Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted March 15, 2011

A Cappella Zoo :: Alehouse :: Caketrain :: Camas :: Coe Review :: Consequence :: Emrys Journal :: The Florida Review :: Moon Milk Review :: New Letters :: Ninth Letter :: Palooka :: Red Fez :: The Susquehanna Review :: West Branch

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A Cappella Zoo coverA Cappella Zoo

Issue 6

Spring 2011

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Brenda Mann Hammack’s poem “Little Hermit Sphinx” exemplifies this journal’s approach, strengths, and unique contribution to contemporary letters. The poem begins: “strings moon moths on thread. So much gauzier than horse-flies, / but not so illicit as eagle feathers.” Provocative syntax; risky images; the exuberant fracture of expectations—these are the hallmarks of A Cappella Zoo and Issue 6 is no exception. Here is the opening of short fiction from J.S. Khan, “Someone Must Stop the Bonapartists!”: "Alas, it is upon us: the most dire cataclysm to befall the Earth since the Late Heavy Bombardment—there are too many Napoleons!"

And here are the opening lines of “Becoming,” a poem from Callista Buchen:

I live in the forest of lessons, a red fox
on the run, ember-streaked, a single
single flash of color
Nearby, bachelor bears share a castle,
circled by oaks, the holler of blue jays,
this tired vixen…

And here is the beginning of short fiction from Emily J. Lawrence, “The Legs Come Off Easily”:

The girl with the small pupils doesn’t use the handicap stall. Despite the width of her wheelchair. Despite the cacophonous metal racket it makes against the ghost green tiles of the bathroom wall. She rolls backward into the stall shoved farthest against the wall, under the broken bulb—the one she calls the Shoebox.

I can’t recreate here the collaborative efforts of artist Cheryl Gross and poet Nicelle Davis, whose “In the Circus of You” is one exciting three-ring spectacle of illustrations and wild verse. From “In a Note Not Given to the Addressee,”

There is a hole the size of your fist in our
bathroom door. My fault, I’m told, for
pushing the hinge towards your movements.

There is the drama of original, edgy writing throughout; the drama of a real mini drama (“within the face what other faces swim?” by Guy R. Beining); and the drama of flash fiction, including “Curiosity” by Nancy Stebbins: “We’d been hearing a lot about the benefits of physical exercise, so God and I decided to take a stroll in the country.” Take a stroll across the smart, strange, inventive pages of A Cappella Zoo.
[www.acappellazoo.com/]

 

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Alehouse coverAlehouse

Number 4

2010

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

“Poetry on tap,” is this journal’s tagline. But who needs booze when there are poets like Jane Mead? I was thrilled to find her here as I have loved her work since her first (watery, in fact) book, and she did not disappoint in “Dust and Rumble”:

No one could predict such dust and rumble.
Neither applying oneself well nor badly.
The line between us, three feet agape:
…Who thought we could create
such dust and rumble, who thought
all we needed was a clean slate,
level ground and a bag of marbles.
The only break in the break, forgotten.

Raise a toast, too, to new poems from Dan Bellm (“Rude des Mauvais Garçons”: “Only one block long / Like the street where I live my proper life”); Ellen Bass (“On the Other Side of Sorrow”: “is more sorrow, waves / rolling in, sets / with lulls in between.”); Paula Brancato (“From Madrid, For Baghdad”: “A city enters you like a lover, / Streets spill onto sand-licked / walkways, surrender winter gardens / of wisteria, tulip, // pansy, honeysuckle, pine.”); Haines Eason (“Flag in the Desert”: “New language is an end—what means are wounds? / Mere alphabet for the mind, in darkness breaking the world?”); and Caitelen Schneeberger (“Sympathy for the [ward]”: “and sometimes I wonder if sleep ever wants to wake up”).

Sharon Chmierlarz, who has done much wonderful writing about the lives of composers (and their families), intoxicates us with a taste of Bach in “On Good Wine Spilled”:

Because its cask cracked open, wagoned
as it was from Frankenland’s vineyards
to raw, Baltic regions, the wine arrived
two thirds gone, Bach immediately reported,
writing to his cousin, a loss to be mourned…

Belly up to the bar, you’re in famous company here seated alongside Billy Collins, JP Dancing Bear, Carol Muske-Dukes, Brian Turner, Charles Harper Webb, and Cecilia Woloch. And doesn’t every good bar have a wall of the stars who have imbibed there? Check out the great “portraits” (black and white drawings), the best of which is one of Philip Levine looking a little dazed (but not drunk) and heartbreakingly human. (Who created these portraits? I wish that information were more prominent. If it’s cover artist, Dan Guerra, his “California Beach Shack, 2008” is wonderful, too.)

