Literary Magazine Reviews
Posted April 22, 2008
Volume 66 Number 1
Review by Camilla S. Medders
The winter 2008 edition of the Antioch Review is titled “Breaking the Rules,” though, as Robert S. Fogarty explains in his editorial, this is “no grand theme but a series of fragments and broken rules.” The authors in this issue explore rule-breaking in many different ways, some through form, others through subject or theme.
The first essay, “Vickie’s Pour House: A Soldier’s Peace,” by Maureen McCoy, presents a daughter’s exploration of her father’s rule breaking as she learns the details of his double life: one part spent at home with his family, and the other in bars, drinking with friends. The theme of dualism and the challenges it presents is also investigated in Robert Rosenstone’s essay, “My Wife, Their Sister,” a surprising and informative piece about a Jewish man traveling in the Middle East with his Muslim wife.
The poetry is gathered together in one section and, as I looked through the poems, I realized that this approach helps highlight and develop themes. “Winter,” by Brian Willems, sets the tone, describing the season with a series of sounds and images: “stopped by knot stout near black / slivers dry needles and the Funnies.” This theme of weather is carried through the next four poems, until Stephen Burt’s poem, “After Rain,” provides a link into more general subjects. The last three poems also share a theme, using animals to provide key images. Reading these poems is like being taken on a literary tour, through several related but diverse poetic universes.
My two favorite pieces of fiction play with the “rules” of story writing. In Peter LaSalle’s “What I Found Out About Her,” the narrator circles the plot, hiding details of the story under obsessive, numbered rants. This could come off as contrived, but instead, the form contributes to characterization of the protagonist and provides suspense. “Lily Pad,” by Andrew Wingfield, features characters breaking racial and class stereotypes. In order to fully develop this theme, Wingfield switches between two first person points of view.
Overall, this Antioch Review’s collection of
rule-breaking, while nothing radical, was refreshing.
Volume 1 Issue 1
Review by Stephanie Griffore
“We’re trying to take you somewhere.” Isn’t that every writer’s goal? To take the reader from their comfy couch or their little corner and place them into a scene to which they can relate. Or maybe it’s to put them in a situation they’ve never been in, but affects them in some way.
This magazine is very successful in that goal. I was constantly reminded of my own experiences from poem to poem, taking in the senses and picturing the images. I especially loved Sarah Sloat’s “Used Books.” There’s nothing more amazing than going to the library and getting books with silent history. As she says “dog-eared and lawn soft” comparing the hems of the pages to the “wallpaper of a motel / nicotine-thick with confessions.”
Another poem that stuck out, not only for content but for structure, was Joshua Marie Wilkinson’s “from The Book of the Umbrella.” Each small section is separated, and I found myself reading it in my head, juxtaposed and split, like a water droplet would fall, the spacing representing the movement.
A few others to point out would be “notes on origami” by Britton Shurley, in which the author describes origami as “an intricate process through negation” continuing on to step-by-step instructions much more poetic than a how-to book. In “Today” by Lindsay Coleman, the author wonders how all the sea horses in the world are doing, what they’re doing, asking them to forgive her for not thinking about them the day before. It’s a wonderful concept that could be related to numerous other things besides seahorses.
Don’t let the small format of this magazine fool you. There are
plenty of places to be taken, each poem trying its best to
accomplish the goal of the magazine.
Volume 30 Numbers 1/2
Review by Kenneth Nichols
The Bellingham Review celebrates its thirtieth anniversary in this issue with three essays from the journal’s editors, past and present. While interesting for their historical narrative, the pieces are also a testament to the inspired, beautiful madness one must possess to start a literary periodical. At the end of the volume is an index of the pieces from Bellingham’s run (so far).
Mark Wisniewski’s “Stricken” is included as winner of the Tobias Wolff Award for Fiction. This story compares the random literal shock of a lightning bolt to the somewhat controllable drift between spouses. Wisniewski is efficient and lyrical, while keeping the story at the forefront.
“Photographic Memory,” a multi-part poem from Jim Natal, examines our relationship to the past as chronicled by the only faithful record we have. Even in today’s internet-backboned world, our memories are still buffeted by “The whole disposable world / seen through a viewfinder, / a transparency structured on sparks, / stop-action wingbeats / with one singled out.” Holly J. Hughes’s “Painting of John Harrison” considers the intersection of science and art and its relation to human progress.
In “School Shoes,” Deborah A. Lott presents a memoir that takes an unexpected look at the crucible of childhood. Sometimes, parents can show their love based upon what we wear on our feet.
Parents (fathers in particular) receive a different treatment
in Peter Bognanni’s entertaining short story, “The Pad Man
Chronicles.” The first-person narrator, the Pad Man’s daughter,
must reconcile the fact that her father loves her with his
sensational transgression. The first line proves this is no dry
meditation: “The summer before my father was sent to Mount
Pleasant Penitentiary he dressed in emerald-colored spandex and
advertised carpeting on network television.”
