Literary Magazine Reviews
Posted November 3, 2007
The American Poetry Review
Volume 36 Number 5
Reviewed by Rachel King
The issue contains both poems that address current events and poems with timeless themes. The best poems, as often happens, combine both the relevant and the timeless aspects. Bob Hicok, a professor at Virginia Tech, writes such poems, their main focus his silent student who became a killer: “[…]the code for language= / sight. Even now, I go back and listen / to what he was saying by not saying, I look / at my memory of the unsounding / […]but there’s nothing, no knob of sound” (“Mute”). After describing the particular murderer, he asks the general question that all witnesses ask: “why did this happen,” – a common enough question in the aftermath of any tragedy, but poignant nonetheless because no one has yet given a satisfactory answer. Susan Stewart’s response to another massacre – this one in the Amish community – is to use the victims’ names as a refrain throughout her poem.
I like how APR usually includes at least two poems of any particular poet. For example, readers receive a sneak peek of Adrienne Rich’s forthcoming book through four of her new poems, and readers can appreciate the sparse but spiritually-loaded language in the six poems of Mark Conway. Using quotes by Marcus Aurelius as a catalyst, Kathleen Graber writes five poems about how past events and our memories affect our present selves: “My cellar is full of boxes. / […] which I carried home, one by one, in a childhood I’ve abandoned. / The girl I was shakes her head like a disappointed ghost. / Didn’t she know the sea would always bring in more?” (“Book Four”). Atar Hadari’s three poems also explore the past’s influence on the present: “The world goes on in its tram wheels / and what you said falls out of train windows / like old school scarves” (“Anniversary”).
The tension between remembering the past and living in the present is also appears in this issue’s essays. Maxine Scates writes, “My animals ask me to live in the present, and that has not always been easy to do.” Other essay writers in this issue include John Felstiner, Clayton Eshleman, and Liesl Olson.
I highly recommend this issue, if for nothing listed above,
then merely for Michael Ryan’s short but sincere and
well-crafted blurb “A Memory of Stanley Kunitz,” or to learn
that Marcel Proust did, in fact, write poems, and to read three
of them in translation.
The Bitter Oleander
Volume 13 Number 1
Reviewed by Laura Polley
If you’re looking for writing that skirts, tunnels under, or transcends the ordinary, open any issue of The Bitter Oleander. Beyond any other criterion, this journal prefers provocative work – work that engenders a change in the mind of the reader, whether that change involves heightened sociopolitical awareness, or simply a gorgeous revolution of one’s perception of words and sound. Indeed, the best indicator of The Bitter Oleander’s character may be the uncompromising language found on nearly every page. Consider a sampling of lines from this issue’s poetry selections: “Your face breaks open to light” (Jacob Russell, “The Sea Bandits”); “the incarnate heart in your mouth pricks you” (Estrella del Valle, “My Room and Justine”); “Every morning the sun rises behind the guardhouses / wearing filthy hospital pajamas” (Titos Patrikios, “Habits of the Detainees,” in translation from the Greek). The short fiction offers similar raw intensity in lines like these from “Tale of a Long Winter” byAllen Kesten: “She remembered standing on her head after she had cut away the skin from her thighs, rivulets of blood running down her body and drying like prison bars on her torso.”
The Bitter Oleander is equally devoted to unsung
writers. Each issue’s central pages present a feature-length
writer introduction followed by a generous helping of that
writer’s work. Here, an interview with Mexican poet Estrella del
Valle is worth reading as much for del Valle’s unique poetic
philosophies as for an expansion of literary acquaintance.
Thanks to this feature and to translations, The Bitter
Oleander exudes a kaleidoscopic world flavor. One caveat,
though: A glance at past issues (and past reviews) of this
biannual journal reveals a rather small inner circle of writers
to whom The Bitter Oleander obsessively returns. Del
Valle, for example, has appeared in these pages recently, as
have Carol Dine, Shawn Fawson, James Fowler, Kenneth Frost,
George Kalamaras, Christine Boyka Kluge, Anthony Seidman, and Ye
Chun. Four of the writers in this list have had books published
by Bitter Oleander Press. Discovering new writers is a good
thing – corralling them, not so much. None of this detracts from
The Bitter Oleander’s energy, but it’s something to think
about before you subscribe.
