Posted April 15, 2011
American Literary Review :: Another Chicago Magazine :: Assaracus :: Birmingham Poetry Review :: Creative Nonfiction :: The Fiddlehead :: Front Range :: Fugue :: Grist :: The Journal :: Juked :: New Ohio Review :: Passages North :: PMS poemmemoirstory :: A Public Space :: Raleigh Review :: Watershed :: WomenArts Quarterly
Volume 22 Number 1
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Jude Nutter’s starkly eloquent “16 October, 2009, 17.55 PM: Little Elegy” is illustrative of the issue’s approach and strengths, with its description of life with horses, somehow both intimate and personal, yet distant, a portrait of another life:
my father would stretch out
beside her to work on his crossword, reading
the clues out loud. But, mostly, she was silent
because she had no use for language,
the way it frothed toward metaphor
and privileged the living, Somewhere
a bird. And a sudden scar
of sunlight as clouds break…
Nutter’s strong poems are well accompanied by poetry from Mark Wagenaar, Chad Davidson, Anne Boutelle, Dean Kostos, Natalie Giarrantano, Chuck Carlisle, Claire Bateman, Marjorie Stelmach, and 10 other poets, including translations of Nikola Madzirov’s poems by Peggy and Graham W. Reid.
Prose is similarly affecting, beautifully crafted, personal, yet also polished with a sort of odd far-off quality like Nutter’s verse. These effective pieces include the journal’s prize-winning fiction by Karen Heuler, stories by Adam Pearson, Laura Walter, and Scott Nadelson, and nonfiction by Sabine Heinlein, Sarah Heston, Jeff Walker, and Danielle Deulen. Prize-winning essay “Pomp and Circumstance” by Heinlein is especially effective:
Of all the bridges in New York I like the Verrazano the least. As I drive across it on a hot and humid Sunday afternoon to visit Edwin, a young, blind man from Staten Island, I try to figure out what I have against America’s largest suspension bridge. My gaze glides to the right, over the hazy Lower Bay, then along the bridge’s vertical suspender cables and its towering pylons into the sky. In one blow I feel the bridge’s enormous dimensions and the precarious trust we bestow on engineering. Our faith in human abilities tied to our fear of falling.
The issue also includes a revealing interview with poet Scott
Cairns by Tony Leuzzi and intelligent reviews by Rick Joines.
The covers are evocative and expertly composed black and white
photographs from Jess L. Bournay and Tim Fitts. This is solid,
satisfying reading from accomplished and serious writers and
artists cleverly attuned to the world of ideas, emotions, and
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
This is the journal’s 50th issue includes the work of 14 poets, the most recognizable or established among them being David Trinidad; 10 fiction writers, the most recognizable or lauded among them being Achy Obejas and Bayo Ojikutu; two nonfiction writers; a number of reviews; and “Et Al.” hybrid and uncategorized work by Joseph Gallimore and Jill Summers.
The work is consistently edgy, original, smart, and intense, the result of imaginative, creative, original voices that take themselves just seriously enough. The TOC demonstrates beautifully through the work’s titles what I mean. For instance: “mama sense: an elegy” by Ali Lansana, “Poems Written with My Nemesis Looking Over My Shoulder” by Trinidad, and the Et Al. features “Tuesday Night in Coatcheck 12/23/08,” and “Dad Wears Short Shorts,” by Joseph Gallimore and Jill Summers.
In this issue, you’ll want to read everything. I certainly wouldn’t skip over Peggy Shinner’s “Elective,” a personal essay about a teenage nose job. Or Garin Cycholl’s story “American Necropolis #5,” which reads like nonfiction: “Wherever you go here, you’ll be riding the rails. In the past century, great engines reversed the course of rivers in this city.” Or Ryan Kenealy’s story “Uncle Dave”: “It all began with a Chevy Vega Uncle Dave hornswaggled from the insurance company, buying an obscure policy that protects families from fathers who go to jail, hours before my father was convicted.” Or Cycholl’s poem from “Horse Country”:
not the territory’s last Gnostic,
slinging his breakfast plate against
dawn, but America seen by cigarette
light, a ten-minute piss break in the
vicinity of Nashville.
Or Alexander York’s poem “Nothing is Living in the Lake”:
3. You make a canoe out of the bones
and fan yourself through the dead water
in search of your lost limbs.
Grab your paddle and plan to spend a long time in the wake of
this terrific 50th issue.
A Journal of Gay Poetry
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Editor Bryan Borland introduces readers to this new journal by announcing that Assaracus has “no formula” other than that all poems are authored by gay men, a “place for our poetry to dance with its own kind.” Poems are preceded by bios documenting writer’s credentials (poets who are both quite experienced and first-time in print are included in this premier issue), and the poems reflect much diversity in style, tone, and approach. Shane Allison contributes a spare “Dream” of bare single lines, “Used to / wonder / late at night // Boxers / or / Briefs”). Jay Burodny contributes a sense poem all in italics, “A Needy God.” Raymond Luczak contributes a prose poem, “Six Gallery, San Francisco: October 7, 1955.” Matthew Hittinger contributes a long poem of couplets, “A Bus Journeys West”:
of a trip headed
West, way from the city we must pass,
the city where we
split, peanut shells cracked, sandwich crust littered,
grammar choked and dust.
