Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted November 15, 2010

Arkansas Review :: Borderlands :: Cream City Review :: Descant :: Forklift, Ohio :: Front Porch :: The Main Street Rag :: Nimrod :: Phoebe :: Santa Monica Review :: The Sow's Ear Poetry Review :: Sycamore Review

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Arkansas Review coverArkansas Review

Volume 41 Number 2

August 2010

Triannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Formerly the Kansas Quarterly, this issue of the Arkansas Review features two essays, a memoir, a poem, one short story, and numerous reviews. I like the narrow double column format (found most commonly these days in newspapers and The New Yorker), which makes the analytical essays (“Ain’t No Burnin’ Hell: Southern Religion and the Devil’s Music” by Adam Gussow and “Farmers and Fastballs: The Culture of Baseball in Depression Era Northeast Arkansas” by Paul Edwards) highly readable. These essays are intelligent and informative, but not stuffy or opaque.

Margaret McMullan’s fiction “Insurance” is an affecting story about grief. CL Bledsoe’s personal essay/memoir of addiction, “The Shakes,” is smart and honest. Catharine Savage Brosman’s poem “Great Egret Feeding” is quiet and lovely:

In shallows near the bayou’s edge he feeds,
beyond the new bridge and the rippling bight –
attending to the keenest of his needs,
the daily tyranny of appetite.

Reviews include smart evaluations of books from major university presses and independent presses on a wide variety of subjects.
[altweb.astate.edu/arkreview/]

 

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Borderlands coverBorderlands

Texas Poetry Review

Number 34

Spring/Summer 2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

The “borderlands” concept has never been more accurate. Along with a more general selection of more than 20 poets, this issue features a special section of “translingual poets,” defined as writers who “create in a language other than the one they were born into.” Editor Liliana Valenzuela praises the fine work of the translators whose work appears here alongside the originals and notes that many are gifted poets themselves. This issue also includes wonderful artwork by Liliana Wilson, terrific images with surreal elements, but wholly “real” human aspects that render the work both familiar and wondrous in the magical (but not silly or childish) sense of the word.

I appreciated the range of styles and voices in the poetry presented here. Highlights for me include “completely” by Charles Thomas, spare, elegant, direct, heart wrenching:

cover me
cover me
ribbons of read
assault me
bones
break me
sacrifices to lesser gods

And a poem built on the anaphoric use of “The End of Literature” by Irene O’Garden (“The End of Literature…is to attend a dazzly dinner / written in fiction, / cooked in truth, / and to feed on the people more / than the meal.”)

In the translingual section, I appreciated, above all, the dense lyricism of Peruvian poet Eduardo Chirinos in his poem “Poema de amor con rostro oscuro” / ”Love Poem with a Dark Face,” expertly translated by G.J. Racz; and Susanne Ayoub’s “Muchter & Trotte”/”Mother & Daughter,” with the wildly fabulous translation of Geoffrey C. Howes who successful captures Ayoub’s linguistic inventiveness (“nosear and yemouth / besistered daugtered / comorse”).

Ayoub’s poem ends “jaewig” (“ohforevery”). If it were not for Borderlands, I would never know about Ayoub’s work. Ohwhatpoetry – and wonderful literary journals like this one – can do!
[www.borderlands.org]

 

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Cream City Review coverCream City Review

Volume 34 Number 1

Spring 2010

Biannual

Review by Tanya Angell Allen

Sarah Legow's cover art for the latest 245 page volume of Cream City Review depicts ordinary objects inside eggshells. One shell holds sand. Another holds fur. Others hold clock gears, cigarette butts, shells, and twine. It's oddly perfect for the issue, as Cream City is crammed with strange, good pieces that give magic-realistic tinges to ordinary and gritty subjects.

