Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted October 14, 2006

The Antioch Review CoverThe Antioch Review

“The End of Time: All Fiction Issue”

Volume 64 Number 3

Summer 2006

Quarterly

If I were to close my eyes and imagine a literary magazine, it would look much like The Antioch Review—no filler, the only artwork a cover to hold the stories together. Of course, the stories inside aren’t as stodgy as one might presume from the appearance. Kris Saknussemm’s “Time of the End” belongs on any shortlist of the best stories of this year. Hephaestus Sitturd invents things that don’t work, but now he must invent a Time Ark so that his family can escape the William Miller-predicted end of the world, based on his evidence, “[…] only the year before a dairy farmer in Gnadenhutten had found a cow pie in the shape of the Virgin Mary. Clearly the world was working up to something decisive.” Saknussemm’s imagination proves bottomless in “Time of the End,” as the long lists of the inventions and interests of Hephaestus’s genius son Lloyd attest, “The child had already constructed a steam-driven monorail that ran from their house to the barn, a crude family telephone exchange, and an accurate clock that needed no winding. A rocking horse that turned into a simple bicycle and a giant slingshot that had propelled a meat-safe over the river.” The rest of the fiction has a hard time reaching the heights Saknussemm attains, but Scott Elliott’s excellent “The Wheelbarrow Man” comes closest. Though the cover states “All Fiction Issue,” there is poetry to be found inside The End of Time, and the poems ascend their own peak. From the last lines of Scott Dalgarno’s “Mea Culpa Mea,” “I know, I know, it’s true— / I should be shot. I’d do it myself, except / who blames the victim anymore?” to Molly Bendall’s “Pass up the Votives” (“Suit up / In your mood, look at the people who / never take trips”). The Antioch Review shows sixty-five years has given them a pretty good idea of how to put something special on paper. [The Antioch Review, P.O. Box 148, Yellow Springs, OH 45387. Single issue $8. review.antioch.edu.] –Jim Scott

 

Epicenter CoverEpicenter

Volume 9

2005

Triannual

With its charming mix of erudition and irreverence, Epicenter is an enjoyable read with a distinctly contemporary feel. This issue opens with Daniel John's "Midden," which at first glance appears to be a standard failed marriage poem, until five lines in, when "a cacodemon ripped / off [his] face." Many of the poems here do that, injecting an element of surprise into subjects that seemed familiar; just as exciting, Epicenter's poets tend to be as knowledgeable of the lofty (Kafka, Thomas Hardy) as of pop culture (Ricky Ricardo, Nirvana). One of my favorites is Eitan Codish's "Nighttime Tea." Japanese ceremony meets American poetry as the speaker carefully prepares tea, wondering how the guest will drink: ". . . Like Dickinson, in short - / dashes - of inspiration, or like Eliot, in / calculated chaos [. . . ]” Though primarily poetry, a few essays and short fiction appear here; a particularly strong story is J. Merrolla's "What the Dope Was," in which a couple of guys tell a stranger what they remember of a mysterious kid named Donnie Jack. No one in the story (nor the reader, for that matter) really learns everything about him. That parallels a bit of enigma in Epicenter itself; with no bio notes, its writers seem more mysterious than they might have otherwise. I think I like that. [Epicenter, P.O. Box 367, Riverside CA 92502. Single issue $7. www.epicentermagazine.org/ ] –Jennifer Gomoll

 

Fourteen Hills CoverFourteen Hills

Volume 12 Number 2

Summer/Fall 2006

Biannual

I often read on the train, and no issue has brought more questions from strangers than this issue of Fourteen Hills. Much of the credit belongs to this issue’s gorgeous and disturbing cover, The Best Intentions by Tiffany Bozic. The stories are often like the painting—imagistic and somewhat scientific, but with something slightly discomfiting about them. Tim Etchells turns Schrödinger’s cat into one of the most fascinating suicides I’ve ever read (yes, the fact that I recognize that does make me uneasy), using pulleys and Quantum Mechanics to be both dead and alive. In Gabriel Haman’s “In Return,” the narrator accompanies their grandmother as she waits for death. Haman’s rhythmic, poetic prose raises the narrative above its well-worn subject matter, “There is the house wren outside the windows after the sun. It is too early for her to nest. We have decided that the small brown bird is a she.” The poetry has a slightly different, more personable aesthetic than the fiction, and the two create an intriguing tension. “Incognito” by Jennifer Merrifield stands out, “fingerprint whorls on wineglass for I’m mute to my name my / tongue having / forgotten its place here with your lovely / big desk and plans outspread.” Fourteen Hills features some of the best art in literary journaldom today, and this issue is particularly strong, especially the paintings of Jacqui Oakley. With all their departments working at such a high level, Fourteen Hills possesses that rare gift to impress both passengers on a train and subscribers familiar with the magazine. [Fourteen Hills, c/o the Creative Writing Department, San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Ave., San Francisco, CA 94132-1722. Single issue $9. www.14hills.net] –Jim Scott

