Mini reviews of recent issues of online literary magazines
Reviews by Kirsten McIlvenna
Anti- :: Blood Orange Review :: Dragnet Magazine :: inter|rupture :: Jersey Devil Press :: LITnIMAGE :: The Molotov Cocktail :: Short, Fast, and Deadly :: Shot Glass Journal :: Spittoon :: Stirring :: Straight Forward :: The Summerset Review
Posted June 25, 2012
This issue of Jersey Devil Press magazine, as the editors indicate, is “chock full of stories about people betrayed by self, undermined by their own best efforts, and ultimately destined to fail because of their inherent, incurable flaws.” Inside the issue, each character and story is definitely unique, pulling the reader through the issue to figure out what the next surprise is.
Ally Malinenko’s short story, although simple in its metaphor, is enchanting, reminding me of a bed time story or a tale a father might tell his daughter. In it, a girl is born with a rare disorder, Ectopia Cordis—“a child born with their heart on the outside of the chest. But even then it is always at least flesh and blood. It is always a pulpy red organ.” But hers was not: “On her chest, the child’s small heart expanded and contracted, crinkling, made of paper, like an origami box. It was white and seemed to have the exact consistency of tissue paper.” As she grew up, her father warned her not to let anyone touch it for fear that it might be crushed. This was successful until a boy with his own strange quality—he had no tear ducts and so was forever crying—moved to her town.
“Change-Me Chelsey” by Thomas Kearnes was entertaining and humorous as a woman is haunted by her child’s toy. And “Bonnie and Clyde” by Nicola Belte is equally engaging as it portrays the relationship of a “furry” couple that have met on the internet. All of the fiction in this issue is endearing, even with the characters’ unique failures.
This issue of The Summerset Review marks a ten year anniversary. Although I had not read this magazine before this issue, if this issue is any indication, I can see why they have made it this far. While small and simple, this publication has a lot to offer. The poetry that started the issue, two poems by Ha Kiet Chau, was especially inviting. The words in “Dizzy Distraction,” easily glide over the tongue in a summer haze that is perfect for the June issue:
Tingly summer skin, dizzy June bugs.
Windows rolled down, traversing gravel roads,
A u-turn, we put on straw hats and sunscreen,
Cover up silence with loud radio frequencies,
Folk music prolongs, harmonica blows
A mouthful of airy blues.
She doesn’t hear me when I tell her,
My heart, she’s distracted.
In “Bricks,” P. Ivan Young builds tension as the narrator admires this seemingly knowledgeable other character as, together, they build a wall:
I hand him bricks like offerings over the wall
we build, he uses his thumb to smooth the lines
of cement. Later, he takes me to a pool hall.
flirts with the waitress, poised to break,
cradles the cue in the round of his fingers,
and pistons it forward. The crack is deafening
and I think of the sound brick makes when hit
with a hammer . . .
The fiction, too, is well crafted. In “No Cat, No Father” by Alana Ruprecht, the narrator copes with the absence of a father in her life as she lets a stray cat into her home that she claims is her father. It is humorous throughout as the cat tries to win over her affection and sprays his territory throughout the house. “The Bread Knife” by Nancy Bourne traces one woman’s desire to live vicariously through another woman’s, but this other woman does not appreciate it as the narrator tries to nurture and control her life.
Anti- is, as the editors explain, “contrarian, a devil’s advocate that primarily stands against the confinement of poetry in too-small boxes. Anti- wants to provide a single arena for a wide range of styles and ideas, so these different kinds of poets and poems can either fight it out or learn to coexist.” What I found most interesting with this issue of Anti- is the vast breadth of styles that it packs; each poet seemed to bring something different. With some of the poems, I was just captured by the titles alone: "Dictator, By Which I Mean the Mother Brandishing a Pistol with a Piñata over Her Head" and "When they squeeze us the wind splinters where we used to be, which is also where we are now."
In Gregory Sherl’s “We Can’t Schedule a Seduction,” the narrator makes collect calls to God, offering up a list of excuses for his actions. “Discarded Cosmos,” by Vincent Guerra, examines the details of people and objects that the speaker passes by or notices, a “constellation of things”:
I tallied the wayward objects: a clustered galaxy
of cellophane marooned in grass, a napkin
crumpled to coral, a drinking straw’s shucked cocoon
flattened on the path. Whose lips these things
have touched and where and why? Whose hands
undid them? Where do the clothes on the forest floor
come from? . . .
More great poetry comes from Oliver Bendorf (“Postcard from Lake Mendota”), Benjamin Sutton (excerpts from Notes from the Daydreaming), Maureen McHugh (two untitled poems), and Naoko Fujimoto (My Father’s Ivory Die).
