Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted May, 2007

Absinthe coverAbsinthe: New European Writing

Number 5

2006

Bi-annual

Reviewed by Kim Drain

In a recent New Yorker article, Milan Kundera charted the genealogy of some of the most important writers of the last five centuries by tracing a map of "influences" that criss-crossed continents, hemispheres, and oceans. In doing so, he made a case for the importance of translation, which allows literature to jump outside of the "provincial" context of the country (and language) in which it was written, and resituate itself in the vastly more important "supranational territory of art." Absinthe – a journal that dedicates itself to publishing translations of "new European writing" – is a small but wonderful island in that territory. Some of the pieces (from writers working in Greek, Italian, Spanish, Polish, and a slate of other European languages) are occasionally tinged with a tone of political irony that struck me as clichéd. Although these writers are clearly "correct," I found their seemingly rote anger disturbing. Much of the more personal work is stronger: Shasha Skenderija's "When you leave, I go to the movies," for instance ("When you leave, I kick empty beer cans / down the street. And it is so void"), or Kostas Karyotakis' sad, serene "If Only Grief": “If only grief had come, or joy; I simply wished / my heart had broken and fallen lightly on the ground, / like a rose petal caught by a storm / or even like one heavy with the morning dew.” But my favorite piece in the issue is Niklas Radstrom's "Absinthe: The Story of a Blue Titmouse" (translated from the Swedish by Laura A. Wideburg). This is a very little story about a very little bird, whom Radstrom calls (coincidentally) Absinthe on account of its coloring. The bird, found by Radstrom's wife on the side of a road, is nursed to health by the couple, who lovingly feed it mashed fly corpses, worms, larvae, multivitamins, chopped meat, and puppy food. This story-essay is a miniature to be sure, and personal, but the politics here – just a few humorous similes drawn between the power-plays at the bird feeder and those at the U.N. – are more sincere and thought-provoking precisely because they are less strident. And Radstrom, like his fluffy, demanding house-guest, displays a "somewhat frightened and astonished curiosity about the world around him." [www.absintheNEW.org]

 

Agni coverAGNI

Issue 64

2006

Biannual

Reviewed by Sheheryar B. Sheikh

AGNI is a heavyweight. At 250 pages, it is a bit longer than most journals, but its true weight lies in the method by which the editors arrive at each issue. The end product has a unifying factor: quality. This quality comes from the fact that even the fiction sounds real – so real that the writers must have spent several days, if not weeks and months, actually living with the characters they write about, in the worlds their words inhabit and bring to life. Vincent Czyz’s “The Three Veils of Ibn Oraybi” sounds like the parable of a mystic told by a mystic. It is utterly magnificent in sprawl and thralls the reader. “There was an assassin in his home,” it begins. Michael Mejia’s “Report of Ito Sadohara…” makes for a compelling argument against corporate devastation of nature, and yet it never mentions conservation, nor does it try to pull ex-vice-presidential weight. “Report of Ito Sadohara…” is a story about a man being cuckolded and woman showing up in the belly of a tuna fish. Were it not for AGNI Senior Editor William Pierce’s post-narrative commentary, the significance of the more subtle points in the story might have been lost on me. Besides the fiction, essays by Lia Purpura and Wendy Rawlings are worth mentioning because of their common theme: duality. Purpura’s “Being of Two Minds” takes conceptual duality and mental duality and spins them into an entwining double-helix. “I am of two minds about knowing,” she says, and “Two minds must state their position, as in any good debate, and fight it out.” Purpura’s essay is not possible to summarize. It flits and flirts with the reader, leaving no two stones of duality unturned. Rawlings, in “Spectacular Mistakes,” searches for reasons to believe in the biblical God. She finds the opposite, and then some. This issue also features work by British and Irish poets such as Alice Oswald, Jamie McKendrick, Nick Laird and Simon Armitage. And this is just the tip of the fire that is AGNI. [www.bu.edu/agni]

 

Alaska Quarterly Review coverAlaska Quarterly Review

Volume 24 Numbers 1 & 2

Spring/Summer 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Josh Maday

Alaska Quarterly Review is approaching its 25th anniversary, which alone attests to its position among the top literary magazines in the nation. Simply opening to the first piece in this issue, Samuel Ligon’s story “Drift and Swerve,” readers will learn (or relearn) that AQR surviving and thriving for a quarter-century is certainly no surprise. Ligon’s story takes the reader on a ride-along where a drunk driver may not be so dangerous when a force of nature, like a normal – if slightly dysfunctional family of four (again, pretty much normal), happens to share the same stretch of highway. Mike Harvkey’s “One Owner, Part II: Won’t Last” is a haunting story of a man-on-the-run who stumbles untouched in the wake of a mysterious plague, finally settling with a family in Mexico. Eventually, he learns that he has not escaped, he cannot; he must face the past that hounds him and account for what he has done. Harvkey renders the protagonist’s consciousness with fresh language, brilliantly weaving the story’s haunting, hallucinatory atmosphere. In “Falling Through,” Roy Kesey hands over the camera through which we see a gritty underground operation complete with thugs, their fearsome boss, a prostitute, a deformed retarded guy in a cellar, and maybe even something like redemption. More excellent fiction comes from Michael Downs, Jack Driscoll, Ruth Moose, and Marie Sheppard Williams. Lawrence Levine’s “Territory,” originally produced at the Bottle Factory Theater, is a one-act play where an already-cracked relationship may in fact shatter at the slightest nudge from the past. The latter third of this issue showcases moving and insightful work by native Alaskans, giving readers a glimpse of the “human dimensions” of the 49th state, the world beside and behind the travel brochures. Poets include Nora Marks Dauenhauer, Susie Silook, Eva Saulitis, John Morgan, Tom Sexton, Rachel Rose, Anne Caston, Michele Harmeling, Eric Heyne, Elizabeth Bradfield, and more. Prose includes works by Marybeth Holleman, Frank Soos, Carol Kaynor, Seth Kantner. Over 30 works of poetry and prose in the special feature entitled “Hidden Alaska” offer a glimpse of just that, the hidden and the mysterious as well as the wild and the everyday of being and living Alaskan. Overall, this is a solid and diverse issue, continuing a nearly quarter-century tradition of publishing a wide range and high quality of work that readers have come to know and expect from Alaska Quarterly Review. [www.uaa.alaska.edu/aqr/]

 

American Short Fiction coverAmerican Short Fiction

Volume 10 Issue 36

Winter 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Anna Sidak

The theme of this issue of American Short Fiction is prison, according to Editor Stacey Swann, whether by prison bars or self-imposed limitations. The former is the concern of the pictorial essay, "Captain, Don't You Know Me, Don't You Know My Name?" Nathan Salsburg, curator of this historical collection, notes in the preface, these stunning photographs, interviews, and work-gang songs are from the work of the late folklorist Alan Lomax during his visit to Mississippi State Penitentiary in the late 1950's. This prison, also known as Parchman Farm, is the setting for his 1993 memoir The Land Where the Blues Began, wherein he quotes a 1957 New York Post article describing Parchman Farm as "simply a cotton plantation using convicts as labor."

Suzan Sherman's story, "My Hidden Children," tells of another prison, the Warsaw Ghetto, and of the mother and child who escaped physically but can never escape the memories: the mother having to hide her young daughter in a convent that was unaware of their ethnic heritage, a secret the child kept, although not fully aware of its nature.

"Who Sleeps Where in the Lavu" is an excerpt from Vendela Vida's remarkable (and poetically-titled) novel Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, the story of a young woman's surprising search for her father in Lapland – her mother a stranger as well. Vida is co-editor of The Believer, McSweeney's "monthly magazine, exploring the interconnected worlds of books, music, politics, and art." Josh Magnuson's rodeo cowboy on the skids in "I Don't Say Hello Anymore" makes one want to stage an intervention, and Rumaan Alam's carousing sailors of "Fleet Week" round out this excellent collection of notably diverse lives.
[http://www.americanshortfiction.org]

 

Ascent coverAscent

Volume 30 Number 2

Winter 2007

Triannual

Reviewed by Jennifer Sinor

Given editor W. Scott Olsen’s own work in nonfiction, one might assume that Ascent would demonstrate a bias for personal essays, place-based work, and travel writing. But what really stands out are the poetry and the fiction, especially the three short stories. The opening story, “Puck,” by Edith Pearlman, about a statue that seems to draw forth the desires of those who view it is both puckish and hopeful. Snappy dialogue and quirky characters keep the reader interested. The real gem of this issue is Judith Slater’s story entitled “Night of the Gypsies.” It is difficult to say why or how this quiet story remains with you. Part of its appeal lies in Slater’s decision to leave things messy. Matt, the main character, takes a walk one night and flirts with the idea of an affair. Standing with his neighbor, Helen Brashler, on her driveway as they consider how best to extricate a trapped and angry skunk, Matt hears the sound of the record player coming from his own home where his daughter practices for her dance recital. He is caught between the daughter that he has and the woman she will become. It is a story where nothing happens and everything happens, all amid beautiful language. The poetry in this issue is also wonderful, in particular Betsy Johnson-Miller’s “Season’s End.” Her opening lines begin “We do not name the bees’ / addiction, yet we all know // the way they crawl into whatever / will hold them.” Faced with the summer’s end, the narrator contemplates the many ways to cause pain and the idea that “saying goodbye // can sometimes be the only way / to live.”
[http://www.cord.edu/dept/english/ascent/]

