Mini reviews of current issues of online literary magazines
Reviews by Kirsten McIlvenna
Carve Magazine :: Cigale Literary :: Defunct :: Eclectica Magazine :: elimae :: Hippocampus Magazine :: Memorious :: Mixed Fruit :: pif Magazine :: Sixth Finch :: SmokeLong Quarterly :: SNReview :: Treehouse :: Vine Leaves Literary Journal :: The 2River View
Posted July 30, 2012
Different from traditional stories or poems, these pieces offer up small slices of life that are not necessarily whole stories but vignettes that absolutely invoke emotion, doing so in a small amount of space. I barely put down my pen the whole time I read as I took down notes and wrote down quotes.
Allen Taft’s “We Don’t Need No Trouble” invokes elements of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” as well as “The Three Little Pigs.” In the story, “Little Son Bear begins to wonder why nothing stays warm, why Papa and Mama sleep in different beds.” And, later, “Somewhere B B Wolf’s new track plays ‘I’m gonna huff I’ve had enuff I’m gonna puff you mothas down.”
In Sean L Corbin’s “Gnats,” the house is inhabited with gnats that “float like shadows . . . like a cloud splintered into individual clouds that hover close together because they miss being one cloud; like men at a bar that crowd close to me . . .” The gnats cause the narrator to think about his/her own life and his/her role in it.
“Did you ever notice how virtually impossible it is for anyone to walk past a store or office window without looking at their own reflection?” asks the narrator in Mernick W. Allen’s “The Window.” “It’s as if we’re compelled to make sure we are all still who we think we are and that we look just exactly as spectacular as we did in our own bathroom mirrors that morning.” This story makes me laugh as it points out this small quirk that we all seem to have—this obsession with looking our best at all times.
My favorite poetry is “Broken Cookies” by Hal Sirowtiz, which delivers a heart-breaking message in just a few short lines, and “Phosphorescence and the Girl” by Lauren Payne, which creates line after line of beautiful poetry. It starts,
my heart aches. I fill the bathtub
with tepid water and stand there, naked
pouring salt into it, trying to turn it
into my beloved ocean.
it is never deep enough.
Later, she says that perhaps her obsession with the ocean comes from the way her mother would wade into the ocean while pregnant “. . . letting [her] be weightless / inside weightless.”
Tumble through the rest of the magazine, and you’ll find many more great treasures. Vine Leaves creates a great selection of vignettes with something for everyone to enjoy.
The thing I immediately noticed about SNReview is its online format—clean and crisp. It doesn’t attempt to use a lot of graphics or design, which is actually really working for it: black type, in an easy-to-read font, on top of a white page. Alternately, each piece can be viewed as a PDF with active links to previous issues and the website. Beyond the format, this particular issue’s fiction, nonfiction, and poetry delivers so that the graphics don’t have to.
I’d advise not trying to tackle the entire issue in one setting. The fiction pieces will take a while to read, but they are worth it, making it an issue to continue to come back to. Brian Conlon’s “Our Hero Was Not Crazy” craftily tells the story of a character who wants so badly to date a girl from the bakery that he ends up cutting his hands off.
It stung when he first broke the skin, and the sight of the first drop of blood made him shiver. However, he was determined to get rid of that beastly hair that made him look like a caveman, a Neanderthal, someone not deserving of her love. So he sawed away vehemently, the knife beginning to cut through the bone, slowly but steadily as the blood gushed forth and stained his gray suit crimson.
Justine Casagrande tells a coming of age story titled “The Day Barbara Stanwyck Lost Her Power over Me” in which a girl has had enough of her mother’s overbearing control and decides to finally put her foot down. “I’m leading my own life now,” she says.
In comparison to these longer pieces, Jodi Adamson packs the punch in three short poems. “The Yellow Sunflower” creates a turn of emotion in the reader with only sixteen words. Paula Bonnell also gives us three short poems, my favorite being “60th Anniversary” in which two walkers, “these contraptions / now assist / their kiss.” And I loved Sandra Kolankiewicz’s “If You Had Known Me”:
So, now when you
see me, I wonder if you too have ceased to be
what you weren’t and have become what you
are: stretched between your would-have-been
and is: tugged by gravity in some most
unsuspected places, like surety; slowly
becoming a whole other person trying to
recognize yourself, like the sudden noticing of
wrinkles on your ear lobes. Are you too left
with just a magnifying glass to view the big
picture of your life should you want to do it
with your eyes open? Close them, and what
do you have? Is it like a dream? . . .
