Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted April 1, 2010

Alimentum :: Brick :: Eleven Eleven :: Fifth Wednesday Journal :: The Georgia Review :: H.O.W. Journal :: International Poetry Review :: KNOCK :: Lake Effect :: Lalitamba :: The Laurel Review :: New Genre :: Ploughshares :: Quick Fiction :: Red Line Blues :: Redivider :: Skidrow Penthouse :: specs :: Sugar House Review :: Umbrella :: Zone 3 :: 5x5


Alimentum coverAlimentum

Issue 9

Winter 2010


Review by Melinda Rich, Utah State University

Like a still life painting, the fiction pieces, poetry, nonfiction, artwork, interviews, and illustrations gathered in this issue are artfully placed to bring each piece into the best light. With no distinct sections, the flow of one genre into the next allows us to savor the changing role of food from work to work. Beginning with the cover art, “Pie Wrangler” by Marilyn Murphy, which depicts a cowboy of sorts struggles to keep the massive piece of pie he has roped from carrying him skyward, this issue is interested in the everyday and sometimes playful mixture of food and experience, the various forms of appetite and consumption, and food memories we attach to the senses.

Paulette Licitra asks us in the preface to “sample the entire menu” of artwork and words spread before us, and since the journal itself is, dare I say, bite sized, that request seems manageable. The first piece of fiction, “Sacrifice in Fukuoka” by Paul Silverman, is a strong beginning, one that counters the playful recollections of bakery counters and cake boxes from the preface, and grounds us in the complicated relationship we have to the living meat of animals and people. Other fiction and nonfiction pieces spread throughout the journal have a similar feel. “Chestnut” by Katherine A. Gleason, though only a page in length, is a fictional rumination of one man’s strained marital relationship told through his love of chestnuts and his daughter’s artwork.

Interspersed through the issue are two poem groupings by various poets. One of these sections by Molly Fessler is particularly good. Her first poem “Tomatoes” parallels the images of a pregnant mother and the tomatoes she loves growing as told from the perspective of an adoring child. But when the mother “comes home with no baby” and the tomatoes she grew are traded for “dead and canned” ones, the child seeks to bring back the loving mother by growing the tomato plants in her closet. The final line expresses the loss of connection the child feels to the once growing child and the plants she has nurtured. Even with all this effort, “they don’t grow. But neither will the baby.”

One of my favorite poems is “The Origin of Fruitcakes” by F.J. Bergmann. This is partially due to the illustration (one of many) by Claudia Carlson, of two jitterbugging fruitcakes with strawberry eyes. The poem itself is equally animated in its attempt to understand the genesis of such an unusual food. Bergmann explains, “Fruitcakes have moms just like everything else; you know how aliens aren’t really aliens, they’re a cross between humans and dolphins, that’s why they’re grey and slimy; well fruitcakes are from mating Jell-O salads and leftover pizza with sufficient friction.” It seems the mystery has been solved.

Alimentum is full of excellent examples of prose and poetry, fiction, and artwork for the general reader. As a lover of food and literature, I was satisfied by the representations and reminiscences of the widespread connections we have to the things we eat. As a compliment to the journal, the webpage offers even more treats to nibble. Their menu offers reviews of cookbooks, food travel logs, winning menupoem submissions of the journal’s poetry contest, and even a forum for subscribers to confess the secret foods they eat after midnight. As Alimentum’s name suggests, after reading and browsing I was nourished in mind and memory, now I think I want a cookie.


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Brick coverBrick

Issue 84

Winter 2010


Review by Rebecca Elena James, Utah State University

Halldor Gudmundsson’s essay, “Halldor Laxness Across the Universe” opens the Winter 2010 issue of Brick, a Toronto-based literary journal. Using Nobel-Prize-winning-novelist Halldor Laxness as an example, Gudmundsson explores how literature travels and meaning evolves based on culture, language, and ideology. Building upon this premise, Bernardo Atxaga explores the publishing history of Allen Ginsburg’s “Howl” in Franco-era Spain. Yet, Jose Teodoro’s conversation with British writer Geoff Dyer and a subsequent excerpt from his novel, Out of Sheer Rage, serve as the thematic anchor for the rest of the journal.

First, Dyer and Teodoro discuss how writing can transcend the confines of traditional literary genre classification. Dyer identifies cultural everyman John Berger and filmmaker Werner Herzog as examples of this multidisciplinary approach. He then continues this thread, by saying, “a book should generate its own literary form. The distinction is about the expectations that the reader brings to the book, how they expect a given form to behave.” This question of classification continues in an excerpt from his novel, Out of Sheer Rage. He especially explores how traditional academic criticism, “kills everything it touches,” through a systematic process of categorization and over analysis. He offers a remedy against the contemporary tendency to compartmentalize and over analyze any text: “If you want to see how literature lives then you turn to writers, and see what they’ve said about each other, either in essays, reviews, in letters or journals – and in the work themselves.” Geoff Dyer’s commentary about fluidity of genre and the necessity of “lived literature” is mirrored throughout the remainder of the journal.

This reimagining of genre is highlighted in Colleen Murphy, Sarah Polley, and Patrick Watsons’s eulogy to Canadian documentary filmmaker, Allan King. Each contributor shares a unique story or insight that illustrates King’s multidisciplinary approach to filmmaking. Marni Jackson’s essay, “The Local Cadence of Allan King’s Filmmaking,” poignantly explores how the complexity of dying and loss are primary themes in King’s final documentaries. Finally, Blaine Allan, Seth Feldman, and Peter Harcourt contribute to “An Interview with Allan King.” These filmmakers discuss King’s innovations and unique contribution to film.

The exploration of the fluidity of genre continues with Charlotte Gray’s biographic essay on the life of the late Austrian artist, architect, and writer, Friedensreich Hundertwasser. The inclusion of Charles Dickens’s obscure introduction to Barnaby Rudge is a delightfully dissonant meditation on anthropomorphic, suicidal ravens. My favorite poem is the bilingually printed “Death and Zebras” by Basque poet Bernardo Atxaga. His words become the collective voice for a herd of water-starved zebras. This is followed by series full-colored images of woven “War Rugs” from Afghanistan. Such a coupling of traditional textiles, current events, and personal experience are a powerful visual experience and excellent addition to the journal.


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Eleven Eleven coverEleven Eleven

Issue 7



Review by Kenneth Nichols

If The Paris Review is your worldly college roommate who unselfconsciously regales you with travel stories from “the continent,” Eleven Eleven is the cool kid in your creative writing class who refused to follow rules or obey the professor. The journal is produced by the California College of the Arts, possibly the reason that the editors strike an interesting balance between poetry, prose and visual art.

The center of the issue features an eight-page color insert that reproduces some interesting pieces. Charles Browning’s two oil paintings are particularly provocative, confronting the viewer’s understanding of some of the dark facets of American history. Vanessa Hernández Gracia’s three black-and-white photographs of three very different places manage to tell one narrative if the viewer thinks about them as a whole.

