close and empathetic reading. These editors do more than just publish poetry. They also honor the ongoing conversations poets have with their tradition.

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Clare ScreenshotClare

Volume 15

Spring 2014


Review by Kirsten McIlvenna

Clare, a literary journal produced by students and faculty at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, has recently moved from a print publication to an online endeavor, and this is its second issue in that form.

Shannon Fallon contributes the only nonfiction piece, “Blooms,” which reads much like an excerpt from a young adult novel. Capturing a moment when she was sixteen, Fallon writes from a moment of reflection while still showing the naivety of her youth:

The game ended when the grid was filled, but I liked to think that, in theory, the game could last forever. Every row of five or more would disappear, and, if I could just align them fast enough, I could keep it going. If I considered the rules carefully, if I measured all the variables, if I finally discovered just the right strategy, I would never have to lose again.

Rachel Moore’s narrator jumps as the senior diver on a sky diving trip and tests the limits of when to pull the parachute. She uses a foreshadowing illustration that the story itself echoes:

At the jump center, they have this animated poster of Skylar the Diver, who doesn’t deploy his parachute on time. Skylar kicks his legs, suspended in midair, right above a flowery field. They never show you what happens to Skylar though. He is forever balanced between life and death in the bright blue cotton candy sky.

Written in short paragraphs (the one quoted above is the longest in the piece), some only a sentence long, the piece falls down the page, forcing you to read faster and faster as the character falls from the sky.

Dave Patterson’s “Killing Joseph Stalin” was a joy to read in a way you wouldn’t expect from the title. The Joseph Stalin it refers to is actually a rooster that is mean to Emma and “tyrannizes” the hens. Emma goes through an interesting transformation as at the beginning of the story, she is appalled that citizens are encouraged to shoot the wild animals that have escaped from an exotic animal zoo in Maine: “Can’t they stun them and ship them to another zoo?” But later she is so scared of her own rooster that she declares, “I’m going to chop his fucking head off,” and she means it. But one of the exotic animals approaches their yard before she does, and it affects her in a different way. I’ll leave it up to you to read this piece and discover for yourself which animal it could be.

This issue also features sixteen poets that contribute poems that are accessible, with images that are almost tangible. And while each year the publication changes slightly as new student editors step up bringing “new ideas and preferences to the journal,” I can say with certainty that this issue, at least, is worth the read.

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Communion ScreenshotCommunion

Issue 1

June 2014


Review by Kirsten McIlvenna

Communion is a brand new online literary journal, this being their first issue, just published this month. They look for and publish work that moves them either emotionally or intellectually but really aim for work that “reflects the concept of communion—with others, self, the world at large.” And from reading the first issue, I’d say they are hitting the ground running with this goal.

Ben Walter’s fiction piece is one large paragraph, the sentences long and winding. “And Closing the Door Behind You” is a beautifully sad story, but giving you too much “about” will take away from the piece; you’ll have to read it yourself. The narrator remembers a hike:

And I think hard about this, the long drive south and the approach from Farmhouse Creek and then suddenly the pain in my back is the ache of a heavy pack bearing down for days and the fire in my legs is the throbbing wail of bones as they slump at the campsite in the spent light, and the tent is alert and watching as we cook across the flames, and Keith is snorting at my face as I sip the rough grog he is handing round the circle, and ahead and above the peak is stabbing, shattering the sky, a fang leaping from the range, and I think of the fear I felt as we climbed that leaping mountain, escorted by the stories of those who had plunged below, the young man who had helped his father down with careful instructions, then stepping back for a better, relaxed vantage . . . and then the relief and the triumph of the summit as we leaned against the inner ring of rocks and stared at each other’s grinning faces just as much as we gazed at the view of ranges and valleys, as though we were all, people and peaks, part of the same company and landscape, and yes, I say to Tony, I reckon we could do it, I think I can still remember the way.

This is one sentence, and we meander along in the text, reflecting the long hike she has made, and as soon as we are given that final period of a breath, she, too, can break from her memory—“I think I can still remember the way.”

“They sit with their knuckles touching / in courteous stiff rapture,” starts Ron Pretty’s “Knuckles.” By just looking at the way these two lay their hands on the table, “touched but not committed, / together but not holding on,” the narrator says that you can tell they desire an affair, but the progress is so slow it “might never reach the street.”

Lyn Reeves’s poem is short but powerful, packing a punch in the last stanza with only six lines. How quickly and in such a brief moment your life can change forever:

With the first flutter
of your nascent limbs
my world turned over
the girl I was became
mantled by the word:

In a different way, Michael Sharkey, too, reminds us of the quickness of the world by showing the peace of a morning before the rush. “LVIV,” named for the city in Ukraine that serves as a center of art, literature, music, and theatre, starts “in the calm before the trams squeal round the corner of the square / where I am faced again with poverty of language I possess / and lack of time.” The poem, just as the narrator does, takes time to notice and take in the atmosphere:

but explore yourself, this place says: there’s no radio
or music to abduct you, only streets that fill with thinkers
just like you in time-lapse study of each moment
and no camera but your eyes and ears,
such motion and such life, on this first morning, and the thought
of others like it and the foretaste of the cup, and why not,
do the same tomorrow when the dawn breaks here again.

The issue also contains more fiction, poetry, essays, and an interview with Australian writer Nathan Curnow. Communion literary journal holds strong promise for continuing work worth reading.

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Fairy Tale Review CoverFairy Tale Review

Volume 10



Review by Mary Florio

Fairy Tale Review maintains its fanciful theme well, but its significance as a literary document exceeds whimsy: the authors transform modern literature, spackling any clichés or invention with language, philosophy, and critical energy.

The theme for this issue is Oz. As editor Timothy Schaffert quotes L. Frank Baum, “modern tales don’t require a moral.” One might suggest “of course they do, old sport” and go on reading, but Baum may have been referring to morals as a form of value propaganda, and in this honorary issue we see none of that, but we do see strong ideas, rich with significance—and morals.

Take, for example, Christopher Barzak’s “Dorothy, Rising.” The clear voice, the expert storytelling, and the arrangement and pacing of ideas are as magical as any emerald city of words. Barzak spins his moral toward the end: this story is not immune to time. Rather, we see a glimpse of the future Dorothy, the independent almost satirical (chick lit) portrayal of the heroine. Somewhere behind her dolled-up ‘do, looms the specter of foreclosure. And you don’t feel that tension in chick-lit, the idea of the economics behind everything, a shack bearing all the weight of an invisible hand.

Nicely paired Jaydn DeWald’s “American Fairy Tale” with Cate Fricke’s “Tin Girl” modernize Oz again. DeWald’s prose is fine music, one that weaves in Oz compliantly but also provides the following:

Tap your Adidas together & wake up in Z’s tenement again, mid-to-late autumn, San Francisco, 2007, staring up at a storm-gray staircase . . . sweeping ever upward into blackness, into a little skylight of night, like a twister—

It is a cold song—and lovely—to see DeWald marry opposites against a backdrop of strong, unifying emotion. On the facing page is Cate Fricke’s “Tin Girl,” which seems reasonably realistic at first, and then, ever so gracefully, weaves in surrealism that solves the narrator’s problem while creating a secondary problem—the idea of age and femininity, the pillage of our mothers for the service of men. You might perceive a post-war widow in her pillbox and “smart Sunday heels,” but Fricke does not end there. The reader realizes the ticking of time with each rocking chair creak, the brevity of beauty, the strong thief’s calves deriving all power from precarious youth.

