Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted January 15, 2011

ABRAXAS :: AMERARCANA :: Amoskeag :: Crab Creek Review :: Feile-Festa :: FIELD :: jubilat :: Knockout :: Poet Lore :: Slipstream :: Tusculum Review :: World Literature Today

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ABRAXAS coverABRAXAS

Volume 47

2010

Review by Lesley Gouger

ABRAXAS describes itself as an “irregular, independent poetry magazine” from Wisconsin and introduces readers to contemporary writers of lyrical poetry.

Its name stems from ancient Gnostic texts as the name of a supreme deity, suggesting a magazine filled with supernatural and esoteric content, as though the reader will be charmed into a mystical state of mind through the poems themselves. ABRAXAS is saturated with simple yet multilayered texts. In the Greek fashion, many of the poems personify the natural world in mystifying and refreshing ways.

This issue features a wide range of poets including: Roselyn Elliott, prospero saiz, Jami Macarty, marcia arrieta, Tom Kryss, Lee Ballentine, Warren Woessner, Joseph Stanton, Grace Butcher and the editor herself, Ingrid Swanberg. There are also a series of abstract nature photographs by Andrea Moorhead. The images work well with the poems, capturing both the simplicity and eeriness of the natural world.

ABRAXAS opens with “August” by Roselyn Elliott, a vivid depiction of summer sea life, followed by “December,” where the poet directly addresses the reader, in true lyric fashion, with the lines,

You are much more than an abstraction,
but these trees will forget you.
You are meant to be forgotten.

From here, we venture into prospero saiz’s journey of lost love in an untitled piece that dances between natural imagery and fading romance. He drips delicately placed phrases in front of the reader, like, “your scent is fading from my fingers” and “the unheard bird of nothing flies over.”

Jami Macarty breaks in with unexpected form and truly ambitious style in “Flight Hours.” Like the other poets, Macarty weaves together the almost divine quality of the natural world and our growing alienation from it. We move “across the chessboard” into marcia arrieta’s minimalist writing, where she questions the nature of myth in observations of animal migration to reach a sequence of poems by Swanberg.

“I have come a long way / to dissolve here,” she says in “you don’t know me.” Swanberg returns to Greek undertones in her transformation into nature, becoming the starlight and the angel that she had mistakenly assumed were outside of her. This coincides nicely with a shift into the intricate and dense work of Tom Kryss. His poems are strikingly different in both tone and form; at times, he seems to be tapping his foot into the land of prose poetry and quasi-narrative styles. He introduces the reader to strange characters, like an emperor who gives up his throne to a box, and startling scenarios. Take the opening line of “Venice,” “Quite unexpectedly he wandered into an ensemble of mimes.” His work stands in strong juxtaposition to the rest of the pieces in this magazine. I appreciated a break from some of the overly simplistic poems in the beginning of the publication.

As we near the final portion of this hefty volume, Lee Ballentine erupts on the page with “fifty.” Here the poet has become enmeshed in the world and speaks from an almost divine point of view:

when I was in the womb
the light was red
when I burst through my membranes
gold
solidifying eventually to lead, to disks of lead.

With Warren Woessner, we return to more traditional lyric fashion, with a dash of narrative thrown in for kicks. His poems combine graceful nature descriptions with biting commentary on the traumas of old age and medical mishaps. We emerge from the heavy and serious world of Woessner into Joseph Stanton’s reflections on a Japanese ghost story and a classic children’s fable. Despite life’s enduring brokenness and isolation, Stanton chooses to “wash my weeping / in shadow / and dream myself a demon / dancing in the dangerous corridors / of your heart.” He ends his collection in laughter and joy at the “miracle” of undone death.

On this promising note, we enter into the final section of this volume, a series of 6 poems by Grace Butcher. Recollections of a childhood horse haunt the poet in her dreams. “And all his bones still call my name,” she says as they “lean into / each other until he dissolves / into darkness again, and I wake / to wait for him.” In her next poem, she portrays the charmingly storybook romance between a bear and a girl, which bounces nicely off Stanton’s earlier work. The series ends with “The Lonely Ones,” in which the poet loses herself again in the eyes of her horse.

