Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted April 4, 2007

 

Antioch Review coverAntioch Review

Volume 65 Number1

Winter 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Anna Sidak

Antioch Review celebrates its 65th year of publication with this fine issue's eclectic collection of essays, fiction, poetry, book reviews, and et cetera, which includes Editor Robert S. Fogarty's thoughtful editorial, "Nolan Miller (1907 – 2006)," on the last of the journal's founding editors, and John Taylor's "Poetry Today." Thomas Washington's "A Quarterly Reader (and Writer)," laments the absence of editorials in many quarterlies, as do I. If you enjoy sophisticated spy stories, you'll love "Tunis and Time" by Peter LaSalle; Stephen Taylor's "Bloomsbury Nights: Being, Food and Love" will bring you closer, perhaps (to a dictionary); "Odessa" by Rick DeMarinis will remind you of those among us who cannot sort things out. The contents also contain these wonderful evocations: "Reflections, Observations, Memories" by Richard Stern; Jeffrey Meyers’s "Samuel Demands the Muse: Johnson's Stamp on Imaginative Literature,” and just how pervasive a stamp Meyers shows by examining the work of Hawthorne, Austen, Housman, Woolf, Beckett (and everyone who has used a dictionary); these lines worth note from Jacqueline Osherow's 56-verse "Snow in Umbria": "But those tracts and tracts of black diminished trees, / bore all the hallmarks of a fire's path. / Is that where Petrarch got I burn and freeze? / He'd witnessed such a snow or, rather, its aftermath?" And a memorable understatement from Lawrence Rosenwald's "Notes on Pacifism": "Some people believe, wrote William James, that war 'is a sort of sacrament . . . an absolute good . . . human nature at its highest dynamic . . . the essential form of the State, and the only function in which peoples can employ all their powers at once and convergently.' People who hold these beliefs aren't open to pacifism." [Italics mine.] [http://review.antioch.edu/]
 

Arkansas Review coverArkansas Review

Volume 37 Number 3

December 2006

Triannual

Reviewed by donna everhart

Peter McGehee’s “The Ballad of Hank McCaul” is a story whose setting begins in a hotel room, moves out to a pool hall, onto Claredon, a town an hour’s drive away from Little Rock, and then ends back in the hotel room. It begins with a problem that, by the end of the story, the narrator solves. Although it’s not as simple as all that, really, because the underlying conflict is deep and rooted and thick. The narrator, Sammy, having just visited the newly dug grave site of his lover, Hank, sums it up when he glimpses, as he is drinking beer, a sideways view of the Seventh Wheel’s clientele. “The whole world may change,” the story goes, “but the town you come from never will.” I am thankful for the essay “Nobody Smart Stays” by Raymond-Jean Frontain, which helped me to understand more than the story; it helped me understand the life of the author. The subject of Frontain’s essay is more than the subject of one author’s life and writings, though. It is also the subject of stereotypes and love and hate and the push and pull of one’s native land. There are over 200 pages here of stories, poetry, essays, and reviews, although the paper journal’s slim magazine-style design could easily fit into the inside the pocket of a notebook. The writing in Arkansas Review is limited geographically to the seven-state Delta region, but beyond geography, its scope is universal. [http://www.clt.astate.edu/arkreview]
 

Backwards City Review coverBackwards City Review

Volume 3 Number 1

Spring 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Jennifer Gomoll Popolis

A lot of litmags call themselves contemporary, but Backwards City Review is one of the few that truly feels like a product of the 21st century. It's not just the alt comics and offbeat fiction, but the awareness that literature and art can, indeed, be fun. Dorothy Gambrell's Cat and Girl comic, for instance, presents a waitress (girl) and an indecisive customer (cat) trying to decide on an order. (What's “the anthropomorphic platter?” “Beef tongue on a roll.”) The joke comes to a brilliant head when the cat asks what's on the villanelle sandwich and the waitress describes it to him – in villanelle form. Now that's good nerd humor! In poetry, Kathleen Rooney brings back the rondelet with “X-Country Rondelet,” a poem about God's creation of the buttes (if not, indeed, everything else), ending with the lines: “The radio cackles. Who disputes / that you, I, & radios survive / because the butte-maker lives / & makes the buttes?” Just a few highlights of this issue, in brief: Douglas Watson's short story, “Against Specificity,” about the eternal trouble of “You want Thing A but are stuck with Thing B”; Rebecca Hall's “Ise,” the story of a Japanese-American man who finds a moment of compassion for his hard survivor of a mother; and David Bell's “Cancer Planet,” which presents a disease-free future in which people pay to get cancer and treatment, just to see what it feels like. Admittedly, not everything in this litmag is, perhaps, as clever as it thinks it is, but the good stuff far outweighs the mediocre. [http://www.backwardscity.net]
 