Stephanie Nash’s “After the Wind” references Oz, but her reach is broad enough to eke out a conclusion for Baum’s 1904 tale. It represents a dream for every damaged beauty—the idea that a nervous, somewhat ostracized farm girl marries the town doctor, who loves her and gives her a legion of children. It is told like a fairy tale, too, with very little departure from the driving narrative. In the fragility of the protagonist, the reader seeks the modern preoccupation—that one’s suffering is ancient and redeemable.

Daniel A. Olivas’s “The Last Dream of Pánfilo Velasco” functions on many levels. For example, a straight read might reveal nods to magic realism as a mystical narration of the concept of love and loyalty complete with successful incorporation of Dante and other magical references. One feels the shadow of that cannon. But a closer read might develop appreciation for the fine-tuned absurdity of the tale. On read two, I was laughing, completely engrossed with the wildness of Olivas’s imagination.

Olivas may not be alone in alluding to the magic realism movement. Lindsay Stern’s “The Great Forgetting” masterfully invokes Saramago’s Blindness but names the plague to be one of time, not personal affliction. Here is her first paragraph:

On an autumn morning in Year 20, the people of Lüz awoke to find Memory reversed. Recollections of the day to come wafted into their conversation, their morning jokes. History loomed, swept images. The future, meanwhile, fell into view.

Stern maintains the clip and the challenge, creating a supersonic setting that fulfils the promise of that introductory paragraph.

The best opening sentence in America at this moment starts the story “Paint Chips” by Gabriel Thibodeau: “I want to kill my father but know my mother will miss him, so I turn him to stone and put him in the garden.” Thibodeau is faithful to the emotional storyline, but the wry delivery makes the narrator’s surreal capabilities wonderfully funny. And he does maximize the beauty of it: “If I had a brush, I would bring it to her face and paint the sea.”

Daniel Olivas describes the magic of this magazine best—from the approach of a fairy tale to the chance to present new incantations of the magic realism canon: “No matter what we call it, I find this type of storytelling quite liberating.” As a reader, I nod. What lively dreams. How wonderfully spun. How essential to the canon and beyond.

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Hiram Poetry Review CoverHiram Poetry Review

Issue 75

Spring 2014


Review by Brian McKenna

Whether written in traditional free verse or veering off into experimental territory, the poems in the latest issue of the Hiram Poetry Review are frank, high-spirited, and self-assured. Featuring twenty-one poems from nineteen different poets, this slim volume benefits from a clear editorial vision favoring “poems that exhibit excellence with flaws rather than general competence.” Even if a certain amount of brashness preempts nuance in several of the issue’s poems, the urgency of the speakers and their subject matter never fail to command attention. However, the best poems from the issue manage to be both urgent and nuanced, gathering self-assuredness from the poets’ careful attention to how syntax and diction compliment the scope and ambition of their subject matter.

Perhaps the most evocative pairing of language and subject matter was Matthew Dulany’s poem “Yes,” in which the indelible roadside scenes that have always marked a son’s way home take on added significance as he returns to visit his dying father. Fixtures of the landscape which formerly reassured the speaker become a disarming metaphor for the physical decline that occurs in our absence. The breezy music of Dulany’s lines nicely captures the swift, insular feeling of highway travel and creates an odd tension with the fixity of the sober scene awaiting him:

Always there’s a station where the gas
    is pennies cheaper, where the air is free,
where tractor trailers whirring past
    appeal to thoughts of temporality.
Always the pike led to the turnpike,
always that abandoned ferry’s rusting shell lay off to the right,
beached on the Raritan’s unclean bank—
the ghost ferry, I called it.
Hello, Ghost Ferry.

Polly Buckingham’s “Your Big Toe” was another of the issue’s well-executed poems. To paraphrase Shakespeare, repressed sexual energy will out, and it does so in entertainingly askew fashion in Buckingham’s poem, as her speaker considers the meaning of a dream and its unshakeable image of a prospective mate’s “ridged and uneven” big toe nail seen by campfire light. The combination of the sexualized image and the description of the action it provokes is played for just the right amount of melodrama before the poem’s speaker interjects with a frank admission:

After four days of frantic hiking
my big toenail turns black—
smashing against the boot uphill and down
driven by visions
of your toe
and the darkness outside the fire
where I search for you and come up empty.
I stumble down a rocky trail. Let’s be honest:
Your big toe turns me on.

Several of the more avant-garde poems in the issue offer experiments in form. Jonathan Greenhause’s poem “Edward’s Indecisiveness” appropriates the form of a multiple-choice test to playfully chronicle the biographical roots of Edward’s titular flaw. Stephen Brown creates a subheading style all his own in his rhythmic, self-cannibalizing poems about alienation and city life.

For his part, Richard Kostelanetz uses what looks to be an amalgam of computer code, obscure symbols, and mathematics in the excerpt from his work AN EPIC POEM FOR THE 21ST CENTURY. Though I can’t feign authority regarding what the hell is going on in the poem, I can say that I enjoyed speculating about it. Is Kostelanetz making a statement about the status of science and mathematics in contemporary culture by suggesting a comparison with the great epic poems of the past? Is he celebrating or lamenting the cultural artifacts that have been replaced by technological innovation? Is this just a concrete poem? Is my brain made of concrete? All fair enough questions to bandy about. Whatever your interpretation, the enigmatic formal experiments of these three poets nicely extend the poetic range of the journal while providing the bold individuality that’s such a hallmark of the issue’s poetry as a whole.

While a good deal of the poems in this issue of Hiram Poetry Review were polished and propulsive, the two book reviews lacked focus, failing to properly frame or illuminate the works under consideration. In the review of Marjorie Maddox’s new poetry collection Local News from Someplace Else, excerpts from Maddox’s poetry seemed to function as garnish for the reviewer’s own sermonizing, while an argument about accessibility versus triviality and the critical bias against the publishing house McSweeney’s drags on for roughly two and a half pages in the review of Dan Chelotti’s debut poetry collection x, which causes the context in which the book was released to feel like it received more thorough consideration than the contents of the book. For reviews of this length, the discussions of structure, themes, and craftsmanship were scattershot, leaving the reader with a rather vague impression of each poet’s work.

Minor reservations aside, the Hiram Poetry Review still manages to cut a distinctive figure in the poetry world after nearly a half century in publication because of its charismatic blend of the accessible and avant-garde. Rather than attempting to be encyclopedic and ending up uneven, the Hiram Poetry Review makes a virtue of its brevity, selecting experiments worth lingering over and voices worth listening to.