While its title may be a bit ambitious, deeper readings of ABRAXAS offer a solid payoff well worth its price. The reader can enjoy a multitude of talented writers as they tackle the tenuous realms of emotional complexity.
[www.abraxaspressinc.com/]

 

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AMERARCANA coverAMERARCANA

A Bird & Beckett Review

2010

Annual

Review by Priscilla Williams

As child I remember singing, “This land is your land, this land is my land. From California to the New York Island [...] This land was made for you and me.” Like Woody Guthrie’s famous song, the Amerarcana brilliantly encompasses a broad spectrum of voices that represents the collective identity of American poets from coast to coast. The Amerarcana is a rich steaming stew of folklore, language, and cultural identity. Piping hot and savory too! Each poem is a tantalizing slice of western spirit.

I enjoyed the southwest flavor of Carla Badillo Coronado’s poem “Pertenencias/Belongings”:

Por mas que uno diga
que es de todas partes
—o de ninguna—
cosmopolita
universal
libertario
ciudadano del mundo
auto exiliado
que se yo

The language was beautiful to read (though I could not understand a word) and benefited from the wonderful English translations of her poems on the following page. Other spicy highlights from this edition were Joj Kastra (George Castera), Neeli Cherkovski, Benjamin Morris, and Maggie Cleveland. Walker Brents’s narrative poem is a smorgasbord of Native American tradition, spirituality, and folklore:

The name “Laughing Fox” was probably a name he just dreamed up for himself in the presence of whomsoever. He did, though, look like a fox who laughed, especially in the firelight of a llano estsacado night. Part Comanche, part Pawnee, or so he said. To me, all medicine man.

Another delectable gem was Maryam Monalisa Gharavi’s “English Lesson.” I relished the deep and complex social commentary that this poem encompassed. The speaker is stigmatized on her first day of school for not having an accent. “Where is your accent? // The first day of schooling / An unaccented girl of no significance.” For immigrants and non-immigrants alike this poem is food for thought, as it brings into question the validity of prejudice and stereotypes. For those born outside of the U.S there is always a tug-of-war between assimilation and preserving one’s unique identity, and I enjoyed that each poet in the Amerarcana preserved their own unique voice.

I also appreciated the fun and playful format of Marina Lazzara, Nathaniel Mackey, and Michel McClure. Their impressive line breaks and groovy form is a savory blend of artistic quality and style. From Michel McClure’s “Votive Bouquet”:

GOOD MORNING, PURPLE MORNING GLORY,
it’s all going to be o.k.
Bruce is on his way
to where the roots
are from
and where the sun heads
spray.

Each poem in the Amerarcana is a unique thread that makes up the fabric of American identity, and in writing I am proud to be a part of that fabric; an intricate stitch and dazzling work of art.
[amerarcana.wordpress.com/]

 

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Amoskeag coverAmoskeag

The Journal of Southern New Hampshire University

Volume 27 Number 1

Spring 2010

Annual

Review by Ashley Jean Granillo

From the unknown writer expecting a rejection letter, rather than a publication, to authors well-known to the New York Times—all meet together in Amoskeag. This collection of voices focuses on what Editor Michael J. Brien expresses as, “recollections and reconstructions of hazy, distant memories, and memories so fresh they scream to be captured before they begin to […] lose breath.”

Each story, poem and photograph reflects the power of human recollection, bringing to words not only captivating imagery but thought provoking philosophies. As a reader/writer who gravitates towards texts that explore the morbid topic of the unknown, I find that in this particular collection, even what is known is still a mystery. Only through the exploration of narrative and poetry can a person begin to know what it is they have experienced and can then anticipate how these experiences will shape them for the future to come. It is a comforting collection, in that it brings insight to the anxieties and tragedies which make us all human.

Our skip down memory lane begins with a fitting poem by Jodi L. Hottel entitled, “The Cage.” How trapping, no? Sometime later it is followed by Brad Johnson’s narrative, “Claire Wants Time” where one can discover that, “[w]hen thinking about life, the idea of death seems heavy. When thinking about death, it’s life that weighs you down.”

