Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted February 15, 2010

Agni :: Atlanta Review :: Barn Owl Review :: Beloit Poetry Journal :: Cincinnati Review :: Colorado Review :: Conjunctions :: Grain :: Habitus :: Magnapoets :: Mare Nostrum :: NANO Fiction :: New England Review :: On the Premises :: PEN America :: Per Contra :: PMS PoemMemoirStory :: Rattle :: Southeast Review :: South Loop Review :: Straylight :: upstreet

 

Agni coverAgni

Number 70

2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

From artist Joomi Chung’s colorful gouache on clayboard “Scapes” and her intricate ink drawings, to the many insightful personal tributes to the late painter Michael Mazur, Agni’s strength is, as always, distinctive and authentic voices and visions.

Nonfiction contributions are particularly appealing in this issue. Peter LaSalle’s “Walking: An Essay on Writing,” is part travel memoir/part meditation on writers and writing. Above all, it’s LaSalle’s prose itself that is most instructive on the subject of writing, demonstrating an approachable and appealing voice. The essay begins: “Both times it had to do with walking, and both in what you might call ‘other places.’ Not so oddly, I guess. In Paris I had been walking for about an hour and a half already that Sunday afternoon.”

Doug Bauer tells a family story, “Here Were the Two of Us at Exactly This Moment,” with an admirable lack of sentimentality that is nonetheless tender and moving. Mimi Schwartz’s “When History Gets Personal” is an uplifting story about the Middle East, but it’s the quality of Schwartz’s voice and her inviting style that impress me most. Her essay begins: “I like the way small decencies bump against the larger narratives of history, challenging certainties.” And although I am not sure why this work is classified as nonfiction, most captivating of all are excerpts from Norman Lock’s Alphabets of Desire & Sorrow: A Book of Imaginary Colophons, prose-poem-like paragraphs with a distinctive lyric quality and rich visual imagery. It’s highly creative and engaging.

This issue features much fine short fiction and poetry, as well, including a number of translations. I was glad to be introduced to the work of the Polish poet Ewa Lipska, author of more than 20 books of poems, whose two poems here are deftly translated by Margret Grebowicz. The work is precise and affecting (“How can I tell you about / fingerprints on lips. / Not everything was said.”). And I enjoyed very much “The Wadden Sea,” with its vivid evocation of place, by Danish fiction writer Dorthe Nors, ably translated by Martin Aitken.
[www.bu.edu/agni/]

 

Atlanta Review coverAtlanta Review

Volume 16 Number 1

Fall/Winter 2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

“After a disarmingly calm opening, this issue plunges right into the temptations of sex and chocolate, which even Death seems to find irresistible,” says editor and publisher Dan Veach in his “Welcome.” The calm is Catherine Tahmin’s “Small Talk” (“It’s raining and that’s all / we want to know.”); the sex is Michale Myerhofer’s “First Crush” (“Across our little circle jived this ribboned thing / with her anatomical differences / of which we Catholic boys knew nothing.”); Janet Jennings and Mary Soon Lee contribute the chocolate with “The Chocolate Factory” (“You can smell the roast from two miles away”) and “Master of Chocolate” (“After fifty-six years selling chocolate, / he knows what his customers want”). It’s Soon Lee’s poem that brings us death, too, though somehow it seems unfair that it’s the person who sells the chocolate, not the one indulging (“The old woman who leaves her dachshund outside / wants foil-wrapped liqueurs for her sister / and a single hazelnut cream for her dog.”) who must die. (To be fair, death eats her chocolate slowly and allows the salesman “to write a last note to his wife.”).

This issue also includes prizewinners from the International Competition. For the most part, these are accessible, narrative efforts, including the grand-prize winning poem by Michael Lee Philips, “Grip,” a family tale in verse. I was struck by the distinctly different images of death in Soon Lee’s poem and death in Jude Nutter’s “Photography, Germany, 1970” (“in a world where death has not yet connected / the dream and the dwelling place”). Nutter’s stark lyricism (“This girl, bludgeoned by sunlight,”) is one of the issue’s harsh (consider the subject) highlights.
[www.atlantareview.com]

 

Barn Owl Review coverBarn Owl Review

Number 2

2009

Annual

Review by Sally Molini

The front cover of the 2009 issue of Barn Owl Review depicts a destroyed playground, the aftermath, perhaps, of a tornado: a blue twisting slide on its side, trees smashed into the remnants of a swing set, what might have been a plastic fort. On the magazine’s back cover is a picture of a little plastic lion cub sitting on a toilet, tail lifted. These photos are nothing too out of the ordinary yet convey states of mind caught between damage and play, humor and humanity’s excreta, metaphoric and otherwise.

Violence, sex, and drugs, this issue’s prevalent topics, have definitely been captured here, the strange and suffering fleshed out in sometimes graphic diction and always vivid imagery. While the overall writing is inventive and skillful, it is also mostly dark and uncomfortably quirky, such as Aimee Baker’s “Light/Dark,” a poem about the fate of yet another missing girl; the harrowing “after death” in “Return as Black Currant,” by Anna Journey, and the grotesque but quick “Seconds” by Edward Mullany, which consists of a single sentence.

Other material lets in a bit more light: “Love Poem for Lamoni, Iowa,” by Deborah Ager whose poem serves up wry, elegant lines; Jennifer Sullivan’s prose poem “Snapshot of Ellet Park Gardens,” is both humorous and honest, even compassionate from a healthy I’m-open-to-all-humanity point of view. “Etiquette,” by Sarah Sloat, is a witty piece about feeling trapped at a party: “When the talk died of boredom, I began / building a little city in my throat, complete / with harbor.” The short poem “Harlem” by Sean Singer is an interesting quick glimpse, a fresh take on a brief in medias res. I also enjoyed reading “Other People’s Children,” a story by Christina Knapp about a past extramarital affair, a familiar situation with a different plot twist. Sheba Karim’s “Saturn Returns” gives the reader a good look into the rather bleak world of Edie, a seemingly lost soul in need of three kinds of love, parental, platonic, and romantic.

