Literary Magazine Reviews
Posted October 8, 2007
Reviewed by Anne Wolfe
With a name like Aufgabe, I had no idea what to expect
from this journal. What I found was a brilliant collection of
avant-garde poetry that knocked my socks off. Guest editor
Raymond Bianchi explained in the introduction that this issue
was chosen to “showcase both established and emerging Brazilian
poets,” some whose works are translated here for the first time.
Some of the poetry is “Concrete, or visual poetry,” which
Bianchi explains “is everywhere in Brazil.” There is no way to
explain it except to tell you to look at it, please! Words are
arranged all over the pages, in a pattern, or in no discernable
pattern, except to give new meaning to very familiar words. One
such poem, by Augusto de Campos, stacked, linear, begins: “low /
er / than / the / trash / man / that / smells / like / the /
trash.” The concrete poets do not mind splitting words or even
creating intriguing puzzles. There is also poetry from the rest
of the international community. Some is prose poetry, such as
“Essay on Ritual” by Max Winter, “Chora” by Sandra Miller, and
“obedience” by karl edwards – they are clearly not essays – the
language spells p-o-e-t-r-y. Some poems are lists of words,
chosen, not random, for example: “Favorite Words” by Maria
Esther Maciel; “Oblivious, Oblique, Obvious, Vestigial,
Lascivious, Malicious, Lubricated, Arugula, Delirious…” Try
reading these poems out loud. Even the poetry that looks at
first glance to be more classic is out-of-the-ordinary. Witness
“Methodology” by Devon Wootten: “The range in which we function
// interrupted / modulated // flux and reflux // viewed as an
integral / part of a larger whole.” The cover art is a mystical,
delicate, pastel watercolor worthy of this mystical poetry.
There are also a number of worthy reviews and essays with no
prior editorial constraint. Aufgabe is a cerebral and
magical experience, not to be missed.
Reviewed by Camilla S. Medders
According to the Editor’s Note, this is the first issue of Bayou Magazine from the University of New Orleans to be produced after Hurricane Katrina. The cover features a photograph of Bayou St. John, which flooded during the hurricane. In this context, it’s hard not to see this magazine as a small miracle, a reflection of “both the promise of new beginnings and the determination to persevere,” as editor Joanna Leake writes.
The first poem in the magazine, Maxine Cassin’s lovely “Chilled” combines the tragedy of the flood with the New Orleans tradition of soaking everything in alcohol. “We have tried being merry,” she writes, “until the taste rose in our throats, / foul as those bodies pulled through / ruined dormers/like bottles without labels--”
The other poems are diverse, some playfully talkative, like Richard Cecil’s “Old Men’s Wisdom,” which claims that “If Yeats had married his true love, Maude Gonne, / he’d not have written ‘Circus Animal’s Desertion,’ / and we’d have lost the greatest song / about how old men feel – although it’s wrong.” Others are more intellectual and abstract, like Kokut Onaran’s fascinating exploration of phonics in “O.”
The four short stories all deal with family dynamics. In “Valentino Dances at the Linoleum Ballroom,” a young man tries to move on with life after his father’s death. This theme also shows up in Kathie Giorgio’s almost overly sweet story, “A Receipt from Jesus,” in which a young girl tries to understand her grandmother’s death. In Joe Edd Morris’ “Undertow,” my favorite of the stories, an ominous storm causes separate tragedies for a man on a barge and his lonely wife, a reminder of the power of nature from a magazine that knows this power all too well.
Issue 47 of Bayou also features two plays, both winners of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival One Act Play Competition.
Though slim, this magazine is rich with ideas and images. It
took Bayou almost two years to recover from Katrina, but
thank goodness it did.
Clackamas Literary Review
Reviewed by Rachel Yoder
Today at lunch my friend Libby told me about her plans to teach a course in dangerous writing. “You write about the thing that scares you the most,” she explained, “and turn it in to art.” In this issue of Clackamas Literary Review, my favorite pieces were ones that might be categorized as “dangerous.” For example, in Paul Yoon’s story “Lys,” the narrator skids through the precipitous terrain of subtle, taboo desire with his recently deceased father’s French mistress. Jose Skinner’s astonishing fiction, “Counting Coup,” the most provocative piece in this issue and definitely dangerous, cuts as close to the bone as any story can, laying bare an Apache boy’s sexual coming-of-age and subsequent betrayal. And Nancy Mayer’s essay, “Becoming Her Daughter,” honestly and unflinchingly explores the author’s relationship, past and present, with her ailing mother, and her complicated feelings upon her death.