J. Weintraub’s domestic science fiction story “The Couch Club” is about a human woman’s marriage to a space alien. In Nicole Callihan's “Violet Egan and the Magic Circle,” a regretfully childless woman is haunted by a TV-watching ghost. Tim Wirkus’s dreamy crime story “Thirteen Virtues of a Colonial Detective” is broken into disjointed sections, giving it a graphic-novel like feel.

Cecilia Johnson has a number of paintings accompanied by fables. One is about Snow White and her Prince’s glass coffin fetish. Another two-sentence fable is about Little Bunny Foo Foo.

John Porcellino has an excellent portfolio of comics, many of which are about the philosopher Diogenes. Others are about cats, or the importance of looking at an anthill and thinking “nothing matters except this anthill.”

The magazine's poetry is consistently good. One of the take-away pieces is “The Stranger Experiment” by Lori Davis, based on a recent scientific study that proves that when two people are put into a dark empty room and assured anonymity, they will usually start groping each other. Anna Leahy’s “Rules for Writing a Poem” begins unremarkably: “Be uncanny and brilliant. Be remarkable.” It's then salted with footnotes, such as the one following an instruction to write deftly about one's father's death: “More deftly, according to Louise Gluck, than did Sharon Olds in The Father. Get to it before your dissertation director does in Keep This Forever because you cannot be as witty as he is. You will not do your father justice anyway. No one ever does.”

This issue also has the work of its Annual Literary Prize winners (Haines Eason in poetry, Eson Kim in creative nonfiction, and Roger Sheffer in Fiction,) plus Amy T. Olen's translation of Edgardo Rivera Martinez's "Azurita."

There's also an excellent flash nonfiction feature, including Katherine Riegel's "All The Love You Want" about a stranger who leaves a poorly written note in the writer's car ("u are so prety i wil pay u 1000 dollers for to our of yor tim") then helps her fix a flat tire. Another is Ken Brosky's "Amazon.com: The New Meta-fiction," about the "Three-Wolf Tee-Shirt" made famous by the mock-reviews random people wrote for it. Brosky clicks on connected links such as "Black Toilet Paper" and "Fresh Whole Rabbit" and writes, "by surfing from page to page I was literally piecing together little snippets of Meta-Fiction, creating my own story as I surfed the Web's most popular shopping site."

Brosky’s piece and the other essays, stories, poems, and artworks in Cream City remind us of the beautiful and mad bits of magic that can be made from ordinary life.
[www.creamcityreview.org]

 

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Descant coverDescant

Volume 40 Number 3

Fall 2010

Quarterly

Review by Tanya Angell Allen

In "The Last Jesus I Know Of – " a nonfiction piece from Descant's "Writers in Prison" issue – Stephen Reid writes "amongst living books, the shape of your world can shift a thousand times, one for each title, or be changed forever in a single page. In its own way, the prison library is more dangerous than the big yard."

This issue of Descant also has the power to change the shape of reader's worlds by shifting the way they think about prisons. Billed as the first of Descant's fortieth anniversary celebration volumes, this 150th issue was inspired when an editorial assistant noticed a large number of submissions coming from prisoners in Canada and the United States and suggested a themed issue.

It's hard not to keep a thumb in the contributor's page and constantly checking out the author backgrounds while reading this issue. One of the well-done, gritty but slightly romantic stories by a writer who (unless she doesn’t acknowledge it in her biographical notes) has never been to prison is by Yvonne Stiver. Her story "These Strange Days in Captivity" is about a woman wrongly imprisoned for terrorism who begins a sexual relationship with a visiting Catholic priest. Mark Strong also has a good story called "Devlin & Carl." In it, a blind man has his young cell mate read to him, and helps him find metaphorical freedom via The Odyssey and other books.

Several of the other authors have run writing workshops for prisoners. Dorothy Field has a pair of poems called "Volunteers: Who We Are" ("faded / women hungry for a hug, sensitive New Age / guys afraid to live in their pants, nuns, school / marms") and "Inside Guys: Who They Are." ("Murderers, rapists, thieves, dope pushers, great / cooks, guys who can barely open a can of beans, / bored out of their tree, drunk on learning"). "The Missing Picture" is Finn Clarke's simple story of a photographer who directs two elderly people to the prison that holds their son.