Beloit Poetry Journal coverBeloit Poetry Journal

Volume 57 Number 3

Spring 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Jennifer Gomoll Popolis

BPJ publishes some serious poetry, and by that I mean finely-tuned, well-crafted poems that may require two or three or twenty readings to reveal themselves to you. There's nothing “fun” or “hip” here, and I say this not as a value judgment on “fun” or “hip” or even “serious,” but so that readers new to this venerated journal know what to expect. I enjoyed Erin Malone's “The Winter He Is One,” in which a mother shares a quiet winter moment with her child out by the horse stables, feeling, finally, as if she has been broken into motherhood. Mary Molinary's “Watery Shapes” is a short piece about our human fears (“we all see strangers we all see shapes coming over the horizon on thin-legged / horses”) that I liked so much, I think I can get past the rest of her incredibly dry selection. David Camphouse's clear, passionate voice is the brightest spot here; his “Jeremiad for Spring” is a foreboding, impeccable poem about the psychological and environmental aftermath of rural decay in “the corn-belt // in the age of AIDS, of erosion – / whole histories gone in a wash / of acid rain and crystal meth.” My overall enthusiasm for the BPJ is dampened by a messy prose poem or two, but I'm going to recommend it even so; its poems are worth considering carefully as some of the best published today, and you'll get much out of deciding for yourself how well they stack up. [www.bpj.org]
 

Borderlands coverBorderlands

Texas Poetry Review

Number 27

Fall/Winter 2006

Biannual

Reviewed by Jennifer Gomoll Popolis

There's nothing particularly distinctive about Borderlands, but it does contain some fine poems, and there's nothing wrong with that. Many of the poets here take small moments for their subject matter, suggesting larger introspection, as in a poem by Eric James Cruz. Here, an early morning run in a beautiful, pastoral place puts the poet in a meditative state of mind: “It is good to come here, / this happens to be your life, / this cradle of dark things, / this place in need of naming.” Another, completely different trip through nowhere comes from Alexis Quinlan in “On the Wye,” in which a couple gets lost and has a bit of a spat as “[ . . . ] a vast wall of bleak / kept somersaulting at [them]; it was a goddamn / Ted Hughes poem nailed to the scary green tit / of England.” Jennifer Gresham's “Funeral Home” finds the narrator, with a dying man named Harold, fighting a yard full of weeds, both knowing full well that they can only pull out enough to set up lawn furniture for a brief while. At night, she swears she can hear the weeds returning, singing a sorrowful dirge. And there is one poem, “a white kite flying,” by first-timer Charles Thomas that defies an easy explanation (or brief quote), but effectively uses rhythm and repetition to create a sense of mystery, sadness, futility, and beauty all at once. For these and many more solid poems, this is a great journal worth exploring. [www.borderlands.org]
 

College Literature coverCollege Literature

Volume 34 Issue 1

Winter 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Miles Newbold Clark

True to its name, this journal’s stated ambition is to provide college instructors with new ways of organizing their material for classroom presentation. Comprised entirely of literary essays, I was often hard-pressed to find evidence of the CL’s pragmatic impetus, which was often sequestered in the endnotes, or tacked on as an afterthought in the concluding paragraph. Cross-pollinatory or not, the essays in College Literature are recommendable on their own merits; Zora Neale Hurston finds her home in a multiplicity of pedagogies, while Russian formalist Mikhail Bakhtin’s prejudice against the poem (too self-assured to be a truly dialogic, and thus vital, enterprise) is called into question. D.H. Lawrence, LeRoi Jones, Brigit Pegeen Kelly also make appearances.

The journal makes repeated forays into deconstructive or poststructuralist analysis; these are, by and large, well-focused affairs. Best, however, is the concluding critical essay, by Eluned Summers-Brenner, in which the dearth of a decidedly unscholastic topic – love – is offered as an antidote for the flagging interest in literature faced by today’s academics. Really, the decline should come as no surprise; literature is (if Bakhtin has anything to say about it) a composite of words for which both a past, and a future, must exist; literary culture, moreover, is conceptualized as an outgrowth of the nation-state. That the decline of academic literary culture came after the 1970’s – specifically, the “post heroic era” ushered in with the American withdraw from Vietnam – should be no surprise. In an era which has seen the collapse of our conceptualizations of both nation-state and university, we must return to a quasi-lyrical point of reference in order to regain the enthusiasm (unscholastic as the idea seems) necessary for literature’s survival at the critical level.