Many of these offerings might not make for the most comfortable reading, but as we all know, literature doesn’t always slip us into something cozy – life on this polarized planet is too often lost somewhere between play and pain, hope and catastrophe.
[www.barnowlreview.com/]

 

Beloit Poetry Journal coverBeloit Poetry Journal

Volume 60 Number 2

Winter 2009/10

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Everything in this issue was (happily, happily) unexpected. Karl Elder’s “Snowman” in the shape of a snowman that could have then been silly, but was not: “this is snowballing toward a title below – / both visible and invisible like like without / the ‘k,’ like the buzz word for a buzzard / sitting on a blind man in a blizzard.” Mary Molinary’s series “poems composed for the left hand,” which combined verse in lines, prose poems, verse in columns, and childish hand-written scrawl (“to keep dementia away”). “Leaning in from the Sea” by Kerry James Evans, short bursts separated by bullets and punctuated by bold, violent outbursts (“Fucked the green out of her eyes,” and “All that blood. All those feathers.”). Philip Pardi’s “My Father’s Christening,” a poem in nine numbered segments that begins with the utterly seductive single line “After the story, its telling, and only then is it a story.” Don Shofield’s “Harmony, USA,” a poem in a dozen numbered segments that ends:

I’m a liar without a lyre, blinded
by my own headlights, looking deep into
your eyes. Dear Reader, for a pocket
of clarity, a reason to keep going.
at least a sign – just one – for the next town:

The Beloit Poetry Journal is reason enough. This issue is one of the best ever.
[www.bpj.org]

 

The Cincinnati Review coverThe Cincinnati Review

Volume 6 Number 2

Winter 2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

There are lots of reasons to read this issue, but here’s what you won’t want to miss: poet Khaled Mattawa, author of four books of poems (one forthcoming from New Issues Press) introduces and translates the poems of Jordanian poet Amjad Nasser (now based in London). The translations are lovely, fluid, authentic, and credible. Nasser’s poems are marvelous, deceptively simple and incredibly powerful in a subtle and lyrical way, as in this excerpt from “Once Upon an Evening in a Café”:

When your thoughts
do not take you far
and you’re silent
as you tremble
and gaze
at the trellises of your hands,
when the cart of your daydreams
does not lead you into tunnels
lit with apprehensions
as you remain silent

or this poem “Song”:

Blood in school books,
blood in the first note
of the royal anthem,
blood in the military academies
climbing the minarets.
Even on the arc of the crescent moon there is blood.
In the slopes of the seven mountains, blood
Blood between the trees and their bark,
Between our lips and our song of praise.

Mattaway says that Nasser “deserves attention,” and I couldn’t agree more. These beautiful poems are well accompanied by poems by Heather Kirn (“Mini Cities” – “Find the worlds in worlds”) and a marvelous story by Corinna Vallianatos, “Privations,” which begins: “The lily pads are gone, gone, and this is less a worry than a verdict: sad.” “The Shaman of Ice Cream” by Sherman Alexie (a clever re-interpretation of Stevens) and Pablo Medina’s “The Food of the Gods” are equally compelling, with their own startling verdicts: “The end is cornmeal and okra, gummy and hot, / in the forest, in the open field / in the sea that goes forever / deep into the dark of things.”). And cover artist Kazuko Watanabe’s etchings, well reproduced, are refined and lovely.
[www.cincinnatireview.com/]

 

Colorado Review coverColorado Review

Volume 36 Number 3

Fall/Winter 2009

Triannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Great short fiction exists! This issue of Colorado Review confirms it. Volume 36, Number 3 features three extremely good short stories, including the magazine’s annual Nelligan Prize winner, Angela Mitchell, whose first-ever published story, “Animal Lovers,” is both unpredictable and reasonable, by which I mean credible, realistic, and emotionally compelling. Mitchell has an ear for natural and believable dialogue, a great sense of timing, and casual, but carefully composed prose that is readable, but not incidental.

All three short stories in this issue “touch on the decision to have – or not have – children,” as the editors explain in their notes, claiming this similarity to be a coincidence. All are beautifully crafted and thoroughly satisfying. Mitchell is well accompanied by Colette Sartor (“Bandit”) and Yelizaveta P. Renfro (“A Catalogue of Everything in the World”), whose work is equally natural and well-paced. Renfro’s story, with its juxtaposition of narrative, dialogue, and lists, is especially appealing because the lists are not a gimmick, but instead a clever and meaningful device that serves the story’s narrative intentions well. These stories are so good I would read anything their authors had written, a rare inclination on my part.

Poetry stars include Michael Burkard, Gillian Conoley, Alan Parker, and Rosemarie Waldrop, whose translations of work by Hans Carl Artmann and Barbara Hundegger also appear in this issue. Artmann’s work is whimsical and odd and I can’t imagine how Waldrop manages to translate these quirky rhymed verses with such fluidity, but somehow she does. These are polished and exciting translations from one of our most trusted and important translators. Much of the poetry in this issue is talky and edgy, and tends toward a popular style that is prose-like and conversational. Exceptions are Rosemarie Waldrop’s (original, not translated) prose poem, excerpts from her “Velocity But No Location,” work that is often dense and lyrical and generally more metaphysical than narrative (“How ghostly the past, daring us to break its barrier.”).

Two nonfiction entries are noteworthy, including Sarah Fang’s AWP Intro Journals Project winning selection “The Missing Pictures,” a memoir about her family’s experience of the Japanese internment camp Manzanar, and creative nonfiction guru Lee Gutkind’s short, emotionally charged personal essay, “Revenge,” a very brief down and out Pittsburgh tale. Nine intelligent and thoughtful book reviews round out the issue.
[coloradoreview.colostate.edu/]

 

Conjunctions coverConjunctions

53

2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

There are so many stars in this issue one almost needs sunglasses to get through the Table of Contents. Reading the work, one sees that these bright names (Francine Prose, William H. Gass, Peter Gizzi, Maureen Howard, Cole Swensen, Nathaniel Mackey, Ann Lauterbach, Rachel Plau DuPlessis) deserve their shiny reputations. Some of their work conforms to the issue’s theme, “Not Even Past: Hybrid Histories,” described by editor Bradford Morrow as “works in which past moments in history play a centralizing role.” Other work is categorized simply as “new.”

The hybrids and new work are accompanied by three major features: an essay on Beckett by Grove Press founder Barney Rosset; a translation of German poet Thomas Bernhard’s lengthy poem “Ave Virgil” by James Reidel; and Natasha Wimmer’s translation of a novel excerpt by Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño. The novel in translation is soon to be published by New Directions, and it is an excellent example of Bolaño’s dreamy, haunting style.

This is a massive 300-page tome, so it’s impossible in this short review to do more than give cursory mention to the issue’s many worthwhile offerings, which include highly original and beautifully crafted poems by Elizabeth Robinson (“Modernist Poems”), Andrew Mossin (“Drafts for Shelly”), and D.E. Steward (“Avrila”); excellent prose by Elizabeth Rollins (“The First Intifada: Jerusalem, 1987-1993), Andrew Ervin (“The Light of Two Million Stars”), and Peter LaFarge (“The History of the History of Death”), and a translation of a short story, “Rainscape,” by Chinese writer Can Xue, smartly translated by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping. I’m not sure I would have known this were a translation were I to have found the piece un-categorized as such, the mark of a great translation.

