Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted July 16, 2010

Alaska Quarterly Review :: The Asian American Literary Review :: Blue Earth Review :: Bombay Gin :: Carpe Articulum :: Fringe :: Gargoyle :: get born :: Glimmer Train :: Literal :: Lumina :: The New Quarterly :: The Orange Coast Review :: Oyez Review :: Quiddity :: Salmagundi :: Sentence :: Stone Canoe :: West Wind Review

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Alaska Quarterly Review coverAlaska Quarterly Review

Volume 27 Numbers 1&2

Spring/Summer 2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Guest editor Amy Hempel selected the work of 21 writers for the issue’s special “Innovative Fiction” focus. She looked for work that was “new,” but also new to the author (poets writing fiction; fiction writers experimenting with memoir forms). And she sought work “that was visceral and visual, that joins nerve and insight, that is darkly funny, that does not back away from compassion…and that amplifies the possibilities of what a story can be.”

Many of the selections are short-shorts or sudden fiction, works of under two to three pages (stories by Peter Marcus, Paola Peroni, Daryl Scroggins, John Rybicki, Katie Arnold-Ratliff, Robert Lopez, Michael Ahn, Nick Falgout, Anna DeForest, Patricia Volk, Christopher Kennedy, Bernard Cooper). Longer stories, too, are quite short, under four pages (by Julia Slavin, Megan Mayhew-Bergman, Joe Stracci, Bernard Cooper). Bayhew-Bergman’s “The Social Life of Mice” and Stracci’s “Mirrors” and “The Day Before Christmas Eve” are the only stories with an unconventional appearance on the page, all three consist of short prose fragments separated by asterisks.

“The Social Life of Mice” is a quirky tale of unusual communication:

We had one rule at the dinner table. We could have complete honesty if we talked through the dog. We could speak without consequence. But when Jack died, our marriage stalled out like my father’s ’47 Dodge project truck.
Jack, I’d say. Tell Brad that when he comes home late without calling, I think about leaving him.
Jack, Brad would say. The thing is when Breck thinks about leaving, she’s already been thinking about it for other reasons.

Peter Markus also gives us a story (“Girl”) about an odd form of communication:

Us brothers, we love the sound of that word girl so much that one day, out of nowhere, we start calling everything that we see, girl. Let’s go, girl, we say, to each other. Let’s go down to the girl, one of us brothers will go to the other, and to the river is where we go. Let’s catch us some girl, the other brother will say then to this, and we’ll grab us our fishing poles and a muddy bucket of worms and into the river us brothers fish.

Robert Lopez, too, focuses on communication in his short-short “Chop Suey”: “Blind Betty says people in New York City used to call Chinese food chop suey instead of calling it Chinese food like everyone else in the world.”

And Bernard Cooper is also preoccupied with language. He begins, “I’ve long been fascinated with last words. They seem to compress a person’s entire history into an epigrammatic diamond.” Cooper’s story, like Tuck’s, reads more like a memoir, and the earnest voices stand in sharp contrast to many of the others you’ll find here.

Sudden fiction often seems just the right vehicle for odd or unsettling voices, which turns out to be the case for many of these pieces. Here are brief excerpts from DeForest’s brief “I Had it Out”:

I was bleeding then, but not in the way I meant to be. Pregnancy was going around. My sister caught it from some husband she’d been consistently, covertly borrowing. She called me the day before she had the thing sucked out.

And here’s the opening of Rybicki’s “Quarter”: "I place a quarter on the street where it pools and spreads. Then I go swimming inside silver. Some days I slide my quarter under a burning house so the house sinks into water and the fire hisses and pops."

A tremendously clever, entertaining, and long (nearly 90 pages!) essay, “How to Write a Good Sentence: A Manual for Writers Who Know How to Write Correct Sentences,” by ninety-one-year-old literary scholar Arnold G. Nelson, follows the innovative fiction section. Nelson gives examples of “good sentences” from dozens of writers (Roth, Twain, McPhee, Vidal, Least Heat Moon, Emerson, Stein) and publications (“The New Yorker good sentence”), with witty explanations and commentary. This is a truly wonderful and original piece (whether or not you agree with Nelson’s examples)!

Eighteen poets join Nelson and the fiction writers in this volume of AQR. Doug Ramspeck’s “School Yard” is representative in many ways, work poems rich in detail; comprehensible (which is to say not deliberately opaque), yet poetically minded (deliberately crafted language, syntax that demands attention):

The girls by the brick wall, smoking.
The gone teachers. The blackboards
inside the dark windows.

I especially liked Heather Kirn’s “The Peace Dome,” which, like many of the short fiction works cited above, ponders the meaning of language:

The bomb left one building.
The city left it standing

This is a steeple
for a demon I did not know
I had. What language
is left to pray with? Some elders
wish the building razed.

[www.uaa.alaska.edu/aqr]

 

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The Asian American Literary Review coverThe Asian American Literary Review

Volume 1 Issue 1

Spring 2010

Biannual

Review by Karen Rigby

The inaugural issue of The Asian American Literary Review – whose mission is to form “a space for writers who consider the designation ‘Asian American’ a fruitful starting point for artistic vision and community” features an interview with Karen Tei Yamashita; three book reviews; poetry; and prose that often concerns individuals confronted by personal shortcomings.

The journal begins by evaluating the term Asian American, along with the struggle of Asian American literary journals that have, in the words of the editors, “burned hot but short.” Should it matter whether contributors claim South Asian, East Asian, or Pacific Islander backgrounds? Whether they are second- or third- generation, or half-Asian? Must their writings derive from autobiographical material, draw cultural inferences, or employ specifically Asian poetic forms to be considered “Asian enough”? AALR does not seek conclusive answers to questions of this nature, nor does it attempt to prescribe who Asian American writers must be, nor what they must write. Instead, the reader is offered the views of authors David Mura, Ru Freeman, and Alexander Chee in an introductory forum – a welcome change from the more common Editor’s Note or preface.

The journal distinguishes itself from others which frequently cover Asian literature (such as Asia Literary Review, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, and Manoa) by adding another dimension. Several of these journals feature writers in translation or writers who currently reside in Asia; AALR, similar to Kartika Review, is especially interested in the plurality that exists within the U.S. Ru Freeman writes:

Asian American writing […] is the writing of negotiation and activism. It is the writing of many tongues which transforms the common English language which unites us, and creates something new about the language itself. It is not a matter of it being a new world but rather of refining – or even bastardizing – but ultimately transforming the tool we use to describe that world and of learning to wield it with a sure and distinctive panache.

The choice to feature a wider selection from fewer poets is particularly commendable. Like miniature chapbooks, these groupings reveal decisive arrangements as well as a marked thematic coherence. They include an epistolary series by Oliver de la Paz; a nineteen-page poem by Paisley Rekdal that twines memories of a relationship with scenes from Lisbon; three food poems as well as a poem narrated from the perspective of an Iraqi “Bodywasher” by Mông-Lan; Cathy Song’s take on gender disparity in a Benihana restaurant; eight poems by April Naoko Heck, some of which recall a grandmother’s experiences in Hiroshima; and poems by Eugene Gloria, Nick Carbó, and David Woo.

The prose section reinterprets familiar events, from a brief recollection of childhood music lessons (“Gus”) to a story about gathering for Chinese New Year (“Chinese New Year”), both by Ed Lin; considers Japanese social mores in the context of marriage, cohabitation, and gay relationships (“Compartment Comportment,” Marie Matsuki Mockett); and, in a story by David Mura, highlights the contrast between “The Orient Express” (a man who leads the seemingly intoxicating life of a Vegas gambler) and the narrator who faces marital problems and the burden of his brother’s memory. Other entries include work by Sonya Chung, Gary Pak, Brian Ascalon Roley and Hasanthika Sirasena.

Given the journal’s focus, some readers might expect the poems and stories to use hybrid forms as a means for exploring multiple languages/cultures. The actual contents are relatively straightforward evocations of Freeman’s call to “create something new,” but nevertheless present a strong debut.

Among the standouts is Oliver de la Paz’s aforementioned series. His six “Dear Empire” poems detail the aftermath of an unspecified, nearly apocalyptic event with an eerie, pensive lyricism that is well-worth delving into. Like the best of AALR’s works, they subtly reinforce that past traumas, no matter their scale, need not diminish a speaker’s resolve:

The buoy near the furthest atoll is a constant. Red light. None. Red light. None.
The boats are moored against their own destruction. They pitch like restless
horses. We, from the shore, are nervous. We, from the shore, are listening for
the lighthouse. We listen for its shine.

[www.aalrmag.org/]

 

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Blue Earth Review coverBlue Earth Review

Volume 8 Issue 2

Spring 2010

Biannual

Review by Lesley Dame

Published by Minnesota State University at Mankato, Blue Earth Review is a stellar compilation of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. This happy threesome is fresh and enjoyable. There’s no niche. No artwork other than the cover. No crazy long commentaries by editors. Therefore, why go on and on about this journal’s vision? No reason as far as I can see. Let’s jump right in.

The poetry in this issue is wonderful. It’s difficult to pick a favorite, but here goes. There’s a poem called “Sauce” (Anna Clair Hodge) that has me enraptured. It begins with a description of a sauce that includes strawberries, balsamic vinegar, and pecorino cheese. Being a food enthusiast, I was hooked from the start. Halfway down the first page there’s a snowstorm, and the speaker is injured in a skiing accident. Then there’s another shift to the speaker cooking for her lover and the lover kissing her out of a sense of obligation. Finally, it miraculously ends in these last beautiful lines:

Or how when a stray dog,
one eye gone, found us
on the porch, you held her,
stroked her, said good girl,
sweet girl, most beautiful
girl in the world.

And suddenly I realized this is one of the most interestingly bittersweet, hopeful love poems I’ve ever read. The speaker is awed by the lover’s tenderness. There may have been a stray dog, but let’s admit it. The stray, injured dog is the speaker. We know from the ski accident that the speaker has been hurt. She even says she is “Hurt, / and sad for having fallen, / for not having been more.” But we also know from the last few lines that the lover is her redemption. Why s/he felt obliged to kiss the speaker earlier in the poem, we know not. But maybe that was just the beginning, the first step in a love that would blossom. We do know that the lover will accept her brokenness. It’s what we all want from our partner – unconditional love. To say so much in a meandering poem about sauce and snow and stray dogs is what I call spectacular.

On to fiction. There’s one fiction piece and four flash fiction contest winners. For my part, I’d like to have seen more fiction or longer pieces spread throughout the magazine. However, some of the flash fiction is really good. First place winner “Reverse Triggers” by Matt Siegel is a disturbing account of a mother who finds a particularly alarming folder on the family computer. The folder, as well as her daughter’s diary, details a sickening history of her daughter’s eating disorder, including pictures of “thinspiration” (women weighing as little as sixty-three pounds), pictures of “pregnant women and the grossly obese,” and entries detailing daily food intake consisting of cigarettes and sugarless gum. Not to mention the closet full of vomit jars and diet pills. Gross, disgusting, disturbing, and alarming are just not up to snuff in describing what I’m feeling right now. In fact, I have no words for this. This piece makes me feel so sick to my stomach that I know it must be good. When the mother confronts the daughter, the daughter slits her wrists, yet lives, and later goes on to therapy, gaining weight and finding happiness. But the mother keeps the folder as a reminder of what they have to be happy about. It’s a horrible kind of reminder, but no doubt effective.

Last, but not least, is the nonfiction. As an editor and avid reader looking for fresh, new nonfiction pieces, I’m often disappointed. I don’t want to read someone’s journal entry, and I don’t want to read a newspaper article. I’m sure you don’t either. Like me, you’re looking for something between too personal and too formal, and you want it to retain literary integrity. The two nonfiction pieces and one undergraduate contest winner for prose are marked by great description and dialogue as well as thoughtful and relatable introspection. My favorite is “First Kitchen” by Dionisia Morales. It describes the first date she and her future partner embark on. They sit in his kitchen with wet hair and ruddy cheeks, she wearing his oversized clothes. Anyone would believe they had just made love. But they had been hiking and were caught in a rainstorm – she is waiting for her clothes to dry, he is making dinner. It’s a short piece. It’s not that anything momentous happens. It’s that years from this first date, the author will remember this moment from their past as the beginning of something unknown. She says

I detected no sign of the mortgage we would eventually struggle to pay or the mountains of diapers we would one day change. There was no hint of how waking up naked and safe in each other’s arms would become bittersweet with the responsibilities of children, work and household chores.

Like “Sauce,” this love story is bittersweet and tender.

Blue Earth Review is a place for poetry lovers. The fiction and nonfiction are good but sparse. The introduction of contest winners and young writers is also refreshing and encouraging. But think to your tastes. For me, it tastes good. Dog-eared and spine-broken, there’s a space on my bookshelf for Blue Earth Review.
[http://www.mnsu.edu/blueearth/]

 

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Bombay Gin coverBombay Gin

Volume 36 Number 1

2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This issue is dedicated – in a trend that is becoming increasingly (happily) noticeable in literary magazines of all kinds – to translation, and reflects the editors’ efforts to “sharpen Bombay Gin’s focus.” The Translation Portfolio includes versions from the Navajo of Frank Mitchell’s “17 Horse Songs” by Jerome Rothenberg and an accompanying essay; an interview with Zhang Er, followed by poems of hers translated from the Chinese; an interview with Chilean poet Cecilia Vicuña, followed by her work; as well as poems, ancient and contemporary, translated from Japanese, Finnish, and French.

The translation of Navajo singer Mitchell’s work is fascinating. The verse is strange to the eye and the ear, but Rothenberg’s essay is enlightening and I would recommend reading it before tackling the poems/songs. His essay concludes with a consideration of the larger implications of translation: “Translation is carry-over. It is a means of delivery & of bringing to life. It begins with a forced change of language, but a change too that opens up the possibility of greater understanding…a full & total experience begins it, which only a total translation can fully bring across.”

Suzanne DuLany’s interview with Zhang Er, author of three collections of poetry and six chapbooks in Chinese, is equally informative and worthwhile. Here is the poet’s description of the way translation has influenced her thinking about poetry in its original language: “You realize that one language expresses ideas a certain way, and your language in another way. You become aware of your language, in terms of the possibilities of human consciousness.” I liked very much Er’s poetry, with which I was not familiar, and Martine Bellen’s translation reads like an original, seamless and natural, as in these excerpts from Because of Mountain:

Prelude (1)
What kind of switch outside anticipation
Illuminates the dream?
The road reaching there branches –
Only because through a window there is scenery:
mountains suspended on the wall
with maddening meticulousness
embroider every tree, every layer of sediment.

One of the aspects of Bellen’s translation I find most intriguing is the choice of the word “switch.” While I do not question the words “dream” or “window,” are more precise and concrete, “switch” is more nuanced and leaves room to ponder what the original might actually signify. This is what Er means, I think, about the way the language demonstrates what is possible in our consciousness, and thinking about these nuances and ambiguities is part of what makes reading translations such a rich experience.

DuLany interviews Vicuña, too, who also ponders the way poetry works to carry over from one culture/language to another: “if you believe in the multidimensional nature of reality, the bridges between them becomes apparent. It is not just one bridge, but many…for true poetry to take place, you have to allow for the unknown.”

In addition to the Translation Portfolio, this issue features new writing; a portfolio of visual arts (film stills); the transcription of audiotapes from the Naropa Institute, the journals’ publisher; and book reviews. New writing (poetry and prose) begins with a wonderful excerpt from Elsewhere by Scott Alexander Jones, which opens with these lines:

There isn
t a word
for the murmur of wind
caught in a vacant
stairwell.
The secrets we keep from ourselves
on the outskirts
of
anywhere but here –
How we never settled
on a middle
Name
for the child

Jones captures the essential challenge and work of poetry – and of translation – in his first line, it seems to me, the way in which the poet must disturb my expectation of the natural order of things, while still making meaning; the effort to find a way to express the unique experience that defies description when a single word does not exist to denote it; the importance of naming…and of not naming.
[www.naropa.edu/bombaygin]

 

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Carpe Articulum coverCarpe Articulum

Volume 3 Issue 2

Summer 2010

Quarterly

Review by Terri Denton

This hefty issue of Carpe Articulum begins with an account of David Hoffman’s Pulitzer Prize winning nonfiction book, The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy, from the author, himself a writer for the Washington Post, and an interviewer. There are so many secrets detailed in this issue that one can imagine just how explosive the book itself is. As Ted Hoffman relates, both from the book and from his interviewee,

Hoffman’s vastly revised narrative has few conventional heroes or villains – there are some, as a scenario strewn with politicians, military men and scientists must – but mostly introduces us to complex people trying to deal with appallingly complex issues, many unknown until Hoffman pulled them from deep shadows.
As Hoffman puts in his book: “After the Soviet collapse in 1991, new and unexpected threats surfaced almost immediately. Rickety trains hauled nuclear warheads back from Eastern Europe and Central Asia into Russia; tons of highly enriched uranium and plutonium lay unguarded in warehouses; microbiologists and nuclear bomb designers were in desperate straits.”

This is terrifying, but it is nothing in comparison with the revelations in this article, and in The Dead Hand. I’m tempted to run to the bookstores right now.

In Joseph A. Soldati’s poem, “Hungry Hawks,” we are compared to the feared birds of prey: “Pity these predators / so hungry in the lying green world. / Yet desire is in all of us, / craving not the same / as having, and hope as hard / to find as warmth from a dying sun / in the winter’s south.” It’s a fully realized poem, starting with one predator, and ending with another, more metaphoric one, for we are not always predatory, unlike Hungry Hawks.

In Christine Chiosi’s poem Pink Building in Valparaiso, the beauty of the first part, along with the sadness of the second, create an astonishing piece of work. To do it justice here, I’d have to transcribe the entire poem. Instead, I’ll give you just a few tantalizing lines: “Gracious woman facing the sea – / In your many eyes I witness / eternity, bending around the bay’s reflection.” Now, doesn’t that make you want to know what’s next? It should.

Another poem is just as surprising, in this issue, both for its depth, and for the age of its creator: 14. Angelina Mercedes Broscova’s words in Cleave are bursting with future potential. To wit:

My uncle showed me the golden sun
How it would always warm my face –
Chasing away the shadows inside,
And leaving happiness in its wake.
He taught me my importance:
A silver moon in an inky sky –
Waxing in his presence
And waning in goodbye.
The colours he revealed in me
Are fading now to grey
Because his journey’s just beginning
And I’m left waving by the bay

It’s a heartfelt and profound poem for such a young girl, and it’s amazing.

In “The Waiter,” a short story, Annabel Alderman explores the infidelities of a husband. Writes Alderman,

In short, he went free. There was not enough freedom to warrant his sharing some of it with me.
Here a disruptive tone will begin to discolor this ignoble history, and my bitter recriminations at having been finally rejected will come to light. Waiting is sorry enough a life’s work, but the added dimension of distraught frenzy transforms its soapy drama to stunted burlesque.

I loved this story for Alderman’s words, akin to Hemingway and Nabokov’s writing.

“My Moment” by Marilyn Carrie Urso is a tale of love lost, guilt, and sense of betrayal. When her husband is attacked by bees and goes into what the narrator believes is anaphylactic shock, Urso tells us,

I pulled the cloth off the table and covered his shaking body and kneeled next to him while deciding what to do.
Was this the miracle I’d been waiting for? I could simply walk out to the yard and return in thirty minutes. He’d probably be dead by then or have reached the point of no return. Instead, I called 911.

It’s a chilling paragraph, and not only for its almost-murderer. Is it fight or flight that compels the psyche to do what it will?

Finally, and fittingly so, there is Wesley Alan Morton’s “Sam Bones and the Butterflies.” A writer by profession, the character Bones is a fascinating example. Writes Morton,

Sam’s only poem meticulously recreated the final minutes of his unbroken heart.
… the last sun rays fading into the silhouette of purple mountains in the west. The gathering darkness and thunderheads converging over head. The fresh blades of ant-flecked grass on the hill where they lay. Her scent of lavender in the autumn air. The tangle of wiry branches and shaking, patchwork leaves above their supine bodies. The sudden, tight squeeze of her trembling hand in his. Her spellbound eyes fixed on the setting sun and the blazing colors of red, orange, yellow in the clouds. Whipping winds of the coming tempest.

The last paragraph of this story, involving the butterflies of its title, will leave you smiling and wondrous.

I absolutely loved this journal. It has just about everything you could want from a literary magazine: poems, short stories, interviews, photos, and more. It will leave you wanting more. And, just as I am contemplating the subscription card, you may do so yourself.
[www.CarpeArticulum.com]

 

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Fringe logoFringe

Issues 20, 21, 22

Fall 2009, Winter 2010, Spring 2010

Online Quarterly

Review by Henry F. Tonn

This lit mag has a manifesto: “We worry about the state of modern literature. We worry that it’s too realist, monolithic, corporate, print-bound and locked in its own bubble…We think literature is a place to safely explore controversial and unpleasant topics and unfamiliar points of view.” Online magazine websites are vastly different in structure, and I found this one a bit difficult to negotiate in the beginning, but there are many gems to be discovered.

The fiction varies a great deal in style and subject matter. I liked “Hunters” by Kate Russell, an arresting story about a widow who lives alone in the far reaches of the Maine woods and rents out a house by the lake to hunters. She watches with detachment as they bumble around, and she waits for the inevitable tragedy, which occurs. “The Last Moonshiner” by Lydia Ship is about a visit to Appalachia to see Popcorn Sutton, the last moonshiner, who is notoriously ornery, lives in a wooden shack, is dying of cancer, chain smokes, and greets people with a sign that says, “No Smoking Outside.” She gets on his good side by wearing a goat suit (??) and bringing him lots of Pall Malls.

In the nonfiction, Amy Clark’s “Someone Else’s Ivy” is so entertaining I thought it was fiction. It’s about her term as a “professional milk steamer” in a café in Harvard Square, Cambridge, the variety of kids she supervised, the management, and the staff’s contentious disagreements with the powers-that-be. In the section labeled “Criticism” Reshma Melwani writes a thorough and scathing indictment in “Education as Alienation” of the European colonial educational system in Africa. He lists a number of books on the subject and concludes, “‘Educating’ the Africans, to the colonizers, meant stripping these once well adjusted people of their identities, and filling their minds with doubt and dislike for their own culture.”

Besides these four categories, there is also poetry, “longer poetry,” art, something called “(de)Classified,” and “Vintage Fringe.” I also can’t resist mentioning their blog which recently offered “Taking Note” by Jill D, about an article in The New Yorker concerning the marginalia (notes and underlinings scrawled in books) of such luminaries as Jack Kerouac and William Coleridge, as found in the New York Public Library’s collection.

This is an active, lively website with new material presented all the time and archival literature easily accessible. Give it a quick exploration and perhaps you’ll linger a while, and return.
[www.fringemagazine.org/]

 

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Gargoyle coverGargoyle

55

2009

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Gargoyle is a fat annual published in Arlington, Virginia. At nearly four hundred pages, this large volume of work is surprisingly consistent in tone, which, for the most part, tends toward the sardonic and distanced, rich in contemporary imagery, with edgy and provocative openings, and social, political, and cultural implications to varying degrees. This issue presents the work of nearly 70 poets, 5 nonfiction writers, two and a half dozen fiction writers, and two photographers, whose black and white photos include landscapes and close-ups of animals.

Michele Brafman’s story, “Washing the Dead,” provides an example of the tone that is prevalent throughout the issue:

No melodrama here, my grown daughter needs to know what I’ve done, and she needs to know now, today, this second, to save her from her genetically flawed impulses. Since there are no words for my shame, I dream up my biopic while I wait for her outside the Great Wolf Lodge, the premier waterpark of the Wisconsin Dells.

Like most of the work in the issue, Brafman earns respect for her narrator’s stance by unfolding a story worth telling with enough surprises and genuine emotion to balance the elements of sarcasm, irony, wit, and skepticism. Ronald Wallace’s poem “Dress Right Dress” works in much the same way:

The winners of a war need not admit
the least responsibility. History
applauds them. It’s why we fight so hard
when victory has fled into another country,
changed its name and started
up its whole old life anew.

as do the poems “On reading the Bible backwards” (with its backward verse) by Claudia Putnam; “Chastity Belt Lesson,” by Traci Brimhall; and “Disappear” by Ann Malaspina; along with stories by Lisa Vogel, Steve Pastis, and Susan Smith Nash, among many others.

There is a considerable number of pieces which treat the theme of war, which seems entirely appropriate to me, given current global realities, among them are Peter Moore’s poem “Airborne Leaflet Propaganda,” which narrates a soldier’s perspective from a foxhole and Paul Sohar’s poem “War Bread” (“after this war there will be another war / eating the soil without baking it into / bread and the soil will be lapping up / toxic crumbs scattered by loaves of / bread clouds from an oven we used to / call the sky”).

A highlight of the issue is Jordan Okumura’s “Descent,” a short personal essay, beautifully written and tremendously moving. The essay opens: “We are stones in each other’s shoes, Grandpa;” and concludes:

Trauma and rivers of blood that carry memory. Fear as fond as touch and resilient and present and speaking. The dialogue of fear and the body is a heated mess. His tongue flicking maybe the top of his mouth. No language. Instead he invaded the room with the fierce body of a child before words.

Gargoyle’s cover features a photo that is whimsical and fun, but the content is serious and seriously fine.
[www.gargoylemagazine.com]

 

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get born coverget born

the uncensored voice of motherhood

Spring 2010

Quarterly

Review by Lesley Dame

As a woman entering an age in life when motherhood is a main area of interest and concern, I was excited and intrigued by the idea of a magazine titled get born and dedicated to “the uncensored voice of motherhood.” The title of this magazine alone is reminiscent of certain phrases like get lost and get bent. I must say, I was very hopeful.

get born is a motherhood magazine with attitude. If you’re looking for a goo-goo ga-ga read about the glories and exultations of motherhood, move on. This magazine is for real people, real mothers, real women. As editor Heather Janssen states in her opening letter, “few of our essays end happily. They do, however, end well.” This isn’t a happy-go-lucky parenting magazine. It’s a place for women to read about other women’s stories. Motherhood isn’t just about cute little babies. It’s about marriage and divorce, adoption and fertility issues, labor and what comes after, aka the rest of your life. It’s a magazine that, in my opinion, is a sort of therapy for women experiencing all the trials and tribulations of motherhood. Share your story. Learn from others. And no matter what, laugh.

The Spring Issue of get born is titled Scars, Healing & Hope. It explores both the physical and emotional scars of womanhood. The cover of this short magazine is a photograph of Laurie White baring her naked chest, which is flat and scarred from a mastectomy (photograph by G. Mark Lewis). “Marks of Motherhood” shows several photographs of women’s stretched and scarred bellies. From stretch marks and mastectomy scars to divorce and unsuccessful adoptions, scars are a continual part of our lives, and healing begins by accepting and sharing our scars. Janssen asks “In the end, what do we gain if we don’t tell the truth about our pain?” The articles and essays that follow begin to tell this emotional truth.

Don’t get me wrong; get born isn’t depressing. While it’s a place where women can admit their weaknesses and fears, like finding their children annoying and wanting to scream at them or finally just giving up on a dead-end marriage, it’s also a place of celebration and acceptance. In “Lay off the Parents Already,” Karen Maezen Miller writes: “Parenthood is nonstop personal transformation. We can’t figure it out because we can’t figure it out! It’s not Sudoku, you know.” Her message is two-fold. To the media constantly telling us how we should be parenting and that we’re bad parents if we’re not hanging on their every word – SHUT UP! And to parents – it’s okay; you don’t have to be perfect. Accept yourself, and ignore those busybodies.

Miller’s article is frustrated, but funny. And there’s more humor to be had. One article titled “I’m Bringing Sexy Back” (Heather Schichtel) is about a woman planning a romantic evening for her and her husband, only to fall asleep on the couch in her flannel pajamas before he arrives. Another light-minded section is the centerfold “Haiku Extravaganza,” which is chock full of readers’ haikus, some good, some bad, but all relatable and fun to read.

While most of the articles in get born are interesting, the best, most interesting, and most well-written one is called “Granny in the House” (Leslie Darby-Zhao). Darby-Zhao is an American woman who married a Chinese man, moved to China, and had a baby. Not wanting to offend her new family, and wanting desperately to fit into the Chinese culture, Darby-Zhao agrees to have her mother-in-law move in to help take care of the baby. It’s a Chinese custom, and is probably the last thing most of us American women would ever want to transpire. But Darby-Zhao makes the most of it. While her mother-in-law is over-bearing – bundling her little one in several layers on a sunny day or refusing to throw out any unused shredded lettuce – she’s also an experienced mother herself, and her constant residency means young mom can actually take showers during the day! More seriously, Darby-Zhao writes

And so, being a mother immersed in Chinese culture, I now see that one can become intellectually and financially independent from one’s parents but still invite them to be a part of one’s household, which, best case scenario, provides children with another generational layer of love and nurture on a daily basis.

A good lesson to learn.

get born is versatile. It’s sarcastic and humorous. It’s serious and thoughtful. It’s a short mag, and not necessarily in the vein of traditional literary publications, but it fills a niche. If you’re a mom, mom-to-be, or just interested in women’s maternal issues, get born is a good place to get the true uncensored story.
[getbornmag.com]

 

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Glimmer Train coverGlimmer Train

Issue 75

Summer 2010

Quarterly

Review by Terri Denton

In this issue of Glimmer Train, there is an interview with Andrew Porter by Trevor Gore. Porter is the author of The Theory of Light and Matter, a collection of short stories, recently published by Vintage/Knopf that won the 2007 Flannery O’Connor Award in Short Fiction. He’s also won far too many accolades for me to mention here, except to say that he’s a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, which put him up a notch in my view.

When asked by Gore, “All of the stories in your collection […] are written in the first person. What advantages do you feel first person affords you?” Porter’s response is revelatory. He answers, in part, that

Of course, sometimes your best advantage comes from keeping everyone in the dark. In my story “Coyotes,” you have a situation where the narrator’s father goes on extended trips. I deliberately kept it ambiguous as to what the father is doing. Because the narrator’s longing for him comes across even stronger as a result of this ambiguity. […] that deepest sense of longing that we can all relate to, that feeling that transcends the story itself.

I found Porter’s words so affecting that I resolved to try to convey this sense on my own.

Rivka Galchen’s “Jake’s Rib” is a standout amongst these stories. The unnamed narrator, who works at a restaurant, after her parents’ argument about restaurant owner Jake’s hanging a spoon on his nose, and what it means, speaks;

No simple reason, except for the that simplest reason of all reasons, just because they’re there, hanging out in my mind like the way copper pots dangle decoratively uselessly, in some kitchens, sun glinting off them chaotically, leaving mysterious light prints on the wall […] What Jake was allegedly “talking about” though, I still don’t know, and frankly I don’t think my mother knew either. Sometimes you just get this uncomfortable feeling and you hang it on whatever’s available.

Further, she observes of her mother’s two dollar-bill tips, her father handling the bills she’s kept separately in a clip because she thinks it’s somehow wrong to put them in a wallet. The father, “held them to his ears and thrummed the stack of them and said, ‘Oh, this makes me happy. This sound makes me happy as a kitten.’” The narrator’s response: “As a kid, I know. But what’s the difference – kitten works too.” Galchen’s writing shines with an inherent understanding of a daughter frustrated by her parents, and the general ennui of her life.

Kim Brook’s wonderful story, “A Difficult Daughter,” has a glint of its own. When a man, who spent years adoring his boss’s daughter, Zada, now his wife, comes home to find her murdered, his reaction was to slump to the floor and wait for the police. He tries to explain to the police that her father must have murdered her because she never slept with her husband, had a foul mouth, and a desire to wander toward other men.

“She was a difficult daughter.” he says to the police inspector. “Aren’t they all difficult?” is the policeman’s response. “She embarrassed him.” He tries to explain, “His family. People talked. People gossiped. Are you listening to a word I’m saying? I’m telling you, he killed her.” Later, at the police station, he wonders to himself: “I saw how ridiculous I must have looked in this office, this city. How ridiculous I must have looked even to Zada, wanting to save her. I’d only just begin this story, but he was signing his name across a paper, closing the file on his desk.”

The reader is left to wonder why, but like Andrew Porter’s response to Trevor Gore’s question about writing in the first person, we do know, in a vague sense, that we will never know. We will have only a longing to know, and that’s what makes this story so compelling.

There are plenty of other jewels here, between the pages of Glimmer Train, like Marjorie Celona’s “Family Stories.” This story is paired with a photo of the author sitting on an elephant in the circus, and explains that

One summer my mother and I worked as circus performers for an itinerant Mexican circus, Circo Bell. “There were four acts: my mother, “Princess Tzarina” doing flip-flops on a white Andalusian; twin wolf-boys somersaulting off motorcycles around a circular cage; three trapeze girls with ripped fishnet stockings and gilt batons; and me, tooling around the ring atop Monty with a couple of aging clowns in tow.

It’s the photos attached to each of these stories that make this issue so enjoyable to read. Sometimes the photos have nothing to do with the story, and some fit with the writing splendidly, but they are all entertaining. And this issue can be compared with Ken Barris’s story “Puff Adder,” when one character says to his hiking partner, “You know, this is a magnificent journey.”
[www.glimmertrain.org]

 

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Literal coverLiteral

Latin American Voices

Volume 20

Spring 2010

Triannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Literal is a bilingual journal published three times a year in Houston, Texas. It’s a large-format, glossy, visually impressive publication of political reflection, artwork, fiction, scholarly essays, book reviews, interviews, poetry, and commentary. The current issue is dedicated to the intellectual as a “contemporary pensive figure.” The exploration begins with the cover photo of a sculpture by Mexican artist Victor Rodríguez, “White Head, 2005,” the head of a man lying on its side, eyes closed. The artist is interviewed (in Spanish) by Tanya Huntington Hyde in the magazine.

Work in English includes a beautiful “Swiss Dossier,” on emerging visual artists from Switzerland with exquisitely reproduced images of their work; the literary reflections of book editor Sandra Lorenzano, translated by Huntington Hyde; short stories by Daniel Zahno and Perikles Monioudis, translated from the German by Janina Joffee and Ingrid Fichtner; an essay on “literature and migration” by Mexican-American writer Sergio Troncosco; and a consideration of the truly amazing art installations of Argentine artist Tomás Saraceno (now living in Germany) by Jeffrey Bowen, with stupendous photos of his work (glorious inflated plastic spheres of the planets) from an exhibition, “Lighter than Air,” at the Art Museum of the University of Houston where Bowen is assistant director of external affairs.

Poems by Rodolfo Mata have English titles, while the bodies of the poems are in Spanish. Here is the opening of “Slightly Bewitched,” along with my translation:

No me lo vas a creer
pero Marcela tiene celulitis
mas que yo
y pasa horas y horas
en el gimnasio
You’re not going to believe this
but Marcela has cellulite
more than I have
and she spends hours and hours
in the gym

An imagined interview with Proust by Adolfo Castanon (in Spanish) is among the most surprising and creative features in the magazine (translation is mine):

En dónde te gustaría vivir?
     – Fuera de mi mismo.
Where would you like to live?
     – Outside of myself.

The magazine is gorgeous, provocative, and sophisticated. Check out the fabulous web site, too: www.literalmagazine.com.

 

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Lumina coverLumina

Volume 9

2010

Annual

Review by Terri Denton

This issue begins with a simple question, but Susan Nisenbaum Becker’s “What If?” is a complex amalgamation of blessings that might just change everything, but that ends with a rather sobering wondering. For instance, she writes,

What if you stood on the beach
and blessed all the dead, especially
the bloated seal at your feet
held out your arms like a conductor,
blessed the luscious air covering you like a robe,
shouted over the great orchestral exhalations and inhalations.
each tympanic sigh, belted your blessings light years
into the constellations – could that change a strand
in the pelt of this sorry world?

It’s a poem that makes you think about the world, our roles in it, and the emptiness that religion sometimes leaves with us.

Pamela A. Galbreath’s nonfiction piece is a sobering tale, as well. In “Losing Ground,” she writes of a mother’s drug-addicted son. Before the outbursts start, and after Ron, the son, is arrested for possession, he offers her a startling proof of her complicity:

“Remember how you and dad were so glad when I joined the church’s high school youth group? Remember how you nagged me to stay with them?” Pause. “Guess where I got started on drugs?” Pause. “Remember when you’d come downstairs, you’d always say it smelled good?” Pause. “I sprayed Febreze, Mom. I had a lighted joint down the side of the sofa. I stood next to you in the kitchen, totally stoned, and you went on and on about al dente pasta. You couldn’t even see.

Gary L. McDowell’s poem, “Back Home,” leads us in the opposite direction. A more hopeful poem, he writes, “Travelling backwards on the train form Kalamazoo to Chicago, / I solve a quadratic equation, a crossword puzzle, / my marriage.” And later, McDowell notes that, “Romanticism will always have Her cynics.” It’s a lovely poem, and I loved the way he compared his marriage to a crossword puzzle – complicated and sometimes unsolvable, like so many wedded problems.

Lori Compton’s nonfiction piece, “Lost” is one of those tales that leaves you wondering what exactly is going on between the driver and the narrator, a husband and wife. When they stop on a dark road to help an old woman, the husband, Joe, asks if he should call her son. Terrified, she says “No […] If you call my son–” and lets the sentence trail off, unfinished. Back in their car, the narrator wife tells us that

I can’t help but envision how crushed the old woman would be should Joe turn from friend to informant. Somehow, in the process of leading Ann home, Joe has transformed himself into the old lady’s protector, and I can’t bear the thought of his betraying her trust any more than I can bear the thought of how devastated I’d be if he should die and leave me to grieve for a lost spouse – again. On the other hand, if I hear that something horrible has happened to Ann tomorrow, or that she’s caused some damage, possibly run over a small child, will I be able to live with that?

There’s an overt tension in Compton’s voice, but also an unspoken tension between her and her husband. It’s wonderfully vague, as some of the best stories are.

In Katie Spillman’s story, “A Family Affair,” we learn of the narrator’s mother’s knowledge that her dead husband’s mistress has died. We can’t help but be ‘gleeful’ in the way that the mother is. Spillman writes,

Today I’m up early […] and ready to go to my father’s mistress’s funeral. He’s been dead for eight years, but a few days ago my mother remarked that maybe he and Lorraine [the mistress] will be happy in heaven together. Mom relishes the fact that she is older and yet survives. That’s the whole reason she’s going to this funeral, to gloat, to revel in her own breathing, her own still beating heart.

It’s a tenderly written tale about an affair, but it is one with a kind-of happy ending. The writing here is spectacular, the sort of which absorbs you into the character’s lives, and that’s no small feat.

Linda King‘s poem, “Most Days The World Is Someone Else’s Story,” is the last peek I’ll allow for this issue of Lumina. It’s a fantastically ambiguous poem, written with obvious enthusiasm.

Once
you were at tragic figure
howling through the lullaby,
through motherless days and nights.
A child
following the river.
Paper lantern in hand. Pool of light
to the stars.

In the Editor’s Note, Lillian Ho muses that she is struck by these words from the founding editors, “In this debut issue, we have attempted to create an appealing journal of many voices engaged in an exciting colloquy of words, ideas, and aspirations.” Ho writes that, “I believe that we have stayed true to its original purpose.” and indeed it has.
[www.slc.edu/lumina]

 

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The New Quarterly coverThe New Quarterly

Canadian Writers and Writing

Number 114

Spring 2010

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Why I adored this issue of the New Quarterly:

1. It’s composed entirely of list poems (“To List is Human” is the theme).

2. Guest editor Diane Schoemperlen’s cover art (a glorious collage) and her prose and collage/images of images, “222 Brief Notes on the Study of Nature, Human and Otherwise,” are exemplary specimens of a list’s power in the service of art-making.

3. What a list can be or how it works can be broadly interpreted. Pat Leech contributes a story, “Joan List,” in the form of a list with un-numbered segments separated by dingbats. Sandra Lambert’s list, “Our Lady of Rue Ste. Marie,” is a prayer in un-numbered verses:

Our lady of ste marie street
our lady of the cul de sac
our lady of chaste lawns
and roofs, intact
virgin of the stinking creek
virgin of the vacant lot.

4. A list can carry great emotional weight as in Angele Gougeon’s “Eighty-Three Days,” a narrative which begins with each numbered day in large bold type to separate the entries: “Day Forty-Two. Woke up, rolled over, forgot to forget.”

5. Lists can be contained inside of other forms, like an essay, as in K.D. Miller’s “Daily Bread,” an illustrated work of prose on the writer’s attempt to write psalms as a Lenten project.

6. Found poems make fine lists. Work by: a) K.V. Skene; b) Schoemperlen; c) Jaclyn Piudik.

7. Inventories make fine (often funny) lists. Lee Cookson’s “Three Lists Written on the Backs of Things” includes full-page four-color blow ups of the things on which the lists are written.

8. Instructions make fine lists. Laurie MacFayden’s “Things you need to know before giving your heart to a poet,” for example: “she want to stay out late, sometimes later than the next morning. / pretend to be ok with this.”

9. A poem that doesn’t even look like a list can make a fine list. “Inheriting the Spoons” by Myrna Garanis shows us how:

After divvying up, there’s little left but spoons
I speak of souvenirs, not sterling silver coffees.
…The spoons a breadcrumbtrail of maiden voyages.
…Home province spoons. Tiger lilies gilded onto stems.
…Returned spoonless. Left me to stir
names around the family cup. Preserve the gathered maps.

10. “There are many ways to divide up the world. One of those divisions is between those who make lists and those who do not,” says the guest editor. We are so lucky she is someone who does.
[www.tnq.ca]

 

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The Orange Coast Review coverThe Orange Coast Review

2009

Annual

Review By Molly Horan

Small and unassuming, The Orange Coast Review, an annual put out by Orange Coast College, is visually dazzling, for the cover art to the glossy midsection gallery. Including far more artwork than most journals, the 2009 issue features the work of fifteen different artists, several contributing multiple works. The most arresting pieces include Barbara Higgins’s photographs of mod-clad mannequins at a glitzy Laundromat, Jonathan Fletcher’s series of pin-hole photos, distorted, elongated features of his subjects all the more striking in black and white, and Frank Martinangeli’s etchings, which give the viewer the feeling they are viewing two worlds simultaneously.

Orange Coast opens their fairly sparse fiction selection with “The Ages” by Ramona Ausubel, a story of a young couple enjoying the discovery of living in a new place on their own, jarred by the middle aged and elderly neighbors who seemed to have resigned themselves to day-to-day drudgery. The main characters, referred to only as the girl and boy, take on a universality not because of their lack of identity, but because their fear (mainly the girl’s fear) of life’s uncertainty as well as its patterns is so relatable, especially when captured in Ausubel’s prose, which seems to channel a Juno-like playfulness with language, though much more polished.

Very poetry heavy, Orange Coast has both hits and misses with its selected verse. One shining example of its poetry is Rebecca Lean Papucara’s “Art,” a humorous rift among many poems heavy with sincerity and severity, it speaks about a former adult film star turned director:

You Went by Tide L
Wave, sometimes just
Tyde. Also Reverend Tide, Dr. Tide
Professor von Wave, The Adult Movie
Annals records some eighty-nine
Titles under your name. As director
You went by “Das Booty Hunter”

The review closes with a prose poem by Alex Green, “What Happens When you’re Gone,” which reads more like flash fiction, but tightly crafted flash fiction, about a man who feels he can’t live up to his girlfriend’s dead boyfriend, which captures all the inner torment of jealousy and love on one page.

Just over one hundred pages, Orange Coast Review packs in a lot, with only a few low points among otherwise high quality visual and literary art.
[orangecoastreview.com/]

 

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Oyez Review coverOyez Review

Volume 37

Spring 2010

Annual

Review by Kenneth Nichols

Though lamentably thin for an annual journal, Oyez Review still provides the reader with tremendous value and represents a pleasant afternoon of reading. Considered as a whole, the editors selected fiction, poetry, nonfiction and art with a European feel. The work traffics in easily accessible themes, but refuses to offer easy, unfulfilling answers to important questions.

The issue begins auspiciously with a selection from “The Gospel of Darwin.” John F. Buckley’s poem reconciles Genesis with evolutionary biology in a manner that doesn’t disrespect the latter, as is often the case with such efforts. Indeed, one must wonder what it must have been like for our distant ancestors, having just made the transition from water to land to have “dreamed in two dimensions for the first time, / fantasies / of planar movement and the fresh tyranny of gravity.”

Don Peteroy’s short story, “One Day, God Will Kill Everyone,” crackles with imagination, using linguistics as the backdrop for a sociologically significant tale cast over a wide canvas. Even better, Peteroy manages the difficult work of maintaining character while working with the conceit he has chosen. Years after a quick bit of improvisation on the part of a college instructor hired after a call from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the world is speaking Chulahellan, a non-existent language with only ten words: I, am, is, be, this, yes, no, not, here and do. The story’s greatest joys are found in the ways Peteroy plays with the world he has created.

Imbued with a satisfying sense of existential ennui, Okla Elliott’s two poems bravely confront the banalities of life that are so captivating when they belong to us. Elliott gets surprising mileage out of a meditation on how Adam relieved himself while still in the Garden of Eden and the intellectual play-by-play of a man’s overseas telephone call with a woman. Elliott’s poems are also distinguished by the confident, honest voice he employs.

The sharp black-and-white photographs contributed by Prin X. Amorapanth are indeed imbued with the inspirations cited in the artist’s statement. The ironic loneliness of modern living in the street scenes is evoked through a “focus on geometry” and a “low-key tonality.” Amorapanth chooses offbeat subjects: the result of a discerning eye.

Ace Boggess, currently “serving time in the West Virginia correctional system,” does unexpected work with his poem, “The Prisoner’s Gospel.” This poem is not the first time the beatitudes have been rewritten, but Boggess chooses interesting phrases and ably turns the tone from one of calm hopefulness to immense sadness. For a prisoner with religious faith, he or she may indeed “rebuild themselves: a monument / with scars, a book of the Word / with shattered spine, / duct tape keeping its guts / from the cold stone floor.”
[legacy.roosevelt.edu/oyezreview/]

 

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Quiddity coverQuiddity

Volume 3 Number 1

Spring/Summer 2010

Biannual

Review by Terri Denton

This issue of Quiddity is simply delightful. Beginning with Fani Papageorgiou’s poem “The Welder,” it goes about its business of entertaining the masses of literary fandom:

A lifetime is never long enough for us to be consoled.
It is in childhood that we suspect
It’s only dreams we do not die.
Yet there is comfort
Relief found in glue, paper, and chapped lips
Wet hair and muscle pain,
Rusty cargo steamers cluttered with sodden leaves.

Later in her poem,

Indeed, everything that matters
Does make sense one of these days.
That there are so many of us
Hanging from lampposts, all alone for good
And that it couldn’t be any other way.

Henry Rappaport’s “After the Fall” explores the intricacies of hunting with an originality I’ve never seen in regard to articles or poems about hunting. For instance, Rappaport begins his poem by writing that

The lion asks the arrow
to stay away from its life,
asks the bow to live alone
to stay on the tree
Villagers ask the beast to be a rug,
to snore for them while they sleep,
to protect them
with its confident heart.

Lee Reilly’s very short story, and this edition is full of them, “Crosswords,” will have you emotionally all tied up, as you read the abbreviated version of her character’s life. She begins: “Here’s what you need to remember: my name and which one I am – the youngest, the one Dad called Caboose when he came home and kissed us. Engine, Dining Car, Caboose. […] And this: yes, of course I’ll help you with the crossword, I always do.” Reilly ends her story of the abused child, now an adult dealing with the death of a father who beat her, and the mother she’s left with:

But I also remember this: in anger you could spill a thousand words without a single breath. You jeered once, Oh, so now you’re blaming me for trying to kill yourself? In late age you started calling me Love. Just in case you forgot my name. Reilly’s very last words I will not quote here. Just know that the ending equals the beginning in its profundity.

In Naomi Ruth Lowinsky’s poem, “Elephant Child,” the joys of childhood are seen through the eyes of both the narrator, and the baby elephant of its title:

The little one approaches
our Toyota, holds up her sensitive trunk.
She is trying to figure us out.
We are trying to figure her out. Is she
a problem child, a soon to be shaman of her clan? Her mother
has had enough of her shenanigans
herds her in close; as the sun begins to set

It’s a wonderful romp through her words, and I truly enjoyed it.

Julie Marie Wade has a lovely story about two lesbians and their search for the truth in who they are. “Matrimony” is at its mid-point when one woman is reading a poem by Adrienne Rich, “Diving into the Wreck”: “As is often the case, one or both of the women think it’s about her.” Her partner answers the other’s question of the analysis of the poem’s meanin:

“I understand it now. I mean I have a way of looking at this poem. […] Ok. So this poem is a katabasis […] In a fairy tale, when the protagonist – nearly always a woman – descends into a dark place, often the forest but sometimes a cellar or tunnel. She is running away or she is running toward – some of both we presume – but it is inevitable a difficult pilgrimage. Take, for instance, Rapunzel, and compare: There is a ladder. / The ladder is always there / hanging innocently / close to the side of the schooner. / We know what it is for, / we who have used it.”

This answer satisfies the analysis, but also expands to the two women’s lives as lesbians. As dovetails go, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Elizabeth J. Colen’s poem, “The Devil Wages Ordinary Wars,” begins in much the same way as it ends. Starting, she writes, “Uneasy heavens await people dancing in the street, people thinking they could get more out of the bargain that breathing is.” Ending, she writes, “Uneasy heavens wait for men to repaint the pearly gates, the glare’s too much for all this goodness. We went with grey for the areas we wouldn’t allow until now when everything’s the matter.” The middle, brief as it is, is a virtual study in the impact of brevity. Colen’s writing is of the finest example.

Here, too, is a conversation with Steven Wilson. A British writer and musician, Michael Gammon, as the interviewer, got some of the most interesting and controversial answers he could have hoped for. For example,

MG: The Incident is your latest album. What do you see The Incident reflecting?
SW: Well, for me, The Incident reflects the relationship we have with the media. They’re good at, framing things and leading us into certain emotional responses.

He presents, for example the death of Michael Jackson and our perceptions of 9/11. It’s a great interview, and Wilson is one of those rare artists who are quoted insightfully.

Overall, this issue of Quiddity is wonderful for its varied, but woven together, collection of poems, short stories, short-short stories, and interviews. It would be a waste to not pick this up and read it with a sense of intimacy and an immediate need for entertainment.
[www.sci.edu/quiddity]

 

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Salmagundi coverSalmagundi

Numbers 166-167

Spring-Summer 2010

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Almost nothing can excite me more on the cover of a magazine than these five words “a novella by Andrea Barrett.” Barrett is a terrific storyteller and a master of the form. Novellas are hard to find (so few journals publish them). And Salmagundi is always great, so finding the combination Barrett/novella/Salmagundi signals good reading ahead. And both Barrett and the journal deliver.

Barrett’s novella, “The Island,” is typical, happily, of her work – a good, solid, straightforward, expertly researched story; a likeable character of some depth; a focus on science and the relationship between science and character; a historical setting; a larger social/cultural/political question contextualizing the action at hand; and a conclusion worthy of the story’s ambitions and intentions. A satisfying and memorable read.

This issue also features intelligent writing by regular columnists Martin Jay, Charles Molesworth, and Peter Schneider, writing about Polish philosophy, Medieval Roman art, and European politics. Poems and essays by “big names” include Charles Simic, Carl Dennis, James Longenbach, Colette Inez, Nicholas Delbanco, and Allan Gurganus.

I was taken with Adrie Kuserow’s poems, “Border,” “Lord’s Resistance Army (Northern Uganda,” and “New Sudan Secondary School for Girls”; and an essay by Romanian writer Norman Manea, translated by John Anzalone, “Through Romanian Eyes: A Half Century of NRF in Bucharest,” which considers the relationship between culture (as artistic production) and politics (as political parties and governments).

The most unusual feature in the issue is an email correspondence between clinical psychologist Arabella Kurtz and Nobel Prize winning author JM Coetzee. Kurtz wishes to explore with the writer what psychological insights might be gained from reading his work. He is reluctant to participate in this project (first proposed as a public talk), but eventually gives in (after writing to Arabella as “Amanda,” and insisting he has nothing of value on this subject to say). Freud, Kant, and the subject of parenting all make appearances in the conversation, as do many enticingly quirky turns of phrase (Coetzee refers to a melancholy mood as a “watery mood.”).

In his essay on the young (and already highly acclaimed and popular) writer Wells Tower, Allan Gurganus says, “Many books today exist despite sentences, not because of them.” Thank you, Salmagundi, for…sentences.
[cms.skidmore.edu/salmagundi/]

 

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Sentence coverSentence

a Journal of Prose Poetics

Number 7

2009

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Sentence: a Journal of Prose Poetics, a publication of Firewheel Editions is, in my not-always-so-humble-opinion, one of the most exciting and satisfying journals being published today. Editor Brian Clements favors work that is provocative (but not ceaselessly edgy) and often inventive, but nonetheless solidly grounded. There is seldom anything superfluous or ostentatious; never anything crude; nothing designed to shock or surprise for the mere fact of surprising. The work tends to be highly original and idiosyncratic, but is rarely opaque, obscure, or impenetrable. Inventive forms and hybrid genres are created of carefully crafted language, respect for the integrity of meaning, and attention to the primacy of rhythm and the value of original, but plausible and impressive imagery.

This issue is terrific. I would be hard pressed to single out highlights, since there wasn’t a single inclusion that isn’t worth reading or doesn’t merit attention. I was particularly taken with D.E. Steward’s “Julet,” a history poem of several pages that consist of sentence-like lines linking a variety of historical moments, landscapes, geographies, and cultural realities: “The tribal-state Pacific, the nation-state Atlantic,” for example, and “In the time of Li Po, Wang Wei, and Tu Fu.” I appreciated very much, as well, a political treatise by LeAnne Howe, “Note to Self,” in six two-line “volumes”: “If you can invent a country / you can invent its past.” And also several poems from Catherine Sasanov’s new book Had Slaves (published by Firewheel). I have written in deservedly glowing terms before about Sasanov’s work – beautifully composed, moving, and which combines narrative and lyrical impulses masterfully.

There are numerous highly satisfying prose poems in this issue, including John Olson’s “The Blisters of Lisbon” (“The blisters of Lisbon are fecund and white. The blisters of Lisbon are operas of chafing. I miss my youth. But this has nothing to do with the blisters of Lisbon.”); several by Douglas Guy, my favorite of which, “Coracobrachialis,” is composed of a mere four lines (“A deep muscle of the armpit, its action is adduction – put the arm against the body.”).

This issue’s Special Feature is Contemporary American Indian Prose Poetry, featuring some expected contributors (Sherman Alexie, Heid E. Erdrich, Diane Glancy), and many names with which I was unfamiliar. The feature begins with a strong, insightful essay by Dean Rader. I liked especially “If Only John Ashberry Were Gregory Corso, If Only Gregory Corso Were the Terra Cotta Horse on the Coffee Table with the Magazine Open to the You Can Be an Artist Ad” by Gordon Henry, which begins: “Morning’s another mouthful of smoke somewhere in the land of little vegetable labels, another dog is chained to a northern laundry pole with no lines running between it and its rusting southern double, casting a T shadow.” And Laura M. Furlan’s “Gathering Ghosts,” which begins: “There are ghosts in my house, my father declared. This was seven or eight years ago, and I barely knew him. He was living in Little Rock, in a rough part of town. How many ghosts? Three for sure, he said.”

I must single out a prose poem, which I would classify as a short “poetry essay” (poetry theory) by Gary LaFemina, “In the Prose Poem Lab.” He defines the prose poem here as “the missing link between the to-do list and The Odyssey.” This brilliant little summary defines precisely why prose poetics – and Sentence – is so endlessly fascinating.
[www.firewheel-editions.org/]

 

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Stone Canoe coverStone Canoe

A Journal of Arts and Ideas from Upstate New York

Number 4

Spring 2010

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This issue is dedicated to Hayden Carruth who taught at Syracuse University where the journal is produced. “It has never been our intention,” say the editors’ notes, “to explicitly define ‘upstateness’ in so many words…but it does seem to be true, in a purely ostensive way…that our editors in each issue have helped communicate a vision of our region that is more vital than perhaps even those of us who live here would suspect.” Upstate is, in fact, they conclude “a state of mind.” Evoking that state of mind is the work in this issue of nearly two-dozen poets, nine fiction writers, a dozen nonfiction writers, a short drama, two dozen visual artists, a handful of book reviewers, and Mary Gaitskill, who is interviewed by Jennifer Pashley.

Pashley says that every upstate New Yorker has a Mary Gaitskill story, and I don’t doubt it has something to do with her philosophy of life (“much of our lives are absurd”; “reality is very surreal”) and people’s fascination with what Pashley defines as Gaitskill’s stories of sex and difficult relationships.

Interviewed, as well, in this issue is photographer Lida Suchy, on an exhibition of more than 100 photographs she produced of members of a Ukranian-American Community Choir. Suchy is a fascinating interview subject who discusses motivation, technique, and outcomes with sophistication and grace. Some of her striking portraiture is included.

In fact, the visual arts are a magnificent and abundant component of the journal: mixed media work from Allyn Stewart; digital video images from Yvonne Buchanan; sculpture from Ann Reichlin; drawings from Donalee Peden Wesley; and mixed media works from Paul Faranacci, among many others. The reproductions are outstanding from video stills, to silver to jewelry, to color photographs, to lithographs.

A highlight for me is a series of black and white photographs by Neil Chowdhury “India and ‘Little India,’” motivated by the artist’s isolation from India while growing up in the US. In 2008, he spent many weeks in Mumbai photographing vendors and casual laborers on the streets and the results are striking, clear-eyed photos of exceptional quality.

There is much to admire in the literary contributions, as well, including work by the prolific and highly acclaimed poet Lyn Lifshin, whose “Nights It Was Too Hot to Stay in the Apartment,” demonstrates her supreme skill at creating an atmosphere in verse; Jennifer Duffield White’s story “Tales from a Life on Fire,” for its lyrical prose (“Last night I dream of butterflies riding the humps of camels through the desert. Today, I burn.”); Angela Cannon-Crothers’ story “The Intuitive’s Guide to Cloud-Reading” for its unexpected appeal as a mother/daughter story (with the odds stacked against it, given the prevalence of family tales); a poem by Carl Dennis, “Above the River” for its ability to create poetry of overtly political themes; and the prison writing introduced by Doran Larson for giving voice to the often voiceless, among other works.

I was happy to find a review of a new anthology of women’s writing from francophone Africa (Nancy Keefe Rhodes reviews A Rain of Words, published last year by University of Virginia Press), a long, respectful review that provides an exceptional overview of a book that fills a gap in world literature. If anything, reviews should introduce us to works we might not otherwise encounter and let us know what is happening outside of the covers of the texts with which we are already familiar and comfortable. Come to think of it, that’s part of Stone Canoe’s strength, too.
[www.stonecanoejournal.org]

 

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West Wind Review coverWest Wind Review

2010

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Let me tangle
Tangent
Tangible

“Let me tangle” (from “Noli Me,” a long poem by Nathan Austin) would be a great tagline for West Wind Review. This “poetry and fiction anthology” from Southern Oregon University, is one wild tangle of words. Rather than worry about what it all means, I just got into the spirit of the endeavor, two hundred pages of tangles and tangents.

There is the political commentary tangle (“Trans-Fats Ambush Party” by Lance Newman):

Mr. Marriage, search the House Zone
For centrist menus now that conservative
Acids attack the expensive white base.

And the popular culture meets personal vices tangle (“Pérez Hilton link: that Heath Ledger video” by Wendy Trevino:

I used to smoke 5 joints a day for 20 years: ‘Heath Ledge’ [Heathcliff Andrew Ledger: the Clan Campbell, the Ledger Engineering Foundry, the Frank Ledger Charitable Trust…]

And the my-neighborhood-rough-and tumble tangle (“De la 90’s Soul” by Anna Vitale): “What is in that guy’s ass crack? / He is the guy that moons us on our way to Dairy Queen.”

And the take-this quiz-list poem tangle (“Guess the Film Score!” by Angela Genusa). Here are two of the sixteen films:

1. Clark Gable: Belittling Gin Witted, Bushy Winos-saying, “Sertonin, moi? Dear, I do, hereunto, crave opiate-damaging.
2. Satan’s Purest, Spaded-Skin-rupture. Hail, the reck of heifers’falls. O, verily, Bedrooms: he is unapproved by whoring catcalls and palsied upstaging, derogatory rants in The Steam-befouled Portrait Screed.”

And the sounds-like-a word game tangle (“from Series, Near-Miss” by Laura Elrick):

Watching
the sword swallower
swallow and
swallow swords
swallowing
words swallow
swords
down and
down to
the
base
of the sword
swallower’s
stomach the
sword swallower’s
wink
wink

And the scene-out-of-time-or context prose poem tangle (untitled by Dereck Clemons):

Mrs. Kelvin’s first audience online has begun to insist each video be filmed on a different couch or continent in a new age. Last spring she recorded a video of her recent works, the long, digital yarn a lot like those printed chronicles, her fictions: Stew and Heidi return.

And the surreal syntax with funky punctuation tangle (“tendency” by Michael Farrell, whose last line concludes with a comma):

having breakfast one motoyama or surry hills winter. made sexy your friends celebrities its better than Russian prison than hunting a gun & jacket through new guinea.
congrats they punch while the second son gets

These tangles, and several prose entanglements, are accompanied by some graphic poem tangles, including Donato Mancini’s “If You Think Helen Keller Using the Satanic Salute to Mean I Love You Is Just A Coincidence, then You Are Truly Gullible,” wing-ding or ding-bat like graphics which end in a series of crosses.

Judith Goldman’s tangle (poem) “Good for it” ends with the single line “I have shrove to the same scale.” After reading West Wind Review, I can safely say, me, too!
[westwindreview.blogspot.com/]

 

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