Andrena Zawinki’s “Intoxicating Morning” concludes: but I stumble into the day, tipsy with poetry, turning a deaf ear / to casual greetings, the Sierra’s Cabernet still teasing my tongue."

Raise a glass to an issue you’ll drink in with pleasure.
[www.alehousepress.com]

 

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Caketrain coverCaketrain

Issue 8

2010

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

“This is how it ends.” That’s the first line of a poem by Jess Wigent. Could there be a more wonderful beginning? I love it. I don’t necessarily understand it, but I love it. That’s my overall assessment of the issue—weird endings and beginnings I find compelling and exciting and often perfect, even though I don’t necessarily always understand them or believe I can explain them or even know what genre I’m reading. Wigent’s piece, “This One Thing Truly Makes,” is a marvelous prose poem/story with visual complements of post-it-note/memo style fragments. It’s the idea itself of “what truly makes” that makes the journal appealing, the search for essential meaning.

That search for meaning, that elusive and glorious specificity, precision, exactitude of detail and sensation, includes E.C. Belli’s poem “A Cosmology of Light”:

Noontime sun, scars forming on the skin’s surface. Stiff rays
eclipsing the street.
To know light like this. The white kind. The kind so white it is actually
black—

That search for meaning includes the relentlessly talented Rosemarie Waldrop’s prose poem, “Detour”: “The telephone calls, there are too many. So difficult too. All these difficulties to work at work at. Not managing, and you trying to help. In your way.” And another by Adriana Grant, “Don’t Touch Anything”: “A tangle of electric lines overhead. The deer are so graceful, spindly legs propped in the life-size dioramas.” And a poem by Emily Toder that demonstrates the impossibility and simultaneous complete right-ness of the capacity of language to capture a moment in time, “At Dusk in the Dusk”:

at dusk in the dusk the
opal
water
vapor
in dusk at dusk the dusk of baseball glistens
the sky of baseball at dusk spreads
in the dusk at dusk

That search for meaning also includes translations from the French of poet Paul Braffort’s “My Hypertropes” by Amaranth Borsuk and Gabriella Jauregui, published with the originals (yes, thank you!); Louisa Storer’s “Sonnet (8) Ardor”; and fiction by Robert Kloss (“Beneath the Light of an Exploding City”) and Corey Zeller, among others, though these pieces might easily also be classified as long poetry stories or story poetry.

Here is Jasmine Dreame Wagner summing up the issue’s search for meaning in her poem “Black Swans”:

It has been written, is written, will be written
That the first rule is that there are no rules; nothing is forbidden
All that has happened is happening now
All that has happened will happen
But what of our poor view of what it is to see
If all we have to see has been seen

Believe me…you haven’t seen it all until you’ve gotten your hands on this issue of Caketrain.
[caketrain.org/]

 

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Camas coverCamas

Winter 2010

Biannual

Review by Sean Stewart

With its generous letter-sized pages alone, Camas evokes the open space of the West. This winter issue includes stunning outdoor black-and-white photography, much of it full page, by David Estrada, Doug Davis, Doug Connelly, and others. Between these images is woven a collection of poetry and essays celebrating the many facets of nature and how we humans interact with it.

Kathleen Dean Moore, author of the excellent narrative nonfiction collection Riverwalking: Reflections on Moving Water, contributes a novel excerpt called “The River, On the Rising Tide,” a meditation on nature's responses to the changing tide. On a less introspective note, Richard Kempa deconstructs the uneasy tension between backpackers and river rafters in his essay “Claim Your Due: A Backpacker Looks at River Runners,” where we learn: “The unalterable rule of the river, known to boatman and backpacker alike, is this: Backpackers are entitled to free beer.” And if you've ever wondered just what kind of people choose to do seasonal work in our nation's parks, Lauren Koshere offers us fascinating written snapshots of the “People Behind Your Yellowstone Vacation.”

Some pieces are more directly seasonal, such as George English Brooks' poem “Palimpsest,” in which winter's subtle secrets are shared, like “the scattered symmetry in the paths of juncos and mice around the compost pit.” We travel then to Alaska, where in her brief but poignant essay “On the Chena River, Alaska, January 2008,” Gerri Brightwell discovers what it feels like to walk out onto a river that might not be completely frozen.