 

Black Warrior Review coverBlack Warrior Review

Volume 33 Number 2

Spring/Summer 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Christopher Gibson

This very cerebral and provocative issue of Black Warrior Review begins with an unexpected critique of U.S. culture and international perceptions of the U.S. in Beth Ann Fennelly’s poem, “Cow Tipping.” The idiotic “tradition” of cow-tipping is juxtaposed with the speaker’s confusion about negative views of U.S. society/culture in other countries; in the end, she begins to understand that these international criticisms view bragging about cow-tipping “at a party for a laugh” as representative of a self-centered approach to the world. This issue is full of great poetry, notably Stephanie Bolster’s “The Life of the Mind.” Bolster’s poems interpret paintings, Sylvia Plath’s last residence, and captions from books and newspapers. Her words animate material objects. While the majority of the literature in this collection is well-written and thought-provoking, the most fascinating work was Leslie Jamison’s “In Defense of Saccharin(e).” Jamison imbeds a romantic narrative within a twenty-one page piece of literary criticism focusing on sentimentality in literature. She excoriates the over-the-top and clichéd sentimentality, but admits her own weakness for well-written sentimentality, comparing it to saccharine because both are very rich and sweet in satisfying our desires. Black Warrior Review clearly has a strong eye for good, intellectual literature, which makes the reading experience slower yet mentally fulfilling. [webdelsol.com/bwr/]

 

Cake Train coverCaketrain

Issue 4

Fall/Winter 2007

Annual+

Reviewed by Stephanie Griffore

Everyone loves cake, right? There’s nothing more satisfying than trying a new flavor of cake. It’s something sweet and different, bringing excitement to your mouth and soothing your anxious craving. Caketrain is like a bakery that’s open twenty-four hours to successfully serve even the pickiest of cake eaters. Or in this case, readers. The prose in this magazine is definitely something to dive into. Pedro Ponce’s “Fortune Fish” explores the life of a curious anti-social boy obsessed with Fortune Fish. The boy, due to peer pressure, turns his curiosity to sex and accidentally walks in on his parents. Moving down the train to the poetry, there’s something this magazine has done with its poetry that is excellent: allowed experimentation with format. There’s no blocky poem after blocky poem. For example, “Breach” by Ian Harris starts out with a bolded Day Two, followed by broken lines with various spaces and no punctuation. He continues with Day Three, and in Day Four only writes, “I cannot finish this story.” However, he finishes with Day Five. Overall, this magazine glows with experimental poetry and uncommon topics. The content has no boundaries, and it’s easy to tell that the authors were free to grasp whatever flavor they pleased. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the fresh language and recommend that everyone try a piece of the cake. [http://www.caketrain.org]

 

Colorado Review coverColorado Review

Volume 33 Number 3

Fall/Winter 2006

Triannual

Reviewed by Jennifer Sinor

Colorado Review is probably best known for its poetry. And this issue includes over fifty pages of poems, including the powerful “Orders of Infinity” by Jacqueline Osherow, a meditation on the inexpressibility of trauma and the loss of singularity when faced with infinity. The narrator of Osherow’s poem returns to a now-tree-lined Treblinka in an attempt to make sense of the thousands who were killed. What the narrator finds are cremated bodies measured in piles of stone. Although the poetry is stellar – and really every piece in this issue demonstrates an exceptional quality of craft – what captures the reader’s attention in this issue is the prose – including the winner of the 2006 Nelligan Prize for Short Fiction, a haunting story of a man’s unraveling by Lauren Guza, and the essays. In particular, Brandon Schrand’s essay about his experience as a telemarketer for six years is unparalleled. “Confessions of a Telemarketer” takes us into the world of outbound call centers, and gives us the feel and vocabulary of a place we often only imagine as we answer our telephones. Like any good nonfiction, though, the telemarketing world is only part of the story. Schrand is much more interested in exploring the kind of person he becomes while he works the phones, one who sees “contacts as contacts and never people” and “time zones as sale zones rather than places rife with communities and neighborhoods.” His essay is riveting because we can see ourselves in his decisions, and we understand the damage that can be done when people are reduced to numbers. Read alongside Osherow’s poem, Schrand’s essay multiplies in meaning – the mark of an excellent literary journal.  [http://coloradoreview.colostate.edu]

 

Court Green coverCourt Green

Number 3

2006

Annual

Reviewed by Christopher Mote

If anything about this hundred-fifty-page poetry journal can be generalized, it’s that this volume is a collection of stories. Court Green might be considered a relatively new publication, but its formula is already a winner. Aspects of the poetic narrative are in play everywhere, especially in David Hernandez’s “Fork Lines in White Frosting”: “With his presence he contaminated the birthday party, / his aura the dark plumes of a burning tire. Buttonhole // eyes and hair that rebelled the idea of lather and rinse. / Overmedicated, his heart snoozed inside his chest.” Of course, the confessional “I” can be overbearing, but many of the authors resist it, often without elaborate tricks. Occasionally you get a line that hooks you, like the opening couplet from Kirsten Kashock’s “Maiden Mead”: “It was when September, ending jealous, eats bees. We / nervoused again for the island in a boat still made of rocking.” The second half of Court Green is a dossier on bouts-rimés, in which every poem adheres to the same fourteen end-words that the editors advertised when seeking submissions. Although it’s fun to see what results from such concrete rhymes as “Garbo” and “hobo,” the amusement wears off fast, and most poems don’t allow for a deeper reading. Among the standouts: Denise Duhamel, who it seems was born for these challenges, takes the sonnet a step further by doubling it and reversing the couplets as she narrates a meeting of “desperate housewives” from TV’s golden age. But don’t overlook Tony Barnstone’s war-is-hell entry, where a POW finds entertainment by playing Chaplin on a makeshift stage in a prison camp: “It kept us living for another day. / Imagination’s a cheap jewel, rhinestone, / but I say if life stinks put on cologne.” Highly recommended for anyone who needs an extended read. [english.colum.edu/courtgreen/]

 

Cranky coverCranky

Volume 2 Number 2

2007

Triannual

Reviewed by Danielle LaVaque-Manty

Cranky is a slim little journal just bursting with spunky prose and poetry. The first poem, “When Company Comes,” by Robert Nazarene, sets the tone: “Mommy sweeps me under the sofa / beside the rotten Easter eggs / I was too dumb to find last spring.” There is little lyricism or slow contemplation here; turn to Cranky when you’re ready for sore spots and surprise. Take “The Bitter and Melancholy Exile of a Mummy,” the tale of an exhumed mummy who finds himself in New York City in 1935, which shows that it’s hard to make friends when you’re undead, but easy to become a celebrity. Before heading to Hollywood to make a depressing, falsified film of his own life story, the mummy meets Noel Coward at a cocktail party: “‘I have been often alone,’ Coward says softly, his gaze sliding from the Mummy’s eyes to hide from him the remnants of a desolation felt too often in the past. ‘Not like me,’ the Mummy says bitterly.” And it’s true—you can’t help feeling for someone whose own world is long out of reach and who, undead and immortal, has no way out of this one.

