Literary Magazine Reviews
Reviewers (see Contributors page): MC - Mark Cunningham DE - Devon Ellington; JG - Jamey Gallagher; JHG - Jeannine Hall Gailey; SR - Sima Rabinowitz; Contributing Editor Denise Hill
Posted Aug 18, 2003
The American Scholar
Volume 72, Number 3
"The real social gulf," writes Tim Morris, in his impressive essay, "Suds," "lies between people who wash their clothes in a laundromat and people who don't have to. I thought it was my Ivy League doctorate; I thought it was my vowels; but what really made me upper-middle-class was my Lady Kenmore washing machine." Portraying the history of his life through washing-room experience, and using that experience as a symbol for all of America, Morris' metaphor stretches humorously beyond what is expected: "Like warefare, laundromat life consists of boredom punctuated by frenzied activity." The summer issue of The American Scholar also features Fredrick Busch's take on writing tours, Charles F. Dunbar's analysis and prescription for the occupation of Iraq, and a memoir by Jonathan Rosen detailing the effects of Kafka on the lives of his father, a professor of German literature, and himself: "My wish to be not like Kafka only made me more like Kafka, because Kafka himself did not wish to be Kafka. He wished, as he wrote in one of his little stories, to be a Red Indian, a free, galloping figure."
Besides articles, the issue also contains a dozen poems. John Tagliabue, in "Confessing and Chanting more or less clearly," writes, "I have eaten, Italian style, Chinese style, Japanese style, Indian style, / thousands I guess of chickens, I imagine them all over the turning world / pecking pecking pecking . . ." [The American Scholar, Phi Beta Kappa Society, 1606 New Hampshire Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009. -EN
Posted Aug 11, 2003
Volume 29, Number 1
"The articles in this volume explore the physical, emotional, economic, ideological, aesthetic, and political dimensions of affiliation and alienation, desire and fear that accompany women's experiences of home in its multiple and competing dimensions." — this from the preface to another valuable issue of Feminist Studies. While a number of the pieces here seem to have little to do with the theme of "home," all are worthwhile nonetheless. It is always particularly satisfying to find both scholarly and more "personal" writing together, alongside original artwork and poetry. This is certainly one of the journal's strengths.
Academic articles here include a fascinating piece on the "bodily labor" of women who sell cosmetics (and images of themselves) in retail stores in Taiwan by Pei-Chia Lan, professor of sociology at the National Taiwan University, and an illuminating article on the experience of urban homeless women during the Great Depression by Elaine Abelson of Eugene Lang College and the New School University in New York. Beautifully reproduced paintings and tapestries of homelessness and life on the streets by artist Elly Simmons follow Abelson's article. Equally compelling is Susan K. Cahn's personal essay about the relationship(s) between coming and being "out" as a lesbian and coming and being "out" as a woman who lives with chronic illness. Kahn's essay is an exceptional and original contribution to the writing about chronic fatigue syndrome. Several fine poems round out the volume, including Rachel Norton's "Cecil Charity House, 1977, Overnight," which, like the best of poems, contains lifetimes in a few spare, but exquisite lines. [Feminist Studies, 0103 Taliaferro, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, firstname.lastname@example.org. http://www.feministstudies.org] - SR
Students in the MFA program at the University of St. Louis-Missouri who edit this journal, with the guidance of a guest editor, made their way through more than 1,000 submissions to select the poems, stories, and essays devoted to the issue's special theme "Genesis." They chose work from established, as well as less familiar writers, and have offered up some predictable, as well as surprising themes and perspectives. A reference to the section of Genesis from which the work is derived follows every piece, and the entries are arranged "according to the Biblical chronology that inspired it." This issue also contains also a substantial selection of "general poetry" and "general fiction" (not related to Genesis material), which also includes work by better and lesser known contributors.
I loved poems by some of the "big names" (Shirley Kaufman, Rodger Kamenetz, and Isaac Goldemberg), but also found much to appreciate here in work by writers I had not encountered before, in particular a long, quite brilliant poem by Gretel Young Hickman "Inland Waters: Thirty-Seven Stories," inspired by the whole of Genesis, the only poem in the volume to be so categorized. In 37 deftly composed segments, the poem recounts a Biblical genesis, an American genesis, and a personal genesis, and asks us to ponder "Who bears the weight of the story? The one who tells it? / Or the one takes it in?" It seems a fitting question for all of the Genesis stories and interpretations presented here.