The issue abounds with vivid language, as the poets and essayists write their way into and through the natural world. In “Her Willapa July,” Maya Jewell Zeller's prose poem, “you can feel the moon coming up through your feet.” The hikers in Brett Defries' poem “Western,” speak to each other in a pasture as “the dusk lowered on us its demands.” Pat Musick, in her essay “Worlds Within the Waters,” examines some of the “vast populations of living creatures in the strangest seething, simmering, stinking, roaring, trickling, acidic, alkaline, muddy puddles and clear rivulets in Yellowstone.”

The editors of this issue set out to “question what the West means,” and the answer came back spoken in diffuse and distinct voices, some quiet and some loud, but all of them sure of what they had to say.
[www.umt.edu/camas/]

 

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Coe Review coverCoe Review

Volume 41 Number 1

Fall 2010

Biannual

Review by Sean Stewart

The cover of the 2010 poetry issue of Coe Review features a striking photo shot from inside a shed, peering out through two square openings onto lush green farm fields as far as the eye can see. It seems appropriate to the content within these pages, as each poem carves out its own unique opening through which to view the world.

The first two poems in the issue neatly echo the fields on the cover, as Judy Ireland's verse projects a distinct Midwestern voice, particularly her “My Sisters in Iowa,” an homage to these “female bodhisattvas of the corn.” From there, it's a leap into the fray, with poems by both current and former Coe students, other Midwestern poets, and a handful from further afield. According to its website, Coe Review bills itself as an experimental literary magazine, and there is certainly some evidence of that here. Jeff Alessandrelli's farcical prose poem “The Lives of Commerce (4)” tells the compelling tale of “a pair of lonely and crowded sexual markets.” Amanda Moore's “A Year Without Poetry” shows us just what might be in store for someone who abstains for a year: “And though sometimes my head ached, and I heard a sort of ringing now / and then, I had real conversations. I talked about the price of gas and / weather and how things were changing in the neighborhood.” Sounds painful, to say the least.

Some of the shortest poems call out the most fiercely, such as Joel Solonche's “Waterfall,” which begins, “The water keep leaving / the same suicide note behind.”

While I usually appreciate an editorial note at the start to help set the tone for an issue, the absence of one here was not so terribly missed, as the poems spoke well for themselves. There is quite a diversity of subject matter and style, thus keeping my interest piqued to the very last poem.
[japicx.com/coereview/]

 

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Consequence coverConsequence

A Literary Magazine Addressing War in the 21st Century

Volume 2 Issue 1

Spring 2010

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Here is a journal that truly is of consequence—poetry, nonfiction prose, fiction, artwork, memoir, and a “discourse,” all by accomplished writers writing about subjects that matter. There isn’t a contribution that doesn’t warrant attention, but it would take me longer than the US has been at war in Afghanistan to describe and critique every piece in the issue, so I’ll preface my brief review with this disclaimer: the selections I’ve chosen to highlight here are not the only ones worth your time or $10 of your disposable income, if, indeed, you have any. If you don’t and you’re lucky enough to live in a community where the public or university libraries offer literary journals, do ask them to subscribe to Consequence.

Poet Fred Marchant contributes a short nonfiction description of an inspiring joint Israeli/Palestinian blogging project and several fine poems, including “In the Village of Anza” (“what he means, I believe, is that none / of this is right, that tomorrow will be even / more wrong, that the scorching wind // above the hilltops is the voice of God”) and “Gaza Flesh”:

tell me those who decide
who dies, did you think
just because I was writing a poem
I would forget?

Askold Melnyczuk’s story “Mourning Summer: An E-vite” is written in appealing, original prose (“I’m throwing a party for the death of summer. You know, in case. World being world.”) Martha Collins’s “white papers” series of poems is moving and smartly composed. Carole Simmons Oles demonstrates poetry’s potential for merging the personal and the global in her terrific poem “Ode for the City” (“Oh train that took me out of the attached / rubber-stamped houses inside which nothing / could happen, train with orange plastic seats / and the marks of my fellow-riders”).

Kevin Bowen’s essay, “Notes from Lands of the Dead and Other Points of Exile,” describing in competent, competently paced prose a peace vigil, reminded me of the importance and power of group gestures and public displays of solidarity, protest, and opinion. Patricia Sutherland contributes a satisfying memoir, “I Belong to Glasgow,” about her parents’ WWII era marriage in the UK. With Roy Scranton’s “re-reading” of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried (a book definitely worth reading) the journal inaugurates its “Discourse” feature, which “invites your response” via e-mail.