Cranky also offers fabulous interviews. In this issue we hear from Norman Lock, author of the Mummy’s story, about why he doesn’t mind being banished to the literary margins, as well as from Sabrina Orah Mark, prose poet. Two of Mark’s poems also appear here: “On the Way to Mist Must,” in which “Beatrice’s imagination zoomed past them in a white fur coat,” running wild, and “The Oldest Animal Writes a Letter Home,” in which the “animal” writes to Beatrice about the whereabouts of that wild imagination. These two are so good I had to read both of them aloud to my husband. Read them! Read Sabrina Orah Mark. Read Norman Lock. Read Cranky. [http://www.failedpromise.org]

 

Dos Passos Review coverThe Dos Passos Review

Volume 3 Number 4

Winter 2006

Biannual

Reviewed by Sheheryar B. Sheikh

This issue’s first story, “Fat Girl Outside” by Kathie Giorgio, is about an obese woman working in the “Large and Luscious Women’s Apparel Store.” Giorgio uses phobias, image-consciousness and fragmented sentences like, “Underwear that could flap for surrender in the wind” to create a dreamy narrative. It makes the reader side with the fat girl, despise her and admire her all at the same time. Joshua Buursma’s poem, “The Knife Salesman” has visceral outtakes, such as “hand-honed for sharpness – they’ll cut through bone,” and “Are these not the teeth of angels?” Nathan Leslie’s story, “Just Cheese” layers a narrative about two brothers with a subtext of duality and mergence of consciousnesses. It explores the differences between human beings at even their closest points: “Shell’s just like that. He eats things you shouldn’t. Dirt is his favorite, but grass too… When I was five I would never do that. But I’m not Shell.” Karen Hausdoerffer’s piece “Uranium Daughters” stars a group of young girls who shave their heads and wear wigs to exhibit their solidarity with a friend who has lost her hair because of chemotherapy. A boy is in love with the strongest of the supporting females, and his “eyes always ached with the cold.” For him, talking with the girl he likes about her friend’s death is “like poking my tongue underneath a loose tooth. It sent an ache into the back of my head, but I wanted to push deeper.” A fight breaks out, and the boy holds onto his beloved with an unrelenting desire to see her shaved head under the wig. There is Paul Hostovsky’s poem, “Rainbow Chicken,” in which a man “white as Wonder Bread dripping Mandarin” speaks Chinese, and includes “white teenagers jiving in black / vernacular English at the table next / to the next table, calling each other / nigger affectionately, as though it were // the next world, or this world after the next / cataclysm.” Liam Rector is featured at the end of this issue, and his poem “Sinning with Annie” is titled and worded very euphemistically. DPR endears itself with an admirable selection. [www.www.brierycreekpress.org/]

 

Ellipsis coverEllipsis

Volume 42

Spring 2006

Annual

Reviewed by Miles Clark

Ellipsis, like many student-run literary journals, cleaves tightly to a sense of journalistic “normalcy.” It’s the type of journal in which you’re likely to discover solitary photographs of installation art projects hung out to dry on the spare end of an empty page, stories that sink into the easy chair of the quotidian, and poetry slouching towards the sentimental. Many of the stories here center around the theme of pregnancy or sex; Jennifer Gravely’s “Traumatic Devirginization Stories” and Aaron M. Hellem’s “The Pregnant Girl” are only the most obvious. The constriction in theme is a choice readers will either take or leave; but this is in some ways preferable, as it gives the journal a sense of narrative cohesion often missing from short story magazines. Ellipsis’ most compromising feature is the failure of its stories to immediately seize the reader’s attention on the first go-around; an imaginative premise told in straightforward presentation and reliance on structure is reasonably par for the course, and it’s oftentimes hard to differentiate these stories from a bulk of other material elsewhere. This is a dangerous ballpark to be in, especially in an already-overcrowded fiction market. Thankfully, the prose improves greatly on the second read, particularly Jeff Frawley’s “They Fall from the Sky” – a slow-building piece centered around a single hook. It’s premise – in which objects rain down into the psychological landscape of a suburban couple who are already confronted by the two anxieties of pregnancy and unemployment – felt initially artificial, but, by the end, was rendered quite satisfying. Similarly, Charles Freeland’s “Revolution” seems entirely ungraspable and opaque on the first read; thankfully, weighing in at less than 500 words, it is easily – and justifiably – reread for its extrinsic description of a troubled mind. Ellipsis’ poetry and prose will satisfy the patient reader. [www.westminstercollege.edu/ellipsis/flash.html]

 

Fence coverFence

Volume 9 Number 2

Winter/Spring 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Miles Clark

In a preemptory explanatory note, Fence’s editor seems slightly apologetic – and certainly nostalgic – as the magazine’s move from its New York City birthplace to the suburbs is explained. It may seem shocking that any journal as cosmopolitan as Fence was willing to migrate at all. Occasional bouts of realism may provide inroads into the altering psyche of the editors: they both mention children. Is there a reluctance to play with life’s more fundamental elements? Perhaps. Thankfully, Fence’s fiction has by and large stayed loyal to its traditionally eccentric roots. Here are stories about dogs who write words on dry-erase boards and enter the corrupt world of small-town politics (“Dazzle Gets Political” by Scott Bradfield), a Karen Russelesque take on feral children and one owner’s bout with the SPCA (by Ken Foster, titled, aptly enough, “Feral Children,”), a cinematic history of war propaganda in film that takes several audacious turns toward the absurd (“Cinéma Vérité and the Collected Works of Ronald Regan” by Brad Cran), and a sequence by Christopher Janke called “Structure of the Embryonic Rat Brain,” which is almost as odd as it sounds. Oftentimes Fence’s playful quirkiness gets the better of the work, especially in the case of the poetry; then again, the journal’s teasingly coy take on our creative efforts has been its hallmark for over a decade. Is it possible that it is already pining for the big city? Any journal would find the transition from big buildings and wild parties to pruned shrubs and strip malls challenging, but if any journal can pull it off, it’s Fence. [www.fencemag.com/v9n2/]

 

Flyway coverFlyway

Volume 9 Number 3 and Volume 10 Number 1

Spring/Fall 2005 (currently backdated)

Triannual

Reviewed by Danielle LaVaque-Manty

This issue’s cover, graced by a cool-toned color photo of a flooded home on a river in South Dakota, is intriguing, and the writing inside eclectic. Perusing an issue of Flyway is like attending a series of author readings; each story, essay, or poem is followed by an author’s note that lets you in on what inspired the writer to write the piece, or what the work means to him or her. The poetry ranges widely in length and formality, from two sonnets by Barry Ballard, to an eight-line poem called “Summer,” by Dan Manchester, which offers a sequence of happy summer images and then makes the kind of leap one might find in a haiku: “By August, I’d collected enough / smooth rocks to load my pockets / and sink clear away.” There is work in translation by Chinese poet Bian Zhilin, and a poem in lovely couplets, “Dust,” by Dan Stryk: “The way it settles in the runnels / of the cracked oak desk, the full-grained // rondure of its woman’s calves I’ve loved…” The fiction, too, comes in a variety of styles. One of the winning fiction selections from Flyway’s Sweet Corn Literary Award competition, “The Last Kiss,” by Garrett Rowlan, tells a tale in which a man finds himself living out an alternate ending to a movie that has obsessed him for years. The other, “Wind Baby,” by Stephanie Dickinson, is a strictly realistic portrayal of the consequences of a childhood betrayal of confidence. In the sole piece of nonfiction in this volume, writer Jen Hirt riffs on meanings of the word “Stronghold” (the title of the piece) to craft a lyric memoir. With so much variety in these pages, there is surely something here for everyone. [http://flyway.org]

 

Harpur Palate coverHarpur Palate

Volume 6 Issue 2

Winter 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Sheheryar B. Sheikh

“There are no more quiet places to read.” This is poem XI, by Joshua A. Ware, and it captures the essence of this issue of Harpur Palate. The journal begs to be read, it shouts, and even nags with lines like, “By now you will recognize / that I have taken some liberties… and that when / I describe the third most / happening bar in town I mean / this one,” from Jeffrey Dodd’s “Translator’s Note.” It’s surprising how many good lines this issue contains, and how many stories are fun and engaging to read. For example, reading T. J. Forrester’s “The Revolving Door” is the account of a terminally ill sex-addict writing to his lovers from a hospice over the course of his last days. The character’s letters first begin: “Dear Skyler, How ya doin, snookems?” but he instead resorts to the formal: “I regret to inform you that…” If there is redemption for the weak and lost, Forrester helps the reader to find it for this protagonist. It’s probably as close to salvation as a character in literary fiction can get if he has inadvertently harmed other people. And here’s another good line from Valerie Fioravanti’s “Beer Money”: “Sometimes she Rose Anna wanted better for her children so bad she wished she’d never had them.” The story is rich with points-of-view of a mother and a daughter, and their understandings of what the world is. If reading fiction should make humans more tolerant (as Antonya Nelson would have it), this is a must-read story for the journey to enlightenment. Not to leave unmentioned Bruce Wrighton’s photo-feature “The Sacred in the Mundane,” prize winners, and conference papers, but this issue is amply represented in Casey Lord’s poem “What’s on a Plate,” with the lines, “All meals have the earth in / common,” and “The earth must / harbor breath from 20 years / ago. My eyelash is in the soil / somewhere too.” [harpurpalate.binghamton.edu]

 