The poetry and prose tend toward the abstract and surreal, but Kaya Oakes manages to do even more work with a slightly more conventional palette of ideas. Her poem, “Intervention,” is an imaginative meditation on the permanence of relationships we think are temporary: “Between the conversations, / the conversations never cease.”

Richie Smith’s short story, “A Uterine Transfer (For America),” is shorter than the subject matter demands; the male pregnancy in the piece is experienced in fast-forward. While the story has some flaws, Smith writes with enough verve to keep the reader interested.

In “Snow Angels,” Jotham Burrello creates a compelling setting for a compelling character. One can almost hear the snow falling on the New England streets and smell the misplaced-hope smell of the tavern in which we meet the protagonist. This establishment of the milieu propels the reader as the plot unfurls.


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Fifth Wednesday Journal coverFifth Wednesday Journal

Issue 5

Fall 2009


Review by Lynley Sharp, Utah State University

Fifth Wednesday Journal provides readers a wide selection of fiction and poetry, as well as photography and a nonfiction essay. The journal’s goal, “Defining literature. In real context.” is achieved in this issue by examining people in a variety of places and situations. Featured poet, Michael Van Walleghen, creates colorful and almost tangible images of different stages of his life. “The Golgotha Fun Park” reads,

It’s hard to believe
this whole dead universe
of dizzy
fun park junk,
lying disarticulate
and rusting now
all around him
in the weeds,
was heaven once.

The choppy layout of this poem on the page completes the image he creates of his discovery of an abandoned Christ-centered fun park. An interview with Walleghen also provides us with his ideas about poetry and its functions in his life. He says, “I’m just trying to construct a coherent, interesting narrative.” His narratives allow him to explore his connection to place and time or “conflate past and present.”

Fiction in FWJ investigates our roles in society through a multitude of different pieces and places. The piece, “The End of the Road,” by Becky Eagleton, visits a Renaissance Faire in Texas where Ronnie comes to grips with the false security she has in her baby’s daddy, Spike, all while accosted by a buzzing of a bee trapped inside her car and a knickers-clad weapons vendor. She says, “I hear the bee buzzing again. A wild crazy whine. Like it’s injured. It’s whizzing around the inside of the car. Maybe it smells my Coke ... C’mon bee. Here’s the way out.”

Another story, “The Sweeper” by Terry Sanville, leaves the reader wondering about the repercussions of our actions. Lucy drives a sweeper truck, and, through her silent musings in her truck, we learn about a huge absence in her married life. Stopping to notice the flood issuing from a house on her route, her actions come into question. But it makes the reader ponder, “What would you do?”

The nonfiction piece, “America’s Last Natural Man: The Story of Ishi” by Stephen Thomas, navigates a century’s old dispute between Anglo American and Native American cultures. The story is about Ishi, sole survivor of the Yana tribes of California, who descends from his hidden existence in the forests into turn-of-the-century Sacramento and ends up living in a museum in San Francisco. As the last authentic Native American, untouched by any white cultural ideas, Ishi becomes a link between his dead culture and the twentieth century.

Anthropologists’ analysis of him provides modern Americans an opportunity to reflect on their actions towards Native Americans. Ishi becomes a living museum exhibit, but he also succumbs to the comforts of the culture. This co-existence is important for Thomas because he questions white man’s perseverance in wiping out all things “other.” His discussion of Ishi’s survival relates to the cultural study done within central South America by anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss. Levi-Strauss explains, “It must have been an extraordinary advantage to have access to communities which had never yet been the object of serious investigation and which were still quite well preserved, since their destruction had only just begun.”

The photography in this issue invites us to analyze our interactions with place through images. In the photo “Twisted,” the audience follows a sunlit spiral of branches and tree trunks into a darkened, unclear focal point. “Emelyn Story” shows a weeping angel kneeling, with her arms hanging over the tomb. The inscriptions in the marble are hard to read, but a man walking past with his head bowed strikes the viewer. What happened here? What inspired the selection of this powerful monument for this particular woman? Each of the photos invites us to question about our relation to it, an invitation extended by the journal through its poetry and prose as well.


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The Georgia Review coverThe Georgia Review

Volume 63 Number 4

Winter 2009


Review by Sara C. Rauch

Jeff Gundy's essay, "Hard Books," in this issue of The Georgia Review says, "Sturdy cloth covers, it is true, rarely house the most daring experiments or frontal assaults on literary norms." He is right, of course, and his quote is somewhat appropriate for Georgia Review. I didn't find much daring work here, nothing that shattered my perceptions of poetry and writing, though there is much to enjoy. Gundy also says in this essay "persistence over time is still real, and ... being of the moment is not the only value." So, there it is.

The Georgia Review has been around since 1947, and there is reason for that. It contains writing of great merit, and from this issue, I can tell it is faithful to the writers it publishes. In fact, the entire first half of this issue is devoted to Albert Goldbarth, whose work first appeared in Georgia Review in 1986. I was a little shocked by this seemingly effusive gesture—until I started reading Goldbarth's poetry. Now I feel a little shocked that I've never read any of his work before. His use of language is great fun, his word choice and word play lead to great leaps of the mind and imagination. Nothing is out of his scope of subject matter. In "The Serious Business," he starts with a man who has gone crazy after a stroke and moves deftly (almost without the reader even noticing) through the healing process, religion, sex, Darwin, poetry, government, all the way back to birth "...birth's / so often cute to the outsiders. To the participant, / however, it must be a violent suddenness: unrequested, / choking, explosive, punishingly reformative." Over and over again, his intelligent poems take leaps of faith and showcase humorous, yet thoughtful (and thought-provoking) work.

Also included in the first half dedicated to Goldbarth are photos taken by his wife and students, essays about him and his work, and a facsimile of drafts of one poem (Goldbarth still writes with pen and paper in the early stages, and it is quite fun to see his somewhat illegible scribbles).

The latter half of The Georgia Review contains poetry, two pieces of fiction, an essay, artwork, and 37 pages of book reviews (two large essays and shorter "Book Briefs"). Joseph Duemer's two pieces, "What I Like about God" and "What I Like about the Devil," are twin philosophical ponderings on the lives of those two infamous characters. I especially liked the Devil poem: "The way light falls on stone / when you are hungry will / remake heaven and earth, / he knew. The Devil knew."

Robin Black's short story "Tableau Vivant" mixes the heavy topics of aging/death, infidelity, family history, and loneliness into a moving tale of loss and the strength of the mother/daughter bond.