Then there’s the fascinating work created by the presently-incarcerated. In "Putting Myself Out There," James Wiley renders a heartbreaking series of memories leading to his killing four family members at age fifteen. Charles Bronson has several surreal, disturbing and colorful illustrations of prison life. Saint James Harris Wood has two typewritten letters sent from California Men's Colony. He talks there of trying to find a new place for writing after being transferred out of a prison where he wrote in the NEA funded Arts in Corrections program.

Former prisoner Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, who was falsely accused and imprisoned for murder, writes with Ken Klonsky in "Surviving Prison" that "When we make it impossible for people to be anything but criminals, they tend to live down to our beliefs; when we encourage, work with and believe in them, they tend to rise to our expectations."

This issue of Descant shows the humanity of the incarcerated and the power of literature to help them reform, heal, and survive. It’s an issue that should be circulated widely in the hope of raising expectations.
[www.descant.ca/]

 

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Forklift, Ohio coverForklift, Ohio

Number 21

Fall 2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

It sounds huge – Forklift. It’s subtitled as if the description was written after a night of heavy drinking – A Journal of Poetry, Cooking & Light Industrial Safety. It’s quirky – for example, section titles from the TOC: A Precaution in Planting; Fresh from the Nursery; Animals in the Garden; Sprinkling vs. Watering; and so forth. It looks fun, with whacky illustrations and graphics. It feels small – Forklift fits in one palm. It’s all of these things. And none of them. And you should take it seriously, even if it does its level best to dissuade you from doing so, at least at first glance.

Heavy lifting worth paying attention to includes sudden fiction by Jenn Scheck-Kahn, “Uncorked (“Food cramps Franklin. He is hungry before he paints, but after it, he’s full. If he eats early, there’s no space for painting. It’s that simple.”), a poem by Nicholas Gulig, “Traveling” (“How could one not want this if it is / real this particle of sparrow / light this metal / fence between the shadow of / the city and the field if we are listening”), a translation of a poem by the prolific and much-admired Slovenian poet Tomaz Salamun from Michael Thomas Taren, “The Work on a Platform”; and several poems by Adam Clay and by Cynthia Arrieu-King.

Much of the work in the journal (though not the pieces cited above) are, indeed, quirky, and there is an equal measure of fun and drama – “the world’s no longer really ours,” concludes poet Thera Webb in “One Way the World Will End.”

And, yes, there are recipes: Melissa Barrett provides her versions of Vegetarian Pink Bean & Red Pepper Stew, and Easy Australian Lemonade Scones; and Cate Peeble gives us Sunday Lentil Soup Redux. These featured alongside Matthew Pitt’s story “Appetites,” a mock restaurant review.

Matt Reeck’s short story, “The Undertow of the World,” a series of short numbered fragments, epitomizes the journal’s sensibility and captures its tone precisely: “Seven cars pass through one gate. They contain thirteen nations. Each nation owns one vegetable. One vegetable is bountiful in its nation. To seize each vegetable. To cease each nation.” Seize your fork and dig in.
[www.ForkliftOhio.com]

 

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Front Porch logoFront Porch

Issue 15

Summer 2010

Online Quarterly

Review by Henry F. Tonn

This journal is run by the MFA students at Texas State University and was founded in 2006. Each edition produces some combination of fiction, nonfiction, book reviews, interviews, poetry, and audio/videos.

I thoroughly enjoyed “The Many Fictions of Mustafa Kahraman” by Benjamin Doty, which begins “The day before the secret police arrested him, Mustafa Kahraman sat with Ahmet Gül over glasses of tea and contemplated the many lies of his life at a small Istanbul café.” I was less impressed, however, with “Red Rover, Red Rover,” by Rene Saldana, Jr., the story of a man who kills his ex-wife and her male friend in a fit of rage and then tries to flee to Mexico. This kind of plot is not only trite and well-worn, but is presented in neither a fresh nor an innovative way.