This of course only touches on a few glimpses of the great work in this issue, so make sure to set aside a time to come back and give each piece the attention they so willingly deserve.
Only on their second issue, the editors of Treehouse are off to a great start. Called an “online magazine for short, good writing,” this issue of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry does justice to its tagline.
“A Good Meal” by Ravi Mangla paints a scene in which a woman sits down with a random man at a restaurant who stuffs potatoes into his mouth, causing him to choke. Luckily, as she calls out for help, her own husband comes to the rescue not only to aid the man but perhaps also their own marriage. “Domesticity” by Brandi Wells reveals truth about the monotony of a family in routine. And “The Haunted Cave” by Joe Worthen is a tale of a summertime couple who goes to a haunted cave when their car breaks down. Also in fiction is “Napoleon Bonaparte” by Gabriel Blackwell from The Obscura, A Historical Canon in Four Parts, for Voice and Left Hand.
Vaiju Joshi gives us a nonfiction tale called “Clean Slates.” It is written in second person point of view, which forces the reader to become part of the story, reliving childhood when events were much easier to be forgotten and moved on from.
We get a prose poem from Ana Cristina Alvarez titled “Support” that screams excellence from the first line: “In St. Louis, I used to hit Wiffle balls with my dad’s prosthetic leg.” And we also get two poems from Yve Miller: “When I Was a Train Passenger” and “Molting,” which starts,
I sat at the dinner table, high
on cocaine, cracking a lobster,
listening to my father through his thick
scotch globe. I used to hate lobster lessons—
It’s a small issue but one that is well deserving of attention. I’ll definitely be keeping a close eye on the Treehouse, waiting until the next time I can climb up the ladder for an adventure.
Posted July 23, 2012
For this issue, make sure you strap on your rocker boots because it’s all about the rock ‘n’ roll. As their first themed issue, the editors say that this month they have “turned Hippocampus Magazine into a mixtape of creative nonfiction.” In essays and memoirs about rock ‘n’ roll experiences, the contributors write about personal influences of Pink Floyd (“A Piece for Assorted Lunatics” by Anne); concerts of Crosby, Stills, and Nash (“Long Time Gone: September 27, 2010” by Shelia Grace Stuewe); and obsessions with Steve Tyler (“Stone Cold Fox” by Melanie Malinowski). But no matter which rock artist the writer gushes about, one thread seems to bind them all together—the power music has to invoke memory.
Risa Nye’s piece “Driving Home” demonstrates how a long car drive with rocking tunes can conjure memories of childhood and growing up, making her ask herself a series of what-ifs.
First up on the play list: “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.
My hands grip the steering wheel at 10 and 2, my eyes focus on the road, but my mind reels back through the years to seventh grade when holding hands was a big deal.
And in “Rocking My Baby,” Nancy Davis Kho deals with having a child and the ways in which it has pulled her away from her love for music and concerts. She tries to compromise by finding music that her child will enjoy but that won’t drive her crazy: “by the time the 21st century rolled around, there was money to be made by legitimate rockers with a brand new audience, an audience that struggled to roll from stomach to back and could be reliably counted on to issue broccoli farts in inconvenient settings.” Ultimately, she decides that rock ‘n’ roll must remain what it is, separate from her life with her children, something she must enjoy without them.
MT Cozzola, in “Grey Seal,” describes the feeling of the whole issue perfectly with the line, “Last night I met up with an old song. It had been years, but we recognized each other on sight.” Like the songs, these stories will allow readers to recall their own memories and remind them of the soundtracks of their own lives.
Nothing more deliciously speaks for this issue of Mixed Fruit than Anne Barngrover’s poem “The Closest I Mean to I Lust You.” Tantalizingly fresh in language and sound, Barngrover uses food to express the narrator’s lust:
When I say want I mean cloves
of want, slices of want, lickfuls and lickfuls and
wet spot. I want you muskmelon.
