Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted July 16, 2007

A Public Space

Number 3

Winter 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Miles Clark

For those who enjoyed the first two issues of A Public Space, get ready for more of the same. The journal has settled into a steady routine: its “If You See Something, Say Something” department contains a mélange of cultural criticism and ruminations on environmental changes; its comics confront the potential disunity of strict cultural roles; its poetry is experimental and edgy. It’s the poetry which is most improved, particularly Eugene Ostashevsky’s “DJ Spinoza” and Anne Carson’s “Zeus Bits” (the latter a series of lighthearted fragments worthy of Fence). In fiction, Martha Cooley’s “Month Girls” features three word processors (April, May and June) telling the stories of their names to an orphaned coworker; the arbitrariness of a name provides a smooth segue into emotional indifference.

A Public Space first achieved notoriety for what it was not: a continuation of The Paris Review. While TPR has swiftly reinvented itself with an eye towards the exigencies of a new century, A Public Space has been no less forthright in establishing itself as a University of Iowa satellite. Of its five contributing editors, three –Aviya Kushner, Yiyun Li, and Antoine Wilson – are Iowa products; its debut issue featured fiction from alums Charles D’Ambrosio and Peter Orner; Marilynne Robinson, Iowa’s oft-lauded instructor, proffered an argument for writing fiction. Issues two and three have each “introduced” the fiction of a newly-minted Iowa grad. Alum Daniel Alarcón serves as co-editor of this issue’s “focus” section.

Brigid Hughes once claimed that it was “hard” to think of good writers from this generation who had not attended an MFA program. Apparently, the greater challenge is to create a list of schools beyond Iowa where that writing is produced. In this issue's most amusing segment, Ben Erenreich suggests that the rise of animal attacks on humans is no fluke, but a coordinated retaliatory effort to curb manmade environmental destruction. As A Public Space becomes an institution, one begins to wonder if Erenreich’s apprehension has less to do with animals, and more with the fortunes of this particular journal, particularly after the reading public discovers that its doors are bolted shut.
http://www.apublicspace.org

 

Bathtub Gin literary magazine coverBathtub Gin

Issue 20

Spring/Summer 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Robert Duffer

Despite an impending hiatus, Editor Christopher Harter is optimistic that Issue 20 will not be the last batch of Bathtub Gin. The challenges of producing a lit journal be damned: Harter expects Gin to reach legal drinking age. The stapled, zine-sized journal features new and familiar artists contributing pieces on war, work and marginalization. Carmen Germain's broken verse gets better with each read, specifically in the fight between a homeowner and a nest-building wasp in "Work Like This": “Work like this makes / work. I aim the garden // hose, sorry that killing / comes to what's / mine, what's yours.” A Benitez pencil drawing inspired Blair Ewing’s recreation of the image in prose. It represents the best of Bathtub Gin, evoking a singular moment or scene that puts the reader there. Place is paramount in each of Tom Kryss's shadowy prose poems, as well. Tom Maxedon's short story "33 1/3" introduces a man who debates how to handle the two kids trespassing on the lawn of his dead father's house. He feels old, starts to understand his father. Many of the contributors have more than one piece (both poetry and prose are relatively short – none of the handful of prose pieces nears the 3,000 word maximum). Amidst these are literary nuggets, quick shots of prose that deserve another turn, a moment to settle into the bloodstream, like "Invisible to the Naked Eye" by John Bennett. For that reason alone I wish a happy, expectant 21st birthday to Gin. [http://www.pathwisepress.com]

 

Birmingham Poetry Review literary magazine coverBirmingham Poetry Review

Number 33

Summer/Fall 2006

Biannual

Reviewed by Jennifer Gomoll Popolis

BPR is one of those slim, no-nonsense poetry journals that publishes a strong selection of the best work that comes their way, followed by several book reviews. No filler, no academia, no kidding. In that spirit, I'll just get down to a couple of the poems I admired most, starting with James Doyle's playful "Magritte," in which "an admirer / has slid the skeleton of a pheasant" through the surrealist painter's mail slot. Surreal itself, the poem has the artist setting the skeleton down on a chess board, "thinking checkmate to flesh it out. // It picks up his brushes, paints / its way out of checkmate, / square by square, across the canvas." In "Deer Skull," Michael Henson finds a doe's skull in the snow and takes it away with him through a field; what's interesting about this is the strange whistling sound he hears and can't quite place, until realizing it's the wind through the skull's nostrils. The event prompts the poet to contemplate his own mortality, for what does all his "heaving of animal breath / in and out of [his] damp nostrils" come to? The quite Buddhist revelation: "Nothing at all. / Only this breath that I catch from moment to moment. / Only this moment of body, this / articulated stack of whistling bone." And finally, A.C. Speyer's "Anacoluthon at the Zoo" questions our cultural habit of caging animals and watching them for entertainment. The poet's little girl wonders if zoo animals are happy; father does not answer but asks his own internal questions ("Are they even dangerous? Is this how / we overcome our cave-forged fears-- / by displaying them? Or do we gawk / reverently by default like nervous / dilettantes dawdling an art gallery?") Rather, he uneasily settles for the child-appropriate response: "'They'll live longer like this . . . ' / 'Look, the seals are performing tricks.'" There are many more good poems here; pick up a copy and see for yourself!
[http://www.uab.edu/english/bpr]