Conjunctions is published at Bard College (truly one of the superior liberal arts college in the very best sense of that term) whose students I consider among the most fortunate of any with such writers as Ann Lauterbach on the faculty. Her poems, “A Continue, Or Entry” and “The Translator’s Dilemma” appear in this issue. Lauterbach never ceases to engage (and sometimes enrage) me intellectually while she breaks my heart. What more could I ask for in a poem? Here she is at her best, I think, unfailingly philosophical with her singular talent for compressing large emotions into economical (and devastating) verse:

What next? Unique cruelty of the undone,
Rook rhymes with book, crow with toe.
Also hook. Also know.
To countermand restlessness, settle on fact…

[www.conjunctions.com]

 

Grain Magazine coverGrain

Volume 37 Number 1

Fall 2009

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

I know I sound like a broken record, but I can’t say it enough. I just don’t think there is a magazine published on this side of the border that can compare with the Canadian magazines. Grain is published in Saskatchewan and like the many marvelous literary journals produced across the vast and exquisite land to my north, it is exceptionally good. The theme of this issue is “Conversation,” which I understand to mean dialogue, relationship(s), images that reverberate and connect, and language in the service of vision, understanding, and meaningfulness. Editor Sylvia Legris traces the word’s roots to “the act of living with” or to keep company. Grain is all this and more.

I began to turn back the corners of pages I found especially worthwhile to which I would refer in this woefully inadequate review, and by the time I’d reached the end of the magazine (about 100 pages), I’d turned back every single page in the issue. I’d marked beautiful, deceptively simple poems by Tim Lilburn; evocative prose poems, ostensibly about Nova Scotia, by Sue Goyette with some of the issue’s most memorable lines (“the lack of caressable verbs”); a smart, edgy story by Dani Couture (“Mechanical Baby”); insightful interviews by Eleanor Wachtel with Xi Chuan and Kyle Botner with Wang Jiaxin, along with their provocative poetry; “Unsent Letter” by Warren Heti, excerpted from his epic-like “The Metamorphosis of Agriope,” Myrna Kotash’s “Letter to George Ryga” an argument/treatise about contemporary conditions in the Ukraine; the surprisingly mature poems of seventeen-year old poet Chuqiao (Teresa) Yang, spare and lovely; a pleasurable family memoir in numbered segments by Steven Hayward, “Aunt Daisy’s Secret Sauce for Hamburgers”; and Melanie Bell’s utterly gorgeous poem “Letters from Inuvik” (“The ancestors gash fish with a half-moon ulu. Thunk-thunk. Thunk-thunk. One half of the circle of life is the space where it ends, your finger on the notch where it began, the rest sliced away.”).

I didn’t turn back the cover despite my intention to single it out, so as not to ruin Beijing-based artist Jiang Jie’s extraordinary, larger than life image, a photograph of a sculpture from her series “BE,” a baby’s head so finely and realistically rendered it essentially becomes surreal. In her introductory note, Editor Legris astutely says of this strangely disturbing work: “The all-seeing, seeming to follow-you-around-the-room eyes of Jiang’s babies arouse feelings of peacefulness tempered with paranoia.” All the work in Grain will follow you around for days after you’ve closed the cover, and the turned-back pages will arouse, not feelings of paranoia, but admiration, pleasure, and awe.
[www.grainmagazine.ca]

 

Habitus coverHabitus

A Diaspora Journal

Number 5

2009

Biannual

Review by Anne Wolfe

This journal, by choosing a different international city with a substantial Jewish population for each issue, examines the effects of Jewish culture on its surroundings as well as its own evolution. In the Moscow issue, the brooding Russian presence digs deep into the Jewish cultural consciousness. Themes of loneliness, death, estrangement, emigration, and abandonment permeate much of the writing. However, hope and redemption also lurk. The journal itself is book-sized, with a brilliant night photograph of Moscow on the cover, and is less than 200 pages.

In the middle are sixteen color photographs of a sampling of Moscow citizens of different ages and walks of life; from beautiful, affluent women, to old men, to sassy youths, and distinguished-looking, formidable appearing citizens-at-large, all looking at the camera dead-on, as if they are looking straight at the reader. A series of seven short-shorts by Linor Goralik are exquisitely crafted whole works. Each piece, anywhere from one paragraph to slightly over a page in length makes a satisfying read, wrought with irony and existential terror.

At the back of the issue shines an illuminating interview with Jonathan Brent, director of Yale University Press. He reveals discoveries he made in the Stalin Archives, such as that Stalin was a brilliant reader and writer as well as a constant revisionist. He states that evidence shows Stalin to be in a sense a “rational person” carrying out the mission of the Soviet “system,” which he ironically did “for the good of the people” in a perverse way, that “the system was the monster.” His digging through these remarkable old papers gave him a unique view few of us can glimpse.

The editor, Joshua Ellison, gave the issue a reflective and revealing essay about his visit to Moscow. He states, “Everyone who writes about Moscow does so, in one way or another, as a stranger.” Moscow, he finds, is both a city of immigrants and a city coming into terms with its past: “there is still so much to say that could not be said before or could not be understood before.”

Like a ray of light, there’s a charming short story by Ludmila Ulitskaya, translated into English, “…And Died on the Same Day.” It has predictable subject matter, an elderly woman and her husband, but the telling is the thing. The story of their deaths is also the tale of their love and devotion. Fairytale-like as it might seem, it has aspects that ring true in such a thrilling way that everyone might like to believe in it.

As one reads the poetry and stories, it seems easy to see that Muscovites could be anyone, or everyone. These works reveal their subjects’ psyches and set up intimacy. They do so with virtuosic imagination and deft clarity.
[habitusmag.com]

 

Magnapoets coverMagnapoets

Issue 5

January 2010

Biannual

Review by Sara C. Rauch

Short and sweet is probably the most appropriate description of Magnapoets, a biannual literary journal out of Ontario, Canada. The 8x10, saddle-stapled journal features four essays on poetry, six pages of Free Verse and Form poetry, six pages of Haiku and Senryu, and six pages of Tanka.

The Letter from the Editor discusses universality in poetry—taking a look at how the “personal” in poetry speaks to readers. This opening is appropriate for the journal, as the poems featured in the Free Verse and Form section are very personal. This emotional, relatable poetry addresses issues ranging from a father’s last birthday, veterans returning from war, watching a ball game on TV, stereotyping, and the beauty of the earth. There is a diversity of lengths and subjects featured in this section of Magnapoets—some of the poems are comical, some very serious—but each poem is incredibly rhythmic.

The first essay featured, entitled “How Do You Capture the Poetry, Rather Than the Literature, of an Idea?” by Ursula T. Gibson, uses advice from Now Techniques for Today’s Poets by Eddie-Lou Cole to expound on the tools of poetry. Comparing poetry to prose, she says, “the imposed limitations of condensed emotion, rather than the detailed exposition of place, times, persons, and occurrences” are what differentiate the two. This essay is a nice introduction for a beginning poet.

