Literary Magazine Reviews
Posted May 8, 2008
Alice Blue - Big Muddy - Blood Lotus - Cimarron Review - Columbia Poetry Review - Connecticut Review - Diode - The Dirty Goat - Earthshine - Gargoyle - Glimmer Train - The Greensboro Review - Manoa - Natural Bridge - Paradigm - The Sewanee Review - SUB-LIT - Virginia Quarterly Review
Review by Micah Zevin
Upon entering the first page of Alice Blue you encounter tiny square shaped images of odd looking stuffed animals that, when touched with clicking mouse, turns into a word denoting each distinctive section of their website. With issue number 8 of Alice Blue you are reminded of E.E. Cummings at his surrealist best with a healthy swath of absurdist tendencies incorporated into a mix of short prose pieces and poems ranging from experiments in form, language or both.
In Christian Peet’s subversive prose piece “Classified,” we encounter an “(ongoing memorandum)” on the “Surveillance of ‘Virtuous Pagans,’” (a take on groups seen as a threat to the government) where a political phone call is addressed to the groups poet laureate. In Corey Mesler’s prose piece “Boo Enema,” we are introduced to fictional hippie poet Camel Jeremy Eros from Memphis, Tennessee. We are transported to an alien scene in Camel’s home: “Earth is calling on the Cosmic Cellphone and Camel, slowly, like a titan emerging from the enveloping sea, raises his head.”
When you’ve gotten your prose fix, move onto the poetry, which is no less surreal or poignant. In “Two hundredths of a beautiful woman” by Mathew Savoca, the speaker states, “understand you’re the man to see / about a shovel / when two hundredths of a beautiful woman / walk by asking me if i want to marry her.” In “discipline” by Andrea Kneeland Pinocchio and Geppetto have a philosophical discussion about being human:
PINOCCHIO: Every object is a tool of reflection-
GEPPETTO: I’ll slice out the dog of your heart. I’ll die inside the heart of a dog-fish, in the heart of the swell of a wave. I’ll watch little black rabbits bury your heart in the heart of a billow brown field.
Alice Blue will tickle your intellectual and satirical
imagination so hard you may turn blue. This is not such a bad
thing if you get to pretend you are as wonderfully strange and
profound as the characters, voices and words you’ll encounter in
this eclectic journal.
Volume 7 Issue 2
Review by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
I immediately noticed that this small journal devotes a surprising amount of space to fiction and essays: 9 pieces total followed by 17 pages of reviews.
One creation that I first thought was a curious short story turned out to be, upon further study, an historical article (complete with endnotes) about a surveyor in Missouri. I had no knowledge, indeed no interest, in the process of surveying before reading this article, but this piece by Lynn Morrow helps me understand the importance of the work of mapping the frontier.
Kevin Koch weaves together historical fact, personal experience, and natural observation into a lyrical essay about rivers. Roy Bentley’s poem, “The Visiting Writer,” presents five vignettes that link writers, dead and living, together in an interesting way.
The more I read the poems in the journal, the more they all seemed to be linked together, with their references to Lincoln, strange swamp creatures (animal and human), and history.
Big Muddy also includes Carol Wheeler’s black and
white photographs of flowers and butterflies. The editors of
this journal pack in a surprising amount, a wide variety of
genres and art forms, a vast expanse of subject matter, and yet a surprisingly
cohesive reading experience.
Review by Micah Zevin
Rage and risk in writing is a powerful tool that can generate the most passionate work. In Blood Lotus, issue 8, the editors believe that if you write you should “Write like words are beautiful, powerful and dangerous…” In “katrina” by R.D. Coleman we are exposed to such risks and conviction head on: “my family up and / left me here, they knew / it called to me. / ...could smell the gas out by / the road. / life was done, she said. / she surely meant to die.”
In Glenn Sheldon’s poem “L’Actuel: Diminishing,” we are exposed to a much lighter subject matter – the conundrum of returning to a place you had a great experience at the first time, only to be disappointed at a second tasting:
the French fries are still called
Belgian fries. Again, I’m asked
by the handsome waiter to wear
a bib. Again, I decline. But
something has changed, not me.