 

Calyx literary magazine coverCalyx

Volume 23 Number 3

Winter 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Jennifer Gomoll Popolis

I'm happy to report that there are some absolute gems in this issue of Calyx. I particularly enjoyed the fiction; many of the stories here feature strong, distinct voices and new approaches to common themes. Raima Evan's "Gittel and the Golden Carp" is a fish-out-of-water tale which presents us with a Polish-American immigrant who feels uneasy in her new country, but whose strange encounter with a talking carp from the butcher's helps her come to terms with it. Another sharp tale is Annie Weatherwax's “Eating Cake,” which features Missy, a young adult whose homosexual brother has been killed in a hate crime; in Missy's small town full of people intolerant of boys who meet other boys in the woods, sympathy is often laced with judgment. Missy is wry, she's smartmouthed, and she's almost moved to violent retaliation against a closed-minded church lady who insults her brother's memory. This is a perceptive look at lives left behind by murder, as well as an acknowledgment of the potential for rage and violence in all of us.

As for Calyx's poetry, I found myself a bit disappointed. The issue started off with a great bang, Gail Griffin's “War Stories.” This prize-winning poem is about the danger and violence inherent in father/son relationships in the Bible and in pagan myth: Abraham on the verge of sacrificing his adoring son Isaac; Jesus, the son of God, on the cross; Saturn eating his children as: “Their blood slides down his chin, / he crushes their bones to pulp, / sucks down their hearts and livers and / loves them, oh, man, oh, brother, how / he loves them.” This poem is juicy as hell, in both subject matter and wording; no other poem here comes close. Perhaps it's a deliberate contrast; many of this issue's subsequent poems are about mothers. Some of these poems seemed a bit soft, and I'd have liked to see more variety in tone. Surely there are daughters and mothers whose relationships are as fiery and complex as those of our famous men of myth and legend . . . right?
[http://www.calyxpress.org]

 

Circumference literary magazine coverCircumference

Issue 5

Autumn/Winter 2006-2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Jennifer Gomoll Popolis

Sometimes, when you've read a large number of literary magazines, you begin to feel that one seems much like another. There is no danger of that happening with Circumference. This lively journal of poetry in translation presents a variety of poetic voices, languages, and styles through the ages. And I do mean variety: poets include Roman epigrapher Martial ("Spectacles IX," 80 A.D., translated from the Latin by George Held); French Dadist Paul Eluard ("Nusch," 1949, translated from the French by Lisa Lubasch); and John Smelcer ("Raven's Trans-Species Love Song," 2006, translated from the Ahtna by Smelcer himself, as he is "the last person in [his] tribe who can speak, read, and write" Ahtna). I appreciated the inclusion of original texts side-by-side with the translations; with some knowledge of French and Spanish, I was able to experience poems in those languages more fully, as readers of other languages will be able to do as well. If I have a complaint, it's that each poet is represented by only one poem. Chinese poet Wang Jiaxin merited a two-page introduction that had me psyched to read a selection of work by someone intelligent, engaging, and important. The one Jiaxin poem provided, "Pastoral" (translated by John A. Crespi, George O'Connell, and Diana Shi) is a lovely piece, in which the poet is driving in a snow flurry behind a truck full of sheep, only their dark eyes visible, "gentle and quiet, not knowing / where they were headed." They gaze at the poet, "curious as children," but he drifts back, letting the snow make them disappear. I loved the quiet beauty of the scene, as well as the implications of these innocent, unknowing creatures being sent perhaps to slaughter as the poet can do nothing but make them "disappear" from his own view. I'd have loved to see more of his work; perhaps future issues might include several works by a featured poet. Even so, Circumference is definitely a journal worth looking into.
[http://www.circumferencemag.com ]

 

Divide literary magazine coverDivide

Issue 4

Fall 2006

Annual

Reviewed by Robert Duffer

Effective travel writing – like good fiction – creates an experience that is shared by the reader. The fourth issue of Divide, themed “Travel and Enlightenment,” is brimming with experiences and reflection. The balanced collection of essays, fiction, poetry and photography produced by the University of Colorado reminds me of The Sun: there is a sensitivity to the human condition and our place within the natural world. In the opening piece, “Portrait of the Traveler as a Young Man,” Stephen Benz reproaches the young, ignorant, Central-American traveler he once was and simultaneously criticizes the homogenization of travel: “Because guidebooks and guides constantly intervened, we never really encountered the place directly […] a safe but diluted approach to the travel experience.” A lot of the prose in Divide flows like travel, sometimes slow and building, sometimes awesome and shocking. Several pieces stand out: a couple trying to salvage a doomed marriage by vacationing to Dominica in Tara L. Masih’s “Champagne Water”; John Volkmer’s ruminations on why we (and he) make pilgrimages to places of the massacred dead in “The Mark of Cain”; Aaron Gwyn’s eerily calm “Drive,” wherein a mismatched couple go on an unexplained killing spree; Alyce Miller’s “An Act of Kindness,” where the do-good narrator unnerves the teenage (if even that old) Bangkok whore she was trying to protect. Dark elements infuse the selections in Divide but there is a lightness – something like enlightenment – coming out of each experience.
[http://www.colorado.edu/journals/divide ]