Reviewed by Rachel King
I’ve recently begun teaching in the inner-city, so I thought I might find reading material for my freshman from the Bronx Biannual: The Journal of Urbane Urban Literature. Although I soon discovered that the explicit content guaranteed that these weren’t stories I’d casually give fourteen-year-old students, this issue contains great reading for the more mature reader.
In the introduction to this second issue, the editor Miles Marshall Lewis says that “the intention with Bronx Biannual is to publish both celebrated and unsung writers on a variety of subjects germane to the black aesthetic.” This volume fulfills that goal, in stories as diverse as Bahiyyih Davis’s about a girl’s obsession on how to best handle her unruly hair, to Staceyann Chin’s poem which observes New Orleans’s decrepit state and begs for blacks to vote, to keely a. abel’s “Broke-Down Princess,” which tells the story of a pre-teen with a preoccupied mother and jailbird father who is swept into committing sex with multiple older men. This last story creates a powerful, heartbreaking effect by switching perspectives between the mother and her daughter.
These stories are not to be taken with a cup of tea or a grain of salt; many are tales which demand at least an emotional response from the reader. One of my favorite selections is Sekou Writes’s “Love, Rage, and Volswagons” in which he recounts an act of racism done to him by the police. Although the content is pertinent and controversial, it is the form which drew me into this piece. Writes infuses a narrative in between sections of a poem he wrote expressing his frustration at the occurrence: “I’m not the nogoodnigga they mistook me for / I’m not a nigga at all / I’m just…me.” The poem then halts as narration begins: “I was shocked it was even possible for anyone to mistake me for a criminal…I’d had many a philosophic conversation about racism, mostly as an abstract and distant idea.”
Bronx Biannual is an intense journal, ideal for anyone
interested in current, urban literature or poetry.
CUE: A Journal of Prose Poetry
Volume 4 Issue 1
Reviewed by Rachel King
Prose poetry is a genre I was introduced to a year ago when reading poetry by James Galvin. His poems intrigued me and forced me to ask what the definition of prose poetry really is. The guest editor of CUE’s thin volume (the entire journal can fit snugly into the pocket of my fall coat), Jason Zuzga, defines it as being the “self in process […] in prose proper […] something like Montaigne thinking on the page in an essay.” His words are an apt description for the prose poetry in this volume. On an initial glance at the form of these seventeen poems, some look like carefully placed lines of free verse and others appear almost as stream of consciousness paragraphs. On further inspection, all contain writers’ detailed observations – though maybe not quite as astute as Montaigne’s – on the visible universe that enlightens the invisible thoughts and emotions.
On this theme, I’ll note three of my favorite poems in this volume. In John Taggart’s “Horse,” the horse is a metaphor for a human being: “can the horse make its way / become a horse of the high mountain ridges layers of mist beneath the ridges / not alone but apart / a horse making its way along the ridges moody flute sounds rising from the settlements.” The crank and piston are personified at the end of “Piston” by Sam Petulla: “Oh my what anonymity, moaned the crank to the piston, are these here our Pittsburgh dreams? Yes maybe, said the piston. These are our finite days, our purse occasionally stamped with prayers, mirrors that radiate glass.” In “Signals and Songs,” Regan Good uses images of birds to point out religious themes: “In the snow, a cardinal lands on a red twig, Stuck through the bones with hunger. Mortal shock of the cardinal Bright as blood in the ghosting snow – Soul’s bloody rhetorical knot.”
CUE went a long way in convincing me that a genre of
prose poems is legitimate; each poem contains elongated images
that stimulate thought making each of the prose poems in this
issue definitely worth reading.
Reviewed by Cara Blue Adams
Making good on its name, Dislocate does not identify genres, leaving it to the reader to discern each work. The second print issue features the usual suspects – poetry, fiction, essays, interviews – as well as a one-act play by Monica Hill and reprinted poems by John Berryman. One story, “Double Concerto” by Robert Wexelblatt, is ideally suited to the issue’s format, as it uses a point-of-view shift to play with genre expectations. Other prose offerings are more straight-ahead but no less rewarding, especially Michael Sower’s essay “Writing Notes: the Chateau and the Chalkboard,” about a different kind of dislocation: that of moving from lawyering to writing and teaching poetry.