If you sense something suspiciously economic about this idea, something perhaps less brave than Derridean postmodern analysis (which, while perhaps presenting a world based on the same decentralized economic model that aided the downfall of the university, at least arose as a resistance to some of the devices instrumental in that change – most specifically cybernetics, with its misinformed chivalry and horrible restrictions on the scope of human behavior), you’d be, well, right. Still, if the love generation was the heyday of the academic (and I am not prepared to address the irony that this oh-so-political discipline enjoyed its finest hour during a time in which young men fled their nation’s call to arms and flooded the university), well, perhaps it’s due for a return? After all, postmodernism is an international language that, on principle, no one understands; love is an international language that everybody, including postmodernists, speaks on some level. Without addressing the author’s argument at all, I’m prepared, on my own terms, to accept whatever reason he gives for it.

Call me a hippie, but College Literature was, to my surprise, one of the grooviest things I’ve read recently. [www.wcupa.edu/_ACADEMICS/sch_cas.lit/default.htm]
 

The Gettysburg Review coverThe Gettysburg Review

Volume 20 Issue 1

Spring 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Jim Scott

Perhaps the most instantly recognizable literary magazine being published today, the ever-beautiful The Gettysburg Review enters its twentieth year with this excellent issue. The lead story, an excerpt from Scott Blackwood’s We Agreed To Meet Just Here, welcomes the reader into the vivid world of The Gettysburg Review, and is heralded in by a wonderfully honest (and at times grumpy – who wouldn’t take the attention brought on by the anniversary to scratch a few itches?) essay by founding and current editor Peter Stitt. Blackwood excels in his precise and economical characterization, “If you had lived long on our street, and drunk late at our parties, you would know that before retiring and moving to Texas, Odie Dodd had been a government physician in Georgetown, Guyana. Squawking through the hole in this throat where his larynx had been before the cancer, Odie would have told how Jim Jones had asked him to the People’s Temple to vaccinate the children.” Like Blackwood, Gail R. Henningsmen paints her characters with a deft brush in “Strokes,” juggling all the members of a family in town for a second marriage, including the divorced parents and their significant characters without the reader ever feeling rushed or confused. The poetry also features well-drawn characters (especially in John Pleimann’s “Head On”), even if some are simply a well-defined voice – Bob Hicok’s carries “Root root root for the home team” to his final thought-provoking question, “What could be more American than the stolen base?” The paintings of Michael Allen, which grace both the cover and eight glossy pages inside, are silent landscapes, gorgeous in their patience. All of this for a shockingly low price of six dollars – The Gettysburg Review may be the best value in literature. [www.gettysburgreview.com]
 

Glimmer Train coverGlimmer Train

Issue 62

Spring 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by donna everhart

Dedicated to sisters and to dreams, this issue of Glimmer Train offers its readers, in addition to a dozen stories, an interview with author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Pen/Faulkner Award, Michael Cunningham. “What would you say to new writers working on their first stories or novel?” asks Sarah Anne Johnson. His advice: “Have patience. Don’t panic.” Know what type of a writer you are, he seems to say, and be yourself. Writers published in this issue seem to have already passed this test; they know themselves. They create stories which are good because they are allowed to expand on their own terms. Some of the stories, like “The Shadow Man,” are good at building tension. In the very first line, a construction elevator with four men inside is about to drop from its place alongside a tall building. Author Susan Fox uses third person to tell the story through the eyes the men trapped inside the elevator, the shadow man who is the first to the scene, and Marlene Hendrickson who, not long after arriving for her usual work day inside the 40-story building, heard “a sound so loud, so entire, that she thought for a moment that the sound had come from herself.”

Other stories explore stressful emotions through the immediate environment: the family. “People say, Nothing prepares you,” says the narrator in “Terrible Crying Stories.” The central conflict involves an infant who won’t stop crying, even though the doctor can find nothing wrong with him. Parents, Davis and Rebecca struggle to hold onto reality by telling each other terrible crying stories. Weaving back and forth, from past to present, the story explores Davis’s growth as a father, and the development of the couple’s relationship.

The stories in this issue lean toward definite conflicts and logical endings, endings which, on occasion, leave the reader with a strong image, as in Author Nic Brown’s “Trampoline,” where I met and followed behind the main character Manny, trying to discard of a trampoline, under Amelia’s firm orders, and find their dog, Casper, a dog Manny truly despises.

There is also a unique, personal touch throughout the journal: before each story, a photo of the writer (most often before they could even write) and a bio. Author and journalist Siobhan Dowd’s bio, in “Silenced Voices: Elif Shafak,” alerts readers to the predicament of writers who await trials exploring certain off-limit topics or using sensitive words or bringing up ideas which go against the political or social official version. Shafak was put on trial for “insulting Turkishness,” said Dowd, for having an Armenian character in her last novel use the word “genocide” to describe the events in Turkish Armenia in 1915. All combined, I found in this journal a sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat reading experience. [www.glimmertrain.org]
 

Greatest Uncommon Denominator coverGreatest Uncommon Denominator

Issue 0

Spring 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Anna Sidak

GUD is a splendid collection of the unexpected, surprising, and unsettling whose greatest common denominator may well be all of the above. From the sci-fi and fantasy with which the magazine abounds, "Moments of Brilliance," by Jason Stoddard – "Illumination: I am a biological machine, designed for this specific task" (1984 and then some!), to "Trying to Make Coffee" by William Doreski, whose attempt results in a cloud of chlorine gas (eerily timely on a day in which the headlines relate this substance as the latest hazard in Iraq), to "The Infinite Monkey Protocol" by Lavie Tidhar, and this wisdom: '"The first law of computer security,' he said, 'is don't buy a computer. [. . .] The second law of computer security' he said, 'is if you ever buy a computer, don't turn it on.'"

