Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted October 15, 2010

Appalachian Heritage :: Blue Collar Review :: Center :: Chicago Review :: Denver Quarterly :: The Exquisite Corpse :: Hiram Poetry Review :: Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet :: The Malahat Review :: The Midwest Quarterly :: The Missouri Review :: Shenandoah :: Tin House :: Western American Literature

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Appalachian Heritage coverAppalachian Heritage

Volume 38 Number 3

Summer 2010

Quarterly

Review by Renee Emerson

A simple, rustic cover – white, the title of the magazine in black, bold font, and a picture of a tilled field, wild tiger lilies framing the pastoral scene. The opening photograph, by Ann W. Olson, like the front cover, is of dilapidated stone steps running up a hill, framed by buttercups. The juxtaposition of decay with new life can be seen in many of Olson’s photographs, throughout the issue.

The issue opens with an essay by George Brosi, the editor, urging us as citizens to stand up for the environment, to band together to prevent future oil-slicks and coal mining disasters. This topic is picked up again, though more specifically speaking on coal mining, in several other essays in the volume. Appalachian pride is a recurring theme in these essays against coal mining as well as the directly titled essay “Appalachian Pride (In the Name of Love)” by Silas House, which praises the fortitude of Appalachian people, their ability to overcome and rise above their surroundings.

George Ella Lyon is the featured poet for the issue, with several of her poems and her inspiring essay “Inviting the Voice,” which shares her writing process. In “Receiving” by Lyon, the first poem of the issue, she shares a memory of holding her first child: “I had no idea of how to hold a baby” she states, plainly, as the baby “bellied / around like a snake,” “in search of something firmer / or freer.” This no-frills motherhood is beautiful in its simplicity and authentic emotion of the new mother, who “didn’t have a grip.”

Several articles on George Ella Lyon are included in the issue, such as “Where She’s From: The Mystery of the Making Place” by Kathy L. May and the thoughtful essay “We All Need Resurrecting: Transformations and Restorations in the Work of George Ella Lyon” by Robert M. West.

Other poems in the issue include Wendell Berry’s brief poem “Dark Horse,” that recalls a moral children’s rhyme, stating that Satan is “So moral, so electable, / And he knows the Bible so well!” “Elegy for a Hay Rake” by Jesse Graves, a poem that captures the hard-working “hard-used” spirit of the Appalachians through his elegy to a hay rake, which, like the people who owned it, lacked “all your labels, all your sheen.”

This summer issue of Appalachian Heritage showed the care and pride the local authors and the editors of the magazine have for their Appalachian home, and, as readers, we are permitted into this kinship, for a short while.
[www.berea.edu/appalachianheritage]

 

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Blue Collar Review coverBlue Collar Review

Volume 13 Issue 3

Spring 2010

Quarterly

Review by C.D. Thomas

After bracing myself for reviewing journals whose explorations of daily life tended to the abstract, it was high time to read prose and poetry from writers who didn't emulate Kafka when writing about work, bureaucracy, and class. Blue Collar Review's Spring edition serves it up straight – no-nonsense formatting, clear print, solid storytelling over pyrotechnics.

Yes, some of the poems are blunt and simple, with barely a need for scansion, but their messages are clear – from this issue's editorial:

This collection speaks to the anger and seeming hopelessness we feel as well as to the humanity and vision we carry like a precious fragile inheritance. The sharing of that awareness and vision through the power of this literature lets others know they are not alone. It feeds and strengthens the class awareness upon which our future depends.

This was a good journal to read on my commute, as it kept my mind on the things I think about every day: Work relationships, fairness. Clocks that, in John Grey's words,

gifted three generations cancer.
The fourth, it just crippled.
It tore a hole in a heart.
It stitched it back up worse than shabbily.

Fred Voss's "Scrapyards and Graveyards" fuses man and machine into a shared obsolescence, Helen Ruggieri's "Salvation by Filing" feels the pain of life spent alphabetizing, and Justin Rogers's "Hod Carrier Blues" puts the rhythm of masons to paper. But writers don't stick to the factory-floor perspective: John Grochalski's "Puppets and Puppet Masters" has a middle manager spiraling into the fraternity of "all those sad men who sat across from me / the ones who smelled of cigarettes and coffee / the ones who reeked of failure and defeat" – those who fire or get fired.