“Original Sin” by Virgil Suarez, the 2005 Willamette Award Winner in Poetry, also explores the dangerous space of “Americanas, blond gringas, / ricas & delicious, but oh so forbidden,” ending with a bite of the “juicy plump fruit of the damned.” Beyond dangerous writing in this issue, there is also innovative and beautiful writing, for example, Matthew Roberson’s Willamette Award-winning story “Possible Side Effects” with its pharmaceutical section headings, and Bruce Holland Rogers and Robert Hill Long’s prose poem “Flood,” with my favorite line of the issue: “[The river] spread across the gravelly flood plain like a silver-backed herd, and fed in the low meadows.” Kudos too to Twila Jo Nesky’s story “Silly Putty,” well-written, entertaining, vivid, and “dangerous” in that it thwarts genre; it reads like an essay but is listed in the table of contents under fiction.
Here’s to all the dangerous writers
in this CLR issue: Thanks for walking the tightrope and
human-canon-balling out of the canon. Thanks for flinging open
the dark closet doors, and for showing us the contorted, fanged
things under the bed.
Reviewed by Camilla S. Medders
The Fall 2006 issue of Eclipse is a dark one. Death is the most prevalent subject, followed by tragedy and despair. Not a magazine to be read all in one sitting if you’re susceptible to depression. Taken one at a time, though, the stories and poems here are refreshing and thought-provoking.
In a world dominated by free verse, it’s nice to see so much formal poetry in a literary magazine. I counted eight honest-to-goodness sonnets, and several almost-sonnets. Marie Candice adds something extra in “She Searches Seashells…,” rhyming the last word of each line with the first word of the next line. The effect is mesmerizing. Wendell Hawken’s poem, “The Mare Has Broken Loose Again,” is written in an Old English verse form based on consonance and four beat lines: “wet nights // wakes the wakeful.” And Fred Yannantuono’s “The Evil of Two Lessers,” provides comic relief with playful end rhymes, such as “Instead I drank a bottle of merlot / And voted for Perot.”
On the other hand, many of the stories in this issue could be described as experimental. “The Art of Breathing” by Michele Melnick and “When Hope is Terrible” by Kathie Giorgio are both two-and-a-half page second person monologues. David LeMaster begins his story, “Jesus, Richard Nixon and a Large Brown Dog,” with this irresistible statement: “My name is Noel Cain, and I am dead – well, Noel is dead. I’ve come back to earth as a large brown dog.” Beth Franks’s “The Girl with the Fine Blue Line” is a story of breakup, narrated by the woman of the couple, and footnoted by the man. For readers who prefer a more traditional story, there are several of these as well, all of them well-crafted, touching and tragic.
If you’re in the mood to ponder the darker side of things, I would definitely recommend this issue of Eclipse on a lonely evening with a bottle of wine.
Volume 30 Number 2
Reviewed by Colin McLean
For most of us in the U.S., “haiku” conjures memories of fourth grade teachers, 5-7-5 syllable counts, and the camaraderie of a bake sale. But, if you read Frogpond: The Journal of the Haiku Society of America, you’d be wrong except for the camaraderie.
The publication provides longer works, such as the haibun, and well-developed essays. There is a notable lyrical-haiku essay by Fay Aoyagi, titled “Dissection of the Haiku Tradition: Wind.” The essay explores the wind through memoir, famous haikus, and even song lyrics. Aoyagi writes: “When the rain front moves north, the Meteorological Agency announces the official end of the rainy season. The sky becomes bright. Cicadas start singing.” This is followed by Sojo Hino’s haiku:
white south wind –
she forgets to apply makeup
behind her ears
There is a short essay by Dietmar Tauchner who writes about the international haiku scene, illustrating the differences of American and Japanese haiku, alongside the contemporary German haiku scene.
I prefer the friendly atmosphere of Frogpond to so many other more cutthroat journals, and the fact that a good haiku is rarer than a wild orchid. In this, Frogpond is prescient. The opening haiku by Yasuhiko Shigemoto is perhaps the best and the review deserves to end on its enigmatic note:
From the A-bombed tree
seeds start to fall
ththis year also
Reviewed by Jeanne M. Lesinski
Luna, which is just the right size to conveniently slip into a purse, offers up multiple works by such poets as Mark Conway, Sara McCallum, Dobby Gibson, Rigoberto Gonzáles, and Crystal Williams, among others. The editors’ preference is for free verse, some so free, in fact, as to cross the boundary into prose. For example, Denise Duhamel’s “You’re Looking at the Love Interest” is a wonderful anecdote set on the page to look like a poem. And while the most basic requisite of a poem is that length of the line be determined by the content, I gravitate toward verse that uses a variety of poetic devices.
