Literary Magazine Reviews
Posted April 18, 2009
The Antioch Review
Volume 67 Number 1
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Poetry editor Judith Hall introduces the all poetry issue with a beautiful editorial: “Those not spent by life are privileged. A poet, reading in the evening, writing after dawn, enjoys such privileges.” A reader with this issue in her hands is privileged, too, I am happy to say.
All poetry doesn’t mean all poems. It means all about poetry, which includes more than a dozen brief contributions to “Prose on Poetry,” including brief essays by some impressive poetry personalities, such as Edward Hirsh and David Lehman; an interview with Mark Strand by Lenny Emmanuel; Jerome McGann’s “Play on Poetry”; an essay on German poetry by John Taylor; and reviews of poetry books. And, of course, poems. Work by a dozen and a half poets, many of whom are also represented in the “Prose on Poetry” section (Hirsch, Lehman, Myra Sklarew, Jeffrey Herrick, James Longenbach, David Caplan).
Sarah Arvio’s personal essay, “Salmat (2006),” is a fitting, if disconcerting, beginning: “Several months ago, I googled myself and found my poem, 'Flying,' reproduced in English on an Arabic website.” The essay’s conclusion, which reflects the ideas she grapples with, is as important a comment on poetry as any: “How will we restore peace to our lives if we don’t know what we’ve done to make enemies? All this requires freedom of thought.”
It’s a stroke of editorial genius, I think, that Arvio’s piece is followed by Longenbach’s essay, “An Examination of the Poet in a Time of War,” with its opening concern: “Who can have lived apart in happy oblivion at any moment in the last seventy years?” I wish there were space to quote here from every essay and every poem in the issue, to show the skill with which these works are linked and related. When Mark Strand tells Lenny Emmanuel “poetry might continue to have a life…as long as people continue behaving recognizably as people,” a quarter of the way through the issue, and sixty pages from Arvio’s essay, I am not merely impressed, I am moved practically to tears.
There is much to admire, even to love, in the poems, too. My favorites include Fady Joudah’s translation of a poem by Palestinian poet Ghassan Zaqtan, “Everything as it Was,” which also treats the subject of poetry: “That was in the summer of 1986 in Damascus, his mother was still alive / then and there was an opening somewhere in that poem, more like a hole / that followed him, he’d hear it stumble behind him wherever he went.”
John Taylor also contributes a fluid translation of an excerpt from Pierre-Albert Jourdan’s “Fragments,” a rich piece that alternates between single lines and prose-like paragraphs. “Believe in words as shoes and not as tacks,” Jourdan advises. Jeffrey Herrick’s “Only: A Story,” is a fascinating poetic exploration of the meaning of story, of the imaginative capacity of language, of the relationship of lies to fiction, and fiction to history.
In her clever essay, “Agnus Mopus, or Writing Out the Body of
our Work,” Myra Sklarew may well sum up the privileged and
problematic work of poets and poetry: “Out of the depths of my
being, out of my garbled and conflicted place, my
words…consisted of shining up a counter, emptying a
wastebasket.” When you put down your mop, pick up this issue of
The Antioch Review.
The Chaffin Journal
Review by Chris Mote
If you've had it with glamour and cuteness in your literary diet, turn to The Chaffin Journal for the antidote. Formerly known as Scripsit, this journal from Eastern Kentucky University is all meat and potatoes. The writing frequently dwells on quotidian themes in rural and small-town locales. That means The Chaffin Journal opts for straight story and verse over risk taking. Overall, the performance is uneven, but sometimes, the lumps in the landscape provide solid, memorable art.
The focal point for “The Legacy,” by Nancy Aldrich, is a grandmother's hands: “How old was I when I / saw that mine had the same angles, the same / flyway finger tilt, the ski-jump nails?” By acknowledging the hands as the means of household labor, the narrator in Aldrich's poem celebrates the role of women that is easily taken for granted and acknowledges how households and the roles within them are changing. Also related to bygone eras, “Midway,” by D.L. Olson, returns to the conscience of a thirteen-year-old caught between distant dreams and hard family expectations. Sure, the symbolism is more than obvious: a boy, child of immigrants, midway to adulthood, living in a middle-of-nowhere town in the Midwest in 1958, whose favorite hobby is reenacting . . . the Battle of Midway! But the story is completely true to its time period in diction and mindset.