Can 24 hours rob a place of its
magic or am I less of a magician?
In the fiction section, read the very first line of “Roommates” by Matt Jenkins and be transported back to the stereotypical problems of living with someone in a college dorm. “When they refused Bradley’s dorm change, the office told him: Wait one more semester and your roommate starts to grow on you. You’ll see.”
In the nonfiction piece “Sweet Nothings” by Gretchen Clark, we are led into the unresolved and unfulfilled reveries of a child: “In this house I had primate dreams. I longed, not for sibling companionship, but for a monkey. I wanted a chimpanzee that I could dress in green overalls and rock until it fell asleep.”
Blood Lotus is a shape-shifting chameleon of a flower
that pricks you with one of its thorns not only to keep your
attention, but so you are aware of what change is possible
Review by Maggie Glover
Who could resist Glendy Chan’s dazzling cover design of this edition of The Cimarron Review? Luckily, the poems and fiction within the journal don’t disappoint. Though not a themed issue, the editors clearly chose pieces with the big picture in mind. This journal really hangs together, with each work speaking to the next.
In fact, many of the poems emphasize communication (or, to be more precise, miscommunication) of voice and body. These representations range from the revealing dialogue between partners in Linnea Johnson’s “Knotted Rope,” to the difficulty of translating life into text in Richard Cecil’s “My Prelude,” to the body’s methods of speaking up for itself, as seen in Adam Day’s “The Hog” and Susan Elizabeth Howe’s “What I Long for On a Tuesday.”
The fiction emphasizes the concept of identity and the consequences of its associated expectations. Edward J. Delaney’s “News from the Rodeo” features a middle-aged fieldworker facing the reunion of his girlfriend and her husband at a barbecue. “Tribes,” by Robin Beeman, follows a family camping trip, beginning with the speaker hitting a deer with her car and ending with her realization that there is more to her mother than she ever thought possible. One woman reflects on her own experiences with death and dying as she cares for an elderly patient in the issue’s only nonfiction piece: Jennifer Anderson’s “Caregiving.”
Overall, the strength of this issue of The Cimarron Review
is that its pieces shine individually and as a collection.
Review by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
In my English class, I used this issue of this journal when I started our poetry section; I used it to show students the wide variety of poetry that’s out there. They think of poetry in traditional terms: rhyme, meter, regular looking stanzas. This issue shows what is possible in the poetry world.
While my students were most interested Kaia Sand’s poem that looks like a flow chart, I was drawn in by the many poems with evocative details from daily life. Often, it’s a daily life of a not-long-ago past, but a past that feels lost all the same. David Trinidad’s “Classic Layer Cakes” is full of these details: Colorforms sets, Avon lipstick samples, and any number of references to popular culture. Many poets in this volume cover similar ground, in terms of content. Poets such as Arielle Greenberg and Martha Silano skillfully mine material from childhood. Other poets, like Jeannine Hall Gailey, use material from myths or folktales.
This volume includes poets I’d read before, like Denise Duhamel and Jean Valentine, as well as many poets I’d never heard of, but hope to discover more fully in the future. Almost all of the poems weigh in at a page or less, but the presence of several longer poems suggests that the editors are not opposed to longer work.
The beautiful cover art by Julie Heffernan cues the reader to
the delights contained within the covers. I’ve picked up this
journal many times in the past two weeks, and it never leaves me
Volume 30 Number 2
Review by Denise Hill
Reading for review forces the consumption of entire publications in very short periods of time: not recommend for this particular journal. This is the kind of publication that would make a reader grateful for her own copy to read and linger over at intervals.
“Driving with the Dead” by Cavenaugh Kelly reads like non-fiction. The character, a physical therapist, drives to home visits for patients, several of whom end up on “The Board” – where deaths are charted in the office. Kelly gives insight to the difficult daily struggle these professionals have both personalizing and de-personalizing death.
“The Nonlocal Heart” by Patricia Monaghan is an essay on her Irish heritage and sense of place in the U.S., a sense that is surface at best, lacking the deeper attachment heritage provides each of us to our “homeland.” She writes: “I do not live in a place I love. In this, I am more typical than not.” This commentary is threaded together with discussions of quantum theory – Einstein, Ulsterman, Bell, Bohm – concluding on the concept of self as particle, the spinning, chaotic nature of our lives that “is the pattern that connects.”
