Literary Magazine Reviews
Posted August 19, 2009
Arroyo - Brick - California Literary Review - Canteen - Crazyhorse - Glimmer Train - Hotel Amerika - Inkwell - Juked - Labletter - Modern Haiku - Nimrod - Off the Coast - Poetry East - Prism Review - Quiddity - Southern Review - Stone's Throw - Zoland Poetry
Volume 1 Number 1
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
A promising premier beginning with fascinating cover art – a “threadwork portfolio” by Lisa Solomon whose threadwork images appear throughout the journal – Marvin Bell’s moving “dedication poem” (“The Book of the Dead Man (Arroyo)”) featuring Bell’s signature anaphoric lines; a terrific interview with novelist Eric Miles Williamson, a graduate of the California State University system where Arroyo is published; five strong stories; and contributions from ten poets, including more work by Bell.
Williamson, author of three novels, a book of criticism, and recipient of many prestigious awards, is interviewed by the journal’s editor, Eric Neuenfeldt, and proves to be a gifted and funny storyteller. Readers unfamiliar with his work will surely want to seek out his fiction, always the mark of a successful interview. He’s frank (“the ‘workshop’ format, where people who haven’t yet mastered their art sit around a conference table giving each other bad advice”), realistic (maybe even optimistic) about the state of American literature (“in those small presses you’ll find that American literature is alive and thriving, more varied and adventurous than ever in our history”), and a little cocky (he answers the question what’s next with “I think I’ll have a cigarette and a beer.”). The interview is followed by an excerpt from his forthcoming novel, Out of Oakland.
The fiction in this first issue of the journal is especially strong, including novel excerpts from Sara McAulay (Steelwork) and Patrick Ryan (The Jade Fish of Perpetuity), as well as Williamson, and short stories from Richard Peabody and Stephen D. Gutierrez. The editors favor enticing opening lines (“The artist is drawn to the image of a mermaid’s purse.” from Peabody’s “Bottom Feeders and Prospective Memory”) and voices whose expression is immediate, real, and recognizable (“She thought he loved her. She was dumb enough to think he cared for and really cherished her, like in a movie or something that makes you feel good because the guy is all sensitive and shit,” from “Maria” by Gutierrez).
The same aesthetic, for the most part, governs the poetry
selections. I especially liked a long poem by Patty Seyburn,
“The Case for Free Will,” a poem in five sections, right-justified on the page (which seems like precisely the right and
necessary choice) that begins: “When I was little, I thought the
moon was Europe. / Or was like Europe. / Or would be like
Europe, by the time I grew up”). More poetically poetic (a
decidedly non-MFA workshop definition of which, I think,
Williamson might approve) is Dan Bellm’s “Dream Song” (“O
mockeries, I am not finished yet: / horrible shadows, that night
does not forget”). And a wonderful example of poetry that turns
personal narrative into effective verse by Trebor Healey, titled
“Brine” (“Grandma called him Brine / in her winy old voice / And
you call him the salt of the earth / or the sediment that fouled
the sterility of suburbia”). This premier issue is the beginning
of a fine stream (arroyo) of work and I can’t wait to see where
it will flow.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
I have always loved Brick, a handsome, polished, semi-annual from Toronto. The journal typically features some of the finest, and most influential, writers and from across the Americas and around the world (this issue’s stars include Michael Ondaatje, Eduardo Galeano, Edmund White, Dionne Brand, Francisco Goldman, Jim Harrison, Jack Spicer, and Juan Cruz for example); what I’d call “pure and original finds” (a brief essay on Harold Pinter by acclaimed Canadian filmmaker Patricia Rozema, along with a marvelous photo of her and Pinter; and the posthumously published “Three Wishes” by Pannonica de Koenigswarter, fascinating black and white photos of and fragments from bebop and jazz musicians); and terrific graphics (some great photos in this issue).
This issue’s surprises and rewards are too numerous to describe completely in a brief review. They include: a tribute to David Wallace Foster featuring essays and a postcard by Alex Pugsley, Don Delillo, George Saunders, and Zadie Smith; an excerpt of roundtable discussion, moderated by Colm Tóibín, called “It’s Irish! Irish Letters Past,” which took place at the International Festival of Authors in Toronto last year; an interview from 2007 by Juan Cruz, editor of El País, with Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago who, at 85, had been near death, miraculously recovered and took up work again on a new novel; and “A Conversation with Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia” from 1976 when Buffet-Picabia, an avant-garde Parisian musician and member of the French resistance (in her nineties when interviewed); among numerous other sensational features.
Noteworthy, too, are Dionne Brand’s “Three Elegies for Constance Rooke.” Brand is a Canadian poet, novelist, and wise cultural critic whose work deserves much greater attention in the US. The elegies are typical of Brand’s writing, which is lyrical, cautious deliberate, rich, and moving. I liked very much an essay by Jaspreet Singh, “Hotel Leeward,” about Kashmir, and Dan Paterson’s long seven-part poem, “Phantom,” which manages successfully and evocatively to merge the philosophical and the personal.
Reviews in Brick are especially fine, as well, intelligent and engaging. Linda Spalding, Michael Redhill, Esta Spalding, Jane Urquhart, and Dionne Brand review fiction, biography, history, and children’s literature.
In “One, two, three…pause,” her farewell to Pinter, Rozema
(whose movies are as creative as this little essay) writes:
“that’s what makes good writing good – the unfiltered lifeness
of it.” Get some unfiltered lifeness – pick up a copy of
California Literary Review
Review by Henry F. Tonn
This literary review was founded in 2004 and offers literary reviews, author interviews, essays, and publishing news. They also present articles on a variety of topics including art, science, politics, and history. Basically, there is something here for almost everyone. Below are a few juicy tidbits to be sampled in their pages:
An interview with actress Marlee Matlin reveals that she had a “violent” relationship with alcoholic actor William Hurt while filming “Children of a Lesser God.” Even after receiving an academy award for starring in that role, she still has to pound the pavement regularly to find work, and says most well-known Hollywood actors do. Interview by Elinor Teele.