There is plenty of sex. There are plenty of relationship
traumas. There is plenty of yearning, desire, and longing. There
is plenty of self-doubt and also much self-confident strutting.
There is plenty of brash language and plenty of poetic musing.
And there is even marriage: “Leroy Williams proposed to Titus
Williams / But Titus Williams married Russell Wilson,” concludes
“High School Epthalamion” by Allison.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
The work in this issue of the Birmingham Poetry Review is terribly moving, highly accomplished, and unexpectedly inspiring. How not to be simply undone by Deborah Ager’s “A Poem in Which My Father is Not the Villain,” which opens the issue? “I believe we commit errors we want no one to know about, / that we wish we could bathe and be healed and sip whisky and be clean.”
I was brought to tears by Ager’s ability to capture the raw and authentic emotion that governs so many of our lives with a few lines that appear, deceptively, so simple. Her poem is matched in skill and potency by work from Sheri Allen in “Crown of Cyclamen,” Julie Funderburk’s “The Spy’s Egg,” Medbh McGuckian’s “Noir Poem,” “Black Ice” by Anne-Marie Thompson, and “The Stand-Off,” from Will Wells.
Worthy of special recognition this issue are poems by Ryo Yamaguchi in his “Lyric” series. These are eccentric, exciting, and unimaginably original poems that are emotionally and intellectually satisfying, exquisitely composed, and memorable. They combine a sense of personal engagement, lyric elegance, and contemporary energy. These poems make me glad to be alive (and often, I confess, I am not so terribly pleased with the whole endeavor) and thrilled to be a reader. Here are the opening lines of “Lyric #5”:
O city, O thunderclap O ionic vertical rise, be what you may be but be mine.
Here is burn and the brass, my long lines that empty into your streets, your amusements
and cornerstones, your wailing and your
hefts of sodium light. So I took and have been taken, so I jumped your turnstiles.
I have, oh, yes—thanks to these poems—been taken.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Issue 40 is a special theme issue on animals, the centerpiece of which are an excerpted essay and an interview with the talented, perplexing, and always-provocative Lauren Slater, who has a book forthcoming on animals, and who was first published many years ago by this journal. Essayist par excellence Phillip Lopate contributes “Show and Tell” about the human animal, “the ethics of writing about other people.” Well-known writer Susan Cheever describes her encounters with much maligned house mice in “Of Mice and Women,” and Jennifer Lunden, Kateri Kosek, Randy Fertel, Jeff Oaks, and Chester F. Phillips contribute strong essays on butterflies, starlings, grunions, zoos, dogs, and lions.
The interview with Slater is what any avid reader of her work might expect, but it is worthwhile nonetheless. Has she lied in the essays in which she has claimed both to lie and not to? What is the relationship between story telling (made up and not made up) and telling stories (not made up and made up)? How does she manage to get so much done while coping with so many potentially debilitating circumstances (mental illness—her own and of her clients). What does she think of what the critics have said of her work (praising and maligning writing about her own experience of illness, and/or abuse, and/or science as personal sense of fact and fiction)?
This issue’s essays are fine examples of the type of work the
journal is known for and has popularized, work that combines
personal observation, perspective, and experience with larger
considerations and explorations of issues, circumstances, and
realities. There is a pleasing sort of “biodiversity” here,
voices and subjects (mirco-to-macro as far as the animal kingdom
is concerned) that span regions and tones, body types and
diction, literary structures and environmental exigencies. My
only concern: despite Lee Gutkind’s insistence that readers have
responded enthusiastically to the journal’s new format (an
oversized tabloid), I find the journal hard to hold, unwieldy
between my palms for any length of time, and with work this
solid, one wishes to read intensely, closely, and comfortably as
time—and the animal kingdom—evolves.
Review by Barbara Ellen Baldwin
The Fiddlehead has been a Canadian literary delight since 1945, when it began as the mimeographed paper-child of The Bliss Carman Poetry Society. Published quarterly by the University of New Brunswick, this treasure is an eclectic journal. I relished five stories and was enthralled with deliciously crafted writing from fifteen poets.
I was drawn to the contemplative work of Jan Zwicky’s: “Autumn Again.” The piece evokes the loss of summer, the luminescent detail of nature, and both reader and speaker, are left not mourning, but longing. I loved “late August at my window”:
the crickets chanting, bright glitter on the surface
of the ebb. And ravens
talking to themselves, the flocks
of chickadees. What is
As the poem sighs to a close, I remember ravens can literally be taught to speak. However, I prefer the poet’s birds, chatting, oblivious to the beauty of lilting crickets “in the darkness, chanting, / chanting.”
Charmaine Cadeau’s memorable “Queen bee,” is from the poet’s dreamscape, “poised deep in her hive, / hollow and light as an echo.” I am captivated by the apiary, suffused in “blood orange,” and it is here the poet confides her admiration:
She’s the Wizard
of Oz behind the curtain,
his levers and smoke, too. She’s pipe cleaners, rubber band
whir, the laundry lint in my blue-jeans pocket. Sometimes she seems
enchanted like a daffodil that sprang to flight when kissed, a toy from
somewhere they’re still made by hand. One that bites.