 

The Florida Review literary magazine coverThe Florida Review

Volume 32 Number 1

Spring 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Deborah Diemont

At 170 pages, The Florida Review provides a little something for everyone: poetry, fiction, nonfiction, comics, and book reviews. Some stand-out pieces include poems by Denise Duhamel (“Spoon” and “A Flower of Fish”), and an interview with poet Peter Meinke, who talks about his love for Donne’s “mixture of wit, formalism, and passion.” Fiction-wise, Mary Elizabeth Pope’s “Divining Venus” is a beautifully angst adolescent tale. Peter Selgin’s “Eagle Electric,” may be the best personal essay I’ve ever read. It tells of the author’s profound friendship with his college roommate – a Vietnam vet and “artistic genius” beginning to lose his sanity – in 1970’s New York. Selgin’s prose, which captures every sound, smell, and image perceived by two young men who strive to “keep their senses sharp,” reads like poetry. It’s hard to choose a passage to quote, but here’s one that gives nothing of the story away: “There were the subways digging tunnels through my sleep, and garbage trucks beeping and growling, and the caterwauls of coital cats, and stray dogs barking endless streams of monomaniacal Morse code . . . and the hissing of that damned silver [heating] pipe . . . like a rocket ship trying to blast off. And, rumbling beneath all of those other sounds, there was the steady drum roll of Dwain’s Promethean snores.” The ending seems to take Selgin himself by surprise. It would be worth picking up this issue for his essay alone.
[http://www.floridareview.cah.ucf.edu/]

 

Fourth Genre literary magazine coverFourth Genre

Volume 9 Number 1

Spring 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Sheheryar B. Sheikh

Fourth Genre is the cacophony of reality sifted through arcs of narrative. Each issue raises the bar of representing reality, because it gives a new slice of it to the reader. Good fiction aches for verisimilitude or its opposite, and this issue of Fourth Genre proves that the rules are applicable to both life and the “unreal” life of fiction. This issue contains the editors' prize winning essays, Nedra Rogers's first place winner “Mammalian” and Casey Fleming's runner-up piece “Take Me with You.” “Mammalian” begins with bodily concerns and ends with a flourish of quotes, including Erich Fromm's famous: “Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve.” A fixation on the concept of physical self pervades many of the creative nonfiction pieces in the issue. “Alone in Amsterdam” by P.M. Marxsen begins with a quaint conversation between the characters of a painting and its attendant observer, a woman “alone in Amsterdam.” Rebecca J. Butorac's “A Self-Portrait of a Woman Who Hates Cameras” has a body-oriented narrative interspersed with pictures of her feet, shoes, and the various personalities of the combinations possible therein. Susan Messer's great story, “Regrets Only,” focuses on the need for a group of people to get away from their troubled friend. The narrative shakes the reader out of lethargy and then further into shock. The reader begins to think, “Is trouble contagious?”

Master strokes of language are also found in Nicole Walker's “Dam,” which contains the lines: “Growing up, we lived behind a mortuary, a cemetery, and a Mormon Church. The prospect of death seemed to follow us throughout suburbia.” and, “The cervix is an amazing body part.” A marvelous experiment results in Desirae Matherly's “Final: Comprehensive, Roughly,” which is a series of questions designed to evoke narrative as well as ask for it, with true/false questions, multiple choice questions and essay questions to boot. A major feature of the issue is a discussion between four essayists on the role of research in literary non-fiction. This open discussion sets the standard for setting a standard in a genre. Fourth Genre is the best place for a non-fiction government, and this issue proves just that. [http://www.msupress.msu.edu/journals/fg/]

 

Image literary magazine coverImage

Number 53

Spring 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Sheheryar Badar Sheikh