An article dated May 21 relates that the police in Iran arrested the country’s first female serial killer. Desperate for money, she murdered primarily women for their jewelry, which she sold. She supposedly drew her inspiration from Agatha Christie novels. From The Guardian of London.
The Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in 1911 and recovered two years later. The specifics of the heist are still a mystery. Suspects included such luminaries as Picasso and Apollinaire. A book by R.A.Scotti, reviewed by David Loftus.
National Book Award winner Denis Johnson has written a crime noir novel entitled Nobody Move. The reviewer, Ryan Van Cleave, awards it three and a half stars out of five and calls it “A fast-paced, funny, and decidedly enjoyable read.”
There is a convenient list of “Topics” here to click on. I click “sex,” and there is a review of Love Junkie by Rachel Resnick, reviewed by Kelly Hartog, who opines, “Her writing is as stripped, raw and intense as her emotions, and at times you don’t want to read further. But you do anyway, with a kind of abject horror.”
Well, that works. Let’s jump to “humor.” The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett, reviewed by Garan Holcombe, is a tongue-in-cheek novella about Queen Elizabeth discovering books. She has always been a doer rather than a reader, and now that she has discovered the joys of reading, she lets her royal duties go to pot. A veritable monarchial catastrophe! Five stars out of five.
This short review cannot possibly do justice to this superb
website. It is nicely laid out and chock full of interesting
information, not to mention reviews of very worthy books that
might not otherwise be noticed. Definitely a place to browse.
The State of Creation
Review by Terri Denton
This summer’s edition to Canteen’s canon is filled to the brim with amusing essays, thought-provoking poems, and a couple of fictional, yet introspective short stories. One such story is Justin Taylor’s “In My Heart I Am Already Gone.” Its protagonist, Kyle, is a cousin of some sort to the family with whom he spends Wednesday nights. His Uncle Danny, in referring to his medically sound, but mentally unhinged cat, says: “This was a long time coming.” He is, of course, talking of rubbing out, or knocking off, the poor, poor Buckles. Danny has asked Kyle to ‘take care of it’. Kyle, as naturally as Holden Caulfield without the sarcasm might, muses that
In my heart I have already left this miserable town for a place and future so bright with promise I cannot look directly upon it . . . When he comes to his uncle’s house, a week later, under the belief that he can get away with the felinicide unbeknownst to anyone, he strangles and drowns the cat simultaneously. Though it is a clever allusion to ‘sleeping with the fishes’, it is, after all, simply, the family pool – sans fish. Then he notices his aunt behind standing in the doorway behind him. How much did she see?
The story is finely wrought, and a joy to read, despite its rather grim subject matter.
On the magazine’s beginning pages, the ‘State of Creation’ is expertly explored in an essay by Eric Puchner. Puchner, the title suggests, offers to the readers his experiences in what is titled, “I married a novelist.” The novelist to whom he refers is Katherine Noel, whose annotations appear as footnotes to Puchner’s essay. It is a truly enjoyable story, given both writers’ contributions. To wit: As Puchner admits, “Somehow I don’t think a lawyer would be quite as understanding when I wake her up in the middle of the night for advice on a semicolon.” To this, though my husband is not a lawyer, I can relate. I’m likely to get a primal grunt instead of essential grammatical assistance. Puchner asks, “How can she write such beautiful novels while listening to Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine?” Katherine does not comment, but, when he talks of her and writes, “Now I can picture the face perfectly: a beautiful, sleepy eyed woman who happens to be sitting in the room at the end of the hall. She’s listening to Loveless, [What? No more Sonic Youth?], a cup of lemon-ginger tea steaming by her side." Her sly comment is, "I never drink lemon-ginger tea.”
Other standouts in this edition of Canteen are Ben
Fountain’s “Four Stories,” of which I particularly enjoyed
“Mean,” and Heather Kirn’s prose poem “The Last Word: A
prologue.” Reading this issue of Canteen was, indeed,
like a cool drink of water after a walk in the desert.
Review by Kenneth Nichols
The reader is welcomed to this issue of Crazyhorse with the editor’s modest reminder of the stories and poems published by the journal that were selected for the Best American Series, including the Poetry, Short Stories and Nonrequired Reading volumes.
One assumes that this issue’s “Meditation,” by Michael P. Kardos, will earn similar attention. Kardos employs a light touch to immerse the reader in Sandy Stoddard’s dilemma: though currently stable, her previously tempestuous marriage to a recovering alcoholic may crumble if the truth of her long-ended affair is revealed. Complicating the story is the fact that Sandy is employed as a mediator; the normally unflappable paragon of compromise is confronted with a situation in which negotiation may not be possible. The twists of plot propel the reader as much the empathy that is evoked for Sandy and her husband.
Gretchen, the young protagonist of April Ayers Lawson’s “The Way You Must Play Always,” has some problems. After being found in a compromising position with her cousin, she is forced to begin piano lessons in hopes she’ll stay out of trouble. Lawson paints the sad confusion of early adolescence quite well, reminding us with sympathetic prose that Gretchen, above all, wants to find an emotional connection that allows her to play the piano as beautifully as when Miss Grant praises her.
In her nonfiction piece, “Inspiration Point,” Joelle Fraser compellingly recounts the story of young people in formerly rural California whose lives are irrevocably changed by the accidental Methadone overdose of two young men.
The poetry in Crazyhorse is gleefully tinged with
echoes of the Beats and stream-of-consciousness randomness. Dean
Young’s entertaining “53-Year-Old Pinata” inspires hope each of
us hold closely to our twenty-first century hearts:
“Nevertheless one day our devices may dock / as we were told was
possible by the nerds at tech support.”