Sculptor Ken Hurby contributes an essay, “Postmortem: Sculpting the Memory of War,” about his work, images of which are represented here in color on slick glossy stock. His story and personal insights are fascinating: “The transformation I made from soldier to sculptor was not a radical metamorphosis. I was an iconoclast as a soldier, a graduate of the United States Military Academy working on the radical fringes of the conservative military culture. I advocated legalizing pot but restricting booze on post…I became a competent problem solver and mastered the skills need to soldier well for over twenty years. Now I apply those skills to making art.”

Christopher Siteman contributes a highly original and compelling poem, “The Father of All Lies.” If you’re at all concerned about the lies we’re told, not to mention the violence they engender, and you’re at all interested in the way art can address those deceptions, please read Consequence.
[www.consequencemagazine.org/]

 

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Emrys Journal coverEmrys Journal

Volume 27

2010

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

By design, coincidence, or some intersection of the two, this issue focuses on writing about families. There are fathers: Judith Skillman’s prize-winning poem “June Bug” (“Heat dozes in the road. / You think of your father, / his love for the stars, / those summer evenings”); Kip Knott’s memoir-style prose “Gabriel’s Horns” (“My father, Gabriel Andrew Henry, had horns and a forked tongue”); and Dorothy Deaver Clark’s story “Still: Life” (“LeeEarle motioned the doctor to follow her to the bedroom where her father lay in his bed with hands clasped over the neatly drawn bedspread and his head propped up by two pillows sheathed with masterfully ironed pillows slips.”).

There are mothers: the grief stricken Liz whose husband has accidentally run over and killed their toddler in Dana Knott’s story “Water Clock”; and the narrator/letter writer in Carole Chipps Carlson’s epistolary story “Letters to a Son.”

There is a grandmother: in “Wort,” a poem by Kimberly Carter Dulgeroglu (“Of the poisonous, worrisome variety, / my grandmother’s shelves were filled with sticky, / bottles of labeled herbs, garnishes, / seasonings she never used.”); and the small and large dramas of life as a sibling: an adult relationship with a brother and his children in “Dive,” a poem by Tamara Titus (“My niece and nephew are learning to dive, / but Jacob’s feet keep going in first, and as the sweat / pools against the underwire of my bra, I regret / not bringing a suit”); and Bradley Buchanan’s odd and oddly moving little story “The Chubby Family” (“I was the only one you could call even remotely fat, but we went in order of age, not in order of actual flabbiness. So my beanpole kid brother Scotty was Chubby Wubby; I was Chubbier Wubbier; Mom was Even Chubbier; Dad was Chubbiest Wubbiest.").

Jessica Goodfellow’s prize-winning story “The Problem with Pilgrims” is the most unusual piece in the issue, composed of short segments that deliberately thwart the fluidity and context of a conventional narrative, while creating a narrative logic of their own, and edgier in tone than most of the work in Emrys: “The problem with pilgrims is they think words are souvenirs. // The problem with pilgrims is that, though they haven’t been here before, they insist everything has been picked up and placed down a quarter inch to the left of where it used to be.” Family in Goodfellow’s work is actually the first family, so to speak, appearing in a poem that erupts mid-way through this very short story:

God let Adam name the beast of the Earth.
In turn Adam let Eve name the long-legged birds
he’d seen her watching, with their built-in
backup plans. He let her.
How did he think he could stop her? Still,
somehow the fact of his listening
perplexed her so that she gave them
names sounding only close to what
she had wanted to say: egret, bittern, crane.

Then the narrative resumes: “The pilgrims must have let your sisters name something.”

We are destined, it seems, to live and relive the complex and often problematic family relationships established by this very first family, as the work in Emrys reminds us.
[www.emrys.org]

 

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The Florida Review coverThe Florida Review

Volume 35 Number 1

Summer 2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

The journal’s first-ever special issue is a “Native Issue,” with contributions by writers “from many different places—tribal, geographic, aesthetic,” including writers who grew up in the Laguna Pueblo, and members of the Diné, Mi’kmaq Métis, Cherokee, Kanien ‘kehaka, Onodowaga, Yappituka Comanche/Southern Araphaho, Turtle Mountain Chippewa, Arkansas Quapaw, Poarch Creek/Muscogee, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, Oglala Lakota, Seneca, Sioux, Acoma Pueblo, Apache, and Chicasaw tribes and nations. These writers’ work is as distinct and diverse as the communities and nations into which they were born and/or have lived.

There isn’t a piece in the issue that doesn’t merit mention, but for the sake of this brief review, I’ll select some highlights. For me, these include Geary Hobson’s story “Arrowhead,” a fictional account of marines training in the San Bernardino mountains; a novel excerpt from one of the best-loved, most respected writers/scholars of Native life Gerald Vizenor, “Captain Eighty,” in which he creates characters we want to know more about and who seem believable and worth our attention; poems by Denise K. Lajimodiere and Tiffany Midge; nonfiction from Sara Marie Ortiz, who merges a consideration of language and environment in “Penumbra and Thrum”; and “A Conversation” between Santee Frazier and Sherwin Bitsui.

Midge’s “Ten Ways to Consider the Great Spirit,” counts backwards from 10-1 with a powerful personal story: “After the ventilator was finally removed, after we had held our collective breath, waited for the monitors—heartbeat, respiration—to wind slowly down, then stop, I made my goodbyes, then left.” Midge has a masterful sense of rhythm and timing. Lajimodiere has an urgent and elegant lyrical impulse that results in poetry of great immediacy and impact (I am tempted to say “frigid impact”):

The moon of bone crackling cold,
Of Styrofoam crunch snow,
The snow blind moon
The moon of white outs,
Short days, long nights,
The moon of blizzards,
of popping tree limbs,
The moon of thirty days below zero,
of wind chill advisories,
frostbit, blackened skin,
The moon of frozen lakes,
The least heat moon,
The moon of white suns, communion discs,
The Alberta clippers moon

In his conversation with Bitsui, Santee Frazier says he is in the process of relearning the Cherokee language of his family. I am certain he is (or will be) as eloquent and clever in Cherokee (we must, must, must preserve these languages) as he is in English:

Mangled was lost in the city, roaming
the alleys, trudging toward signs he saw:
TRUE LOVE’S, BIG RED, CRAZY HORSE,
THE FORGET IT.

Get lost (read with abandon and appreciation) this memorable issue of The Florida Review.
[www.floridareview.cah.ucf.edu]

 

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Moon Milk Review coverMoon Milk Review

Winter 2011

Online Quarterly

Review by Henry F. Tonn

This is a progressive journal that understands the advantages of being online, and offers the reader a number of options that are simply not available in the print format. In the past they have presented an animated version of "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allen Poe, a live reading of the same story by Vincent Price, various live comedies by different comedians, artwork by Dali, Goya, and El Greco, and even a Flamenco dance. One never knows what they are going to present each month, but that’s part of the fun.

In this issue, their first after recently moving from a monthly to a quarterly publication schedule, I was particularly taken by “Sisyphus Explains” by Sara Amis, a fictionalized account based on the myth of Sisyphus. The story seemed so real that I couldn’t help wondering how Sara got her information:

You scream and cry and curse the gods in all of the languages you know, which is only one, and carry on until you notice there are no echoes and your shouts die away into nothing and then you stop. You throw yourself down the hill after the rock and roll to the bottom. Covered in dust, you lie where you stopped and weep, except you do not have tears. Neither tears nor blood; these belong to the living.

Another good one is “La Santa Muerta” by Gabriel Valjan, where a murder in Mexico is investigated and found to involve feuds, myths, and revenge. The story is written with that style peculiar to Spanish literature: very personal, one-on-one, as though being told in a coffee shop or around a campfire, and you can trust in the integrity of the teller and thereby the truth of the story. The style here causes one to be pulled into the tale and accept it as fact, even though it is fiction.

In the Classic Series is a selection by Virginia Wolfe entitled “The Great Frost” from Orlando, giving the reader a glimpse of the deceased author at her best.

In leafing through the archives, I came upon a wonderful essay entitled “On Stupidity” by Gary Percesepe, an associate editor at Rick Magazine. He begins with a quote from Flaubert: “There are three things required for happiness "good health, selfishness, and stupidity; and without stupidity the others are useless,” and ends with this sentence of his own creation: “Stupidity is the public display, with absolute confidence, of affection for not knowing; it is a posture that deflects all arguments and criticism, preferring to dwell serenely in a hermetically sealed bubble in a world of one’s own making, void of the necessary social and intellectual concourse that might lead one to think otherwise.” Not only is this a delicious definition, but the rest of the essay is interesting, too. It should be required reading for school children (adults will just nod their heads wisely and go on being stupid).

This lit mag has only been around for a year but already is getting noticed by lit mags that rate other lit mags. Rae Bryant, the editor, is coming out with a print anthology soon, so they have big plans for the years to come. Check it out if you want to see the looming future of online publications.
[www.moonmilkreview.com/]

 

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New Letters coverNew Letters

Volume 77 Number 1

2010-11

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Here is what I appreciate about New Letters: “a whispery shriek like cracked clarinet reeds.” That’s a characterization, by the first person narrator, of the voice of a character in Abby Frucht’s story “Tamarinds,” and if you know anything about clarinets it will be music to your ears. It’s that precision, and the unique and exacting sensibility of New Letters’s writers, that I anticipate and am perpetually grateful to encounter. The writing is unceasingly original, competent, and always worth my time.

Among this issue’s standouts are a brief, rightfully disturbing essay about the experience of being taken hostage by Raad Abdul-Aziz; an odd and quite delightful hybrid piece (verbal and visual texts) about poetry chapbooks and cigarillo boxes in Copenhagen by Thomas E. Kennedy; lush prose poetry by Siobhán Scarry; wonderful short fiction from Jia Pingwa, “The Country Wife,” a long, dense, satisfying narrative artfully translated from the Chinese by Hu Zongfeng and Liu Xioafeng, accompanied by a helpful bio/background text on Pingwa; masterful translations of the Russian poet Eugene Dubnov by the poet with X.J. Kennedy and W.D. Snodgrass; and painter Peregrine Honig’s “The Birds,” preceded by an informative introduction, which includes her remarks: “I relate to birds as renters…birds are poverty jetsetters.” Her ink and pigment on paper images are intriguing, original, tiny, odd, exquisite, and sometimes almost like the whispery shriek of cracked clarinet reeds.

Another highlight is Aileen Kilgore Henderson’s memoir “In the Shadow of the Longleaf Pines,” which includes terrific photos and prose that makes me forget how tired I have become lately of family memoirs: “In 1921 I was born into Paradise, and nothing and nobody warned me that it wouldn’t last.” But, it has lasted thanks to this marvelous essay, as does this magazine’s ability to impress, sustain, and interest me issue after issue.
[www.newletters.org]

 

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Ninth Letter coverNinth Letter

Volume 7 Number 2

Fall/Winter 2010-11

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This is one gigantic Happy Meal of an issue! Or maybe it’s more like Cracker Jacks—that surprise at the bottom of the box that sweetens the whole crunchy-munchy experience. The editors call these goodies “Supplements,” but they are integral to the whole gestalt. The magazine comes shrink-wrapped with a motel key-fob, a pink striped birthday candle inside a small seed envelope, a postcard with an illustration of a take-out dish of “Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato Combination,” a “Newspoem” by William Gillepsie on a skinny folded sheet, an enormous “Corn in the USA” diagram, and a variety of other illustrations, texts, and diagrams on different types of paper stock, which adds to the tactile/sensual pleasure of print. The Art Director’s note explains: “By unwrapping the contents of this issue, you have dislodged the original cover design and set in motion an unpacking of parts that together create a kind of landscape within which the stories, essays, and poems can situate themselves.”

Unwrapping the contents is just the beginning! The bound portions—nonfiction, fiction, and poetry—of Ninth Letter are just as curious and tantalizing. To go along with the motel key, there’s Mary Miller’s terrific story “Eureka, CA,” which begins, “It was the second to last motel room in Eureka, California. The first one smelled like gas, and Alice refused to stay there.” There’s Graham Arnold’s equally successful story, “Sushi For Fish,” with an opening worth unwrapping:

As a boy I fished Tama river. I pulled from that river the catfish and rainbow trout, sometimes carp. I pinched the hooks from their mouths and dropped the fish back in by their tails. It was a Saturday in fall and the shores were empty.

There’s Jenny Hanning’s prose poem, “Litter,” urgent and insistent: “Our mother prolific, mother of all that crawls, and giving birth as nature dictates—in a litter for Survival’s sake.” There’s Margot Singer’s essay, “A Natural History of Small-Town Ohio,” which demonstrates her decidedly big-town talent; the essay begins: “Like the rest of us, you come from elsewhere: on a wagon train across the Appalachians on foot like Johnny Appleseed, on an airplane, in a beat-up car.” There’s Michael Czyzniejewski’s “The Amnesiac in the Maze,” a story in short bursts and fragments with an impossibly compelling opening: “He doesn’t know how long he’s been in the corn.” There is an accomplished essay about the Day of the Dead by Jane Downs, and wonderfully original poetry from Catherine Pierce, Carol Guess, B.K. Fischer, and D.A. Powell, among others. There’s a total Cracker Jack of a surprise story called “Ghost 7, Prince 9” by Jedediah Berry, and a quirky novel excerpt from Roy Kesey.

Check into a motel with that key—or any key you need—and plan to stay awake all night reading!
[www.ninthletter.com]

 

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Palooka coverPalooka

Number 1

2010

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Editors Nicholas Maistros and Jonathan Starke introduce their new journal: “we’re determined to find those writers and artists who are flying under the radar producing great works that are going unnoticed by other journals.” The journal’s title comes from the world of prize fighting; its tagline is “a journal of underdog excellence.”