The tragic becomes the beautiful for Amanda Crowell Stiebel, the author of “Death’s Branches”:

My father, grandfather, aunt
Discussed options at the dinner table
While she excused herself
Loaded grandpa’s gun
Locked the bathroom door
And optioned out.

Poets like Paul Hostovsky lead us into the pains that trouble the living, such as the unorthodox complications of an open relationship, where a woman tells her wanting fiancé that “[t]he heart must remain open.” And narrative writers such as Jessica Day, bring to light the common nonexistent romantic relationship found between fan and musician in, “Sister-in-Law.” This provocative narrative easily became a favorite of mine, for I could identify with this experience and shared the sentiment: “there’s nothing more endearing than a vulnerable, charming, insane person…who can play the piano. You just want to cuddle them.”

Louis Berceli seems to answer the question that many of the writers in Amoskeag concern themselves with. If you want to know the answer read, “Le Petit Mort,” the SNHU Undergrad Prose contest winner. The title of the story itself should reveal how our biological needs are constantly egging us on to die daily in the arms of a lover, spouse, a one-night-stand—or even at the expense of our own hand.

I’d like to applaud the editor for encouraging the youth of our nation to publish their work. It is refreshing to see a journal extend itself to those who have not reached the college level yet. Unfortunately, a 5-year-old’s haiku about dead goldfish wasn’t published. However, pieces from high school students Raychel Rapazza and Emilie Vansant display an amazingly mature hold on language, and supplement the collection and its content. In fact, Amoskeag ends with Vansant’s poem “Simple Fragments.” She writes, “You don’t pose for memories,” a highly insightful line for a girl who has not yet endured the troubles of adult life.

While at first I had my doubts about the journal, after reading through every page, I learned not to judge a journal by its graphically simple cover. The black-and-white simplicity of the journal (both inside and out) takes away the distraction so that readers can immerse themselves into words colored by individualized experiences.
[www.amoskeagjournal.com/]

 

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Crab Creek Review coverCrab Creek Review

Volume 23 Number 2

2010

Biannual

Review by David Morck

After winning a year’s subscription during last year’s National Poetry Day, I discovered the joy of the Crab Creek Review. What had drawn me into past issues was the range of voices, both from experienced writers and fresh, emerging writers. There has always been a certain charm to the pieces selected, whether their tone leans towards the more serious or whimsical, and this issue is no exception.

The biggest standout in the second issue for 2010 is the section entitled Beyond Ekphrasis: Poems of the Musical, Mathematical, and Visual in which Crab Creek Review’s first guest editor Susan Rich pulled from “over fifteen hundred poems submitted by more than four hundred poets from three different continents,” “work inspired by photography, sculpture, music, film and even a mathematical equation.” One of the exceptional pieces inspired by art in this section is a poem called “The Plague Doctor” by Peter Pereira based on a 1656 engraving entitled “Doktor Schabel von Rom” by Paul Fürst. The engraving is included above the poem and lends itself to the poem’s dark and mystical force. The poem begins:

Brow shadowed by a black
wide-brimmed hat, he swings
his wooden cane to part the swarm
of flies crawling your motionless body,
prods you with the cane’s tip
to measure your response.

The word choice in the poem is exquisitely brutal, offering images of “erupting pustules”, “flea-infested straw”, “pungence repelling pungence,” and the pitch-perfect ending leaves an enduring image of:

Its two oval sockets lensed in red glass
as if to warn you—how scavenger birds
always begin with the eyes.

Other poems that are worthy of mention within the section on ekphrasis are “Prelude” by Valerie Nieman, based on a photograph of Rosa Parks getting her fingerprints taken, and a heart-rending look at youth and strength in “Patrick Swayze” by Casey Fuller, highlighting the promise of Hollywood vigor, about the actor, who unfortunately fell victim to cancer last year.

For those that are animal aficionados, there seems to be a strong motif of animals throughout many of this issue’s poems. One particularly enjoyable poem, although perhaps light in its content, is Anita K. Boyle’s “Time with Cats,” which is a very charming piece, and echoes the epigraph from Colette, “Time with cats is never wasted,” in its ending:

The cats have fallen asleep.
One is upside down.
It begins to purr.
This is a day not wasted.