Review by Camilla S. Medders
Derek Walcott provides the centerpiece of the Winter/Spring issue of ep;phany with a selection from his new book of poems, White Egrets, and an excerpt from an essay called “Down the Coast.” The poems, most of which are about Spain, use dense natural imagery to transport the reader. The essay describes Walcott’s attempt to turn the Caribbean stories of his childhood into a film, which leads him to many fascinating ruminations about film-making and cultural identity.
Many of ep;phany’s other pieces echo Walcott’s themes of nature, culture, and childhood. Carla Gericke’s essay, “Father Let Me Walk With Thee,” describes her experience as an Afrikaans girl in a British South African boarding school. This essay fits nicely with Douglas Rogers’s “The Bait,” and is set in the same part of the world. Rogers imagines his father’s experience, a white farmer guarding his supply of fuel at night in Zimbabwe, where political turmoil has sent the country into chaos. Rogers's essay is beautiful with a surprise ending that almost brought me to tears.
The fiction focuses on parents and children. Sameer Pandya’s “M-O-T-H-E-R” tells the story of an Indian mother’s ambitions and the effects it has on her sons. Odette Heideman’s graceful story, “Madame Solomon,” shows a woman coming to terms with her own aging, forced to reach out to her estranged son for help. But my favorite story, Erica Ciccarone’s “Pit,” takes up other themes, illustrating the breakdown of a marriage through the couple’s treatment of their animals.
The poetry is diverse, and generous. Ep;phany devotes several pages to each poet. Martin Edmunds contributes long, dense explorations of historical themes, such as “Quilombo,” a persona poem about a Brazilian slave in the 17th century. B.J. Buckley, on the other hand, gives stark descriptions of collisions between humans and nature in “First Cutting”: “the lambs / drowned in stock tanks, that mare / mired in mud / whose heart just quit / were kind of a relief.”
This issue of ep;phany presents a rich world, full of
images, cultures and really good writing.
Volume 36 Number 3
Review by Stephanie Griffore
Each year Event holds a creative nonfiction contest in which the winners' manuscripts are published in a special Creative Non-Fiction Contest issue of the magazine. The winners, Kanina Dawson, Davis Swanson, and Ayelet Tsabari, each had pieces worthy of the $500 prize.
“Pashtu, for Bird and Other Words that Hurt” by Dawson was an intense view of a bombing from two different soldiers’ viewpoints. One is on the ground; the other is a lookout in a tower. The structure has each part separated by military time, and the font changes to italics with each shift. The detail is amazing. The soldier in the tower describes the scene from above, while the soldier on the ground has short, choppy sentences to exhibit the quick action and decision making processes after the attack.
Swanson’s piece, “Glimpses of my Father,” is just what the title states. He uses sections to recap different parts of his father’s life: “A Lover,” “The Basement Man,” “Travel,” and “Return, Photograph, Dementia, and Death.” What’s interesting is that he doesn’t go in order, but goes through each part as if he is sitting and recapping his father in his mind, jumping from memory to memory. It’s as if he knows his father, but at the same time the man remains a mystery to him.
The final winner, “You and What Army” by Tsabari, definitely had the most attitude. It’s about a Pakistani girl who was forced to join the army, accused of stealing guns, and had no fear of talking back in a place where order was high on the list.
Of course, not to overshadow the other pieces, the poetry and fiction were exquisite also. Authors such as Esther Mazakian and Elise Partridge had no trouble playing with format, while also paying close attention to imagery and word choice with lines such as “She’s sun-bittin /…a devil in the flesh / dining on their protein intake,” from “Loophole” and “a wolfs head brooch / with ten black pearls / a pair of ruby crusted clocks,” from “Where your Treasure is.”
“The Gray Metal Desk” by Barry Dempster allows readers into the life of a man named Brice, trying to cope with the fact that he may not be able to have children. It touches on his emotions, his ego, and the problems it could cause him and his wife.
Overall, the magazine contains a wonderful selection of poetry
and fiction, not the least bit fearful of boundaries, making the imagery new
and the topics interesting. This, along with the stories from fresh
new talent, makes Event an enjoyable read from start to
Volume 32 Number 2
Review by Jennifer Sinor
The fall issue of The Florida Review is their contest issue, highlighting winners of the 2007 Editors’ Awards in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.
Kate Myers Hanson won in nonfiction, and her haunting memoir “There’s a Child Living in This House,” is more than worthy of the recognition. Rendered as an interior monologue, the piece is less like prose and more like a tiny jewel, hard and bright. She writes about her father’s sickness and addiction, a man she once danced with and who now cries out in pain. She also writes about her mother, a worn woman with a hand on her hip where “there’s no meat to grab, only a bony place,” who must now mother both her husband and her daughter.
Grace Danborn was awarded the prize for poetry. The small cycle of poems included here detail a journey to Alaska where the narrator learns to see the burned-out landscape differently, to see that “brown means more: / salmonberry and red-veined vetch, / gauze of tundra cotton.” The Alaska found in these poems is sharp and fierce but also populated by people like the woman in “Learning Borealis” who “whistles at the sky.”