The powerful “toy” image is deftly handled sans nostalgia, weighted with sweetness, exactly right.
In Christine Lowther's “some of the many things you missed,” readers are introduced to “jellyfish that don’t sting,” and the poet gives the reader lacy images of the “moon jellies,” ethereal beings, thronging the bay:
they look more like petticoats ballooning down a staircase
or shower caps or miniature parachutes
the size of a thimble or a dinner plate
always only a few until one year there comes a bloom
The poet’s joy in these creatures is best expressed in her lower-case hope of joining them, however briefly:
i wish they’d crowd their cool soft bodies up to mine
wish i could say I’ve been swarmed by moon jellies
wish i could say I’ve been to a moon jelly love-in
ecstatic in the slippery translucent animals
When I encountered Medrie Purdham’s sardonic musings in “Heliotrope,” I was fleetingly reminded of Roethke’s “The Geranium.” Purdham, though, has a different take on her living present. This “maiden aunt”—needy, undefended—is a gift that takes both time and care:
it would need such coddling, three spritzes a day,
old standards crooned to it in soft ululations,
would need the company of one person, not two—
inspired by the measured breath of solitude.
As the poem progresses, Purdham’s vanilla-scented charge thirsts ominously. The poem reveals this plant is an eerie companion, always wanting, wanting.
In “Freight,” Shane Neilson’s short story, I was so shocked by the first page, and final line, that I literally threw the journal in the air! The whole piece could have ended there, in perfection. I was grateful I kept reading, because the images were trenchant; a father-son relationship and the writer’s skill were all captivating. Here's to a bone-weary worker, the wind, the rain. The reader is swiftly placed:
He was on top of the truck, and this was work, he had to work at the tarp to get it to cover the load, it had to be taut or the wind would get underneath and lift it up like a fingernail, the wind would strain against the tarp and rip the bungee cords and the truck would be hauling its own parachute.
The harrowing truck-bed scenario leads into a can’t-put-it-down tale that is all too short, but satisfying.
Michael Doyle’s “The Disappearing Man,” could be ripped from a cheap tabloid’s pages, but it retains magic and believability as one couple’s marriage is erased by infidelity. Doyle’s self-involved husband really is fading into the wallpaper. His wife and mistress seem to simultaneously dismiss him. Pulled to his reflection again and again, the adulterer sees only what he is losing:
After stepping down, he caught another glimpse of his face in the mirror. He was no longer particularly radiant…He gazed at his image and saw the man he normally saw. He found a grey hair and pulled it out, but there were others.
Although the storyline feels familiar, the growing darkness here is riveting. The reader finds the end of this piece disquietingly cheerful.
I am an avid Tom Wayman fan. Like other instructor/poets, I clutched his famously reprinted, borrowed, and bootlegged poem “Did I Miss Anything?” with fevered joy, and married it to my syllabus. Wayman's poems are not all soaked in quotidian commentary, of course. In “Portal,” the author, deep in midwinter, is content. In December he sees:
Where the ridge's snowy evergreens
begin their rise toward the summit, a passage
opens through a fringe of
hazels and maples
whose emptied limbs are bowed beneath
Here is cold beauty, but not cold without end. The poet calls up memories of “hot July shadow,” the deer that ranged there, and yes, sees the “now frozen white mounds.” The lawns, are strange, transformative, but not for long. He is in reverie, not mournful. In brevity and wonder he notes “woods” that patiently wait, independent of clocks or calendars. In the meantime, Wayman quietly savors one winter moment, which won't come again.
This issue of The Fiddlehead is a
basket of goodies, to be enjoyed in any kind of weather. I
admired the eloquence and keen-eyed reviews of poetry and prose,
and was entranced with the gorgeous cover art by Anna Cameron.
Cameron's cover should be saved behind glass. This journal is a
Volume 5 Issue 1
Review by C.D. Thomas
I know that I’m not the ideal reader for journals that feature art. I usually don’t pay attention as I should, and consider the pieces selected as speed bumps. In this aspect, the art in Front Range isn’t exceptional, but it has been selected with an informed eye to complement the text. The journal’s words, however, are satisfying and, dare I say, practical.
As in Mark Gibbons’s “Smoke,” these poems don’t “try / to ‘extend’ the language,” they “merely sang / from the core” of characters’ experiences, ground in normal life and observations. We see portraits of grandmothers, fathers, lovers, friends, all without fuss and excess ornament. Writers’ voices don’t overpower these portraits; rather, they extend one's imagination as one would while riding a bus, watching walkers outside.
Of the prose, Donna D. Vitucci’s “In Euphoria” created memorable, contradictory, fascinating characters and situations in a short space, while “Shadow-Mouthed: A Love Note of Sorts” took the familiar tropes of crazy love and drug-fueled sex and pushed them toward an evocation of wisdom and regret, without histrionics. In poetry, Nikki Loftin’s “Burn Barrels” takes that fiery metaphor and squeezes clear, pungent juice out of it, while “3 Things” by Danielle Goncalves depicts a sensual centeredness holding back rage and pain. Being based in Montana, Front Range necessarily has nature poems galore, Laura L. Snyder’s “I Saw a Coyote” and Anne Harding Woodworth’s “Caught” being two highlights.