The next section, Haiku and Senryu, fills each page with half a dozen or more three line poems. These, as tradition dictates, are mostly not personal, featuring tiny snapshots of nature or the surrounding environment—for instance, one haiku by Peggy Heinrich watches passengers inside an airport, a senryu by RK Singh captures the uneasy coexistence of humans and animals.

The second essay, “Defining Haiku” by Robert D. Wilson, delves into the art of haiku, largely misunderstood by the North American public. Unfortunately, haiku doesn’t seem to be the easiest poetic form to explain. As Wilson tells us, “A haiku is a haiku regardless of the geosphere it’s written in. Either it is or it isn’t.” Despite this imprecise definition, Wilson’s essay would be helpful for those interested in learning more about the art form of haiku.

The last section of poems is Tanka, followed by an essay by Aurora Antonovic “Tanka, A Brief Synopsis.” To quote Antonovic, “Tanka is a Japanese-form, five-line poem, known for its lyricism. In fact, the word tanka means ‘short song.’ . . . Tanka differs from the Japanese form of poetry called haiku in that it is longer, and requires an emotional response or interaction from the poet.” The poems featured in this section are emotional, yes, but they are also mysterious, and their bursts of beauty are so contained.

The last essay, “Three Readings of Ezra Pound’s ‘Metro Haiku’” by Chen-ou Liu, discusses Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro,” giving it a “Haikuesque Reading” and an “Ideogrammatic Reading.”

Those interested in the art of Japanese poetry as it is written in North America today would do well to purchase a copy of Magnapoets.
[http://magnapoets.wordpress.com/]

 

Mare Nostrum coverMare Nostrum

Volume 5 & 6

June 2006-May 2008

Annual

Review by Terri Denton

In this volume of Mare Nostrum, poems, prose, translation, and reviews are inspired by the traveling exhibit, to Seattle, of Florentine art restored after a 1966 flood. Each piece here is lively and deserving of praise, and has a prominent sense of belonging within these pages. The reader gets a glimpse of this in editor Kevin Craft’s foreword. To wit, “Seeing them restored was like witnessing the first gleam of the Renaissance all over again – the emergence, literally, of perspective as a compositional axiom, of naturalism in the fine shades of feeling etched into each attentive figure.” And, like art itself, the pieces here are both alluringly ambiguous, and wrought with imagination that begs to be understood.

One of the opening poems depicts this juxtaposition perfectly. Susan Parr’s “Doorknob with Carved Adonis” is a talented writer’s exploration of the tease that art often is. She writes, “What reason he gives this time / for his errand is not developed / in the layout. We feel, turning // the knob, only the ellipsis.” The rest of the poem is confirmation of Parr’s lovely writing. I adored it.

Hannah Sanghee Park’s “Three Churches” is a continuation of literary gift. In part I, Park writes, “Isaiah: Light – an alphabet of cracks / Across his robe, a beard that wasn’t there / Before, his scroll – a curl of words, the crux.” In part III, she concludes this majesty with, “The boa, apple – give a thing a name // Or ten – it’s all an image at its bones. / Like Lucifer – to carry light – a cup / Of light. A third of stars shot down past earth.” I’ll not spoil the entire poem by showing you part II, but know that it’s as gorgeous as parts III and I.

Park, again, shows her literary genius with “Last Museum”:

It’s like
Poseidon had in him, a whim
A wand, a shell, a scale, a tentacle,
And poof!
What has a lot of legs, a lot of eyes,
What struggles to escape?
A Grecian urn,
or spiders filing for divorce. The joke
Is that this three-way fight can be a hoax.
They could just be celebrating…

Her words here are a downright dare – just try not to smile. It’s hard for me not to include the entire poem – its delight is so overpowering

Brandon Krieg’s “Restoration” is another jewel in this collection of treasures. Perhaps a more somber acknowledgement of what is lost in both destruction and restoration, it is no less a joy to read: “This sword held a poem from handle to hilt, / now it shines so you see your own face. / That goddess was three feet taller when built, / now she barely reaches your waist.”

Mischa Willet’s “The Help,” another pearl, seems to offer a wink with its curtsy.

Since the angel offered
the bowl of holy water
like a tray of sweet –
meats at a cocktail gathering
she was – ahem – hosting,
I took one, by which I mean some
as if chestnuts were a-roasting.

Rod Jellema throws his own flair into the poetic fray with an observation of the sense of astonishment one feels when faced with ancient artistry. In “Life-Size Glass Swan: A Study in Stasis,” he writes, “Nothing I have ever touched / could hold the trajectories / of these smooth bends of shine / and wet, this swanness, / blown in glass two centuries ago.”

Lest you think this edition of Mare Nostrum offers up only wonderfully wrought pieces of observational fun, there are, too, examples of serious profundity that deepen as they flow. Set in Italy itself, there are two pieces, in particular, that touched me deeply. First is Geoffrey Brock’s “Landscapes that can’t be Trusted.” With a nod toward the deceit of sight, he writes, “The bed of clouds / that met our feet // as the dark rose / on Mount Capanne. // The high noon sun / stirring the river // of asphalt stretching / between us now.”

Finally, Stanley Plumly’s “Limited Sight Distance,” one of two pieces of prose that appear in this edition, starts off with his residence in an Italian villa. Beautifully written, Plumly observes, “Veduta means view in Italian, and from top to bottom, from the villa on down to the village itself, and from the tops of the cobblestone streets to the diamonds of the lake the view is everywhere, from every moment … You could lose your balance stopping and looking too long.” As the story continues, we realize that it’s September 11, 2001, and the author has arrived at the village only to find himself staring at all-too-familiar and horrifying scenes of destruction.

Here, too, are delightful translations of Italian poets, with the perfect effect of having the original and the modern on facing pages. Coming near the end of this edition pages, they seem the appropriate end for the tribute to Italy that this Mare Nostrum is.

As I finished reading this issue, Craft’s editorial words came back to me: “Here is a threshold that will travel to meet you, where ancient and modern comingle and time, as physicists say, time never begins, until (the maker adds) it enters into word and hinge and flesh.” The introduction fulfills its promise on every page.
[www.writinwaterpress.com/]

 

NANO Fiction coverNANO Fiction

Volume 3 Issue 1

2009

Biannual

Review by Kenneth Nichols

As the average attention span continues to decrease and the printed page is replaced by the teeny tiny screen, practitioners of flash fiction seem poised to take advantage of this evolution. The editors of NANO Fiction take the idea one step further. While many flash fiction narratives extend into the several hundreds of words, the stories in this volume are far shorter. The great struggle for the writer is to increase the potency of their narratives as the word count decreases.