The special section of this issue focused on journalism. JP Briggs’s lead essay, “Aristotle’s Unintended Consequences,” was an exciting read for all the connections it makes between philosophy, literature, contemporary media, mythology, and brain theory. Briggs explains how/why news stories are molded around Aristotelian components of story, thus marginalizing the full truth of reality for the sake of story. It ends with the “grand resolution” that “Our most significant stories alert us to the reality that something vital is always left out of the story. In fact, the story’s vitality – even a news story – depends on our understanding of what it cannot include.” This essay, combined with Edward A. Hagan’s “News Story or Sports Story? The Hypnosis of Ersatz Triumph & Defeat,” provides a sound deconstruction of contemporary media, with Vivian B. Martin’s “The Usual Suspects: Typecasting in the News,” a revealing look at archetypes in daily news.
The Noam Chomsky interview, though it seems cut short and isn’t more than what he has said elsewhere, enhances this section and is a good primer for those not familiar with his works. Likewise for the Howard Zinn interview. Vanessa Furse Jackson’s story, “Write to Learn,” was almost painful to read through. I predicted its ending, yet fought against it: how a new teacher’s feedback directs a student to write more academically, resulting in the suppression of a beautiful story beautifully told. Every writing teacher should read this. Now.
There is so much more to be said about this publication, but
better to be said: “It should be read.” And take your time. This
is smart writing that deserves not to be rushed.
Volume 1 Number 2
Review by Micah Zevin
Diode, partially supported by Virginia Commonwealth University at Qatar, is a journal of American experimental and electric poetry transported to a foreign land and concerned with the inescapability of our American identities today: “Even eight thousand miles from the United States, the constant hammering of the American media machine reaches us. Our connections—wireless, satellite, cable—crackle with a seemingly endless loop of fear and consumption.” Diode's theoretical purpose is to break through all of this noise and communicate with the poem. Along with these serious pretensions, Diode amazes with its array of ambitious rhythmic poems that play like a firecracker laden sound and light show of invention and tactical and formal daring that does not let up until the final poem.
The Diode Poetry Journal design looks like a circle of rings mapping out the planets in some distant galaxy. When the editors of Diode Poetry Journal describe their journal as “electropositive,” it does not take long to discover what they mean. The poems are frenetic and transmit individual voices along with powerful, colorful light-filled images. They also convey a strong sense of narrative direction.
In “Getting Over the Fear of Form” by Sheila Black, the narrator’s voice in this poem, the voice of a poet, faces and expresses their fear of the rigors of form and how they can hold onto their identity in spite of its usage: “It was not my name I wanted. / It was the outside, the undivided light [. . .] It was the crossing I could not manage. / The notion of what would be left.”
These poems are direct yet leave one with a feeling of
mystery at what will happen next. In “Monsoon Season” by Tarfia
Faizullah, a powerful narrative, a prayer of sorts, is being
told: “She / paints her nails pomegranate-red // until a
hummingbird hover close, / suspended like an elegy over her /
Review by Deborah Diemont
The Dirty Goat, published by Host Publications of Austin, Texas, is dedicated primarily to featuring literature from around the globe. This issue includes original works in Russian, Spanish, and Portuguese among other languages with English translations. There is also unique work by U.S. writers, none of whom I have heard of before. There is no editorial, but visual artists and translators provide commentary.
Most thought-provoking to me about this issue was the section on “The New Chilean Poetry and Its Nonagenarian Antipoet.” Translator Dave Oliphant discusses the history of a tradition that begins more or less with Vicente Huidobro and Gabriela Mistral in the late 19th Century and runs through the present. He describes the movement strongly influenced by Huidobro called “antipoetry,” which rejects the “classical, mythological lens” in favor of a “realistic, surrealistic or ‘antipoetic’” vision. His essay made me feel I had a better context for understanding other modern Latin American poetry I’d been reading, for example, Mexico’s Rosario Castellanos. Though discussed in terms of Chile, this movement has had broad influence.