Interviews with Philip Levine and Phillip Lopate rise above their genre and exhibit the qualities we seek in fiction: distinctive, engaging voice and sparkling detail. Levine compares the Pulitzer Prize – “this little glass thing from Tiffany”– with the National Book Award – “a beautiful small bronze sculpture from Joel Shapiro.” Lopate speaks eloquently about scale, locating himself within a “tradition of the quotidian” and saying that he likes to begin with a “modest subject and let it open up into a world.”
Standouts in poetry include Shane Seely’s “Leavings,” which
begins with the stellar line, “Kansas is as good a place to
leave as any,” and follows it up with the wry observation, “Of
course there was a girl there. / There is always a girl.”
Katrina Vandenberg’s “Poem on Tim’s 35th Birthday” is also
excellent, starting with an image of Lucille Ball that builds to
the startling revelation that the speaker’s addressee is “in a
Ziplock bag that is starting to break down. / You must be on my
paper clips, this page, / my thank-you notes. You must be in my
mouth / and in my blood. In that way, nothing’s changed: / I’m
losing you. Even this poem’s box / won’t be enough.” Vandenberg
makes this dislocation of loss a place we recognize and by which
we can orient ourselves. With offerings this good, Dislocate
promises to do the same.
Volume 13 Number 2
Reviewed by Josh Maday
With this issue, Fourteen Hills has captured at least one more subscriber for itself. Both the fiction and the poetry are innovative and powerful. This is business as usual, judging by previous reviews here on NewPages. In “Population One” by Don Waters, winner of the 2007 Iowa Short Fiction Award, we find a story Cormac McCarthy might write if he wrote short fiction. As a trip through the murderous heat of the desert turns disastrous for the two main characters, we are reminded of how the innocent and the guilty are each a little bit of both, and, in the end, chained to the same fate. John Henry Fleming contributes to this issue with his beautiful and mysterious story entitled “Cloud Reader.” The cloud reader, a humbly Socratic, Christ-like figure, struggles not to betray his convictions when instead he could take the easy way out. This is after the townspeople turn against him only days after they sought (and even paid for) a prophetic word from the mysterious wanderer.
In poetry, Buckey Sinister strips euphemistic myth to
get at the brutal truth of life and death in “The True
Importance of Punks Versus Elephants.” The myth Sinister busts
is that of the “internal clock / . . . [that] tells them exactly
/ when they will die” and the “elephant heads to a secret spot
in the jungle / lies down / and dies peacefully.” Instead, “The
reality of elephant death: / It’s brutal, sad, and often
tragic.” Sinister proceeds to prove this by telling the tales of
six famous elephants dying senselessly at the hands of human
beings. As he tells the stories, he is certain that his own
similar end lies just ahead and knows that his only hope for
immortality is to “tell those who will listen / any story [he]
can remember / about angels with clipped wings / ships made of
dreams that sink in oceans of whiskey / about heartbreak
cigarettes / brokedown saints / and how elephants really die.”
Sinister weaves lines of life, death, despair, comedy, and
tragedy, and yet still manages to find a thread of hope in it
all. This issue of Fourteen Hills is stellar from cover
to cover, which is simply protocol for this inspiring literary
Reviewed by Rachel King
This issue of Inkwell contains a batch of strong short stories, many of which focus on the female psyche. Besides a couple lapses into a male’s perspective in the opening story by Alethea Black, Peter Selggin’s novel excerpt and Anthony Roesch’s “Two Good Dogs,” the remainder of the stories are told about females or from a female’s point of view. These stories are not necessarily feminist; many simply deal with problems often attributed as “female issues”: Kathryn Henion’s “Translating Silence” with jealously; Amy Ralston Seife’s “What We Do” with depression; Edward Kelsey Moore’s “Ruth and the Beer” and Susi Klare’s “Cosmo” with unhealthy attachment; and Melissa Palladino’s “Spring Cleaning” with guilt (among other issues).