Interim coverInterim

Number 4

2006

Annual

Reviewed by Christopher Mote

What are the implications of being human in a complex age? Interim offers a special feature on the subject, and it’s likely to stimulate debate as much as inform. Maxine Chernoff and Paul Hoover, partners in art as well as life, make cases for literature as an ancillary tool for improving the human person in an age plagued by deception and frivolity. “Isn’t tolerance possible,” asks Chernoff, “given the novel as the school of building it word by word in the best part of our minds, which are always seeking parables for life?” It’s thought-provoking, though there is much to debate: not all irony is necessarily frivolous, and for all the promises of reading, it seems unlikely that our politicians would be better human beings (not to say leaders) if they would just reread To Kill a Mockingbird. This is simplification, granted, but Chernoff and Hoover provide much to ponder for and against. The poetry of Interim should do the same; it takes up more than half of this thick, square journal, and sure enough, it doesn’t condescend to its readers. Call it language poetry or affix a post-___ label to it if you like. I find St. Augustine’s paradox appropriate: you know what it is, as long as no one asks you to define it. The space provided, to say the least, is generous: an average of five pages per poet. Anne Blonstein’s pastiches weave a variety of found sources, complete with footnotes, into long lines that challenge traditional syntax. “Is there any way to really look / at something?” is a straightforward question that appears in a poem by Justin Vicari, only to be followed by a mouthful of word-images: “cut limbs from the tree of taxonomies / without which we wouldn’t even know our nets had some purpose in the chronic act of casting out.” At its most daring, Interim’s poetry jumps around the page and asks us to make a mental completion of the white space. Definitely not for beginners, sometimes too recondite for its own good, but when the image registers, it’s rewarding and even, dare I say, fun. [english.unlv.edu/interim/Index.htm]

 

Journal of New Jersey Poets coverJournal of New Jersey Poets

Number 43

2006

Annual

Reviewed by Christopher Mote

As Journal of New Jersey Poets quietly celebrates its thirtieth anniversary, something curious remains about the manner in which poets write about the Garden State. More than a locale but less than a state of mind, New Jersey is evinced in its most dignified sense: fond and often dryly ironical memories of family gatherings, wooded communities, and The Shore, The Shore, The Shore. (And, okay, a small dose of Coney Island.) The language is concrete, not something one gets lost in, but even a simple line, such as, “We aren’t a town and we like it this way,” can feel like a ground-level philosophy exercise. While the nostalgia is surely overdone, it does at least resist a reactionary air. Poets like Gilda Kreuter know too well that immigrants are the lifeblood of the old neighborhoods, and her poem, “Yesterdays Become Todays,” shows a continuity from past to present. Even in the nature pieces, there are surprises. Tina Kelley longs to hear the marbled murrelet in the woods of a national park, but the only birds are the familiar thrushes “like a grandmother’s hairnet dotted with beads, / all just barely touching over the forest, just within hello contact, / the way my sleeping foot brushes against my lover’s for reassurance, / a sparse, wide communion in acres of trees older than the printed word.” Journal of NJ Poets is similar: the reader searches hard for something new and unfamiliar, but is nevertheless reminded of the charm of the commonplace along the way.

 

The Kenyon Review coverThe Kenyon Review

Volume 28 Number 2

Spring 2006

Quarterly

Reviewed by Kim Drain

There's a lot of death in this issue. A lot of death. Also: depression, senility, thoughts (and acts) of suicide, and many, many old people. If, as Andrei Tarkovsky said, "the aim of art is to prepare a person for death," you'll get some good practice here. Personally, I prefer art that prepares me for something else. I don't know what, exactly – call it mystery. But there's some of that in these pages, too, most notably in a short story by Ron Rash called "Their Ancient, Glittering Eyes." Though it begins with a yawn (two boys telling some old guys hanging out at the Riverside Gas and Grocery about the gigantic fish that they just saw), and progresses along fairly predictable lines, a sense of underlying significance grows and grows, just like the proportions of the behemoth at the story's center. This fish accrues a kind of mythical heft with each paragraph of Rash's unassuming prose, even as the animal eventually claims its place in everyday reality. This story alone is worth the $10 cover price, but there's other excellent work as well, including three delicately brutal poems by Michael Collier, and a new translation (by Carol Cosman) of Camus' "The Adulterous Wife." This tale of Janine, a middle-aged, swollen-ankled, overfed and underloved woman, is appropriately claustrophobic, locked, as it is, inside her disappointed head. In her sudden quest to attain that state a Buddhist might call "non-attachment," Janine encounters eternity (or nothingness—the distinction is unclear) under the Algerian night sky where "garlands of stars" are formed and shattered, like "sparkling icicles," like "shifting fires," before falling in bunches and "extinguishing themselves in the stones of the desert." It's a beautiful, haunting read. The Kenyon Review leans toward the highbrow, and there are many pieces here that might strike some as too cerebral (as they did me), but there are at least a few works that, like the gleaming scutes of a certain fish, are "better than gold." [http://www.kenyonreview.org]

 

Meena coverMeena

Issue 2

2006

Annual

Reviewed by Miles Clark

Meena is a literary journal that prints all contributions in both English and Arabic. This second installment of the journal focuses specifically on Hurricane Katrina, the ramifications of rising floodwaters, and related global political-environmental concerns. Its prose elements include a discussion on the anthropological significance of famous bodies of water (the Ganges as bringer of tranquility to the dying, the Volga as a “strong citadel in the face of invaders,” are only the two most obvious metaphors referenced). Through reading these, we learn that the allocation of the Nile River resources has become a major component of the Arab-Israeli conflict, especially after Sadat’s plan to enrich Sinai with an irrigation channel was stunted by Ethiopian resistance. It is now suggested that Israel’s impending water crisis – which already leads to enormous imbalances in usage – may furnish grounds for another war. A brief socioeconomic history of the now-notorious 9th Ward, and a speculative history of the death of Atlantis that’s really about New Orleans, aren’t far behind.

Poetically, Meena hahas attracted Paris Review editor Charles Simic and internationally-acclaimed lyricist Mahmoud Darwish; the poems from each are what we’ve come to expect. Simic’s in particular carry detached, almost ghostly, impressions of an interior landscape destroyed by an unnamed political event – the kind of dark, surreal Central European skepticism that once made him a lucid translator of Novica Tadic’s work.

Given this issue’s politically-charged content, I was left asking: what do the Middle East, Central Europe, and New Orleans really have in common? Meena, to its credit, doesn’t state, as much as suggest, that their common attribute is ongoing destruction. Linking three landscapes as disparate as these is an audacious venture for any literary magazine; it’s one whose effort I appreciate, and hope to see more of in the future. [www.meenamag.com/]

 

Melee coverMelee

Volume 1 Number 1

January 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Miles Clark

Driving on an Oakland freeway not long ago, a recent Iowa MFA graduate defined contemporary poetry as something that was less of a craft, than a handicraft: after adamantly denying my knowledge of the various journals where she had published, she described a world of self-made chapbooks distributed solely among “friends.” There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with this, until one remembers that she and her “friends” have been granted inroads into the poetic establishment, its scarce jobs and grant monies. It’s only one step removed from what happened at a recent San Francisco literary reading, when Iowa MFA schoolmaster Dean Young, whose poems I previously believed to crackle with wit and fervor, dismissed a heckler with the robotic rejoinder: “Is that a graduate of our program?” Snobbery may be endemic in contemporary poetry. Still, I was distressed that Young, whose reading had been subpar on all counts, was unable to more succinctly and suavely deflate the tension at hand. Isn’t poetry supposed to serve as the most palpable textual window into the human psyche? Or at least appear distressed at its failure to do so?

Sadly, neither of these are the case, and the result is new journals like Melee. This journal’s cover features a Bald Eagle sitting atop a wire-mesh fence, beside what appears to be a tarmac. Paired with its foldout, newspaperish format, this journal’s stark, politically-charged content is no surprise. Envisioning itself as one more voice in the struggle against “corporate poetry,” it conceives its medium as less of a country club than an AA club – i.e., you’re a poet when you say you are, not by talking your way inside. The poems here are unembellished by critical commentary or even biographical notes. Some of the names are already familiar: Lyn Lifshin (contributor to other self-conscious venues such as Presa Press’s recent anthology) and Amiri Baraka are the most obvious. The poems are distinctly anti-intellectual without collapsing into bland sentiment or abandoning a sense of craft; they tackle current events, most particularly Hurricane Katrina.