Oliphant doesn’t try to neatly fit all the poets he translates within the confines of “antipoetry”; however, featured poems share certain characteristics: free verse that seldom nods at all to traditional forms, a lack of punctuation, a fusion of sensory details with bold statements, and giddy homages to poets, singers, artists, and mythical figures.
The poem that grabbed me most for its playfulness is an excerpt from “Also Sprach Altazor” by the nonagenarian himself, Nicanor Parra, who speaks of his poetic god/hero, Huidobro:
What would become of Chilean poetry with out this duende [Huidobro]
It’s easy to imagine
Certainly there would be no freedom of speech
we would all be scribbling Sonnets
Praised be his Holiness!
In another section, Parra’s poem, asks: “What is Poetry?” And answers: “Life in words / an enigma that refuses to be deciphered by professors / A little truth and an aspirin / You yourself are antipoetry.”
We may have seen such spirited, unabashed declarations in
Whitman and the Beats, but seldom would they make it out of an
MFA workshop today. This issue of The Dirty Goat, beyond
the Chilean section, offers a varied sample of writing that is
outside the box.
Review by Micah Zevin
Earthshine does not just claim that poetry can save humanity, it believes in the beauty of poetry and its innate ability to bridge the gap of understanding between different minds. Its simple yet attractive crescent moon design will lure curious and not-so-curious readers to their side.
These first eleven poems explore diverse themes such as time, memory and awakening. In the last stanza of the first poem, Mario Susko speaks to the dilemmas of the human soul: “but I saw my body cast out on the sand, / my mouth wide open, a seagull, about to pull / something out, looped off screeching when I / raised my hand, a senseless gesture, the soul / long gone, indifferent to time and memory.”
The poems in this first offering have a rhythm, meter and descriptive identity all their own. When Martin Jervis, in “The Other Side of the Taj Mahal,” portrays the tourists staring at the Taj Mahal, you too notice that their “Shaking heads sweat vanishing cream. / Eyes are magnets pulled towards / Irresistible forces.”
In the final poem “Oak” by Don Thompson, not only is humanity alive but nature as well: “I’ve seen the wind spend hours up there / Turning those little pages, / Now & then coming upon phrases / So eloquent, so wise / They take its breath away.”
Earthshine’s poems inspire, question and bring the
inanimate to life. They are rich in language and present a
unique philosophy and narrative. You will persist in turning the
virtual pages of this online journal, eager in discovering its
new and powerful truths.
Review by Maggie Glover
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I slid Gargoyle into my CD player. The colorful, beat-inspired cover assured me that “Poetry is the bomb, baby,” and I hoped that I would agree. Of course, I immediately thought about my past experiences with making “mixed tapes” and how difficult it can be when you’re only sticking with one genre, let alone many. However, after listening to the CD in its entirety, I knew that the editors of Gargoyle had done far more than compose a simple “mixed tape.”
There are 29 tracks on this CD; some are songs, some are poems, but most are a delightful combination of genres. Some poets took advantage of this format by using different voices and sounds in their readings, such as Silvana Straw in her wonderful performances of “Tetraphobia” and “Ever Since He’s Been Taking Anti-depressants.” While other poets use music as a background to their readings, and some artists only utilize sounds and music, such as Henry Warwick’s “Old Friends.”
The different works play off each other well – the opening track, “95% Dark Matter” by Cravin’ Dogs in particular, sets the tone for the rest of the CD. Other standouts include “Candy” by Julianna Spallhoz, “True Story” by Kate Braverman, and “A Piece of the Culture of Funnel Cake” by Thylias Moss.
I found this collection refreshing and it made me reflect
upon the many possibilities of the intersection of poetry and
music. Gargoyle is great listen for poets, musicians,
artists and anyone who desires something a little different.
Review by Rachel King
Glimmer Train delivers a journal stock full of great stories. In this issue, the sometimes unusual jobs of characters seem as central to the stories as the characters themselves. The jobs both define the characters and the time periods as well as propel the plots forward.