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Iodine Poetry Journal CoverIodine Poetry Journal

Volume 15 Number 1

Spring/Summer 2014


Reviewed by Anne Graue

This 15th Anniversary Issue of Iodine Poetry Journal is a collection of unassuming poems by talented writers. The poems are deceptively simple, written with an ease that belies their metaphoric skill. Each poem imagines a story, a picture, a memory, a season, a way of thinking or living, encapsulated in lines of distilled thought that somehow feel like one collective voice of humanity speaking for itself.

Forms of the word “dream” appear in a few titles throughout the collection, and I immediately turn on my radar for clichés. Five of the poems have a transformative quality that aims to transport readers to that dream state where alpha waves let images in that break the expected rules of perception, and most of these poems succeed. An image of a

     prostrate form,
huddled beneath
a quilt sewed
carefully long before
by now dead hands
on ivory keys

wafts from Richard Dinges, Jr.’s “Dreams Echo,” a short, profound poem in a single sentence. I can see the “handsome stranger in black who rides” in Torie Amarie Dale’s prose poem “Today, I Dream,” which describes a daydream turned sour by reality. “Sapphire Dreams” by Arlene L. Mandell offers another image “. . . under feather quilts / in our indigo room . . .” the dream state apparent in the language of sleep.

A few poems in the issue explore form and function and the purpose of structure in making meaning. Diana Pinckney’s “After the Hands” is a poem that presents a staircase of images, one following another down to the finish:

what can
      the body do
            but sing

Jennifer Cunningham asks the question “What Will Be Left?” in her villanelle that pleases the poetic senses with rhyme and meter. The refrain answers, “There will be nothing left to claim, to name. . . . / Only a skinless echo will remain.” Brian Clifton explains that “It is Not the Lion that Eats the Soul,” and Celisa Steele expounds on the realities of motherhood in “Mother and Child.” A.S. Bean wonders “if water / feels the fall,” and Maria Berumen-Hooyenga depicts “The Barren Season” of menopause as “Three hundred sixty-five days / absent red x’s.’” These poems demonstrate skill in breaking lines at just the right words and in using punctuation for the best effect. Form serves the function of these poems and others in the issue.

A few poems surprise with images unanticipated that strike unusual chords, where surreal elements play a role in the poets’ risk taking. In Mike James’s “A Lobster,” the image of a lobster “replete with his buttery splendor” converses with the speaker in a captivating stanza that I find myself revisiting. Similarly, and also quite differently, Errol Miller’s “Pea Soup” contains fascinating images of a peacock, a horse, trees, and tea cakes all in one poem without mentioning the pea soup. Dennis Herrell personifies the color in “Yellow,” ending with the perfect admonition, “Don’t trust yellow—it will turn on you.”

Finally there are a few poems I have fallen in love with in that way that one falls in love with something or someone and doesn’t quite understand why. I am in love with “Frida Kahlo, Punk Hero,” by Kayla Sargeson and the lines

I want to live underneath your dress,
cling to the thick part of your thigh,
become the sweet fruit Diego couldn’t live without
and every man and woman who met you craved.

I am in love with Carol Pearce Bjorlie’s “Vocalise” for its music and the dark cave “where trolls sleep.” And I am head-over-heels in love with Alan Michael Parker’s “IOU A Love Poem” for its repetition, its cadence, and its longing in repaying that debt.

I would recommend reading a few poems at a time from this anniversary issue of Iodine Poetry Journal, then mulling them over as you progress through your day, returning to a few more at another sitting and finding an image or metaphor that tides you over until next time.

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Juked CoverJuked

Number 11

Spring 2014


Review by Mary Florio

The editors of Juked state on their website that they do not adhere to any particular themes or tastes, but in this year’s issue, one might perceive a predilection for experimentation. Michelle Latiolais opens the volume with “Out,” which cannot be characterized in a single clause, but links together a complicated narrative almost without any kind of literary seam showing. Reportage of a world caramelized with sex, friendship, and the idiosyncrasies of place and a specific time sets the work apart in a shifting carnival; one is suspended between effective ‘reportage’ and the sequined world of the author’s imagination. For example, she describes the evening with almost Kerouac’s eye, capturing “a skyline of dark pineapples.” Later, on a misogyny that has pervaded modern American culture:

. . . and she herself is now a Cougar . . . even a television program by that name, hot middleaged women on the make, and she marvels that widowed she is now made into a sexual predator, and indeed, men now hurry to inject “my wife” into an exchange of niceties, and if she is talking to a man at party, particularly if they are laughing, the conversation lively, the wife is there by his side quickly, staking her claim.

If becoming a middle-aged woman makes one eligible for savage reduction to some kind of “mythical creature,” as Latiolais observes, it is also an opportunity to speak—she wields a wide brush, capturing “Mexican wrestling,” the Mayan Theater and a man whose public urine is a “lovely Seventeenth-Century-Formal-Garden-Fountain-With-Pissing-Putti arc.” She does not reduce her narrative to an easy response to misogyny, and the choice is apt since one must answer subtle with subtlety. Literature this subversive should be on every woman’s shelf, for it is not only a room she needs, but a revolution.

Forrest Roth may have the literary flame one needs for any sensible laboratory—Roth’s “Seven Books by Alfred Hitchcock” rattles with a first sentence that slays me: “Margot knows she shouldn’t have taken Halliday’s crime novels with her to Death Row . . .” And so begins a warbling that crosses genres, fates, and realities. Truth, balanced in the literary sphere, may be the preoccupation of the memoir generation—and Roth plays with this theme delicately. Margo “still determines whether she’s indeed a murderer,” a séance of truth. Roth classifies this compelling philosophy as “Dial M for Murder,” a subset of the Hitchcock vignettes. Roth expands the gentle franchise of truth throughout the 7-part series—which one can link to the big question, what is real—as follows: “She imagines the premise based upon a simple man obsessed with, oh dear, let’s say, his moustache; then, one day, he inexplicably shaves it off, and everyone—everyone!—becomes aware of his existence.”

It is a story within a story, filtered through two lenses. A dual lens heightens the separation of dramatic action and the reader’s reality—a divide well-housed in Roth’s close third person. The reader slips between the gates of fantasy—Hitchcock’s, the writer Halliday’s, Margot’s—in a compact paragraph—as Roth’s Margot notices on a different level, “the book again becomes a newfound superstition.”

Rumaan Alam channels truth through a classical surrealism, where her narrator becomes a fox, falls in love, suffers great psychological pain, and regains her humanity by virtue of crying. The narrator remarks “I wept, and the weeping made me into a woman again.” Metaphor and the fantastic always evoke great emotional investment, and when the fantasy falls apart by virtue of any reasonable device, the reader does too. Out of all of the Juked’s stories, this one seems the most truthful because it is so direct, the simplicity betraying the rawness of feeling.

Juked’s interviews were true in a different way; there is an economy to the dialogue between Juked Editor J.W. Wang and James Scott (The Kept) and between Michael Barach and Sandra Simonds (Mother Was a Tragic Girl). The questions are focused, and the responses efficient enough that one learns the important lessons that only a master can impart. For example, James Scott advises that one put a draft down on paper as quickly as possible. “That initial spark—that first blush of inspiration—is tough to recapture if you put it down for too long.”