Ironically, Melee’s seems at its best not in practice, but theory; Richard Kostelanetz’s essay, “Advice to the Young Poet,” provides itemized plan of action in which grant-grabbing, rump-kissing and vicious cronyism may translate into a distinguished career for poetic hopefuls despite their never having written a single poem anyone has ever enjoyed. Apparently the essay was previously rejected by one popular magazine because its editor considered it to be satirical. Melee does not find it satirical, and, increasingly, neither do others. A little rough around the edges, this journal may be starting something important. But that remains to be seen. [www.poetrymelee.com/] ]

 

Midwest Quareterly coverThe Midwest Quarterly

Volume 48 Number 2

Winter 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Josh Maday

This issue of The Midwest Quarterly offers a broad selection of essays, beginning with Mark Glouberman’s “The Birth of Death in Athens and Jerusalem,” a comparison of death and origins in Homer’s Iliad and the book of Genesis. Next, Steve Wilson examines J.M. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World from the perspective of Judith Butler’s concept of “performative identity,” which suggests people are not essential selves but are malleable and shaped by “context and cultural expectations.” James J. Donahue offers another view of Henry David Thoreau’s thought in relation to the latter’s writings about John Brown. Donahue urges that Thoreau’s work ought to be read and evaluated as evidence of philosophical growth rather than self-contradiction; Thoreau laid the abstract groundwork in Civil Disobedience, on which he built an increasingly concrete framework that culminated in the writings about and the person of John Brown. Effectively breaking up the prose is an oasis of poetry nestled in the middle of the issue. David Rogers’s poem “Sometimes I sit” offers a wonderful time-lapse vision of watching the sunlight feel its way through the room during the course of the day: “If I sit still enough / the light may perch / on my fingertips, / a moth whose dusty wings / beat exactly once a day.” The issue continues moving forward, emerging from the poetry to a contemporary film analysis in Judith A. Spector and Katherine V. Tsiopos Wills’s “The Aesthetics of Materialism in Alan Ball’s American Beauty.” Here the authors refer to the film as well as the original screenplay, which was cut substantially, in more than one sense, during filming, and argue that the film represents a “quest for spiritual meaning in the midst of an overpowering materialism.” Finally, Beth Kraig revisits and responds to a dialogue she began in 1987 regarding “Automotive Woman,” that stereotypical “fecklessly timid fender-bending menace,” and “Automotive Man,” the “aggressive pedal-stomping pseudo-Daytona racer.” In reevaluating the present situation and finding more and more women assimilating the habits and attitudes of Automotive Man, making the roads even more dangerous, Kraig looks to the future and calls for a rational (and, for some, maybe even radical) solution she calls “Automotive Human.” Finishing off the issue are six insightful book reviews, two of which, interestingly, are reviews of the same book by two reviewers. Overall, this journal has more than just food for thought; this is meat and potatoes that will both fill you up and leave you hungry for more.
[http://www.pittstate.edu/engl/mwq/MQindex.html]

 

Mississippi Review coverMississippi Review

Volume 34 Number 3

Fall 2006

Biannual

Reviewed by Anna Sidak

I selected this attractive volume for its beautiful cover – aware of literary potential, of course, as Mississippi Review is one of the better-known journals – and opened it to find a masthead identified as "Actualization" and a collection of "prose poems." Reconsidering sentences, paragraphs, pages, and whole chapters from many of my favorite writers as prose poems, I soon developed an interest in this loosely defined category. Some of the selections here seem indistinguishable from flash fiction or short-short stories, such as Mark Budman's engaging "To My Love." The enjoyable "The Family Tree" by Christian Popescu would surely read as well if called a memoir or essay, or simply a poem: "As if when you spell it out, the winning lottery ticket you paid ten lei for were to say, word by word: ‘Year of death, 1987; place, Bucharest.’" And "Help Your Physician Better Understand Your Pain" by Jillian Weise is interestingly evasive. This issue's editor, Julia Johnson, traces the prose poem form to Charles Baudelaire's Paris Spleen, and its many practitioners, both before and since – Kafka comes to mind, along with Emerson, and the King James Bible. Indeed, as Ms. Johnson writes: "[…] the prose poem as a form has almost reinvented itself. It no longer seems like a separate genre […]" Indeed; perhaps this is because other forms have become less structured.
[http://www.mississippireview.com]

 

New Madrid coverNew Madrid

Volume 2 Number 1

Winter 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Anna Sidak

This issue of the attractive journal, New Madrid – named for the seismic zone of the central Mississippi Valley and published by Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky – is devoted to writing by former teachers at Murray State. Specifically, this issue honors Delbert E. Wylder (1923–2004), who in 1977, as Chairman of the English Department, founded the Murray Writing Program. Of the twenty-four associates listed from 1977 to the present, twenty have contributed appreciations and literary items ranging from James Galvin's "Old Men on the Courthouse Lawn" and "Hermatite Lake": "So I went for a walk around Hermatite Lake / To watch the small deer they call fallow deer / Dreamed to life by sleeping fields. / Someone had taken the water," to an excerpt from T. M. McNally's novel House Concert. Also included are Al-Baab: The Door (Preface) by James Hannah, Pam Durbin's "The Old King," and Ken Smith's "Bottomland." All are engaging, and the interlaced drawings by Robert William Head and Dale Daniel Leys contribute a graceful sense of place. This place is described in the essay "Land Between the Lakes" by Squire Babcock: "At the center of this vast circulatory system, near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, lies an unruly expanse of protected wilderness whose remote hills offer a glimpse into the American heart." Babcock’s essay then draws all to a thoughtful conclusion: "The compulsion to care for the unwanted and unproductive derives from the civilization of the human animal. To be civilized in the highest sense of the word, is to subordinate self, is to love unconditionally." [http://www.newmadridjournal.org]

 

New Ohio Review coverNew Ohio Review

Issue 1

Spring 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Josh Maday

New Ohio Review (/nor) clearly states, “This year we are particularly, though not exclusively, interested in innovative and cross-genre work that blurs conventional boundaries and resists easy definition.” /nor succeeds on all accounts. /nor is allusive, elusive, packed with experimental poetry, essays, fiction, philosophy, and everything in between – at once lyrical and pushing the boundaries of meaning, drawing from any and every source, exploring as well as indulging the natural slippage of language and the shifty exchange of meaning and context, where form is often as informative as text. One such example is Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s poem,“Draft 68: Threshold,” wherein words and, increasingly, entire lines and almost whole stanzas are blacked out as though at the hand of a censor, some silencing Other. This censorship leaves a “twist[ed] discourse,” “obliterates statement,” but ultimately is self-defeating, as what is blacked-out – these “wordless words” – becomes more interesting and more beautiful than what neutralized scraps are left.

Formal play and interactive reading/writing join in Thylias Moss’s “World View,” which takes the shape of a yet-unsolved math problem. The first element of the problem is a quote from Einstein and Infeld’s The Evolution of Physics: “To obtain a partial solution, the scientist must collect the unordered facts available and make them coherent and understandable by creative thought.” The quote is followed by three pages worth of solid text (the “unordered facts”) and the reader plays the part of the scientist by investing “creative thought” and working the material into coherence, imposing narrative structure. Closer to traditional fiction is François Camoin’s “Feathers from the Bird of Paradise,” the story of Nachtman, an updated incarnation of The Stranger, “a detached man” who “walks without purpose,” lives in his head, and rarely comes out except to read his books because little remains for him in this America, “this nation ruled by the mad and the imperious.”

Not to miss: Rosalind Morris’s non-fiction “The Age of Dinosaurs” is an examination of the connections between the American fascination with dinosaurs, the obsession of “youth and bigness,” and the notion of freedom. And finally, Marjorie Perloff and David Wojahn conduct “A Critical Exchange” on the poetry of Robert Lowell with great insight into the diverse schools of contemporary poetry and the evolution of the canon of American poets.

Other writers in this issue to check out include: Carla Harryman, Dean Young, Kristin Prevallet, Nathaniel Mackey, Charles Simic, Allen Grossman, Francis Ponge, Rodrigo Toscano, and more.

New Ohio Review takes big risks in this inaugural issue, challenging form, genre, and the reader. While not everything in this issue will be immediately accessible, big rewards are in order for any reader willing to take /nor up on its challenge to look at things differently. [http://www.ohiou.edu/nor/]

 

Ninth Letter coverNinth Letter

Volume 3 Issue 2

Fall/Winter 2006-07

Biannual

Reviewed by Josh Maday

Ninth Letter is an impressive machine. No expense was spared in design or production. A few ground rules before putting this thing in gear: No sipping tea or coffee while reading its contents, because, like piloting a big rig down the highway, Ninth Letter requires both hands. Open up and hold on. Your attention is no longer yours. Fiction takes off with Rachel Cantor’s “Zanzibar, Bereft,” the story of a story in search of and in conflict with itself, seeks growth and also desires the clean definition of identity. Mario Benedetti’s “The Big Switch” (translated by Harry Morales) shows Colonel Corrales spending all his time protecting the country by interrogating suspected rebels while the revolution takes shape in his own home while his daughter watches TV. A fiction/interview hybrid offers a preview of Oscar Hijuelos’s work in progress: an historical novel focusing on the friendship of Mark Twain and explorer Henry Morton Stanley. In the interview, situated in the column alongside excerpts from the novel, Hijuelos elaborates on portions of the text dealing with the hope of immortality inherent in the act of writing. Other fiction includes work from Roy Kesey, Patrick Crerand, Gonçalo M. Tavares, William Wall, S.P. Tenhoff, and more. Poetry opens with Robert Dale Paker’s “Introducing Jane Johnston Schoolcraft,” the seminal American Indian literary writer, and a selection of her poetry as well as poetry by Heid Erdrich and Louise Erdrich, two renowned contemporary Ojibwe poets. Moving and innovative poetry are also found in Elizabeth Langemak’s “Her Dance,” where the poem’s form itself sways back and forth with perfect rhythm along with the content. The images in Melissa Fair’s “Visitation” exude the dark power of atmosphere. Also among this feast of stimulating poetry is work by Chris Dombrowski, Bryan Narendorf, Candace Black, Lytton Smith, Cate Marvin, Paige Ackerson-Kiely, Joshua Poteat, and more. Plenty of fresh non-fiction comes from Jo Scott-Coe, Michael Martone, Joanna Imm, Bonnie J. Rough, and others. My favorite was David Evanier’s exposé on legendary literary representative, Sheldon Abend. Evanier does a good job of presenting “Shelly” in his glory, in his own words, and, to the contrary, according to the occasionally unflattering testimony of others. On top of all this is a ten-page, full-color feature entitled “Two Years of the Fillmore Posters,” with background and interviews with select artists. It’s hard to imagine how Ninth Letter could one-up this issue. I’m excited for the next issue to see how they do it. [http://www.ninthletter.com]