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
If you love a good story – and who doesn’t? – you must read Glimmer Train. It never, and I do mean never, disappoints. This issue includes exquisite stories by Carmiel Banaksy, Hubert Ahn, Cynthia Gregory, Johnny Townsen, Marc Basch (first time in print!), Lindsey Crittenden, Diana Spechler, Scott Schrader, Mary Morrissy, and Kuyangyan Huang, as well as a critical essay by Sara Whyatt on the theater of Raisedon Baya and Chris Mlalazi, and an interview with David Leavitt, conducted by Kevin Rabalais.
Many of Glimmer Train’s trademark elements abound here. Well rounded stories that offer the traditional rewards and pleasures of solid, time tested narrative techniques. Strong, memorable voices and characters whose experiences and problems manage to seem at once both ordinary or realistic (as in believable) and interesting (as in worth telling). Well crafted prose that reads with a kind of natural ease, but which is never disaffected, sloppy, or deliberately edgy or “cool.” And, finally, a kind of love for, appreciation of, and tenderness about our flaws and foibles and faults.
Despite these similarities, or perhaps because of them, there is no confusing these stories. They are unique, distinct, original. Banaksy’s “Save” is written in a style that is especially attentive to the lyrical potency of a sentence, for example: “The family store went down like a sinking stump in the swamp.” Townsend’s “Pronouncing the Apostrophe” reads much like a memoir, long, but quiet and revealing, an intriguing tale of a gay man’s life as a Mormon convert to Judaism (I am not suggesting here, however, that the story is or is meant to be autobiographical). Spechler’s “Proximity,” the story of a struggle with bulimia told from the perspective of a young woman in search of self-respect, love, and the strength to “eat like a normal person,” is convincingly youthful, yearning, and painful.
Gregory’s prize-winning story, “Melting at Both Ends,” is the
funniest of the issue, exhibiting a wry, mature voice that is
exceptionally effective and appealing. (You want to meet her
narrator.) Morrissy’s “The Scream” is less casual in diction and
tone, more poetic, deeply affecting, the story of a life
remembered from the suspension of time created by lying prone
after a fall. Huang’s “Noodles” is a beautiful, earnest fiction
that often surprises with subtle, but sharp wit and insights.
(“He can’t possibly ruin the entire year” responds the
narrator’s mother when his father complains that a visit from an
old acquaintance in China, Teacher Zhao, will prove disastrous.
“Who can do that besides you?” she argues.) “Who can control
what happens on the fringes?” Huang’s narrator asks as the story
draws to a close. I think I know the answer: the editors of
Volume 7 Number 2
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Wow! The only thing that would do this astoundingly exciting issue justice is to write a transgenre review. What would that look or sound like? It could be structured as dictionary entries like Jim Elledge’s “Mercy,” “Quarantine,” and “Xyloid.” Or perhaps an eight-page piece broken into segments of single phrases and sentences of no more than three text-lines each, alternating between font styles (regular and bold, serif and sans serif, different point sizes) like Lance Olsen’s “Head of Flames,” which begins: “Look: I am standing inside the color yellow.” (If only my review could have an opening this simultaneously luxurious and spare.)
It might look and sound like an “amneoir” (say it aloud!), in the style of Joseph Harrington’s “Your Mother was a Perfect Southern Lady,” an excerpt from Things Come On (an amneoir) with photos, and fragments of self interrogation, and medical notes (on his mother’s cancer), and a small lyric, and illustrations, and boxes containing the transcript of conversations, and religious imagery and references. Or perhaps it would be a photo essay (with odd and stupendous black and white photos) or an essay with photos (depending on your perspective) like Jeff Porter’s “Greetings from Roswell,” telling the strange stories of the people who visit Roswell’s UFO Museum in New Mexico, in which the prose and pictures take on a UFO-ish quality.
A transgenre review might take the shape of “a widely distributed nonfiction” like Cassie Keller Cole’s “Kuna Phonebook,” which sprawls – columns of text in rows and blocks with, words and phrases on the left margins separated linked to their rejoinders or conclusions by long dotted lines – across pages open horizontally, part history of phone books, part personal rumination on what is private and what is public information, part family story, part regional history, part poem about the meaning of home. Or it might imitate like Jalal Toufic’s “Beirut’s Unwritten Laws and Graffiti,” a dense narrative (which begins: “If the assignation of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Haríri can be described as an earthquake at all – it was so described first by a Syrian construction worker at the site of the massive blast”), interrupted by slogans in large, bold uppercase letters, and followed by 16 textual notes.
A transgenre review might look like Miriam Mërsel Nathan’s “Zdena,” ink, oilstick, chalk pastel and collage on paper, images of a woman, script, and a landscape (“in the town where my mother once lived”) turning to liquid before our eyes. Or like the painting of a waterscape by Phillip Kobylarz, under which appears a poetic reflection: “What pigeons do at night, still a mystery. On the roof, there’s a pile of threat and key chains. View of the ocean is the same: blue plains. A puddle of sky with waves.”
It could take the form of an essay in 56 blocks of text like “Blur” by David Shields, which begins: “I think of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, and all forms of storytelling as existing on a rather wide continuum” and ends with “I could go on like this forever.”
Review by Kenneth Nichols
Published by Manhattanville College (Purchase, NY), this issue of Inkwell contains stories and poems that the editor has chosen because they “help us embrace new worlds.” Most of the works indeed strive toward character-based abstraction. The fiction, thankfully, remains grounded in concrete narrative.
Most men feel emasculated by reproductive problems, and the narrator of Mike Schiavone’s “Sterile” is no exception. Though Hub’s wife has left him for a “nineteen-year-old motorcross racer,” he doesn’t begin to reach closure until the development revealed in the story’s intriguing opening sentence: “Sunday afternoon he’d been upstairs watching the Orioles game when his dog leaped out the open window and landed with a thud.”
Clare Beams’s “Much Peace” doesn’t tread new ground in terms of subject matter (prodigal daughter returns home), but the story succeeds tremendously because the author paints such a complete portrait of Barbara, the mother. Once the conflict is established, Beams uses potent dialogue to fill out the characters. The conclusion, though inevitable, is cast in an inventive manner.