Another enjoyable piece is “My Pet Chicken” by James Bertolino, in which there is a recall of having a pet chicken killed because of fencing that was:

…high enough
to keep my chicken in, but not
strong enough to keep the neighbor’s
German Shepherd from knocking
them down

The reflection in the ending of this carefully constructed piece is beautifully done:

…Disappointed
I hadn’t built a better pen for my bird,
I didn’t blame that dog, and decided
to try pigeons next. I knew they could fly
away when molested.

There is no lack of truly well-constructed poetry within this issue, and as well the fiction is strong, especially Midge Raymond’s “Two Lies and a Truth,” which plays off of the game of telling someone two lies and one truth, then guessing which is which, and speaks deeply to the nature of friendship and what truth really entails.

Overall, this issue of Crab Creek Review is successful in capturing your attention, interest, and imagination, and is a worthy addition to anyone’s reading schedule.
[www.crabcreekreview.org/]

 

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Feile-Festa coverFeile-Festa

Spring 2010

Annual

Review by Laura Bones

Feile and festa mean “festival” in Irish and Italian, and indeed there are many pieces in this journal from the Mediterranean Celtic Cultural Association worth celebrating. Much of the work explores the effects of Irish and Italian diaspora in the United States, particularly New York City.

At once celebrating and mourning the loss of their direct cultural contact, the writers make use of familiar motifs—Italian food, Irish Blessing songs—which makes us feel invited into a small parcel of the writers’ preoccupations with identity and how those identities are constructed away from home. “Family Portrait,” written by Marisa Frasca, grapples with leaving Italy behind while painting a familiar snapshot: the Vespa, the sea, and olives. But the heartache that accompanies this piece and many others, turns what would be “familiar” writing into something new—especially for a reader who may not be so acquainted with Irish or, in this case, Italian culture:

Part of me would always sit on his apple green Vespa, low below his knees, mother behind him in a flowered sundress…
…when my family was still one and I belonged somewhere, whole, familiar, as our piece of Mediterranean Sea.

This is the leading strength of the journal—the pursuit of wholeness, the desire to overcome a fragmented existence.

Another standout aspect of the journal is its easy sense of humor. One poem by Gil Fagiani “The Little Flower Dethrones the Artichoke King” is rife with irony as we learn that Fiorello La Guardia had it out for the mob and banned the selling of mini artichokes—a million dollar business even in the thirties—and when the uncorrupt La Guardia succeeds,

the paesani go back to eating
their spiny delicacies without
fattening the wallets of mobsters,
while the guardians of free commerce
remain on the lookout for more
attempts at vegetable oppression.

The mobsters are thwarted from their illegal selling practices, but the Italians, with their unwavering love of food, kept right on munching.

As a first-generation American, it seems my family’s ties to the past simply snapped. Reading the depth with which these writers explore the sense of loss, the terrain of memory, and the need for assimilation, I am prompted to do my own, much-needed investigation into my cultural heritage. A few days after I gobbled up the last pages of Feile-Festa, I realized I had found a real shamrock in an often times drab and dreary field of journals.
[www.medcelt.org/feile-festa/]

 

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FIELD coverField

Number 83

Fall 2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Bruce Weigl, Annie Finch, Steve and Stuart Friebert, David Young, Beckian Fritz Goldberg, Carole Simmons Oles, and Stephen Tapscott contribute to “A Symposium” on poet Richard Wilbur, in anticipation of his 90th birthday, with essays responding to particular Wilbur poems, reprinted here. These thoughtful essays of close reading, and Wilbur’s “consistently brilliant” poetry (as aptly categorized in the editors’ introduction), are well accompanied by new work from David Dodd Lee, David Wagoner, Elton Glaser, Jon Loomis, Kimiko Hahn, and Sandra McPherson, among others.