 

Noon

Volume 7

2007

Reviewed by Miles Clark

Reading the latest installment of Noon, I began to frame the not-at-all-uncomfortable impression that this journal, strange as it may seem, shares its design aesthetic with McSweeney’s. This isn’t obvious from the content (though the likes of Tao Lin, Deb Olin Unferth and Sam Lipsyte, might encourage such misconceptions) as much as through Noon’s insistence on importing iconographic singularity (read: noble) into the chirographic (read: agricultural) sphere of influence. In McSweeney’s these concerns are presented dualistically; you have your journal, it comes in a box or an envelope or with magnets or paperclips, you recall Dada and Aspen Magazine, you chuckle, and move on to the stories. Noon’s format, by contrast, is relatively straightforward: cover art, stories, long photographic portfolio, occasional drawings. At the same time, the rhythm and tone of the stories give the impression of tiptoeing from painting to painting in a modern art gallery. Many movements tangle in Noon: minimalism (Tao Lin and Greg Mulchay), Dadaism (Lypsite’s “The Illuminated Aisle Carpet”), Pop-Art (Laurence A. Peacock’s “The Palmer System”), and, most impressively, Clancy Martin’s Art Brut-inspired “Dirty Work.” Swaddled in a heavy-paper cover and containing an addendum explaining typeface history, it seemed clear that this journal was striving to remain a lasting object itself. This is particularly rare in the realm of experimental literature, where venues like Conjunctions or Sleeping Fish are designed more to dissuade the power of the image or ignore it altogether, conceiving the book pragmatically, as a vehicle for the presentation of printed matter.

From its inception, Noon has been a relatively closed world: its editors routinely publish (as well as advertise) their own work in the pages; repeat contributors appear more often than not; critical essays on an author appear beside stories of selfsame author. This mentality has come under a great deal of criticism elsewhere, and much of it is deserved. In Noon’s case, it is dismissible on the grounds that the journal’s content never misses a beat. These pages will make deliberate steps through the shifting waters of the avant-garde for a long time to come. [www.noonannual.com/]

 

Open Minds Quarterly coverOpen Minds Quarterly

Volume 8 Issue 4

Winter 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Sheheryar B. Sheikh

It is a tremendous effort to develop quality work like Open Minds Quarterly does, while focusing on the consumers and survivors of mental health services. First, to believe in the creativity of those who see and seek alternative versions of reality is a commendable venture. Then to embrace it in a cohesive journal  (fonts, pictures, etc. all contributing to the aesthetic), is a step in the direction of brilliance. This issue, a total of 26 pages, contains survivor narratives such as Susan Nickerson’s “Fly Away, Messiah” and Mark Ellerby’s “Towards Recovery,” the title of which says it all: recovery doesn’t mean complete salvation. “I am not sure what the future holds,” says Ellerby, “but it has to be better than schizophrenia.” Kurt Sass takes it a step further in his poem “Sometimes It’s Worse When You’re Better.” Besides the narratives and poems that directly relate the experience and consequences of mental illness, there are creative leaps of imagination, like Kim Nanuan’s “The Real and the Imaginary and—,” in which the writer and the journal exhibit what they can do with font arrangements and dimension leaps. Headings include “An (Overwrought) Homage to (Romanticized) Warriors from Ancient Japan” and “On the Precariousness of Life: Thoughts from a Depressed, Anxiety- and Thought-Disordered Perfectionist in the 21st Century.” It makes me think: Is that me? [www.nisa.on.ca]

 

Volume 34Oyez Review

Volume 34

Spring 2007

Annual

Reviewed by Denise Hill

Oyez- “from the Anglo-Norman word for hear ye, the imperative plural of oyer, meaning to hear. It was used as a call for silence and attention in court and at public gatherings.”

Without a doubt, there is a collective readership out there with their silent attention wrapped around this slight journal. The strength of the publication are the short stories, with works like “The Key” by Lee Varon – about a woman’s eerie obsession of visiting her ex’s home, “Immigrant Buffet” by Jotham Burrello – the same sad story of struggle and survival of “desert crossers” coming to America, but this one so stone cold in its testimony, it’s the readers who feel the concrete block in their own heart-stubborn patriotism. Top-notch is J. Weintraub’s “The Flight of the Golden Eagle,” with its unconventionally long parenthetical asides that tell the end in the middle – tedious, at first, I thought, but was so entwined by the time I came to the most unassuming end that I was overcome by tears. Peter Obourn’s “Albert Mooney Said” is a characterization and narrative cross between Lucien from Amélie and Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” – a read aloud of which resulted in a laugh out loud. Not as worthy of extended mention, unfortunately, is the poetry from over a dozen authors, which, while well crafted, remained less memorable. It’s still good poetry, just not great, and given the plethora of good poetry, it takes greatness to rise to the surface for any reader. Perhaps running one poem from each author may be what limits a stronger reader experience with otherwise capable writers. Great poetry in this issue would be the contributions of each Jade Q. Wade, Lois Marie Harrod, and ellen. Worth note in creative non-fiction is Ashley McCullough’s “Zero Tolerance” unfolding rough layers of reality, each more sad and sick and shocking, in such a way that the reader can’t stop reading it any more than the narrator can stop herself from smuggling opium. Gorgeous linocuts by Watie White grace the covers and middle section, with a two-page center spread reminiscent for some reason of R. Crumb’s city street scenes. Oyez indeed – worth your silence to read. [www.roosevelt.edu/oyezreview]

 

Parnassus coverParnassus: Poetry in Review

Volume 29 Numbers 1 & 2

2007

Semiannual

Reviewed by Danielle LaVaque-Manty

Parnassus is beautifully constructed. First, there’s the odd but intriguing painting on the cover, Gustave Moreau’s “Oedipus and the Sphinx,” which forms part of the subject matter for one of the poems found inside – “To Constantine Cavafy,” by Richard Howard. Turns out Cavafy wrote a poem about this painting without ever having seen it. Like Howard, the reader can have the luxury of knowing what Cavafy missed, and can also have the pleasure of reading a lengthy review of Howard’s own work, written by Langdon Hammer, poetry editor for The American Scholar. Richly detailed, careful reviews that offer insight not just into a poem or two, but a poet’s life work, are this journal’s hallmark. Other treats to be found inside include an essay on an ancient, pre-Islamic form of Arabic poetry called a qasida, preceded by a sample qasida in translation. There’s also an interview with an Iraqi poet who lives in the U.S. and writes in Arabic, an essay on portrayals of poets and poetry in recent fiction, and a respectable sample of gorgeously reproduced paintings and photographs. And let’s not forget the poetry. Here, as with the essays, Parnassus is generous, giving space to several long poems with long lines. Perhaps my favorite was “Danielle Suite,” by Albert Goldbarth, a long, philosophical narrative about the ways we attempt (but fail) to protect ourselves from loss by creating “backups.” Take, for example, the burglar: “It’s dark / but he can see, in the yard, a perfect example / of one of those plastic rocks that thoughtful homeowners use / as a backup: inside is the duplicate key.” Weighing in at over 400 pages, Parnassus is truly a journal of substance, one no poetry lover should miss. [http://parnassusreview.com]

 