The final ‘true’ story in a book predominantly poetry and fiction was Jen Beagin’s “The Blind Pig.” The dialogue, which is pitch perfect, creates a ‘script’ even though the story is told in the first person. What is authentic, or actual, is woven together with quotes and facades. The poetry of Charles Simic and Sylvia Plath stand in for personal confessions in an environment of psychotherapy in New York—a strange construct, perhaps, but not outside the world of individuals seeking help when nothing else works, and their escape route is a nightmare of fraud and abuse. The pacing and sinews of plot are remarkable, the message well-developed, the experience of a post-electroshock dystopia, as I read it, so real you could reach through the page and feel it.

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Kestrel CoverKestrel

Number 31

Fall 2013


Review by Chip Livingston

The cover image of Kestrel’s recent issue is a mixed media collage of photo transfer, ink, and colored pencil suggesting a window through which we’re invited to peer deeper into “a story” (the artwork’s title), the text which, along with “1934,” appears as part of the illustration. Artist Julie Anne Struck’s arresting compositions are featured inside the journal as well, collaging image, paint, pencil, text, and texture to results akin to a two-dimensional Joseph Cornell assemblage perfect for the paginated exhibit and super appealing as cover art. As illustrations that beg the viewer to imagine their narratives, what could be more appropriate for this issue’s strong collection of prose and poetry?

Cathy Barber’s poem “The World” asks us to examine our actions and what we witness in our wakened lives, and Ace Boggess tells us how he’d edit the news to reflect our human-interest angles in “The New Journalism,” both standout poems that speak to our framing of perspective. Boggess writes, “I don’t want to know why the chicken crossed the road / but why he is a chicken when he could’ve been a fish.”

The narratives in this issue explore this question along with how to feel attending an ex-coworker’s child’s funeral after you’ve been fired, what internal click inside the teenage vandal stops his destruction, and much more.

In Jacqueline Doyle’s touching eulogy “Traces of a Life,” the author compiles photographs from her father’s past to represent his unwritten memoir at the funeral service, and in many ways the contents of this issue of Kestrel function in the same way, offering snapshots of the worlds inhabited by the contributing poets and writers and their imagined characters.

In “The Beginning and End of Things,” John Sibley Williams even gives voice to the objects discarded from a life, which we find waxing nostalgic for their purposeful utility and hopeful for an encounter with someone who can use them again. And as Williams looks to the nature of objects in his short story, conversely it is human nature that Robert Johnson and Lee Oleson are concerned with in their smart fictions “A Man’s Reach” and “The Move Out,” respectively.

Our access to human connection outside our own realms of experience is also exceptionally illustrated in Maria Terrone’s “A Facebook Page in Iran,” a poignant perspective on notoriety, social media, and building an online community. Terrone captures an exhilarating, yet discomfiting idea of finding one’s name in an online forum in a language, an alphabet, one cannot decipher.

Carrie Shipers, in her poem “Carry,” explores her own name, personifying the definitions of the verb in a way similar to how Matt Pasca weighs the history of Matthew in his “In a Name.” In an essay between these two poems, Tim Armentrout presents names of coal companies, their induced diseases, and the desecrated places left behind as a powerful litany/eulogy for the land in “Level Ground.” Matt Zambito, Christopher Beard, Diane Lockward, and Nicci Mechler are additional poets worth noting for their voices, originality, and perspectives.

This issue takes us on an international tour of humanity through short literature and illustration. And the “bang for your buck” factors heavily here; in just 139 pages, this slender volume of Kestrel provides as much as, or more of, the top quality writing you might cull from the annual “Best of” anthologies. Kestrel’s fiction editor, Suzanne Heagy, writes in the issue’s introduction that she hopes the writing and art comprised will “allow readers to imaginatively inhabit worlds they might not otherwise encounter and remember.” The mission is heartily accomplished.

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Make Literary Magazine CoverMAKE Literary Magazine

Issue 14

Fall 2013


Review by Robyn Campbell

The fourteenth issue of MAKE Literary Magazine focuses on visual culture, toying with the ideas of perception and image. The journal itself is stunning—a mix of colored, white, and black pages that proclaims on its front, “All colors, are, in fact, here.” It’s a line plucked from Cristina Rivera Garza’s poem “I. Despejar” or “I. To Clear.” And it fits perfectly, given that MAKE has a little bit of everything—poetry, fiction, nonfiction, book reviews, artists’ portfolios, an interview, translations, and comics are all represented and flow together flawlessly for fulfilling, well-rounded read.

Evan Morgan Williams’s enthralling piece “Michael Says” deals with perception in several ways. It’s the story of a sort of forest resort, a place where tourists go to get away and relax but seem to have no idea about the communal, free love lifestyle led by the workers. From the point of view of Charlotte, a young woman who has spent several summers working for Michael, we watch the transformation of Jenny, the newcomer. According to Charlotte, “Jenny is sweet and simple, and we love her so much we call her Boxelder Beetle, a dark bug that squishes easily, a meal for a kingbird, a husk by autumn.” Already in this description we see Jenny’s frailty, the naive willingness that Charlotte and the other women will take advantage of later on. Michael—the alluringly mysterious leader of the ranch—has his pick of the women, and Jenny wants her turn. So, Charlotte instructs one of the other women to give Jenny “remarkable eyes” by way of a henna tattoo. Though the ensuing conversation gives the impression that the women want to teach and protect Jenny, they end up using their elder status to sabotage her chances and make her look foolish.

While a number of the pieces in MAKE kept me engaged, I have to say that the true standouts were the works of nonfiction—and I feel like I don’t say that very often. “Notes on Housewives” by Dana Masden juxtaposes scenes from The Real Housewives of Orange County with an honest account of Masden’s own struggles with anxiety and depression, both commenting on and finding solace in the ridiculousness of reality TV.

In “Magic,” Daniel Maidman discusses his attempt to recapture the true purpose of his paintings after losing his artistic footing. And in Regina Drexler’s moving “New Realities,” the author watches dumbstruck as her abusive ex-husband becomes the star of a reality show about newly jailed inmates. Not only does a change occur in that Drexler sees, “in the wide eyes of the person who had terrified [her] for as long as [she] could remember, that he was afraid,” but also that he’s using his fame to make her look as awful as possible.

Directly addressing the camera, he said, “My ex put me in jail.” Hey, I thought, he’s talking about me. He went on to explain that I put him in jail to punish him because he wanted to divorce me, so vindictive because I was so hurt he had left me. My next thought was, that’s not what happened. His new tale was different from his prior, off-the-air story.

In the end, Drexler is able to “reclaim the person [she] was.” But, along the way, she has to protect her sons and her own image from a number of TV stations and dreaded Reddit commentators.

As an issue that’s dedicated to visual culture, it’s no surprise that the artwork featured in MAKE is impressive. Kelsey Zigmund’s “TV Dad is Disappointed” shows you exactly that and is so perfectly amusing that it led me to her website (which is filled with other, equally great illustrations). In short, MAKE has something for everyone, and it’s sure to please even the pickiest reader.