Translator Eric Torgersen introduces a long poem, “A Few Notes from the Elbholz,” by German poet Nicholas Born, who died of cancer at age 41 in 1979. Torgersen’s introduction is especially useful, as I assume most American readers, like me, will not know either the region of which Born writes in northern Germany on the border of East and West, or Born’s work. I liked Born’s poem immensely and admire Torgersen’s adept and fluid translation:

Walking through small-large HOMELINESS
(I can only call it)
broad meadows, the grass, frozen and sparkling
with frost, squeaks, the old forest
groans, and mist, rose-colored, rises
as if from camped herds
All if not made of ideas,
wet black branches of these scorned oaks
rummage the sky

Poems by Rick Bursky (“Cardiology”: “Seven years ago I bought a pair of crutches, / just in case”); Megan Snyder-Camp (“Confession”: “I used to pretend the ceiling was the floor.”); and John Gallaher (“The Bridge at Rest”: “The bridge is dreaming again.”) with their merging of the thing-ness of the world around us and abstract metaphysical concerns are successful and definitely in keeping with the Wilbur-ish focus of the issue.
[www.oberlin.edu/ocpress]

 

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Jubilat coverjubilat

18

2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Uljana Wolf’s work, translated by Susan Bernofsky, excerpts from DICTHionary. A German-English Dictionary of False Friends, True Cognates, and Other Cousins, is like the best of the work jubilat always gives us, inventive, unusual, confusing, smart, and full of itself—always in the best sense. Here, dictionary letters and their representative words are followed by prose poems that play out the letters in clever streams of connected and disconnected images and opinions.

(Remember when you were a kid and you learned a new word, and suddenly you started seeing it everywhere? Didn’t I just say, not more than a few weeks ago, how taken I was with work by the provocative German poet Uljana Wolf while reviewing the first issue of Telephone? Is there a reason she is all of the sudden…everywhere? Or at least everywhere I look.)

Equally provocative and jubilat-like, a translation of South Korean poet Kim Hyesoon’s hybrid work (by Don Mee Choi); and poems by Joyelle McSweeney and Ken Chen. Of particular interest this issue, is a group of responses to the questions about American poetry reprinted from a Poetry Society of America survey, from K. Silem Mohammad, Julie Carr, Srikanath Reddy, Danielle Pafunda, Brent Cunningham, and Arielle Greenberg.

This issue includes, as well, an interview with Rae Armantrout, whose poem “Across,” is one of my favorite entries in the issue: “Of course ‘across’ / is metaphorical”; translations by A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman of work by Martinique poet Aimé Césaire (1913-2008); and—wonder of wonders and thank you, jubilat, excerpts of Muriel Rukeyser’s verse biography of Wendell Willkie, One Life. I love Rukeyser, and despite what you might think, she’s very jubilat-like, too, pushing the boundaries, questioning the literary status quo, and creating her own hybrid possibilities.
[www.jubilat.org/information.html]

 

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Knockout coverKnockout Literary Magazine

Volume 3 Issue 1

Spring 2010

Biannual

Review by Arthur Kayzakian

Simply put, the collection of poems in Knockout Literary Magazine is breathtaking. This edition includes a wide variety of topics such as suicide, oppression against homosexuality, and love (straight and queer). In its third volume, the heavy-hitting journal presents forty astounding poets, who make their way to the page bringing dark imagery, fearless honesty, and fresh voices, including Jeff Mann, Robert Walker, Joseph Massey, Jim Tolan and Ronald H. Bayes. Knockout also features translations from Dag T. Straumsvag, Yannis Ritsos, Harry Martinson, Jesus Encinar, and Olav H. Hauge.

Walker’s stunning piece, “Detail from My History of Violence” hit me where it counts:

For a moment,
his boa isn't broken
and my hands are clean
and I have nothing to regret.

Dag T. Straumsvag’s “Remedy,” Matthew Hittinger’s “Letter to Mexico,” Russel Melia’s “Letter to the Editor,” Charles Jensen’s “Safe,” and Stephen S. Mills’s “Against Our Better Judgment We Plan a Trip to Iran” reflect on both oppression and the intimacy behind homosexuality. Mills’s poem illustrates the eroticism and forbidding act of queer sex in the middle-east with provocative language. "But by morning you'll back out, rip our plane tickets / into pieces, and we'll lie in bed watching CNN, / fucking without condoms until everything burns."