In the opening story, Danielle LaVaque-Manty’s “The Safety of Milk,” Oscar helps his brother-in-law gain independence from Oscar’s wife by cutting blocks in an ice field. This choice of work leads to estrangement between Oscar and his wife and a potentially fatal accident for the brother-in-law.
Rico’s thirty-year stint as a bartender in Al Sim’s “Soledad” makes it possible for him to encounter many women throughout the years – including one who may be his long-lost daughter.
And the narrator’s descriptions of and interactions with other men who have his job as a longshoreman highlight the racial tensions both latent and explicit in Eric Trethewey’s “Jefferson Street.” The narrator describes a pier: “White men and black mingled, exchanged perfunctory greetings, although they seemed to gravitate toward opposite ends of the shed.”
The issue also contains interviews with Ruth Ozeki and Jay McInerney. According to McInerney, fiction writers are broken into two groups: those who “shut themselves in and let the world seep in under their windowsill” and those who like going “out on forays into the world.” If you know anything about McInerney, you know into which camp he falls. And Ruth Ozeki insists how writers must be both attuned to voices in the world as well as the voices and the language of previous writers.
Glimmer Train writers support Ozeki’s
advice: their ability to combine beautiful sentence structure
with realistic voices and characters makes the stories
Review by Rachel King
Inside The Greensboro Review’s simple cover is complex fiction and poetry. The first poem and story – “The Voice Before” by Melody S. Gee and “The Glass Mountain” by Aimee Pokwatka are Robert Watson Prize winners. Pokwatka's story weaves a thematic fairytale told by an aunt into a story about a young woman, her sister, and her lover. The language is delightful: “It was a stupid question, but we forgave him because his eyes were the color of a sandstorm, and he sat still as an injured bird.”
Thomas Derr’s “Clutter” tells the story of a young man who hasn’t given up hope on recovering his ex-girlfriend. When the young man goes to his ex’s house to help her move a dead deer, the author does an excellent job of showing both how the young man feels he still belongs in the house and how he still loves his ex, without explicitly saying so. Anne Corbitt, in “The Bicycle,” also does well demonstrating a middle-aged man’s frustration with his gradual estrangement from his wife and son, while the monologue, Craig Foltz’s “Owl Eyes,” has an interesting and engaging voice.
I enjoyed the natural imagery in many of the poems. “The Voice Before” begins “Echoes uncurl down this canyon / like patient honey rolling.” My favorite poem, Anne Coray’s “The Days are Short,” mentions the many natural wonders we miss during our hurried, short days: “Again you failed to record the clouds, / to capture their gradient and gain.” And Benjamin Miller describes a soldier’s thoughts in a field: “He thinks: the sun will never teach / the horizon how it climbs, how many // plume moths make a century, how we / disappear.”
The journal’s thirteen poems and seven short stories are
carefully chosen and arranged. I enjoyed this issue’s moments of
joy and poignancy, and I’ll look forward to the next The
Volume 19 Number 2
Review by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
This volume of Manoa, edited by Frank Stewart and Barry Lopez, is dedicated to the theme Maps of Reconciliation: Literature and the Ethical Imagination. This journal includes many types of work: oratory, essays, poetry, fiction, photographic essays, an interview, and even a play. It’s uncommon to see a journal include all of these genres, and the Table of Contents divides them by genre, so it’s easy to navigate.
It’s certainly a timely issue as it explores how we are to “imagine a future of mutual tolerance, respect, and justice,” as the back cover explains. The editors have been marvelously inclusive in terms of the nationality of authors; it’s a multicultural, multinational group gathered here. Eight of the works were published elsewhere first, a fact which bothered me not at all.
I found the three photographic essays, all by Franco Salmoiraghi, most accessible; the pictures gave me a quick route into the material, a route which wasn’t always easily found with some of the other work in the issue. Likewise, I found Barry Lopez’s interview with Oren Lyons to offer fascinating insights in a way that the creative works didn’t always offer.
While I’d have enjoyed more poetry, I’m always happy when a
journal dedicates so many pages to works like essays and fiction
that take up a lot more space than a single poem or two. And to
see a play is such a rare event in current literary journals
that it can’t help but cheer me up. Readers willing to read the
whole journal will find a window into worlds they won’t find in
other parts of popular culture.