Michael J. Marshall's photography "seeks to express not only the visual but the emotional qualities of a particular setting, to locate the transcendent in natural environments, the spirit inherent in place" (from "Genius Loci" Introduction by M.W.). Marshall's photos, which use the "nineteenth-century process of platinum printing," do capture a sort of timelessness; the natural objects he photographs exhibit peace, as if they have been there forever and will remain longer. Beautifully reproduced here, his work makes one feel the isolation, the history, and the unerring wisdom of nature.

This issue of The Georgia Review offers much food for thought. It is not a journal that one can breeze through. It is slow going to process the writing and art offered here, but then, classic beauty takes time.


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H.O.W. Journal coverH.O.W. Journal

(Helping Orphans Worldwide)

Number 5

Fall/Winter 2009


Review by John Gilmore, Utah State University

Two of the seven works of fiction in this issue are first-publications for authors, suggesting the editors mean it when they state their intent to publish “today’s prominent writers and artists alongside upcoming talents.”

One upcoming talent is Jane Calandro. In “This is All I Have To Give You,” Calandro’s first-person narrator discovers she doesn’t “have the capacity to lose it. I will never be inefficient. The city could burn down and I would still wake up at eight-thirty, wash my hair with Head & Shoulders, and mechanically spoon Joe’s Os into my mouth.” Amidst this mechanical existence and a struggle for self-definition within subtle familial trappings, the narrator grows progressively sure, if somewhat fearful, of herself:

She is screaming something to the extent of how I will never succeed because I only ever do what I want to do and I carry around that blanket all the time. . . . Now I do what everybody wants, whenever they want, and feel hysterical when I can’t.

Jose Luis Peixoto’s “The Story I Just Finished Writing” is this issue’s concise opener. In this fantastical piece, a man describes an argument with his mother over the portrayal of the mother-character in his most recent piece of fiction; the mother fears readers will equate the character with her. Paragraph by paragraph, the mother in the offending story (which, it becomes clear, is the story we are reading) shifts wildly in mannerism and appearance – and likewise does the actual mother – as the writer attempts to appease her. Finally, he tells us, “My mother shouted, ‘Do you want other people to think that I am a mother who starts shouting just because of a story in which people think that I am shouting just because they think that I am shouting?’” Perhaps because Peixoto’s piece follows its own rules so well, it transcends mere cleverness.

The journal contains sixteen poems. I was particularly struck by Joanna Klink’s “Begins”:

give me
back the
hours that ended
in emptiness began
in closeness take
who you are leave me
who you were.

While the fiction and poetry in this issue tend slightly toward the obscure, the two nonfiction pieces are rather straightforward. Serbian Fedja Dimovic recalls the 1999 NATO bombings, noting that a decade later, ruined architecture remains, while the world seems to have forgotten the event. “Light the skeletons up; light them up well,” he writes of the half-destroyed buildings, “so they can be seen by anyone who knows what terrible injustice is and doesn’t want to see it happen again.”

Kenji Nakayama’s compelling cover-art is a fitting introduction to perhaps the most visually appealing literary journal I’ve read. More of Nakayama’s art is contained within, alongside work by three other artists, printed in over twenty full-color pages.

Proceeds from this issue go to a child and family services provider in New York City called Safe Space. Each issue of H.O.W directly benefits orphanages worldwide.


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International Poetry Review

Volume 35 Number 2

Fall 2009


Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This special issue dedicated to “Spain’s Modern Experience” is guest edited by Heidi Czerwiec and Claudia Routon, who selected and translated the work. Originals and translations appear side by side and include poems in Spanish, Asturian, and Galician. Poets include several quite well known in Spain and others in the early stages of their careers.

The editors have selected a great group of poems by nine poets, and for those who can read Spanish, the issue is especially appealing – the originals of these poems are particularly satisfying in their sounds and rhythms. They are marked by vivid imagery, strong emotional content, a sense of immediacy and urgency, a tendency to link the personal and the metaphysical, and reverence for language. And, of course, no selection of poetry from Spain would be complete without a few love poems (“Mi vida sin ti, sera un mar sin sal,”- “My life without you, a sea without salt” writes Branca Vilela in “No Quiero Morir, Amor” – “I Don’t Want to Die, Love”).

José Corredor-Matheos contributes a meta-poem (a poem that refers to itself as a poem), an effective and memorable one. Here are the opening lines:

El poem se oculta
en el poema,
igual que la Montana
se oculta en la manana,
y hasta el number de Dios,
en los nombres de Dios.
The poem hides
in the poem,
just like the mountain
hides in the mountain,
and even the name of God,
in the names of God.

Poetry in English in this edition of the journal includes, among other poems, several family narratives, an ode by Joanna Kurowska to “Nothing” (“I am thankful for nothing. / I can carry it in my purse, / in a suitcase, a cart / or in my backpack.”), and Scott Mulrane’s “Marbles in the Luxembourg Gardens,” my favorite this issue (“One’s mother has eaten the Bible, Koran, / Villon, / and Pound’s Cantos”).

Editor Mark Smith-Soto reminds readers that the journal “welcomes formal or informal essays on the art and craft of translation and he offers his own “personal ruminations” in this issue: “On Translation: Faithful In Our Fashion.” It’s a thoughtful piece on his personal experience, over many years, of the process of translating and some of the many challenges translation poses.


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Number 12



Review by Brett C. Sigurdson, Utah State University

There is a collection of art pieces by Tyler Ingram within the most recent issue of KNOCK that perhaps captures the journal’s idiosyncratic and smart aesthetic better than any words written here can. Working with acrylic, canvas, paper, and Smith & Wesson – not to mention a Winchester Model 25 .12 gauge shotgun and Remington .22 caliber rifle – Ingram quite literally blasts ordinary images and plain paper with paint, creating a wild paroxysm of colorful abstractions and unorthodox configurations. This sensibility – color! zeal! nonconformity! – is at the gonzo heart of KNOCK, and if you’re willing to move with its freaky beat, then you’re going to like what you find between its garish covers.

Look past the fact that this is the “Ex Issue,” for there’s much beyond broken hearts and jilted dreams here, though, to be sure, there’s plenty of that. In fact, there’s some serious stuff simmering just below the surface of many of these selections. Christopher Thomas’s poem “The Sweetest Taboos,” for example, finds the author reveling in a playful exploration of pushing boundaries while subtly exploring a sexual awakening. Similarly, D.E. Steward’s impish use of alliteration and assonance in “Mayot” masks a damning portrait of cultural diversions (“monkey see, monkey do / intrusive simian need to pick at one other, and groom and squat, and screw / Picture of me, picture of you / Snapfish, / Youtube / Me too, you two, we two too”).

Other authors are more forward in depicting the detachment and cynicism that pervaded in Bush’s America. Poems such as Joseph Wood’s “War” (“When did we become our own collapsing centers?”) and Erin Bealmear’s “Silence as Thick as Canned Frosting” (“It’s too much work, fighting against emptiness.”), as well as Patrick Dacey’s fictional “Last Days in America” (“Could the rest of my life be spent in a country where I already knew I didn’t belong? . . . Who the hell belongs anywhere?) explore a sense of alienation and disenchantment from a culture that has left them, as Dacey writes, “flying above the world, looking down on everyone and hoping to find at least one person to rise up and join [them].”

