Mini reviews of current issues of online literary magazines
Reviews by Kirsten McIlvenna
Posted March 10, 2014
As the title of the journal suggests, Breakwater Review is the in-between. “We are both the literal space between ocean and shore and the virtual space between reader and writer. And as it turns out, we want to read about other places like us—those liminal spaces in life.” Their tenth and current issue demonstrates this through a number of poems and a couple of prose pieces.
Terry W. Ford touches on perhaps one of the more universal in-between periods—the time between seasons:
Our lightning-shattered willow’s roots
have rotted into food
for next month’s bright new grass—
the glaring color of last year’s
Easter basket cellophane.
In Yvonne Higgins Leach’s “Dealing with Catastrophe,” the family is tottering on that edge of celebration and natural disaster, and Leach’s word choice and scene construction excellently demonstrates the delicateness of the situation:
Pouring cloudy wine into the wells of our glasses,
my father toasts to our communion.
The soft-lit chandelier splashes
stars on the ceiling.
Glass rims clink, fragile as thin ice.
Another form of “in-between” of this issue occurs when John loses his job in Matt Denis’s “Myopathy.” And even though John is laid off and must find a new job to support his family, he isn’t quite pushing toward finding one just yet. Instead, he puts effort into building an in-ground shelter in the backyard, building a safe place that is his own, in case everything else, too, comes crashing down:
he found a bottle of lighter fluid and signed in his name on the top of the charcoal before tossing a match in. With no wind, the flames swelled without issue and he cut the lamp to sit in the dull orange glow, listen to the hollow crackle almost echoing in the plastic bubble silence of the shelter.
Joshua Jones contributes two excellent poems about speaking sign; Dennis Must includes a prose piece titled “Crash”; and William Hodgkinson, a high school student from Massachusetts, provides an interview with Noam Chomsky about student debt and the free market.
Volume 16 Number 1
Now in its sixteenth volume, Cider Press Review has not only established itself as a quality journal that publishes excellent poetry, but a quality journal that publishes excellent poems that complement each other. All of the pieces in this issue fit, they go together, not like peanut butter and jelly (because while delicious, not really similar) but like cinnamon and sugar (both delicately sweet, combined to make an even greater flavor).
The issue is prepped with the first poem, Lynn Pedersen’s “Begin.” It’s the start of a journey, but “How do you map that? What part of a mountain range, / what river corresponds to fantasy?” And while you cannot be sure what you will need, eventually you have to just go, “Otherwise, / there’s no one to tell the story.”
Pair the sweet “she sang on the moon in cowboy boots, / a wig of spiral curls, and a blue ruffled dress . . .” (Emily Green) with “listen to the sound of breath pushed through thirteen feet of dark coiled beneath gold ribs. The prints of the brass are left upon us” (Mark Wagenaar). Or Amy Meckler’s “The Virgin Asks What Sex is Like” (“Like how a hitchhiker takes a ride, half / trusting, half resigned to what might / arise”) with Chelsea Wagenaar’s “According to a recent study, the twenty-four / hours preceding a woman’s orgasm—or lack / thereof—are an emotional foreplay, like shaking / a sexual magic 8-ball.”
Sharon Olson uses structural images to carry the structure of her poem “Caryatids,” starting,
The nut-tree sisterhood, what better name
for a row of crazy women, wearing hats
of entablature, pushing down their skirts
on a breezy porch, or frozen pilaster-flat
against a supporting wall,
But it really isn’t the flow of one subject into another that makes the journal cohesive. The style and expertise with which the pieces are written make the journal feel as if it were these pieces' natural home. I could honestly say I loved every poem here; I would definitely return time and time again to read the work published here.
Dragnet: always a delight to read. This particular issue features an Ouija board, a calculator museum, a fortuneteller, a twin who loses his virginity with the presence of his conjoined brother, and watermelons that are not for sale.
The first piece in the issue is an excerpt from Evan Munday’s Dial “M” for Morna (ECW Press), and I wish there was room and rights to publish more of it. With just a small taste, the reader gets instantly hooked as the narrator navigates a creepy, very old house (“I’m pretty sure I’m bad at judging the age of things, but I’d say everything inside the boarding house was a million years old.”) in the dark with his Ouijia board, ready to figure out how to resurrect “dead kids.” But he comes into some scenarios that are just as odd as his intentions.