Lastly, Joseph Levens’s short story “Critical Cartography” is
a fortuitous pairing with Hanson’s memoir. The award winner in
fiction, the story centers on Ethan, a precocious boy consumed
with the injustices found in this world and his mission to find
“the small good things” that might repair the damage that
surrounds him. It is a beautiful story, a powerful one, and
leaves us wondering about what luck really looks like.
Volume 20 Number 1
Winter 2007/Spring 2008
Review by Jennifer Sinor
Gulf Coast is published twice a year in October and April, and each issue is a work of art in itself. The journal includes fiction, poetry, nonfiction, interviews, reviews, as well as the work of artists – a blend that facilitates both a visual and textual experience. The full-color pages in the most recent issue include collages by both Donald Bathelme and Michael Miller, and each visual artist’s work is accompanied by a commentary on their pieces.
Also included in the spring issue are interviews with David Roderick, Emily Barton, Emily Raboteau, and Tiphanie Yanique. In an issue that is close to 400 pages long, it is difficult to choose highlights. Each selection feels like a gift. One could turn to the poetry of Christine Garren and notice the way the world can offer small gifts after a tragedy, the ability to “hear the dove’s heart in its lavender breast,” “hear / its spigots of blood.”
Elizabeth Bull gives us a short story entitled “Map of September” that is written as an outline. Even though she has only limited space, she unfolds the story of a one-night stand where the two people involved want nothing more than to touch, yet end up passing in the hallway, the woman’s back against the wall where “ancient nail heads prick [her] spine.” What is remarkable about this story, aside from its form, is Bull’s ability to render the fear most of us have to not to be torn in two.
Gulf Coast is a remarkable journal, creating a
conversation between literature and the fine arts and inviting
the reader to stay and listen.
Review by Camilla S. Medders
Kaleidoscope magazine “(explores) the experience of disability through literature and the fine arts.” The articles, essays, stories, and poems in this issue do just that, giving the reader insight into life with many different conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, lupus, and multiple sclerosis, to name a few. Most importantly, the authors featured in this magazine present honestly and admirably, without asking for pity, without resorting to sentimentality.
The essays were my favorite part of the magazine. In “Bruising Cycles,” Natalie Illum describes life with cerebral palsy, a condition which makes it difficult for her to walk. She describes her pain in detail: the bruises she gets from falling, the pain caused by a surgery to “unclamp my muscles,” the emotional drain of explaining her disability to curious strangers. On the other hand, Illum makes it clear, without boasting or preaching, that she has the strength to survive her pain, to turn it into art. I also enjoyed Hayley Mitchell Haugen’s essay, “Inheritance,” which explores her attitude toward disease through her experience with lupus, and Barbara Warman’s “The Freedom of Cages,” about living with multiple sclerosis.
The fiction and poetry in Kaleidoscope is more diverse, often dealing with disability lightly and indirectly, if at all. For me, this helps broaden the scope of the magazine, reminding the reader that people in general have more similarities than differences. For example, the speaker of Linda Herrings poems, “Solitude” and “Winter Evening,” both of which contrast a cozy indoor scene with nature’s menacing beauty, could be anyone, sick or well, able or less able. On the other hand, my favorite story, “At the Floating Palace” by Mary Dayle McCormick, tackles disability head on. In this story, a woman who has been paralyzed by an accident shares her experience with a man who is struggling with emotional wounds.
This Kaleidoscope also includes a couple of
well-written, informative articles, and a selection of art by
two featured artists. Overall, this magazine is providing an
important service for its readers and its contributors, making
the experience of disability more accessible for everyone.
Volume 74 Number 1
Review by Jennifer Sinor
Robert Stewart, the editor of New Letters, begins this issue with a note on the kind of writing the journal seeks. In his words, “We want writing….that comes out of something.” Writing that is real. That kind of intensity is felt in the opening work of fiction by Andrew Plattner, a short story entitled “A Marriage of Convenience,” where the reader is introduced to two brothers, Marian and Joe, who are bookmakers with, it turns out, enormous hearts. Marian, the older brother and supposedly the tough guy, wonders at one point, “why he was a bookmaker, why he spent so much time in the shadows, why he liked to keep the odds on his side.” Maybe, he wonders, “it wouldn’t find him, all that people lost.” What is so wonderful about this piece is Plattner’s narrative pacing, which makes the ending feel unexpected and exactly right.
The highlight of this issue is an essay by B.H. Fairchild on “A Way of Being: Some Observations on the Ends and Means of Poetry.” He writes that what poetry does is “verbally illuminate being” and does so by “being the thing rather than being about the thing.” Any writer will be inspired by this essay that leaves the reader wondering about the possibilities found in language, its capacity to “reveal the face of Being.”
Mia Leonin embodies rather than describes loss in her poem
“Florida Story”; one of the many treats in this issue. She
writes, “I unhymned my mother’s plans / unbuckled her
tangle-haired clan from my waist // and walked in the only
direction, unbuttoning / every dress I had ever worn, touching
each hem for the last time.” This issue of New Letters is
full of these kinds of moments: writing that comes from
something and takes us somewhere.