Also of note are works of fiction by Hesh Keston, Jessica Hollander, and Nate Warren. Keston’s piece, a selection from his book The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats, offers a tempting taste of the whole work, which finds a shlemiel in a curious association with a famed Jewish gangster in 1960s New York City. Hollander’s short, yet hilariously poignant “Porch Furniture” explores how people value their possessions through the story of two kleptomaniacs who fill their front porch with the disregarded lawn furniture of apathetic neighbors. Warren’s “Get Tight, Get Loose,” explores cubicle culture’s ennui through the Manhattan-soaked, smoke-filled musings of Eric, an account exec playing hooky at “Conference Room L,” a bar where he and his fellow office drones escape from corporate malaise.

Aside from Ingram’s art spread, pieces by Lynn Brofsky, Spencer Sussman, Hera, and Jack Johnston beautifully augment the fiction, poetry, and plays in this journal. Johnston’s art is particularly interesting, for he uses business reply cards as canvases for collages that bitingly comment on corporations and culture. Like Ingram’s art, Johnston’s work messes with expectations. If that sounds cool to you, then KNOCK is worth your attention.


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Lake Effect coverLake Effect

Volume 13

Spring 2009


Review by Robbie Dressler, Pacific University

Lake Effect is an annual publication out of Penn State featuring fiction, poetry, and literary nonfiction. Arranged in sections by genre, the journal makes for easy negotiating. The book feels large, solid and is printed in easily legible font.

The literary nonfiction is particularly strong in this issue, especially "Point of Entry" by J. Malcolm Garcia. Garcia was a former social worker who switched to a career as a foreign correspondent and found himself in Afghanistan in 2001 right after 9/11. Throughout the story, Garcia fears he will be too green to pick out the subtleties of a war torn Afghanistan, but discovers "This is a ghetto man. I may not know where Afghanistan is on the map but I know ghetto."

The fiction selections offer a wider variety of tone and subject matter. The first piece in the journal, "Hapax Legomenon" by Michael Czyzniejewski, is an interesting choice to open with. Marvie, the main character, works at a pirate-themed mini golf course owned by his deranged mother and looks forward to the eventual development of the fun center into a respectable country club with a nine-hole golf course. Several times in the story Marvie is beaten and tortured by the employees who take care of the go-carts. They don’t want the course changed. In one scene, they tie him up in front of the pitching machine, put in twenty dollars’ worth of quarters, and leave him there overnight. The story is darkly funny with an almost cartoonish quality to it.

"A Hole in the Script," by Mark Brazaitis, is a quirky story detailing the attempts of various directors and actors to interpret an ambiguous pause written into the script of a play. The interpretations vary wildly, causing one director to tell his actors "I have betrayed you all merely by bringing you here," and, "I was foolish to think I could protect you."

My favorite piece in this publication is "Twenty-First Century Itch" by Josh Green. The story starts with twangy sort of dialect I feared might weigh down the narrative flow, but I was pleasantly surprised at Green's ability to dial the technique back when appropriate, allowing a charming and sad story to unfold. The narrator in the story has just lost his wife to a strange skin disease and throws a bottle at a man in a restaurant whose yuppie appearance annoys him. As the man confronts him, we get flashbacks of the narrator's experiences with his wife. Any story about this kind of topic runs the risk of being overly sentimental, but Green handles it deftly, balancing lines like "the outlet mall, as I came to find out, isn't so bad when you're shopping for somebody" with "for a minute I was inclined to saunter back in and hug his wife. Or maybe lick her face."

I found everything in Lake Effect is straightforward and to the point, which is refreshing in a medium that sometimes veers to the overly edgy in an attempt to stand out.


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Lalitamba coverLalitamba

Issue 3



Review by Alan Peters, Pacific University

The front page of Lalitamba states, “During our travels was born the idea for a literary magazine that would uplift the spirit.” Lalitamba presents within its rich 250 pages a variety of poetry, essays and short fiction that explore faith and spirituality, with writing that is rooted in everything from Buddhism to Christianity. As would be appropriate for a spiritual magazine, Lalitamba opens with a section titled, “Letters and Prayers.” Although short, these are the perhaps the heaviest pieces of writing in the issue. They reflect a profound sense of suffering and loss that would speak to the kinds of readers most drawn to this kind of magazine.

After presenting these prayers, the magazine moves into the essays, poems and short stories. The pieces are sometimes not even separated onto the next page, which gives the impression of a free-flowing, multi-layered narrative. Each poem is strengthened by the writing that came before it and leads in to the piece that comes after. Because of the structure, I was able to read quickly through the magazine; I never found a moment to stop.

A wide variety of topics are covered, and each one brings a message of hope or a feeling of renewal. A prime example of this is J. Roman’s “My Best Friend in Jail is Gay,” about a Puerto Rican inmate who befriends and consequently realizes the inner beauty of Vanessa, a cross-dressing, gay inmate. The story ends with the advice, “See people for what they are. Human.” The story is written in an informal first-person voice which really works to help connect the reader with the narrator. Short sentences produce an elegant simplicity in the story.

Barry Ballard’s poems, “Outside the Herd” and “Waking,” present an Emersonian view of life: Don’t blindly follow others, and appreciate the small things. Lines such as “reveling in my rebellion” and “I swerve at the poison of complacency” emphasize the individualistic message of these poems. Bobby Minkoff’s “My Brother the Beggar” is a modest poem about the difference, or lack thereof, between a beggar and a man with money. Although the poem isn’t as strong in its technical merits, it is still a moral tale that fits perfectly in the context of this journal.

Also featured in this issue is an interview with Tim Bascom, author of Chameleon Days, about his experience as an American child growing up in Ethiopia with his missionary parents. This is a great interview for the journal – not only is Mr. Bascom’s life fascinating, but it is a firsthand account of the blending (and in some cases collision) of two cultures. Bascom’s story shows how one’s life can be radically different depending on the culture he grows up in.

Lalitamba stresses community, spirituality, and hope, and will leave a positive, invigorating feeling in a reader’s soul. The back of the issue says, “May all beings be happy and free from suffering. May we all live in peace together.” Through the sublime art of writing, Lalitamba makes its contribution to the world in order to promote happiness and alleviate suffering. I, for one, felt a little more at peace when I finished reading.


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The Laurel Review coverThe Laurel Review

Volume 43 Number 2

Summer 2009


Review by Karen H. Lambert, Utah State University

In this issue, an essay by Lisa Ohlen Harris most stirs my mind, encouraging me to return for a second and third look. I like her outlook on life as much as the writing itself. In the piece entitled “Exiles,” the author ponders the death of her father-in-law. She lives in Jordan with her husband and two children, one a newborn.