I was knocked over by Albert Abonado’s poem “In a Field Called Vietnam.” Lugubrious poetry at its best, transcendental:

Sometimes, I have
two mothers. I'm not sure which one
was the one I once saw holding
the hole in the neck of a man
dying in a field. I saw the hole  
grow teeth and now the man travels
around the country talking  
out the back of his head with two
voices: the bored voice
and the surviving voice,
and when he asks for water  
his mother tilts his head back
toto let the air out of his brain.

There are excellent, very professional reviews of books written by or about luminaries such as Raymond Carver (A Writer’s Life, by Carol Sklenicka, reviewed by William Jensen), Alice Munroe (Too Much Happiness, reviewed by David Norman), and Anne Frank (another one about Anne Frank??), (Anne Frank: the Book, the Life, and the Afterlife, by another luminary Francice Prose; reviewed by Daniel Keltner) and more obscure writers such as H. L Humes. Humes, whose massive tome, The Underground City, about World War II, plus his gradual descent into madness, is expertly delineated by Evan McMurry. It did not make me want to read the book, but I was certainly impressed with the review.

I finish with another poem: “Grace,” by Jennifer Wrisley:

Grace is the egret, whose legs stream behind
like thin ropes when flying.
Or maybe, grace is the act of looking
when the head wants to turn. Grace in the sky,
and grace on earth: on earth, sometimes, it is
wanting the truth, and this, a small act of mercy.

Jennifer Wrisley took her own life at age thirty, the victim of chronic pain and seizures for many years.

Life is not fair.
[frontporchjournal.com]

 

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The Main Street Rag coverThe Main Street Rag

Volume 15 Number 3

Summer 2010

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This issue is consistent with Main Street’s approach both to the mag and its chapbook series, direct, approachable poems and stories composed of casual diction, conversational tones, and familiar imagery. This issue features an interview with Main Street chapbook author Richard Allen Tyler, along with the work of 28 poets and a half-dozen fiction writers. The work of four photographers rounds out the issue. I liked, in particular, “A Pike’s Peak Spring” from M. Scott Douglass, clouds and snow gathered on and around railroad tracks captured at a moment of altering textures, depicted expertly in the photograph.

David Wortman’s story about cashing out to close another day in the retail world, “We’re Co-Workers, We’ll Co-Narrate,” is especially appealing, demonstrating the power of understatement: “The story I want to tell is big, with betrayals and love and murder, but my baby is sick and not getting better.” A poem by Fiona Sze-Lorrain, “Invisible Eye,” is moving, too, for its restraint. Here are the opening lines:

Fog
chalks the skeletons
of houses. I pry
open doors of dusk.
Every tree helps me
pick my way
home.

Sze-Lorrain contributes my favorite of the many love poems in this issue, too, “Fragile”: “The sea under our bed / holds immensity for sleepless / hours.”

My favorite of the many poems on aging parents and family matters is Heather Ross Miller’s “Visiting Hours,” which captures the particular experience of the nursing home visit with precision. And my favorite views-of-nature contribution is actually one artist’s view of another’s, “Paintings” by Patricia Behrens.

Having just spent most of yesterday afternoon stuck just past the last toll booth going north toward Manhattan on the New Jersey Turnpike, courtesy of a (rented) broken down Toyota Sienna, I was, naturally, amused to read “A Brush with Reality in the Form of a Toyota Sienna” by Scott Owens:

The high-maintenance girls run by
my minivan, fuel-efficient, 8-seated
15 cup-holdered, easily-cleaned conveyance,
as I balance keys, cellphone, and morning
cup of coffee, a venti breve latte
with shots of Irish crème and crème de cacao,
a Becky’s Mozart they call it Taste Full
(2 words) Beans Coffeehouse (1 word)
the owner reminds me again.

