Screen Reading

Mini reviews of current issues of online literary magazines

Reviews by Kirsten McIlvenna

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Cellar Roots :: Cleaver Magazine :: Damazine :: Lingerpost ::SpringGun ::

Posted February 11, 2013

Damazine CoverDamazine

Winter 2012


Damazine, published out of Damascus, Syria, aims to “become the treasure house for quality literature related to the Muslim world.” Editor Serene Taleb-Agha writes that “For those of you who search for truths that can’t be expressed in news reports or feature articles, we pray that Damazine will become one of your regular stops.”

Kenneth Griggs’s “The Boots” is almost a vignette, of a white kid (who throughout the story is just called “the white kid,” no name) in Africa who is sitting in a campervan, waiting in line for the ferry to take them to the city of Dar es Salaam. First, the driver of the campervan returns with a story about a man who hits a giraffe with his car. The driver is asked to assist in moving the giraffe, but claims that “Here, it‘s best not to get involved. It‘s a different kettle of rotten fish altogether.” Then, a black boy comes and steals the white kid’s boots which results in a chase scene, one which causes the white kid to ultimately surrender his boots by throwing them into the water after the black kid. Before walking away, he looks back and wonders about the black kid: “whether the crowd on the other side was waiting to stone him or greet him with congratulation.”

The realities of the story “Rebel” by Nicomedes Austin Suárez (from Bolivia) are heavy; a doctor gets a visit from the leader of the Awani rebel forces who he says reminds him of the grim reaper. Dr. Talal knows that he is in trouble and that his life is in danger, for having treated wounded government officials. But even though, in the end, he and his family are in danger and must flee, the story is a sense of pride as the doctor is willing to treat those in need, regardless of the politics.

“Dust and Water” by Gonzalo Salesky (Argentina) is a shorter poem that speaks of returning to the earth, that we are all dust and water. After all, “The earth is waiting for us.” In the end, “You will succeed to leave the labyrinth.”

There are also poems by Peycho Kanev (Bulgaria), Jenna Kilic (United States), Michael O’Connor (United States), and Kevin W. Roberts (United States) as well as a fiction piece by Joe Urso (United States).

While I won’t pretend to know much about the Muslim world or the literature related to it, I enjoyed the way that there seemed to be deeper meaning amidst the stories, a revealing of truths not normally recognized or thought about.

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SpringGun CoverSpringGun

Volume 4 Number 1

Fall 2012


SpringGun, available through issuu, publishes work that is “unexpected, sudden, immediate, urgent—it’s happening now.” In the words of the editors, SpringGun is “simultaneously insane, comical, violent, practical, ingenious, irresponsible, terrifying, vulnerable, and deadly.”

Laney Arbelaez’s “With Abbey” switches between second person (with the male character, Lee, talking to “you”—his girlfriend, Abbey) and third person. And while we get some characterization from the third person point of view, Abbey’s true character (or at least Lee’s image of her) truly comes through in those sections where Lee talks. We find out the reason behind his night terrors (which we see happen in the third person): “I also know that if I had a dime for every bad dream you gave me, I would be a wealthy man and then if you kept giving them to me and kept giving them to me for the rest of our lives we could actually have the next one because I’d be making a hell of a living.”

I loved Alice Bolin’s first two contributing poems, written in small prose stanzas. They contain lots of striking images and go together (both titled “junk mail”). The second one starts:

I see inside your spelling. Alphabet magnets glob each other to a single peach-gray mass. I’m not sure you ever existed. Your friends can spell your name but they mispronounce it if they say it to themselves.

Paige Taggart intrigues in her excerpt from Still Places to Go, willing the reader to want to read more from that piece. It is broken apart into sections, a paragraph a page, starting with a “{}” to break apart the sections. Here is the first segment:

I have fucked a taboo and rang my head around its white philosophy. For clearly you are meant to critique the solitary pastures of no sky. And in it, what isn’t broken should be. There are ribbons turning quicksand into land. And momentum shifted is change underway. And a charged killing spree is the nuclei for depression. And widows. Widows can see when light breaks. And day takes over and the photo isn’t real.

In addition to the poetry and fiction, there is a separate part of the issue (found on their website and not in issuu) that focuses on “e-lit + digital art.”

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Cellar Roots CoverCellar Roots

Issue 42



While Cellar Roots is only open to submissions for students at Eastern Michigan University (where the publication is published from), if you are looking for something good to read and scouting for up-and-coming writers, it’s definitely worth the read. Filled with art, poetry, and prose, the issue is brimming with words to read and images to view.