"Songs of the Dead," by Sarah Singleton and Chris Butler, is a surprisingly successful evocation of William Blake's childhood. John Mantooth's excellent, but appalling, "Chicken" is too lifelike for comfort. Robert Peake's "Poetry Code" makes an interesting case for some sort of structural similarity between computer source code and the poetic impulse. A perhaps expected caveat regarding the cover of this otherwise attractively bound and formatted journal: you may want to shelve it backward – as a miniature of the cover image appears on the spine – and yes, I know it's a pun, but is it worth it? Looking forward to the next issue in any event. [www.gudmagazine.com]
 

Meridian coverMeridian

Issue 18

January 2007

Semiannual

Reviewed by donna everhart

“I want to tell you about the skunk cabbage” is the first line in “The Book of Spring,” a poem by Sam Taylor. If a writer can make me want to go out and embrace a skunk cabbage, I believe that’s some pretty good writing. Published in Meridian, Taylor’s lines run one after the other to form one stanza, a page long. Each line I experienced, I thought, this is it, this is the most powerful line. But no, he saves the best for last. Josh Rathkamp’s “Loneliness in Arizona with a Baseball Game Inside It” is a poem with a surprising turn to it. But I won’t tell you more than that. The poetry selection includes translations of surrealistic poems written by Agi Mishol. In addition to several styles of poetry are a handful of short stories with memorable characters. Kate Milliken’s “Sleight of Hand” is written in first person. Milliken has an uncanny talent for weaving past and present, and then ending with the future, or what the narrator insists and imagines is the future. And the “Lost Classic,” which Meridian publishes in every issue, features William Faulkner and the “People-to-People Partnership.” Several letters written to William Faulkner are reprinted here, one from the President, who wanted to “organize American writers to see what we can do to give a true picture of our country to other people,” and other letters from E.B. White, Katherine Anne Porter, John Dos Passos, Conrad Aiken, Paul Green, Lionel Trilling, Robert Penn Warren, Lewis Mumford, Donald Hall, Allen Tate, Robert Lowell, John Steinbeck, and Shelby Foote. Book reviews cover The Open Curtain by Brian Evenson, An Almost Pure Empty Walking, by Tryfon Tolides, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel, and Siste Viator by Sarah Manguso. The perfect bound journal’s smooth cover with its steamy purple image of a floodplain provides a nice wrap. [www.readmeridian.org]
 

New Quarterly coverThe New Quarterly

Issue 101

Winter 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Miles Newbold Clark

A Canadian acquaintance recently bemoaned the state of American small publishing to me: why, even in San Francisco – clearly the New New York of the Lulu.com era – is it impossible to find work in publishing? I had no answer for him. Canadians are indeed a lucky bunch. For a land with such a sparse prospective audience, there is an abundance of funding for the arts. Thus, we shouldn’t be surprised to find it more exuberant about its own import. The New Quarterly has devoted an issue to the topic of “The Artist as Activist.”

The nonfiction articles are warming: jazz musician Steve Kirby appears to have singlehandedly rebuilt the musical landscape of Winnipeg. Immigrant children in Toronto express their creativity by cutting hair. Grown men forge into the woods to regain a connection with their spirit-animals, and are taken seriously. Even literary magazine editors get awarded with canoe trips. People of the south, take notice: Canada is fun!

Maybe it has to do with history: the dour scribes of America’s infancy remained engrossed in eradicating the relevance of all artistic licenses with their fire-and-brimstone sermons. Canada got John Galt – a jocular gentleman whose penchant for founding towns was equaled only by his industriousness as an author of popular novels. Two hundred years later, the ramifications of this choice are still with us: when a gaggle of evangelical Christians annex a Nicaraguan school and turn it into a hospital/conversion center, it’s a Canadian (Nicola Ross) who assumes the role of a bemused cultural correspondent.