There are other surprises in The Chaffin Journal. Joel
Allegretti gives a nod to Frank O'Hara when he illustrates 1950s
suburbia with neon-lit imagery: “Burnt supper? D in arithmetic?
/ Inconsequential weighed against / An intergalactic raspberry
gelatin / Consuming a roadside diner.” Charlotte Innes, taking
after Ben Jonson, invites a friend to dinner, and the slow,
delicate feast of language can conjure up a Jacobean dining hall
or just a decorated American home, depending on your
imagination. At its best, the work in The Chaffin Journal
is a monument erected atop the past, not stuck in it.
January – March 2009
Review by Henry F. Tonn
This ezine describes its work as “treatments of light and shade in words.” The website is dark and ominous and each quarter only three or four poems and stories appear for consumption. The editors are quite selective and have a particular style they are looking for. They also pay well: seven cents a word for a short story, which translates into $210.00 for a three thousand word narrative – a nice sum in today’s market!
All four stories in this issue are worthy of attention. “Nub Hut,” by Kurt Dinan, certainly ranks as one of the most bizarre stories you could hope to read. It concerns a group of misfits lying around an ice hole in Alaska, their arms dangling in the freezing water. The object is to numb themselves sufficiently so they won’t feel the pain when the limb is sawed off in the nub hut located a short distance away – if they are lucky enough to be selected. “Shuffle,” by Jonathan Wood, is the surreal story of a presumed New York detective who is supposed to be solving a woman’s murder in a small town. All this is happening while the man is carrying around the corpse of his wife in the trunk of his car, and trying to figure out if he is going crazy or if the entire town is trying to hoodwink him in some complicated way. Think Kafka without the cockroach.
The poetry offerings are not as enticing, perhaps because of the lengthy list of “don’ts” in the submission section, worth reading in and of itself. They don’t want any poems about vampires (No vampires?? Rats!) or werewolves, or with the word “blood” or “womb” in it, “anything remotely related to J.R.R. Tolkien,” or any poem entitled “Underworld.” Besides poetry, however, there are also book and film reviews, interviews, and other features.
This is a physically attractive website with everything in
logical order and the lengthy archives easy to find. It does not
have the clutter found all too often in today’s online journals,
and it certainly presents some fun stories. If they’ll just
allow those vampires in…
Volume 13 Number 1
Review by Henry F. Tonn
This magazine has been in existence since 1996, making it one of the more long lasting and consistent ezines of its kind. They seem to have very eclectic tastes in what they present to the reading public, hence, no doubt, the name. In this latest issue, there is much to choose from, including a spotlight on pop culture chronicler Chris Epting; a letter from Editor Tom Dooley; commentary; fiction; poetry; non-fiction; travel articles; reviews and interviews; and some satire.
One of the best stories I have read this past year is “Semolinian Equinox” by Svetlana Lavochkina, a Ukrainian immigrant who now resides in Leipzig. It portrays the wild and unfettered lives of several students in the 90’s at Donetsk University, their struggle for money, food, and cigarettes, their bohemian love lives and personal intrigues, while simultaneously attending classes and attempting to obtain degrees. Another good one is “America!” by Abbas Zaidi, a beautifully constructed slice of life about a reporter in Pakistan during the post 9/11 period.
On the non-fiction side, Chris Epting gives a moving account in “Be Like Mike” of a meeting between basketball star Michael Jordan at the peak of his career and a worshipful eleven-year-old boy who is living out the last weeks of his life riddled with a grave disease. There is non-fiction here covering such diverse topics as economics and Virginia Woolf, and book reviews ranging from a new rendition of Frankenstein to something called “Five Quick and Dirty Lit Site Reviews” by Scott Malby, which begins with the thunderous declaration, “With the exception of Shakespeare who transcends his medium, everything after the brilliant literary contributions of Greece and Rome can be said to represent a paraphrase.”