Near the end, “The Tao of Al Green” by Adrian S. Potter states erotics and spiritualism as plain as one of Green’s wails—short, sharp, smutty. But Potter’s “Open Letter to Fear” belongs on the shortlist of meditatives along with Frank Herbert’s “Fear is the mindkiller”: Seeing the enemy’s face is the first part of conquering it, or at least keeping it at bay.
This issue is fine, casual reading. I’ll be looking forward
to further installments.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Fugue is one of my favorite journals. There is always something exciting, inventive, original, and unexpected; something that reinforces my confidence in the state of American literature; something I am grateful to have encountered; something special in the best and truest sense of the word. In this issue, this includes prize-winning fiction from Colette Sartor and Paul Vidich; poetry from Margarita Delcheva, Bryan Narendorf, and Patty Crane, among others; fiction from Luther Magnussen and Heather Jacobs, among others; nonfiction from Sarah Fawn Montgomery, David Shields, and David McGlynn; and interview by Steve Heim with George Saunders; and an “Experiment” by Kevin Sampsell, “This is Between Us.”
The “Experiment” is illustrative of the journal’s approach and unique contribution to American letters, a kind of blurring of genres coupled with a respect for language, which creates intrigue, while privileging meaning over more superficial qualities:
I’m spinning a loaf of bread on my fingers. Will you dance with me next? The sun is on our naked backs.
You told me to never worry about you. You ate fish from the can. I thought about knocking it out of your hand, but which direction? Straight down, so it splats on the floor? Underhand, so that it enters your eyes? It’s not you I worry about.
This dense little journal never ceases to satisfy. Here are the opening lines of David McGlynn’s essay, “Disciples”: “After seventeen hours on the plane, a taxi ride from the airport to a downtown hostel, and breakfast the next morning in the tiny lobby café, I realized it had been two days since I’d had a conversation that didn’t involve an exchange of money.”
And here are the opening lines of “Landscape With and Without the Word Love” by Carolina Ebeid:
Who knows why, napping in the make-shift
barricade with a book that covered
the sun, the soldier woke then. Or maybe he didn’t
wake but dreamt the girl carrying
an oversized stuffed animal of a royal shade.
Fugue…a dream state…if you think
this journal is one of the finest imaginable…you’re not
Review by Sean Stewart
There is a point in the conversation between poets Adam Clay and Timothy Donnelly in this issue of Grist where they are discussing truthfulness in poetry. Both poets agree that when reading a poem it doesn't really matter to them whether what's happening in the poem comes directly from the poet's life or not, whether it is “true” to life outside the poem. But then Donnelly brings up the issue of what to do when you, as a poet, do want to “engage with realities outside the poem in a sincere way.” How do you communicate this to a reader? As Donnelly so pithily remarks, “it’s not like you can use a special font for sincerity.”
This issue hovers around a common question directed toward not just poets, but all creative writers: where is the element of autobiography in a given piece of writing? Understandably, it can be a frustrating (even infuriating) question for writers to answer. I think many, if not most, writers consider (or at least hope for) a work they create to stand taller than their own experiences, yet still remain inextricably tied to themselves. This relationship between the writer as a person and what comes out on the page, however, can be too murky to explain to someone who has not experienced it.
Grist is the kind of journal that provokes such thought. In addition to the fine selections of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction in this issue, there is plenty to chew on related to the craft of writing. The above referenced conversation between poets is a great example; it moves beyond a typical unidirectional interview into a wider arena where we gain insight into the minds of two different writers by way of a fluid dialogue between them. Another example of Grist’s offerings on craft is Michael Steinberg’s essay on “finding the inner story in personal narratives,” which offers invaluable advice on methods to connect with readers through memoir and personal essays.
On the creative writing side, here are just a few highlights from this 200+ page journal. First, Ryan Shoemaker's short story “The Crossing” addresses the sticky issue of employing illegal immigrants. While the narrator thinks he's merely getting a bargain on office cleaning in tough economic times, the ramifications of his decision to hire illegals extends much farther into his life, forcing him to confront some uncomfortable realities. A little later in the issue, Jason Schossler cleverly uses popular culture in his poems to interface with some of humanity’s larger universal issues. In the poem “Cliffhanger,” upon hearing a rumor about actor Harrison Ford's plans after The Empire Strikes Back, the narrator’s friend scoffs in disbelief, “Who’d give up the Millennium Falcon / for a fedora and a whip?” Who, indeed.
This issue of Grist is perhaps strongest in its keenly selected creative nonfiction. In “99 Problems,” Andrew Kozma deconstructs his actions and feelings regarding sex throughout a series of relationships, complete with footnotes. Ira Sukrungruang writes in “Bloody Feet” that his “feet connected me to place” in his ancestral land of Thailand, where he traveled to live (and walk) for a month as a Buddhist monk. In “Applied Platonism; Or, What Work Isn’t,” T.R. Hummer throws open the gates to an oddly fascinating Army Corps of Engineers facility, a place where he toiled during a crisis of faith over his creative pursuits and ended up mining for the inspiration he needed to return to his original path.