For a literary journal that is “informed by – or grapples with – religious faith,” Image is really “with it”. Editor Gregory Wolfe's introductory essay “East and West in Miniature” is a discourse on Pope Benedict XVI's recent controversial lecture, and meditates on the issue of Islamic extremism in the light of some mystic concepts. It also includes an extended illumination of Orhan Pamuk's treatment of miniature painters in his prizewinning novel, My Name is Red. Such a tremendous essay is just the surface of the issue. The first fiction piece, “A Freak of Nature” by my own thesis adviser, Valerie Sayers, invokes the fifties and their special sets of paranoia and family medical crises. Sayers is capable of making me wring my hands with a twist of language, such as this one: “My father says you call them carnies, and don't get too close. Don't peek inside. It would break your heart.” Following Betsy Sholl's poem “Gravity and Grace” is Janet Peery's novel excerpt“ Garden of the Gods,” making me wonder if the editor is playing alliteration games. A major highlight is Brenton Good's photo feature of Wolfgang Laib's installation artwork, which includes tiny mounds of pollen and a large white marble slab layered with a thin film of milk. Good says Laib is an “iconoclast . . . first of all, he is slow. Deliberately slow. He regularly spends entire summers in the fields near his home in the Black Forest filling small jars with pollen...within the fast-paced, achievement-minded art world, his methods seem more than a little eccentric, and to the modern view of time, they are almost perversely meticulous.” The result of this meditation is a resplendence in the glowing yellow pollen mounds that Laib finally creates. Farrel O'Gorman's “Recollecting Satan” is a short fiction of epic proportions. It begins, “I met the man we chose to call Satan in Myrtle Beach in the spring of 1986 . . .” In an interview with Scott Russell Sanders, Image manages to draw into the discussion the “emotional and ethical” rather than “scientific” question of the sense of loss. This leads nicely into Mary Kenagy's essay, “The Yoke of Sympathy: The Fiction Writer and Her Characters,” something no writer can read without knowing that truth is typed here. Especially of interest is Kenagy's comparison of Chekov's methods with those of Faulkner's in creating characters. Always important to Image is to end with a piece that brings the focus back to faith, and this is exactly what Lindsey Crittenden's “The Burden of Bliss” does, with the near-end line “Prayer worked when I told the truth.”

http://www.imagejournal.org

 

Isotope literary magazine coverisotope

Issue 5 Number 1

Spring/Summer 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Denise Hill

If you ever thought science and literature didn’t get along, Isotope will prove you wrong. Non-fiction is the strength of this issue. Much is similarly styled in the use of densely layered narratives which are both story and informative (science) writing. David Gessner’s essay, “Field Notes on my Daughter” is as much about his daughter and the family of foxes he observes as it is about his being a father, a scientific observer, a writer, and what all of this means together in one human existence. It’s an amazing piece that, like the observation notes he writes and analyzes, becomes its own surprising creation. So, too, are non-fiction works by Bonnie J. Rough (“Looking for Sacajawea”), Jeffery Thomson (“Turbulence”), Pete Gomben (“Succession”) and George Handley (“Eddies”). If I had been able to learn natural science and history from reading these works in high school, I may have had a much greater appreciation for the discipline – or at least higher grades. As it is, with bare minimum science knowledge, every piece in this magazine is accessible, educational and enjoyable.

The poetry continues on this vein, and if you’ve ever wondered how science and poetry could get along, try Kimberly Johnson’s “Ode on Cancer” or “Earthbound” by James Grinwis, or the obviously-science-titled “Thermodynamics” by Sue Swartz and “Geyserscape” by Lynne Bama. Along with others, these are writers who naturally bridge any gap between science and literature. Throw in some politics and environmentalism, and you’ve got W. Vandoren Wheeler’s poem “And the Miracles Have Not Stopped Materializing.” A must-mention is the artwork by Kate Breakey, whose hand colored photographs of naturally expired desert creatures are what drew me to read this issue. As a friend once said, “I never knew writing like this existed.” Nor that I would find it as exciting as I did. Science? Indeed. [http://isotope.usu.edu/]

 

The Journal of Ordinary Thoughts literary magazine coverJournal of Ordinary Thought

Winter 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Sheheryar B. Sheikh

Test the weight of your best thoughts. If they are turgid with inspiration, and quotes like “To be or not to be,” then you are beyond the ordinary good writer. The Journal of Ordinary Thought (JOT) is for those writers who realize that editing is half the writing, and to get to the level of an everyday Shakespeare, there are many thoughts that need to be discarded or reshaped. JOT imagines the landscape of thought as one where no words should be culled. All the ordinariness of language is settled here like the surface of a sea of jetsam and flotsam. Sounds bad, right? But the effect is quite the opposite. In her short essay “Me and Time,” Pennie Holmes-Brinson begins: “Time and I don't get along well.” She continues the personification of time with sentences like “Then it stands there with one hand on its hip, pointing at its wristwatch with another hand, and reaching out at me with yet another hand!” JOT is littered with such gems, and they all lie on the surface.