In “Sleeping Like Silverware,” Devon Brenner entertainingly extends the idea of “spooning” with a lover to its natural end, involving the rest of the utensils in the drawer. The poem will haunt you each time you put clean dishes away: “The way we slept, / if we slept at all, / was more like silverware / in the dishwasher / at the end of the economy cycle.”
A minor concern: the issue has no table of contents.
Review by Terri Denton
Okay, I’ll admit it: I had no idea what ‘juked’ meant. So I consulted my trusty OED, only to find that the word is a football term: sort of. It means, in essence, to fake someone out; pull them offside (this is where the football thing comes in). At any rate, I found that the stories and poems contained within Juked’s pages are, in fact, of the sort that employ a bit of skullduggery.
For example, in Ron Burch’s short story “Flower Pot,” we meet newlyweds Michelle and Dennis. They live in a big Victorian that is admittedly a little worse for wear. Dennis is unhappy with the house (the story begins with the couple encountering a leak in their bedroom), but Michelle wants to stay. After all, she reasons, “Because here we don’t have to take care of anything. It’s not our responsibility.” Still, Dennis wants to check the attic for a source to the leak. It’s been pouring rain outside for two weeks straight. When Michelle tells him, “It might be too late for that,” we don’t have the slightest inkling that she may not be talking about the time alone. It’s a wonderfully crafted story, and if you pick up this issue and don’t read “Flower Pot,” you might find yourself a little worse for wear.
Also, Genevieve Burger Weiser’s poem, “Annals of an ice fisher,” is a lovely piece reminiscent of childhood dreams. As it opens, “At five she stood on a glacier in red cable-knit tights. // Have you ever held a fish?” Though this would imply that she comes from a family of ice-fishers, it turns out she does not. Her family may live in this world, and eat its fruits, but they don’t participate with the ice-fishermen in the hunting and gathering. Just a touch of deceit, here. Burger Weiser’s writing is superb, and as she muses that the little girl, “dreamt of the ice fisher / Sitting in his shanty for days saying / Amaranth / Over and over. Behind her eyes / Gold crops foliated like rapidfire / Dropping fat seeds to the frozen lake.” It’s a beautifully rendered poem, and I simply adored it.
Finally, in Howard Good’s short poem, “The Parable of
Sunlight,” there is complete trickery. At the poem’s
introduction, Good writes, “It’s a rare sunny day,” then
continues, “but the streets are strangely quiet, // as if
arrests have been made, / or are about to be.” What follows is a
harrowing account of an unnamed war-torn and destitute country,
where crossing an area of land is putting your life in its
hands. The unnamed narrator of the poem wonders, at poem’s end,
“whether tomorrow / is supposed to be as nice as today.” It
truly is a parable of sunlight. And when you’re finished reading
this issue of the magazine, and as you lean back in your chair
to silently consider what you’ve just read, you realize that you
have, indeed, been Juked.
Review by Terri Denton
This is, by far, the most diverse literary magazine I’ve ever encountered. On the Labletter’s introductory pages are art images, followed by fiction, photography, a feature on an improvisational acting company, which includes a scene from their improv play based on Greek tragedy. Finally, under a heading as broad as Gallery, there are photos, art of both two-dimensional and three-dimensional sort, more fiction, and a few poems. That the magazine comes with an equally diverse CD is as astonishing as reading the print edition is.
I loved the artistry of the first few images, most notably that of Rachel Youens and Mishael Coggeshall-Burr. Both of these artists’ work is slightly reminiscent of Monet; all softly blurred lines, but with the edgier sense of the twenty-first century. They are beautifully rendered images. Also found amongst the Images heading are photos of three-dimensional, experimental art. I particularly enjoyed James Doubleday Jr.’s Copper Spirit Vessel. This piece reminded me of Christopher Columbus – somehow conjuring in my mind a flat earth, a ship, and a compass of sorts. It is a finely wrought piece of art. I liked, too, Bill Mondi’s photographic collection of 9/11 inspired pieces. The interview with the theater company, Ghost Road Project’s Katharine Noon was illuminating, as much as were the photos of the Aurora Borealis riveting.
The accompanying CD was filled with a most enjoyable
collection of musical solos, and a beautiful song about a girl’s
man and the moon, called “The Tide.” There’s also a rousing
rendition of a song called “Moving In,” by Brian Weir, wherein
he jokingly sings that “The neighbors are worried, they're all in a tiz, cause
they’ve never seen license plates that read ‘his' and 'his.’” The CD’s
final offering is a song called “Blackie wants a Cheese Fish,”
where the lyrics force a smile with the words, “In America you
can buy crackers shaped like fish that taste like cheese.”
The whole Labletter experience is one to be treasured.
Volume 40 Number 2
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
spare and quiet
explosions of meaning
Modern Haiku received 308 entries from 79 poets in 5 countries for its 2009 Spiess Contest! Haiku (and senryu, essentially haiku with human images, rather than images drawn exclusively from nature) appears to be as popular as ever. In an era that suffers, often, from lack of restraint, the attachment to these economical forms is surprising and refreshing. In addition to many lovely haiku and senryu (in various line configurations and rhythmic patterns, and several languages other than English, along with their translations), Modern Haiku also features haibun (a hybrid form that combines prose and haiku), critical essays, a personal essay (“Correspondent’s Report”), a poetry gallery (visual arts), reviews, a briefly noted column (a listing and short description of new books) and letters from readers (called “juxtapositions”).
Many of the haiku are traditional in imagery, such as William Scott Galasso’s:
crows and gulls
in the same blue sky
Others, like this example from Robert Moyer:
left by an employee
no one remembers
and this one from Deborah P. Kolofji:
the real estate agent
suggests a lower price
are unconventional and decidedly contemporary.