The method of concentration chosen by most of this issue’s authors is to trade strict realism for abstract lyricism. This works quite well for poetry: another form that often prizes brevity over concrete detail. Readers who enjoy prose poems or narrative poetry will enjoy Holly Simonsen’s contributions; her tracts on the body, the soul and the XX chromosome would work just as well (or perhaps better) if their lines didn’t reach the right margins.

Dan Moreau’s story, “On Waking Up and Finding the Smallpox Vaccination Scar on His Arm,” performs an admirable alchemy. Using only a few dozen words and some strong images, he gives the reader a meaningful beginning-middle-and-end. (The story also manages to get a lot of mileage out of its title.)

In “Bologna,” Jaynel Attolini makes a number of felicitous choices. Attolini presents an interesting young character and chooses to bring life to what may be the most significant slice of her life to date. The brief story inspires the reader to wonder what transpired in the white space before and after.

The primary problem with this issue of NANO Fiction is that the journal itself is lamentably “nano.” Let’s hope the journal’s fortunes increase, facilitating an increase in page count.
[nanofiction.org/]

 

New England Review coverNew England Review

Volume 30 Number 3

2009

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

In these oh-so-unsettled times, I like to have something I can rely on. New England Review never lets me down. I know the quality of the writing will always be strong, serious, sophisticated, and that there will always be something unexpected, fresh without trying to impress. This issue lives up to the task – a good portion of the issue is devoted to an essay by the late critic and editor Ted Solotaroff (1928-2008), along with brief reflections of Solotaroff by more than a dozen and a half writers, editors, and literary colleagues. These remembrances are preceded by a long excerpt from Solotaroff’s, “The Literary Scene Changes,” an unfinished, unpublished memoir (his third). I enjoyed very much these personal recollections from Philip Roth, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Robert Stone, Robert Cohen, Hilma Wolitzer, Gerald Stern, Bobbie Ann Mason, Georges Borchardt, Gerald Howard, James Lasdun, Jill Schoolman, Russell Banks, Anton Shammas, Hy Enzer, Irene Skolnick, Douglas Unger, Allegra Goodman, Ehud Havazelet, and Max Apple. The diversity of ages, genres, and types of relationships to Solotaroff makes this little collection of tributes all the more appealing.

This issue’s “Revaluations” section includes engaging essays by Joelle Biele on Elizabeth Bishop and Frank Kermode on E. M. Forster. There is certainly more written about Bishop than she ever could have imagined anyone might write about her small body of work. Biele’s essay, “Elizabeth Bishop at the Crossroads of Poetry and Prose,” is accessible and instructive and, happily, one does not need a Ph.D. in literary criticism to find it worthwhile or learn something new about Bishop’s oeuvre.

This issue includes a number of other extremely fine features, including an essay by Francis Noel Thomas, “Paris at Street Level”; an entertaining and bizarre gender-blending piece “Exercises in Italian Conversation,” written centuries ago long before the concept of gender blending existed as such, by Heinrich Ollendorf (with Felix Foresti); solidly crafted poems by Carl Phillips, Camasin Middour, Mike Puican, and a number of others; and equally solid and well composed short stories from Peter LaSalle, Louise Jarvis Flynn, Lori Ostlund, Gregory Blake Smith, and Aja Gabel. Gabel’s wonderful story, “Reasons for Eating,” is an especially good read, better by far than any episode of Top Chef, Chopped, or the Next Food Network star. Get the latest issue of NER and taste for yourself.
[www.nereview.com/]

 

On the Premises logoOn The Premises

Number 9

November 2009

Online Triannual

Review by Henry F. Tonn

This literary magazine holds a contest every four months with a theme. The contest is free to enter but has a number of prizes, the first prize being $140. This is obviously a great bargain, and consequently, the editors receive plenty of entries. I don’t know of another deal like this on the internet.

The November issue theme revolved around one or more characters attempting to execute a specific plan, and the plan fails. The winner, by Bonnie McCune, was “Heart Of My Heart, Saint Teresa,” a realistic tale of two Hispanic, unwed teenagers who leave work early to do a little partying. Their characters, lives, and expectations are grimly revealed as they pick their way through the rubble of their environment.

Another story I liked, and an honorable mention in the contest, was “Oldest Plan in the Book” by Mark West. This is an absolutely delightful tale about three bumbling burglars and a lively cast of characters with names like Two-Fingers, Tupac, and Big Papa. We are taken on a number of twists and turns in the tale, one of the most refreshing aspects of it being that it is told almost entirely with the use of dialogue, and most of the participants emerge as three-dimensional figures.

Scrolling back to the July issue, I came across “All That Matters,” by Paul Klein, a diary of the apocalypse in which a young man and his mentally retarded brother flee to a lake outside of Detroit and wait as cities throughout the world are leveled by nuclear explosions. Harking back to On The Beach (1959), the radiation now begins to spread and infect everything, and the two must struggle to survive. The ending is predictable but touching.

This lit mag also runs a mini-contest with a fifteen-dollar first place prize. For December, 2009 the requirement was to create an entire story just by showing a short “sticky note” by one character to another. I absolutely loved this one written by Devan Goldstein:

Mom,
Took the car. Headed west, with Ralph. I told you he was trouble the first time you brought him home.
Julie

This is a unique website that is nicely laid out and easy to maneuver ones way around. They are coming up with new ideas and engaging stories all the time, and certainly deserve a good readership.
[www.onthepremises.com/]

 

PEN America coverPEN America

Issue 11

Make Believe

2009

Annual

Review by Terri Denton

The opening invitational forum of PEN America was given to writers as choice on "Make Believe." The first option: “Imagine a book you wish you had written, either by yourself or by someone else, living or dead, real or imaginary.” I loved Cynthia Ozick’s playful answer:

There is one work, and one body of work, that I’d sell my soul to have written myself (should there be any willing buyer). The first is that sublimely philosophical drama, The Importance of Being Earnest. The second is everything from the societally antic pen of W.S. Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan. (With, I might as well add, this anti-surgical caveat: I’d very much prefer not to have to undergo transsexuality in order to effect this wholly metaphysical desire.)

The second choice: “Tell us something you believe about books – their power or lack of it, how they change the world or don’t, what they’ve done for you or failed to do.” Far and away, Nathaniel Bellows answer was the most visually stunning, and the most fun. He writes that he has read all of Penelope Fitzgerald’s books, and has a habit of folding the upper corner of the book if he has found something he wants to remember on the top half of the page. Thusly, he has done for passages he finds compelling on the bottom half of pages. He’s done this so much, he tells us, that all of Fitzgerald’s books appear as origami. The very image of this – this transcendence of the whole of the craft of writing – made me smile, as I suspect Bellows was as he related his tale of literary love.

