Mini reviews of current issues of online literary magazines
Reviews by Kirsten McIlvenna
Posted August 5, 2013
Ask anyone here at NewPages, or anyone really who knows me, and they’ll tell you I can’t pass up anything cat-related that catches my eye. Anthony Santulli’s “Sorry for Your Loss,” though not necessarily sentimental, came to me only a day after my mother’s cat was put to sleep. Only a paragraph long, this short piece of nonfiction holds symbolism, even as the four of them “crawl up the stairs on all fours.” He writes, “What is it you’re holding on to? Is it the ninefold freedom of springtime shedding and arched backs, of sandpaper tongues and their baths?” Perfectly compact, and wonderfully cat-like.
And although I can’t say the rest of the pieces in this issue of The Citron Review have anything to do with felines, they certainly hold true with “Sorry for Your Loss” in their compactness.
In one story, the character’s dentist is convinced that his mother has written every story ever told (Kait Heacock’s “The Storyteller”). In Sheila Meltzer’s creative nonfiction piece, she starts out by saying,
I still hate bologna. Bologna schlongs hanging from the rafters at Katz’s, pre-sliced plastic supermarket bologna, and worst of all, the spectral pink imitation meat lurking in my brown paper lunch bag, glued with a shmear of Gulden’s between two slices of body-building Wonder Bread. Nauseating, necessary, phony bologna.
Yet as she is a young girl, her dad urges her not to complain to her mother, to keep her mother happy and from going crazy.
I also recommend reading Honor McElroy’s “Ink,” Rob Shapiro’s
“Charlotte,” Caleb Beissert’s poetry translations, and Emma
Burcart’s “Block.” The Citron Review publishes poetry,
fiction, nonfiction, and art, but they are all the perfect
length for an online magazine, allowing you to read, to enjoy,
and to not stare at the light for so long.
Only just under a year of publication, Bodega seems to be in its element. This issue is cohesive; it works together, and not because of a theme or genre. Bodega pieces capture vivid imagery, placing words and phrases next to each other in surprising and delightful ways. Such as “we adopted the ferns / as our pets and spent long hours brushing their hair” (Sarah Burgoyne’s “Autobiography”), and, “When the floral bouquets are passed from a beautiful woman / and the ribbon is cut, one aquarium opens and another is drained.” (Jake Levine’s “Kim Jong Un Looking at Things”). Read both of these poems; they are seriously good.
In the sole fiction piece, “Registration” by Shannon Rogers, the narrator, a counselor at a day camp, is torn because she is too busy actually watching and paying attention to the kids to really register all of the post-it note reminders about them. But in an unfortunate turn of events, the post-it notes should have been read. In the case of Maddie: “No Dad pick-up, Call the police.”
Russ Wood’s poem “This morning looked like a barrel” continues:
of light going over a waterfall
that froze halfway down,
like the boy that got stuck on
top of the ferris wheel & filled
his mouth with clouds.
When he got down birds flew
straight through him.
And while these interesting images stuck with me, the ending hits more to the heart, and instead, that sticks with you harder.
The issue ends with an interview with Francisco Goldman, author of a memoir about his grief when his young Mexican wife died in a tragic bodysurfing incident. The interview discusses how the Mexican culture accepts the book in a different way, and how Goldman wrote the piece not to tell a lesson-learned but to show the raw emotion of what he went through: “What’s been really incredible, so far, is the press in Spain and the press in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, they really write about it as a piece of writing. They’re not obsessed with Is this true? Or is this not true? . . . They write about it as a piece of writing.”
Bodega is on the same publishing schedule as me
(first Monday of the month), so there’ll be a new issue by the
time this review comes out. But go check out Issue 12 (one
year!) while you’re at it, I’m sure it’s just as good as this
Volume 2 Issue 1
This issue of Four Ties Lit Review has a, perhaps unintentional, unifying theme: looking at people and communities in a new light and learning to accept the differences and overcome the boundaries—whether it is the readers who are asked to do this or the characters in the stories themselves.
Kristine McRae, in her nonfiction piece, teaches at a corrections facility in Alaska in order to prepare the “students” for the GED. She struggles to find a way to get through to them, and when she finds something that finally fosters classroom discussion, she has a plan: “Maybe next week we’ll write poems. Maybe that will make all the difference. Maybe it won’t.”
Jenny Root’s poem teaches that “you know it is the dance that heals / even in the undertow” through the use of rhythm throughout the stanzas:
You’re near him in the taverns, the alehouse
jugbands that grok the shimmy-jimmy long-
haired swing and jive, the banjo
and washboard can make you feel . . .