Posted June 18, 2012
This issue of inter|rupture certainly had me lost in the words. With each author’s work, I anticipated something fresh, and I wasn’t disappointed. The imagery in this issue is what has lingered with me, long after I finished reading. I was haunted (in a fantastic and exhilarating way) by the imagery in Peter Jay Shippy’s “Last Requests” in which the narrator doles out a list of strange requests for the body the narrator will leave behind:
use my back for Scrabble and my skull to drive
the nail that held my picture into your wall,
take the beeswax from my ears so I can hear
one damned song, but fill my mouth with nectar
so that honeybees will love me at last
I was equally enthralled by the language of Mary Biddinger in “Risk Management Memo: Here Comes Your Man”:
is filled with steaks, and somebody
has folded an angora sweater
under your childhood scarecrow doll
with half a dozen pages inside torn
from various domestic
or Russian novels . . .
Other great imagery came from Sophie Klahr (“There, there now. / Only
in the kitchen are there roaches. They scatter in the light like water /
breaking as a stone enters.”), Gale Marie Thompson (“Crack a rib, and
birds fly out of a spoon.”), and Jeff Hipsher (“We see slow children
push hot bicycle frames / through thick yards of methane”). This poetry
journal has certainly done what it has set out to do: “startle and
assault the current by providing readers with emerging and established
artists who crave discovery.”
Volume 14 Edition 6
Stirred is exactly how I felt after reading the fiction piece in this issue of Stirring; Lisa Locascio’s “Friend Request” made this issue well worth the read. The story is narrated by the father of a teenage girl whose username on “YourPage” is Susiecide. Throughout the story, the father monitors the young girl’s posts and photos, taking a peak into her personal world that she limits him access to. As I was reading it, I had to constantly remind myself that it was a piece of fiction: the characters and narration her felt so real and authentic that it seemed like it could be nonfiction. Locascio certainly did a great job taking on the voice of the father. She is careful and crafty in making all of these characters seem like real people.
Michael Salcman’s poem “The Shallow End of the Pool” resonates with a strong bond between mother and son:
It's not the first time the child floats out
and extends his fingers, ears half-stopped,
the turret of his head surveying
the shallow end of the pool with goggled eyes
as he listens to his heart beat time
and his mother looks on and worries,
smoothing her belly with golden arms,
in memory carrying him still.
Martin Balgach’s “If I am Not Alone” is also stirring as the narrator
thinks about “the leftover infatuations / of a lover / growing older /
beside the noise / of someone else’s coughs.” Although the issues of
this journal are short, the contents are well worth the read.
LITnIMAGE fuses flash fiction with edgy visual art to make a quirky online mag. My favorite piece from this issue is Justin Lawrence Daughtery’s “The Lobster Queen” which uses the symbol of the last lobster left in the tank at the grocery store to represent a young woman’s view on life. I loved the subtle hints and details, the interactions between the narrator and her sister and father, and the language that is used throughout. I was eager to read on after the first paragraph:
I tell Layla, my nine-year-old sister, to go to the end of the aisle, open a box of condoms (which I tell her are balloons), and put them in her pockets. Her clueless eyes widen. She sticks the rest of her chocolate bar in her mouth and drops the wrapper. I flick her curly, crimson hair. We play this game sometimes. I tell her to steal something and she does it and I pretend it’s okay. This way, if she gets caught, no skin off my dick. If I had one.
There is more worth reading in this issue including a story told
through five phone conversations by Jeremy Britton, a weaving of
narrative and skeptical look at popular television shows by Ella
Fishman, and an excerpt and interview with Harold Jaffe about his most
recent book OD: Docufictions. Of course, check out the images
as well; they blend together well with the fiction to make a
Posted June 11, 2012
Just from the cover, the graphics, and the presentation of the magazine—easy to read online and compatible with phones and tablets—I was impressed with this gem. The first story, Andrew Borkowski’s “Legomaniac,” drew me right in as a great nonfiction piece with a very interesting character, an old woman who is insistent on winning over the love of his daughter. I also really loved Nadia Ragbar’s “The Fair,” in which she denies her attraction to Rusty, a boy who gives her a gift of a small Chief figurine: “I left to buy a Coke, my left hand fiddling with the change in my left jeans pocket, the figurine jammed in the middle of my palm with the plastic headdress making a crown of points in the meat of me. My heart beating around it, in my right jeans pocket.”
And the issue goes on with more fantastic and entertaining pieces as a woman stays with a man just so she can see the puppies his dog will have (Julie McArthur’s “The Promise of Puppies”), two men discuss what it means to have “sex into a mirror” (Dan Christensen’s “Badass”), and a young girl stresses over what it will be like to have sex with her boyfriend named Jesus (Meredith Hambrock’s “Third Base”): “she doesn’t really know how to have sex with Jesus. What he expects. There should be fasting, twelve stations of the foreplay, a last supper for her virginity.” There is even a ten page comical survey for taste testing mousse that shows the ridiculousness of the survey by asking questions not only about mousse but about every facet of the personal life. Because this issue is packed with so much great work, I can’t wait to see what stories the next issue brings.