I am not sure any writer wants to be classified as an underdog, no matter how overlooked she may feel. Nonetheless, debut issue underdogs include five fiction writers, five nonfiction writers, five poets, the work of one graphic story creator, and two visual artists. While the editors clearly have a generous editorial vision that allows for a variety of styles and approaches in all the genres represented, Palooka writers have in common a talent for the vivid presentation of the details of daily life and for depicting the objects and scenes of American life with almost uncanny accuracy and immediacy. Here, for example, is an excerpt from Amy Bernhard’s moving essay “Who Will Claim Us?”:

Westfield is not one of those malls with perfume counters and old men getting massages and fountains shooting water toward the roof. It is cloudy and low-ceilinged and smells like feet. You can see from one side to the other.

And here is an excerpt from Dustin M. Hoffman’s story, “Scratch”:

The next customer files forward, crowds Morris aside. Morris nabs a dime from give-a-penny-take-a-penny to scratch off his ticket and reads the instructions: Scratch to reveal your lucky safari captions. Match any animal to one of your three lucky captures, claim bounty shown. Find the giraffe, win three times the amount. He dons his imaginary safari cap the color of sand and takes aim with the dime—his long-barreled rifle that funnels at the end, like they used in the old days to shoot elephants. He captures a cobra, hippo and lion. But nothing matches. They all escaped. A loser. He’s even further from being able to afford eggs.

Equally rich and precise in detail, and moving for its understated nostalgia, is a personal essay about her “faceless” Russian past, “Memories of a Faceless Country,” by Natalia Andrievskikh. Another essay, “These Days in Borderland” by Alex Park, is successful, as well, for its smart pacing and rich details of an account of a visit to North Cypress with a college roommate from the region.

Poems are similar in approach, demonstrating a sense of immediacy and offering vivid detail. These include Deanna Dueno’s “The Hairdresser” and Ryan J. Browne’s “Theory of dog days,” which begins:

The conifer’s roots bust like knuckles
against the open face of the dug pit
that’ll be filled in again with those bulls
whose eyes retrograde across the night
sky like slower moons. Their tongues lop,
still lovely. One’s been broken first.

Chrissy Spallone’s graphic story, “A World Without Surprises” has a satisfying old-fashioned comic book feel to it. Palooka, underdogs or not, is not (happily) without surprises.
[www.palookamag.com]

 

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Red Fez logoRed Fez

Issue 30

January 2011

Online Monthly

Review by Sean Stewart

The table of contents for Red Fez 30 sprawls down the scrolling page, heralding articles and reviews, comics and other artwork, poetry, and stories. Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the array of choices, I wasn't quite sure where to start, but I ended up choosing well with Eric Day's essay “The Class of 1987.” Eric is reluctant about attending his twentieth high school reunion, and yet for some intangible reason he felt compelled to go. Eric has come a long way from his class clown years, having moved away and earned a master's degree, gotten married, and become a teacher. But none of his former classmates know any of this. When Eric approaches the greeter's table and sees all the name badges lined up, he observes that “just a glance at them filled me with terror.” Much of what follows is to be expected: stilted conversation, awkward moments with an old girlfriend, and social dynamics that seem to have frozen in time. But as the night progresses, Eric finds that a few things actually have changed and he even ultimately makes a few tenuous connections.

I dove into the poetry next and was pleased to find David Chorlton's poems, especially “Holiday Walk,” where the narrator's view from the river bank is of

…ripples
radiating from a solitary grebe
in a break among the reeds
while a Monarch butterfly
drifts along a concrete line
drawn hazily on air.

That one was an easy sell, as I do have a weakness for nature themes, and this use of a grebe is a particularly rare poetic device. Meanwhile, in “Maybe You Should Write Down What I Say,” Antonia Clark explores what it feels like waking from a dream:

I'm afraid to leave
unfinished business,
dangling modifiers
whole cities of bright ideas.

Of the fiction, the story that gripped me hardest was Kim Farleigh's “Landscape of Worry,” a well-paced description of a harrowing trip through Iraq to the Jordanian border. Farleigh's figurative language, in terse yet strong phrasings, carries the suspense of the story, moving it along with ease and painting its setting with distinct tones: “Pastel vapours sat in rainbow bands on the world’s edge.”