Erin F. Robinson’s fiction piece shows how a person may be too invested in her career and job. Emily, who has always dreamed of being a court reporter, becomes famous for her typing skills and invests in a new Steno machine. And even though she has a loving partner, it’s the machine that provides her with comfort and companionship:
Night after night, she would slip from his arms and spend the last moments of moonlight lying on the floor next to her machine, smoothing it over with her fingertips, pressing on the keys quietly, sometimes falling asleep for a moment to awake and find her cable wrapped around her body and plugged into her machine, the conduit for their exchange of passions and dreams.
Everyone is worried about her, including the boyfriend that walks out on her. Her response, however, is just, “You couldn’t accept me for who I am, and I’m okay with that. Now, can you just leave me alone?”
Though some of the poetry doesn’t seem to fit the mold that
I’ve created for this issue, the pieces feel unifying all the
same. This issue was a chance for Four Ties Lit Review
to excel, making their third issue even better than the last.
This issue is titled “Sustenance and Survival,” and while the editors claim that the most direct connection would be through stories about food, the pieces “expand our definitions of nourishment.” Editor-in-Chief Leigh Thomas writes, “this selection of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry offers up a feast of ways to envision sustaining ourselves that have very little–if anything at all–to do with food (at least as we normally imagine it).”
In the fiction section, Peter Hully’s “After Dancing” struck me as the most compelling. With subtle hints, it motions toward a fear of what comes next, the fear that life will simply rush by. My favorite clue to this lies with the old man who feels he has hit retirement too soon, and his ride on the fast train is getting to him: “It’s the motion; it makes me sick sometimes.” This piece questions if simple “survival” is enough; what comes next?
In “Concealment in the Love Space” Pearl—half-American, half-Taiwanese—teaches in Taiwan where she speaks little of the language and has barely any friends. Dean, the only other teacher there her age, and she have a “love” connection, but it isn’t grounded on much. What relationships in this country does she really have to keep her going, keep her surviving—beyond the physical meaning of the word?
Katrina Greco’s poem “The Meal” starts with a quote from Sylvia Plath’s “Lesbos” (“Viciousness in the kitchen! / The potatoes hiss.”) and continues:
I may be your meal,
sweet and plummy,
catching behind your tongue,
as one by one
I pull teeth
out of my arm,
the part where I
Intriguing, yes? Keep reading. Also read the special contribution poems by Jean-Paul Pecqueur.
While I was not fully impressed with all of the writing in
this issue, what was most important was the stories and messages
that came across, sustaining.
drafthorse focuses on “fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, visual narrative, and other media art where work, occupation, labor—or lack of the same—is in some way intrinsic to a narrative’s potential for epiphany.” This Summer 2013 issue speaks to that, loud and clear.
Shelby Wardlaw writes a piece in the form of a folk tale, “The Waitress and the Cabinetmaker.” After much resistance, the cabinetmaker finally decides to teach the waitress to make cabinets. She ends up pouring herself into the artwork, quite literally—first hair then fingers, toes—until there is nothing left. She works herself so hard and doesn’t find true peace from it, even though each cabinet she made would bring her solace for a short time.
Julia Nunnally Duncan, in 1979, doesn’t have her dream job of teaching yet; instead, she is a shoe salesgirl—for a month. Her nonfiction piece, “Salesgirl,” is an interesting glimpse of a shoe store from the retail perspective: “I didn't have to work in the store long to discover that some men assumed that the saleswomen were available for more than just assisting with shoes. To them, ‘The customer is always right’ meant they had the right to anything they wanted, including the women working in the store.”
Ron A. Austin’s “Snakes, Thieves, and Liars” has an emphasis not on labor but rather on the lack thereof. The narrator recalls when her father would spend away all of the family’s money gambling. She insists on going with him one day, but he tries to talk her out of it:
I can’t tell you what kind of hold that place has over you. I can’t tell you what it is, but I can tell you what it feels like. Smoke and whispers soak up hours, them free drinks make your brain nothing but a wet sponge, your tongue sticks to the roof of your mouth like salt-water-taffy, and you bet and bet until your pockets are bone dry, then you bet some more—and for what? For what, I don’t know, but ain’t that ugly?
The poetry, too, is grounded in labor and work. See Harmony Button’s “Hardware Crush” and “Heartware Store.” The second of these is broken into stanzas, each stanza a different aisle of the store. It combines the hardware store with matters of the heart:
Aisle 3: Forgiveness & Resiliencies
sold separately. The man in the orange apron
reminds me that my system should be calibrated
to handle alternating circuit, otherwise
I'm sure to break down, probably somewhere
inconvenient. Do you have Triple A for heartache?
It’s clever, entertaining, and well thought-out. And the end at first seems gushy, but is actually a heart-breaker.
There’s plenty to digest in this issue, and plenty to think
about. Some words will stick in your mouth, and the stories
resonate, reminding us what hard work entails.