I could have used that Becky’s Mozart while I waited for the tow truck on the Turnpike shoulder.
[www.mainstreetrag.com/]

 

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Nimrod coverNimrod

Volume 54 Number 1

Fall/Winter 2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Nimrod’s eagerly anticipated annual awards issue features prize winners, finalists, semi-finalists, and honorable mentions in the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry and Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction: Terry Blackhawk, Shannon Robinson, Harry Bauld, Lydia Kann, Dan Kelty, Deborah DeNicola, Morris Collins, Sue Pace, Jude Nutter, Francine Marie Tolf, Ed Frankel, William Pitt Root, Laura LeCorgne, Andrea L. Watson, Usha Akella, Mark Wagenaar, Kate Fetherston, and Pamela Davis. Their work is accompanied by poems and stories by several dozen other poets and prose writers, including the amazingly prolific poet Linda Pastan, widely published poet Richard Terrill, and several fine translations of poetry originally published in Turkish and German.

I liked, in particular, Lydia Kann’s story “The Arrival,” with its short narrative fragments and approachable prose: “The bus is smoking as it pulls into the slot between a Greyhound and Trailways. Not like Camels, mind you. Fumes.” Kann’s story begins with casual, conversational assurance and ends with lyrical impact. I appreciated Margarite Lindry’s story “Panic,” for much the same reasons, a story that amounts to more than the sum of its parts.

Poetry, prize-winning or not, is characterized by sharp focus on detail; cautious diction; and attention to sound. Melancholy, longing, and lost opportunity are prevalent themes, along with wistful nature scenes and poignant family stories. Here is an excerpt from Rebecca Hazelton’s “[The Birds Begun at Four o’clock – ]”:

This is not the dark wood, or the midway
ha-ha stumbled over. The birds
eke out a song over the din of leaf
blowers.

And here is another from Amorak Huey’s poem “Crossing the Cahaba River on a Fallen Tree, My Brother Breaks His Arm”:

I don’t remember Silas falling,
though he did and I was there
so must have seen. I don’t remember
his landing or lying on a bed of creekstones,
though he must have. I remember
the water oak’s dirt-caked roots
spidering into the air, this giant
ripped free from its tethers,
and the cold breaking of the spring river
around my fist,

A number of extremely fine black and white photographs appear at the end of literary contributions, including “Dancing Whooping Cranes,” by Alice Lindsay Price, which captures the birds lifting off from the water, wings about to open, and poised for flight.
[www.utulsa.edu/nimrod]

 

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Phoebe coverPhoebe

Volume 39 Number 2

Fall 2010

Biannual

Review by Lesley Dame

When I received phoebe, I was struck by the name. Phoebe was one of the Titan gods and for some time was in control of the Delphic Oracle. She’s been called Goddess of Wise Counsel, Thoughtful Replies, and Snappy Answers. What a great name for a journal! I though with glee. I began reading with an earnest hopefulness that phoebe would turn out to be wise, intelligent, and quirky. Was she ever!

The poetry in phoebe is colossal, by which I mean exceptional and demanding. Image-driven, mysterious, and contemplative, they urge you to slow down.

I could spend a day or two just pondering some of the more bizarre images. Take, for example,

sullen mermaids, angels washing
their underwear, the sea rising, trees
singing as they die, & feathers.

These lines come from an untitled poem by Emily Carr. It’s gorgeous and odd, a mixture of heaven, earth, and ocean. These are images I could never dream up, and yet, Carr places them neatly on the page. Forgive me, Carr, but what I get from these amazing images is a mixture of joy and pain, ordinary and extraordinary. For me, this poem is about the delicate balance of life, the sorrows we endure, and the hope we have for the future.

A second, shorter poem that is just as lovely and slightly more accessible is called “Your Name: An Aerie.” Written by Aran Donovan, it’s the winner of the Greg Grummer Poetry Prize. It begins, “I make a nest for your name. I weave / around it needles, pine, the down of a vest.” The gesture of creating a nest to cradle someone’s name, someone’s identity, is heart-warming. The unique images make this poem so much more than a kind of love poem. It’s both tender and raw.