This issue is focused on “Borders and Boundaries”, and most writers attack the idea very directly. Titles such as “Who Set the Boundaries?” and “Crossing Borders” are plenty, in addition to “Invisibility,” and these never pretend to transcend simple concerns. JOT is ordinary magic at its best. Only in simple sentences could the most effective combinations of language be brought out. “Starting drugs in the first place was breaking a dictatorial boundary, but stopping I found was also crossing the line.” This line from Charlie Clements's essay, “Addiction University” belongs in JOT, and others like it find a home here. The writers and editors of JOT believe “that every person is a philosopher,” and very appropriately, there are no contributors' notes. These writers don't need introductions or stage exit directions, just old pen and paper, to write what they want to capture their given moment. [http://www.jot.org/jot.html]

 

The Kenyon Review literary magazine coverThe Kenyon Review

Volume 29 Number 2

Spring 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Deborah Diemont

This issue of The Kenyon Review contains three absolutely delicious article-length book reviews of collected letters: The Letters of Robert Lowell (2005), reviewed by Willard Spiegelman; Love Amy: The Selected Letters of Amy Clampitt (2005), reviewed by Sam Pickering; and A Wild Perfection: The Selected Letters of James Wright (2005), reviewed by Saskia Hamilton. (Hamilton’s review is double, covering also the 2005 Selected Poems by James Wright.) These critiques of three great 20th century poets emphasize the personal letter—that intimate form of correspondence, sadly retired in our internet-driven world—as an art form. The reviewers’ insights into the life and work of Lowell, Clampitt, and Wright renew my reverence for them; yes, I will read the letters and return once again to their poetry!

I found the new poetry in this issue less satisfying; I prefer poems with strong use of imagery and appeal to the senses. In general, imagery was not central to these poems, but tended to be interspersed among abstract and esoteric utterances. A poem that drew my attention for its thought-provoking immediacy was Carl Dennis’s “A Visit to West Point,” in which a Cadet Fuscaro offers “English majors in uniform” a “Powerpoint presentation / On stream of consciousness in Virginia Woolf.” Also noteworthy is a new series by Roger Rosenblatt called “Just Not for Us”: comic essays on the trials and tribulations of being a writer, and a compelling excerpt from Tara Ison’s forthcoming novel, The List. The black-and-white photo, “Angel Woman, Sonora Desert, Mexico,” by Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide makes for the best magazine cover I’ve seen lately.
[http://www.kenyonreview.org/]

 

The MeadoW 2007 Literary and Art Journal CoverThe MeadoW

2007

Annual

Reviewed by Denise Hill

While the title may give the impression of wide open spaces, this publication is anything but in its content. A mere 87 pages is packed with over 30 contributors of artwork, poetry, prose (fiction/non-fiction? can’t always tell), and an interview with Ellen Hopkins (author of the poetry novel Crank). The authorship range is varied, with contributions coming from Truckee Meadows Community College students to such well knowns as Suzanne Roberts and Lyn Lifshin (“I Remember Haifa Being Lovely But” reprint). Part of the Hopkins’s interview focuses on the Ash Canyon Poets, some of whose work is featured. Hopkins agrees with the interviewer that the poets’ focus on place is “fed mostly by this stunning place where we live.”

The same could be said for the content of much of this issue of MeadoW. The two opening poems, Ben Gotschall’s “Idaho” and Taylor Graham’s “Selling the Saddle,” immediately sweep the reader into wide open plains and onto dusty trails. Just as strongly, Lowell Andrew Warbingon’s prose piece “Portland Stories” envelopes the reader in the damp of the northwest, and the many hopeful spirits that region has no doubt dampened. Jim Lamoreux’s poem “It Is Done With Them” offers an understanding of nature’s ability to shatter hope through his recounting of the westward trail taken by so many pioneers, and lives lost in the pursuit of dreams. Although, place can be as simple as the space under a bed, as Jo L. Gerrard shows in her prose “The Comfort of Dark Spaces.” The prose in this issue is generally strong but quiet. No great epiphanies or grinding tensions, but thoughtfully crafted progressions that leave strong images with the reader. There are inconsistencies with the selections that could be more carefully developed by the editors, though the overall flow of the journal from one piece to the next is tight, which is no easy task when dealing with only one piece from each author. The art is well worth the color spread, though again here, medium identification would help. Definitely room to grow in this MeadoW, and under the guidance of Lindsay Wilson, formally of Fugue, I think this journal shows great promise. [http://www.tmcc.edu/meadow/]

 

Open City literary magazine coverOpen City

Number 23

Spring/Summer 2007

Reviewed by Miles Clark

Having just edited a story anthology in which four contributors were poets by trade, I was particularly interested in reading this installment of Open City, which offers “prose by poets.” It’s a bit of a departure for this venue – if only because those accustomed to its steady professionalism will find the quality here to vacillate wildly.

When not provided the luxury of a line break, these poets often feel at sea: Colons and semicolons appear profusely; sentences are as often fragmented as not; focus will lurch from topic to topic. These traits are evident in not all of Open City’s contributors, but in the best of them; Joe Wenderoth, who has taken recent beatings elsewhere in the blogosphere, takes the ol’ subject-object paradigm on a hilarious trip to a local strip club, where, apparently, “God is Glad.” Similarly, Jim Harrison’s brief “Arizona II” carries the kind of fragmentary vividness that captures the eccentricity of its landscape. A short storywriter would have felt the necessity of cultivating these loose ends into a narrative duck-duck goose; Harrison casts this concern to the wind. If there’s one thing this prose is not, it’s complacent.