The Pinch coverThe Pinch

Volume 27 Issue 1

Spring 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Christopher Gibson

The Pinch offers a strong variety of poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction with a few interviews thrown in the mix. Although poetry is a strength of The Pinch, the narratives shine the brightest in this excellent literary magazine. J. Malcolm Garcia led off the issue’s creative non-fiction with “Leave Taking,” a retelling of his experience of going to a brothel simply “for a beer.” Randy Rudder’s “Fallujah” is an articulate account of his attempt to use camping as an escape from the reality of the Iraq War. While camping, Rudder meets a soldier on the verge of deployment to Iraq, out camping with his pregnant wife. It is then that he realizes that even a vacation is not an escape from the reality of war. The short fiction also reflects The Pinch’s strong selection of literature and art. The story that stands out the most is Patrick Thomas Casey’s “It’s Rough Out Here for Dogs.” Casey’s story gives us a glimpse into the frustrations of a man who contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion. Those frustrations range from an interrupted sex life to the tragedy of leaving his young daughter fatherless. In addition to the well-written literature, the issue also offers some very intriguing artwork. Sexuality reverberates throughout Jada Thompson’s first three pieces, “Peterbilt,” “Implied Consent,” and “Floorplay”; however, Thompson’s choice of colors and subject matter (two women and a Peterbilt sign; a woman giving consent to bees; two men wrestling) make you want to see what she tackles next. [cas.memphis.edu/english/pinch/home/home.htm]

 

River Teeth coverRiver Teeth

Volume 8 Number 1

Fall 2006

Reviewed by Jennifer Sinor

The advantage of a literary journal devoted entirely to one genre is the ability to explore and expand the possibilities of the form. River Teeth does just that. While most literary journals might publish two or even three nonfiction essays, River Teeth can include more than a dozen in each issue, a number that allows the reader to get a strong sense of just how many ways there are to approach the “truth.” One of the highlights of the fall issue is the opening essay by Sydney Lea that reads more like poetry than prose in some ways. Structured around the list of errands taped to the dashboard of his car, “Change of Equations” is a meditation on the ordinary world that passes before us every day and that offers moments of suffering and joy. So many personal essays explore the grief that surrounds us, but Lea’s does the harder work of describing those transcendent moments where we come to see what really matters. The interview with Judith Kitchen and Dinty Moore on the short nonfiction form is also very illuminating. The two writers describe what they see happening within one of the more experimental and exciting areas of nonfiction. The reader is left wondering what can’t be done in 750 words. Finally, Floyd Skloot’s essay about his mother’s struggle with dementia is as beautiful as it is moving. A shadow of her former self, she talks to her son in bits and fragments of Depression-era songs, a code he desperately struggles to crack even though he knows it is chaos. Of his mother’s ever-present anger he writes that she hoarded her “youthful possibilities till they nestled like tinder in her emotional core.”
[www3.ashland.edu/academics/arts_sci/english/riverteeth/]

 

Santa Clara Review coverSanta Clara Review

Volume 94 Number 1

Fall/Winter 2006/2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Rachel Yoder

This Santa Clara Review opens with MC Hyland’s Palm Poetry Prize-winning poem, an apt entry into this issue with its measured cadence and stark pronouncements: “God is blond, and loves you, though not as you are now.” Ryan Van Cleave begins his playful third place poem, “Explosion: An Ars Poetica” with the line, “This poem is a bomb,” and goes on to ask, “Does the reader have on clean underwear?” Moments like these create a rich poetic experience throughout when juxtaposed with the dark music of Susanne Kort’s poems “Sonata” and “The Last I Saw Him,” and Sarah Blackman’s poem “Homelands” – which left me not knowing whether to lick my fingers, move to Europe, or melt, with lines like: “Grief is a berm of mussel shells / guarding high water. Tenderness / a slurry of butter and salt left on the plate.” Artwork ranging from amateur to accomplished provides a varied visual interlude; in Nadim Roberto Sabella’s otherworldly color photograph of an abandoned house – the most notable piece among the photos, paintings, and ink drawings – the green light through the open door and window are what one might imagine seeing upon death, at the end of the tunnel, or world. I found the shorter pieces of prose in this issue the most satisfying: Alison’s Stine’s succinct essay, “Understudies,” guides us through a precarious and precious week of new sobriety, whereas Don Waters’ short story, “Twelve Stations,” chronicles one fan’s ardent and funny obsession with Ashton Kutcher, “Ash to his friends.” This issue ends with a poem by Jeffrey Dod, “And,” that seems to capture the gestalt of this Santa Clara Review issue: both sad and funny, cerebral and tactile, lofty and grounded...with an angel on one shoulder, and “fingers in mounds of fresh ground pork.”
[http://www.magazine.santaclarareview.com]

 

Short Story coverShort Story

Number 1

Fall 2006

Biannual

Reviewed by Sheheryar B. Sheikh

A new journal is born, one with an ancient name. How does it merge the split-ends of legacy and innovation? It embraces the age-old tradition of straightforward storytelling and updating it with a solid cast of fledgling writers. Two of the four stories in this first issue are by students; one of them, Jessica Atkinson, is in her freshman year at college. Besides the four stories, there are two photo features and one interview. It’s easy to grasp the concept and execution of Short Story, but it’s not a simple journal at all. The monochrome photo features, titled “Paris” and “Kanuga” seem to build haunting narratives before fading away. The interview is with Matthew Bruccoli, a University of South Carolina professor, bookman and self-proclaimed literary historian, with severe opinions about the art of writing. Bruccoli is an expert on the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John O’Hara, and many others. His interview reeks of a teacher’s tough-love advice for budding writers, such as: “The only apprenticeship for being a writer is to write,” and “A piece of literature doesn’t exist until it’s published [. . .] publication is the essential act of authorship.” About the writing life, he says, “If your child wants to be a writer, shoot him. Save him or her a lifetime of disappointment. The only thing worse is wanting to be an actor.” Like all good mentors, Bruccoli spits out wisdom. George Singleton, in his story “Filling in Blanks,” portrays a multilayered South. His advice isn’t as simple as Bruccoli’s since it’s hidden under a compelling narrative arc, which seduces the reader with its stark characters. The other three stories (by Atkinson, Irvin Faust and Sayzie Koldys) are not lightweights either. It shouldn’t be long before the Joyce Carol Oateses and the John Updikes of literature begin flooding editor Caroline Lord’s mailbox. Read it while the lesser-known greats are featured. [www.shortstoryreview.org ]

 

Sentence coverSentence

Number 4

2006

Annual

Reviewed by Miles Clark

If poetry as a whole struggles to avoid becoming a minor art, prose poetry may be even more endangered; and what’s clear is that Sentence, like may contemporary poetry journals, sees its mission as much about preservation as promotion. With this comes anxiety: Contributing Editor Russell Edson declares himself “one of the established masters of the prose poem,” while Peter Johnson, also a contributing editor, sees the tradition of “publishing excellent prose poems” as dating back to the establishment of his own journal in the 1970’s. Clearly, biographical modesty has not made it to Sentence’s’s agenda. But while such arrogance generally confines itself to an enclosed academic establishment, I was happy to find many contributors living on wheat farms (Louis Borgeois), healing the ill (Cecil Helman) or posthumously honored with continued translations (Friedrich Hölderlin – 1770-1843).

Sentence contributors are at least not a hodgepodge of MFA students tinkering timidly with language. The only two Mercedes-Benz-driving poets I know of – Hoover and Maxine Chernoff – both make an appearance, along with experimental cheerleader Majorie Perloff, narrative guru James Tate, and Booker Prize-winner Margaret Atwood. Beyond this, David Lehman continues his mimetic exploration of single-author tropes in “Poem in the Manner of an Eric Ambler Spy Novel”; Joyelle McSweeney’s attempt to arrive at a description of the life of the contemporary writer through symbol leaves the reader choking in the dust; Christopher Merrill’s curiously worked alliterative experimentation explores allegorical possibilities. Biographical notes aside, there are already a half-dozen reasons to purchase this journal, and many more wait to be discovered inside. [www.firewheel-editions.org/]

 

Sleeping Fish coverSleeping Fish

Issue .0875

2006

Annual

Reviewed by Miles Clark

Sleeping Fish is, like many experimentally-based journals, not a collection of stories or even fiction in the traditional sense, but more the evocation and exploration of a single aesthetic premise: in this case, the unconscious mind at work. To say that its content is driven principally by wordplay goes without saying, even if titles like “The Mushroom Withdraws Among the Roots” and “The Bearded Favor” didn’t suggest this beforehand.

Most stories cultivate a single thought or situational development, potted on a page or less of real estate; occasionally this transition from world to world becomes a bit too much to handle, and reading more than 10 or 15 pages at a time is not recommended. The “works” vacillate between ultra-compressed narratives, mental ruminations, and surreal sketches. Familiar tropes are explored: Joshua Cohen’s vignettes carry the same logical obsessions as stories and novels. Stephen Graham Jones’s amorous liaison between a calorie doctor and his overweight patient contains all the elements of a longer story. Brian Evenson’s excerpts from “The Drownable Species” contain the same tropes of brotherhood and curiosity towards archived violence as his monumental “The Open Curtain.”