Review by Maggie Glover
Editor Steve Schreiner opens this issue of Natural Bridge with a reference to Poe’s explanation of human temptation, that our “spirit of the Perverse” pushes us to “perpetuate actions to our peril simply because we feel that we should not.” The "Temptation Issue" offers many representations of this concept, from the swarming guppies in the late Dale Denny’s “Big Aquarium,” to the breast milk in James Vescovi’s “La Leche is Good for You,” to sticking one’s tongue to a cold porch railing in Amy M. Clark’s “Dumb.”
Refreshingly, many styles of poetry and fiction are featured, too, and it is this variety of temptation in both content and authorial approach that makes this issue particularly enjoyable.
Poetry standouts include Amy S. Debrecht’s landscape of desire in “Argument in Early Spring,” a stunning Baudelaire translation by Will Wells, “Recueillement,” Bob Hicok’s “Talking to Hawkins,” and Carol McCarthy’s “[The Lion Sits By My Bedside, Only it’s Not a Lion Anymore.]” Memorable fiction includes Charles Baxter’s “The Untranslated” and Emma Wunsch’s delightfully musical “Fingers.”
The "Temptation Issue" is quite successful, and I’m
certainly glad that I decided – as Schreiner invites us all – to give in.
Review by Micah Zevin
In the appropriately named Paradigm, it is as if all the disparate forms of literature have unified to create a beautiful spiders web of art that includes sounds for the ears too. If you try to read every piece in one sitting, you may be so enthralled as to stay up to the wee hours of the night.
In the fiction section, when you read the story “Never Date a Writer” by Alex Stephens, it is immediately clear what the writer or narrator wants to say: “Never date a writer because she’ll fictionalize everything. She’ll write about things you have done to her, or things you never did for her. She’ll write about how you never bought her flowers. Not once.”
In the nonfiction piece “Box on Coffee Table” by Matthew Lavin, the writing is stark, simple and prone to elegiac list making: “I stare at the cardboard box on my coffee table. The ashes inside were my grandfather. The man who played banjo. The man who played harmonica. The man who died before I returned to Florida to say goodbye.”
When you encounter poetry in Paradigm, as in “Body #2” by Amy Mae Schimpf, it is often a mysterious and questioning experience: “She walked to the park bathroom to read the patterns: black to red to blue. Was it a large fist? Did it have a ring?”
Paradigm treats every literary form with the respect
it deserves. As a result, you too may let yourself be lured into
its web of narrative and yes, even sound that never seems to
finish or run out of things to say.
Volume 116 Number 1
Review by Rachel King
The Sewanee Review begins with twenty pages of “Current Books in Review” written succinctly about both authors and their current books, making these introductory pages informative and entertaining.
Of the three stories in this issue, two have plots which revolve around horses. My favorite, Andrew Plattner’s “Runaway,” is about a middle-aged jockey’s trials on the track and with men. Helen, the jockey, is plainspoken and sympathetic, and by the end of the story even someone who doesn’t know anything about horseracing will be caught up in her world.
The narrator in Daniel Hoffman’s “The Soul’s Domicile,” confronted with a dying lover, meditates on past memories with her and questions the nature of the soul: “Everybody knows / What you mean by it, / But who has, or lives in, one? / As though the soul’s the house then, / Not the tenant / Who outlives the lease.”
Joseph Harrison’s poem also reminisces about someone dead, asking in a new way the always pertinent question of how someone so full of life can now be gone: “Can one so measured when he took the floor / With death itself, and danced that sarabande / With breathtaking aplomb / At tempi fitted to the chilling score, / Really have stopped?”
This issue contains two essays: Robert Buffington’s “The Tates, Ford, and the House of Fiction” and Eugene Goodheart’s “The Jewish Writer in America.” The latter essay compares and contrasts Jewish writers as diverse as Bellow, Malamud, Kazin, and Roth. Despite their differences, Goodheart argues that Jewish writers more firmly established themselves in America than in any European country: “The Jewish writers in other countries tend to be isolated, or in the fashionable word, alienated. None of these countries opens its arms to ethnic minorities in the way America does.” Goodheart attributes this difference to the “particular character of [America’s] democracy.” The author is able to emphasize America’s contemporary acceptance of Jewish writers while not dismissing their past struggles.