In some cases, the experiment goes south. While Deborah Garrison’s apologetic letter to Beller explaining her inability to write prose is funny, some others should have taken the confessional route. Hadara Bar-Nadav cleaves too tightly to the narrative strain, producing a bland, methodical story that goes nowhere. Wayne Koestenbaum’s “Welcome Tour” is too recognizable as a “prose poem” to feel, in the spirit of this particular journal, like anything other than a copout.
[http://www.opencity.org/]

 

Opium literary magazine coverOpium

Number 4

Spring 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Sheheryar B. Sheikh

“Consider this the definitive statement of how to succeed in your life,” says the spine of Opium's fourth issue. Right under this is written, “What? No, that's all we wanted to say.” Maybe this issue, subtitled “Live Well Now” will have too much slapstick and too many cheap jokes for my taste, I think before opening it. Before that thought settles, it's erased. Easily the most zine-influenced journal I have ever read, Opium thrills me from cover to cover with its variety and is packed full of punch. This single issue is as thoroughly conceptualized as a Pink Floyd album, complete with background street sounds and stray barking dogs, even sparrows in the thirteenth layer of sound. The editorial statement “We promise it's like nothing you've seen before, and better yet: we promise you'll laugh,” is the truest one in the journal. A lineage of man follows, worth witnessing first-hand. Aptly enough, the first fiction is F. John Sharp's “Primal Urges.” The editors share with us more information: “Estimated reading time: 5:59.”

Is this journal something, or is it something? A banner runs across the top with a different aphorism on every page. I couldn't find a single bad one. Then I stopped looking and enjoyed all of them, including “#6: Affix your oxygen mask of happiness before assisting others,” “#12: You are a hero to someone weaker than you, like a child or a stray dog,” and “#24: Don't inoculate yourself against the virus of rabid enthusiasm.” These extraneous texts make the issue as good as Mad Magazine used to be, and that's high praise. But besides them, the fiction, essays, cartoons and poetry are magnificent. Quality material like James Strowe's comics, Diane Stilwell's “An Open and Honest Relationship,” and Anthony Tognazzini's “Things That Happened Between 2:35 and 2:38 This Afternoon While I Was Lying on My Bed Trying to Take a Nap” abound. Estimated reading time value for the issue: fifteen years, at least.
[http://www.opiumden.org/]

 

Poetry literary magazine coverPoetry

Volume 190 Number 3

June 2007

Monthly

Reviewed by Miles Clark

Once yearly, Poetry eschews its commentary and letters sections to focus on its namesake; this year, the month chosen is June, and the result is not disappointing. Left to fend for itself, the poetry feels less intellectual, and more kinetic, than generally. Its strongest offerings are surrealist satires; David Biespel’s “Rag and Bone Man” struggles to fasten a trickster mask around a Literatus; Ralph Sneeden’s “Prayer as Bomb” provides vibrant satire in which explosives come to be seen as individualized elements of misplaced hope. Heidi Steidlmayer’s brief, deft “Scree” is worth citing in its entirety:

I have seen the arrested
scrub inform the crag with grief.
Lichens crust the rocks with red.
Thorns punctuate a leaf.

Sorrow is not a desert
where one endures the other –
but footing lost and halting
step. And then another.

The darkest clouds loom not over in the poetry itself, but the marginalia: of the 12 advertisements in the back of Poetry, 6 are devoted to Poetry-related events, prizes, products or solicitations. Though a 100-million dollar foundation may do as it pleases, it’s disappointing that it feels the necessity of advertising, among other things, a submissions call for letters. If one looks to Poetry for some measure of guidance in this ever-dissipating literary world – a recourse that, considering this journal’s unparalleled quality and consistency, would not be rash – one might reach the uncomfortable conclusion that while poetic production remains vigorous, its dialogue may have, after years favoring one-sided, academically-centered arrogance, been finally left to fend for itself.
[http://www.poetrymagazine.org]

 