Palladino’s piece was my favorite in the issue. Though at first put-off by the gory details, I soon realized it is an allegory in which a mother does not allow her daughter to burden herself with her mother’s faults. The flaws are actual body parts the mother must physically remove from herself and her daughter: “My mother’s fall cleaning project was me. She took my eyeballs out so I could see what she was doing, and then opened me right on the living room floor – all chambers open, all drawers exposed, all surfaces unzipped…She found little gobs of ugly brown fear all along my nervous system…She scraped that off as best she could with a vegetable peeler.”
In the two remaining stories by Kama Falzoi and Jackie Shannon-Hollis, the narrators are both pre-adolescent girls. Although the subject matter and settings are completely different, similarities exist in the way both girls scrutinize their respective fathers and choose to love them despite their questionable actions.
The poetry is not as strong in this issue, but I especially enjoyed Martin Steingesser’s “Sonatina for Tristan, Who is Blind” in which the poet uses all the senses besides sight to explain colors to a blind man: “And yellow. Watch out! the baby’s crying, that big wail / attacking ears like a swarm of killer bees, everyone / running for cover.” The poem made me wonder how I would describe colors to one who could not see.
This issue of Inkwell is superb and best enjoyed by
readers who give all the characters the rereading and sharp
scrutiny that complex fictional people deserve.
Reviewed by Laura Polley
“Mandorla,” the Italian word for “almond,” refers to the almond-shaped intersection between two overlapping circles. An ancient symbol of the union of opposites, the mandorla has represented, throughout the history of both Eastern and Western cultures, a sacred space within which a mortal being can realize his or her divine potential. The web site of Mandorla, a journal of “New Writing from the Americas,” re-envisions this enlightened realm as a center for “exchange and imaginative dialogue that is necessary now among the Americas.” Dispensing with the notion of “opposites,” Mandorla focuses on “union” – a fluid interaction among interdependent and complementary American perspectives. The poems, stories, and essays selected for this issue appear in their original languages or in translation – sometimes, in both. Within these pages one can enjoy a Spanish-language version of John Ashbery (“Mordred”) along with several pieces translated to Spanish from the Portuguese. Those who read only English may count themselves in for a treat as well: beyond its generous inclusion of English-language pieces, Mandorla offers English translations of some of the best contemporary authors writing in Spanish.
But Mandorla’s commitment to intersection isn’t
limited to cross-cultural communication. The pieces themselves
share a grappling sensibility, a tone of exploration poised at
the heart of many possible “intersections.” Nathaniel Tarn’s
poem “Ins and Outs of the Forest Rivers” limns the delicate
boundaries between humans and the natural world, positing that
“we [...] have not achieved full-scale humanity.” Omar Pérez’s
essay, “El Intelectual y el Poder en Cuba,” ponders the meaning
of art – and the identity of the artist – in an environment of
ideological oppression. The photographs of Silvia Malagrino
(“Stills from Burnt Oranges”) juxtapose images from the
state-terrorism of 1970s Argentina with images of modern-day
demonstrations against war in other lands. Peter Ramos’ superb
scholarly essay on James Wright’s translations of César
Villejo’s poetry (“Beyond the Deep Image [...]”) is a must-read
for anyone interested in translation – or, for that matter,
anyone engaged in the study of intercultural relationships.
Mandorla, at 325 pages, requires considerable reader
investment – and returns an important, vivid illumination of
investments already made.
The Missouri Review
Volume 30 Number 2
Reviewed by Cara Blue Adams
A fanciful painting of a woman dressed in a flowing blue brocade-patterned gown and an elaborate masquerade-ball mask, her mouth jet-red and her head tilted coyly, graces the cover of The Missouri Review’s summer issue, which bears the tag “Truth in Fancy.” The work inside lives up to this promise – especially the fiction, the surreal cast of which mirrors the lush strangeness of Ray Caesar’s cover painting.
The eerie green half-twilight of the painting’s backdrop finds its correlate in Michelle Richmond’s “Hum,” the story of a couple who have become “quietly lost to each other.” Paid to live in an apartment used for surveillance, they are separated and driven into silence by “the continual hum coming from the second bedroom, the source of our livelihood and of our growing discontent.” The wife violates the cardinal rule of their living situation – not to look in the second bedroom – and then seeks out the man she finds is being monitored. The story becomes a cautionary political fable and a meditation on modern-day alienation.