The Genesis fiction is somewhat less satisfying than the poetry, most of it parody, though Barbara's Yoder clever take on Adam and Eve as film stars ("Red Hot Peppers") is entertaining. The general fiction includes a very memorable story, "American Wives," by Beth Helms, an especially troubling and timely tale of a bored and lonely army wife (who happens, as it turns out, to move to Germany from, of all places, Baghdad). My favorite of the Genesis essays is a short piece by Judy Labensohn about life on Kibbutz Ginosar in the 1980's. Labensohn's prose is fluid and appealing and she recounts her youthful experiences with a sort of charming and youthful exuberance.[Natural Bridge, Department of English, University of Missouri – St. Louis, 8001 Natural Bridge Road, St. Louis, MO, 63121-4499. E-mail: email@example.com. http://www.umsl.edu/~natural/] - SR
Southern Humanities Review
Volume 37, Number 2
Southern Humanities Review, an academic literary journal out of Alabama, combines literary criticism, reviews, poetry, and fiction into a surprisingly robust package. The first piece I encountered was a long, scholarly essay on the appropriation of scientific method into literary criticism and the results of this appropriation, which had about fifty footnotes, so I thought I was in for a night of dry, erudite reading – but the inclusion of darkly comic poems such as Brett Hursey’s “Dr. Doolittle” and Sarah Hannah’s “You are Perseus, but I am not Andromeda” and the accessible tone of the two short stories provided a welcome counterpoint to the denser essay. I particularly liked the end of Hannah’s poem:
“I’m the muse
But not the maiden—yours, but not the prize,
Fresh and chaste and dowried, you think you’re due.
I’m the jagged rock you cling to.”
The reviews were short and informative, covering a wide range of books from a memoir of a French prostitute in the 19th century to a compilation of John Keats to a philosophy book on the problem of evil. [Southern Humanities Review, Department of English, 9030 Haley Center, Auburn University, AL 36849-5203. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Single issue $5.00. - JHG
The Yale Review
Volume 91, Number 3
This hefty issue of The Yale Review offered interesting critical essays (always a strong point with this journal), a couple of short stories and poems, an interview and a smattering of reviews. Particularly engrossing were the essay by Terry Teachout “Ballet’s Big Fish,” considering the role of the ballet choreographer in world of contemporary art, and “On the Death of Portraiture,” by Paula Marantz Cohen, which focused mainly on John Singer Sargent’s career. Susan Kinsolving’s poem “The White Eyelash” with its memorable imagery (“Years ago, an albino doe moved amid/ the mascara forest of November”) and David Lehman’s playful multi-part poem “In Freud’s House” were impressive. I also recommend reading the excellent short story by Joyce Carol Oates about an autistic girl and her twin sister, and Julie Orringer’s taut narrative about an adolescent girl and her relationships with her angry brother and his dead girlfriend. Overall a satisfying read. My only complaint - More poems! More short stories! [The Yale Review, Yale University, PO Box 208243, New Haven, CT 06520-8243. Single issue $9.oo. www.blackwellpublishing.com/journals/yr] – JHG
Volume 32 Number 1
Pheob A Journal of Literature and Art (not to be confused with SUNY-Oneonta’s Phoebe: Journal of Feminist Scholarship) features numerous poems, a scattering of visual art, interviews and short fiction. It is produced and edited by MFA students at George Mason University. Occasionally, you can smell the workshop dust settling on some of the short fiction pieces and poems. But the candy surprise at the center of this issue was the 14-page interview with award-winning poet Carolyn Forché, who teaches at George Mason. This interview was a revelation, a fascinating glimpse into the writing mind and writing processes of one of our country’s finest poets. Another exceptional piece was the prose poem “Should Salome Apologize” by Nancy Kuhl. A few lines from that poem: “Loose from a braid, my hair snags on doornails, low branches. A girl collects these fragments, burns them with my fingernail clippings, my eyelashes…Fire in a shallow bowl.” Definitely a journal to keep watching. [Pheobe, George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax, Virginia 22030-4444. E-mail: email@example.com Single issue $6.00. http://www.gmu.edu/pubs/phoebe/index.htm] – JHG
Room of One’s Own
Volume 31, Number 1
With every issue I read of this Canadian feminist literary journal, which celebrates a 25th anniversary this year, I become more of a fan. This issue’s theme is healing, and included the fascinating, exuberant images of artist Rotten Elf, short stories, poetry and reviews. I found impressive, rugged fiction from Terry Armstrong, “Birdshot,” about a woman accompanying her boyfriend on a hunting trip, and also, from Sarah Roberts, “Buttons and Beers,” about a man forced to seek aid for his pregnant wife from an unexpected source. A sample of the lyric prose from “Buttons and Beers:” “Mona reached for a bottle on the fire and poured my mother a cup of tea…My mother tasted alcohol and mint and a slight smell of roses, the tea washing through her, she said, the way water quiets flame.” Jan Conn’s two poems were beautiful and quietly powerful. It’s nice to read a journal with a real sense of personality behind it, as opposed to the anonymous, cold feel of some literary reviews. [Room of One's Own, P.O. Box 46160, Station D, Vancouver, BC., Canada V6J5G5. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org .Single issue $7.00. www.roommagazine.com] - JHG
American Poetry Review
APR is one of the top literary magazines in this country, and consistently attracts all the big names in the poetry universe; this issue is no exception. I am usually mesmerized by APR’s lively prose, although, occasionally, its poetry is a bit lackluster in comparison. This issue seemed re-enlivened, the poetry finally matching the prose in excellence. It was hard to pick favorites, but Tony Hoagland’s essay “Three Tenors: Gluck, Hass, Pinsky and the Deployment of Talent” on the aesthetics of the three leading contemporary poets, Maxine Kumin’s poem “The Brothers,” and Ethel Rackin’s poem “That Looks Like Martha” were high points. From“The Brothers” by Kumin:
“…I think of Cheng and Eng, whose darkling
birth face to face in 1811 was considered
an evil omen foretelling the end of the world.