Poets Joyce Sutphen, Mark Terrill, Victoria Givotovsky, and Sarah Rairden Flynn paint the intensity of suicide. As does "Boy Walking Ahead of Train" by Kelly Madigan Erlandson, which beautifies the suicide of a young boy against an incessant train and its steel tracks:

It was music that the walker heard,
instead of warning—
two cups at his ears, a fine cord, a silver disk.
So much we do not know.

Joseph Massey’s melancholy landscape poetry is striking. In “Lost Coast,” he writes,

…We
pull over
to argue, not
to talk,
but the words
won’t form
the terrain
overtakes them.

It continues, “We / don't need words / to read the sun’s / angle. We know.”

A captivating verse is Denver Buston’s “Real Estate,” “after whispering there is no quiet like the quiet / of the morning grass still wet from night's breath." Another verse that stands out addresses suicide in “One Way to Imagine your Death” by Sarah Rairden Flynn; the intimacy of death overcomes me when I read, "The last blackberry you eat // will taste like water."

The issue ends with editor Jeremy Halinen interviewing Charles Jensen for nineteen pages. Jensen's intelligent analysis of poetry is worth reading through carefully.

Knockout Literary Magazine possesses an edge unique in quality. If the sheer power and distinctive writing is not for you, then never mind that one of the driving forces of Knockout is its diverse inclusion of queer and straight writers. Pay no mind to the sincere generosity exercised by the editors for contributing five percent of accounted sales by Knockout's third issue to The Trevor Project, a nationwide program that helps fight suicide among the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth.
[www.knockoutlit.org/]

 

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Poet Lore coverPoet Lore

Volume 105 Numbers 3/4

Fall/Winter 2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

The cover of Poet Lore is wondrous, a photograph of ice skaters posing for the camera on Mirror Lake in Yosemite in 1911. The Editor’s Page describes the photo as an appropriate introduction to the issue’s work with its—unanticipated—focus on winter as metaphor. The photo’s technical and artistic qualities are, to my mind, the finest metaphor for poetry, or, perhaps, an apt metaphor for fine poetry—making the real seem both more and less real than seemed possible, drawing what is far-off into close view and moving what is right in front of us into the background. The photo is clear in its misty-ness and misty in its clarity, like much of the poetry in this issue.

Plenty of familiar names here, Ed Ochester, Doug Ramspeck, Gary Fincke, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Arthur Vogelsang, and Virgil Suarez. And plenty of voices from farther in the background who deserve to come more directly into view: Elizabeth Oness (“Winter Solstice”: “In another life I would have sworn / the earth was flat”); Kate Hanson Foster (“Dear Lowell”: “I could forget everything”); Marcela Sulak (“Allison Took the Facebook Quiz, ‘What Dictator Are You?’ And the Result was Mussolini”); and Christine Tierney (“16 Things You Should Know About the Fort”: “(1) Everything planted near the fort either died or disappeared.”), among many others.

I liked very much David Frye’s translation of “A Cousin” by Cuban poet Nancy Morejón, (though I would have liked to have seen the original):

The street has a name, an obscure name, unimportant,
like its own yawning mouth,
mature, wide open, toothless.
At its end shines no light but the light cast by the dark skin
of my cousin Fernando.

Dennis Nurske introduces the work of Innuit poet dg nanouk okpik, an Alaskan native who now lives in New Mexico. Nurske describes her work as exhibiting “complexity of time”; “poised between the heritage of tribal cultures of the far North and the edge of the contemporary”; and “dazzingly original.” Okpik’s work is, I agree, extremely appealing on many levels, with some poems challenging conventional notions of what it means to make a poem, and others (like the one quoted below) are more expected, but no less engaging. Here are excerpts from “Amulet-for-the-Spirits-Around-the Bend”:

A view from two sides of Polaris, it is said:
The living await the destined relatives’ return.
With a seal-skin satchel,
birch bark and pencil,
wolf girl rewrites the tundra.