All are adept at evoking an atmosphere or image that captures a mood, idea, or space much larger than the three brief lines (or long, single line, which is the form of several of the poems) from which they arise – which is the strength, beauty, and challenge of haiku.
The essays are quite marvelous, including Margaret Chula’s consideration of haiku written in US internment camps; Hiroaki Sato’s lengthy exploration of Basho’s “The Sea Darkens”; and David Lanoue’s analysis of the work of Fay Aoyagi. David Burleigh’s essay about traveling to Matsyuama, Japan, for the 4th Masaoka Shiki International Haiku Awards is part personal essay/part critical essay and makes for instructive and pleasurable reading.
This issue of the magazine also includes a tribute to Croatian haiku poet Darko Plažanin who died (at age 52) in Sagreb this past January, featuring translations of two astoundingly fine examples of the art, originally published in Haiku World (1996) and as part of the 4th International Association of Haiku Contest (2002):
after the storm
a boy wipes the sky
from the table
only the wind
can step across
It is impossible, on reading these poems, to underestimate
the relevancy, power, and potential of modern haiku, the form or
Volume 52 Number 2
Review by Shane Jiménez
Nimrod is a journal that has a long tradition of publishing the finest works to come out of the contemporary Mexico scene. Following that custom is the Spring/Summer 2009 issue, the third issue in Nimrod’s history to be devoted to Mexican writers. This issue is difficult to discuss succinctly – the writers are numerous (well over 50 contributors are included here) and their work is enormous (everything from borders to migration to the meaning of change is covered) – but let’s give it the old college try.
From the start it is clear that the poetry in Nimrod steers the magazine thematically. Andrés Ramírez’s poem “Tao de mí” (“My Tao”) sets the tone of the issue when he writes: “Let’s understand nothing / of what’s going on here / let’s ask meaning to go back / where it came from.” Directly following Ramírez’s poem is Rafael Jesús González’s “Enigma of Signals,” which further explores the complicated love triangle between signifier, signified, and meaning by asking what it means to look at items from one’s cultural history (“the feather crown of Moctezuma / & the shield of Ahuitzotl”) in as unlikely a place as “Vienna on a cloudy day.”
Yet other poetry in Nimrod eschews postcolonial issues of appropriation in a search for other meaning. Felicia R. Martinez explores the history of a Mexican family and town in “A story red with dawn.” She writes: “I know a story you must know,” and then later: “It is a story we must hear.” Joanna Rawson’s “Kill-Box” is the most overtly political piece in the entire issue, exploring coyote crossings and the fluidity of borders and fences. In the end she determines: “The light says what’s been unleashed this season can’t be stopped.”
The fiction in the issue walks a similar thematic line, albeit in its own bold, clear fashion. Elena Poniatowska’s brief story “Canarios” (“Canaries”) describes s narrator’s fascination (and obsession) with a caged canary in their home, looking at the little flittery thing that is within as well as without.
Shelley Ettinger’s story “All the Ashley’s in the World” is a sister piece in a lot of ways to Joanna Rawson’s poem. The narrator in the story recounts the story of her parent’s border crossing into the United States – a crossing that went tragically awry and left decades of bloody memories in its wake. Ultimately, the story is about how the past exists within the lives of those that it has produced – and how those individuals have to forge ahead with the uncertain knowledge of their own unsteady identities. “You might spend the rest of your lives pining for your homeland,” Ettinger writes, “but at least you’ll always have one. What will I have?”
Birds flitter throughout the issue, connecting the works from
Mexican authors to the “over-the-transom” section of unsolicited
works submitted throughout the year. The image of flight threads
many of the works in Nimrod, with all of its connotations
of migration and change. Perhaps it is as John Surowiecki writes
in “Kafkaesque No. 1 (Nogales)”: “Nothing can live without
changing into something else.” Or maybe it is more like
Miguel González-Gerth in the “The Written Word”: “Everything is written except what can’t be written.”
Off the Coast
Volume 15 Number 2
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
This “international/translation issue” features the work of poets from Bangladesh, Sweden, India, Cyprus, Scotland, France, London, Greece, the Philippines, Switzerland, Turkey, South Africa, Scotland, Italy, Germany, Canada, and the United States (most of these are poems with an “international” component of some kind). As several poems appear in languages other than English with English translations and translators’ credits, my assumption is that the others – no matter their country of origin – were written in English. (An editor’s note would help readers know for certain when they are reading originals and when they are reading translations.) Many of the contributors are natives of one country, but residents of another. The issue presents a laudable compendium of international writers, many of whose work is otherwise unavailable to readers in the States. The editorial vision is generous and eclectic, allowing for work that encompasses a variety of poetic styles, modes, and themes; most of the translations are polished, competent, and fluid.
Several poems offer evocative scenes of the places from which they derive or where the poets have spent time or manage to imagine with great specificity, such as Nausheen Eusuf’s “Rickshaw Rides” about Bangladesh: “But the even rhythm of the rickshaw // Relieves us from speech. Around us / The insistent bustle of restive streets, / The beggar’s plaintive song, the heat / And dust of afternoon, the warm / Solace of the rickshaw’s embrace"; and Marilyn Johnston’s “Cordoba” (“darkening arid hills, the olive groves laid out / row after row, the tiled roofs that cover even / the most modest houses below in the old walled city”).
There are a number of love poems (why is a love poem all the more lovely in Italian?), including translations by Will Wells of Umberto Saba’s “Due Madrigali per la Duchessa D’Aosta” (“Two Madrigals for the Duchess of Aosta”). Saba (one of a very few poets in the issue from an earlier era) is not particularly well known to readers in the US, but his work deserves a wider audience, and the two short poems presented here are excellent examples of his masterful writing. Poems included here also take the shape of metaphysical musings, parables, and personal stories. There are also a number of explicitly political poems, South African poet Tendai R. Mwanaka’s “That Child” and “Unemployment Cheque”; Chicago poet Ruth Goring’s “Soap is Political”; and Amina Khan of Scotland’s poem, “The Nucleus of Iran,” among them.