King Rama the Second, absolute monarch of
Siam, ordered them put to death (shades
of the Brothers Grimm) but relented when the earth
clung to its orbit.”
I relished every page.
[American Poetry Review, 117 South 17th Street, suite 910, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103. Single issue, $3.95. http://www.aprweb.org/] – JHG
Volume 15, Number 2
A Canadian journal with a focus on the young, fresh, and experimental, Vallum’s mix of poetry, prose, and visual art is audacious and exciting. The most ambitious poem was Norm Sibum’s “King Vitale,” a long poem thick with allusion and repetitition, was nevertheless also a lot of fun:
“—How lethal the attrations of perfection are,
All that nonsense about shaken, not stirred—
And Mrs. Levitt, crossing her legs,
Shushed the crowd in the living room – trained dog, I sang
The most experimental was Rick Taylor’s “robots : view source” which appears to use sprinklings of the computer language XML. The interview with acclaimed Canadian writer Stephanie Bolster and Todd Swift’s essay on “The Place of the Poet in the 21st Century” were both concerned with the lack of recognition given to Canadian poetry. If the vigorous writing in this journal is any indication, it’s only a matter of time before the world catches on. [Vallum, P.O. Box 48003, Montreal, Quebec, H2V 4S8, Canada. E-mail: email@example.com. Single issue $7.00 CA. http://126.96.36.199/vallummag/homepage.html] - JHG
Posted Aug 5, 2003
RE:AL The Journal of Liberal Arts
Volume 28, No. 1
The current hefty issue of RE:AL feels like two separate anthologies married and living under one cover. The poetry section contains 67 poems presenting a variety of themes and styles. The majority of the poems are sure-footed, although there are a few surprises. My favorite pieces are from Don Winter and Ben Wilensky. If you’ve ever felt lust in your heart, Winter’s “The Grill Cook’s Dream” will revive memories with a smile. In contrast, Wilensky’s masterful use of language in “The Terrorist” creates high drama from the confrontation between lightening bugs, and in “Dying” he levels us with the sobering lines, “Dismissed as canon fodder, / common clay, / death lumps us into balls of shit / and blows us away.” Handy verse to e-mail friends with large egos.
The rest of the issue is devoted to 21 prose pieces. “Kidnapped” by Edward Doughtie is an intriguing story of an English boy abducted in 1577 by ruffians rescuing their captive fettered friend. I’m happy Doughtie’s contact address isn’t listed, otherwise I would beg for a follow-up. My other favorites include the unforgettable correspondence between Mick Jagger and a Long Island housewife in Christine Ecklund’s “Your Friend, Arlene,” a new approach to Superman in “Smoke and Mirrors” by William Joblonsky, and a disturbing tale of academic manipulation and deceit in Brian Evenson’s “Men in Trees.” A solid Texas-sized literary magazine at 289 pages. [RE:AL, Stephen F. Austin State University, P.O. Box 13007, SFA Station, Nacogdoches, TX 75962. Single issue $15.00. http://libweb.sfasu.edu/real/default.htm] –GK
On Spec: The Canadian Magazine of the Fantastic
Volume 15, Number 2
I admit when I sat down with this literary magazine, I gritted my teeth, pried back the cover, and prepared myself for an onslaught of hybrid trolls oozing glowing spittle. Instead, I found Ken Rand’s post-apocalyptic piece “Gone Fishin’,” an eerie and engrossing story where fish - part real, part machine - herald an evolutionary step spawned by the nanotechnology of man’s past killing machines. I was “hooked.” The other stories are equally engaging and enjoyable, especially Gary Archambault’s “Tunitis.” We have all experienced a pop tune playing over and over in our consciousness throughout the day, but what if the tune doesn’t go away? What if it dominates your waking hours and sensitizes you to particular commercial products? “The song got right in your blood like HIV, right under your skin like tiny parasites, like morphine, like a spear, Sha-la doo-doo-doo, sha-la dum-dum-dum…” Singing in the shower could be hazardous to your health. Steven Mills’ story, “No Life Like It,” is a disturbing page-turner about soldiers preparing for future combat through realistic and fantastic battle simulations. The thin line between simulation and reality becomes even more frightening when you don’t know who controls the images.