An essay by Maryhelen Snyder on Emily Dickinson (now enjoying—or is it still enjoying?—much attention, given new works of biography and criticism about her) and a number of book reviews, round out the issue. Merrill Leffler reviews a translation of work by Israeli poet Dahlia Ravikovitch (who died in 2005), Hovering at Low Altitude. I am pleased to see that, once again, Poet Lore is doing its part to introduce us to writers we might not otherwise have a chance to get to know.
[www.poetlore.com]

 

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Slipstream coverSlipstream Magazine

Number 30

2010

Annual

Review by Tyler Deakins

This issue is a beautifully composed collection of poetry and black-and-white photography commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of Slipstream Magazine. Elegant, hauntingly surreal images by David Thompson and Lauren Simonutti, interspersed among the poetry, compliment perfectly the magazine’s tone. Poems contributed by authors from walks of life ranging from the academic to the janitorial present a similarly diverse range of perspectives, yet the poems feel like they were meant to be published together. The collection flows seamlessly from beginning to end in a way that makes reading it in its entirety not only easy to do, but extraordinarily rewarding as well.

The consistent excellence of the poetry in this issue makes it difficult to choose stand-out pieces. The issue’s centerpiece is a long work by E.R. Baxter III, titled “Finding Niagara,” a contemplative poem that explores the passage from childhood to adulthood, life in Niagara Falls, New York, and the simple act of human connection. Near the poem’s conclusion, Baxter writes:

So a man brings his saxophone to Main Street, Niagara Falls, NY.
He does not say, you could grow up to be prez, young man.
He does not say no riffs, no electricity, no amps, no watts, Ernie,
no keys to that, Bobbie, no scrap talk, no trash talk, He plays:
And while he plays, I would have said, if someone had been standing
there on the sidewalk with me, what you sees is what you getz, man,
and that’s the plan, Stan, but I am old and not cool.

The poem ends with an affirmation of the beauty of human relationships:

So who was that man with the saxophone? Was he a redman
in the dewey night? Or a black man, an ornate coal man hopping
a ride on a coal train, a fat head new man? His initials are VJ,
I found out later when we talked, but I do not think he is related
to Etta, though it is possible he is related to Jess.
When the night ended, someone could have shot A. cannonball
down Main Street. There were just the two of us, talking.

Also included is a beautiful prose poem by Matthew Snyder, titled “A Bum with an American Flag,” which concludes:

At first glance, he appears to be missing his left arm, but I have seen it slither out from the hem of his shirt and work with the right. That wouldn’t be tolerated in other lifestyles. He closes the lids of the trash cans and moves on and if the moon is up he can hear the crashing of the gears that move it across the sky.

“The Best Way to Go Blind” is a particularly interesting piece for a number of reasons, the first of which being that it is coauthored by two poets, Cathryn Cofell and Michael Kriesel. The poem consists of a series of offset couplets which read beautifully across as well as up-and-down. It is unclear which parts of the poem are written by which author, but I am inclined to assume that each “column” started as an individual poem written by one of the two poets. Either way, the end result is gorgeous and the two poet’s voices meld beautifully into one, their separate contributions forming a thoroughly cohesive and coherent whole.

This issue is great, not only because of the great poetry and photography it contains, but also because the book itself is a genuine work of art. Both the individual works as well as the book in its whole are worth multiple readings, and my copy will undoubtedly be making its way back up off my bookshelf and into my hands in the near future.
[www.slipstreampress.org]

 

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The Tusculum Review coverThe Tusculum Review

Volume 6

2010

Annual

Review by Ashley Fernandez

The Tusculum Review plunges into an odyssey of self-reflection, confession, and recollection. The review calls itself, "an annual venue for new voices," and each voice within its pages is entirely unique from its counterparts. The sampling highlights a fusion of character voices within the short stories, drama, poetry, and illustrations; each piece retains a beautifully rendered resonance to its own statement.

The first voice to greet me was from Alex Quinlan's speaker in “The Solstice, The Armistice”:

I may have loved you once
under the egg moon, but
the way the light
scrambled our faces
makes it hard to say
judging by the pictures.

I still cannot get the sound of those six lines out of my mind, and they never fail to make me crack a smile (pun intended).