In Ross’s article, as in several others, it isn’t clear whether the artist is really an activist. Indeed, Canadians seem a trifle woozy in warm weather. The fiction certainly prefers aesthetic shade: Janice Goveas’s “Cough,” a brief sketch of a woman venturing south in the hopes of helping a band of hidden Mexican revolutionaries gain asylum, tends to rest on its descriptive laurels – literally. Ditches become “busy” with wildflowers; a street vendor is described as: “A white light, hung on a tree and fuelled by a propane tank, lights the vendor’s gnarly hands as he quickly folds together meat and bread to sell to the shadows that sidle up to his stall.” This occasional hesitation in no way dilutes the potency of the articles in The New Quarterly, which consistently justifies any international shipping charges. [www.tnq.ca]
 

Winter 2006The Paris Review

Volume 48 Number 179

Winter 2006

Quarterly

Reviewed By Jim Scott

There’s a division in literary magazines that’s becoming more pronounced as time goes on – there are those that treasure new voices and are a beacon of hope to the unpublished, and then there are those that serve as a seemingly untouchable golden palace upon a hill to be envied from afar. Both are viable, and as journals proliferate, this division was inevitable and necessary. The Paris Review is one of the most blindingly golden palaces in all the land, with a statue of George Plimpton standing watch, perhaps in the uniform of his Paper Lion days. This golden issue features fiction from T.C. Boyle and Gish Jen and poetry from omnipresent Dean Young (though what recent poet has deserved more of a presence?). “Glow Ode” sparkles with Young’s malleable gifts, especially his effortless sense of humor, which adds to the impact of such notions as: “but some things can only be true / if you’re not prepared. I love those fools / who think they can sit out the hurricane, / how later they wave from their roofs with their parakeets at the helicopters.” Jonas Bendiksen’s gorgeous and heartrending photos of Kiberia, a slum in Nairobi, Kenya, serve as a sobering centerpiece. Bendikson’s camera seems capable of richer, truer color than real life. But the crown jewel of this issue is two chapters of an unfinished novel found in the papers of the late Joseph Heller. “Hagar” and “Ishamel” only hint at what could have been – the deadpan wit still ferociously intact, here sinking its teeth into the Bible. Ishmael notes offhandedly about his father Abraham, “For what good it might do me, he wanted me to know that I was blessed too, and he had it on good word that I would have twelve sons and become a great nation, somewhere else.” Perhaps George Plimpton and Joseph Heller have formed their own great nation somewhere else, but in this one, The Paris Review continues to shine for all to see. [www.parisreview.com]
 

Poet Lore coverPoet Lore

Volume 101 Number 3/4

Fall/Winter 2006

Biannual

Reviewed by donna everhart

Editor of Poet Lore Rick Cannon describes the sound of a poem’s beauty as “a steady hum.” I don’t think he could have described it any better. A consistent vibration sounds through the pages of this sleek, perfect-bound journal. In “Sometimes It Rains,” one of three poems by Alberto Ri`os, for example, sounds rise up from the page like whispers, or like a light, sudden rain on a warm summer day. Stanzas are composed of couplets, and each line is composed of hard or soft sounds which seem to complement each other, as in the fallen leaves that were once “white and waxy.” The tongue slips over the words. The nose breathes in the scent of “the hot honeysuckle.” And I found, after reaching the last word, I wanted to re-experience this poem. Each of the over 100 poems (avant-garde, free verse, traditional) give enjoyment and deserve the reader’s complete attention. Poet Lore is like opening a beautifully wrapped gift during the holidays. It is exciting when so much care to craft and language and image is all wrapped up together. The magazine features the Poet Introducing Poets pages and an interesting essay by Jean Nordhaus, “Lament for the Makers or Why Metaphor Can’t Save Your Life,” as well as several reviews of poetry books by careful and involved readers. [www.writer.org]
 

ramblerThe Rambler

Volume 4 Number 2

March/April 2007

Bimonthly

Reviewed by Stephanie Griffore

So this magazine rambles, big deal! We all do, and for this magazine, it’s a positive quality. What’s original about this magazine is that a portion of the short stories and poems are inspired by artwork and photography that can be found on the magazine’s website. In this issue, it’s the short stories that stand out. Some of the pieces are thought provoking, like “Short Letters I’ve Been Meaning to Write” by Dave Korzon. Each short letter is to someone in the media or a personal acquaintance. He gives Barack Obama advice on how to quit smoking, and in another recalls with his wife, “Wasn’t it just the other day we made desperate-sounding plans to ‘get away’ from this place?” Other pieces are humorous and relatable, like “Thrill Life with Child” by Marianne Gingher, an ongoing series about a writer who is progressing through life with her scissor grinding husband and newly born son. The portion about her pregnancy is absolutely hilarious, in which she mentions that “[…] and once I have a baby tethered to me, my biggest outing will be waddling off to the grocery store.” But don’t block out the poetry, because pieces like “Tattooed Taxi Man” by Gretchen Fletcher and “I used to be a bill collector” by John Dismukes give some of the longer pieces solid competition. Overall, this issue is extremely compelling, and the interview with Will Shortz is a must read. The photography and art, which inspired some of the authors, also deserve praise, for without them, the written works may not have been created. [www.ramblermagazine.com]
 