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Minetta Review CoverMinetta Review

Fall 2013


Review by Julie J. Nichols

According to its inviting website, Minetta Review is “a student-run publication at New York University [which also considers] writing and artwork from all over the country, and . . . [has] even published international submissions.” It’s the oldest literary publication at NYU; this is the publication’s fortieth anniversary.

The website provides an appealing verbal image of NYU students gathering every Thursday afternoon from submittal deadline to publication, arguing the merits of offerings of poetry and prose under 1500 words and, when those selections are made, pooling from among art submissions to find highly complementary visuals. Certainly that’s one strong way to read this issue—as a unified network of visual and verbal art. Such a network is well exemplified by Kid Useless’s “Spiders Do Know the Answer, Of This I Am Certain (2012).” In this lovely photograph, the white threads of an imperfect spiderweb shimmer around the spindly arachnid in the center—just as, in this issue, threads of themes connect prose, poetry, and artwork to frame a fragilely unified whole.

The issue is evenly divided among poetry, prose, and color art plates. Among the best of the latter are Kristen Reichert’s photographs, experimental renderings of pretty young women whose hair, clothes, and surprised facial features meld with neon swirls of color. Ian Tiseo’s “Chum Salmon Run!,” an appealing primitive/cartoon illustration of a lively bear, and Emily DuFrirsz’s “Robot in Bed with Bunny Slippers”—possibly a pencil sketch—also set a high standard. A number of other well-reproduced photographs, drawings, and pastels please the eye (such as Divya Adusumilli’s deep blue “Sunsets”) and challenge the intellect (such as Tracy A. Marciano’s flickering red “Hallway to Questionable Judgment”) or even clutch at the heart. “Through” by Sarah Calico and “Pierced” by Sarah Doody both represent imaginative juxtapositions. The photographer’s gaze through fence slats, and the stoic’s lust for bodily adornment, need no words in these attention-catching works of art.

But we can still use words, certainly. Kate Belew’s poem “God Tree,” with its images of medicine wheels, fossils, and salt pillars, speaks not only with particular specificity to Kid Useless’s upward-spiraling photograph appropriately titled “The Radial Symmetry of Trees (2013),” but also to all three of Diana Bauza’s haunting “Las Lomas de Lachay” photographs, whose background air seems faintly polluted, yet meditative and ancient. Likewise, Mark A. M. Tamura’s fantasy game-type graphic titled “The last of its kind—amphibian dragon” and the surreal “Guggenheim Museum” by Matt Held on the facing page, both echo the spirit of Abraham Elms’s “Borges and I,” a short-short send-up of the master labyrinther himself:

I was sitting on the edge of my bed early one morning, weary from a night of disturbing dreams, when I noticed a book of Borges’s poetry sprawled open at my feet. I picked it up and began to read, but when I reached the end of the first line I was unable to go any further. I went back to the beginning of the line and read it once more, enchanted by the arrangement of its words. I read it again and again, wanting each time to go beyond it but ineluctably dragged back to its beginning. I dare not write the line here, for I’m afraid that if I did I would be unable to write anything else.

As in Borges’s own work, and also in the Tamura and Held images, what’s inside the frame and what’s outside it spiral around upon themselves, calling upon the reader/viewer’s powers of deduction to decipher the unexpected paradoxes in encounters with non-ordinary reality.

The poem “A sincere attempt at explanation of the paradoxical feelings of Kid Useless” can’t help but reverberate with such art. But it also recalls, of course, the author’s own photographs. Similarly, the poems about particular artists recall those artists—and more. Although Lyn Lifshin’s poems on Georgia O’Keefe refer to no actual O’Keefe-like artwork in the journal, Lifshin’s lines “bones and moons / bones and flowers / a reddish bone with a yellow sky” certainly resonate with Allyson Block’s multicolored abstract oil “Faces” as well as with Jihan Kikhia’s almost stained-glass apparition, “Syria.” Interestingly, though Ricky Garni’s poem “Feet” evokes Frieda Kahlo by name, it also calls out to a short story in the journal: the narrator in Caroline Bruckner’s short story, “Entirely Without Regret” has the same angst about shoes as Garni’s Kahlo.

As a last note, a wonderful set of “archival” pieces completes this issue. A brief prose excerpt from Thoreau tugs at our literary pride; three gorgeous Aubrey Beardsley artworks remind us whence our love for retro comes; Stradanus’s “Odysseus in the Cave of the Winds” is stunning even in 4x6 black and white; and Winsor McCay’s graphic story “Dream of Rarebit Fiend” and an excerpt from Yeats’s Celtic Twilight bring us into quite different realms of the early twentieth century.

This issue of Minetta Review is subtitled “A Journey.” Possibly the most compelling journey of all is the journey of themes and images echoed between and among the well-chosen individual works presented here. It’s a journey worth taking.

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New Purlieu Review CoverNew Purlieu Review

Issue 4

Summer/Fall 2013


Review by Kirsten McIlvenna

This issue of online journal New Purlieu Review is themed “Family” and indeed asks important questions about family as well as reflects on the importance of one.

I got quickly sucked into “Status Update” just as I do to the social media Alice Benson is making a social commentary of. In this fictional work, a mother gets a Facebook account and cannot keep herself from reading the posts from her son and his latest girlfriend. Her inner dialogue is captured below each update in italics, and it is both amusing and accurate to something I’m pretty sure all Facebook users experience at some point:

September 25 at 8:00 am. Lucinda Cash’s Facebook Wall: “Got laid last night. Fabulous.”
Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse. She really has no idea of what’s appropriate. Short Pause. Of course, I wouldn’t have to read it, would I? But, there’s a part of me that can’t look away. I wish I understood why.

Lisa Battalia’s “The Gift” starts out with a pregnancy pee-stick, but it isn’t the clichéd story that I have come to expect with such an opening. Instead, it’s much more complicated. A woman of forty-eight years will have a healthy pregnancy when she is raising two adopted children due to her inability to carry to full term in the past:

“What if we didn’t keep it?” He asks.
“That would be like slapping God.”
They each look away from the other again, to sip coffee and acknowledge the unspeakable choice: black or white; death or life.

But when she discovers that she is farther along that she had guessed, her choice is made for her. This story asks important questions about what defines a child as your own and about the gift one woman can give to another.

In her nonfiction piece, Alice Lowe tries to discover what “home” really is because her family always rented houses, and she moved often. “For many people home is where they grew up . . . There’s nothing concrete here, no structure, that I can point to and say, ‘That is, or was, my home.’” And while she deduces that home is wherever she is “currently hanging [her] hat,” she admits that the town itself from her childhood does have a bit of nostalgia to it.

The poetry and rest of the prose is equally engaging in this issue of New Purlieu Review. And while I do wish that the drop-down navigation worked better on the site, I am impressed with the content of this still young journal.

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No Tokens CoverNo Tokens

Issue 1

February 2014


Review by Brian McKenna

While No Tokens, a new, female-run literary journal from Brooklyn, was born partially out of a desire to remind people of the aesthetic pleasures of the print journal and help assure greater gender parity in the publishing world, it’s clear from the strength of their debut issue that the editors’ guiding principle of “celebrating work that is felt in the spine” was the primary criterion for selecting the fiction, poetry, and artwork in their inaugural issue. In the issue’s most arresting pieces of fiction and poetry, characters and speakers honestly appraise lives which have gained a momentum they can no longer passively abide or completely understand. In other words, they’re stuck, watching as the gap between how things are and how they were intended to be fills with bad habits, evasive behavior, idealization, and moments of distilled candor.

All of the above are in evidence in David Hollander’s short story “The Forest of the Disappearing Man” in which Matthew, a husband, drug addict, and teacher at a Greenwich Village elementary school is “dumbstruck by his apparent connection to the man who bears his name . . . and above whom he floats zeppelin-like, as if tethered to some carnival of attractions.” Feeling valued only for the ways in which he meets others’ expectations, Matthew periodically retreats into the solitude of his childhood memory of a Vermont forest, a place where he isn’t reminded of his squandered potential and can experience “the ageless nonchalance of the self without language.” Told in vignettes, Hollander’s story deftly sketches Matthew’s slow untethering from the carnival of attractions that is his daily life.

Much like the character of Matthew in Hollander’s story, Celia, the mother in Anne-E. Wood’s first-person short story “Celia, 1978,” finds herself in her early thirties dealing with the oppressive narrowing of prospects that seems to have taken hold of her life. Weary of the total disclosure and daunting momentum of family life, Celia develops a rich interior life, which includes her idealization of a brief, long-ago dalliance with her husband’s vagabond brother. The generosity and specificity with which Wood characterizes each family member allows her to accurately capture the simultaneously complex, redeeming, and claustrophobic nature of family life.

One of the poetic standouts of the issue was undoubtedly Paula Saunders’s poem “Say This” in which a mother of two is given cause to reflect on the disparity between the value placed on familial versus career accomplishment when a friend admits to being unsure how to introduce her in a way that will make her seem interesting. In an insightful introduction to his wife’s work, author George Saunders isolates the essential quality that makes “Say This” so coercive, noting her “wonderful ability to look uninflectedly at a thing or an experience and report back what she actually finds there, cant, dogma, and habit be damned.” Speaking to her young, uncomprehending children near the poem’s end, the mother passionately expresses the importance of her role and radically calls into question what others perceive as worthwhile:

“I never did anything worthwhile
my whole life,” I say.
They stop and look up at me, confused, even the baby.
I turn my back.
They are vague circles of possibility
and I am
their best hope.
Why couldn’t she say

In his poem “Undocumented Joy Rider In the Land of the Flesh,” Jeffrey McDaniel nearly has his poetic license revoked when he co-opts the harrowing plight of illegal immigrants for his own metaphorical purposes. The poet completes only one stanza of his hilariously forced metaphor in which god’s watchful eye shines down like the spotlight of “la migre” before the author’s conscience asserts itself:

Excuse me, señor fuckface,
sorry to interrupt your poem,
but you just can’t grab any subject
and turn it into a metaphor
to describe your spiritual pain.
I don’t care if your wife
and daughter are Hispanic.

Given McDaniel’s Brautigan-esque love of metaphor, it’s likely he’s had many an occasion to consider the imagination’s tendency to run ahead of good taste. Luckily, he’s finally put this consideration into a poem.

A special commendation is in order for the issue’s two portfolios of artwork as well. E. A. Bethea’s outré ink drawings, which look like what might have happened had Diane Arbus been given a Sharpie instead of a camera, provide the journal with a welcome injection of humor, while Xylor Jane’s colorful and conceptual, grid-based panels nicely compliment the introspection of the journal’s headier pieces. Neither too beholden to the surrounding literary content nor too discontinuous from it, the artwork is accessible and thoughtfully selected. E. A. Bethea also contributes artwork in the form of a nifty, detachable postcard filled with her “30 Second Renderings of Famous Hands.”

While No Tokens’s Editor-in-Chief T. Kira Madden has expressed an interest in including more genre-bending work in future issues, the journal’s first issue checks off a lot of boxes, boasting swank production values, a clean, consistent design, and dynamic works of fiction, poetry, and art from an impressive array of contributors. They’ve built a solid foundation, so get in on the ground floor.

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Phoebe CoverPhoebe

Volume 43 Number 1

Spring 2014


Review by Justin Brouckaert

Though I’ve read several issues of Phoebe before, I’m always impressed by how diverse the journal is in terms of genre, aesthetic, and style. This issue features poetry, fiction, nonfiction, comics, and art—a wide range of content that makes for an entertaining mix of reading and viewing material.

My favorite from the prose was Mike Ingram’s “How To Live Alone,” a nonfiction piece that chronicles the loneliness of a single male narrator. It is a strong emotional piece about coping with the past; the narrator tries to convince himself what is good, what is healthy, what he wants and needs, but it’s not always so easy. Written in second person, the piece does indeed often feel, as the title suggests, like a set of instructions:

Take up smoking. Quit smoking. Take up running. Quit running. Take up smoking again. Try meditation. Try yoga. Try a vegetarian diet. Wear only natural fibers. Become a new person. Become a hundred new people. Become a guinea pig. It’s important to have projects.

Ingram’s essay showcases everything I love most about creative prose: it’s an earnest and honest, straightforward and emotionally resonant. There is no redemption for the narrator, not really, and that lack of resolution only makes the piece stronger.

The poem I loved most in this issue of Phoebe shared similar qualities. Jeff Tigchelaar’s poem, taken from Day Notes: Lawrence, Kansas, chronicles a narrator’s everyday actions, which are often revealing of the unsettled, restless, or cranky mindset of the poem’s speaker:

Ran out into a field and punched a hay bale
Was out for a jog and saw it sitting there and thought
If I go punch that hay bale, at least
I’ll be able to say I punched a hay bale

The speaker ends up interrogating why he or she is unhappy in his or her current surroundings, and the questions he or she asks are indeed powerful ones.

This issue is a very poetry-heavy issue, including not only its usual mix of poems, but also a special annual poetry feature. This year the theme was “frames”; Poetry Editor Darby K. Price defines a “frame” literally as a “rigid structure that surrounds or encloses something” as well as the more abstract definition of something “multidimensional and amorphous . . . systems that allow us to view and understand an ever-complex and often contradictory world.”

Though the poetry here all does interesting work with the concepts of frames, I was drawn immediately to the poems of Elisa Gabbert, whose titles are, literally, framed by brackets, drawing their names from the poems’ first lines. In “[A Walk Helps A Little, A Pause],” Gabbert works in short declarative statements that are seductive in their simplicity and honesty:

A dog rubs its heavy black body
against my thigh,
thrusts its head between my legs.
I hate this automatic shame.
I hate when dogs look like people.

Even if I can’t predict what sort of work I’ll find in Phoebe, it’s one I know I can trust to be quality every time I pick up an issue. This one is highly recommended.

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The Pinch CoverThe Pinch

Volume 34 Number 1

Spring 2014


Review by Kirsten McIlvenna

The Pinch is so expressive and excellent that I’m confident any instance that I pick up this issue I will open it and begin reading something great. Publishing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, visual art, and the winners of the 2013 Pinch Literary Awards, this issue is just brimming with work you need to read and art that deserves your attention.

Jill Talbot’s “Stalled” was among the first few pieces I read, and I wasn’t disappointed. It is broken into small chunks starting,

I like to live on corners, to position myself at the intersection of directions and indecisions. I understand repetition, ritual, the pause before going on, passing through. I even understand turning around and going back, again. Like the way I’ve already written about that house in Utah, but I’ve left something out and need to go back to it again, where I will find myself answering a phone call.

And go back she does. She uses every tactic that she points out in this beginning, and we are rewarded with the details and flushness of the story, which ends, of course, with a phone call.

What starts Mikko Harvey’s “Into the Ordinary” makes it seem as if it will be an ordinary narrative poem—“On his way to church the boy / sees the church reflected / in the lake beside it . . .”—but it is full of so much weight that I urge you to read on. Sick of the current church, the boy seeks out a new one, at the bottom of a lake. His father warns him, but “This is the church for me, / he thinks.” The end is the perfect example of show not tell, so I’ll let his words do the talking:

                  They are drowning.
Floating in their pews, they are
praying for air. The boy screams
“Get out of here! You can breathe
outside!” He tries to drag
their bodies but they won’t go.
There are hundreds of them,
fathers and sons, mothers and an
organ player. Bubbles are coming
from the pastor’s mouth. It is
sort of beautiful, the boy thinks
and, ignoring his own advice, dies
alongside them.

K. Vish’s “Birthday Boy” is one long sentence without any punctuation, winding and showing the rapidity in which life can go, a point in which form greatly aids in telling his story. About parenting, it starts with “you” as a child and ends on just the next page with your grandson approaching you. You ran away when you realized your parents weren’t perfect. But as you ride the train to avoid life, life keeps moving without you:

. . . Ananth they’re a bunch of wild monkeys I need your help I need you to come back so you say you will and consider getting down at the next stop but you don’t recognize the name of the station . . . so you stay on the train and hope it slows down but secretly you hope it goes faster because you can feel something catching up with it and you lie down in your berth and close your eyes because you feel so damn tired and your bones are in a constant State of Ache and there is a tapping on your shoulder and you open your eyes and it is your grandson . . . and he says dammit Thatha I couldn’t stand it anymore I had to run away and he pulls out his phone to show you pictures of the family he ran away from . . .

This story is quite the ride, for both “you” and the reader.

Melissa Ferone’s “Touch” weaves together short vignettes or asides that together create a beautiful piece of creative nonfiction. Each section eludes to a different idea of touch, and the sections that are most effective are the ones where she remembers from her childhood as it shows the innocent and naïve view:

When I was a child, I told my sister I knew how to pin a butterfly, though I had only seen it done by my first grade teacher. Thus began the explicit nature of cause and effect, the monarch bathed in the purple reach of our mother’s lavender. I pinched both wings between forefinger and thumb: Watch, I said, Watch closely. Alive, I pinned it to the wall with thumbtacks and safety pins; the thin velvet wings shred to pieces, the abdomen drained and writhing.
When you’re older you understand nothing really belongs to you. Even our bodies are borrowed. The bodies of other living things are also borrowed, and fragile.

These pieces are webbed with only small instances where she talks about how she was raped. It keeps the story and the reader at an elegant distance from the rape but uses outside illustrations to show the effect and reflection of it. It’s definitely the best story I’ve read of its subject matter.

And of course there is plenty, plenty more to digest in this issue because as you may have noticed, I didn’t even touch yet on the poetry or the award winners. But I guarantee that if you get the issue, you’re in for a treat to finish them for yourself.

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rawboned Logorawboned

Issue 3

June 2014


Review by Kirsten McIlvenna

Relatively new, online magazine rawboned attempts to get “the marrow of the story” and only posts pieces that are 750 words or less. Twice a year, they plan to publish print issues, showcasing their favorite pieces, and I have a couple of my own votes from this June issue, their third so far.

Anna Lea Jancewicz’s “The Pupil of an Eye” is the piece that stuck with me the most. Labeled as “hybrid,” it is certainly different than a straight-shoot fiction piece, though I admit I’m struggling with how it is defining itself. Nevertheless, it’s my favorite in the issue, and it starts quite clearly, “Think about your own eye.” The lists of items that could go into your pupil (“a hatpin with a pearl bead, a stray earring lost in the bedsheets”) are unsettling but are paired with images more fantastic—“a new galaxy could come out, like millions of horses ridden into a lather, starry white froth heaving with breath.” And the insight is not hard to miss:

The pupil, the core, the dark zero. The mouth and womb of all belief.
Guard it, guard it, our sages say. We plead. This most precious door. The hatch. They way in, the way out.

William Bradley’s “Best Thing” also has my vote as he honestly displays both the best thing and the worst thing (“not fearing death”) about having cancer, as well as parts that are perceived as the worst, but are really not as bad (“Nausea and vomiting is part of the experience of being young.”) It’s not asking for sympathy, and it’s not overly sentimental, and it doesn’t focus on some of the main points other cancer narratives do—all reasons I felt particularly moved by this piece.

My favorite fiction is Julia Long’s “Tai Chi” in which “you” are in a class where everyone can do the advanced and fantastical moves but you—“you’re supposed to do a triple backflip . . . you’re supposed to levitate.” But then “I” decide to try it, and am brilliant at it, the best in all the land.

News anchors start coming to the house regularly. I am on TV a lot, demonstrating my amazing abilities. I can stretch my neck ten feet high. I can make my hair grow on command. I can fly for any amount of time. . . .
As the world’s number one tai chi practitioner I have a lot of wonderful experiences. I get to travel the world for a performance/speaking tour. I become disgustingly rich. My husband and I retire to Jamaica. I die happy. In my death bed I did not have an intrusive image of you.

I was less impressed with the poetry in this issue, but that could just be because it isn’t my particular taste or style. The rest of it was still well worth it to me, and I’d encourage you to give this fresh, new journal a chance.

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Red Booth Review CoverRed Booth Review

Volume 10 Number 3

Spring 2014


Review by Kirsten McIlvenna

This issue of Red Booth Review starts with two poems by Timothy Dyson, both synopsizing “B-Movies,” with their predictability, such as the end when “Darnell, wearing only a raincoat, / walks into the mist, smiling, alone / There is one small burst of laughter.” This of course gives the poem a sense of predictability, but the poems are more about observation than telling the story.

James B. Nicola’s “E-Mail with Variables” is endearing, playing on the “xoxo” that may end a note to a long-distance lover:

But if you save
the X and print
it out—enlarge it first—
you can, if you wish,
place it on your lips,
cheek, forehead, anywhere.

Kelly Nelson’s “The man I nearly married calls years later unexpectedly” is as quick and swift as the call itself, ending “He said, okay, good night / I’m so glad I called.” Katy Davidson’s “Smog,” too, is short, with a quick glimpse in the morning, “Sun or left-over moon, for a moment we could not tell.”