As always, The Sewanee Review provides excellent,
varied writing. Their selections of poetry and fiction were so
superb that I wish there were more selections from these genres.
Volume 1 Number 1
Review by Micah Zevin
In SUB-LIT’s first issue, you get the not so subtle impression that you will be titillated or at the very least tantalized. And you will, but in a more intellectually risky manner than first expected when you come face to face with the sexy 60’s style rock’n’roll poster on their website. The poems and stories in this issue challenge your definition of the truth.
In the Amy Lawless poem, the story of Julius Caesar gets a remake from the perspective of today’s generation: “But for these pigeons, / we’d be living the high life. / Deeply in debt, / I signed up to conquer Gaul.” In “tristesse,” a poem by Campbell McGrath, he addresses the search for happiness amidst the day to day, even even exploring the darkest depths of our human experience : “Turn over the rocks, seek it, moment to / moment, day to cloudiest day, a ring of / tombstones, flagpoles in the snow—.”
When you start reading what I will call the micro-fiction section, you are pushed forward by a rapid-fire personal account of a self critical mother. In “Mrs. Miller Takes a Stand” by Katherine Perry, the narrator addresses how parents affect their child’s future identity:
So though a victory perhaps unfairly bestows a sense of superiority on those undeserving babies in order to save them from the painful awareness of their own shortcomings, it’s fine, because every baby deserves to feel superior sometimes, even if it is at the expense of judiciousness and perspective…
SUB-LIT is a journal that will make you feel as if you
were being shot out of a cannon in frilly under garments while
perusing The Nations’ coarser but no less intellectually
Volume 84 Number 2
Review by Rav Grewal-Kök
The fiction in this issue of the VQR offers “Superhero Stories.” But none of the protagonists of the short fiction that opens the magazine – a discharged sailor who suffered psychic and physical wounds in the 1946 Bikini Atoll atomic bomb test; a masked vigilante who comes across as “a slurring crackpot taking a momentary break from a barbiturate triathlon” in his only public appearance; and a homebody in boxer shorts who commandeers the voices of televangelists – are paragons of virtue. Instead, Scott Snyder, Tom Bissell, and George Singleton give us blackly comic portraits of the flawed and fallen. These are men forged and broken in violence, antiheroes for our own times.
Editor Ted Genoways notes in his preface that broadcast evangelism arose during the Depression from the same national longing that produced the first comic book superheroes. Bill Sizemore’s long essay on the unlikely career of Pat Robertson, the most influential later-day peddler of charismatic religion, suggests that our thirst for the miraculous has yet to be exhausted. Robertson claims to have spoken to God, battled Satan, diverted hurricanes, and has argued for the assassination of foreign leaders, used charitable donations to fund a diamond-mining operation in the Congo, and unleashed an army of graduates of a fourth-tier Christian law school to pack the Justice Department. Sizemore’s essay is a fascinating and chilling look at an American phenomenon.
Themes of impermanence and mortality run through many of the poems in this issue by Charles Simic, Charles Wright, Ted Kooser, Billy Collins and others. Simic’s “What He Said,” whose speaker describes the aftermath of the war in Europe sixty years ago, also bears witness to our own endless wars: “Seeing a young man in a wheelchair / Pushed by his mother / Who kept her eyes averted / So she wouldn’t see what the war did to him.” Michael Bishop’s understated elegy for his son, an instructor murdered in the Virginia Tech massacre, is composed with a lucid dignity that testifies to a vast paternal love and grief.
There is much more of note here, including Kwame Dawes on HIV
and AIDS in Jamaica, Matthew Power on sailing to the Galapagos,
Lawrence Weschler in conversation with Robert Irwin, and a comic
from the great Chris Ware. The VQR is at the forefront of
contemporary literary journals, offering journalism, fiction,
poetry and criticism informed by a cosmopolitan and humane
sensibility. This rich volume deserves to be read in entirety.