“Man and Wife by newcomer Katie Chase is also set in
contemporary America, but rather than overlaying Eastern
bloc-style totalitarianism, Chase introduces child marriage,
bride prices and the abrogation of women’s rights. The narrator,
seventeen-year-old Mary Ellen, tells of her marriage at age nine
to a man her father’s age. As her voice oscillates between her
childhood perspective and her present-day maturity, Mary Ellen
comes to possess strange indeterminacy of age of Ray Caesar’s
masked feline girl/woman. Mary Ellen’s situation is better than
most women’s in the world she inhabits, as her liberal husband
allows her to work in his business, but remains radically
circumscribed. At the story’s end, Mary Ellen muses about her
marriage and her parents’ view of her as an investment with an
open-eyed resignation: “The benefits mature with time,” she
says, borrowing her husband’s business-speak to address the
nature of marital – and parental – relationships.
Reviewed by Kenneth Nichols
Appropriately, this issue begins with Jan Wildt’s brief but interesting essay on the intersection between mainstream literature and science fiction. Justifiably vaunted writers such as Pynchon, Vidal, Atwood and Lethem have been shortlisted for the Nebula Award, yet few would label them as SF writers. Does genre fiction deserve a different standing in our contemporary canon?
Among the selections, Joseph A. Ezzo’s “The Strange Summer of
Duke Bogardis” unfolds as pleasantly as a vacation, depicting
the lamentable lives of two batting cage rats who rob tourists
for a living. One of them, Graylin, athleticism running on
fumes, finally finds a true challenger to his hitting prowess.
Especially delightful is the way Ezzo crafts the first person
narrator’s voice, immersing us in the milieu of those who live
year-round around an ever-rotating cast of tourists. John
Rubins’s “The Third War of Information” presents an experiment
in perspective and tense, while Paul Walther’s “Splitfoot”
boosts the horror quotient, illuminating the dangers of what
happens when you don’t believe what’s taking place in front of
you. Anil Menon’s story “Dialethia” takes full advantage of the
editors’ cross-genre ambitions, managing to utilize mathematics
in the same way science fiction uses science, possibly creating
a new genre. And, finally, Jaime Corbacho’s “Honeymoon” begins
as a straight literary story and evolves into a primal look at
what humans may have lost after leaving the jungle and gaining
civilization. Picking up a literary journal, readers are usually
pretty clear what kind of stories they can find tucked between
the covers. However, the stories lurking between the covers of
New Genre are a horror/SF wolf in literary clothing that
seeks to broaden the definition of both traditions.
New Orleans Review
Volume 32 Number 2
Reviewed by Jeanne M. Lesinski
Fiction, verse, prose poems, book reviews, and black-and-white photography burst from the nearly 200 pages of this journal, which has been published since 1968 by Loyola University New Orleans. If by looking at this journal we were to gauge the events in the Big Easy, Hurricane Katarina would have been a whisper. Among the poems are works by David Welch, Haine Easton, and Arielle Greenberg. The editors have pointed to two poetry features that focus on the works of Endi Hartigan and Molly Lou Freeman. In such selections as “Owl,” “Icestorm,” and “Avalanches,” Hardigan considers the intersections of natural forces.
The fiction in this issue stands out for either its treatment
of unusual subject matter or its unusual treatment of more
commonplace subject matter. Margaret Holmes’s first-person
portrayal of a mentally ill woman in “Riding with the Top Down”
is chilling (though following the writer’s maxim, “don’t tell
the reader what to think,” the author might have omitted the
first paragraph). Conversely, “Do Kids in California Dream of
North Carolina?” by Andrew Farkas requires that readers assemble
pieces into a kind of Rubik’s cube like the one around which the
imagery and narration center. In it, the narrative of Trevor and
Kat veers on an uncertain trajectory (like in physics) until it
telescopes into the future when Trevor will scream: “No! There
must be a center of energy where it all makes sense!” Compelling
indeed. Needing to work to make sense of it all also comes into
play in “October,” Josie Milliken’s stream-of-conscious piece
that succeeds in stopping time in that poignant spot in between
then and when. Bravo!