After you’ve spent some time digging around the poetry in phoebe, don’t put your shovel away. The fiction is equally fascinating and less abstract. One story, called “Today is a Fish” by Rachel Khong, is about a neurotic woman who dates a drunken fisherman. Nothing much happens, but the writing is fabulous, and the story depicts a sense of loneliness and longing.

Another interesting story, Samantha Erin Tetangco’s “Asking For It,” is about a transgendered couple living in Albuquerque. Dust becomes a symbolic third character, a lingering heaviness that makes it impossible for the couple to shake their pasts.

Lastly, the story that moved me most is called “Good Morning Beautiful,” by Roya Khatiblou. It’s about Arsham, an Iranian pre-med student attending Loyola in Chicago. He’s lonely and alienated, doing poorly in school and almost starving as he tries to stretch out his student loans. His landlord, Lenny, is a bit of a mess as well. From a terrific stench in the hallway, they deduce that the elderly woman next door has died. Lenny wants to look for money in her apartment before calling the cops. Arsham is appalled, but he needs that money, too. What happens in the final scene is both macabre and inspirational.

After reading the magazine, I’m totally down with the title. Phoebe is not only a Titan among journals, it’s down-to-earth and intellectually stimulating, a difficult combination to achieve. I don’t know how the journal really got its name, but I know one goddess who’s softly chuckling her approval.
[www.phoebejournal.com]

 

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Santa Monica Review coverSanta Monica Review

Volume 22 Number 2

Fall 2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This issue of the Santa Monica Review features eleven stories introduced by a brief excerpt from each of the contributors (“Ab Intra”). The journal’s website describes its contents as fiction and nonfiction, though there is no genre classification in the TOC or the pages of the magazine. I’m tempted to refer to every entry simply as a “story” (real or imagined), though some pieces clearly do read more like fictive creations and others like “lived tales,” beginning with the opening piece in the issue, “Expert Opinion,” by Michelle Latiolais, a story about suicide, medical malpractice, and the fatal consequences of “adverse” reactions to commonly prescribed drugs.

One of the journal’s strengths is the range of subjects featured in the stories, from Judith Grossman’s personal account of time spent in the Israeli desert, to Christian A. Winn’s story of family, gambling, and losing one’s way through young adulthood; to Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s prose-poem-y/sudden-fiction-like half-page, “Crow”: “She makes a plan to befriend a single crow.”

I was moved, in particular, by Michael Guista’s story, “Till Death do Us Part,” the strikethrough the literal embodiment of the story’s message; and by Karl Taro Greenfeld’s “Mickey Mouse,” the story of a Japanese painter in WWII. This is my favorite piece in the issue, though overall every piece is strong and the writing solid. Taro Greenfeld’s story is unique, original, emotionally satisfying, unexpected and unpredictably plotted. It is something of a relief, as well as immensely pleasurable, to read an original plot with uncommon characters, scenes, and situations. The prose is not unconventional and nothing about the author’s style or narrative tactics is particularly unusual or inventive, and neither need to be anything more than they are, a good – and interesting – story, told well.

A terrific reminder that there is more going in the world – and in the history of the world – than the disaffection of youth, the inertia of middle age, and aging parents.
[www.smc.edu/sm_review]

 

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The Sow's Ear Poetry Review coverThe Sow’s Ear Poetry Review

Volume 20 Number 2

Summer 2010

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

The magazine’s contest winner Dean Rader is joined by two dozen poets and a marvelous “Crossover” feature, “Book Sculptures” by Samantha Y. Huang, photo reproductions of exactly what the title of her work denotes, pages, spines, covers, words/text the stuff of three dimensional “ideas.” Poems in this issue, like Huang’s book sculptures, aim to reshape the way we think about spaces, places, and the capacity of language to capture unique angles.

Contest judge Kelly Cherry’s choice of “Hesiod in Oklahoma, 1934,” Dean Rader’s prize-winning poem is an excellent one. Rader’s poem is original, intellectually satisfying, sophisticated, and serious. I appreciate his attention to sound, his idiosyncratic lyricism, and his consistent and focused commitment to the poem’s vision. Rader never loses sight of the poem’s purpose and never releases his hold on a particular style of diction. Above all, the poem is incredibly satisfying rhythmically.

There is always the grass ahead of him on and on :
and behind him the grass the gouged skin they strip it from:
saltspiked and silty, endless and unending;
their labor the field’s body, the field’s body their stale host.
…furrowed and famished: find the poet swathed in dirt: inscrutable and silent:

I was moved by the emotional urgency in poems by Rebecca Warren (“The River in Rain”) and Robert Murdock (“Mucking It”), whose poem concludes: “Here’s an old entry / in the encyclopedia of what to do right now.” I kept coming back to this wonderful phrase again and again.

This issue also includes a number of fine works of art, although it is not always easy to tell from these mini reproductions what the originals are (drawings, paintings, etc.). I loved Nerida de Jong’s “Playing Cards,” two female figures (one older, one younger) in a slumber-party like image of great texture, and “Furrows and Clouds” by Martin Sturgess, a farm field and clouds that captures the way in which sky and earth can seem to merge in certain landscapes.
[www.sows-ear.kitenet.net]

 

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Sycamore Review coverSycamore Review

Volume 22 Issue 2

Summer/Fall 2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Amber Albrecht’s intricately composed, enticing drawings, more than two-dozen of which appear in the magazine as well as on the front and back covers, are representative of the work in this issue. You want to look more closely, find out more, figure out why a tree is sprouting from the back of a dress or from the chimney of a house. These images and perspectives are hard to classify. They’re not whimsical or playful so much as intensely of-the-moment, heightened in a familiar, but somewhat mysterious manner. They seduce with a kind of welcoming strangeness, a dress that looks like an egg from which the figure is hatched, a patch of ground that resembles a flying carpet, and titles like “People Who Are Not Like Us,” a short story by Brock Clarke. The opening of the story, too, captures the spirit of magazine as a whole: “Rupert goes first. Rupert’s real name is Shamequa, but we call her Rupert because one of the things we do is give black women the names of white men.” An irresistibly original beginning.

Stories by Adam Prince, Kerry Jones, and Shannon Robinson, and an essay by Lisa Lee (“Dear Mary Wang”) are similarly appealing, narrated in original voices in casual, well- paced prose with seductive beginnings. The work of nearly two-dozen poets is consistent with this editorial predilection, approachable poems, familiar, yet new, mingling popular references with mythological ones, and daily experience with deeper concerns. Here, for example, are the first two stanzas of Dawn Lonsinger’s “Orpheus XXX”:

In this version you don’t look back
and does this mean that I escape into
the light, that we might frolic there?
or that I’m released into the whole-
hearted solitude of being?
You never look back, slip like wet clay,
your arm already around another life,
your Saab in the driveway, your head in the hollow
of her unerring clavicle, your body like any other point along the dim horizon.

Produced at Purdue University, two interviews transcribed from live events at the university appear, as well, in this issue. Poet Eleanor Wilner, who I’m happy to learn has a new book coming out, reminds us that it’s poetry’s “sudden insights” that have the power to change the way we think or look at the world (“The mind is amazing, and largest when discovering our smallness.”) Fiction writer Benjamin Percy explains how he revises to change voices and context until he finds the story he wants to tell. (“The whale becomes a bear.”)

Michelle Chan Brown’s poem “Hypnosis” concludes: “When we wake up, we’ll remember everything.” You may not remember everything in this issue of Sycamore Review, but I’m pretty sure you’ll find much of it memorable.
[www.sycamorereview.com]

 

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