George’s character is what makes Catriona Wright’s “The Unofficial Calculation Museum” tick. His care for his sister (who gives him no respect in return) is endearing yet alarming at the same time. And while the slot machine is her machine of choice, his is the calculator. He even has a museum to display them, something he notices not everyone appreciates. I couldn’t help but laugh when reading this line, a perfect summation of his character: “Though George had not managed to save his eyelashes . . . he’d managed to save the majority of his calculators . . .”
I was surprised to find poetry in this issue, but sure enough Bardia Sinaee dishes up several poems to enjoy, and enjoyable they are. “Band-Aid” is one I read several times, especially after the last line, which made me really think about the piece as a whole. I also especially liked “Please Call Control”: “Poetry’s a sugar pill, the moon / is a porthole, stars are gas escaping, / gut-wrenching love is gas escaping.”
Sadly, Dragnet has announced that they are closed to submissions as they are on an indefinite hiatus. It’s sad to see such a quality digital publication cease—but perhaps one day they’ll be back.
Volume 14 Issue 2
Put forth by the Department of English and Foreign Languages at Cameron University, The Oklahoma Review publishes a mixture of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and reviews. Although I found a couple of pieces in this issue to be a little too daring (to the point they weren’t successful), there were several pieces that made it worth the read.
James Brubaker contributes a whimsical piece titled “Three Television Shows About Familial Love.” Both comedy and social commentary, the fiction piece accurately picks out key elements of television shows and turns the elements in on themselves. For example, “A Father’s Love” is the first show in which contestants compete to win the father by being the best son or daughter. As is familiar with contestant shows, each week someone is eliminated. In the case of this show, Brubaker makes it so that the father turns down the contestant by saying, “I’m very disappointed in you.”
Rob Roesnch’s fiction piece takes place at St. Luke’s school where a teacher has been forced to resign on account that she is pregnant and unwed. Some of Vicky Goggins’s colleagues reach out in support, and one even goes as far as making a house call, but in the end, you have to wonder if you should feel sad for Vicky, or perhaps, instead, happy that she is free from the politics and gossip of the school.
Jose Angel Araguz’s “Dandelions” is short and sweet, an image of an innocent child’s view of a man “one day returning to dust.” And Angela Spofford draws heavily upon imagery to drive her two prose poems, “Fish” and “Weld Country.”
At the moment, the website itself is new and still being worked on, so unfortunately there isn’t anything else to read beyond the current issue.
The Ostrich Review, founded in 2012 and having put out five issues so far, offers fiction, poetry, and artwork. This issue holds several pieces worth reading.
If you read Chris Lowe’s “Kudzu” for face-value and you’re just along for the ride, you may not get much out of it. It’s not just about wrestling, football, and pre-teen sexual desire. The reward comes with a close read, piecing together all the subtle references to the character’s mother and lines such as “’Won’t none of the clearing matter unless you take out these crowns.’ . . . that thick knot of root that the tendrils and tributaries of the kudzu stretched back to,” and “I tongued another sunflower seed from its shell, sucked the salt from it, spat the empty shell down to the grass,” and, “Out in Bittle’s field, the kudzu grew back . . . I always wish for a pack of menthols, for a friend’s back against mine.”
The beauty in Neil Aitken’s “Long” comes with the long, rolling lines paired with the words that match in content: “the old lady on the corner in her bed of papers, a cocoon / spun out of every breath she exhales, her face rough with words // and dates, the photographs of stranger—” And I’m reminded again of this as I read P. J. Williams’s “Artifact," in which a similar line exists: “From the pullout sofa I’d watch him swirl the air / about his mouth, a conversation in his throat / no one else would hear—”
There is also poetry by Dexter Booth, Jeff Whitney, Lauro Vazquez, Raena Shirali, and William Fargason; fiction by Paul Handley, and a number of paintings by Karin Johannesson. Based on just this issue, it’s hard to tell exactly what they are looking to publish, and there isn’t much description on their site, so reading all of the issues (only 5 so far) may help get a better feel for the journal. It’s in an easy-to-read format and presents some good work.