The Notre Dame Review
Reviewed by Rachel King
As a student of both Russian culture and language, I was pleased to read the explanations of icons by both John Kinsella and Alexander Deriev in this issue of The Notre Dame Review themed “Icons & Incomings.” Even Russian natives debate endlessly the definition and purpose of icons, so it was helpful that this issue contains some of Deriev’s icons and Russian poems to illustrate and enhance Deriev’s observations about icons.
The abundance of great work in this issue makes it difficult to choose its exemplary pieces, though in fiction, the characters in Mark Brazaitis’s “This Man, This Woman, This Child, This Town” were vivid and down-to-earth: “…he sees Katerina walking the opposite way. He slams his breaks so hard his truck skids. Katerina skitters to the side of the road like a bird. Martin hoped she would come at the same time she had yesterday. He planned to meet her at the door with a glass of water.” In poetry, the works of Charles Simic, John Estes, Sofia M. Starnes, and Clive Wilmer stood out. Wilmer also has an energetic and straightforward interview with Peter Campion.
Simic’s listless images in “The End of a Parade” capture the
desolate tone at the end of any celebration: “The quickly
dispersing few / Who’d seen it pass down the avenue, / Were not
able to tell me / What was being commemorated.” In his
“Sufficient Wildness,” Estes concludes a dispute with his wife:
“like trees / our virtues, if any, / were in ebbing / unable to
do otherwise: but a thief, too, must be sheltered.” And Starnes
creates a detailed and perspicuous image in “Adolescent”: “…a
boy, bunched up in the porch, biting / off his nails. He’s
shaved his head… / …his column lean imperiled, / in between tank
top and tunic.” All these poems draw the reader into the mind’s
eye of the poet.These highlights have just touched the surface
of the good writing in this volume. “Icons & Incomings” is an
issue you can come back to for weeks or months, depending on
your desire to read its depths.
Reviewed by Josh Maday
Once again, Salt Hill upholds its tradition of publishing fresh, flavorful, innovative fiction and poetry. The Hill serves up an invigorating trio of poems by Amit Majmudar. Reading “Merlin” is like watching a movie that never once disappoints the imagination, except that it ends too soon. The images powerfully evoke the collective pathos of human history, making this easily one of my favorite poems. The wise wizard found that “Histories resolve more justly [. . .] when you study them being rewound.” So that’s what he did. Merlin “saw the hanging before the crime” and how “fire collected smoke to build a hut, / and bums arrived to live in it.” Merlin witnessed in Dachau as “A muddy field ruptured. / Jews sprang irregularly, / flowers that they were, / the roots of their necks / sucking up blood / by capillary action / down to the last fleck, / risen rosebuds. / They grew healthy / and donned their rightful clothes / and went home wealthy / to readied ghettoes.” Merlin saw men grow young and return to the womb, being unborn, “savored,” “digested,” and so on. He eventually went back to witness the first cave paintings, back before language gave birth to history, hoping to finally make sense out of “all he has witnessed.”
In fiction, Jenny Pritchett’s “Born and Raised,” a story about a woman dealing with reality and surreality of her miscarriage, delivers a masterful and unsentimental handling of a topic which, though hugely emotional and highly sensitive, can be overdone and become an unintentional self-parody. But Pritchett closes the story with a scene that is at once surprising, heart-wrenching, and satisfying.
Finishing out this superlative issue is “Voice on a Spool” by
Kenneth Calhoun, who won the University of Louisville’s 2006
Italo Calvino Prize. The Olifant family hits the road with
“their audio tour guide tapes on a battery powered, portable
player, which sat on the dashboard.” Right away something is
strange about these tapes when the voice speaks directly to
them, warning about cops waiting on the road ahead, commenting
on the “couple fornicating in the missionary style on the hot
white sand of a nearby beach.” After freaking out and inspecting
the cassette and the player, the Olifant family climbs back into
the car and continues the trip while the voice reassures them,
“Do not fear mortality, as you do at home,” then moves on to its
own agenda. Besides supporting a literary magazine publishing
fiction and poetry of the highest quality, readers subscribing
to Salt Hill will actually be investing in themselves.