In keeping perfect time with the theme of make believe, I came across Peter Kuper’s mini graphic novel transformation of Franz Kafka’s very short story, “The Top.” Kuper breathes so much refreshing life into the story that I found myself wishing Kafka had written more, only if to give the artist more pages onto which he could pour his comic-book-self. It’s a literary/graphic and past/present combination that is truly not to be missed.

Sara Majka’s “The Anthology of Small Homes” adds to the imp of imagination that this magazine has set itself up to be. The narrator is recalling her relationship with her helper, Nigel: “He was walking to get tea, and at some moment he would probably return with a cup, though sometimes he’d forget. He would stop at a shelf of books, only to return later with no memory of tea, not even the memory that there should have been a memory.”

Majka then reveals Nigel’s past history of building miniature houses; one, in particular, called The Transcendent House. Nigel remembers almost nothing of the house, except that by the time he’d left for a couple of years, and come back, the house had disappeared. The narrator asks about the house because she has been leafing through The Anthology of Small Houses, and is surprised to find a much younger, more vibrant Nigel, smiling for his profile in the anthology. Majka’s story reminded me of former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins’s “I Go Back to the House for a Book.” Majka’s magisterial use of Nigel’s past, and his recent past, and the reminiscent feel of her story qualifies it, for me, as a masterpiece – it’s that good.

Also to be found in this make believe edition are several interviews, or conversations, as they are called. It’s an apt description. Indeed, these go beyond typical interviews, being held between two writers. There’s a particularly good exchange between Richard Ford and Nam Le, under the heading: Fabrications. Says Ford, to Le, “Umberto Eco, in an interview in The Paris Review, said that an intellectual is somebody who, by his writing or whatever he does as an intellectual, contributes to knowledge . . . Is that what you’re doing,” asks Ford of Le, “when you believe in something, trying to make a contribution to what it is possible to think?” Answers, Le, “No, no. But I do believe that there is an intelligence that inheres in a sentence and in its syntax and in its parts. And that wisdom can be something you had no conscious idea of before.”

This conversation tops off an issue filled with make-believe wishes, wondrous images, and literary sleight of hand. Finding itself entitled “Make Believe”; this issue of PEN America seems to smile at you, on every page.
[www.pen.org/page.php/prmID/150]

 

Per Contra coverPer Contra

Fall 2009

Online Quarterly

Review by Henry F. Tonn

This lit mag is generally considered to be one of the better on the web at the present time. They state rather proudly that they have received a special mention in the 2007 Pushcart Prize anthology, along with two Best of Web anthology awards, and a top ten Million Writers Award – pretty good stuff. In reading their latest collection of fiction and poetry, it is easy to see why.

Among the fiction entries, I particularly enjoyed “The Amma Who Took French Leave” by Rumjhum Biswas, a spare but engaging story about a housewife in India whose maid does not show up for work one day and she is forced to find another. The maid returns after a week, however, to relate a terrible tragedy which has befallen her, and the housewife is forced to confront the profound differences between the lives they each live.

A very good piece of flash fiction is “Vassar” by Gwenna Johnson, a haunting story of child abuse, all told in a single, long sentence.

A quick perusal of the archives brings forth a delightful story in issue 11 entitled “Mother of Pearl” by Sally Bellerose. The entire story takes place in a short space of time and concerns the banter of an eighty-year-old woman with her ninety-year-old husband about whether she was a virgin on their wedding day. The ending is perfect.

The poetry here is very powerful. Here are four stark lines from X.J. Kennedy’s “In Tiananmen Square”:

Mao’s countenance still held on high
Looks down where once had lain
Dissidents whose lightless eyes
Protested being slain.

H.R. Coursen’s “15 September 09” is more lyrical:

A hint of winter
in the wind,
as sunlight rides shadows past,
awash in the blue auditorium
of autumn’s long
slide past leaves coming to gold,
and losing grip on any season.

Per Contra refers to itself as an “international journal of arts, literature and ideas,” and to this end presents a number of poetic translations, including one by the great German master Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. There is also a brief interview under the heading of “Visual Arts,” and a book review by Joseph Danciger of Lewis Turco’s La Famiglia/The Family: Memoirs. On the whole, there is much to enjoy here, a website worthy of tuning to on a regular basis.
[www.percontra.net]

 

PMS PoemMemoirStory coverPMS PoemMemoirStory

Number Nine

2009

Annual

Review by Sara C. Rauch

Never has PMS been so delightful! PMS PoemMemoirStory is a journal of women’s writing, full of energy, life, color, politics, love, and verve. Issue number nine combines 40 pages of poetry, 47 pages of memoir, and 41 pages of fiction—all well-crafted and all high-quality.

First, the selection of poetry in PMS is of great variety—some narrative, some experimental, many laced with underlying politics—all accessible. Ashley McWaters’ opening poems “All the Girls” and “Spell against Drowning” are the perfect introduction to this journal: compelling, disorienting, vivid. From “Spell against Drowning”:

Some nights, it will take a party and searchlight to find me:
See, there I am waving from a great height. And there:
the tiny splash it took me years to master.

Other poems, especially Rae Gouirand’s “Low Stars,” Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis’s “As It Were a Frozenn Music,” and Julie Hensley’s “Pica” are masterfully written, pulling me into them—the poems included in PMS beg to be read over and over again.

While I must admit that I was apprehensive of the Memoir section (for entirely personal reasons; I’ve come to associate memoirs with self-indulgence), I was surprised and charmed by the five included here. These essays are carefully constructed, thoughtful pieces on real lives that were changed in some way—by an encounter with the Lord’s Resistance Army in a busy Uganda market (Beatrice Lamkawa, “The Markey Vendor”), or a household battle with lice (Jane Kokernak, “Little Creatures”), or the decision to teach Paradise Lost to high-security prison inmates (Alison A. Chapman, “Milton’s Captive Audience”).

I was particularly struck by Chapman’s piece, which quietly captures her mixed emotions toward her weekly teaching sessions with violent prisoners who wholeheartedly understand and love Paradise Lost as she teaches it to them. She says, “I did not at all like the idea that I was so charmed by men who might qualify as monsters.” But a few paragraphs later, as she is using the internet to search each of her students’ release dates, and finding all but one are serving life sentences, you can feel her sadness for “the men who had impressed me so much with their intelligence, good humor, and courtesy.”

The last section, Story, contains five pieces of fiction—covering infidelity, the loss of a baby, a young girl’s battle with tuberculosis, raising a “gifted” daughter, and the loneliness after your parents’ death. As with the Poetry and Memoir sections, the fiction pieces are well-crafted, subtle, beguiling. They drew me in, and especially in the case of Lorissa Rinehart’s “Julie and Her Chickens,” left me almost aching with the disappointment that each narrator won’t let herself feel.