Volume 2 Issue 2
Spittoon magazine says, “To us, the form is as important as the content, and both form and content should work together to develop the intended effect,” and I think the pieces in this issue certainly hold true to that. When I was reading, I noticed a lot of different forms—something I always find endearing. The issue starts with a dialogue, “Phaedrus 2” by Stephen J. West, and continues through with forms such as Nathaniel Tower’s “Suicide Prevention Survey,” which asks nine questions about a person’s risk for suicide, and a detailed description of “Infant Intermittent Explosive Disorder” by Joseph Celizic. I was most taken with Lisa Luton’s nonfiction piece “Almost Places” in which she includes a collection of small sections portraying her relationship with an unnamed man, a man who seems to dismiss her and not pay attention to her as much as she would like. The writing is casual and conversational as it is directed toward this character, but there are brilliant lines throughout as well such as, “We thought we snuck in the wide open doors of the theatre in the middle of a practice, but sneaking is hard to do when the doors are wide open” and “I dreamt of your name last night, stuck between the empty lines of a poem where no words would fit.” Only at its fourth issue, this magazine is well on its way to something great that will continue to publish solid and interesting work.
Straight Forward is a newer mag that includes both poetry and photography. While I wasn’t impressed with most of the photography—but that’s really a matter of opinion because I know nothing about the art—several of the poems stuck with me. I enjoyed the first poem of the issue, “On Jeans Vs. Skirts” by Meg Eden, for the interesting concept it provided about how women are now expected to wear tight jeans and leggings instead of skirts and about how much more freeing skirts are. I was easily entertained by David M. Harris’s skeptical view of Disney in “The Great Mouse” in which he ends the poem, “Mickey looms, exaggerated, / over my daughter. / She is terrified. / Unsurprised, I try to comfort / us both.” And Changming Yuan ends her poem “Phonism” with two excellent lines: “Are you listening to what you have heard / Or can you hear what you are listening to?” Although there weren’t any in this issue, the magazine also publishes “guest blog entries and academic essays about poetry.”
Volume 7 Issue 1
This Spring 2012 issue of Blood Orange Review is all about collections: collections of stories, of locks and keys, of facts, and even of elephants. What some of these stories also have are stellar first lines. Brently Johnson’s nonfiction piece “The Raisin Invasion” starts out with, “When my sister got kicked out of the house for good, my mother filled her bedroom with raisins.” With a line like that, I couldn’t help but click the “more” button to read on—and I’m glad I did. It is compelling and honest throughout. Stephanie Friedman’s “I Want the Copy that Dreams” starts off with, “Jean felt nettled for no reason she could name, a pricking just beneath her skin.” With just a few short stories, this magazine can be read over a lunch break or after work to unwind—it’s just the right size.
Posted June 4, 2012
Issue 6, January 2012
In sixteen lines or less, these writers serve up a shot of poetry each. Some of them are sweet and some burn on the way down, but all of them prove the ability to convey meaning and emotion in a small amount of space. Just take a look at Burt Kimmelman's piece which accomplishes this with only 23 words or Dan
Sklar's three shots of reflection. I certainly can't get over my sinking gut after reading Neil
Banks's cinquain poem "Lost Words" that offers up a different view of
Titanic in only 14 words. I also enjoyed Juweel Soleana's "Broken
Compass" and appreciate her last line: "You are never loved twice the
same." This issue features new and established writers from the U.S. and international locals. Take as many as you like because these shots likely
won't leave you hung over in the morning when you need to go to work (though, who knows, maybe the poetry is that powerful).
Volume 3 Issue 5
The Molotov Cocktail is interested in, as the submissions page indicates,
"volatile flash fiction, the kind you cook up in a bathtub and handle with rubber
gloves." They also want "your rotten characters," and this issue is filled with those rotten characters. In Rich
Larson's "Patron Saint of Lost Causes" we meet four seemingly unhappy characters and see a connection between a son and an uncle that seems to come from emptiness. L.A.
Craig's "Fake Ocelet" is a brief display of a woman who has lost a son and wanders around town collecting garbage and scaring away the neighbors. And Ian Hilgendorf shows us a horse owner that is less than pleased with his life and what he has to do. These issues of
The Molotov Cocktail are hand grenades; handle with care.
April 2012 [Place Marks]
Browsing Short, Fast, and Deadly is like walking into an old house, one where the floors creak and you expect things to pop out of you. Each time you turn the corner into a new room, you discover something new, some treasure. This
mag, posted every month on the 19th, is doing a lot of great and interesting things. Every piece in it is short and snappy with all of the prose under 420 characters (no, not words) and the poetry under 140 characters. There are several sections, including a themed section (this
issue's is [Place Marks]), a featured writer, prose, poetry, views, and a nifty section called BlackMarket that includes mash-up pieces of
"found" prose. There is a link one the page to rigormort.us that compiles published writing that authors allow others to use to mash up into something new (which they can then submit to the BlackMarket section or use for other projects). The whole issue can be read in one sitting. As Editor Joseph A.W. Quintela says on the site,
"just brew a cup of coffee. Sit back. Enjoy the carnage. You won't have to pay attention for