In addition, since Luna’s subtitle is “a journal of poetry and translation,” I expected to see translated works, yet this volume, at least, contains none, though some of Gonzáles’s works are multilingual.
Many of the poems in this volume have a personal, confessional tone. McCallum speaks the language of the human condition in the quartet of poems appearing here: in “Parable of the Stones” a fateful misadventure haunts; in “Then” the persona finds herself only “a character in her own life”; in “The Shore” the tenuous boundaries of love stretch toward the unknown; and in “Luck” a woman acknowledges the pivotal events that allowed her to escape her “other life.”
Seminal people and events make up the history of a country as well. If you like political poetry, try out Gibson’s “Where Wings Take Dream,” titled for a dyslexic slip made by President George Bush in 2000. It begins:
First he awakens, then they apply his makeup.
Then he fetches his morning paper
and delivers it to the trash unread.
A monkey could do this much, it is true,
and this is precisely why we have elected one to do it.
It’s refreshing to see an American poet so openly take on our
leader and so à propos in our current political climate.
However, for something less scathing and instead emotionally
wrenching, try “Vespertine” by contributing editor Gonzáles. The
24 stanzas are bursting with simile, metaphor, and a staccato
rhythm exemplified by the refrain “Stop-breath, stop-time,
stop-world, steering wheel” that punctuates this narrative poem.
Its conclusion will leave the reader moved – and anticipating
the next volume of this fine literary magazine from the
University of Minnesota.
Reviewed by Anne Wolfe
The extremely high quality of the very first issue of Minnetonka Review – a varied, 170 pages of short-stories, poetry, non-fiction and an excerpt of a novel and interview of the author – is set at the very beginning. My breath was taken away by Robin Lippincott’s “Hibakuska (August 6, 1945)” from his novel, In the Meantime. The excerpt is from Japan shortly after the dropping of the first A-bomb – and Lippincott manages to make us believe he was there, and a native. It is so gripping, I was ashamed of being an American as I read of the destruction wrought there as told through the poetic, fatalistic eyes of a young Japanese man.
An imaginative non-fiction tale, part travelogue, part adventure story, part drama, is told with pathos and heart by Carol Severino in “Learning Kichwa Family Style.” It’s about a woman travelling to Ecuador, learning the ancient native tongue, as well as lessons in life from the natives. “Surface Tension” by Allan Douglass Coleman is a thought-provoking poem, visually arranged, about the inevitability of death. It asks: “does it simply blossom from within, inhere / death, latent, blooming red blush on a green tomato...?”
Further examples of quality poetry are Jae Newman’s “Mother Tree” and “White Crane.” The latter is a brief, poignant snapshot of life in the DMV that stuns with its vividness. For a story to put you on the edge of your seat, there’s “A Kind of Eden” by Bev Jafek. This 26-page epic depicts two lesbians adventuring to paradise and descending to hell. It is told in both the first and third person, smoothly, beginning innocuously, then becoming dangerously fast-paced and heart-pounding.
The cover art is a dreamy view of a prairie
river by Keith Demanche that reflects the highly colorful
ingredients that make up this journal – the maiden voyage of the
Minnetonka Review is a ride you must catch.
Paterson Literary Review
Reviewed by Anne Wolfe
The editorial staff dedicated this issue of the Paterson Literary Review to Allen Ginsberg, native son of Paterson, New Jersey. Much of the nearly four hundred pages in this volume are devoted to reminisce of Allen Ginsberg by those who knew him, were mentored by him and were profoundly influenced by him. They call him “bard,” “lover of earth and foe of the fascist state,” “poetry father,” “catalyst of utopia,” and “courage-teacher.” They recount vivid memories, reflect, and describe their sense of loss at his death. The poet Jim Cohn wrote, “Allen’s thinking had a way of causing a roar in your head.” The poet Eliot Katz wrote in an elegy, “Ah, Allen, you gave America a new shape & now you’ve lost yours.”
The rest of this journal devoted mostly to poetry, including the 2005 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award winners, also includes some prose, reviews, and one memoir. Among the many notables works are five poems by Leslie Heywood: “Soil Profile,” “Having a Life,” “Don’t Find Me,” “Number 23,” and “Work.” These poems speak with imagery from both nature and suburbia; they ebb and flow with a quiet rhythm that gives breath to the colorful personas that inhabit them. Another set of five will hit one differently, coming with ingenious insights and breathless questions: Hilda Roz, in an evocative “Dante’s Words, A Canzone,” writes, “The lost woman / who planted her garden in stone, / this woman, her flesh cold / in this early morning cold.” Roz never fails to be to be moving. Some real gems are seven poems by Vivian Shipley, who also wrote a review and is reviewed in this publication. Of special interest are her works “Sitting With My Grandmother, Pavealy Stewart Todd,” and “With My Grandfather Todd the Summer I Turned Sixteen,” in which the reader comes to know Shipley. T
he reviews are highly useful, and the award winners appealing.