While each section of PMS stands alone and cohesively, they are bound together in a way that shows each piece to its best advantage. One theme, consciously included or not, is the color red. It appears in one title in each section (Roberta Fein’s “Red Fruit: 1933,” Gina Troisi’s “The Red House,” and Paula Peterson’s “My Life in Red”), and the color, in all its passionate, angry, seductive guises, appears in several pieces throughout PMS.

I read PMS quickly, because the work is so good, so readable, but I also wanted to savor each piece. The secret (and not so secret) lives of women, so varied, so cacophonous, so symmetrical, really shine here. The profound, the mundane, the downright unbelievable, all coexist in PMS. It is, without a doubt, one of the best literary magazines I’ve picked up in the last year.
[http://pms-journal.org/]

 

Rattle coverRattle

Volume 15 Number 2

Winter 2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This issue features more than four dozen poems in a general section, the work of Rattle Poetry Prize Winner Lynne Knight and ten honorable mention recipients, the work of 30 poets in a special “Tribute to the Sonnet,” and lengthy interviews by editor Alan Fox with Alice Fulton and Molly Peacock (Fulton and Peacock in the same issue! Too good to be true!). It’s hard not to be curious about nearly two-hundred pages of poems that begin, as this issue does, with Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s oh-so-American-current-preoccupation:

I can now confirm that I am not just fatter
than everyone I work with, but I’m also fatter
than all their spouses. Even the heavily bearded
bear in accounting has a little otter-like boyfriend.

Many of this issue’s poems are much like this one by Aptowicz, sarcastic, edgy, and conversational, sometimes surprisingly self-revelatory and/or critical. There are, as well, a few more sparse and lyrical entries, including a haiku by Claire W. Donzelli:

Gas leak in the air
Water chilled as a river
Grace is unaware

One particularly unusual contribution is Paul Siegell’s concrete poem “06.25.00.PHiSH-ALLETEL PAVILION, NC,” with its shapely “Left side: mystified stoners “Oh G!d” come on. I confess that I am not sure what this poem signifies, but somehow the mere making of it impressed me.

I liked very much an essay by T.S. Davis, “The Recrudescence of the Muse: One Poet’s Journey,” about his rediscovery of the power and pleasure of formal verse. And his contributor’s note, like the others, is one of the best reasons to read Rattle. These are juicy little quotations from the writers, often quite personal, which are as (and sometimes more) intriguing than the work itself.

Fox is a great interviewer and his questions to Fulton and Peacock stimulate thoughtful, and sometimes highly amusing, responses. Asked why she took a break from poetry early on in her career Peacock replies:

I went to a state university…and I was the person responsible, the student escort, for various poets who were visiting the campus, invited by my teacher, Milton Kessler. So I met Anne Sexton and then she committed suicide; and then I met John Berryman and then he committed suicide; and then I met Robert Lowell and he was institutionalized. Then I met John Logan, who’s a poet whose name you wouldn’t recognize, but he was a severe alcoholic.

Peacock, as always, is as insightful and inspiring as she is entertaining. When asked what response she hopes for from readers, she says:

“I want them to say Yes, I’ve felt that, too. Yes, I knew that somewhere inside me but I never would’ve put it that way, and that’s a revelation to me.” Precisely! Rattle…on.
[rattle.com/]

 

The Southeast Review coverThe Southeast Review

Volume 27 Number 2

2009

Biannual

Review by Kenneth Nichols

The editors of The Southeast Review like to present the familiar in unusual form. This attitude is made clear with the playful front cover photograph depicting a baseball player with index finger extended at an umpire who was apparently in the wrong. Bat in hand, posture aggressive, the ballplayer clearly won’t tolerate an unfair call. The twist: the ballplayer is a woman, apparently a member of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League’s Fort Wayne Daisies. The fiction, poems and nonfiction in The Southeast Review play by the rules, but reserve the right to imbue them with a slightly askew tone.

Jason Wiener makes the most of what little space his short-shorts occupy. “Damages” vividly evokes the stresses inherent in the unfair situations caused by inattentive parents. “Last Grandma Party” explores what happens when a tiresome family custom becomes a genuine connection with the previous generation.

Kristen Keckler’s nonfiction piece, “Kitchen Men,” immerses the reader in the pressure-cooker environment endured by the restaurant chef and his or her brigade. While the reader understands the vicarious appeal of reading about the author’s romantic experiences with men who cook, Keckler satisfies the literary appetite with her observations of the milieu: “You can be sure your kitchen man knows this: salt raises the boiling point of water. Thus, he tends to be a master of foreplay.”

Whether or not one composes fiction, this issue’s interviews will prove insightful. It’s a treat, indeed, to get inside the heads of Ethan Canin, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, Ron Hansen and George Singleton, each of whom seem capable of providing abstract, helpful nuggets of advice. From Canin: “Content trumps language in the end.” From Singleton: “It might be easier to teach fiction writing to a smart high school student than a graduate student who has a BA in literature.”
[www.southeastreview.org/]

 

South Loop Review coverSouth Loop Review

Volume 11

2009

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

South Loop Review, a journal of creative nonfiction and art/photography published by Columbia College in Chicago, “publishes essays in lyric and experimental form.” The editors prefer “non-linear narratives and blended genres…montage and illustrated essays, as well as narrative photography.” While a good deal of the work in Volume 11 is considerably more traditional in both form and style than this description, there are a number of provocative “non-linear” and “blended” efforts. Among them are Kristen Radtke’s “Fragments of Teenage Magazine,” an essay on images of women in popular culture that takes the form of a survey or quiz in a popular magazine; Robert McClure Smith’s “The Spit: A Memoir of ’77,” a memoir that takes the form of an academic article with dense and complex footnotes; Sophie Ulmer’s “Waterproof Mascara,” a memoir/personal essay about self-image that takes the form of an outline with photos; Josalyn Knapic’s “Transfer: Journals on a Train,” a personal essay that takes the form of journal writing; Katherine McCord’s “My CIA,” a memoir that combines narrative and lists; Natalie Tilghman’s “Practice,” a memoir about illness recounted in short numbered fragments; and Pamela A. Galbreath’s “Three Note Song,” a family story told in brief discrete fragments.

Artwork, too, reflects the editors’ predilection for the intersection of genres. Two extraordinary portraits by Michelle Scott were painted from photographs she took, “Hero,” of a young man before he shipped overseas to Iraq in 2007 (where he remains) and the other of two men in Southern Sudan. These paintings are extremely powerful, capturing the essence of personalities in a particular moment. Deborah Pieritz’s cut-up schoolbooks on wood (“A Midwestern Prayer Wheel” and “Farm Girl”) are wonderful examples of mixed-media successes. One is mythological, the other folksy.