 

Hayden's Ferry Review CoverHayden's Ferry Review

Issue 37

Fall/Winter 2005-2006

Biannual

HFR presents a mix of fresh voices, unusual poetry, fiction, cool photography, and works in translation. I enjoyed almost everything here, but was particularly taken by all the very different stories featuring young protagonists. Robin Kish's "In the Experience of One Girl" presents modern-day mythology in an awkward high school girl whose hair is turning into snakes. "Canticle," by Kevin McIlvoy, takes place in a near-future in which the Patriot Act has degraded America into a totalitarian regime, as a pair of young revolutionaries are on the verge of both exposing a nefarious plot, and having sex for the first time. And then there's Matthew Cricchio's "All in Together," in which a young soldier in the Middle East struggles to overcome thinking too hard about the consequences of firing on his enemies and to "unconsciously do as he was trained." The issue ends with an award-winning essay, "With My Back to the Bulls," in which writer Antonio Garza convinces his reluctant friends to accompany him to a bullfight, an event he has fond memories of as an eight-year-old. The fight is depressing, brutal, and pathetic, leaving him sorry he'd looked back, "impos[ing] the tyranny of a childhood memory on unwilling friends." Haven't we all been there? [Hayden's Ferry Review, Box 875002, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-5002. Single issue $6. www.asu.edu/clas/piper/publications/haydensferryreview/] –Jennifer Gomoll

 

Modern Haiku CoverModern Haiku

Volume 37 Number 1

Winter/Spring 2006

Triannual

Modern Haiku is not only a delight for haiku enthusiasts, but a pleasant surprise to readers looking for more understanding of this deceptively simple poetic form. It not only presents a variety of quality haiku, senryu, and haibun, it provides education and debate about what makes a haiku a haiku. The works here range from traditional to free verse, and often contain that quiet "Aha!" moment in which you understand connections that have not been stated directly, as in this Tom Painting poem: "summer night / a released moth / fingerprinted." This issue's essays include an exploration of the history of haiku in America (complete with Internet activity and the issues of quality and control that raises); an essay on Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjold's poems and photography; and (lest you were hungering for something a bit more traditional) an explanation of Japan's lunar calendar, and the poetic "seasonal words" associated with each month. Not every poet can become a haiku master, but reading this wonderful journal can certainly sharpen both your skills and appreciation of the form. [Modern Haiku, P.O. Box 68, Lincoln IL 62656. Single issue $8. www.modernhaiku.org/]
–Jennifer Gomoll

 

New Genre CoverNew Genre

Volume 1 Number 4

Winter 2006

Annual

That genre fiction is rarely thought of as quality work should come as no surprise to anyone who has tried submitting it to undergraduate writing workshops. The editors of New Genre take their crack at the stigma of the g-label via a pair of essays which posit that there is no shame in writing, reading, and using the very word "genre." A bit of preaching to the converted, yes, but an interesting opening to this issue. "Science fiction" and "horror" are labels that cover a wide range of subject matter, skill, and originality, and these stories certainly reflect that. While I found the horror tales a bit conventional (one downright plodding), the sci-fi stories were both knockouts. Most impressive was Paul A. Gilster's "Three Views from Deir el-Medir," a sophisticated narrative about an engineer who is about to launch the first unmanned probe to a star. He is a man who can't understand why his wife is apparently recovering from a terminal illness; who "[likes] the idea of a tomb with a star map inside it"; who struggles to understand the mysteries of life and death. Bump up the quality of the horror, and I think this magazine has the potential to really stick its thumb in the eye of literary snobbery. [New Genre, PO Box 270092, West Hartford CT 06127. Single issue $8. www.new-genre.com] – Jennifer Gomoll

 

Ninth Letter CoverNinth Letter

Volume 3 Number 1

Spring/Summer 2006

Biannual

No magazine looks better than Ninth Letter. For someone like me, who appreciates but doesn’t understand design, the fact that each segment has its own look and yet the magazine holds a uniform aesthetic is a miracle. This would all be well and good, a coffee tabletop showstopper, but the content proves worthy of the image. In fact, the descriptions in the lead story, Steve Stern’s “Legend of the Lost,” are as memorable as the stark graphics of a lone bungee jumper or a fading Ferris wheel—“the mezuzah nestled like an ingot in the boiling chest hair revealed by his open collar” and “a potato-shaped woman whose Old Country accent remained as thick as sour cream” were two of my favorites, though I could list a dozen without a noticeable dip in quality. The wonder of Robin Hemley’s “The Warehouse of Saints,” accentuated with clever black and white lettering, lies in the daring breadth of the narrative—humor, reliquaries and a veritable history lesson. What other story could plausibly feature this exchange: “‘Look, it’s the toe of St. Ignatius,’ a monk from Fontrevraud shouts to his brother. ‘Put it back,’ the brother says. ‘What are we going to do with the toe of St. Ignatius?’ ‘What can’t be done with the toe of St. Ignatius?’” Nothing makes me happier in reading than pausing for a moment to be amazed at how I could have possibly gotten to point B, and Ninth Letter specializes in these fascinatingly meandering trips. [Ninth Letter, Dept. of English, University of Illinois, 608 S. Wright Street, Urbana, IL 61801. Single issue $12.95. www.ninthletter.com] –Jim Scott