I was struck by the journal’s careful editorial composition, introducing the issue with “Maidu” by Michael Riversong of Wyoming, which concludes with a lament (excerpted here) that serves as a sort of ars poetica:
Forces we don’t understand
come upon us.
Some forces do not want to understand us.
Now only one still knows
The rest of us can only hope
that is enough.
And ending the poetry section of the issue (there are also a number of short reviews), with “Salto de San Antón” by R. W. Haynes of Texas:
I’m not dead yet. Listen to my voice
In this trashed-out canyon where I abide.
And this spirit’s wild plunge filters inside
That part of the mind where sometimes you rejoice
And changes you forever in half-forgotten ways
Finally, the issue also contains several brief reviews,
primarily of books from indie presses, books we might not know
of if journals like Off-the-Coast didn’t go to the
trouble of reviewing them. What I appreciated, above all, in
these reviews is the honesty. The reviewers are (happily)
opinionated, critical, and sincere, which makes for interesting
and useful reading.
Numbers 64 & 65
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
This double issue of the journal begins with an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, titled simply “The Poet,” the magazine’s “Past Masters” feature. And Emerson begins with a definition of those who are “esteemed umpires of taste”: “often persons who have acquired some knowledge of admired pictures or sculptures, and have an inclination for whatever is elegant; but if you inquire whether or not they are beautiful souls, and whether their own acts are like fair pictures, you learn that they are selfish and sensual.” First, I am struck by the lovely internal rhymes (acquired, admired, inquire). Then I am simply worried that reviewers are self-proclaimed “umpires of taste.” Finally, I am convinced that the “beautiful souls” are the poets who have contributed to Poetry East where, for the most part, the poems are “personal,” heartfelt, earnest, sincere, and, for lack of a better term, accessible (as in approachable, read with apparent ease).
There are a number of poems describing a tender personal encounter with “nature,” such as “Emily” by Margo Fortunato Galt, excerpted here:
It must mean something –
Hordes of ladybugs, one
down my shirt,
October’s buzz of colored scales.
And “Late Winter” by Laura Donnelly, which begins: "And already, almost Easter. Lillies / droop full blown in the blue vase, / spilling their copper pollen." And “Blue Vase” by Mifanuvy Kaiser, excerpted here in its entirety:
She brought flowers
to my classroom
early this morning
arranged in a royal blue vase:
the stargazers among the ferns,
petals arched back
toward their stems
stamens curled upward
waiting for things
terrifying or sweet.
There are a number of heartbreak or break-up poems, including Maura Stanton’s “Blue Dress Shirt”; Patricia Kirkpatrick’s “The Rabbit”; and Margaret Lloyd’s “Magdalen.” And several about grappling with sickness or ill health (physical or mental), including Sharon Finn’s “Shrine,” “Silver Tide” by Clifford Paul Fetters, and “First Day at the Nursing Home” by John Kru.
A number of poets contribute compact philosophies or metaphysical revelations, capturing vast concepts in economical verse, including “Structure” by Jodie Childers:
staring at the bridge
unfolding in the water.
then you realize
that all bridges are collap-
sing. You are on one,
you are fall-
Not all of the poems in the magazine are quite so earnest and some edgier and more cynical voices emerge. These include work by David Shumate, whose prose poem “Revising My Memoirs” begins: “I’m taking out all references to mosquitoes. And volcanoes. I’m eliminating 1959”; and by David Lee, whose poem “The True Story of Susan Birchfield, Deputys Thidbodeaux and the Texas Rat Snake,” a long poem in five sections, starts: “Susan Birchfield said the move / actually went better / than she expected / even though it took 432 trips / between the old house / and the new one on Silk Stocking / 9 calls to the bank / 4 to the preacher / 1 to the J.P. / 3 to Joseys to reborrow / their big truck and trailer / and 2 to the marriage counselor.”
A very pleasing feature is work by the distinguished Latvian poet Knuts Skuhenieks, translated by Bitite Vinklers. Here is an excerpt from his poem “Konstanty Ildefons Galczynsky”:
Yes, Konstanty Ildefons knew how to fantasize!
In his soul he carried three loves:
the fugues of Johann Sebastian Bach,
a full moon, and Madame Natalia.
What a magician! The whole world
bowed to his green, crystalline will.
a fairy tale king, an unpaid laborer,
with his own holy trinity.
Skuhenieks, like Emerson, is concerned with beautiful souls (Galcyznksy
was a Polish poet [1905-1953]). I’d say a beautiful soul is one
who makes me interested in another’s. Skuhenieks has certainly
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
In more than a decade of writing reviews, I don’t think I have ever said this before – read this journal for the editorial remarks. I’m serious. Here’s editor Sean Bernard in an interview with poet Neil Aitken, winner of the 2008 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry: “How does being Canadian (ed. Note: Neil is Canadian) give you a poetic advantage compared to being a wine swilling urban American?” Oh, did I mention that his interview with Aitken is one of the best magazine interviews I’ve read in a long time, maybe ever? Here are the editor’s comments preceding an excerpt from a novel-in-progress: “This is an episode from a novel-in-progress and it is fairly self-contained: Prism readers will be reassured to learn that the boy survives.” Here is the editor responding to Aitken after a particularly fascinating and unusual answer to one of his questions: “I don’t believe that for a minute.” Here is the editor from the notes that precede the “Canon Interview,” an imaginary conversation with a dead author (Jane Austen this issue): “On a recent full moon night, we were driving our editorial van through the Inland Empire.” Our editorial van!
I have to admit that I didn’t care for the issue’s poetry or fiction nearly as much as for the editorial remarks and the interview, although I was taken with the opening of Chad Chmielowicz’s “Five Pines Road”: “To not be able to tell your feelings from your thoughts / about your feelings is common at the Laundromat.” (Although when the poem turns into something of a lament about “not feeling up Mary Anne Davis,” the adolescent-boy-thing doesn’t really interest me, after all.) I did think the short reviews were quite fine. It’s not that the rest of the work in the issue is entirely without merit, simply that the editorial remarks and interviews eclipsed the rest for me.