The Southern Literary Journal
Volume 34 Number 2
Reviewed by Rachel King
This issue contains seven essays, all extremely diverse in subject matter. From Susanna Ashton’s essay about Booker T. Washington’s use of language to Catherine Himmelwright’s argument about Kingsolver borrowing from both the Western and the Native American myths, this issue’s articles show the interplay between great Southern writers and the historical period in which they wrote.
Himmelwright’s essay was the most enjoyable to read. She proves her argument – that The Bean Trees’ female protagonist, Taylor, initially pursues the stereotypically male Western adventure and then latches onto Native American spirituality – with specific, compelling, textual examples. By combining the two myths, Himmelwright concludes that “Kingsolver has developed a new western archetype, a hero who is both mother and adventurer.” This essay did what any good critical essay will do: it sent me searching for the book to find more evidence for – or possibly against – Himmelwright’s interpretation.
The Southern Literary Journal offers three-in-one for each of the four literary reviews, since each writer reviews three books – usually related to one another thematically – at a time. Lucy Ferris gives an overall good review to each of the three recent books of scholarship on Robert Penn Warren; H. Collin Messer applauds three books about 19th century southern humor while at the same time criticizing them for ignoring that century’s tragic race relations; Linda Wagner-Martin recommends the best uses for the three very different books on Faulkner; and Douglass Mitchell reviews books about Madison Jones, Shelby Foote, and Cormac McCarthy, ranking the latter book (The Pastoral Vision of Cormac McCarthy) as “by far the most theoretically informed.”
On the whole, this issue proves The Southern Literary
Journal does a fine job of keeping the reader aware of
current criticism of and books on Southern writers and writing.
The Virginia Quarterly Review
Volume 83 Number 3
Reviewed by Cara Blue Adams
In a beautifully designed issue devoted to the war in Iraq, The Virginia Quarterly Review makes a compelling case for why literature matters. The editor’s note, “The Dreadful Details: The Problem of Depicting War,” addresses the history of representing war’s carnage in photographs and the writing of witness, taking the position that “We must continue the painful work of bearing witness for posterity, of looking with the camera’s unblinking stare at the horrors of humankind.”
Three photographic essays on the war, by Carolyn Cole, Ashley Gilbertson, and Chris Hondros, do just this, bringing Iraq to life in tense, heartbreaking and chilling moments. An aerial shot of detainees lying face-down on the ground, wrists bound behind their backs; normal Baghdad street life captured through a Humvee window; a U.S. soldier guarding a street minutes before being killed by an IED – these images join the stories of the photographers who risked their lives to record them to tell a complex story of heroism, complicity and suffering not found in mainstream newspapers or on mainstream networks.
Complementing these photoessays is a special feature on Jirí Orten, a Czech poet who died in Nazi-occupied Prague at the age of twenty-two when a hospital refused him admittance because he was Jewish. An essay by Edward Hirsch introduces translations of Orten’s work by Lyn Coffin and Zdenka Brodska. One of the most affecting is a list entitled “What Is Prohibited,” taken from Orten’s notebooks. “I’m not allowed to go to parks or orchards,” he writes. “I’m not allowed to go to the city woods. / I’m not allowed to travel outside of Prague. / I’m not allowed (therefore) to go home.”
Human suffering is addressed more obliquely in Mario Vargas Llosa’s “The Chilean Girls,” about two poor Peruvian girls who bewitch their Lima neighborhood by pretending to be Chilean. This expertly-rendered coming-of-age story proves that fiction can depict human cruelty, disillusionment, and subjugation as penetratingly as can nonfiction.
The editor’s note concludes, “Harder still [than bearing
witness], we must condemn much of what we see in the world even
as we resolve to live in it and love it anyway.” VQR’s
editors have managed this difficult task with power and
Online Literary Magazines
Reviewed by Stefani Nellen
Smokelong Quarterly publishes flash fiction – the whole range from plot-driven mini-stories to language-twisting prose poems. Reading a new issue is strangely addictive, a bit like opening a box of chocolates and trying to eat only a few: before you know it, you’ve eaten (or rather read) it all, the box is empty, and each chocolate tasted perfect in its own way. What I like about a Smokelong-style flash is a sense of closure, of minimalist perfection. The pieces don’t feel slight or unfinished – they feel complete. If you want to know what this flash/micro/"sudden" fiction thing is all about, check out this publication.