Rattle coverRattle

Volume 12 Number 2

Winter 2006

Biannual

Reviewed by Jennifer Gomoll Popolis

I've always enjoyed the poetry magazine Rattle for its modernity and humor, its willingness to mix the political, the sublime, and the silly. Each issue, in addition to a selection of poems, reviews, and interviews, contains a special tribute section, and this issue's theme is The Greatest Generation. I loved the plainspoken-ness, the bald, unbeautified statements made in the poems of these elder writers, who maybe don't have it all figured out, as Nan Sherman in “Don't Ask Me Any Questions”: “Where is the wisdom / that arrives with age? / Another fairytale for the young”; or who maybe do, like Fred Fox in “Hosanna to Life”: “For years my ego fooled me. / I carried the world on my shoulders. / I now realize how inane that was / Living within a self-imposed island.” Peggy Aylsworth's “Beyond the Headlines” is an acknowledgement of the pain and ugliness inherent in life, and for which there is often little relief. The poem culminates in a wonderful moment: “In the midst of stings & consolations, / I sing through the window at the dried-out meadow, / stirred by the sudden silver of unpredicted rain.” There are two “conversations” (interviews) here, with Jane Hirshfield and with Jack Kornfield, Zen-trained poets who are introspective and have much to share of other poets, not just themselves. And because I am prone to the occasional wondering about the whole point of art anyway, and daresay others might be too, I can't help but wrap up with a great answer by Hirshfield: “Art's example reminds us that it is possible to develop an awakened and courageous and indecorous soul, in the face of a world that mostly asks us to be obedient sheep.” [www.RATTLE.com]
 

Santa Monica Review coverSanta Monica Review

Fall 2006

Volume 18 Number 2

Biannual

Reviewed by Anna Sidak

An exceptional collection as is typical of this attractively presented journal. From Peter LaSalle's delightful "Rimbaud Walking" – "He [Rimbaud] would be slowed down, because there was that 'violent snowstorm' approaching, and I could certainly catch him at long last." – shades of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but much shorter, of course, since the narrator's son is only seven – to the heart-breaking "Life After Death" by Vicki Forman, this issue of the Santa Monica Review contains twelve excellent short stories. What I miss in this publication is an editorial defining the criteria – other than a shared trait of extraordinary focus – that resulted in these choices. For example, Colin Dickey's exploration of an Iraq War veteran's last days in the high desert near Twentynine Palms, California. The story is told through the eyes of an elderly widow, who has taken him in as a boarder, and contains this astonishing line: "[. . .] Faye knows it is not an accident but the living dead on board, who so desperately crave the earth and seek it always." Does this insight give her the right to take things into her own hands? I can't shake the feeling the ending of this story is not what I wanted it to be, nor the true ending, but shocking nevertheless. I'm looking forward to the next issue. [www.smc.edu/sm_review]
 

Tampa Review coverTampa Review

Double Issue 31/32

2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Jim Scott

Tampa Review does not look like a literary magazine. The size and shape of a children’s storybook, this hardcover journal elicits the same expectation of entertainment – some pictures, stories, perhaps a lesson or two. There are plenty of pictures, in all types of media. Charlee Brodsky photographs calves and feet, and Jim Daniels describes them in poetry in a series of four connected works. Daniels opens “Glow” with the memorable lines, “The scarred knees of the world / imagine their prayers might be / forgiven.” Marcia Aldrich’s essay “Spoon Altar” describes collectors of all kinds, winding the essay around the narrative of Joel, who shot himself just after sending the narrator and her family boxes containing his stamps. Joel divested himself of all of his belongings, and the list makes the heart plunge with each item, “He destroyed his letters, lesson plans, the poetry he had written as a young man, his unfinished essays, photographs, his address book.” Aldrich proves herself a master of the list, a collector herself, whether or not she acknowledges it. A child would be disappointed to know the poems don’t rhyme, but along with the non-fiction, they are Tampa Review’s strong suit. One of the strongest, Kevin A. Gonzalez’s “Cultural Silence; or, How to Survive the Last American Colony” contains potent imagery: “You are a tri-colored bead, Puerto Rico, / In an island necklace: ocean-blue annexation, Flamboyan red // status quo, & mountain-green independence.” Gonzalez works on several levels, something that not all of the poems strive for, but each contains its own precise observational eye. [www.tampareview.ut.edu]
 