When her husband returns to the U.S. for her father-in-law’s funeral, leaving her alone, she becomes contemplative about her father-in-law’s anger toward religion that alienated him from his three sons, who chose to become Protestants. She also mourns the hope, now lost, that the relationships may be mended. She  finds comfort and understanding from Tamam, a Muslim woman who is an exile, an academic, her landlord’s wife and upstairs neighbor. She credits Tamam for understanding loss in a way her other friends could not because she knew profound loss, the loss of losing her country.

 The piece explores challenging family relationships, feelings of being cut off by distance and religion, and then expands to discuss broken ties between nations and with the land. I loved the history, as research abounds in the piece.

There are other wise, deep and well-crafted pieces throughout that may strike a chord with another reader the way “Exiles” sang to me. For instance, Paul Cockeram takes a look at what really constitutes good writing – and the difference between really living life and living an illusion – by examining his mother’s and grandmother’s fascination with Bridges of Madison County and a series of news reports on arsonists who have tried to destroy the famous bridges the book depicts. I admire his craft in “Bridges Burn,” especially his ability to weave different images together to make a whole piece.

At least, I assume both the pieces I mentioned are nonfiction. One minor complaint I have is that The Laurel Review includes no titles to distinguish poem from nonfiction from fiction, although four reviews at the end are labeled. In the table of contents, different genres of writing are scrambled, and labeled only by title and author. As a result, the reader must depend on form and conventions to decipher what they are reading. Generally, in the case of poems this is easy. But, with longer forms sometimes lines seem to blur between fiction and nonfiction. Still, this magazine is a good place to sample a variety of talent, including both established and emerging writers.


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New Genre coverNew Genre

Issue 6

Summer 2009


Review by Trelaine Ito, Pacific University

At first glance, the content of New Genre looks just as its title asserts: a super modern magazine fitted out with cutting edge writing and concerns. This impression is accurate. Take “A Sing Economy” by Adam Golaski, for example. Golaski attempts to explain the plight of the poet in a money-based society. Golaski disagrees with the attitude that such writers, those of short stories included, are to blame for their pitiful financial situation. It is in fact marketable print that lowers the overall intelligence of the population – or specifically the population’s ability to actually recognize thought-provoking writing – and the responsibility for that sorry state of affairs rests with publishers not writers. Golaski says: “Blame the publishers, then blame the editors, then blame the writers, and not the other way around.”

New Genre is filled with short stories that run the gamut in exploring contemporary angst. Michael Filimowicz’s “Jack and the Satellite Jockey” depicts a futuristic world of space in constant repair with characters as avant-garde as the scenery. Eric Schaller’s fired low-wage worker discovers a new path in “The Sparrow Mumbler” and finds that life is what one makes of it. Matthew Pendleton’s “I Am Antenna / Antennae” blunts the flow of the narrative with multiple breaks and diary entries. Most striking is a Stephan Graham Jones’s brilliantly twisted story of a medicine man roaming the Wild West, deviously scamming seemingly innocent townspeople with remedies that create a death and a second death. This tale, entitled “Lonegan’s Luck,” is set in a time of horses and saloons and centers around Lonegan’s scheme: creating deadly zombie-like symptoms in people, then looting his mindless victims. Lonegan himself suffers the same fate when he encounters a rogue cake baker and her last work.

New Genre’s writers explore modern themes in contemporary, futuristic, and historical settings. The stories delve into ideas like motivation and a quality life versus mere existence; contemporary thinkers would thoroughly enjoy the combination of the dark, the intriguing and the uplifting. New Genre does suffer from some over-the-top prose at times, but its innovative thought, and by extension writing, is extremely praise worthy. In this case, it is praise the writer, then praise the editor, then praise the publisher.


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Ploughshares coverPloughshares

Volume 35 Number 4

Winter 2009-2010


Review by Angela Sweeney, Utah State University

This issue brings together prose and poetry on a variety of subjects. Tony Hoagland edits this issue, choosing to pair works of transcendentalism and realism in such a way that brings out the best of both. Each piece varies in style from the previous one, serving to continually cleanse the palate and keep each work fresh.

Christian Barter’s “Heisenberg” is an example of one of the more thoughtful poems of the issue. The poem is essentially about the observer effect. Barter extrapolates the effect to several scenarios, each time following the formula established in the first line: “We interfere with what we know by knowing it.” As the poem progresses, Barter changes the topic but stays true to the formula, occasionally pausing to make reflections. The twist that makes the poem special comes toward the end: “If there is a God we will / surely ruin him by believing in him.” The thoughtfulness of the poem is even more successful when taken in context of the seemingly mundane topics in the following poems.

Memory is a theme that occurs in multiple prose pieces, to great effect. Perhaps most striking is David Stuart Maclean’s “The Answer to the Riddle is Me.” In this piece, the narrator describes his experience of waking up in India with amnesia. His life becomes a riddle and much of the piece is his effort to unravel that riddle. One of the most interesting aspects is the way in which the narrator describes his identity being written by those around him: “I was a blank sheet. Josh was writing my story on me.” Maclean uses the image of inscription to link the importance of memory to the sense of identity.

Another common theme is that of aging and reflection of the aging process. A good example is “The Waning” by Adrian Blevins. This poem details a moment in the shower where the speaker realizes aging through the difficulty of reading the label on the shower bottle. The beauty of the poem is the juxtaposition of images of the joy of youth with the frightening images of aging, beginning from the first line: “When you’re sixteen with pristine nipples it’s hard to imagine / you’ll go a little bit blind one morning years later trying to read a bottle.” Again, as with other pieces in the issue, the realness of the poem becomes more vivid in context.

Each piece in the issue seems to bear close reading well, and Hoagland organizes the issue in a way that keeps the mind alive from cover to cover.


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Quick Fiction coverQuick Fiction

Issue 16

Fall 2009


Review by Jennifer Bott Bateman, Utah State University

This journal captivated my interest from the beginning with its colorful and surreal cover art of a boy drawing while a fez-wearing turtle directs him (“Boy and Turtle Drawing” by Judy A. Muscara-Orfanos, acrylic on cigar box). At only 6” x 6” and about 40 pages in length, even the physical size of the journal captured my attention and begged to be taken along for an enjoyable read on the go. It held me through to the end with the imaginative prose, much of it written so beautifully it borders on poetry. Kirsten Rue writes in her piece “Spelling,” that “she is the child born between others. She is the one with the sandy-sprouting skull, pink-shelled fingertips, snowflake collars . . . She rides a bandy-wheel and counts the glitter in the sky.”

All of the pieces come in at 500 words or less, making it an addicting read – easy to take with you but hard to put down.