I want you pod and pole.
And I was even more excited to see that Barngrover actually has two poems in the issue. “What Lasts” is a beautiful poem that expresses that “that those who hurt us won’t / last but it’s the people who love us / who will.”
There are more great lines scattered throughout this issue such as Michael Lambert’s “John Henry hammered a secret into my ear / & my fingers felt like the sound of murder.” In “Slice,” Olga Rukovets starts, “The questions that hide in our cheeks when we say hello when we kiss each other sideways when we wish we had never met when we say this is growing up this is falling apart . . .” And Ruth Baumann’s “Anatomy of the Dollhouse Inside a Head Built of Matchsticks” starts, “For a place to exist / it must be inhabited by an idea. / We were a place.”
Despite the majority of the issue being poetry, there is some prose; Alison Turner contributes a lovely piece of nonfiction titled “The Bread Knife,” in which she expresses an experience of living in Switzerland when she wished there was “an American there to laugh at [her].” Turner is able to laugh at herself and show us that all of us can be vulnerable.
Megan Alpert opens this issue with a wonderful poem called “Blueprints,” which starts, “Move into a house where love sleeps / next to you, hiding in a mouth all night / long . . .” I was intrigued with each turn of the line, my heart breaking with the last of them:
I saw a great blue heron once and thought of her
somewhere, waiting for a door to step through.
Little kitchen. Brightly colored cloths.
And want to be that doorway.
But my mood was quickly changed from solemn to a more playful mood with Margarita Delcheva’s “Space Sex,” in which the narrator tells us that the NASA romantics discovered that thrusts in zero-gravity are impossible. She gives us killer lines like “A thrust might only work / if you chop off your arm / and throw it behind you.”
Brett Elizabeth Jenkins offers a series of suggestions of “How to Forget About Winter,” of which my favorite is the last two lines: “Invent something clever to say, then / write it down. Keep doing that.” And Emily Pettit’s poem “Lego Lady You Have Two Heads” had me laughing from the first line: “Is the world library a giant cat?” Chelsea Whitton gives us a series of requests for an evening in nature in “This Time”:
Please Moon. Please
hang there, halved and open. Please be
so bright. Please flicker on the water
like votives. Please open magic flowers.
Please stay. This time. Please stay.
And paired with the expansive mix of poetry is a variety of art—sculptures, paintings, photography, and more. I particularly liked Kyle James Dunn’s “The Sun Never Sets,” Valerie Hegarty’s “Niagara Falls,” and Dan Voinea’s “Fresh Angle.” All of the pieces seem to work together, meld with the poetry, and create an issue that is as diverse as it is fresh.
Posted July 16, 2012
Lisa Williams’s “Becoming Again a Threshold” captures a feeling of being stretched over a decision, over time, over space—a sense I get from the poetry in this issue:
Though it is like nakedness
in an empty room, to linger
without choosing one, to linger
because you have to choose.
that rapid begin.
In Albert Abonado’s piece, “Grandfather as a Boy Beneath the Floor” waits until the Americans and their “mouths / full of serpents” leave. And in “Cyclops,” Tyler Mills reminds us that “The more a thing is investigated, / the more it burns. Light on paper.”
While most of the issue is poetry, the prose is where it really glimmers. Not having given octopi more than a second thought before, Anne Valente’s “Mollusk, Membrane, Human Heart” had the tiny octopus’s tentacles wrapped around my own heart in an instant. It is a heart wrenching story about a man named Walter whose job is to help raise octopi for research. His boss wants to illegally test on these babies to “find the origins of love”:
But they’re not ready yet. Walter dropped his briefcase and stared at the small octopus, their tentacles shuddering. They’re still babies.
All the better. Dr. Carver pulled the needle from the fishbowl. Now we can see how love begins.
While Dr. Carver tries to discover how love begins in an octopus, Walter finds love in the octopi, more love and attachment than he may at first have realized. The language, the story, and the imagery are gracefully done in this piece, instantly enthusing me share it with everyone I knew that appreciates a good read.