If you liked OFFICE SPACE, you'll love "Workplace Success" by Marisa Carchesio, and if you missed the way newspapers used to report non-sensational stories in depth, you'll appreciate "More Bars Than Anyplace Else" by Ray Brown. It's truly lyrical, plainspoken work that I loved reading again and again, and I don't even want to summarize it, so I don't spoil its surprises.

I will read future issues of this journal – it lives here and now, and trades ambiguity for telling its truth urgently.
[www.angelfire.com/va/bcr/]

 

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Center coverCenter

A Journal of the Literary Arts

Volume 9

2010

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

I was considering giving up this reviewing gig, finding myself a bit weary having written several hundred mag reviews over the last few years. But then this issue of Center landed in my lap and I shudder to think at what I would miss! With its “Symposium: Place in Nonfiction,” this is one terrific issue. One personal essay on a place of sorts (gardens) and 10 short essays for the Symposium, are accompanied by the work of 20 poets (in which, unannounced as part of the place focus, place figures largely in nearly every one), three stories (place again in every one!), and a very, very good “conversation” with Croatian poet Tomaz Salamun, an interview of greater depth than many I’ve encountered that focus narrowly on writing techniques and related topics of limited interest.

Donna Steiner’s, “Growing Season,” a smart essay on gardening (“What does it mean to love what is potentially beautiful but lose interest when that beauty fails to flourish?”) is followed by wonderful short essays, each one quite different from the others, that consider the relationship between landscape and narrative (Sarah Messer); place and memory (Joe Bonomo): writers and rivers (Leslie Staton); place and writing about home (Huan Hsu); place as context in writing (Lynn Z. Bloom); place and genre (Susannah B. Mintz); and place and travel in writing (William Bradley). These are original essays interesting for their perspective on the place of place in nonfiction writing, and interesting as examples of nonfiction writing.

Poems about place also reflect a diversity of styles, tones, and forms. Most unusual is Amy Newman’s contribution, two letters (allegedly to the editors of this journal) that explicate poems (which never appear) and, in essence, create meta-poems to stand in for the imaginary poems. The invisible poems’ setting is the “frosted landscape” of the Finger Lakes Region of New York. Mary Biddinger’s “O Holy Insurgency” reminds us that place is as much a philosophical or emotional experience as a physical one: “Every day in its place.”

Fiction contributions include an inventive, unconventional story by Matthew Kirkpatrick, “Pastoral” and solid stories by Marjorie McAtee (“Down and Out in Eau Claire, Wisconsin”) and “Countries Like That” by William Kelley Wolfitt.

I typically fold down the upper right hand corner of the pages of journals I’m reviewing to mark the places I want to remember to cite. Every single page of this issue of Center is now folded over on itself.

 

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Chicago Review coverChicago Review

Volume 55 Number 2

Spring 2010

Triannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This is a terrific issue of the Chicago Review featuring new translations of work by Stephane Mallarmé by Peter Manson, a long poem by British poet Simon Jarvis, a wonderful essay by poet and critic Stephen Burt on the usefulness and uses (read: need) for non-academic literary criticism and reviews (like this one!), three fine pieces of nonfiction writing (not a personal essay among them), a number of worthwhile poems, book reviews, and three solid short stories.

Especially appealing is “The Driving Dress,” by Gary Lutz, which begins: “Before I could fit into the few clothes my second ex-wife had left behind.” Who can resist reading further?! And a story by Matt Briggs, “The Tin Nose Shop,” is as original and quirky as its title: “He had nothing to do, having already finished all the nothings that he’d learned to pass the time.”