Issue 18, guest-edited by Mary Miller, has a dark and sleek feel, like an ink drawing of a gothic cathedral. Several flashes have religious themes, others focus on the surprising protrusions of hope. Each bit of the issue is great, but here are my personal favorites: Stuart Dybek's hilarious and touching bedroom scene, "Mole Man," Curtis Smith's "Neighbors," where the writing becomes as precise and dense as a photograph, Susan O'Neill's "Stigmata," a realist take on a gothic theme, and Jeff Landon's subdued and subtly humorous "Starfish," which is filled with loving observations.
Smokelong Quarterly also publishes brief author
interviews and book reviews, all worth indulgent reading.
Reviewed by Stefani Nellen
Storyglossia is the online magazine I turn to if I feel like reading long short stories – rich, complex stories that feel old-fashioned in the same way original wooden floors are old-fashioned: darkly lustrous and strong enough to carry some weight. The magazine's sparse, easy-on-the-eyes layout (large font, no frills, cream-colored background) resembles a plain book page, aptly enough, since the stories compare to the offerings in printed magazines both with regards to style and length. Not very flashy, perhaps, but so satisfying!
Issue 23 presents the winner and four finalists of Storyglossia's 2007 Fiction Prize, great stories all. The winning story, Stephanie Dickinson's "Watch the Flashlight Girls Run" is a breathless, feverish mini-thriller from the point of view of a girl abducted by her mother's boyfriend – a virtual page-turner peppered with details so vivid they appear surreal. Lydia R. Cooper's "My Brother, the Snakes, and Me" is another depiction of a dark, convoluted relationship, this time between the pacifist narrator and her veteran brother. Both stories crank up the tension with each paragraph and linger long after you finish reading them. Matt Bell's "Alex Tierbeck Never Eats Fried Chicken" and Larry T. Menlove's "Rutting Season" take a different approach: The identification of pain via wit. Both stories are very much "voice pieces," in which the narrator seems to beat eloquently around the bush, until you realize you're witnessing a moment of loss and disillusionment. And then you're sorry you fell for the jokes.
Storyglossia appears roughly bi-monthly. It comes with
a blog, in which the editor, Steven J. McDermott, comments on
published stories and sometimes interviews authors, among other
things. All in all, a good place for fiction lovers. [Editor’s note: Matt Bell is a former reviewer for NewPages.]
Reviewed by Stefani Nellen
VerbSap, an online magazine, publishes Concise Prose - Enough Said: Fiction and creative non-fiction, and very occasionally a poem. Work found here tends to be on the short side (at most 3000 words long), and all pieces have that surprising, jolting quality that comes from very close observation and the writer's unwillingness to settle for the second best word. There is room for the unusual and disturbing in VerbSap's selections, but you'll search in vain for gimmicks or sloppiness. Each large issue should be consumed in small sips, since these concentrated bits of fiction resonate a long time.
The table of contents provides story excerpts so readers can
take their pick easily. Here are my personal favorites: Jack
Galmitz's understated "The Parakeet," a superficially simple
tale about a boy and his pet which ends on a beautifully sad
note; Stephanie Johnson's "Faux-Finish," in which a bitter
ex-husband tries to interfere with his former wife's attempts to
sell their house; Neil Crabtree's "Somewhere," in which old
lovers meet again in a scene bursting with awkwardness and
suppressed euphoria and foreshadowed doom (“We were stunned by
the reality of ourselves, 20 years later”); Hank Kirton's
graceful "Armless," another seemingly simple story revealing its
profoundness in the last paragraph (like "Parakeet" and
"Somewhere"); and Jennifer Vaughn's "Train Trestle." In this
last story, the narrator collects and comments on obituaries, a
morbid hobby she pursues with detached precision, until her own
grief is subtly revealed. The stories in VerbSap reward anyone
who reads a story to the end. Fortunately, they offer plenty of
reasons to do just that.
NewPages Literary Magazine Stand recent reviews: