Posted August 30, 2010
Review by Anne Wolfe
Gargoyle came into being in 1976. It was started to put light on “unknown poets and writers, and the overlooked.” It bravely began as a monthly, with not much more than a handful of poems, short stories and nonfiction and “graphics”; but it began with quality. For example, its first issue boasted a poem from the then-unknown budding young poet named Jim Daniels. It slowly grew larger over time until it became the huge beast of a literary magazine it is today. It has continued to have quality poets and writers.
This issue has a cool 450 pages of nonfiction, poetry, short-stories, and “art.” Three hundred pages are dedicated to fiction alone. There is more poetry than one might shake a stick at, with many different styles represented. One style seen often is a kind that is not very narrative, that a reader is free to interpret as he/she sees fit, and might want to read several times. The reader actually might simply want to enjoy the language, the metaphors, and not worry about literal meanings; simply take the poem in and ride it to its conclusion. Even the titles of some of these poems suggest the out-of-the-ordinary, intriguing, breath-catching, “what was that?” nature: “Syssigy” by Brenda Hammack, “Anorak Pop” by James Harms, “Doy Doy” by Anna Maria Hong, or “My Life as a Bull” by Nin Andrews, for example. “Syssigy” opens with:
The wise man held the sign:
a stake that sprouted lemur;
but no shade to speak of.
Could Leonora grasp suncross without consequence?
must she always be so cryptic no one cared?
There are also poems with very explicit messages, well-told, such as Carissa Neff’s “Physex”: “At sixteen, how I wanted / you, smart boy from Physics class.” Neff makes science terms both amusingly erotic and poetic. “If I Have to Leave” by Kathi Wolfe is soul-touching, beginning, simply:
I want to smoke
that last crumpled cigarette
at the bottom
of my black purse
beside the rumpled ticket
to To Catch A Thief.
Very quickly the poem becomes brave and haunting.
The nonfiction is so unremittingly bleak and pathetic that one might wish it were fiction. Abbie J. Bergdale’s “Stuck Town” describes a particular life in Charles City, and uses “ten lists.” Bergdale begins: “Charles City is the kind of place where: Every morning a rusty blue bus hauls illegal immigrants to the chicken processing plant.” Hers is a story not to miss. Shannon Willitts Falk gives a detailed description of “From Bail to Jail: What Happens In Between” in case people have illusions that jail is free lodging.
The short stories are amazing. “I Just Can’t Turn It Off,” by Ken Brosky deals with an Iraq veteran minus one leg. It gives three different endings in an unusual and creative way of dealing with a vet’s fragile reality. Stephanie Dickinson’s “When the Snow Leopard Stalks the River,” deals with a vet with post-traumatic stress disorder. She uses flashbacks strategically, leading the reader in slow-motion, steadily to a calculated conclusion. A common theme of a youth’s perspective of parents falling apart while youth reaches for adolescence is treated imaginatively in “Things to Do When It Rains,” by Christina Kapp. “Watching Russia” by Blair Braverman is as beautiful and serene as poetry; “Betty and Veronica” by Luke Geddes is perfect for those who thought they had left those comic strips far behind. “Adrift in the Global Village” by Fred Skolnik is a surreal, dreamlike story that is rather like viewing a Fellini film – if, or because, one can accept the irrational, one enjoys the human elements and the strangeness.
For a huge amount of high quality reading with lots of
variety, Gargoyle comes through. If the story or poem one
is reading doesn’t satisfy, just turn the page. An archive of
its past issues is being developed on the internet, and a
physical archive exists at George Washington University’s Gelman
library, based in the D.C. area. One of its founding
editors, Richard Peabody, still proudly and faithfully co-edits
it. More than a survivor; Gargoyle is becoming a literary
Volume 23 Number 1
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
This issue opens with terrific translations of the work of Syrian poet Adonis (Ali Ahmad Said Esber) from Khaled Mattawa, from the book Al-Mutabaqat wal-al-Awa’il (Similarities and Beginnings), published in 1980. These poems are, according to an introductory essay by Mattawa, a departure from the poet’s earlier interest in longer forms, and they demonstrate his skill with the short lyric. They are tightly, and expertly, constructed, with lush imagery, despite their taut shape. Here is “The Beginning of Death” in its entirety:
Death rises in steps – his shoulders:
a woman and a swan
Death descends in steps – his feet
sparks and the remains
of extinguished cities
And the sky that was all wings, expands
The journal possesses an expansive approach to styles, moods, and tones, featuring poems much like the work of Adonis in temperament, such as Kevin Craft’s “Linear A”:
I am the city
as you remember it,
I am a dark incision – cat’s eye
or claw in a field
of slash and burn.
and work as distinctly different as Patrick Moran’s prose poem “Aphrodisiacting”: “Marlon Brando & Vivian Leigh projected onto the wall of a state penitentiary common room, the wear & tear of this copy, their voices could be speaking through heavy glass, making promises they know they can’t keep.”
Especially affecting are Melissa Stein’s “So deeply that it is not heart at all, but” in which each apostrophic line begins “sister:” (“sister: you needn’t lie in that sun-bleached collapse of linen,” “sister: feed yourself. the rest will take care of. promise”); and her “Ars Poetica,” which ends: “Explorers // make their reports in foam / or frost then perish, leaving behind / fresh colonies. Here’s mine.”
Efforts to shock succeed, as in Matthew Lippman’s “The Earth in There”:
The placenta is in the freezer. I thought it was a steak.
Was gonna cook it up on the bar-be with a little homemade teriyaki
My wife told me she knows a woman, Sylvia, three kids
after each birth, invited the neighbors over, made them a placenta shake.
And Green Mountains makes room for the crude and lewd, as in sonnets by Olena Kalytiak Davis that begin and end with “fuck” and “fucked.”
The issue also includes fourteen short stories (Paula Bomer, Tess Brown, Haley Carollhach, Liz N. Clift, Julian Darragjati, M.M. De Voe, John Goldbach, Mark Halliday, Justin Hermann, David Huddle, Dana Kinstler, Jacob Lampart, Rachel May, Toni Todd), as different from each other in subject matter and tone as the poems. Clift’s “Strippers Don’t Wear Socks,” is a disturbing story of girls grown up ahead of themselves. Bomer’s short piece is grown-up edgy and tough (“What is it that you hate most about me?”). Jacob Lampart offers a wild little New York story exploring one man’s friendship with another prone to “breakdowns” and a consideration of what can make us happy (or not):
Wow! I liked Mendel’s analysis. I remembered his last breakdown. Even though I didn’t meet any women, I had loads of fun visiting him at Mt. Sinai, which was where he ended up after he approached a black nurse in the hospital cafeteria, claiming she represented the black fire on white fire with which God wrote the Torah.
I was in that very cafeteria recently (the food’s not half
bad), and I can picture Mendel there. But it isn’t because the
story’s believable that I liked it so much, it’s because it
doesn’t strive too hard to be.
Review by Terri Denton
In this issue of Kitty Snacks, the introduction belongs to Deb Olin Unferth. Her “Limited Observations” is not so much a story in its traditional form, but an amusing list of things the ubiquitous ‘she’ has observed. This style lends itself well to the itemized life that ‘she’ lives. For example, two delightful items in this list are “Committees” and “Deletion.” For the first, Unferth writes,
There should have been a committee to tell her what to do, although she likely wouldn’t have trusted them. In fact, there was a committee – her family, but she didn’t listen to them much. And there were other committees. Teachers and classmates, bosses and boyfriends. They couldn’t stop discussing and advising. If she doesn’t like how she turned out, well, it’s her own fault.
“Deletion” has the same wit and wonderful sense of craft as the former:
This, she says to herself, is exactly the kind of writing people hate. It’s the kind she has written over and over, put in different spots, and it always gets cut, gets torn off, and not by her – she always leaves it until someone makes her cut it – and years later she is still thinking about it, the writing that got cut. She still keeps putting a little piece of it next to what is left.
In Kevin Wilson’s story, “Blue-Suited Henchman, Kicked Into Shark Tank” is a tightly knit combination of wry self-deprecation and action. At a ridiculously overpriced movie rental store, Rick, the sad hero of this story, recognizes his own image on one of the cassettes. He’s done so many B-movies that he can’t recall which movie this is. He cannot place the title or the image; he is toting a shotgun, dressed in camouflage, one robotic arm:
“Is this guy the star?” Rick asks, pointing to his own image.
“Big star,” the man says.
Rick pays the seven dollars. At his apartment, he places the cassette in his VCR… The movie, in Mandarin, reveals no clues until Rick appears, no camouflage, no shotgun, no robot circuitry, about to lay a beating on the hero, Eagle Han Ying. He realizes instantly that this is a scene from Dragon City Bustup, and he knows what’s coming for him. He watches as Ying sidesteps him and, with a ferocious roundhouse kick, sends Rick into the shark tank and out of the movie forever. He’s down seven dollars, half-drunk, chum for sharks.
It’s one of those rare combinations of action and humor that draws theater-goers to the movies, and readers to good writing, if only to prove that the book was better than movie.
John Brandon’s “Wolf” is a story of the transition of boy to man, in a most dramatic fashion. When a fourteen-year-old wakes to find vultures circling above his yard, he knows with certainty that his rabbit is dead. After shooting most of the vultures, the boy allows himself time for self-reflection: “He couldn’t believe he’d never done this himself. He couldn’t believe he’d never brought hell to a congregation of vultures. It was a sight.” The boy truly is a man now, with knowledge that should have escaped his fourteen-year-old mind, but it is too late. The story is riveting, and Brandon should be acknowledged for his obvious skill.
Several poems by Ryan Ridge are featured, and the most interesting to read, and quite nearly fun, are those featuring John Bell Hood. In “CLXVI,” Ridge writes,
The ghost of John Bell retreats
to an anonymous house on New Orleans.
Only to be devastated by the lack of Frenchman
living in the French Quarter.
He retreats again.
And in “CLXXI,” the poet returns to Bell. “The Ghost of John Bell Hood retreats / to a couples retreat in Aspen // Only to be overcharged and underwhelmed. // Again, he retreats.”
There’s so much to this issue that I cannot possible feature
every writer, but especially liked the poem “The Wasp Charmer
Tries Butterfly Collecting” by P.A. Levy, and several shorts by
Andrew Borgstrom. These are but two of my favorites, and there
are many more that deserve enthusiastic mention. Suffice to say
that this issue is well worth picking up. And with a name like
Kitty Snacks, how can you resist?
Review by Terri Denton
You, the reader, may notice that this review seems to be split in half. How odd, you may think. Actually, I’ve combined the two because they are combined within the same two covers. You can tell, though, when the magazine switches from The Pacific Review to Ghost Town, as the pages abruptly turn upside down at the intersection. Now, to the first…
This issue of the Pacific Review contains fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. There is no editorial note to explain the shift, as it starts right up with a fantastic story about a nine-year-old learning to swim with instructions from his eccentric uncle. Written by Tim Manifesta, the cleverest passages, with their brazen humor and sly wordplay, are central to this story, and none made me smile more than the second passage involving Uncle Bill’s swimming-learning strategy:
Stretched out on a lounge chair, Uncle Bill tosses pennies and the occasional nickel into the deep end so you have to plug your nose and dive down all the way to the little plastic crate where the burden of water squeezes your tiny head like a boa constrictor. After fourteen cents worth, Uncle Bill says,"Pop your ears when you feel the pressure build. That’s the trick."
The story has its serious moments, too; heartbreaking ones, really, where you realize that Uncle Bill may be descending softly toward mental illness.
I also loved Joseph Huver’s poem “Reduction”:
There is a woman
because of first sickness
and love has peeled
its way out of a driveway.
But let’s not talk about all that.
Why don’t you go outside
in the fresh air where things are clear
and “Under the Surface,” a poem by Bridgette Callahan, has a reality to it that makes it a compelling read:
In the photograph
we look carefree,
for the camera
I can’t recall
who snapped the picture.
Not Dad –
he had already left.
though she was usually
too busy sleeping
it off to bother with such
It’s the vision of a broken home, and the all-too-real feeling of lost youth that makes this poem as powerful as it is. It’s fine poetry, and deserves more laudables than I could possibly muster.
Hope R. Ervin’s poem, “Sparrow,” is, like its title, a tiny little piece, and to relate part of it here would be unfair to you, and to relate it entirely would be unfair to Ervin. So I’ll just tell you that it’s a lovely poem, and well worth the read.
Finally, there’s a story by Elisa Grajeda-Urmstrom called
“The Wendover-Grady Coefficient: Notes From the Chick Singer.”
It’s about life in a band, and the choices that must be made for
a band to survive, but there is one passage that is so finely
wrought that I am duty bound to quote it here: “I suppose when
it’s good – and a lot of nights it’s goof, performing’s like
controlling the weather; a perfect storm of smiles and hips and
breasts on the dance floor moving to the currents you create.
And that’s a strangely sexy high. I have never been into drugs
because there isn’t one out there that feels like that.” There’s
more to this passage, and it’s filled with the same fabulousness
as the rest, but if I don’t stop now, I may not be able to
Review by Terri Denton
And now, to the second half of this periodical, Ghost Town.
Again, there are no editorial musings, just a hipper than anything dive into the fray. One of the first is a great poem by Jared Stanley, called “Legitimate Dangers”:
A _____ stirs the thicket.
I am cherry alive, the little girl sang.
Fleas alight from this line.
Now it’s all our celebration, right?
I’ve got to interrupt you for a second;
this is my index finger talking.
Himilce Novas’s “Painting Life Over” is a sad story, filled with memories of a youth spent amongst parents who fought constantly, and the narrator who wishes to start life over: “Me? In my mind, I’m not in the picture at all. I’m just looking at it, a little shaky, praying that the fighting will stop and that Mr. and Mrs. Pepino, the elderly couple who live right next door, also in the fifth-floor walk-up, are really as deaf as they pretend to be.”
As serious as this section is, the story has a counterpart in its humor. The story begins with an artist, the narrator throughout, who wishes, simply, to paint her life over. When her lover suggests that it might be easier to just hit delete, she describes their first meetings: “Ryan, whom I’ll tell you about later, is the opposite of me. In fact, he’s so opposite, that I spent the entire sixth grade hating him – not with real hate, the way you feel about someone truly evil, like Dracula, for instance, just with an itchy, yucky dislike.” The appearance of Dracula, however brief, in this story, lets you know that there is brilliance to come.
Michelle Hartman’s “the funny thing about murder” is a short poem that ends with a shock of sorts that I’ll not betray, but will instead start, naturally, with the beginning: “is that the act is committed decades / before the actual deed / something happens / and it leads to / death” There’s no doubt of the author’s mastery when the poem is read in its entirety, all at once, and I, thusly, recommend picking this issue of Ghost Town up for that alone.
Barbara Brooks’s “Perceptions” is another wonderful poem:
Birds have tiny brains that know
migration paths, how to weave nests,
know when flower is full of nectar
but they don’t understand glass.
The sharp-shinned hawk lies on the deck.
The windows must have looked like spaces
Again, there is so much to The Pacific Review and
Ghost Town that I urge you to give it a chance. If nothing
else, you’ll have been given a literary education, and, as a
bonus, a book that has half its writing upside down. It’s
wonderfully realized as it is, but I’m hoping that Ghost Town
catches the literary mindset enough to warrant its own book.
Volume 84 Number 2
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
I am interested in almost any writing about work (as in the exchange of time spent in goal-oriented activity for wages) and also in the work of crafting long poems, so I was drawn immediately to “After Work,” a poem in 20 brief sections by Martha Collins:
Rest for all who labor, work for, build
our houses, pave our streets, nurse
the fallen on our streets, those
who cannot anymore, not one
day off but all shut out unhoused
upon our streets unnursed unheard
in this our country’s right to work
I don’t think I’ve read another description of the current state of work in any genre that captures as brilliantly (not to mention economically) the cultural, social, political phenomena that have merged to create the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and which have created a whole class of people we nonsensically and offensively refer to as “the working poor” (a phrase that later, as it happens, turns up in the poem).
Anyone who questions the ability of poetry, in the hands of a master poet, to use its unique and irreplaceable tools to the service (and I use these work terms deliberately) art and “politics” (in the broadest possible interpretation), will surely rethink that assumption on reading “After Work.” It would not matter to me what else were in the issue, it would be worth reading for this piece alone. Happily, though, Collins’s poem is accompanied by many others and several stories of equal skill and impact.
The TOC is impressive as always: Alice Hoffman, Hadara Bar-Nadav, Marge Piercy, Nance Van Winckel, Flyod Skloot, Jesse Lee Kercheval, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Alice Friman, Maria Mazziotti Gilan, Eamon Grennan, and David Wagoner. The issue features another long poem, Greg Alan Brownderville’s “Lord Make Me a Sheep,” a poem of a dozen pages in twelve parts, the story of a community of worshippers and their personal plights as remembered from childhood experience, which combines narrative verse lines, dialogue, and invented radio script. Here is an excerpt from the poem’s final section:
The other day I found a pad I scribbled in when I was ten or twelve.
One page said, Greg Alan Brownderville is a boy who is:
and then it listed words I loved.
So, Lord, all these years later, I beseech you,
make me a boy who is coal, swiss, cream, spearmint,
product, capitol, bar, marl,
quo, tap, bot, doll, roll, mat, solicitous, ma'am,
pie, toy, mellifluous, immitigable, Lord.
Make me the Choctaw hunters on the Alabama River, eating maize
granted by Unknown Woman, Daughter of the Great Spirit.
Turn me into a spearmint done by top-notch scientists.
Make me a dastardly bastardly son of a bitch, Lord,
or, better yet, a rainbow roll at the sushi bar.
Distinctly different from these longer pieces are Peggy Shumaker’s slender, elegant poems, which include “Tucked Deep among Tangled Roots”:
In mangrove swamp,
one tree flowers.
One tree opens
in white blossom.
And one bird,
one tiny bird
whirring so fast
we nearly miss
her green blur,
treats the flower
as if her life
depends on it
Buttressed tea mangrove flower, mangrove humming bird
I like the “caption” concept enormously (the text is small print under the think verses), which lends the poem a museum-like or photo album sensibility, the picture – literally, then – of one moment in nature.
Joseph Campana’s “Rural Evening,” another marvelous composition in this issue, also considers the topic of work:
Nature isn’t cruel it just
doesn’t know when to quit.
Neither did hundreds of
workers at the Rolls-Royce
plant in Mount Vernon, so
the company did it for them,
gradually, so the gesture would
be sad and necessary but
complete like the reluctant
setting of the sun in another
string of inevitable evenings.
Prose selections include four solid short stories, my favorite of which is David Samuel Levinson’s, “Gut Renovation,” whose first line demonstrates his impressive ability to craft an immensely satisfying sentence:
Some people I have known left things behind out of pure haste and some simply because they forgot where they’d put them all. And then, there were others – like Faisal Hussein – who left things behind on purpose just to ask for them back later. Which he eventually did, but only after we’d found a home for them.
The issue also includes one essay, Tracy Seeley’s “Cartographies of Change,” a personal account of merging of two unhappy ruptures in routine and self-perception:
Seven months earlier, I’d been a woman living with a man, on the ground floor of a Victorian house, inside a so-called perfect life. Then the doctor said, cancer. The next day, the man said, I’m in love with someone else. I said, oh.
It’s astonishing when it happens, the thing that happens to other people. The car crash, the missing child, the explosion, the cancer, the jilt. The cliché. The earth tilts on its axis, the sun forgets to rise, the map you trusted is useless, shows you places that don’t even exist anymore. Now where are you? Where did you go?
I am writing this review from the couch where I sit, legs elevated to relieve the pain, nursing a fractured hip (“it’s astonishing when it happens, the thing that happens to other people”), and I am, therefore, doubly impressed and moved by Seely’s wonderful essay. These days journals are overflowing with personal essays about the experience of illness – not to mention broken hearts – but few pieces are as un-self-pitying and engaging as this one.
It takes no work at all to love this issue of Prairie
Volume 44 Number 2
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
My recent reading just happens to have included a great deal of poetry by women whose work in the first half of the last century is now largely forgotten or ignored, so I was surprised, pleased, and curious to discover Mina Loy’s name in a poem by Priscilla Atkins in this issue’s TOC. I had to start there, though I was tempted to begin with a poem by Michael Andrews, “Lykambes Has Promised Neobulé,” because it has the most unusual title in the issue; or Terry W. Thompson’s “Spencer Rex: The Oedipus Myth in Henry James’s ‘The Jolly Corner,’” because I am fond of academic essays, and as editor Chantel Acevedo notes in her Comment, few journals publish them.
The Atkins poem, “Shards and Ellipses for Mina Loy (1882-1966),” is terrific. She captures the essence of Loy in all her actress-cum-poet visual splendor and recreates the ethos of the era faithfully with just the right detail. I did not know Atkins’s work prior to happening on this poem, but I certainly hope to find her in another TOC again soon.
I also liked very well a poem by Patricia Waters, also, coincidentally, an homage: “For Cy Twombly: Blooming.” Here is an excerpt:
Description, postal card sentiments,
the lurid photograph sent to the envious neighbor,
the cousin for whom travel is a fool’s errand.
What is the peony without its scent?
I know no more now, this spring,
than I did when I loved without thought,
the scent emanant from the peony’s heart
Poems in this issue that tread dangerous territory for their potential to be trite or sentimental, happily are not and succeed, including Theodore Worozbyt’s “Like Something Almost Being Said” (“Sorrow is the province of time / unspent, the wish to have been / everywhere just before grief arrived.”); and Gladys Justin Carr’s “May Frost.” The unexpected near rhyme, which begins in the title and concludes the poem ("green thought"), six brief two-and-three-word lines later caught me off guard and satisfied me enormously.
Satisfying, too, are Bob Kunzinger’s essay, “The Canon,” in which he recounts visits to Russia on Victory Day; and a solid short story by Sharon Mauldin Reynolds, “Walking Air,” the portrait of a young girl with an Alice Munro-ish quality to it.
Reviews of books by academic and major presses round out the
issue. I appreciated reviewer Spencer Dew’s frank opinions as
he outlines the flaws he encountered in a biography of wrestler
Gorgeous George. I did not, in the end, want to read the book
reviewed, but I’d read more of Dew any day.
Volume 35 Number 1
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
This 35th anniversary issue is editor Bruce Guernsey’s last after four years. He will be succeeded by Kristin Hotelling Zona, associate professor of English at Illinois State, where the journal is published. This issue’s Illinois Poet (an interview and a dozen poems) introduces the work of Cathy Bobb; the Poets on Teaching column presents Wesley McNair’s exercises for introducing students to free verse; translations include work from Brazil, Spain; and poems by 20 poets.
Featured poet Bobb’s work is informed by three difficult life events/situations: her own experience of schizophrenia; her son’s experience of schizophrenia; and her daughter’s murder. While many poems do address these experiences directly (“Daughter,” “Lunch with My Son”), others, such as the quiet poem, “Gleaner,” do not (“I stand in the great quiet / of a wheat field past harvest. // The lark has fled the land / with her young, // the earth lays down her labor for bread, / five generations deep”).
Denise Preston’s poem “The Level” is representative of much of the poetry in the issue, unadorned diction and approachable images as in the following excerpt:
When he died my father became
a donor of sorts,
not of corneas or kidneys
but of parts just the same:
hammers, pliers, saws.
I gave them all away
except the level.
Impressive is Alexis Levitin’s translation of work by Brazilian poet Salgado Maranhão. The originals do not appear here, but the English versions would suggest that both the poet’s vocabulary and his reliance on sound would pose significant challenges for translation. Here are excerpts from “Sea Drift”:
Then will we follow the zither
that whips words
that bewilders the gaze
How to contain the sea
that overflows salt
and that lashes
towards lovers the spark
that will bear fruit?
Lyrical in this same manner is a poem by Jed Myers, “This Remains.” A poem by Cathy Linh Che is a spare and lovely tribute to her mother:
What does she say
to make her mother so afraid?
That night she’ll be sent away
to Da Nang, for safekeeping.
She will return home, only once,
to be given to my father.
Her hair long, dark, and uncut.
Ruth Hoberman’s “Learning Latin” recalls an adolescent encounter with the classics, which concludes:
But now I know
what Aeneas knew: how heavy history is, but even so,
how sentences pull along to somewhere,
and you go.
The Spoon River Poetry Review has been pulling us
along for 35 years. Here’s to 35 more.
Review by Terri Denton
This issue of Thin Air opens with a hilarious poem about fire, which, by rights, shouldn’t be funny at all. But Matthew J Spireng’s poem “In Case of Fire” will have you smiling by its end. Spireng writes,
Outside the room on the hallway
a metal-sided glass-front case
on the wall bears sticker with instructions
In case of fire break glass. Nothing more
to suggest to the literal-minded, those who
follow instructions to the letter, that they
should consider removing the extinguisher
inside and using it, and nothing to suggest
how one is to break the glass without
slicing one’s arm on the jagged edges
The rest of the poem is just as funny, but I don’t want to spoil your fun by copying the entire poem verbatim.
I also thoroughly enjoyed W. Todd Kaneko’s three poems. Here is a poet who appears to have an almost-magical grip on the intricacies of language. In “The Heart of Saturday Night,” he begins by talking about his remembrance of his teenaged, alcohol-filled years: “This is Saturday night, when / the boulevard is bursting with the blood / of youth, their cars stereos too – and I don’t know / the words to every song, can’t even fake it / like I used to.” It’s a not unfamiliar romp through those formative years, and I couldn’t help smiling as he closes the poem with,
Come over to the house where
we have a rickety porch and a fifth of something
wicked. It’s always Saturday night here
where we listen to wind chimes jangling,
keep the lights dim for fireflies, and always drink from the bottle.
Kaneko’s transition from childhood to adulthood is seamless, and I couldn’t help but appreciate his writing. In Kaneko’s poem, “The Astronomers,” the writer cannot help but release himself from the profundity and throw himself into the levity. For it is with “The Astronomers” that he truly shines:
Look. The last time we studied the moon,
I was looking at venues, and you said David Bowie is our new name for Pluto,
that the Pleiades are now
the Spiders from Mars. I pointed a red star swimming backwards near the horizon
because you confessed your love for fat
Elvis and other people’s horoscopes.
I’ve never caught a rabbit, and you
don’t know the North Star from the Dog
This is the only flash of true humor in the poem, and yet it had me smiling through the entire piece. It’s brilliant.
Josh Bettinger’s three poems appear within Thin Air’s pages, but it was the first of the three that caught my eye. With “Under Tungsten Lamp,” he composed a lovely poem: “Night flirts in the afternoon trees / with dull leaves blanched by an orchid moon. / The topmost edges of the city are a tiara / stained blue by lights that swagger & drive / on the river’s wake.”
The prize of most surreal must go to Matt Schumacher for his poem “The Children of Electric Fires.” In this poem, Schumacher writes that the children
Bear rings which electrocute bride and groom.
Demand flames emblazoned in lapels of angels.
Whisper of sleeping rooms where tousled,
Nameless drunks spontaneously combust.
Bathe in rivers of invisible lightning inside walls and hide
Under carpets with torched horizons of Sonaran dusks.
Finger ignitable liquid containers with the worst,
Destructive sort of nervousness
It’s surreal, as I’ve said, but also so much more than that.
I also completely enjoyed Sean Brendon-Brown’s “Fish Shop, Pike Place.” When he writes, “without faith & self-esteem / this world is a burning village, / a tattered wife crying / you’re wrong, don’t go, wait, / let me help you, don’t go,” I felt a palpable sadness for the wife, desperately trying to stave off the inevitable. It’s writing at its best
Along with the stories, poems, and drawings, there are a few
book reviews. One of the reviews, written by Erica Jones, is for
Dedicated to the People of Darfur: Writings on Fear, Risk,
and Hope, is particularly poignant: “But the power of the
book goes beyond the words printed between the covers. While the
essays and poems are moving enough to inspire interest in the
book, the story of its coming into existence warrants attention
as well.” I will leave it to you, dear reader, to find out about
the book’s creation, but it is also my hope that you’ll pick up
Thin Air because of my own review of its creativity. It
may be named This Air, but the stories and poems here
will stay with you long after you’ve brought the covers to a
Volume 98 Number 3
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
A very Yale-Review-like issue of the Yale Review, which is to say that this is a journal for the serious-minded reader who appreciates scholarly essays of thoughtful analysis alongside her poetry, fiction, and personal essays. And if you’re looking for writers with an established track record and name recognition, Yale Review is always a good choice (Louis Auchincloss on Henry James; Arthur Kirsch on Auden; poems by Charles Wright, Carl Phillips, Daryl Hine, David Wagoner, Cynthia Zarin; fiction by Alice Hoffman…Alice Hoffman! [that was actually something of a surprise]), this is the journal for you.
Less predictable, equally worthwhile, are essays by Kenneth Gross on shadow puppet theater in Bali; another by Georgina Kleege on personal experiences of blindness; a provocative short story by Peter LaSalle, its subject boldly announced in the title “The Dealer’s Girlfriend”; and another by Anne Korkeakivi, “Ilunga,” perhaps because I had not seen her work before (she has published quite a bit, but less than most of the contributors).
I liked Korkeakivi’s story of a woman journalist in France very much. It is a refreshing departure from the family dramas that seem to occupy so much of the fiction territory these days. The prose is intelligent, and the story looks beyond narrow relationships and solipsistic musing to the larger world (the narrator’s encounter with immigrants from Africa). Kleege’s essay, too, is a highlight for me, a thoughtful presentation of her own experience in the context of the routines, objects, and technologies used by the non-blind and/or created for the blind. Kleege’s premise is that she can rely on her blindness (“it never lets me down”) while fixating on using the little sight she has inevitably turns out to cause difficulties. Her prose is unfussy and straightforward, beautifully paced.
Three poems by James Richardson are especially satisfying. Richardson composes lines that sound effortlessly casual and intensely poetic at the same time, verse with both a philosophical and emotional charge that is transparent on some levels, but not without lyrical reverberations. Here are excerpts from “Postmortem Georgic”:
If I die in June, the true end of our year,
exchange the storms for screens and summon the technician
to check the coolant pressure in the central air
before the dog days when the black drive wavers
and no bright metal can be touched, and then swap out the filters,
and now that our little grove of maple, oak and hickory
has shed into the gutters (O deeper than you imagine)
petals and dust and unfelt leaves, flush them out
lest thunderheads that build in the searing afternoon,
toppling, leave them weeping around you.
I will die in spring, this season I love least
of beginning all over, I of no patience,
when hope is a door left unlatched in a high wind
banging and banging itself to pieces.