I loved Jennifer Moxley’s “Fragments of a Broken Poetics,” the type of writing I would classify as poetry theory, short segments of analytical musings on the meaning and nature of poetry. “After a point, even the poem can grow bored with its own devices,” constitutes the whole of section XLI. Moxley’s work is, happily, never boring. I appreciate, as well, her “Afterword,” explaining the (quite interesting) genesis of her piece.

The most unusual piece is probably Andrew Zawacki’s excerpts from a long poem entitled “Videotape,” with its broken words, stunted syntax, and spectacular attention to sound. Poems by Jean Valentine, typical of her work, are spare, yet striking. Susan Stewart’s powerful poem, “The Sand-Castle,” moved me inexpressibly:

there is no such thing as
a precision bomb
the formal finitude of made things overcomes
our respect for what we have made
often that our desire to destroy is
The dark side of the news he brought.

Her exquisitely rendered breaks reminded me of the truth in the writing of literary critics who define the social and political implications of the division of lines, demonstrated here with amazing clarity and proficiency.

Bringing together scholarly essays, translations of master poets, inventive nonfiction, accomplished and highly moving contemporary poems, smart and original short fiction, and intelligent reviews, The Chicago Review is one “made thing” worth paying attention to.
[humanities.uchicago.edu/review]

 

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Denver Quarterly coverDenver Quarterly

Volume 44 Number 4

2010

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

“For a long time we looked at the world and thought not,” begins Suzanne Buffam’s (nonfiction?) story “Trying.” This exceptionally good issue of Denver Quarterly is not merely trying, it succeeds, as does Buffam’s highly original piece on trying to conceive a child, part personal story – part musing on history and biology. Perhaps it does not matter that I do not know if the three prose pieces included among the work of nearly three-dozen poets and an interview with Dawn Lundy Martin, whose newest poetry collection will soon be released, are fiction or nonfiction.

The TOC includes some names with huge reputations (Rae Armantrout, Marvin Bell, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Richard Kostelanetz, David St. John), but all of the work in this issue demonstrates huge talent. Most significantly, this is serious, intelligent, polished work that demands time and attention, but offers satisfying rewards – time well spent.

There is nothing deliberately coy or oblique, nothing meant to deter, rather than encourage engagement, nothing meant to deliberately confuse (at least not without some reasonable resolution), nothing meant to dissuade, discourage, or detract from finding meaning – just the fine poetic principle that true understanding comes from a deep level of engagement with the text, not surface reading. Reading of this sort is to me one of poetry’s purposes and joys, and I am grateful to find page after page like this in this issue.

A generous editorial vision makes this issue all the more appealing, with poems as different from each other as Natalie Lyalin’s “The Occidental Mountains” (“This is a dispatch: / Douglas-fir, Apache Pine, Chihuahua Pine, Mexican Pinyon, Lumholtz’s Pine, Yecora Pine / Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir, and Mexican Douglas-fir. Arizona Oak, Emory Oak, Mexican Blue Oak. Large skinny hawks overhead.”) and “Departure” by Christina Hutchins, which begins:

a station.
a station growing smaller and smaller.
a moment ago there was a station.

Smart prose poems from Kopenhaga by Polish writer Grzegorz Wroblewski are smartly translated by Piotr Gwiazda, who manages to capture the poet’s wry tone. J. David Stevens contributes a tongue-in-cheek prose poem “When the Rules Changed” (over breakfast, he informs us) and a list poem “Past Winners Include,” a century of dated wins (“The one tallying the fallen sparrows” was the 1977 champ).

Claire Donato contributes a spare and uncannily perceptive prose poem, “Manifesto La Terre/Mori;” Rachel Blau DuPlessis gives us science and philosophy in “Draft Erg: Erg;” Joseph Lease’s lovely prose poems, “Send My Roots Rain,” are poignant and original; Christopher Salerno’s “Photocopy of the Oral Tradition” is a glorious example of the economy with which poetry can succeed: “To become to bravery / what saying is to the sentence.”

Richard Kostelanetz contributes “Entangling/Disentangling,” an essay on his work with experimental texts: “I want to write a text that will have sixty-four words that can be entangled with another text that is likewise sixty-four words in length so that the words of this story are set between the words of the other in a successive ratio of one word at a time then two words then four sixteen and sixty-four until the stories become separate again.” I did not count, but I appreciated the suggestion that counting might, well…count.

And without a doubt, this issue of the journal matters and…counts.
[www.denverquarterly.com]

 

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The Exquisite Corpse

September 30, 2010

Online Daily

Review by Henry F. Tonn

This is an unusual online journal. Its founder and editor, Andrei Codrescu, can be found opining periodically on National Public Radio, and the journal reflects his attitudes and opinions.

The journal was an early online publication, becoming corpse.org in 1996 after 13 years of printed editions. Now new material is presented online on an ongoing basis, and accompanied by an annual print compilation. There are stories, poetry, book reviews, art, and a number of other features with such titles as “Techne & Psyche,” “Letters & Gossip,” and “Bureaus.”

Under Stories, I particularly enjoyed the strange tale of “Lenin’s Brain” by Yuriy Tarnawsky, about a nondescript fifty-four-year-old man who buys what he believes to be Lenin’s brain in an antique shop, and the peculiar effect this purchase ultimately has upon his perception of himself.

Under Techne & Psyche is a nice little article by Eddie Woods – apparently true – entitled “Perception,” about Joshua Bell the world famous violinist, who played a complex series of Bach pieces for forty-five minutes in the DC Metro Station one January morning in 2007. Nobody recognized him or applauded – they barely listened – but he made thirty-two dollars for the gig.

Under Bureaus is “Problems of Life: Wittgenstein,” by Tom Clark, a series of exquisite photographs accompanied by musings of the great philosopher. An example: “If in life we are surrounded by death, so too in the health of our intellect we are surrounded by madness.”

It must be said that an air of condescension permeates this journal. An interview by a fawning Mark Spitzer with editor Codrescu brings forth the latter’s opinion of the state of creative writing education: “it occurred to me just how boring ‘teaching creative writing’ is these days, and how many unimaginative drones who were themselves ‘taught’ by unimaginative drones are fouling the air in our institutions of so-called ‘higher’ learning.”

Pompous obscurity envelops this poem entitled “Horrors of the Avant Guard: Twenty Years Ago in the Corpse” by Andy Robbins. A snippet: “My flung careful few, steady bells at the pleat ends of the operating skirt our carburettori have draped over the planet, napkin framed around the unformed fontanelle of now, the soon-to-be-cicatricose present, for which, as the price goes up, many will be sacrificed.”

This is a relatively complex website with a lot of interesting and mentally challenging material. The flavor is international, with people from all over the world contributing, and numerous translations. Despite its propensity for self-indulgence, it has a lot going for it, and is a recommended read for fledgling writers.
[www.corpse.org/]

 

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Hiram Poetry Review coverHiram Poetry Review

Issue 71

Spring 2010

Annual

Review by Renee Emerson

Issue number 71 is a slender volume of poems that act as a slice of American life, with a focus on entertainment. Since entertainment is such a heavy influence in American culture, it seemed fitting, though sometimes oddly juxtaposed to the poems that focus more on rural life in America and to the cover image, the letter and photograph of a Civil War Soldier.

The magazine begins with “In Kansas,” a poem by Ellen Seusy, and one of my favorite pieces in this issue. Though brief, the poem conveys a sense of place – “draught, heat, wind, / a cool drink from the well.” – while also mixing the spiritual, “talking about the Lamb of God” with the material, “or someone’s new Chrysler.” That poem, followed by a translation of the poem “Traitor,” by Nazim Hikmet, prepares the reader for an issue that will delve into America – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

For the most part, the issue is successful in this – with the childhood memory poems like “Miss Bridges and Ninth Grade Biology” by Rawdon Tomlinson, “Civil War” by Jeffery Berg, and “Clint Eastwood” by Pamela Rasso next to poems on meaningless media and advertising, like “Undeath Do Us Part” by Michael Jaynes and “Lobster-Boy” by Vanessa Blakeslee. The poetry is mostly free verse and written in first person, and while reading the issue, it seemed that the poems focusing on media were the weaker poems, often reading like prose with line breaks.

However, there are many strong and moving poems in this issue, making Hiram Poetry Review once again a worthwhile read.
[hirampoetryreview.wordpress.com]

 

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Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet coverLady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet

Number 25

May 2010

Biannual

Review by C.D. Thomas

Upon finding Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet on the review list, there was but one response I could make – SQUEE!!!

I've trusted Small Beer Press to publish well-done and interesting "speculative fiction" (if there's another phrase the cool kids use nowadays, do let me know). LCRW gives us a taste of their authors, past or future, through some very delicious stories.

I'm sorry I never heard of Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, but on the weight of his sly tale “A City of Museums” (trans. by Edward Gauvin), I'm keeping my eye on him.

Eilis O’Neal's “The Sleeper” and Daniel Braum's “Music of the Spheres” are in a similar magic realism vein. As part of LCRW's mission, stories that could be published in conventional literary journals rub cheek-by-jowl with work based deeper in the fantastic; it's all good. Literally.

As for more traditional fantasy, Jennifer Linnaea rings a few changes on The Days of Magic in “Fire-Marrow.” Richard Parks's “The Queen’s Reason” pulled a twist that I didn't predict, and that takes some doing. And one image – that terrier – twisted itself into a dreadlock of wackness in Sarah Tourjee's “The Problem With Strudel”. It was the first story I noticed, and as with work in more “twee” experimental journals, I was prepared to toss it across the room; I'm glad I didn't. It goes deeper.

Two stunners in this issue made me optimistic about the state of fantasy, which considering LCRW's stature in the F&SF community, shouldn't be surprising. In the urban fantasy “This is Not Concrete,” Ben Francisco created a monster that scared me in broad daylight. I only hope that the open-endedness of the climax means that he's considering expanding it. As for Haihong Zhao's “Exuviation”? A finely-polished boat of translucent carapace, taking me to a place I was glad to visit.

Overall, these smart-alecks might not take their editorial voice seriously ("If you move, please remember to send us your Change of Address. Thank you! Easy way: [email], Another way: [snailmail], Impossibility: telepathy."), but damn if they don't treat their authors and their works like offset gold. More, more, more please.
[smallbeerpress.com/lcrw/]

 

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The Malahat Review coverThe Malahat Review

Number 171

Summer 2010

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This issue of one of the very best journals published in North America features the magazine’s novella prize-winner “Brains,” by Tony Tulathimutte, the work of 16 poets, an essay by Jessica Kluthe, and a number of smart book reviews.

The novella of approximately 40 pages is the beautifully related coming-of-age story of Diana Lipton, a quirky character rendered with credibility and sensitivity in prose that is deftly composed, and appealing, but never pedestrian. This is a fine example of the novella genre now, happily, gaining new popularity. This is satisfying, solid reading, plot driven with attention to language, rhythm, pace, timing, and a resolution that matters.

Poetry, as always in The Malahat Review, reflects an eclectic editorial stance, though consistency in quality is never an issue. Poems in this journal are always polished, accomplished, and mature. I was taken, in particular, with “Jetlag” by Steven Heighton:

It’s night in your bones though noon. A no one
room, drugged with sunlight of a skewed
latitude,
the fizz in capillaries behind the eyes’ red rind, un-
housed, stalling hydraulics of the heart…

And also with poems by Faisal Siddiqui, “Fakkeer,” and “Forgotten Qasida;” and “Night Driving,” by Rebecca Fredrickson. Andrew Wachtel’s translation from the Russian of “So Now the Soldiers Have Gone,” by Anzehelina Polonskaya is noteworthy, as well:

No blood and no violence, but you won’t lie, you can’t,
the soldiers stand and watch –
they never left.