Tina Egnoski’s “Busking, Providence” is probably my favorite of the bunch, bursting with sounds that would do well as spoken-word poetry. The street jazz player is frustrated with advice as a tip that “doesn’t pay rent” and says, “Take and shove your John 3:16, your Do Unto Others, / your Dongbang 15 mm needles. Your pressure / points, charkas, tourmaline, calendula, kripalu, Stairmaster . . .” It meshes into a list first with commas and then mashed together creating both a swifter sound and an intonation that you can take all of those things together and just “shove” it. It ends on a clever note: “Two-fifteen / and I gross seventy-five and a Chinese puzzle. / Cosmic joke, it reads: chicken or egg?”

I should point out that I have a few qualms about this journal which include a small difficulty in navigating within the issue and to the TOC and the lack of dates on issues. And while I wasn’t caught up in every poem, some which felt unpolished and in need of some more vivid descriptions, there are a few gems that make it worth exploring.

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Sierra Nevada Review CoverSierra Nevada Review

Volume 25

May 2014


Review By: Melanie Tague

The epigraph at the beginning of this issue of The Sierra Nevada Review comes from Aimé Césaire: “What presides over the poem is not the most lucid intelligence, or the most acute sensibility, but an entire experience: all the women loved, all the desires experienced, all the dreams dreamed, all the images received or grasped, the whole weight of the body, the whole weight of the mind.” This epigraph couldn’t fit more perfectly as each piece within this issue asks the question “What happens when a body (or person) enters a foreign place, what is the experience?”

The journal opens with fiction by Elliot Sanders, “The Coin of Asgard.” This story follows a soldier named Caleb as he serves in the Middle East. Caleb’s sole assignment is to be “a ghost” or escort and follow a man named Akil as he does his daily labor and ensure both Akil’s safety and the safety of others. Caleb is constantly thinking about the strange place he is in and how neither he nor Akil “belong” where they are. Sanders guides readers in a manner that allows them to experience what living in a foreign land was like for Caleb. The story seamlessly switches between what Caleb is doing—“Caleb follows him down the road, which, like everything here, is dust-choked and saturated with sunlight”—and what Caleb is thinking. When put against the dessert backdrop, many of Caleb’s thoughts become almost mirage-like, “At times like these Caleb wonders if the whole base—the roads, the sagging tents, the aircraft parked like hat-stricken bison on the tarmac—will spontaneously begin to melt.” For Caleb experiencing the foreign is almost an out-of-body experience, it jars his mind, and forever changes his worldview.

Lucy Wong continues the theme of inquiry of a foreign place in her nonfiction piece “My Other Uncle.” The story follows Wong and her brother Evan on a trip from the U.S. to China to visit their grandmother and extended family. Wong’s piece answers the question of “what happens when we encounter foreign things?” by stating we try to make sense of them. Throughout the story both siblings encounter that which is foreign. For example, Evan explains his grandmother’s milky eye (likely a result of cataracts) as such: “He stabbed Grandma in the eye with a fork.” As the story progresses we learn of an Uncle that has been institutionalized for over 20 years. Using the institutionalization of her uncle, Wong offers up amazing insight on how things become foreign, what the experience of foreign is from every angle, and spells out what foreign means: alien, alone. Wong recants a conversation she had with someone saying, “After grandma’s death, I heard, from where or who I do not remember, he was told but did not seem to understand. He forgot his own mother.”

Perhaps one of the most impressive poems that everyone should read in this issue is Dalia Ahmed’s “How to Mix Native Blood With Foreign Waters: A Lab,” which deservedly won first place in The Sierra Nevada Review’s High School Writing Contest. This poem not only eloquently plays with form, but it directly addresses the theme that this issue has taken on. This poem is set up as an experiment to test a hypothesis; it begins with a problem statement: "Why do the sands memorize every grain I have wept on?"

Throughout every line of this poem the reader is forced to recognize the difficulty of mixing native with foreign. Under “Materials” reads:

2. Women
       ·    standing barefoot in the kitchen
3. Gold
       ·    dangling off wrists

The materials that are listed are things that are native to the narrator, but when placed against the backdrop of a “foreign” western society it seems there is no room for reconciliation, especially in the form Ahmed has chosen to write in. After laying out the procedures of her test the poem ends with a conclusion: “I am a walking bridge between two east coasts.”

There are so many reasons to pick up a copy of this journal. Not only has it been flawlessly put together, but this issue of The Sierra Nevada Review features great work from all the winners of the High School Writing Contest, and it is amazing to see what the younger generation of writers is able to produce. Seriously, get a copy, let the work and the theme inspire you!

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Subtropics CoverSubtropics

Issue 17

Winter/Spring 2014


Review by Justin Brouckaert

I was surprised when I realized that Subtropics was barely more than five years old. Of course the issue number is right there, announcing itself on the front cover, but I don’t think it’s entirely my fault for forgetting: published out of the University of Florida, Subtropics has the look, feel, and quality of a journal that’s been around for much longer. And if my word isn’t enough, you can check the records: last year alone, the journal had fiction chosen to appear in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014 and Best American Short Stories 2014.

And it was indeed the fiction that I was first drawn to in this issue. Subtropics gets off to a great start with John Moran’s “Millennium,” a story with a first line that tells you all you need to know about the voice and movement of the piece: “When an apparition of the Virgin Mary appeared on the roof of our portable, carrying a hacksaw, a boom box, and a 12-pack of Bud, I was making hot-glue drip castles all across my Woman Astronaut Poster.” It’s a story ripe with religion, though not in the way that adds up to one clear discernible symbol or message—unless, of course, you want to put your critical skills to use analyzing how The Virgin Mary dances to “Tootsie Roll.” Moran’s story is hilarious, even though there are times, like when The Virgin Mary tells the kids, “No one but God wants to fuck me,” that it seems just plain wrong—or perhaps it’s the surprising direction of the heavenly apparition’s visit that creates the humor. Regardless, “Millennium” is a fun and smart story about innocence and indecency.

Another of my fiction favorites couldn’t be any more different from Moran’s piece. Subtropics has at least a fairly noticeable focus on translation, both in poetry and in prose, and Ervin Lázár’s “Schimpf, the Smoke,” translated from Hungarian by Andrea Nemeth-Newhauser, is, for me, the best of the lot. In this short, haunting piece, the “piano untuner” comes to a man’s house and untunes his piano. Though this seems like an innocuous act, it spurs Schimpf to dismantle the rest of his life, a clever and baffling plotline that leaves the reader feeling as naked and ridiculous as Schimpf at the end.

In addition to publishing one essay, a smart bit of criticism by Anis Shivani titled “Authorship in Contemporary American Literature,” this issue of Subtropics also includes many fine poems. My favorite was Matt Morton’s “Today’s Forecast,” a poem that embraces a general sense of breakdown and chaos, and not just in the weather. The failings and memories of individuals pale in comparison to the chaos of the fast-changing world, just as one individual’s troubles are so dwarfed by the imposing force of a natural disaster. Morton writes: “Somewhere, and engine sputters / and fails. Like so much else, it’s energy no longer / factors into the scheme of things.”

Subtropics is well designed, with glossy pages and a vibrant color, and the writing is incredible. In my opinion, there’s no reason Subtropics shouldn’t be considered one of the country’s top literary magazines.

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