Lastly, I would point the reader to Dennis Kaplan’s review of Vincent Bugliosi’s recent book, The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, where Mr. Kaplan takes the author to task for being overly histrionic when he could have been much more effective by just sticking to the facts.
One can get a pretty good education simply by reading this
magazine every quarter, and it is surprising that the editors
are able find this much quality material in each three month
period. The website is nicely laid out and pleasing to the eye:
something for everyone here.
The Farallon Review
Review by Kenneth Nichols
Tim Foley and the other editors of The Farallon Review aim to, “share the work of writers who still believe that short fiction is a unique artform, worth writing, and worth reading.” The realistic fiction in this new journal is certainly long on imagination and features distinctive narrators.
The standout story “Brown Sparrows,” by Ken Rodgers, allows the reader to consider what it might have been like for soldiers returning from the Vietnam War. The narrator attempts to get back to normal, downing a good, old-fashioned burger-and-beer lunch with a buddy. One moment, he’s relaxing: “Juice oozed out of the cheeseburgers and the fat dripped down our chins as we ate and the ketchup on the French fries got all over the bone-white plates.” The next moment, this peace is shattered by the realization that random violence can also occur on this side of the Pacific.
S.J. Sasken’s story, “Road Signs In A Pigeon’s Paradise,” is an engaging meditation on the nature of happiness. Sue, the owner of Cakes Café, is annoyed by the pigeons flapping around her establishment. Marge, on the other hand, likes to feed the birds. After Sue takes extreme measures, Marge must wait to feel “the pride and joy she had felt inhaling the silky aroma of the head of her newborn child.”
Brief and written in second person, Abeer Hoque’s story, “The
Businessman,” manages to grab the reader and raise important
questions about the way we build our personal and professional
Journal of Ordinary Thought
Review by Chris Mote
Chicago's remarkable populist tradition includes a diverse range of voices, from Carl Sandburg to Gwendolyn Brooks. The Journal of Ordinary Thought is a firm product of that tradition, showcasing everyday people from the neighborhood with something to say. Some are joyfully discovering their creative potential; some are more urgent to make their opinions heard. The theme here, "Notes for a People's Atlas of Chicago," playfully reveals the limitations of maps in detailing the experience of lived space. Given an outline of the city, participants created their own atlases and legends. Included are maps denoting the Cubs/Sox divide, the barrage of condos being built, places to buy the best pierogies or find residences of IVAW members.
Written works also celebrate neighborhood pride as much as they lament threats to neighborhood cohesion. "On the Cote D'or," a poem by Larry Ambrose, wonders if "ordinary people" exist in the world of the Gold Coast where "Rich ain't enough. Mattering is what really matters," and fancy condo development is "Crushing inconvenient flop rooms, tender buttons, ma and pa ice creams, even ward offices" that used to define neighborhood life.
Anything goes with the selection of writing, and poets can be
as rhymey or preachy as they feel necessary. At times, this
results in the inevitable rant against bad manners or the
arousing Obama cheer. Aesthetes will roll their eyes, but it's
as an empowerment project, by which "Every person is a
philosopher," that JOT succeeds. Amid the raw,
street-level wisdom, there's plenty of idealism. It's no loss to
encourage aspiring writers to keep on keepin' on.
Volume 20 Number 2
Enduring War: Stories of What We've Learned is an edifying volume that is not exactly lacking in timeliness: Have war stories ever been irrelevant? But this is not a volume to be read with self-righteousness; the lessons from world conflict are never easy to swallow. As Mānoa reveals, war always seems to exist on the periphery of our consciousness, something that happened "over there" or "back then." The photographic images of Darfur refugees may not be graphic or shocking, but they do capture the feeling and pain that can easily get lost in the drone of the media. In his introduction, Editor Frank Stewart quotes the novelist Carlos Fuentes: "Literature makes real what history forgot." The task of literature, then, is to uncover the truth that the makers of history (and war) will find unpleasant.