This issue rounds out with a few small press publication reviews, including those of books by Scott McClanahan, Eric Beeny, and Jason Jordan.
[www.redfez.net]

 

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The Susquehanna Review coverThe Susquehanna Review

2010

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

A student journal as youthful and energetic and innocently/un-innocent as…well…youth: “You dig your fingers, thick with car grease / into me. I shiver toward you,” writes Caroline Kessler in “I Open My Mouth to the Storm.” Rob Rotell offers another storm of emotion in his story “A Couple of Problems,” which begins: “He woke up to Nikki’s crying. She sounded as if she was hiccupping. Her sobs were soft. They had a quick tempo.” Staci Eckenroth, too, starts off with a moment of heightened sensation in “a dime a dozen”:

she is having trouble speaking,
fluttering scratches her throat, and
makes her nauseous for answers.
she coughs up wings, antennae, legs;
pieces of swallowtails, monarchs, buckeyes,
they are dying to get out.

Nonfiction, too, is emotionally charged. I appreciated Jeanne Troy’s “Burn,” which does an admirable job of creating an atmosphere and some intrigue around events that have motivated the trek described at the opening of the essay: “After driving around the fringes of Nashville, unlicensed, until four in the morning, Jade found a bare lot far enough from any road that no one would take notice. That’s where we slept, in Jade’s Buick LeSabre.” More restrained emotionally in style is Caty Gordon’s essay “I am Not Neda,” about an encounter with an Iranian peer dealing with cultural issues around her sexuality.

“Conversations” with Bernard Cooper and Andrew Porter are worthwhile and mature. Questions are smart and appropriate, given the journal’s editorial bent (“ending a story seems to be a problem for young writers, are there any tricks you have for writing endings?”). Cooper concludes that “trial and error” is, essentially, the process that ends up governing a lot of his writing. His frankness is much appreciated, and isn’t that what the process of maturation is essentially all about?

I must not close this little review without noting how wonderfully inventive I find many of the titles of work in this issue, including the journal’s award-winning fiction by Caitlin Moran, “All Her Numbered Bones”; “The Little Dipper is Now the Rich Aunt,” a poem by Alice Rhee; the journal’s prize-winning poem, “The Paper Called Them Black Fish,” by Skye Shirley; “Up in Union City, Tomahawk Remembers His Bones Can Still Rattle,” a short story by Bryant Davis; and “Seafarer’s Semantics,” a poem by Karissa Morton.
[www.susquehannareview.com]

 

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West Branch coverWest Branch

Number 67

Fall/Winter 2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

A terrific issue! Strong, memorable poems, including translations from the Italian by Martha Cooley and Antonio Romani of the work of Gianpiero Neri; a great essay by Katie Ford “Writing About the City: New Orleans, Destruction, and the Duty of the Poet”; a satisfying story by Urban Waite, “No One Heard a Thing in the Night the Chicken Died”; thoughtful book reviews; and Garth Greenwell’s “To a Green Thought” essay, this issue’s “Marginalia,” one of the journal’s most original and appealing features, which focuses this time on recordings of poems.

I appreciate especially this magazine’s consistent selection of texts that are deftly and vividly composed, with surprising, pleasing images and connections, such as Mark Wagenaar’s “Moth Hour Gospel”:

You open the History of Longing as waiters shake open
white tablecloths in the restaurant across
the street, one blooming after another
lie and out-of-sync choir line
of ghosts…

Prose poems by Nick Ripatrazone are a little off-beat and a lot satisfying, including “Barn: Gunn”:

Retired from Forest Service in 1983 after 32 years, most spent in towers. Caught sight of the May 1978 blaze that sucked the southern slope of Hacklebarney. Stored two tractors in the barn. Both bought at estate sales. Went to the estate sales with the same goal: to find newspaper clippings of college basketball games.

Lee Stern’s “A Little Village” strikes just the right balance between earnestness, muted sarcasm, and innocence:

It surprised me to hear you say that I lived in a little village.
I always thought everybody else lived in a little village.
…And I wouldn’t be surprised to hear them say
that they wanted to go to an even larger village.
…Where the moon goes when it asks you what you did with its plate.

I loved Michael Bazzett’s “Things No One Expected To Be True until Viewing the Film”:

The imaginary cities of my youth
actually exist.
It turns out a handful
were painstakingly crafted in miniature
by a loose collection of savants in the attics of Vienna.

It turns out the imaginary literary journal of my middle years actually exists! It’s West Branch. Number 67 has a fabulous cover (with an image by Kevin Sloan); impressive poetry; satisfying prose; reviews worth reading seriously, not skimming; and this summary of its value from poet Michael Bazzett’s poem “Sentence”: “Life is uttered.” Unutterably fine.
[bucknell.edu/westbranch]

 
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