I believe the editors of On Spec deserve kudos for their story selection in this issue. Each piece pushed and pulled boundaries and expectations without straying into the unbelievable. The fantasy pricked rather than bludgeoned. For of those of you who shy away from this genre because you prefer realism, this is a perfect magazine to experience the imagination and creativity which is part of fantasy without going over the rim. A slim read, 7 short stories, 1 poem, 112 pages, and a knock-out cover, “The Evil Fairy Godmother” by Frank Wu, combining an unforgettable fairy and a stogie. [On Spec: The Canadian Magazine of Speculative Writing, P.O. Box 4727, Stn. South, Edmonton, AB, T6E 5G6, Canada. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Single issue $3.00 US. http://www.onspec.ca/] –GK
Descant 120: Fourteen Tales
Volume 34, Number1
Christmas in July. That’s how it felt reading the spring issue of this quarterly Canadian literary journal devoted to showcasing new and established contemporary writers and visual artists. The fourteen tales are gifts to any reader, but especially to those who enjoy a style of writing which injects you into an intense yet brief segment of character life and consciousness versus the slower-paced and more encompassing narrative arc of traditional short stories. In this journal, my list of favorites almost encompasses the entire table of contents. Forced to choose, “Deaf” by Su Croll tops my list; it immediately created a sense of horror in me. A child wakes up deaf the morning after her mother dies. She asks her family in a hushed voice why it’s so quiet, “I needed to whisper because children who spoke too loudly at meals were gagged for the rest of the day.” Croll’s haunting story reveals the young girl’s life within a cult headed by her father and the circumstances of her mother’s death. Other favorites include “Askew” by Trish Awai, whose character gives us a glimpse into the world of compulsive behavior, and Trevor Cole’s “Tree House,” where the joy of building a gift for his son is never realized. The journal’s core showcases Marty Gervais’ photography and poetry. The poems show a spectrum of the poet’s insights and revelations acquired in a hospital. The pieces move from seeing his heart as “the white dust of light” in a radiology procedure to holding the veined hand of his dying father: “Mouth gasping for air / that would never come.” A must-find international journal of 14 tales, including photos and poetry, 167 pages. [Descant, P.O. Box 314, Station P, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2S8, Canada. E-mail: email@example.com. Single issue $8.50 plus shipping. http://www.descant.on.ca/] –GK
The Georgia Review
Volume 57, Number 1
Reading the Georgia Review is like an invitation to high tea: an elegant affair of the highest quality. The spring issue continues the tradition with classic essays, fiction, poetry, art work, and book reviews. The essays are gorgeous with sleek prose that lyrically flows over ideas. My favorite was “Tapping Back” by Patricia Vigderman. “I keep falling asleep over Proust,” she begins, leading you through a thoughtful discussion on the dissolution and rediscovery of self through sleep, reading, and remembrance. When I finished this piece, the text was camouflaged under yellow highlighter and penciled notes.
The poetry in this issue feels like new lime-green leaves in spring - fresh, soft, and appealing to the senses. Stephen Dunn’s poems about love and relationships nudged an involuntary “oh” out of me, the sound which escapes when poetry hits the bulls-eye. Jane Eklund’s playful verse in “La Chambre de van Gogh a Arles” enables the reader to crawl inside a painting with her and visualize ourselves in the picture. In contrast, Daniel Mark Epstein lost a season and his words, facing the consequences of his son’s “accident at birth.”
All three short stories are crisp and buzzing with energy. Alice Fulton’s “If It’s Not Too Much to Ask,” is an engaging story about the grad student from hell who occupies her garage with a multitude of disease-prone pets. In “Raise Children Here,” George Singleton plunks down a young travel writer in the fruitcake capital of the world, a place where “nutty” is an adjective best describing the people rather than the cake. The thoughtful story, “Accomplice,” by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, features a teacher who allows her pupils to imagine themselves as the person they wish to be in their student anecdotes.
Don’t let the books reviews slip away without a glance. Jeff Gundy does a wonderful job reviewing poetry and Greg Johnson writes a fascinating piece on writers’ biographies. Included in these 194 pages of self-indulgence is a color print midsection by Robert Stackhouse and Carol Mickett. [The Georgia Review, The University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602-9009. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Single issue $9.00. http://www.uga.edu/~garev/index.htm] –GK
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