This volume includes a number of striking photographs, including “Blog Photo (#1)” and “Blog Photo (#2)” by Megan McIsaac, self-portraits accompanied by long self-revealing captions. Perhaps the most exciting photo is Daniel Shapiro’s “Louis Dog of Tarzana.” In a brief note Shapiro explains that he tried unsuccessfully to bond with his subject. It’s not hard to see why an affectionate relationship would be difficult with this rough little Chihuahua photographed against a wall where he glares at the camera, and his shadow appears menacingly behind him doubling his size and the impact of this ferocious little image.
[cms.colum.edu/southloopreview/]

 

Straylight coverStraylight

Volume 3 Number 2

2009

Biannual

Review by Terri Denton

This edition of Straylight has everything: a life-like horror strike that comes on like lightning; a story that asks you to suspend your disbelief (and you willingly do); an amusing take on a bridge’s history; a travelogue of sorts; and a doppelganger in a poem. It gives the publication a sense of completeness rarely found in literary magazines. It made it, quite truly, a joy to read, and an honor to review.

Audrey Forrest’s captivating tale of a P.A.’s nightmare of a mistake, “Cold Shot” stands out amongst the pages. Mark, the story’s protagonist, and a worker at Pharm-N-Go’s flu clinic, knows that, “Unlike the preferable and more expensive single pack syringes, the foreign supplier packaged the syringes of groups of five so each plastic bag contained five syringes. The two PA’s had an informal agreement with each other that at the end of the shift, each guy would pull a new box down, cut it open, place it on the counter, and remove the plastic seals from about twenty of the five-packers. It was a simple way to prevent the morning backlog.”

This seemingly innocuous description of shared responsibility turns out to be the hook upon which the story’s disastrous end hangs. When Mark doesn’t see the hugely-scrawled writing of his partner’s warning that the syringes that are out are used – he didn’t have the time to dispose of them, and pull new ones down – Mark makes an even larger mistake. Taking one of the syringes and injecting the flu vaccine in an old, frail man, Forrest deftly sends horror to the minds of both Mark, when he realizes his mistake, and the reader herself.

Michael C. Riedlinger’s story is the next standout. He asks the reader to suspend disbelief, and when twelve-year-old Will goes on his first hunting trip with his dad, in “The Snow Line,” the reader does as well, nearly unconsciously so. After a gory description of zombie-like figures, and a litany of possible reasons for their otherworldly existence, you are compelled to follow through with the story. Even my own resistance to horror writing could not stop me from turning page after page, going along with Riedlinger on his strange and incredible trip.

As the story progressed toward its horrifying denouement, I was regretting with fervor every word as the author wrote what twelve-year-old Will, just a boy, has to do when his father is bitten by one of the zombies, “He raised the rifle to his shoulder, just as his father had shown him. It seemed like ages ago. He peered down the barrel through tear-clouded eyes. He aimed silently at his father’s head, clamped his eyes shut as hard as he could, and gently squeezed the trigger like a brave young man.” This story is as unsettling as it gets, and Michael C. Riedlinger deserves a nod from every reader.

Next comes Patrick Maguire’s delightful poem, “The Pont du Gard.” “The Pont du Gard is old. / Its piers were gold, / but now are stained with mould. // We know its raison d’être / was aptly met / in keeping Roman’s wet.” It is a lovely poem, a re-telling of history with clever wordplay and delightful turns of phrase.

A.D. Winans throws his own literary hat into the ring with “Going Back in Time,” recalling his youth spent “hitchhiking from California / to Arizona and places / further west / heading in so many directions / that it was like getting lost / in the trick mirrors / of the fun house.” The last lines I’ve sampled here describe the entire poem perfectly. I know my own youth was spent in an equally disorienting fun house.

Closing out this review, I can’t help but mention Kaitlyn M. Wierzchowski’s fantastic poem, “A Woman by Another Name.” Writes the poet:

You will not find me scantily clad
Acting bad in the back of a barroom
But I will pretend to swoon.
A romantic at heart, I play the part
Of damsel in distress
And I dress like a kinky librarian
Or schoolgirl, innocent and naïve at best.

Yet

There is a woman within me
Strong-willed and willing
to kick and scream, swear and act mean.

When the poem finishes with, “And later, in the morning / It will be me who feels the backlash,” I suspect that every woman who reads this will find herself astonished at Wierzchowski’s capturing of sheer femininity. And every reader of Straylight faced with a backlash of the literary sort. These stories and poem stay with you long after you put the magazine on your bookshelf. That’s another thing this edition of Straylight has found: a permanent spot on my very own bookshelf.
[www.straylightmag.com]

 

upstreet coverupstreet

Number 5

2009

Annual

Review by Rachel S. King

Upstreet’s fifth annual issue contains over two-hundred pages of stories, poems, creative nonfiction essays, and a very entertaining and insightful interview with Robin Hemley by Vivian Dorsel.

It’s a good thing when my two favorite stories in this journal are 1) the first published story by an author and 2) metafiction, because 1) good emerging writers deserve to be recognized, and 2) I need to learn to like some metafiction. I liked 1) Sarah Dozor’s “So Logically, in Aluminum Foil” because it portrays, without sentimentality, someone who is depressed. “No one wants to be alone for its own sake,” the narrator observes. “We want to be alone the way people in movies are alone, an observed and self-aware kind of alone. Truly alone says nothing about ourselves, when there is no one there to tell.” This is a good quote, but the character who elucidates the quote is even better.

I liked 2) Kevin Grauke’s “Out Here in the Fields (Again)” for many reasons, but meta-fictionally, because the author draws attention to why readers empathize with a character. Does a character have to be a victim of some kind to deserve our sympathy or can we empathize with a jerk? At the end, the narrator tries to draw the reader back into his story after admitting that he’s possibly less-than-likable: “In other words, no matter how it started, in the end, I was still just this schmo missing baskets in a dead friend’s older brother’s driveway, in the total fucking dark.” I also enjoyed Rebeca Antoine’s “New Haven Line” because I thought, through excellent characterization, it rose above many stories about affairs.

Noteworthy poems include Marilyn Hacker’s “Paragraphs for Hayden,” Alan Feldman’s “On the Water,” and Rachel Hadas’s “Joe’s Pond.” Many of the poems are plainspoken, and they often include a narrative. My favorite nonfiction piece was Chris Gordon’s “You Were Always on My Mind.” In only one page, Gordon tells so much about his estranged relationship with his son, and he tells it very well.

This upstreet issue is long in its page numbers and versatile in its scope. It includes fresh talent (ie. Dozor) and old favorites (ie. Hemley). The journal deserves to be supported, and this issue deserves to be read.
[www.upstreet-mag.org/]

 

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