“Chicago, August 2012” by Mikayla Beaudrie is a reflection of a train ride home to Michigan from Chicago, sitting alone amongst women and their daughters, whose arms are filled with American Girl Dolls. The sight of it turns her uterus “inside out.” She writes that her “ovaries closed up and super glued themselves shut.” She sits and thanks God that she has remained “fetus-free” thus far. She ponders: what makes an American Girl? And what makes an American Woman? In this piece, she challenges those ideas, determined to form a new image “the American . . . something.”

In Kaitlin Browne’s “Pretty Girls,” six-year-old girls hear the story of Molly, a little girl who has gone missing and has presumably been raped. The little girls are scared, and confused, trying to figure out about rape and what it would be like in Molly’s position.

“What does that mean?” Angie sputtered.
“It means he put her hands on her legs,” Christie explained, moving closer to Angie. “Stuck a knife to her neck and said, ‘do you want me to cut you bitch?’ Then he stuck his pecker in her ears and in her eyes. Poked out her eyes.” Christie began gyrating her hips, thrusting her pelvis against the side of Callie’s waist.
“Gross,” Angie laughed while cringing.

The girls continue to discuss it and act it out, that is until a woman drives up in a “black sedan, with silver wheels that sparkled like diamonds” and sends them scared, running home.

Andrew Lamont’s “Piano Poem” should be read out loud, and while I often find a lot of repetition to be annoying, this piece makes good use of it. Here is a small sampling:

she tore out her piano hair
       & eyebrows
       & fingernails
       & teeth
she sewed piano strings
into her gums
into her piano gums
she tore out her piano breasts
       & uvula
       & lung
she installed piano hammers
in her heart
in her piano heart

There are plenty more good reads and way too many contributors to even try to mention. There is a monkey named Duncan Clementine (Mads Olsen’s “Day in the Park”), a farmer who makes Facebook accounts for his cows (Andrew Lamont’s “Pastoral Poem”), a clean-out of memories (Bobby Woodruff’s “Thursday, Cleaning”), and many more stories, poems, and pieces of visual art.

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Posted February 4, 2013

Cleaver Magazine CoverCleaver Magazine

Issue 1/2

February 2013


Cleaver Magazine starts the hype about their brand new publication with a preview issue, all focused on “flash.” This gives you a hint of the magazine’s style in short bites. But it doesn’t just include flash fiction; there are also micro essays, short poems, and even a section called “tiny art”—where Blake Martin writes about Instagram and self-portraits.

In the micro essay section, Kathryn J. Allwine Bacasmot writes about the simple act of humming and the power of music, Elizabeth Mosier writes of yard sales and letting things go (“When something comes in, something must go. Still, we want our stuff to count.”), and Beth Kephart writes about being overwhelmed in thoughts.

As you read Rebecca Entel’s “Onyx,” you feel as uncomfortable and awkward as the guests do in her story when the host and hostess get in an argument upstairs:

Raised voices hush a room, lower eyes. But the sound of skin hitting skin. But a slap.
The sound, an air-thickening sponge, slogged from one room to the next.  It stilled the action in each. Heads looked away from the TV; hands paused lining the table with silverware; mouths at the door stopped saying hello.

In Lynn Levin’s “The Ask Sandwich,” Josie, a thirty-three-year-old woman who studies pressure sores, pulls off something I’ve always wanted to try—she makes up a fictional life for herself and tells a stranger all the details. “When he asked her what she did for a living, she told him she booked models for fashion ads. With a light heart, she fibbed her way through a conversation about beauty, dieting, and divas.” But Josie’s web of playful fabrications only leave her lonely again.

Anna Strong contributes a prose poem, “Dear Couch.” Written with wonderful imagery, it is almost a love poem to that comfortable place we can always call home. It starts, “I want to zip myself in a pocket and watch baseball,” and ends: “When you’re asleep on my knees and it’s just me and the crushed end of chips and the street below wide awake, I remember my first god was my mother, my second, the light switch.”

Be sure to check out the other handful of writers featured in the flash fiction and short poetry sections. I can certainly see why Cleaver has put forward a preview issue; with a solid design and an already established style with crisp writing, it has me licking my lips in anticipation for the first full issue (due out next month).