The issue ends on a powerful note with four stunning poems
from Syrian-born poet Adonis, translated into English by Khaled
Mattawa. These poems are a fitting close to an outstanding issue
that drives the reader on a careening literary tour down shady
lanes, dirt roads, and the odd one-way street.
Volume 34 Number 2
Review by Sean Stewart
This issue of The Journal flexes its tensile strength in both poetry and fiction. The first poem to shake me was Frannie Lindsay's “To the Petermann Glacier,” which seems to portend an environmental holocaust (the glacier moving “down each torn strand of latitude”) while hinting at the post-disaster world to come, one where we find “the newly erected Cathedral of Zero / with its pulpit tangled in sumac.” Meanwhile, “the lost gulls float inland scavenging sticks // as you lay down the calm heat of listening before / the great barrier requiem.”
Next to hook me was Mary Ann Samyn's poem “I Want Your Kisses,” where she asks a tough question: “Is this the fastest path to happiness, or is this happiness?” And if that wasn't tough enough, she moves on to: “What does it mean to be alive?” Her answer to that last one, though, at least ends the poem on a reassuring note: “We'll know when we're ready.”
In fiction, I found two stellar short stories: Joe Aguilar's “Chicken Suit” and Jacob Appel's “The Summer of Interrogatory Subversion,” winner of The Journal's Seventh Annual Short Story Contest. In “Chicken Suit,” a teenage drummer deals with acute acne while attending music camp; typical camp antics ensue. Appel's story details the travails of a young woman as she first experiences the vagaries of the human heart. I think it would be hard for any human not to sympathize with her.
Still early in the issue, while a few paragraphs deep into Michael White's compelling excerpt from Travels in Vermeer, I flipped to the table of contents to determine the genre of this piece and realized that The Journal doesn't label its contents along genre lines. A quick glance at White's bio in the back also did not offer up any clues regarding Travels. After grudgingly making my way to the Web, I finally discovered that this piece is an excerpt from White's forthcoming memoir. Maybe some readers don't care to see a journal's contents labeled by genre (or to even know what genres a journal publishes), but in certain cases it can be helpful. This would've been one of them. A minor objection here, but one I thought worth noting.
The issue closes out neatly with reviews of new poetry
collections from Jason Koo, Carmen Giménez Smith, Amy Wright,
and Erika Meitner.
Review by Sean Stewart
The annual Juked print issue opens with a tight piece of historical fiction by James Scott titled “Watertown,” in which two of Babe Ruth's questionably well-meaning associates decide to do something about Babe's addict wife:
Babe hated her. Babe hated her and they loved him. Hay and Eddie noted and imitated everything he did—tried to wear the same suits, ordered the same drinks. They wanted to keep up but never could. Babe was too fast, too rich, and too huge.
Black-and-white drawings preface all of the stories in this collection, each of the drawings related to its corresponding story in some way, with a quote from the story beneath. This is a nice touch. Artwork that complements the writing really elevates a journal above its peers.
Other pleasing reads within the pages of Juked that come tumbling to mind, in no particular order:
In Max Everhart's story “The Man Who Wore No Pants,” a Chinese man named Mr. Song and his son purchase a lakeside home that comes with a dying man. Mr. Song thinks he is getting a sweet deal, but soon realizes that the control he so expertly exerts on those around him fails to work on this man, thus driving Mr. Song far outside his comfort zone.
Jen Gann profiles an unusual brother-sister relationship in her story “Ugly Brown Car,” in which said beleaguered car is at one point parked in the siblings' driveway, its “dank little nose pointed onward in the direction of work, Jack's Hot House, the part of road that far up enough, might just curl a little.”
With “Snow Monsters,” Stephen Graham Jones delivers an unsettling slice of magical realism in which a father receives an offer he is not likely to refuse. This is one of those stories that lingers like cobwebs in your head for some time afterwards.
JoAnna Novak's prose poems “Love Note #2” (“Mornings, you drive until the speakers harden”) and “Love Note #3” (“There is a key in your pocket, but at the time, I am delicious and unaware”) are fascinating snapshots that had me rereading over and over, if only to relish how Novak forms words into sentences.
The lone piece of nonfiction here stands firm on its own. Ira Sukrungruang's “Abridged Immigrant Narrative” tells the history of an immigrant family in succinct segments, poignant yet unwashed in sentimentality:
When the boy got older, he asked the mother why she could not talk for herself. He knew she could speak English. Speak it relatively well.
She was older, gray creeping into her thinning hair. She said American people were like that one monster villain the boy was so afraid of.
The mother nodded. American people were like Freddy Krueger. They stole her voice.
Also included in this issue are two interviews: one with
novelist Lauren Groff, and the other with poet Campbell McGrath.
Groff comes across as pleasant and enthusiastic, while McGrath
is terse and a bit cranky. It was a nice juxtaposition.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
“Symposium: Poems Disliked, Poems Loved” is advertised on the cover, so it’s hard to pay attention to much else before turning immediately to the back of the magazine, where the special feature is located, to find out who is willing declare their dislike of certain poems or types of poetry in a public forum. The journal asked poets Wayne Miller, Helen Nelson, and David Rivard to present for discussion a “bad poem” (“weak or shallow or disappointing”) and a “good poem” (not defined!). The poets then “conversed” about these six poems via e-mail.