Finally, I am impressed by Jessica Kluthe’s “Always.” There is so much writing about childhood in North American magazines these days and so much of it is less than memorable. Kluthe recreates a child I truly care about with a story that matters to me. It’s the story of domestic violence, the saving potential of language, and a childish connection to the divine as reconceived through an adult perspective. It’s material that could lead to hyperbole or sentimentality. But, Kluthe is gifted and her piece is restrained and yet incredibly moving. This is the kind of work I have to come to rely on, expect from, and feel grateful for in The Malahat Review.
[www.malahatreview.ca]

 

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The Midwest Quarterly coverThe Midwest Quarterly

Volume 51 Number 4

Summer 2010

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Published at Pittsburg State University in the other Pittsburg (Kansas), Midwest Quarterly publishes poetry and scholarly articles intended to be “interesting and readable.”

Articles are, indeed, approachable, free of jargon and of dense and extensive documentation, while well researched. This issue includes an analysis of poems about “blue collar” work by Ron McFarland, a consideration of the language of rural life in poems not ostensibly about country living by Joseph Powell, and two articles focusing on feminist issues: Rivka Temima Kellner’s “J.K. Rowling’s Ambivalence Towards Feminism: House Elves – Women in Disguise in the ‘Harry Potter’ Books” and “Farce and Feminism: Undermining Male Power in Communicating Doors” by Prapassaree Kramer.

Also included is a discussion of the work of Patricia Highsmith by John Dale, about whom interest seems to have intensified lately, given a recent new biography, though this article appears to have been written before that work’s release.

All of these articles are, as the editors suggest, interesting and readable. Powell’s essay deserves special mention for his inclusion of examples by writers to whom we rarely see references (Enid Shomer, for one, who, in my view, deserves more attention than she receives).

The work of 10 poets tends toward a blend of metaphysical mystery and nature imagery, also quite readable, though seldom merely casual, and for the most part carefully crafted and serious in tone. Here are excerpts from William Wright’s “Winter Oaks”:

All night limbs hold
their blue lamplight aloft, ice
alive in the static understory.
I know how the winter pulls the body
Northward, makes the heart a cellar
for the sleepless house.
I walk out to the oaks, bulbs
of my lungs shocked by the cold.
The night says: Your breath unlocks the air with flowers.
The night says: Don’t seek an easier way.

[www.pittstate.edu/department/english/midwest-quarterly/]

 

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The Missouri Review coverThe Missouri Review

Volume 33 Number 2

Summer 2010

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

One of the most unusual aspects of The Missouri Review is the treatment of poetry, the presentation of a group of poems (6-7) by a small number of poets, rather than a single poem by dozens of writers. This issue features the work of John W. Evans, Benjamin S. Grossberg, and Jonathan Johnson. Their selections are preceded by a personal statement, a photo, and longer-than-typical-for-literary-mag bios.

Evans, a Stegner Fellow at Standford, writes in his personal statement of the desire to capture in poetry the sense of grief and mourning he experienced after the death of his first wife, and he has certainly succeeded. In an odd way, the accumulation of small sad moments that seem to work toward the poet’s mastery over his grieving intensifies my own, as if I am just beginning to experience the loss over the half dozen poems as he is learning to let go of it. Perhaps this is the way poetry always works, the poet releases himself from the vision or emotion that inspired the poem, and I begin to take it on as he is freed of it. Is this empathy? Transference? Art? I appreciate the opportunity to consider the question.

Grossberg presents a series of “space traveler” poems, what he describes as a way to “expand what he could bring to the page” by creating something more than single texts. These poems offer the poet a way to de-familiarize himself and examine the world as if seeing it for the first time. Here are the opening lines from “The Space Traveler and Wandering”:

Roadless vehicle: means that every
instance is a juncture, that every
path branches always – and in three
dimensions.”