 

Northwest Review CoverNorthwest Review

Volume 44 Number 2

2006

Triannual

It is difficult to neatly sum up a journal as diverse as Northwest Review; it contains a wealth of short stories, poems, and essays, with a range of voices in each category. The fiction, particularly, takes the reader through a variety of cultures, from the traditional but tense Cuban-American family of Jennine Capo Crucet's "Noche Buena" to the subtle power plays in Houston among expatriate Bangladeshi women in Gemini Wahhaj's "Exit." Therese Kuoh-Moukoury's excellent "Colors of Tears" (translated from French) is written in an African folkloric style, but is contemporary in its content and female point of view. Northwest Review's poetry is well crafted but perhaps not knock-your-socks-off exciting; I did, however, enjoy the poems of Nina Lindsay, whose works here are based on lines mistranslated from Chinese poets. I was pleased that besides the usual scholarly essays (e.g. "The Childbirth Poetry of Plath, Sexton, and Loy") this issue contained a political piece. George Gessert's "An Orgy of Power" is a thoughtful, disturbing, and very timely essay about Americans' attitudes towards governmentally sanctioned torture, and the need for true balance of powers in American government. [Northwest Review, 1286 University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403. Single issue $8. www.uoregon.edu/~nwreview/] –Jennifer Gomoll

 

Poet Lore CoverPoet Lore

Volume 101 Numbers 1/2

Spring/Summer 2006

Biannual

I don't say this kind of thing very often, but flip to the back and read the essay first. Merrill Leffler's "Poetry: What I Want of It" is a thoughtful exploration of topics many poets struggle with: why am I reading and writing poetry; aren't all these "I" poems just navel-gazing; and what should poetry, ultimately, do for language? For Leffler, what it comes down to is this: "If the language doesn't continue to startle—and startle is not a euphemism for shock—if the poem doesn't give voice to what the language didn't say before, if it doesn't change you in some way, then it won't become a living entity and is (I'm sorry) a mere commercial." Interesting. Many of Poet Lore’s poems captured quiet moments in well-wrought imagery and metaphor; good job, but not always . . . memorable. I preferred the disturbing sadness of Sara Talpox's "On Fire," in which a classroom full of bored students reading Wiesel fail to grasp the horror of the Holocaust. Or the shift in understanding that happens in reading a poem under each of Jack Foster's "Five Titles For One Haiku." Whatever your own taste in poetry, if quality is a consideration, you'll find something to enjoy in Poet Lore. [Poet Lore, The Writer's Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815. Single issue $9. www.writer.org] – Jennifer Gomoll

 

Third Coast CoverThird Coast

Issue 22

Spring 2006

Biannual

One of the steadiest journals of the past few years, Third Coast offers another set of quality poetry, fiction, drama, and nonfiction. If the consistency of Third Coast has become a bit expected, the work inside is anything but. One of Third Coast’s preoccupations, the natural world, is always viewed through an unfamiliar lens. Matt Miller’s poem “Hierarchy of Paradise” begins with the startling panorama, “Far north the mortar of gutted cotton / mills, up a river’s long dark mane.” Mike Dockins transforms one of literature’s most trusted markers of place and season, the cicada, into something more dangerous, “Here is their sinister crescendo now— / their voices thrumming with chlorophyll, / with a staccato ill will.” Fiction standouts include Jean Hanson’s “The Caribe Club,” fiction award winner Roger Hart’s “Fireflies,” and M. Lynx Qualey’s “Without Fingerprints.” Christine Caya’s “Night Vision” breathes life into what could be a tired horror story—a man and woman receive an old Vermont country house in their grandmother’s will, there may or may not be people living in the basement that they need to care for as well—by contrasting it with clearly described reality, such as the process of getting used to a new home: “You bump into furniture, round corners too quickly clipping elbows and shoulders on doorframes, and the flat screen television looks ridiculous below a rack of deer antlers.” The end result is an affecting, entertaining piece that moves beyond what is printed on the page. The same could be said for much of this issue. [Third Coast, Department of English, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI 49008-5331. Single issue $8. www.wmich.edu/~thirdcst/] –Jim Scott

 

Reviewers - Contributors Notes

NewPages Literary Magazine Stand Archives

Sept 2006
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Cumulative Index of Lit Mags Reviewed