Tin House

Volume 8 Number 2

Winter 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Jim Scott

Tin House continues their run of excellence with this superb issue – one of their finest. The hot-button piece is Steve Almond’s collection of responses to the hate mail he received as a result of quitting his position at Boston College in protest of Condoleezza Rice being named commencement speaker. The e-mails are shocking, and Almond’s responses vary from whip-smart to insightful to hilarious to scathing all the way to heartbreaking. Almond’s concern for Tom and Katie’s baby in the face of being compared – no, equated – to bin Laden and Zarqawi is touching. Almond, like truly great comics, isn’t afraid to go for the jugular or make himself look bad, as in a particularly shocking exchange where a doctor (doctor!) accuses Almond of not liking ‘darkies.’ Almond’s reply: “I do like darkies, especially the obedient ones who don’t mind being kept as pets. The ones who are always complaining about slavery and whatever – it gets tiring.” Almond’s mischievous sense of joy in language is also evident in a piece by a new writer, Justin Torres, whose “In the Kitchen” begins with the narrator and his two brothers smashing tomatoes in an imitation of Gallagher, the type of comedian who would, in all likelihood, not find Steve Almond funny. Their mother works late and is constantly confused by time, cooking meals in the middle of the night and sending the boys to bed in the middle of the day. Torres injects such life into this short piece that it’s dispiriting to leave the world he’s created. Other strong pieces in this issue include short fiction by Ron Carlson and Jim Shepherd, and Ben George’s wonderful interview with Rick Bass. [www.tinhouse.com]
 

Triquarterly coverTriQuarterly

Number 126

2007

Triquarterly

Reviewed by Jim Scott

The fiction in TriQuarterly ranks among the best today, but whereas many journals contain excellent fiction of one variety, TriQuarterly’s strength lies in its diversity. Jonathan David’s hilarious “The Sub” tells the story of a horrendous substitute teacher through (mostly) anonymous letters from the students themselves. “The Sub” is (intentionally?) reminiscent of Donald Barthelme’s classic “The School.” The latter’s strength lies in how the stakes are raised, the former’s is in the variety of voices, the smart and the not-so, the misbehaving and the apple polishing, the liars and the too-honest. The truth behind a husband’s behavior when driving the babysitter home is the central question of “A Split Level Life” by Sande Boritz Berger. Berger does not attempt melodrama. Instead, the question threatening the suburban comfort of brand-names and household tips is not a torrid affair but simple trust. Sex, however, seems to be the sole preoccupation of Anderson, the protagonist in Heather A. Slomski’s “The Allure of All This,” between the mannequins in the department store where he works to Mia in lingerie to his wife Ermalinda. As Ermalinda shaves her legs, Slomski writes, “She did this on every line of her leg and when she switched legs the suds parted and Anderson could see her nude body like a calendar page floating in the bathtub.” All of these stories approach their subjects with vastly different styles, but each contains the humor, anxiety, and pain of human emotion. The poetry is more academic in tone, and lacks the accessibility of the fiction, but rewards – and merits – rereading. [www.triquarterly.org]
 

Upstreet coverupstreet

Number 2

2007

Annual

Reviewed by Miles Newbold Clark

upstreet’s second effort champions the minimalist aesthetic: an all-black cover is graced only with the journal’s name and issue number. There are no pictures to be found anywhere.

While I’m all for stark presentations of any sort, oftentimes I wished that this material had been allowed to “breathe” a little deeper. upstreet’s fiction is unfortunately rife with quotidian false starts like “’Let It Be’ was the first Beatles song I discovered I could actually relate to,” or “This is a story about how my girlfriend and I broke up, how our relationship ended after two years and how I moved on.” Word-by-word, many stories betray their potentially compelling plots with cloying prose. Moreover, they feel stiflingly similar at times; sitting down to write this review, it was difficult for me to recall any of the pieces with much clarity. Even the issue’s centerpiece – an interview with Lydia Davis – was frustratingly elusive. upstreet often has difficulties in getting to the point.

But no journal, especially a young journal, is flawless; and there are several stories that warrant merit. In H. Camp Gordinier’s Hidden Camera, the dry (almost dour) taste of the prose befits a stunted love relationship between a small-time Russian porn director and the mamushka-turned-sex-kitten who falls for him. And in Ed Anthony’s Heretics, a series of unpretentious images form the satisfyingly benign amalgam of simple man’s epiphany in a bakery:

It was the warmth of the room, the early May sunshine pouting in the big front windows, and the smell of windowsill geraniums, and the smell of the fresh white bread and coffee cakes, and the smile of the faintly bovine young woman who waited on him; it was all of it that seized him, not just any one thing.