If you want to find out whose or which poems these poets did and didn’t “like” or “love,” you’ll have to read the issue for yourself, I’m not going to embarrass any further the poets (not all novices) chosen in either category. But, I will say that the discussion is serious, worthwhile, and intelligent, with “bad” poems being those found to be predictable, formal poems that seem “over-engineered” and story poems that are over-narrated, and poems judged unsophisticated, clichéd, inflated, lacking in energy, and ineffective in certain unconventional uses of punctuation. Poems were deemed “good” as a result of surprising resolutions, layered images and multiple perspectives, casual tones that give way to eloquent revelations, delicacy, clever elusiveness, and incongruity that ends up making extraordinary sense, among other attributes.
Miller, Nelson, and Rivard do not always agree, and it’s their points of disagreement and departure that are, of course, the most interesting. I do find the “like” and “dislike” categories distinct from “good” and “bad,” and though this distinction is not addressed in the discussion explicitly, the poet-critics are honest about certain personal preferences and predilections (a reader may or may not like narrative poems, but that is separate from understanding a poem’s effectiveness, no matter one’s personal preferences).
In addition to the Symposium on bad and good poems, NOR features the work of 24 poets, many well known for their good poems (Tony Hoagland, Ellen Bass, Billy Collins, Carl Dennis), six short stories, and three essays. Good and bad, being the subjective and slippery categorizations we know them to be, I will refrain here from passing judgment and mention a few highlights of the issue for me, which include Melanie Unruh’s clever story about the experience of therapy, “Luna de Miel,” “Forever,” a poem by Carl Dennis about heaven and hell (as they exist on earth and beyond), and a “flash” nonfiction contribution by Maya Sonenberg, “Solstice”:
Yes, darlings, you’re right: while light still fills the sky and the first star appears, and then the others, and while your parents sit on the porch steps with their glasses of wine, trading stories, it’s impossible to think that this vast middle—life—will ever end…
I didn’t have a parents-on-the-porch kind of childhood, but Sonenberg certainly makes me wish I did. Highlights also include, among many others, a lovely sonnet by Todd Hearon, “Palimpsest”:
What was the tongue we spoke when the lotus first
unfolded from the navel of the god, the one who dreams
the universe, and in whose ear we must have whispered
our hunger to hold each other? What were the words
must now be reflex, shudder, blood, be impulse, pulse
a palimpsest of longing written over
eons, eons ago…
What is the word for provocative reading? Oh, yes…NOR
Volume 32 Number 1
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
The magazine’s 2010 fiction contest winners open the issue and they are, indeed, award-worthy. Tori Malcangio’s “A History of Heartbeats” is a smartly structured story that plays out the metaphors of heart rate, flight, and the body’s flight from its own heart (anorexia) in a heartbreaking story of substance (body) and soul (flight). Short-short fiction winner Darren Morris follows—in a stroke of editorial genius—with “The Weight of the World,” with its appealing and insightful narrator (“When you’re a kid the summer lasts forever, and that summer lasted two lifetimes.”). Short-shorts by honorable mention recipients Edith Pearlman, Jendi Reiter, and Thomas Yori are also terrific examples of the short-short genre. Their work is well matched by fiction from another 14 writers; nonfiction from 6 contributors; and 50 pages of poetry, including poems by the ubiquitous Bob Hicok, and 6 marvelous poems by Traci Brimhall.
What characterizes most of the work in the issue is similar to what makes the prize-winning fiction appealing: earnest writing evoked through appealing, credible voices; writing that strives for artistry without over reaching; authentic perspectives and language; cleverness and polish that is sincere and rarely showy. I appreciate the journal’s interest in, and publication of, short-shorts, a form I find highly satisfying when done well, as it is here by Mabel Yu and Timothy Samuel Scott, among others. And I appreciate work that is both personal, yet unsentimental, such as an essay by Lisa K. Harris, “Dementia” (“My mother talks to plants. I’ve heard her coo to dinner plate-sized peony blossoms, thanking them, as they put on a the show just for her.”); and I am grateful to encounter fiction that is quirky in a natural way, without working too hard for its odd-ness, as in a story by Christine Grimes, “The Ending Matters”: “When I found Sal, after the movie was over and the lights had come up, I thought he was sleeping. I didn’t realize he was dead.”
Poetry tends to be somewhat edgier than prose in this issue, including work by Nick Courtright, dawn lonsinger, Nicole Higgins, and Christina Olson, though there is a generous range of tones, approaches, and styles and no work that appears to be edgy for the sake of edginess. Traci Brimhall’s work is as impressive as ever. Here are the gorgeous opening lines of “The Women Are Ordered to Clear The Bodies of Suitors Slain By Ulysses”:
This is how I betrayed my country—
with each almond I fed them, with each grape’s
red blister. After the war began, there were years
of hunger and fear and our bodies unheld.
I cannot close this little review without mentioning the
splendid cover by Ian Stewart. I cannot tell if this is a
drawing or a woodcut—a simple, lovely, stark “north passages”
scene much like the work in this issue, sure of itself without
pretension, serious, deeply moving, and unique.
Review by Tanya Angell Allen
PMS poemmemoirstory is so good that the journal’s already-annoying title becomes extra irksome.
The allusion to menstruation is a turn-off for men. Many women who don’t already know the magazine don’t take it seriously. One potential reader contacted by this reviewer said she assumes the content has a “whiny” tone, with poems like those found at a “bad poetry slam.”
Because of this, the selection from the Afghan Women’s Writing Project in the 2010 issue is unlikely to be seen by a wide audience. This is a shame, as the project’s founder Masha Hamilton offers the work “in hopes that…these stories will connect us Americans to Afghan, and broaden our understanding of our complex relationship with Afghanistan and its compelling people.” Unlike the bestselling book Three Cups of Tea, about building schools for Afghan girls and was reportedly picked up by military men after their wives read it in book clubs, the latest issue of PMS will very likely be read only by already-loyal female readers. Because of this, Tabasom’s entreaty in “Far From You”: “I am a jungle of burnt trees. / Come, find me here” will not be found by many. Shogofa’s statement in “Kill Silence” that “as much as we women are quiet or keep silent, we are destroying our lives and our future” will also be kept quiet.
To its credit, the journal’s title does foster the intimacy found in “girl talks.” There’s also a feeling of feminine pride that comes from reading excellent work written by women. Kerry Madden’s “from the editor-in-chief” note, though, thanks at least two men for “for their reading and editing.” This suggests the magazine’s content does have appeal for male readers.
And how could it not…with pieces as strong as “Rise” by Nancy Rutland Glaub, where the image of hummingbirds caught in a screen porch reflects a couple’s marital troubles after the death of their son. Valor Brown’s compelling poem “How to be a Battered Woman” tells a complete, insightful and novel-worthy story in 100 urgent lines. Bryn Chancellor’s fiction piece “All this History at Once” tells the story of an artisan falling down the steps at the craft festival in front of her oblivious ex-husband. Katherine Jamieson’s memoir “Ain’t Ready for no Man” says the author “was haunted by the ‘Save the Children’ ad campaign” when she was young, then as an adult fell in love with one of those children. Garnett Kilberg Cohen instantly engages the reader with the first line of “Alzheimer’s Daughter”: “My mother has taken to calling me her mother.” Donna G. Thomas’s memoir “Kiddie Land” centers on a terrifying Ferris Wheel experience that she never reported to her parents.
All of the pieces in this magazine, including those from the
Afghan Women’s Writing Project, are excellent, serious,
non-whiny literary works. All deserve a large audience of both
women and men. May readers spread the word that, despite its
problematic name, PMS should be
Review by Jason DeYoung
A Public Space publishes lots of up and coming literary stars and this issue seems particularly packed. A swift survey of the bios gleans that only one of the contributing writers in this issue is sans book, while the others have a title or two in print or one forthcoming from a major house or a well-respected small press. With regards to A Public Space, amateurs need not apply.
The superstars deliver, however. Starting with Noemie Goudal’s delicate and striking photograph gracing the cover, this issue is solid front to back. I found something I could admire and appreciate in every piece. And while there are a handful of gorgeous poems here, they didn’t move me like the prose did.
The issue opens with A Public Space’s standard “If You See Something, Say Something” columns, which introduced me to the writer Tom Drury, who has two pieces in this issue. His opening short piece is a conversation between two teachers in the faculty lounge, where they’re discussing the evolving nature of what’s “appropriate.” Drury grabs the opening slot for fiction in this issue, as well, with his story “Joan Comes Home.” Though the plot of this story—a successful actress/truant mother comes to take her son away from the father who has been caring for him—is certainly moving, the source of the story’s originality resides in its structure. Never settling on one point-of-view, Drury moves around the subject of return and departure, giving us angled and skewed scenes on his scenario.
The centerpiece of this issue for me, however, is Sharifa Rhodes-Pitt’s “Here is the Evidence.” Rhodes-Pitt does what all good writers should do: she makes you interested in her subject. She makes you want to become as engrossed in it as she is. Using the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture as her literal and metaphorical center, Rhodes-Pitt surveys the intellectual—both folk and academic—history of Harlem. Taking Arthur Schomburg’s words—“History must restore what slavery took away, for it is the social damage of slavery that the present generations must repair and offset.”—Rhodes-Pitts captures the personal stories of her neighbors while also investigating Harlem’s larger history of death and renewal. This essay is the longest in the issue and contains multitudes—my pen was out for the entire reading, marking passages both informative and stylistically stunning.
The issue is rounded out with Sarah Manguso’s lovely essay on why she enjoys singing in choirs, and Antoine Wilson’s story “Panorama City,” a taped monologue of a dying father’s words to his unborn child, offers some advice about trying to make people happy: “expectations… should be met, not exceeded or fucked with in any way.”
The closing essay is by John Haskell, whose work I’ve been fascinated with since reading his collection I am not Jackson Pollack, a strange collection that blurs the lines between essay and fiction. The piece he has here is called “The Persistence of Muybridge” on Eadweard Muybridge, the pioneering photographer who proved that all four of a horse's hooves are off the ground at the same time during a gallop. Haskell starts by confessing that he has been trying to write about Muybridge for more than six years, but the more Haskell has looked into the photographer’s life, the more frustrated he has become since Muybridge seems so “controlling and unconnected…to the world and to me.”