The diverse fiction selection includes the meta-narrative, "The Story that Got Away," by Shahaduz Zaman. Ostensibly about the writer's difficulty writing the tale of a glorious warrior in Bangladesh's war of independence, the story reveals the shades of gray in warfare, even when couched in noble goals. "Heartless Willy," by Leo Litwak, is the story of a Jewish boy from an assimilated Dutch family who sees through Hitler's relocation tactics but is indifferent to the plight of refugees from the East. When an Orthodox family from Poland takes refuge in his Amsterdam home, he is presented the chance to learn compassion and take a stand. On a personal and a historical level, the outcome is nevertheless harrowing.
More controversial is David Shulman's "On Being Unfree," a
non-fiction account of tensions in Palestine. Through
nonviolent, direct action, Shulman and his group, Ta'ayush
("Arab-Jewish Partnership"), protest against Israeli
encroachments on the West Bank – defending Palestinian shepherds
against mob violence, dismantling roadblocks that soldiers will
easily rebuild – often, he admits, with no hope of affecting
change. "You can always look the other way; you can easily
rationalize doing nothing, or even doing something utterly
wrong," he writes. "And yet all of us long to be free. As for
me, I will protest what Israel is doing to these innocent people
even if no one hears and no one cares." Absent is the view,
commonly presented in the US media, that animosity goes in the
other direction as well, and that Israelis have legitimate
reason to fear for their lives. Rather than respond directly to
that view, Shulman stays true to empirical instinct and implies
that militarism and division are the problem and not the
solution. It's a conflict, like all of those scrutinized in
Mānoa, without easy answers – and therein lies the burden
for all of us.
The Missouri Review
Volume 31, Number 4
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
“A poet’s love of poetry is everything,” says Rodney Jones, interviewed in this issue by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum. The Missouri Review editors love what they do, too – they have created something that is clearly a labor of love. The journal is thoughtfully constructed and handsomely produced, with a rhythm all its own: some selections are accompanied by lengthy contributors’ notes containing the writers’ perspectives on their entries and their photos, others are followed by briefer, less personal bios; prose selections begin with their titles on pages with full-bleed photographs or illustrations on the left-hand side, large type with a wall-paper effect in the background on the right-hand side, and most stories are framed by large-sized pull-quotes; three poets contribute from three to eight poems each (rather than 20 poets each contributing one poem, as in most journals); writers’ headshots appear in the Table of Contents; and in the middle of the journal appears a colorful and playful set of prints of fashion designs from the 1930’s by Gordon Conway with an accompanying essay, “Poet of Chic,” by TMR marketing director Kris Somerville. The reproductions are gorgeous.
This is a thoroughly readable journal, a kind of fluid, satisfying reading that serves, all at once, as an escape from the everyday and as a reminder of how escaping the everyday is impossible. And, of course, of how the everyday is different every day. I was moved to tears by Margaret Malone’s excellent personal essay, “The First Week After,” about the diagnosis of her husband’s brain tumor. Of the many, many pieces I have read lately about dealing with illness or disease, this is the most original and impressive. Malone writes with great skill and a unique urgency, immediacy, and efficacy. Less unusual in tone or style, but no less affecting is Dave Kim’s short fiction, “Final Round,” about the troubles of a Korean-American family. This is Kim’s first published story, and it is moving and memorable.