In all, these 400 pages are worth every minute it takes to read
them: the Allen Ginsberg tributes are worth it alone; all are
from the heart, and now part of history.
Reviewed by Jeanne M. Lesinski
To my mind (and perhaps those of women all over America), the acronym PMS as it appears boldly on the journal cover arouses thoughts of the combination of discomforts women experience at a certain time of the lunar cycle. So why, when it would have been so simple to scramble the letters into other combinations, is this quality journal called PMS? Title aside, there is much to appreciate in this review, which exclusively features women’s works and is divided evenly between the three genres.
Pairs of poems by Gail Giewont, Lois Marie Harrod, Maxine Chernoff, and Jennifer J. Gandel represent all stages in these poets’ careers. Susan McLean’s single poem “Like the Boys,” which is powerful in both its tone and content, provides a new take on equality of the sexes, one that left me exclaiming “Damn!” The prose poems, too, are interesting. Of the five, Christine Tierney’s stream-of-consciousness-like “Getting to White” and “The Darker” juxtapose each other in title but not in their intense tone. Reading these poems requires the reader to participate. In the former s/he must fill in the gaps about Emma (why would she “blind into white”), while in the latter the reader is drawn into the painful drama of the unnamed girl who “could tell you how it felt to sit in the dark of some broken down closet and think of every single comeback she could tell you no she could whisper how in the absence of light fat becomes nothing more than heat.” (38)
The M portion of the journal contains two memoirs about medical issues (“Love Is Finished” and “Cracking Open”). They are written in very different tones: the clinical yet caring voice of a nurse working in an African AIDS clinic and orphanage, and the mother of a baby born with birth defects. “Four decades ago, when I was young and stupid and didn’t know a baby from a wormy kapusta, a according to my Polish mother,” writes Patricia Brieschke, “I gave birth to a tiny damaged boy on my kitchen table.” (64) From the perspective of dealing with a “damaged” child, the reader can move on to another new perspective. “Dancing Lessons from God” gives westerners a welcome aperture into life in Yemen in the late 1970s. Thank you, Ginna Vogt. We need more such stories to humanize our Muslim neighbors.
I was disappointed with the fiction in this issue. Vicki
Covington’s short story “The Haircut” is rather engagingly
written but ends badly because at the climax the author tells
the reader what to think. “Unfinished” by Kim Aubrey revolves
around a woman’s repeated experiences of the art of Yoko Ono,
but the tone is so flat that it is difficult to care about the
protagonist’s experience. Readers can find the best fiction in
this issue in the prose poems. Overall, two out of three letters
is pretty good.
Reviewed by Camilla S. Medders
Ruminate publishes “work that accounts for the grappling pleas, as well as the quiet assurances of an authentic faith.” They mean Christian faith, but you don’t have to be a Christian to enjoy the thought-provoking poetry and prose in the current issue.
The theme of this issue is “benediction,” which could be interpreted as a blessing, the effects of a blessing, or a ceremony to set aside objects as sacred. All these meanings are captured in the stories or poems, often in surprising ways. For example, in Jennie Mejan’s poem, “Frankenblessed,” she describes her body as an “odd gift // Burgs of bloat and coasting humps,” yet concludes that “I must be polite; / without it, I’m a burning light / unmoored.” Brett DeFries’s chilling poem “At the Waco Baptist Church” recounts the accidental electrocution of a minister as he stands in a baptismal pool. It doesn’t sound much like a benediction, but DeFries manages to make the connection: “The congregation watched / As God surged through you at a thousand volts.” Diane Tucker’s poem, “Recipe” is not overtly religious, but in this context, the “silvery garlic skins / in a fish-scale heap beside the knife” absorb extra weight and become blessed.
My favorite story in this issue is “The Grace I Know” by Tony Woodlief, a heartbreaking tale of a father who is literally haunted by his daughter’s death. This story is not necessarily religious, and could be interpreted as a spiritual parable, a psychological study, or a fantastical ghost story. Another highlight is “Self-Interview of a Video Artist,” which is just what it sounds like. The editors admit they were “taken aback” when, after they requested an interview, artist Christopher Miner provided them with a complete transcript, but the result is much less narcissistic than it sounds.
Ruminate does what all good art should do: it
challenges expectations. This magazine provides a refreshing
look at all aspects of religious faith, without sounding
preachy. Anyone interested in spirituality, Christian or
otherwise, would find something to appreciate here. Just prepare
to be surpised.
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