Also compelling was “The Plexiglas Lanes” by Michael Cooper in which two boys make a bet over who can sleep with the other’s mother first. This, of course, ruins their friendship but takes them on an adventure they didn’t expect, one involving a Chinese buffet, an old radio tower, and an alligator. That might sound like the set-up for a joke, but this story is worth much more than that, as is the whole issue.
Volume 16 Number 3
This issue of Eclectica is a bursting collection. From the poetry to the prose, I was enthralled, spending hours reading. My favorite piece, “Sasha, That Night” by G. K. Wuori, told the story of a woman named Sasha who has a special ability that she cannot always control: she is a “hydraulic vigilante.” She is able to manipulate liquids, causing them to move, or boil, or freeze.
In truth, not many people ever think about influencing liquids except maybe plumbers and dam builders and certain scientists. Certainly not the average person who just sweats and pees and cries and spits and feels themselves in harmony with all manner of geographic stabilities. Still, from Sasha’s point of view, it was simply a small gift like being double-jointed or able to curl your tongue or wiggle your ears. What had always made it interesting, though, was the way it was tied into her emotions, that pit of quicksand deep inside we’re always falling into, she liked to say, and only occasionally out of. A quicksand, too, we only rarely control.
William Cashman had me laughing throughout “Trouble of Her Own” as he tells the story of a poor, young man who seeks shelter for the night by picking up a woman on the side of the street. The story was filled with witty lines such as “She was obviously yet another of those who are two different people—why America’s bigger than China if you count personas and not just bodies,” and “He was so frustrated, he threw his lucky Indian-head penny into the sewage ditch known as Slag Creek; it had been six years since the penny had done him any good, and he’d begun to think the copper-skinned chief was mocking him. Hey, brother, we lost everything, too.”
“Insecticide” by Bosley Gravel shows how we have to adapt to new life as a man named Tio must deal with having lost his daughter. Ken Poyner also deals with this issue in his poem “Adaptation” about a city where everything turns to glass: “No one could imagine how fragile / Anything might now be.”
More stirring poetry comes from Ruth Ann Baumann in “Rapunzel Searches” (“There was not a single brain in a single head / near her that understood”), Christine Potter in “Watching Tornadoes” (“A sheet of stainless steel landed in your cousin’s / yard. Shit is falling from the sky, he said on the phone, // but then it was over”), and Simon Perchik in “Untitled” (it’s enough when it rains / you can lean down and grasp hand over hand / without caring why or holding back”).
June 6, 2012
As always, SmokeLong Quarterly serves up a heaping plate full of appealing flash fiction; I couldn’t wait to dig in. “Ameilia Fucking Earhart” had me laughing—and easily disturbed—throughout as a young couple discovers an old skeleton wearing an aviator hat. Deciding it must be Amelia Earhart, Elias picks up the skull and has his way with it—both humorously and sexually:
“Can Amelia have a snack?” the skull squeaked. “Amelia loves sweets.
“I held up the cotton candy to Amelia’s teeth. The paper cone had been soaked through, and the cotton was dark pink and crystallized. Elias used his left hand to move Amelia’s bottom mandible, and made it look like she was chewing.
“What a treat!” he said.
I laughed. A little bit of pink sugar was stuck to Amelia’s chin.
“You can bring her home with us if you want,” I said. I didn’t want him to.
“A pet!” he said. A child, I thought.
“The New Doctor” by Abe Gaustad tells of, well, a new doctor, but one who hates blood and will only deal with non-bleeding patients. His brother had dove into an empty pool and died, bleeding down the pool drain.
The new doctor wanted to climb down the ladder into the deep end where his brother lay dying, but the ladder stopped high above the bottom. The ladder was useless without the water and the brother was useless without the blood. He could have walked down the stairs at the shallow end, but he was thinking about what to do. That day was why he was a doctor now.
Other favorites include Mary Hamilton’s “Home Smells Like Mold” (“We keep Walter in a cave because he is ugly. He wasn’t always, but over time his features all started fighting each other . . . so we hid him away to stop scaring the other children”) and Rebecca O’Brien’s “In Their Proper Place” (“Coming from inside the dust compartment was a loud thumping sound that died as the vacuum’s motor slowed to a stop. Opening the compartment, she discovered that the source of the sound was a long, yellow, banana.”). I can’t wait to see what SmokeLong dishes up next.