Poets this issue are Alex Grant, Alexandra Teague, and
Charlie Clark. Grant presents several prose poems from a
recently completed chapbook, “The Circus Poems.” His subjects
are archetypal circus figures, including – surprise – the
audience. Clark says his poems attempt to “explore the limits of
what art can do.” His tercets and quatrains straddle the
boundaries between objects and ideas. Teague’s poems are from a
manuscript titled “Mortal Geography,” and she thinks of the
poems as “acts of reckoning.” Her writing is both lucid and, at
times as she describes in the following lines from “Bay Window,
with Divorce and Pigeon,” luminous in a way that is,
paradoxically, almost austere: “flaws in the world’s
construction: in love’s shelter / we forget the most luminous
rooms have thin glass.” It would be hard to follow that line
with anything that won’t damage its perfect grief, so I’ll end
Review by Henry F. Tonn
Jason Sanford, the founding editor of this literary magazine is stepping down after seven years at the helm and ceding his position to Spring Garden Press out of Greensboro, N.C. He will, however, continue to direct the wonderful and very needed Million Writers Award. As his farewell salute, he has presented a selection of the best fiction, essays, and poetry from the last seven years.
“Welcome to Richmond, Miss Welty,” is a chatty essay by Tyler Scott about an afternoon she passed with the famous author at the height of her career. She gives us a humorous opening: “Colette said she couldn’t come because her Christmas cactus was about to bloom; Flaubert didn’t respond; Truman Capote was cruising in the Mediterranean with Babe Paley; Jane Austen was suffering from a cold and wanted to come when she felt better. Only Eudora Welty responded.” A better essay with more depth is “Hiding Harper Lee,” by W.A. Bilen, a nice snapshot of the reclusive writer that also quotes liberally from her famous novel To Kill a Mockingbird.
In the poetry section, “Watching Buzzards” by Cassie Sparkman is a powerful and evocative piece that grasps the essence of depression with the lines, “You want to lay with a dying animal, roll in rotting leaves with it, hope that when the birds drop to feed, they do not distinguish between the animal and you.” Just as poignant is the dual language poem “Posterity/Posteridad” by Lisette Garcia, about a mother burying her son after his violent confrontation with the police. Also notable is “Some Folks…” by Tony Tost which makes good use of the free association technique.
Among the short stories is Josh Shepherd’s “The Philosophical
History of Corpus Christi, Mississippi,” which traces the fever
and death of an anonymous colonel who
passes into the afterlife where he communes with the very
sardonic William Faulkner. The colonel is angry about losing his
wife, while the great writer has bigger concerns on his mind.
It’s a good one to read, as are all the selections in this
compendium of seven years of hard work.
Review by Mary Baken
I absolutely love The Sun. Without fail, in every issue I’ve ever read, there has been writing aplenty to admire. The Sun is one of the most democratic literary magazines I have ever encountered in that it celebrates and honors anyone who has something worthwhile to say. I have never read a less than stellar piece of writing in it. Edited by Sy Safransky, The Sun’s contents are always a revelation, a slap in the face reminder that brilliance and compassion are lurking everywhere.
This issue is no exception. Opening with an extensive interview with “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” author Nicholas Carr, I immediately felt intrigued and enlightened by this ongoing dialogue. This is a topic I’m only mildly familiar with; I personally don’t Twitter, Facebook, or “friend,” and my “surfing” behavior is pretty much limited to the NewPages blog. But previous issues of The Sun have taught me that the payoff is guaranteed, that even when the subject matter fails to spark an immediate interest the depth, insight, or literary quality will always justify the read. For those more familiar with the topic, Carr’s interview may seem oversimplified or a restatement of past news, but I found his direct response to opposing viewpoints insightful and convincing. As a sideways counterpoint, Carr’s interview is immediately followed by the equally intriguing yet somewhat more radical (conservative?) approach in a reprint by Wendell Berry titled “Why I am Not Going to Buy a Computer.” Berry swiftly negates the wisdom of bothering with these stupid machines altogether.
Then comes Laura Esther Wolfson’s beautifully written personal essay “Proust at Rush Hour,” which begins with the familiar sentiment, “My job is a drag.” Wolfson describes the numbing realities of the generic 9-5 job, which in her case is only made bearable by her to-and-from commute. Likewise, Patricia Brieschke’s “All of Me,” is a painfully honest, gut wrenching examination of womanhood and eating disorders, a difficult read which feels like a voyeuristic vortex, a woman laid bare, a life still begging for acceptance and space. Christina Fitzpatrick’s short story “Boston to New York,” about a mother coping with the brutal murder of her daughter, also startles with its extraordinary honesty, though her honesty is much more subdued, less raw, and more introverted than Brieschke’s. I also loved Lou Lipsitz’s poem, “Reading a Swedish Poet,” with the lines:
And a poem can help too, insinuating itself
into our bewildered psyches
like a tiny man on a distant hillside
waving his arms. He wears a bright blue shirt.