Poetry East literary magazine coverPoetry East

Numbers 58 and 59

Spring 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Deborah Diemont

Poetry East is a 220-page journal containing nothing but poetry and contributors’ notes. The journal often publishes theme issues, past themes including post-war Italian poetry, Finnish poetry, and issues dedicated entirely to Robert Bly, Muriel Rukeyser, and “Ammons/Bukowski/Corman.” I’d like to get my hands on some of those past issues. The current issue has no purported theme, but a majority of the poems would fit well with the past issue “Praise,” (Poetry East has actually published a Praise I and a Praise II) or with the forthcoming issue, “Bliss.” I don’t mean to suggest that I don’t care for praising or blissful poems, but this relatively thick journal seemed to me, taken as a whole, a bit too even in tone. A good many of the poems could have pushed the envelope a little more. Tone-wise, there were exceptions (for example, no less than five poems by David Harbilas that express a general displeasure with quotidian life – one critical of a self-centered restaurant owner, another called “Letter to Human Resources”). The overall essence of this issue can be summed up in lines from Elizabeth Poreba’s “Oak”: “The space between each leaf / sliced October sapphire // into gemstones. // No pathos of dying leaf— / an aura of silence, // an achievement so complete / no need to ask whose . . .” Among poems that stand out in their more complicated praise include: Juliana Gray’s sonnet, “For Eliza at Sixteen Months,” Moira Linehan’s “Whatever Jewish Mother Means,” and Mike White’s “Décor”: “. . .the African mask that slipped its nail / . . . severe features summoning essence of tribal nobility // gone now . . . we found / astonished mirth gazing up from the floor.” I find Frederick Smock’s “Kiss” sweetly irresistible: “Since having to get reading glasses, / taking them off has become my sign / that I want to kiss you.” Finally, Louisa A. Igloria’s “Perfectibility,” which invokes the 19th century Japanese painter Hokusai to praise a modern work, is just plain wonderful.
http://www.poetryeast.org/

 

Sewanee Review coverThe Sewanee Review

Volume 115 Number 2

Spring 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Deborah Diemont

In a world of the increasingly gritty, beyond-experimental, post-post-modern and devil-may-care, The Sewanee Review feels almost old-fashioned in its emphasis on clarity, craftsmanship, and quality. It was a treat to carry it around with me, leave it beside my bed, and, before falling asleep underline stand-out bits of analysis in critical essays. Christopher Clausen’s “From the Mountain to the Monsters” intrigued me from the opening lines: “Take nature as your moral guide, and before long you find yourself haunted by nightmares of monsters. The relation between cosmic nature and human ethical conduct was the most important intellectual problem of the nineteenth century.”

The essay parallels the preoccupation with monsters like Dracula and Mr. Hyde with nineteenth century romanticism, and while going not so far as to say that monsters were an argument against modern science, Clausen does suggest that nineteenth century writers were not convinced of science’s power over the primitive and supernatural. David Mason has a wonderful essay in homage to the poet B. H. Fairchild that argues against critics who have called Fairchild simply a poet of memory; he convincingly shows Fairchild’s work to be an example of Thomas Hobbe’s proposition that “imagination and memory are but one thing.” Dawn Potter’s essay on how her study of Milton’s Paradise Lost has illumined her daily life and its mundane tasks is both engaging and humbling. There are other pieces that warrant comment, but I’ll end with admiration for Deborah Gregor’s poem, “The Dollhouses of the Dead” that imaginatively compares a 17th Century Dutch dollhouse to another doll house or museum arrangement of the attic where Anne Frank hid with her family: “. . . – there in miniature, / was what her father, who survived the war, // remembered.. . . // The pictures his youngest had cut from magazines / and pasted to the wall of her narrow room – / O dead starlets of the thirties, / may history be kind to you here.” [www.sewanee.edu/sewanee_review/home]

 

The Southern Review literary magazine coverThe Southern Review

Volume 43 Number 2

Spring 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Sheheryar B. Sheikh

The Southern Review prides itself on excellence, on not letting the reader off the hook. This issue has three essays on “Mind and Metaphor,” none of which are an easy task to read, partly because each of will unsettle your preconceived notions of those two abstract concepts. Michelle Herman's exploration of expert advice on her daughter's rare psychological condition makes for a terrific read. She meanders like a sure narrator going for the kill with a ready spear, and the insightful way her discussion weaves in the objectives and possibilities in metaphor astound the reader. Herman scoffs science, reveres it, magnifies its warm steeliness and fuses it on a nuclear level with literature. Her included discussion on story-telling is worth reading for every writer of character-driven narratives. Sonya Lea's “Creation Story” focuses on an amnesiac's reconstruction of his life story, much in the vein of the Harrison Ford movie Regarding Henry, but without the Hollywood ending. To keep an intellectual detachment is difficult in such a narrative, especially by a spouse, but Lea manages it artfully.

Three Steve Almond short-shorts are a highlight, as is the photo feature, an excerpt from “Travels with Van Gogh and the Impressionists,” with text by Lin Arison and richly colorful and textured photographs by Neil Folberg. A longer work of fiction by Naomi J. Williams, “Rickshaw Runner” recounts the early days of Hollywood and a Japanese community's interaction with a film director named Chaplin. Saral Waldorf plays on the title and subject of a Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden installation to make her fiction “In the Infield was Patty Peccavi” come ominously to life. Jay Rogoff's poem “Such Stuff” invokes Shakespeare and responds to Waldorf's story as well as to a sculpture by Charles LeDray. A magnificent cohesion results, and The Southern Review pulls it off with southern charm.
[www.lsu.edu/tsr/]

 