The interview with Aitken truly is worth the price of admission. The questions are unusual, clever, fun, provocative and Aitken’s answers (and I did believe him) seem honest or, at least more interesting, than the trying-to-impress sorts of responses that many interviews elicit. Here’s a little taste:
Working in a non-academic, non-writing job puts you out there in a world full of interesting people (or at least boring people with interesting friends). The other great benefit that comes from working in the ‘real world’ is the way in which your view of the world becomes distinctly colored by the type of work you have been doing. As a programmer, I became more and more interested in how things fit together and how they could be taken apart.
The “Canon Interview” is a clever, if bizarre little feature.
Here again, it’s the editor’s humor and originality that make
the whole endeavor worthwhile. “Your lives are very difficult,
plumbing aside,” says (the imaginary) Jane Austen.
Volume 2 Number 1
Review by Terri Denton
This is a delightful combination of poetry and short fiction, both in English, and in such languages as Urdu and Portuguese, with English translations on the faced pages. This is a wonderful device, and I found it to be irresistible. Seeing literature in its original form only enhances the translations of it. Could I, I wondered, learn a bit of Urdu this way? Only time will tell on that one, but it’s high time that Quiddity gets a shout-out from the review community.
Kevin Conder, one of this issue’s contributors, is a writer who deserves a standing ovation and a wave – stadium-style. His two poems contained herein, “T.O.E.” and “Winter Olympics,” are refreshingly original, and are fine writing at its best. The former, whose letters stand for the Theory of Everything, is filled with musical allusions that are, quite simply, very cool. He writes, “inside everything lie rubberbands of energy / the strings of existence,” and continues, in the next stanza, “The strings vibrate like music, / an a- note makes oxygen, / a g hydrogen, a c zinc. / One day, we will learn // to pluck them like a flamenco player.” In closing, Conder writes that the “T.O.E.” is still waiting to be born, “still tuning up, preparing to / scream five octaves up the scale / and then gasp for air.” Conder’s “Winter Olympics,” has a theme contained in one ending- sentence: “You will never matter more than right now.”
Joey Brown’s short story, “Darling,” too, deserves to be up
on the aforementioned poet’s Olympic medal podium. A
heartbreaking tale of an aged woman’s dementia, and her getting
lost, is so delicately sad that the reader must, almost, turn
away, but Brown’s writing is much too riveting to do so. There
is so much more in this edition that should be lauded loudly,
but I wouldn’t want to spoil your amazement. Well, maybe just a
hint… John McKernan’s poem, “Delivery Truck,” is about the
effects his father’s death had on him. The poem is filled with
the most astonishing metaphors; for example, he begins with,
“The silence inside a bar of soap is slippery / The silence in
the folds of a cotton shirt / does not remember Mississippi”
then tells us, without costume, “Whenever I play Scrabble I
always try to use the words Coffin and Life.”
The Southern Review
Volume 45 Number 2
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
In the Artist’s Statement that precedes her lithographs, etchings, and acrylic and charcoal drawings, Bosnian immigrant Tanja Softić writes: “The visual vocabulary of my drawings and paintings suggests a displaced existence: fragmented memories, adaptation, revival, and transformation…I have the arguable privilege of having lived more than one life.” This issue of The Southern Review, a particularly fine one, seems to offer every reader a version of this same opportunity to step, briefly, but deeply into another’s life, and to watch words and lives revived and transformed. Not necessarily changed, or improved, or repaired, but altered by their evolution as artistic artifacts and by our encounter with them,
Sarah Kennedy’s “American Evangelical” is a stellar example. A devastating family narrative told in controlled, compact, rhythmically precise broken lines:
After the baptism –
swimming pool, preacher, child
Flapping underwater –
her hymn-hunting father
has delivered her, saved now,
unto her own bed.
Kennedy’s work is always affecting, but this piece is truly one of her best, a deft, taut composition that leaves me breathless and grief stricken. (“Night // (a strange word now: the world not fully created.”)
Tarfia Faizullah’s poems to a dead sister, too, (“Aubade: Wedding Day” and “Nocturne: Awards Ceremony”) envelop me in a story of personal grief so carefully and artfully that I am startled at the depth of my reaction:
Dusk again – sun and horizon yoked
to one another without spectacle. All day
I have looked for you in the likeliest
places – pages of photo albums frozen
with disuse – mapped the porcelain
curves of portraits of your girlfriends
now grown up, married drunk, infertile.
Julian Kornhauser’s brief and penetrating poems, expertly translated from the Polish by Piotr Florczyk, are no less arresting, captivating me utterly and completely and capturing a whole world in as few as four lines, as in “From the Past”:
Katowice Zawodzie, Ferrum Steelworks,
a row of brick tenement houses.
I pass this station so many times
and still can’t imagine my mom
here with a lollipop in her hand.
This issue’s prose (7 stories and 5 essays) is comparable in quality and appeal to the poetry. I was especially impressed by Tien-Yi Lee’s story “While We Waited,” her first publication, with its shapely structure – a small formula used to great effect (“We washed our hands”; We ate in the cafeteria”; “We learned about cremation”; “We comparison shopped”; “We went to the bank”; “We came from afar”; “We prepared the obituary,” etc.) Of the countless stories I have encountered recently about the death of a relative, this is one of the most original and successful.
I must single out William Lychack’s story “Calvary” for its smart opening lines: “The man took a grocery bag off the hood of the car and got in behind the wheel and unlocked the passenger side for the boy and all the clocks started again.” And Nick Holdstock (“The Ballad of Poor Lucy Miller”) for his skill in telling a difficult story in language that is casual, but not inconsequential. And also Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry (an essay, “Someplace Else”) whose English – she is an immigrant from Moscow – is impressive and whose memoir is beautifully rendered.