Posted July 9, 2012
This issue is full of illusions as the characters in the stories break down their misconceptions and face reality—or, instead, continue to live in them. In "The Bathroom window" by Ivan Overmoyer, the narrator imagines a great scene outside the window, only to be disappointed when he/she actually opens it. Ned Randle's "The Amazing Doctor Jones" portrays an old man who hasn't adapted to the new medicine practice but still believes the way he does things is the best. And then Pan Pan Fan literally deals with illusions as the narrator stares at "The Woman in the Mirror":
Her scarf lay along the desk which contained three books and held a large, oval mirror. The days passed and various things would place themselves in front of her mirror: a vase of flowers, her day's left-over work, a laptop, an occasional sweater, and now and then, on mornings when she could afford the minutes, she'd sit in front of her mirror and check the reflection that stared back at her. Sometimes the reflection blinked, sometimes it smiled, sometimes it frowned, but most the time, it looked back at her with a stern resignation of indifference.
"Buzzing" by Katrina Johnston will have you checking your arms for creepy crawlers:
"Right now, about a zillion flies take aim over my camper. And there are hard-bodied beetles, ants and awful worms that crawl straight at me. They're magnetized and hypnotized by the drone of my camper van. I plunge the gas. Flies can't fly as fast as me." The narrator, overwhelmed with OCD and a fear of bugs, drives to her late sister/cousin's old cottage where she decides to live. This character perceives the bugs taking over the cottage. But even though the characters deal with illusions throughout this issue, the stories themselves are not illusions; they are honest, truthful, and reveal real human feelings and behavior.
In writing this review, I struggled to find a thread that sews all of the pieces together, but then I realized that perhaps it doesn't need that. The pieces in this issue stand apart for themselves, in the excellent narration, the witty lines, and the way they portray life's uncertainties. Anthony Moore's "Speak Memory" was easily my favorite; the narration in it had me chuckling to myself. The narrator is in the process of writing as the story develops, commenting on the writing and metaphors he is using—sometimes pointing out the flaws in them and trading them out for new ones. The story itself brings up questions of memory as the couple's baby has nightmares. Their doctor says that the baby doesn't have any memory beyond eating, sleeping, and pooping once it falls asleep. Yet, she still wakes up every night screaming and crying. Paul, the father, takes steps to insure that he won't forget anything.
"My Father, Expert on Racism in America," by dadada, tells a story through a series of email conversations. Christina Gombar's
"Ask And It Is Given" is the story of a girl who always gets what she wants, regardless of what her family or society thinks is best for her. And
"200th St." by Isaac Davis is a complex braid story about a taxi-cab driver. There is also poetry from Carolyn Keogh, Erin Holly Fenton, and Tim West.
elimae's individual stories and poems may be small, but they all have a zing. Leia Penina Wilson asks about loneliness as the character bottles up her own loneliness and muses,
"what do you do with a city that's all a secret she wonders do we even / exist?" Brandi Wells takes us into the surreal in
"A use for her stomach" as the narrator takes the stomach out of a woman, cleans it off, and buries it. Shane Jones, in
"Tape Recorder 1988," expresses the pain a parent can have for a child with a disorder:
"I hear the night-clicks of the recorder from Tommy's bedroom, and imagine this poor boy, my son, trying to capture his always changing name, depending on mood, on a black tape recorder. You should see the way he sits, lost-looking and headache-spiraled with the recorder on his lap, speaking as quickly as he possible can into the machine before the words inside blow apart to new letters, unknown names." More great work comes from Sean Lovelace ("University of W"), J.M. Gamble ("a game show network"), Philippe Shils ("a little poem"), Mark Walters ("Meat Piano"), and many more authors.
Posted July 2, 2012
Volume 13 Issue 2
Carve Magazine’s summer issue invites the reader into three delightful and thoughtful short stories with its cover which features a girl with sea-green hair holding a miniature merry-go-round of horses. The cover, by Alessandra Toninello, “ties [the] stories together in a fitting way,” says the editor’s note. “It’s rare that an issue’s stories and photo come together in such a synchronous way. I can’t help but feel a bit of magic pulled this issue together too.”
Adrienne Celt’s “The Eternal Youth of Everyone Else” brings up questions of what “forever” and “love” really mean as it traces the relationship between the narrator and Bendida, a young girl who seemingly never grows old or is able to die. “[Bendida] sheds hours like water droplets. The days roll off her back unnoticed as we cling to the earth to hear its heartbeat.” Even though she is stuck at the age of nine, Bendida seems to have a great wisdom that the others around her—the ones who are able to grow up, move on, and die—don’t have. One thing she doesn’t seem to understand is lost love:
“It’s so . . . rare.” She struggled for her words. “People should want each other. They’re supposed to want each other. I can’t want anything, and then people just throw it away. They want each other more than they’ve ever wanted anything, and then they just stop, like they die.”
This idea of a child’s innocence and view of the world also appears in Scott Atkinson’s “Carnival.” A man, who has recently lost his own child, feels sympathy for a young girl at the carnival who is clearly poor and whose parents are not with her. She tries to use fake money that she has colored, and, when the narrator asks her if creating her money was hard, she says, “No. Mamma said making money’s hard, but it’s easy for me.”
The issue is rounded out with Subhadra Eberly’s “Hurricane Emily” which focuses on the relationship of two young women who spent a lot of time together when younger and went out all the time and had fun. Now the narrator feels a sense of responsibility as the other one struggles with mental illness. While there are only three stories in this issue, it’s inspiring to see that each of the pieces is such a great read.
A Literary Repository for the Ages
Volume 3 Issue 1
This issue of Defunct, a nonfiction magazine, sparked a piece of my childhood—memories of Saturday mornings when my brother and I would litter the floor with Legos, watch Pokemon on T.V., and munch on bowls of Honey Nut Cherrios. Sonya Huber’s “Legoland” reminisced about the days when Lego characters all had the same face. “The little yellow faces,” she writes, “smiled a sort of inward parenthesis. They felt their feelings but the faces were all the same calm smile: man, woman, killer, child, seven heads stacked in a freakshow parade.” She compares these to the Legos that her son now plays with; each of the characters featuring the latest Indiana Jones or Harry Potter movie. As she says, “This is his Legoland now.”
Alejandro Ramirez also provokes memories in his piece “Pokémon Shuffle” which comments on the intensity that children used to have when it came to collecting the cards. After all, you gotta catch ‘em all. “I Was Young When I Left Home,” takes a different approach as, in a series of nine small sections, John Proctor reflects on his family and his life growing up, revealing a lot in such a short amount of space.
And there is plenty more where that came from as each author sets out to define his or her own meaning of “defunct.” This themed issue, “In With the Old (Haunts), Out With the New,” also features Ryan Van Meter, Lisa O’Neill, Fallon Kendall, Carole Firstman, Matthew C Easterwood, Richard Toon, Ruby Wallis, and Russell Scott Valentino and art from Margaret Kimball.
Volume 16 Number 4
The 2River View’s current issue contains poetry that moves, most of which ends to make me feel unsettled, as if I need to sit there, take a deep breath, and ponder before rereading—because they are definitely worth a second look. S. L. Alderton’s “The Last Gas Station in Iowa” ends, “As she crosses the asphalt / toward the brink of cloud, it seems // that the van could roll a little further, / and fall off the end of the world.” And Peter Street’s “Another Sideline—1957” ends with “he’d throw them in / and I would watch // someone’s pet melt into nothing.” Carrie Causey’s poem about purgatory invokes feelings of being stuck:
Haven’t you tried flying?
Or haunting an ex?
Try taking four steps
in a dark room
and see if the form of skin
does not unfasten.
like flashlight light.
This is the only way
to get to the other side
Kimberly Horne’s “Summer With Father In A Small Town” has a child-like feel to it as it tells a story of a young girl who enjoys imaging that people who see her and her sister driving in the bed of her car think “what a beautiful dog, what happy children” when, with the context of the rest of the poem, we realize she doesn’t really have a happy family. More poetry comes from Deborah Bacharach, Andrew Cox, Dustin Hellberg, Norman Lock, Anthony Opal, Sue Brannan Walker, and Amy Wright. What’s also inviting about this magazine is the audio clips, allowing the reader to hear the poems in the poet’s own voice.