The first full piece, aside from the cover, is “Table of Contents” by Kaveh Bassiri. The piece vocalizes a story through title chapters followed by increments of numbers. Cleverly placed at the beginning of the review, it seems to mirror the insight to all the pieces following it.

Following “Table of Contents,” the voices of Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Mike and Sara in “Shooting Sparrows” lead to Jan LaPerle’s “Roses for the Bedroom, Daises for the Kitchen”: “Though Helen was very small, her loneliness filled their little house from the bottom to the chimney-top like a teapot filled with tea.”

K.T. Landon, in my personal favorite, “She Wishes She Smoked,” gives a narrative voice to loneliness, which harbors the emotions of a woman who thinks “If she smoked, no one would question five minutes on the front steps.

Michael Danko paints “Red” and all the color's associations with such specificity that the narrator explains all of his own associations with the color that he's newly exhausted his memory until he conveys to the reader, “I'm getting a second wind.”

Allison Joseph, in her beautifully abrasive “Ode to Kristie,” places the reader into the seat of her speaker, as well as the ears of the “you” of the poem—a young, tragic, HIV positive homeless mother of children by numbers continually multiplying. She leaves the reader with the ringing words,

You waddle to your feet,
bid me goodbye, dirty sweatshirt
concealing your bulk, swaddling
your hefty stomach no matter what
dwells there: baby or myth, child or lie.

These stories are all carefully placed within the context of Ralph Slatton’s pen-and-ink cover illustration, “Transmigration.” Another use of ink that visually assaults the reader into falling down a rabbit hole of eerie whimsy, where the party favor is a story just as black and white as his illustrations.

Since the review is bountiful and rich in voices, I expected a section dedicated to each genre. Thankfully, and very masterfully done, the short stories, poems, drama, illustrations, and pieces incapable of a classification were not isolated from each other. Readers will be as pleasantly surprised as I was to finish a poem and immediately be greeted by a short story or illustration. I say to disregard the collection’s impressive length, because once read, one finds there should be not a page spared in this collection.
[www.tusculum.edu/tusculumreview/]

 

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World Literature Today coverWorld Literature Today

Volume 84 Number 6

November-December 2010

Bimonthly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Every glorious issue of World Literature Today is an argument for print! There is simply no way to duplicate the experience as cyber reading. This is not to say that you might not want to try “Zinio,” the virtual magazine-reading option for WLT. But, for my money (and it’s only $4.95 on the newsstand!) there is no way it could duplicate the feel of the glossy paper, the vibrancy of the large and small format color and black and white photos, the clarity of the illustrations (maps), or the smartly designed pages. This issue’s special section is on India, and the gorgeous, beautifully reproduced full-color, full-bleed photograph that opens the section, “Girl in Red Slippers by the Blue Door,” the work of guest editor and poet Sudeep Sen of New Dehli, is hard to picture on a small screen.

In this issue, as in every issue of WLT, you will be introduced to writers from around the world whose work you probably do not know (Austrian poet Clemens Setz; South African fiction and film writer, Rayda Jacobs; Californian Benjamin Bac Sierra; Nigerian fiction writer Sefi Atta; along with many of the writers of India in the special section); and you will learn something you might never have otherwise known about writers who may already be familiar, as in Dina Assouline Stillman’s essay about Aharon Applefeld.

The section on Modern Indian Literature includes the work of 20 writers, some already well known to American audiences and many of whom have studied in and/or now teach in the US (Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Ravi Shankar, Vijay Seshadri, Vikram Seth, Meena Alexander), and others likely new to almost every read of WLT (Sunny Singh, Arundhathi Subramaniam, Samaresh Basu). Poetry is especially well represented here. Sen has done a fine job with both the poetry and the prose, presenting a range of styles, tones, and preoccupations.

As always, WLT offers up an appealing mix of original works of poetry and prose, interviews, reviews, and “notebook” introductions to new works from around the world. While it is not ostensibly about poetry, Mangalesh Dabral, a Hindi poet based in Delhi (translated here by Sen), reminds me of literature’s power and of this magazine’s value in his poem “Touch”: “Go inward feel the moist spot touch / See if it still remains there or not in these ruthless times.”
[www.worldliteraturetoday.com/]

 

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