Johnson, whose most recent book was published this year from Carnegie Mellon, presents poems he wrote while living abroad in Scotland recently for a year with his family, poems that reflect his sense of every moment in the world as “elegy.” Here are a few lines from “In Whoever May Care for Me Dying”:

You needn’t imagine
if I say I lived once
on the sea, in the wind
and sun. You’re not yet born,
I hope, so what’s this world?
If there’s nothing for the pain
there’s nothing. Thank you
anyway for the morphine
dripped from the eyedropper
onto my tongue like communion

This issue also features two essays, four short stories, an interview with poet Natasha Tretheway by Marc McKee, a review article on “pastoralism” in contemporary poetry, and a found text feature. I was moved by fiction writer Sharon Solwitz’s foray into nonfiction, “Days and Nights with MS. The Witness Complains,” an essay she wrote about her husband’s illness, a situation she calls so painful in the statement following the essay that “I didn’t know how to incorporate into the nourished and hopeful life I seem still to be striving for.”

M.C. Armstrong offers a fascinating and personal look at the life of writer Ken Kesey, based in large measure on information provided by Kesey’s wife, Faye. Stories by Wade Ostrowksi, Becky Adnot Haynes, Nathan Hogan, and Devin Murphy are consistent with the journal’s editorial predilections, familiar characters and situations brought into sharp focus in the service of a dilemma or difficulty we might not have encountered ourselves, which unfolds in language that is natural and casual.

The interview with Natasha Trethewey, author of three collections of poems, including the Pulitzer Prize winner Native Guard, and a forthcoming book of prose about Hurricane Katrina, would seem to illuminate this understanding of the work of literature: “Poetry’s about empathy…it’s an opportunity for us to engage with things we might not have thought about.”
[www.missourireview.com]

 

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Shenandoah coverShenandoah

Volume 60 Numbers 1-2

Spring/Fall 2010

Triannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This issue is a tribute to Flannery O’Connor. Eleven essays are accompanied by the work of 11 short story writers, more than a dozen poets, 7 visual artists, a book review, and a series of O’Connor’s letters in their original forms. Photographs by Kathleen Gerard of O’Connor’s residence, Andalusia, are marvelous with their intricate shadows and acute sense of place. I had never really wanted to visit this site until I saw these photos.

Essays offer personal approaches to O’Connor’s work, analysis of her themes and prose, and assessments of her overall cultural importance. Most original and appealing are essays by Kori E. Frazier, Jake Adam York, and Amy Weldon, intelligent personal reflections that demonstrate the very best qualities of creative nonfiction.

There is much fine poetry in this issue, similar in many ways to the essays I liked best, personal, yet intelligent, that special experience of encountering a unique habit of mind articulating something both familiar and yet entirely un-thought until it occurs in front of us on the page. Perhaps that was, too, O’Connor’s greatest strength. I liked, in particular, poems by Betty Adcock, Rodney Jones, and the always-great Alice Friman (“Visiting Flannery”).

Joyce Carol Oates is the best known of the fiction writers represented here, but most contributors are accomplished and widely published. Stories tend to be rich in terms of language, fairly traditional in form, and considerably less odd, in my view, than O’Connor’s work, though no less weighty. I liked especially “A Cheerful Tune” by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, its title at odds with its serious Ku-Klux-Klan related theme. Most stories in this issue possess both a sense of immediacy and of lasting significance.

This tribute issue reminds us that as time goes on O’Connor – and the places that mattered to her, literary and physical – continues to deserve our attention and reconsideration. And that means the same is true of Shenandoah.
[shenandoahliterary.org/]

 

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Tin House coverTin House

Volume 12 Number 1

Fall 2010

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Tin House Editor Rob Spillman’s announcement that until 2011 unsolicited submissions will not be considered unless they are accompanied by a receipt for the recent purchase of a new book or literary magazine seems both in keeping with – and in some ways contrary to – the needs, concerns, issues, perspectives, realities, and experiences that surface in the poems, stories, essays, and interview that extrapolate on this issue’s theme, “Class in America.”

Is it more important for a struggling artist to buy a book than a can of soup? It’s not out of the question that such a choice may have to be made by some readers/writers. And public libraries are struggling, too. Perhaps Tin House could require that every writer whose work is selected for publication donate a copy of one of his/her books to a library or to a school. On the other hand, Spillman’s approach has its justifications and merits: if every writer who submitted work to a journal subscribed to that journal, the literary mag industry would be booming.