The pieces included in this issue are surprising in how much they can convey within the space restraints, many of them much shorter than the limitations require – the authors taking the risk to prove how much can be said in just a few sentences. For example, Liesl Jobson in “Grams”: “‘Let them remain innocent, at least, about the race against time.’ [My kids] already know about blades and bandages and the stomach pump in the emergency room.” Jobson’s piece shows a daughter supporting her mother through her struggles with her weight loss, while the mother recalls a conversation with her sister. The sister is concerned for the psyches of the teens, but the mother is all too aware of the pain and struggle they have already experienced.

Kim Parko’s “Possum Remedy” is remarkable for its imagination, but it also says something so much deeper about loneliness. The story is about the cure for the “sadness disease”: “take two possums and call [the doctor] in the morning.” She finds and “kidnaps” the possums from their tree, but they decide to stay of their own will after getting to know her. When she went to tuck in their children, the young possums “were scared and lonely.”

I opened the window so that they could hear the cries of their children coming from the tree.
“Oh, that’s just the wind,” Willard said.
“Yes, the wind is so terribly sad,” said Womple.
“Yes,” I said, “it’s even sadder than me.”

In “Arizona” by Aaron Burch, his female companion is cleaning out “a rental car’s worth of life.” He helps her load everything into the dumpster but keeps a small ivory elephant figurine, emblematic of how much of worth comes in tiny packages – much like Quick Fiction itself. “I’ll keep it, that tiny elephant. I’ll make a place for it on my mantle, or maybe I’ll toss it on the table next to my door, right next to my keys and loose change.”

Whatever you do with your copy of Quick Fiction, keep the treasures it holds close to your heart.


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Red Line Blues coverRed Line Blues

Number 7

Spring 2010

Every few months

Review by Sara C. Rauch

I love a good theme. And what better theme is there for the current state of affairs than "lean times"?

In the middle of Red Line Blues 7, a lovely little saddle-stapled journal, with a linen-esque cover and hand-pulled screen print, there are three color reproductions of Charles Farrell's collage-like art: objects that don't belong together collide on the page and form something unexpected and harmonious, despite their disparities. I feel like Farrell's art is a good metaphor for what many in the US are doing right now, and what others around the world have been doing for ages—making something out of nothing.

Red Line Blues gathers together much good work between its covers. It features both poetry and prose, though more of the latter. Unlike other journals that distinguish between fiction and nonfiction, Red Line Blues does not, leaving the reader to conjecture over what is true within its pages, and what is not. Ultimately, it doesn't matter; the stories are well written and drew me right in.

My favorite piece was Blake Kimzey's story, "Torch," which relates the misadventures of Frank, a down-on-his-luck anti-hero, who, in order to support a drug addiction, is trying to arrange the sale of his mother’s home, currently occupied by his aging aunt who has Alzheimer's. His mother seems unable to fully stand up to Frank, and he has struck up an unorthodox relationship with the realtor. "Torch" propels itself along, using just the right amount of description and well-tuned dialogue, and at times is downright comical.

Jasmine Hunter's "How to Make an Easy Buck" follows a call girl through one night. Told in a clipped tone, it is completely unsentimental; like the narrator, this piece is unapologetic. But it is also a look into the sad, hidden lives of men and their desires, what they do in order to feel fulfilled. In the final scene, when danger looms large, the narrator's well-honed survival skills get her out unscathed. Despite some intimate revelations into what makes the narrator tick, the final sentence shows that she has no plans to change her lifestyle, as long as it serves her purposes.

Albert Podell's "Milk Money: Two Cows and the World Financial Crisis" is quite obviously fiction (though it is based on a true story). It is a hilarious satire on the global economy's recent meltdown. In the spirit of Orwell's Animal Farm, the main players here are two cows, named Elsie and Maybelle. Subprime mortgages, outsourcing, pipeline building, and water-boarding all make an appearance, and I was laughing out loud by the time I got to the end. It feels wonderful to have someone make me laugh about the dire state of the world.

Red Line Blues 7 ends with a prose poem from Laura Cronk, "Having Been Bitten," that perfectly captures the perpetual desire to purchase and own new things. Many of the lines begin "Wanting...", creating a rhythmic momentum. There is a beauty to this desire, despite its never-ending cycle. This is a beauty that is completely unlike the hodge-podge beauty I mentioned above, but they are not, as this journal shows us, unrelated.


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Redivider coverRedivider

Volume 7 Issue 1

Fall 2009


Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Redivider is published by graduate students in the Writing, Literature, and Publishing Department at Emerson College. I had not seen the journal before the current issue and, since this is the seventh volume, I realize I’ve missed out on six years of provocative writing and terrific and unusual artworks. This issue features new writing from established and lesser known fiction writers, essayists, and poets (several names stand out: Sherman Alexie, Dan Chaon, Franz Wright, Kevin Prufer, and Pablo Medina); photographs, drawings, and paintings, many both weird and wonderful, from 12 visual artists; an interview with fiction writer and essayist Alexander Chee; and five thoughtful book reviews. The journal also includes its “Quickie Award” winning fiction and poetry, selected by George Singleton and Rane Arroyo respectively.

The journal opens with the translation, by Khaled Mattawa, of four poems by Jordanian poet Amjad Nasser, a name as recognizable in Jordan (if not more so) as Franz Wright to US readers of poetry. These poems are marked by vivid, precise, yet somehow quiet images that leave an impression much greater than their elegance might suggest they will. Nasser is the master of understatement; these poems appear, on the surface, to depict small moments or scenes, but actually have much larger, more encompassing ambitions (none the least of which are class issues and war).

Sherman Alexie, who contributes both a short story and a poem, is, in typical fashion, not at all subtle, but his work is no less affecting or marvelously composed than Nasser’s. I like especially his poem, “Monosonnet for Colonialism, Interrupted” (“I am a man who loves cinematic gunfire and American poetry, if not equally, then with parallel passion.”). His short-short fiction, “License to Kill,” is both cleverly constructed and clever.

Nonfiction includes the work of Kate Russell, Jeff Porter, Catherine Reid, Michael Hemery, and Henry Ronan-Daniell, and explores quite a variety of subjects, from the way we write about history, to a personal story of befriending a former classmate with emotional/mental challenges. The essays are well-crafted, present voices I want to get to know, and avoid many of the pitfalls of contemporary creative nonfiction (sentimentality, over-telling, and smugness, among others).

Fiction, too, is strong, including Blake Butler’s, “Our Anniversary, Repeated,” with its funky form (boxed text, changing fonts, etc.), and its wind-blown, unconventional narrative. And the interview with Chee, who discusses the type of research he does for his fiction writing, is satisfying. I love his characterization of fact-based fiction that doesn’t become authentic as a “weird history karaoke.”