This is not a journal to be read for its descriptions of coffee houses and swishy-tailed cats, where metaphor is used as a “hook” to draw readers into a description of character. This is a journal where the swish of the cat’s tail might be appreciated for its metonymical qualities before the cat suddenly leaps off the balcony and into a cloud. It’s easy for a story, even an “experimental” story, to follow this train of thought down through the cloud and to the cat’s descent to street level; Sleeping Fish is often content to leave us in suspense. This will inevitably aggrieve some readers. Fans of surrealism, however, will find continual delight here. [www.sleepingfish.net/]

 

Soujourn coverSojourn

Number 19

2006

Reviewed by Christopher Mote

It is hereby noted that Sojourn has everything in it. Consider it a digest of contemporary writing, featuring fiction, nonfiction, poetry, translations, interviews (with poets Noami Shihab Nye and Ted Kooser), a play, and an array of photographs and paintings that build momentum from one page to the next. Yet in trying to be everything to everyone, Sojourn can feel incomplete and lacking in places. Kooser, for one, comes off rather reticent in his brief interview. The prose pieces, with colorful titles ranging from “As I Fold My Ego Origami Style” to “Tahini is a Sesame Seed Paste,” will cause a few eyes to roll. Without the table of contents, you can’t always tell which pieces are fiction and which are hyper-memoir, but you can’t deny that the voices in these works are in command. The latter title, for example (hint: it’s fiction), plays on post-9/11 paranoia as an excuse for an academic to reveal his inner resentment: “Remember – Tahini is not, at this very moment, running roughshod over the Arts and Humanities Department at RCC with a posse of ACLU lawyers at his back.” And on the translation front...well, what a front, indeed. The fiction and poetry includes Robert Sadler’s rendition of the luscious “Volverán Las Oscuras Golondrinas” by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer: “The dark swallows will return / To hang their nests on your balcony, / They will call time and again – playing, / With their wings at your windows.” Sojourn has its holes, but the sheer multitude of creative voices makes up for it. [http://www.sojournjournal.org]

 

subTerrain coversubTerrain

Volume 5 Number 45

Winter 2006

Triannual

Reviewed by Danielle LaVaque-Manty

Generally speaking, I hate theme issues – if I wanted to read that much about a single topic, I’d buy a book – but subTerrain’s issue on “Money” won me over. The fiction, though surprisingly short (subTerrain accepts nothing longer than 3,000 words) has real bite. These are stories about people who have difficult relationships with money: a schizophrenic who has to beg for change to pay for his prescription, a homeless man who kills another homeless man for his stash of cardboard, a corporate drone awaiting bad news during the latest round of downsizing. And then there’s “Twenty-Six Cents,” by Adrian Z. Dorris – a story told from the point of view of a quarter: “I’ve been a thousand phone calls: 911s, drug deals, surprise visits, wrong numbers, and desperate messages slurred hot and thick into bacterial receivers. I’ve been stolen, lost, and collected…I’ve been the first pull of a slot machine. And the last.” Other features include a series of color photos by Fred Herzog, documenting urban life in Vancouver since 1953, an interview with economist Dierdre McCloskey, and reviews of Canadian fiction and poetry. subTerrain is laid out like a glossy, and its contents are just as appealing; I read it from cover to cover in a single evening.
[http://www.subterrain.ca]

 

Subtropics coverSubtropics

Issue 3

Winter/Spring 2007

Triannual

Reviewed by Danielle LaVaque-Manty

Although Subtropics is only three issues old, it’s already hard to imagine the American literary scene without it. Published at the University of Florida, it offers a wealth of quality fiction and poetry, including a few works in translation. In this issue, you’ll find an excerpt from Sándor Márai’s Hungarian novel The Rebels, and poetry by Romanian poet Mariana Marin and French poet Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (1786-1859). There’s also poetry by Charles Wright, D.A. Powell, and a wonderful piece by Lola Haskins called “From the Lake,” a series of haiku-like poems laid out in a grid. My favorite of these is “Enlightenment”: “As the heron lifts it free, / the fish suddenly / understands.” The fiction ranges widely in style, from Steve Almond’s flash fiction “Nixon Swims” on the back cover, to Laura Furman’s slow moving but ultimately rewarding “Here It Was, November,” about a biographer’s discoveries concerning a famous and ruthless novelist, to “The Story of Joe from New Jersey,” by Matt Freidson, about a hapless Vietnamese American hoping to meet his birth parents in Vietnam, a story rich with the sounds of American speech, despite its foreign setting. Here’s an exchange between Joe from New Jersey and Tran from L.A.: “-Really, though, Tran snorted. How long you kicking it in the motherland? -I dunno. I just figure, whatever. I’m gonna go down South at some point… -Mekong in the house, Tran grinned. We’re from the same hood, Joey Dinero. We gonna roll tight, aight?” While there is no visual art inside, the photo on the cover, “Pet Shop Clerk Holding Young Alligators, 1936,” is worth a dozen less interesting images. Truth be told, the pages inside are oddly shiny and smell a bit funny, but perhaps that’s because Subtropics puts its money into more important things, like paying its excellent writers. [http://www.english.ufl.edu/subtropics/index.html]

 

Sycamore Review coverSycamore Review

Volume 19 Issue 1

Winter/Spring 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Josh Maday

Sycamore Review refuses to be lost in the “to be read” stack, partly because the magazine is an 8-inch by 8-inch square, which leaves its wings outstretched from most towers of books. However, not only its unusual dimensions (but, really, what is unusual anymore?) and comfortable paper quality make the magazine an aesthetic delight. We are gathered here today to find out whether form and content are unified as equal partners. (Quickly: yes.) The poetry is superlative, consisting of the winner and finalists of the 2006 Wabash Prize for Poetry. This issue begins with the winning poem, Cindy May Murphy’s “For My Father, Who Fears I’m Going to Hell,” a title immediately provoking reader expectations, and is followed by a poem that adeptly confounds those expectations. The lone essay by Mike Meginnis is a haunting piece where “our young hero” attempts to solve the “alien” that is his father in hope of applying those findings to himself. Fiction includes work by Megan Harlan, Rita Welty Bourke, and Dave Housley. Housley’s is a piece composed of pieces, as though arranged from the remains of something broken, entitled “Notes for the Guy Who Stole My Identity,” where the protagonist offers some advice to an unnamed other about how to take his place. Interviews are abundant in this issue, and they’re excellent. First up, the folks at SR chat with Tom Benedek about his series of reconstituted screenplays, with which he explores the notion of being “shot” by shooting his unproduced or “dead” screenplays and then photographing the carcasses. Next is an exchange with Natalie and Drew, creator-geniuses of the profoundly funny and popular online comics Toothpaste for Dinner and Married to the Sea; reproductions of cartoons from TFD and MTTS appear throughout the interview. Then comes Michael Martone – Martone returns for his second interview, his first in 1997. If you’ve read his book about writing, then you’ll be familiar with about half of this interview, which is not to say it’s any less brilliant or less relevant, only that Martone has certain anecdotes that he uses to illustrate his position/angle/framework as a fiction writer. By no means is the interview simply a reconfiguration of previous statements, and to clarify: everything that’s new in the interview is worth the price of admission. Closing out the issue are reviews of books by Nadine Sabra Meyer, Geraldine Brooks, Cormac McCarthy, Haruki Murakami, Philip Roth, and others. Sycamore Review is an impressive literary magazine. [http://sycamorereview.com]

 

Zone 3 coverZone 3

Volume 21 Number 2 Issue 43

Fall 2006

Biannual

Reviewed by Christopher Gibson

Zone 3’s current issue is a thoroughly entertaining selection of poetry and short fiction, though if you have recently experienced a troubled relationship, this issue might not be the one for you. James Iredell’s “Custodian” gives a snapshot of an unfulfilled woman who is attracted to a coworker and fears her husband is having an affair with his new boss. A. Van Jordan’s selection from Quantum Lyrics Montage portrays, through a series of individual poems, Einstein and his lover’s perspectives on their rocky relationship. Two stand-out stories were Daniel M. Jaffe’s “Hide-and-Seek” and Sara Majka’s “Green Street.” Jaffe takes the reader into the final meeting between a rabbi and his former housekeeper (and now ex-mistress), which is complicated further by her being African-American and the mother of his little girl. Majka’s story shows a bartender who could not find love or success with his bar in a small strip mall overtaken by a college expansion project. Although there are more optimistic works in the collection, this issue’s memorable treatment of troubled and unhealthy relationships is both realistic and honest. [www.apsu.edu/zone3/]

 

Reviewers - Contributors Notes

NewPages Literary Magazine Stand recent reviews:

Apr 2007
Mar 2007
Feb 2007
Jan 2007

Cumulative Index of Literary Magazines Reviewed