The role of the book and legal wrangling about copyrighting the printed page are at the heart of one of this issue’s most exciting features, an essay by the widely respected and undeniably influential teacher and scholar Lewis Hyde, “The Enclosure of Culture.” The TOC features other writers of prominence, including Charles Baxter, Lydia Davis (with an excerpt from her new translation of Madame Bovary), Gerald Howard, Major Jackson, Charles Harper Webb, Ed Skoog, Luc Sante, and Antonya Nelson (who introduces the Flaubert chapter), along with several accomplished but lesser known writers. Rose Bunch and Daniel Schoonebeek are this issue’s “new voices” in fiction and poetry respectively.

Class themes and ideas are played out in expected and unexpected ways: the clash of working class upbringings and literary aspirations; the trials and tribulations of the wealthy (really!); the “banality” of middle class life; the relationship of happiness to financial security; the meaning of work; our country’s troubled labor unions (think Jimmy Hoffa). Amy McDaniel describes her experience on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in a brief self-portrait about her role as a “cheesemongress.” Katie Arnold-Ratliff considers the lives of “women of leisure” in the magazine’s Lost & Found section, examining memoirs by Allison Rose and Gloria Vanderbilt. Benjamin Percy offers an exceptionally fine story about class and military service (and, of course, it’s about a whole lot more).

Erika Meitner’s poem, “Terra Nullius,” (a car wreck of a piece, meaning I didn’t want to look and I couldn’t look away) in its particularities may best sum up the issue’s – and literature’s – potential universal appeal. She begins:

The poem in which we drive an hour to the beach and Uncle Dave doesn’t get out of his lawn chair once.
The poem in which we left the yellow plastic shovel behind and everyone is bereft.

And she concludes: “The poem in which we are all in some kind of limbo.” This issue, like every volume of Tin House, is a houseful of highly accomplished writing by the country’s major and up-and-coming writers and literary authorities.
[www.tinhouse.com]

 

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Western American Literature coverWestern American Literature

Volume 45 Number 2

Summer 2010

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Published quarterly by the Western Literature Association at Utah State University, Western American Literature is a small scholarly journal with critical articles on “any aspect of literature of the American West,” book reviews, and artwork (reproduced in black and white) related to the region. This issue is comprised of three essays, Katie O. Arosteguy’s deconstruction of the myth of the cowboy in Annie Proulx’s Wyoming Stories; Kirsten Mollegaard’s analysis of Louis Sachar’s Holes; “Down the Santa Fe Trail to the City Upon a Hill,” by Andrew Menard, a consideration of the city of Santa Fe in American literature; 18 short reviews of works of criticism, fiction, and creative nonfiction; and paintings, photographs, and drawings by 9 artists.

For the most part, these are conventional scholarly works replete with footnotes and enough Benjamin, Derrida, Chodorow, Sedgewick, and Halberstam to satisfy any serious academic. They are, on the other hand, less opaque than much academic writing and, consequently, more reader-friendly. My favorite of the three is Menard’s, which is the least conventional as an academic essay, and as it happens, Menard is not an academic, but “a former conceptual artist who now writes about the nineteen-century American landscape.” His piece about the place known as the “city on the hill,” Santa Fe, is, in fact, written in an appealing and fluid style and is quite interesting.

One of the magazine’s most intriguing aspects is the range of forms and styles in the artworks presented. A graphite on Bristol board drawing, “Sanctuary,” by Bobby Ross is almost surreal; an oil painting by Delmas Howe, “Apollo’s Half-Acre,” has aspects so lifelike the painting at first appears to be a photograph; “Watch Out!” by Jon Langford, a print mounted on wood, is a 60’s style poster-like treatment of a blindfolded cowboy with an arrow through his heart and stars and snakes floating around his torso (it accompanies the article on Proulx). I loved a beautiful photograph, “Lady Reading,” by Robert Runyon (1881-1968) of a young woman sitting sideways in a chair, a single sheet of paper in her hand held high, against a shadowy background of the outdoors, from a collection at the University of Texas in Austin.
[www.usu.edu/westlit]

 

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