As noted earlier, I find much of the artwork to be odd and also oddly marvelous. Digital photos, oil paintings, mixed media works, and digital images by Enaer, Jeff Foster, Calamity Cole, Sarah Walko, Julie Kitzes, Joseph Sobel, John Oliver Hodges, Vladimir Vitkovsky, Cherri Wood, Nicolas Vallejos, Denise Hansen, Allen Jeffrey Thompson, Michael Garfield, and Marina Korenfeld. Not odd in the least, but arresting and beautiful are a black and white photo of a stout, squarely proportioned woman standing in front of a house in the snow, her look as bleak as the landscape (by Joseph Sobel) and Allen Jeffrey Thompson’s oil, pencil, and newsprint on linen “Harlem Pose,” the human figure blurry but vividly present and the newsprint on the walls (in Chinese) so meticulously rendered it seems real.


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Skidrow Penthouse coverSkidrow Penthouse

Issue Number 10

Spring 2009


Review by Xiao Palmer, Pacific University

Boasting content creepy – in the best possible sense of the word – enough to match the eyeless, button-mouthed citizens congregated across the cover, Skidrow Penthouse is a lovely, straightforward literary magazine of avant-garde grotesquery. Definitely not for the easily disturbed, this issue displays numerous splashy images of sexual amorphous nightmare creatures, visceral flash fiction, and poetry rife with primordial images of animals, colors, and traumatizing childhood experiences. Anorexia, the Holocaust, street life, abortion, insanity, and BDSM are all addressed, often in excruciatingly, darkly humorous ways.

Highlights include much of the poetry, but particularly Heller Levinson’s “Smelling Mermaid” (“argonautic jubilee splash / mint ragas / requisition forms rise from the groin of the sea”), with Simon Perchik’s “*”, and Maryhelen Snyder’s “Grey.” In the area of fiction, be sure to read Roberta Allen’s “Bad Things Will Happen If You Are Happy” (the concluding segment of the issue), and Biranel Thomas’s “The Gorgon And The Salamander,” the longest offering of all. Also worth a look are Guy R. Beining’s collection of stark collages, and both visual art pieces from Spiel.

Some pieces might be considered over-the-top or absurdly wrought, but it all adds to the atmosphere of a wonderful, twisted carnival; serious subjects are treated in a ludicrous manner and invoke thought. If this sort of ambience appeals to you (as it does me), this collection is well worth your time. Its economy of space and unusual 12-point font size serve Skidrow Penthouse well, and at 199 pages it is easy to digest in one or two sittings.


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specs coverspecs

Volume 2



Review by Cathy Kadooka, Pacific University

Specs presents itself as a journal of contemporary culture and arts. Each issue has a theme, and this one is “faux histories.” A brief introduction from the editor-in-chief explains the theme is inspired by the “Renaissance Wunderkammer or wonder cabinet,” and the hope is that this collection of pieces will “allow for an uneasy coexistence between the campy, the sentimental, the political, and the repulsive – a mobile archive of committed fakeries in print and digital form.”

Published annually, specs features poetry, short fiction, essays, drama, translations and visual art. The journal does not distinguish which essays are fiction, nonfiction or mixed genre, making it a little difficult at times for me, as I am a reader who likes to know what I am reading. But perhaps by keeping it vague, the editors entice a reader to imagine a fiction piece to be nonfiction, thus creating a “faux story” of her own.

What grabbed my attention at first were the essays on “faux histories.” The essays clarify theme and explore topics such as the Museum of Jurassic Technology, male pregnancy and outsider art. These at first seemed like typical critical writing to me, but by the end of each I was taken into fascinating realms that waver between dreams and reality.

All the pieces in this issue are engaging in their own way. Some poems play with format, which can be distracting at times, but in some cases the playfulness is highly effective. “Demo Noir [manifesto.1]” by Tristan Newcomb is a witty piece about a meeting that no one shows up to. It is relatable (who hasn’t sat in a meeting?) but fresh at the same time. It’s a nice spin on what could have been a boring topic. “Schizophrene” by Bhanu Kapil and Rohini Kapil is another piece that really caught my eye. An excerpt from a larger piece of work, the artists combined visual and lyrical to form a juxtaposition of creativity. The visual art is captivating, and I’m curious to know how others have interpreted the pieces.

Specs ends with a special excerpt from “Kamikaze Death Poetry.” The story of how these poems came to be published is bittersweet and ironic; they passed through many hands before finally being printed. These poems are raw and human in every sense.

All in all, specs is a journal that takes the reader on an in-depth adventure through its theme. With such a variety, every reader is bound to find something likable, and for 10 dollars you definitely get your money’s worth. The pieces push the reader to explore the unknown and perhaps focus on some “faux histories” of her or his own.


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Sugar House Review coverSugar House Review

Volume 1 Issue 1

Fall/Winter 2009


Review by Sima Rabinowitz

The inaugural issue of this self-defined “independent poetry magazine” presents the work of three dozen poets with no fanfare, pronouncements of intentions or predilections, no submission policy statement, no announcement of prizes or awards, no editorial commentary, and no explanation of its name. In fact, the only information about the journal appears at the end of the its 74 (small format) glossy pages: one page listing the four staff members and editorial address in Salt Lake City, UT and a note that the journal is published biannually; the other a “thank you” to the journal’s sponsor (“Thank you to our sugar daddy”), Nations Title Agency, Inc. in Midvale, Utah.

The Table of Contents shouts more loudly, nonetheless: Paul Muldoon, Natasha Sajé, Jerome Rothenberg, Richard Robbins, Rane Arroyo among the 35 contributors. If there is anything resembling a special feature, it would be three poems by the late Kenneth Brewer, poet laureate of Utah from 2003-06 and author of 10 books of poetry. “These poems helped push Sugar House from idea to reality,” the editors note quietly at the end of the series (the only time they insert themselves in the journal), and Brewer’s bio precedes all others in the bios section. Brewer’s poems recount the tale of “Fat Boy,” a poignant and heartbreaking story of a lousy childhood. “Father of War, Mother of Sorrow,” the final poem, is especially affecting, not a narrative like the poems that precede it, but a tremendously successful small lyric that brings the Fat Boy saga to a powerful conclusion:

Fat Boy would be the holy child
gone astray.
He would be made of rubber
for children
to throw at walls, bounce
down stairs.
He would be The Immense One Who Rolls.

The editors’ selections for this first issue reflect, happily, an eclectic and generous editorial stance, which allows for poems that demonstrate a range of poetry’s diverse possibilities, from small edgy narratives to more lyrically inclined efforts. I liked especially a poem by Michael McClane, “Carte-de-Visite #25: Outside Quincy, California,” which begins:

though not first death
not even the first by water
a current’s slow swallowing
with unhinged jaws
the peristalsis
you are the first that is only body

There are some family story poems, a few meditations on nature’s glories and capriciousness, some American-traveler-abroad-observes-the-strange-world poems, and some that are less easy to categorize, like Nanette Rayman Rivera’s memorable poem “One Potato, Two,” which begins:

I have an eye inside me
that has never been blinded. To life!
For it is a potato, it grows
in job orchards where eyes are there to grow
another potato. Once
my eyes went straight for
the heart of you; I scooped you up
and the surrounding city was like backhoe.