Those who enjoy straightforward, essayish stories with sparse embellishments will join me in anticipating the next installment of upstreet. [http://www.upstreet-mag.org]
 

Verbatim coverVerbatim

The Language Quarterly

Volume 30 Number 4

Quarterly

Reviewed by Jennifer Gomol

Ever wondered where the word “cocktail” came from, or been annoyed by some corporate entity referring to itself as a “family?” Have you pondered what dictionary publishers ought to do in regards to including words that are registered trademarks of companies with overzealous lawyers? If so, take a look at this issue of Verbatim, because it's tailor-made for lovers of all topics linguistic. The three items mentioned above are treated, respectively, in essays by Rosemarie Ostler (“Getting Bowzered in Early America”); Matt Coward (“Horribile Dictu”); and Michael Adams (“Lexical Property Rights: Trademarks in American Dictionaries”). On the lighter (but no less seriously treated) side, Muffy Siegel's “Dude! Katie! Your Dress is So Cute: Why Dude Became an Exclamation” is an exploration of the popular “dude” and the possible reasons for its current usage among the young as an exclamation, reference to a male person, and “gender-neutral term of address.” (Siegel's research into the “social power” which “dude” has and a word like “guy” doesn't is interesting, but one wonders why the pleasing vowel sound of “dude” is never brought up, especially when contrasted with the harsh “guy.”) Larry Tritten's story, “The Caribbean Dichotomy,” concerns an eminent “pronunciologist” who believes “there are only two kind of people in the world: those who pronounce the word Caribbean [special font needed] and those who pronounce it [special font needed.]” Can't say I really got the [special font needed], but I think the piece was meant to be funny. A few more informative articles, a couple of witty poems, and a sweet little head-scratcher called “Anglo-American Crossword No. 103” round out the issue. [www.verbatimmag.com]

Western Humanities Review coverWestern Humanities Review

Volume 61 Number 1

Winter 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Miles Newbold Clark

A rich, resonant read, WHR’s academic foundations are never far from the surface. I’m torn between wanting them to be flaunted shamelessly, and keeping it in check with a list of self-conscious characters (character formation found, it seems, in the world of realism). In both cases, the world is defined by a set of objects; for example, DaVinci = academic; Guns n’ Roses = quotidian.

The journal’s forays into the landscape of realism are often the most fulfilling. Dawn Houghton’s portrayal of a misguided woman’s first sexual experience (during her honeymoon) sounds like a more mature, balanced picture of the psychologically constricted tenderness Kevin Moffett usually fails to accomplish. Almost as good is Craig Bernier’s “An Affliction of Starlings, the story of a failing father-daughter relationship whose normal speech is betrayed, somewhat lifelessly, by descriptions of “mammoth corned beef the size of a hardback Ulysses.” The author’s head is clearly lost in a book, but his heart constantly shows up – or at least seems to be searching for – the right places.

On the other end of things, I am in continual amazement on the success of Steve Almond. Though he makes off with only a flash-fiction-sized slice of WHR, the marks of his territory are everywhere: traces of irony, the play on brand-name products, irresolute conclusions. On the other end of the spectrum is Aaron Fogel, who is allowed to escape with 30 pages – more than 20 percent of the entire journal – which he fills with a piece called “fantasias in g,” the subject material of which can only be described as cannon-fodder for anyone who believes that the business of contemporary short story writing has been to expel meaning to the lunatic fringes of importance in the Quixote-like quest for the irregular and “fresh” premise.

Thankfully, WHR finds a happy medium between heart and head more often than not; I hope you’ll be as happy as I am to let this issue occupy a void on your bookshelf. [www.hum.utah.edu/whr/]

 

Zahir coverZahir

A Journal of Speculative Fiction

Issue 12

Spring 2007

Triannual

Reviewed by Jennifer Gomoll Popolis

When I was in college, the English majors and science majors just didn't get along. Reading Zahir, I kept wondering what all that tension was about, since so many of this journal's cross-disciplined writers are able to blend their interests in creative writing and science so well. My favorite piece in this issue is Jerry Underwood's “Traveling Companion,” set in a world which is simply a very long train, constantly moving on a Track with no beginning or end in sight, inhabited by robots all named Bob (if male) or Bobbie (female). Not unlike us, the robots study what they can perceive of what exists beyond their world; they work at typical jobs; they have their amusements; and occasionally they hold each other tight against the disturbing thought that “maybe Track is curved [. . .] and we are going in circles.” Another good one is Alexandra Penn's “Second Law,” in which damage to a tense marriage between a condescending physicist and his down-to-earth wife is corrected only when the second law of thermodynamics is broken, i.e. time goes backward. Nicole Grieco's “Julia Perceiving in Binary: A Futuristic Romance” is a provocative look at the memory files of a robot created for, um, pleasure, and her surprising capacity to learn, feel, and express emotions. Julia loves her man, and some of the most interesting passages of the story concern her repudiation of the beliefs of a Dworkin-esque feminist who finds the existence of these sex robots disturbing at best. There are more good stories here, but my space is limited; if you enjoy speculative fiction, you won't regret a subscription to Zahir. [www.zahirtales.com]

 

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Cumulative Index of Literary Magazines Reviewed