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Lingerpost CoverLingerpost

Issue 5

January 2013


Lingerpost offers a fruit salad of poetry (some long, some round, some sweet, and some are fun to utter out loud—like kumquat or papaya) and accepts a wide variety so long as it, as the editors say, is “interesting.” Well, there is certainly a lot of interesting poems in this collection, in several different forms.

Wendy Wisner’s two pieces are reminiscent of her father leaving when she was a child and how she reflects on her sister, who was too young to know what was going on:

                    I loved
how shells sucked
against me, song of the dead
animal in my ear. I fell
for that suction, slurped up
that soulful humming, knocked
and nestled in those
chilly hollows. The baby
was also a shell, stuck
to my mother, clammy
with sleep and hunger.
But she had sailed here
by a different storm, clinging
to the waves of a different sea.

Robert Annis’s “I’ve Never Spied Into this Room Before,” is a short and pensive poem. The speaker is out to throw away trash and peaks into a neighbor's window where a “she” is kneeling beside the bed, praying. And the meaning is found within the last couple of stanzas:

                                 She chews
and gnaws little words
like a teething infant given a carrot,
tiny miniscule words
that only God can lip-read.
And even he is struggling.

Danielle Hanson contributes several poems, two of which are quite playful. The speaker in “The Affect of Rip Van Winkle on His Neighbors” blames Rip for her lost sleep: “Over the years I visited Rip several times—glaring at him for hours, putting bugs into his snoring mouth, kicking and prodding him, anything to wake him so that I could grab my sleep and run.” And in her next poem, “The bat discovered in England 10 years after her species was declared extinct talks to the press.” It starts, “Today I am a sparrow. Tomorrow I may be a squirrel. The day after possibly a dog.”

Also in this issue are poems by Mark Decarteret, Kevin McLellan, Mercedes Lawry, Howie Good, Chris Crittenden, and Aimee Herman. There is certainly a lot of poetry and poets to choose from, so go ahead, eat up.

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Issue 31


This issue of Terrain features the winners and finalists for the magazine’s third annual contest—in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Themed “ruin + renewal,” the issue is filled with stories of survival and growth amongst the destroyed, the decayed, and the dirty.

Courtney Amber Kilian’s “Color Has History,” the contest winner in fiction, paints—in both black and green—the story of a young couple who tries to piece life back together after a fire storm burns their land to ashes. Beyond the delicate and melodic language, “Color Has History” shows the beauty in the rubble:

I dig my hands further into the charred soil where our garden had been. A light turns on behind me, its angled beam shining on a single blade of grass that was somehow missed. I’d read that some plant species thrive on growing through burnt soil.

A fiction finalist, Hope Coulter writes a heart-breaking story in which a middle-aged couple—who is having trouble conceiving a child—go on vacation to Florida where they confront both a hurricane and their relationship problems, or perhaps not really.

Another finalist, Joan Kane Nichols writes a story about the bond between grandmother and granddaughter during an unexpected visit—one in which the granddaughter isn’t necessarily wanted. Having run away from her mother, Jody seeks refuge at Grandma Rose’s beach house—but what she finds is a house without electricity, a bathroom, or running water. Rose, dying from cancer, tries to lead a simple life with tasks to keep her busy. She seeks to finish one last project and is unhappy with the interruption; yet, Jody is able to show her love by the way she needs it in return.

Sonya Huber takes the prize in nonfiction with “Love and Industry: A Midwestern Workbook.” This piece, broken into numbered sections, begs us to find the peace and beauty in the run-down and the rusty. Starting with imagery of buildings and landscapes and then using description of people in the end, “Love and Industry” begs us to “Listen—be aware of your judgment and push against it.”

Genevieve Leet’s two poems win her the poetry contest. Though somewhat abstract, the haunting decay and imagery in them is eerily pleasant. These are the type of poems that you can return to again and again to dig out more meaning from the layers. Her first poem starts:

when I died they found a nest of snakes in my intestines,                       their backs
embossed in pale rosettes:                   a tangled ball rolling in a damp lair
spilling through the arteries.    when the light hit them they’d go wild
            swarming and boiling deeper.      in my palms they found the thick calluses
of self doubt:    the wads of sticky algae gathered in my lungs

There are a lot more pieces in this issue, alongside columns, reviews, art, and an interview. And while I don’t generally think much of images as a background on websites, the purple, lightning-stricken sky that serves as the background here sets the mood as you read. All of these stories and poems speak loudly and allow the reader to be fully immersed and transported into the worlds the authors create.

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