There is certainly more than enough in this first issue Sugar House Review to make me wonder what sweet surprises await me in future issues.


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Umbrella coverUmbrella

Issue 12

Winter 2009-10

Online Biannual

Review by Henry F. Tonn

As an inveterate online surfer, I often find that online poetry magazines too often present work that is puerile and pretentious, without music and without depth. I was, therefore, overjoyed when I discovered this literary journal which has been around for the past three years. It is a very attractive production which is well organized and publishes some first rate poetry.

I started off with the fall issue in which I found the most enjoyable poem I have read in the past year. Rose Kelleher’s “A Knight’s Tour” concerns a chess board problem in which she imbues the knight with anthropomorphic qualities and immerses him in time, symbolism, and rebirth. The creativity here is simply topflight, with plays on words, and Jorge Borges is smiling from his grave in Argentina. The editor, demonstrating excellent discernment, has nominated the poem for a Pushcart Prize.

In the same issue is a brief essay by Don Kunz entitled “Slammed,” in which the author takes slam poetry to task. He writes, “But slam’s rapid-fire rap rhythms are tediously predictable, and the couplet rhyme scheme turns ideas into blunt greeting-card pronouncements. So, call it verse. Don’t call it poetry.”

Moving forward to the winter issue, editor Kate Benedict allows for a point-counterpoint by publishing an excellent slam poem by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, with all the rap rhythm and in-your-face aggression indigenous to the style. But there is sensitivity also – the end product probably being a few notches above what Mr. Kunz may have heard at his slam festival. A snippet:

Because there is poetry here, every cracked voice,
every stutter, every stumble is poetry. Every
shaky piece of paper held by shaky hands,
every nervous laugh, every awkward pause: poetry.

The featured poet in this issue is Cati Porter with six poems and an entertaining interview. The author is also a painter and enamored with Modigliani, consequently several of her poems have a lovely sensual quality emanating from his nude studies:

I lean away as if posing with my eyes closed
will avert your gaze,
though because my face is in shadow
you are drawn
to my breasts
pressed upon the foreground.

This lit mag calls itself “The supremely rereadable electronic journal,” and based on a perusal of the last two issues, they are right. Unfortunately, they are cutting back from quarterly to biannually, which is lamentable. This kind of quality should be available quarterly.


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Zone 3 coverZone 3

Volume 24 Number 2

Fall 2009


Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Some lovely, carefully crafted and enticing work here, including poems by Joan I. Siegel, Lynnell Edwards, and Kate Gleason, as well marvelous hybrid work (verse, prose poem, prose) by Nancy Eimers, and Christina Mengert, who is interviewed by Amy Wright. Wright’s questions are provocative (“Do you have recurring dreams?”). Mengert’s responses to Wright’s questions are as captivating as the excerpts from her piece, “Anatomy of Ascent.” Of the reference to “true things” that appears in the work, Mengert says:

I imagined truth to be a kind of prison – a word or idea used to restrict the freedom of another person, to lock them into a specific world-view, to make their thoughts and actions predictable somehow…And yet…the word is not the thing…The line, ‘I never meant to care about true things’ I suppose I offer as a kind of confession: from an intellectual mistrust of the word and its use, an anxiety about these kinds of ideas in my own work, to a recognition of something transcendent which bears the word truth on its back because we do not have a word sufficient to the task of revealing this thing.

Wright also interviews poetry star Rae Armantrout (three of her poems appear here as well). More provocative questions and answers. Armantrout’s poems, typically, are cryptic, cautious, deceptively small (tiny lines, large spheres of meaning).

Nonfiction is intelligent and distinctive, including Brenda Miller’s clever meditation on the word (and object) “tongue,” and Carrie Shipper’s “Ghost Traffic,” which really is about a phenomenon called “ghost traffic.” Miller, too, is interviewed by Amy Wright. More clever repartee here (on the tongue theme).

Four short stories round out the issue, including “Remarkable” by Dina Cox, a story one can’t help but wanting to read as it begins, “When I was nine years old, I watched my grandfather burn down the family business.”


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5x5 cover5x5

Winter 2009


Review by Sara C. Rauch

Don’t let its diminutive packaging fool you: 5x5 packs a punch. Five poets and one visual artist (not counting the cover photo) packed into a saddle-stapled 5x5 journal that somewhat resembles a CD sleeve. It’s perfect to tuck into your pocket and share with others over coffee.

The theme for the Winter 2009 issue is “Loud.” But, as it says in the "From the Editor," loud is not just about noise: "I also remembered during the '80s my mother favored wearing loud tropical prints... I noticed 'loud' creeping into other words, 'cLOUD' which did not seem noisy at all." I love this appreciation of language, this willingness to explore the boundaries of words and ideas.

"Ten Inch Guns," by Ian Denning is the only fiction piece featured, and it plays interestingly with sound and the absence of sound. Taken from the point of view of a (military?) officer in training, the story is full of background noise: fellow officers shouting in a false Scottish brogue, a Sergeant walking down the line of bunks for inspection, a bucket of tools falling. All these sounds swirl around and through the narrator's head, but they don't seem to penetrate. In the final scene, the narrator, whose father is a fisherman, compares the sound and feeling of firing "the big gun" to being "thrust into deep water and just as suddenly withdrawn." The ever-present noise, and then lack thereof, contributes greatly to this short story's success.

The first nonfiction piece, "Petition the City" by Jonathan W. Sodt, deals with "loud" in the standard noisy way, but it's dramatic climax makes it a fun read. The second nonfiction piece, "Synonyms" by Nathan Burgoine deals with "loud" in a more subtle way, as in the expression "living life out loud." In it, the narrator struggles with whether or not to reveal his sexuality, and recent marriage, to a customer he has known for a long time. A reformed stutterer, Burgoine uses his life-long reliance on synonyms to capture the internal struggle of what gets spoken what does not: "I'm back in the linguistic minefield of my youth, this time not avoiding sounds but pronouns and titles."

My favorite use of "loud" is in Jenni B. Baker's poem "the german living on my couch." It's a short number, so I can't quote it without giving it away, but it might be the first time I've ever heard of someone described as smelling "loud." Baker has two other poems featured here, and they explore sound and memory and sound and knowledge. The other poetry selection, "Cockroach" by Ryler Dustin, is a poem that is beautiful despite its disgusting subject matter. What's worse than a cockroach? Having to kill a cockroach. The thought makes my skin crawl. Yet, Dustin manages in two stanzas to make the act a work of art.

5x5 certainly leaves a taste for more. It's compressed size means two things: there are no wasted words here, and I want more. Also, subscriptions are free for high school students, which is laudable, to say the least.


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