Sou'Wester literary magazine coverSou’Wester

Volume 35 Number 1

Fall 2006

Quarterly

Reviewed by Deborah Diemont

Two short stories in this issue of Sou’wester just knock me out: April Line’s “What It Would Be Like To Have a Baby With a Turnip” and Patricia Brieschke’s “Eat!” Both feature ordinary women as protagonists and both cover themes done before: the experience of pregnancy (Turnip) and self-starvation (Eat). However, as is commonly noted, when it comes to good writing, it’s not what you say but how you say it. Both Line and Brieschke prove themselves to be masters of craft, laugh-out-loud humor, and the discovery of those quirky details that make us recognize our own lives. Linda Button’s “Tethered,” a story about a young woman spending an afternoon with her brother who has returned from fighting in Afghanistan, is memorable for the sense of weight and humility conveyed in a mere two pages. Jean Murray Walker’s poems, “Art” and “Recycling” show a sparse elegance similar to that found in “oriental” poetry. From “Art”: “On this scroll I see new tracks / crossing winter fields, cold rain, / river cutting through plains / night falling. Let me not ask for / untrampled snow. May I love / the moon, no longer full . . .” Another of the stronger poems found in this issue is Denise Hinrichsen’s “Resurrection Yoga,” a prose poem that is a meditative elegy for the poet’s father. Overall, the Fall 2006 Sou’wester offers some impressively good reading.
[www.siue.edu/ENGLISH/SW/]

 

Yellow Medicine literary magazine coverYellow Medicine Review

A Journal of Indigenous Literature, Art and Thought

Volume 1

Spring 2007

Reviewed by Robert Duffer

Though Yellow Medicine County in southwest Minnesota is home to the native Dakota People, the first issue of Yellow Medicine Review includes artists indigenous to places as distant as Papua, New Guinea and Australia. It's expected that a journal with "Indigenous" in its title would have considerable negative references to the colonizing culture. As with most white American mutts – lineage too mixed to be certain of anything – I have enough Indian blood to be an embarrassment to the indigenous. Regardless of my whiteness, as a reader, the strongest pieces in this journal were not the ones condemning the past but those expressing the Indigenous experience as it is now.

Joel Waters's "Being White" takes on the prevalent theme of identity from another angle: "I might have the skin. / I might be culturally aware. / But sticking feathers / In your hair / Does not make you an Indian. / At most you are a prairie / Chicken." There's a forthrightness in the prose that is enviable: "But that's another story and this is about Autumn Pingishmook and every story of Autumn is about who we really are, whether we believe it or die of that great whiteman's disease, and perhaps his most powerful teaching, denial." Gordon Henry writes in "Autumn – Rematriations," a series of scenes about the older narrator's relationship with enigmatic and proud Autumn. The structure defies traditional treatments of time and is fraught with more metaphor than I can comprehend. I loved it. Kimberly Blaeser's wandering story (six of her poems are included as well) "How Many Indians" concerns a beleaguered woman befriending a neglected boy and asks what the duty is of the community to protect its own. This perfect-bound, cleanly-edited, 180-page journal represents the Indigenous voice and the essence of quality story telling. [www.yellowmedicinereview.com]

 

Zyzzyva literary magazine coverZYZZYVA

Volume 22 Issue 1

Spring 2007

Reviewed by Miles Clark

Long before highbrow carpetbaggers followed the Silicon Valley free-market bubble west to begin San Francisco’s literary “reconstruction,” there was Howard Junker, the cantankerous eccentric who started Zyzzyva from scratch and clawed his way to a position where he could tell Thomas Pynchon’s agent to call Thomas Pynchon bad names. An original do-it-yourselfer, Junker reads every submission that comes through the transom; provides the email addresses of his contributors; even maintains one of the most informative literary blogs on the net. Junker’s reaction to foreign incursion, after several infamous softball skirmishes, has been exceptionally Southern: namely, he has continued publishing Zyzzyva almost exactly as before.

“Before,” as now, means quality writing. In this issue, John Struloeff’s extended nature metaphors give poignancy to verse detailing loss, while Bob Judd’s long memoir of seesawing family fortunes, in which each plot point is connected by an automobile, is as fascinating as it is wide-ranging – and particularly intriguing as it focuses less on Judd himself than the peripheral figures that defined his childhood. Charles McLeod’s “Exit Wounds” carries the sort of disjointed anticlimax that emblematizes much of San Francisco’s migrant culture.

The issue, of course, isn’t an unqualified success: SF Chronicle artist Paul Madonna’s “Out of the Grapevine” attempts to fuse banal descriptions of self-conscious characters with images where the likeness of those depicted is not seen. Whereas his All Over Coffee serial achieves this because it generally links its self-consciousness to immediately familiar, generally picturesque San Francisco settings, (making for a pleasant Sunday-morning diversion while flipping through the paper), his attempt to tell a story with this material is entirely unsuccessful.

Though it doesn’t look as “hip” as many other productions, there’s a far more subtle, and real, feeling of interaction with Zyzzyva. [http://www.zyzzyva.org]

 

Reviewers - Contributors Notes

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Cumulative Index of Literary Magazines Reviewed