Is he signaling us to stop? To come over?
To me, a particular bonus of The Sun is its monthly
“Readers Write” section where readers submit mini memoirs on a
designated topic, this month’s being “The Dinner Table.” I’m
constantly astounded by the poignancy, the sadness, the riveting
nature of our everyday lives. As hokey as it sounds, Lipsitz’s
poem makes me think of The Sun itself, the way its
contents insinuate into our bewildered psyches, signaling us to
stop, pause, and examine. The Sun’s overriding
sensibility seems to be that everything matters, that poetry is
lurking everywhere. I highly recommend that everyone take a
moment to bask in The Sun.
An Art Project
Volume 2 Numbers 1 & 2
Spring & Fall 2008
Review by Anne Wolfe
The third issue (v2n1) of Tuesday; An Art Project comes in a plain, thick, yellow wrapper. Inside is the table of contents, a feature poem, short bios of the authors, editorial information, and – most importantly – cards and postcards containing the poems, prints and photographs. There are only seventeen cards, and they are all striking.
A theme of loss and mortality runs throughout. One print, titled “Trouble in the Mind” by Meg Birnbaum, is of a woman squatting by a pond in her bathing suit, at night, watching while a group of kids runs happily through a nearby field of rushes. It has a haunting quality, and evokes feelings of a childhood anyone over forty might recall. From David Lundy Martin comes a searching, melancholy prose poem: “When a man is trapped as words are trapped in the / defect of the body, when hundreds of untold stories make the body convex, ape out, indulge in / excess so that the mouth is never empty, when the grass of youth is so faraway” These words carry the reader on a journey, holding him tight throughout the poem, then finally release their grip.
Childhood scenes captured better in words and more whimsically than they could be shown were penned by Peter Jay Shippy in “When I was the King of Lake Erie”:
I was the only emperor
in a line of brass children
This was when the steel mills were
Not still; the air was full of ash
Shippy makes you want to know him as a child. The authors and artists range from the published and award-winning to social activists and committed individuals with something to say. Something in all their work will live on. This rare tribute to mortality and immortality will touch you.
However, if there is a theme to the fourth issue (v2n2), it is more obscure than the last, but these poems glisten with appeal to the mind, imagination, even sense of the absurd; while many-colored, angular words and phrases give different tones and patterns to the cadences. There are a few visual cards out of the eighteen cards wrapped in the dark purple wrapper. These tend to appeal again to the mind or the subconscious, rather than present, the obvious.
A prize-winning poet, Richard Blanco, in “Bewitched,” asks, “Who wouldn’t want to be American if that meant living in Westport, Connecticut, on a cul-de-sac / named Morning Glory Circle edged with spray roses always in bloom.” As he ruminates, he is fascinating, clever, and ironic, dealing with two of his favorite themes – home and place. Both published and recorded, Robin Beth Schaer contributed a delicate poem, “Little Ice Age,” that speaks in symbolic, picturesque language: “My icebound anchorite, / find your ataraxy in parsnips and arctic hares. // In the cold, your body will renounce its limbs / to keep the heart warm.” These lines sing, even with words like “millennia,” "latitude,” “starvation.” In “Pilgrimage,” Quraysh Ali Lansana presents intricate puzzles with economical, well-chosen language, tempting the reader to move from one level of meaning to another:
body Africa is almost sick almost
healthy thing about the waist bone
weak to bone belligerent joints
frantic memory perpetual fever
These poems satisfy in quite a different way than those in
the previous issue. The editors strive for constant variety and
achieve it, and also create a classy publication for something
that is already blissfully unique.