Finally, I cannot conceive of concluding this review without at least mentioning the poem by Ariana-Sophia M. Kartsonsis, “The Rub,” a cross, it seems to me, between “sudden fiction” and poetry that begins: "Here it is. The dark forest we never had to visit, having done time / there in our hearts. Yes, all is silver, it is."
Having done time in our hearts! This takes me back to
Softic’s statement and how this spectacular work has made it
possible for us to “do time” in these dark forests (and
sometimes come out the other side).
Stone’s Throw Magazine
Issue Number 2
Review by Henry F. Tonn
This website is rather spare and the editors don’t tell much about the magazine. Its first issue was apparently in December 2008, and as of this writing the summer issue has not yet appeared. Based on a paucity of information, they are based in Montana “featuring writers and artists from all over the world.” The present issue gives a healthy presentation of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, art, and “reviews and interviews.”
In the fiction section, one of the more entertaining and intriguing stories I have read recently is “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down,” by Eric Ramseier. It follows the peculiar relationship that a country boy living along the Missouri River has with his father and with a town eccentric named Earl Fink The Man Who Stinks. One cannot help but be impressed with the characters that have been created here. Another very good story is “Bearing a Cross,” by Joseph Bates, a longish production about a town that turns to theocratic government after 9/11. It is a humorous, tongue-in-cheek account that gives the reader a number of good lines, including: “He’d bought his wife a facelift for her fiftieth birthday that made her look on the verge of constant orgasm.” Plaudits also to a nicely constructed piece of flash fiction by Kathryn Kulpa entitled “Mine.”
There is a true international flavor to the nonfiction section with experiences being recounted from obscure parts of the globe. “The Brown Rice Scene in Dehradun” by Christine Moore presents a lively account of life in a crowded Indian town where not following the status quo creates interesting problems for a foreigner. Another very vivid story is “Brazil Ten Ways” by Melissa Young, relating the travels of two young people in a culture very different from what they are used to. Also, mention should be made of the book review of Craig Lancaster’s Six Hundred Hours of Life by Russell Rowland, about a person who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Interestingly enough, this book was self-published.
The worst thing about this lit mag is the website, which is
relatively primitive and needs a bit of work. The best thing is
the wide ranging and generally well written prose available to
the reader. Since they are new, one can only hope that they
improve their presentation over time because there is a lot of
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Zoland Poetry is an annual review of poems, translations, and interviews edited by Roland Pease, editor of Zoland Books. In the journal, as well as at the press, Pease favors work with unusual voices and bold, unconventional imagery. These poems tend to provoke, probe, unsettle, and question. There are no cookie-cutter occasional pieces here; no easy slogans; no casual-chats turned verse; and no small contented moments in the park. At the same time, there are no dense, obscure poems intended to baffle, rather than elucidate. All of which is to say that this issue is exciting, original, and a true contribution to the reading scene.
International writing in this issue includes poems, essays, and interviews by 15 poets, translated – competently and often elegantly – from Portuguese, Chinese, French, Vietnamese, Hebrew, Bulgarian, Spanish, Romanian, Latvian, Ukrainian, and French. I assume that most of this work is not readily accessible to most readers in the States, even for those writers who are well established and widely published in their own countries (Mexican poet María Banda, Welsh poet Menna Elfyn, Portuguese poet Nuno Júdice, and Russian poet Andrei Sen-Senkov, to name a few). In this sense, Zoland Poetry is providing a valuable service to American readers of poetry.
There isn’t anything not worth reading, and this is a long, rich issue that deserves slow, concentrated attention. The poems, common tendencies I described above notwithstanding, vary widely in style and theme, from Júdice’s somewhat traditional lyric “Elegy” (“Not even the long days separate me from your image. / I open it in the mirror of the monotonous sky or / let the afternoon prolong it on the tedious / horizon”) to Sen-Senkov’s “Independent Tea Films,” eight brief poetic “films” in short verse form, inspired by teas (“Mo Li Lo See. ‘Tightly rolled tender silver buds.’ A colorful green tea with a distinct aroma and taste.”). The “films” themselves are politically charged, even violent, but somehow in subtle, almost deceptive ways.
More philosophical in approach are prose poems by Bulgarian poet Tsvetanka Elenkova, such as “Inanimate Nature,” which begins: “Physics is a lie. Everything about inanimate nature is a lie.” And there are many poems that defy easy categorization, such as Chinese poet Zhai Yongming’s “My Younger Brother in the Water,” part family narrative, part lyrical inquiry into the meaning of self, other, family, exile, home, and memory:
Our parents over a thousand miles away
Our flesh and blood in the water
Our shoes sunk in the fine dust of the road
Neither set lose nor tethered shedding so few tears
Helmets and inhuman eyes
Sinking to the bottom of the water Brother
I only love those wild acres
Like an old friend near to my heart
O the water is up to our knees
Poems by US writers, too, reflect a wide variety of styles and themes, from Gary Fincke’s “Sitcktoitveness,” a consideration of an “allegorical temple” constructed from hard coral by a man in Florida and the labor at odd tasks (“my twenty-one books”) in which we are all engaged to a collaborative poem by Philip Jenks & Simone Meunch, couplets written as a letter to “Dear Body.” I liked very much a prose poem by Nick Twemlow, “Palm Trees/13,” for its merging of casual language and poetic sensibilities and Joshua Marie Wilkinson’s “Swamp Isthmus (part 1)” for the same reason. Finally, not to be missed, are excerpts from “Notebook of Disagreements” by Nathanaël (Nathalie Stephens), the type of work that is sometimes called “poetry theory,” and an interview with her by Wilkinson. The issue includes an illuminating interview, as well, with Nathaniel Tarn, along with several of his poems.
In his brief editor’s note, Pease concludes: “What ultimately
matters is reading and reacting to everything you can.” And he
has given us a terrific opportunity with this issue to do just