By “not changing [Muybridge’s] life, but by altering certain
details,” Haskell believes he can push Muybridge in a more
“emotional direction” to discover the man’s desire: “Desire is
the emotion that draws us into each other, and with it there’s
pain and without it there’s nothing.” Bumping up against the
realm of fiction, Haskell begins to insert himself into the
narrative of Muybridge’s life, trying to find his subject’s true
desire. In the end Haskell’s measures fail; Muybridge “knows a
camera is watching him, and I am that camera, and like a camera
all I seem able to do is observe.”
Review by Henry F. Tonn
This entertaining lit mag changes its homepage fortnightly, updates its archives monthly, and issues a print edition yearly. They offer poetry and flash fiction and they read year-round. They also have audio poems presented online for those who like to hear poetry read aloud.
Since I get fatigued at reading—or attempting to read—stuffy and opaque literary poems, I thoroughly enjoyed the “fortnightly poem” on the home page by Sherman Alexie entitled “After the Young Hoopster Asks Me if I’ve Ever Heard of Jenny Craig, I Proceed to Run His Ass Up and Down the Court”: “These kids are younger than the rim and net. / Someday they’ll beat me. But not yet. Not yet.”
Many of the flash fiction pieces are humorous also, like Paul Beckman’s “Views,” a story which is a mere two scoptophilic paragraphs long, but loads of fun, about a male who watches a female co-worker across the alley prepare for work every morning—from showering and shaving her legs to having coffee and toast by the kitchen sink in her slip. While chatting with her at work, however, he learns she isn’t the only one providing an erotic show.
A three-paragraph creation worth viewing in the archives, from July 2010, is Paul Weidknecht’s “A Story,” which begins, “Over my shoulder, the sun dropped into a farmer’s cornfield, the final patch of orange light on the water enough for me to spot the small, vaguely metallic object at my feet.” Wonder what it was? Well, I’ll tell you this, it was so intriguing I wanted the story to be a lot longer.
For international flavor we have “I, Rose,” by Adam Mrozek, translated from Polish by William Badger, the story of a rose from the rose’s point of view. This kind of story could easily be trite and maudlin but the author pulls it off with aplomb. It has an excellent ending reminiscent of E. A. Poe.
The poetry here is generally accessible and down to earth. An example is “New Jersey” by Barry Spacks:
New Jersey to me is Jersey Joe Walcott,
heavyweight boxer who shopped in our Camden
market where I at twelve got to help
choose his beans and kale, hoisting
brown paper bags filled with fruits of the earth
up to his smile and his ponderous arms.
This lit mag was an enjoyable find. I only regret that their
archives are incomplete. It would be nice if they would make
everything they have published to date accessible because the
reading public might be missing some real gems.
Review by Jennifer Vande Zande
California State University’s student-edited journal Watershed is cohesive in its content and approachable in its length. This collection of poetry, prose and photography centers itself around recollections of childhood and of family, bringing the past and present together—illustrating through apt detail the way people live, work and connect with one another. While slim, only 66 pages, it shouldn’t be rushed.
Jennifer Ann Janisch writes of youth and discovery in her piece “Abbot and Costello are Dead”:
When I was seven, my parents sold my dog at a garage sale.
I had been sitting under the ash tree in the front yard, sifting through the dandelions littering the lawn with knees stained green and fingers stained yellow. I wore leaves in my hair, not a wreath of laurels, but random juts of crispy, fallen leaves that crumbled at the touch.
She goes on to recall piano lessons taken in the home of Mr. Fred Startup—her parents stay for the entirety of every lesson. Not, as she later found out, because they were interested, but because there had been rumors… rumors regarding Mr. Startup and of misconduct with children.
Janisch writes, “Insects lived in my piano teacher’s house. I never saw them, but I saw delicate webs on shelves, burned wings on lamps. I saw what they left behind. Dust, lit by stray light, looked like dead skin. I wondered if it was Mr. Startup’s skin, what he was leaving behind.”
In a similar exploration of human truths and discovery, “The Appointment” a poem by John F. Buckley, gives the illuminating, if not gruesome, details of a man desperate to become a father. What is it really like to step behind the curtain of the examination room? Through Buckley’s piece, we see that it can be awkward and painful, both emotionally and physically:
Obedient, wanting to please the fertility specialist,
I dip my scrotum into the beaker of boiling water and
leave it to steep for three minutes. I add cream after,
to thicken the infusion, anything that will help.
And later in the poem…
I clumsily confess to him our private affairs,
how after we make love, I take my wife out to
the fertile green courtyard, pick her up by her ankles
and swing her around, how the mini-plunger works
to extract my last milky drops, how we devoutly pray
to household saints Dr. Seuss and Mother Goose,
burning dried Gerber’s strained peas like incense
at our living-room shrine…
Finally, in the end, this man who has endured the frustration of fertility treatments long enough—treatments necessary due to a defect he bears—hits the wall. It is both an end and a resolute beginning.
Watershed has been in circulation
since 1977 and is published iannually by the English department
of California State University. The students in English 415 who
have edited this volume, should be proud of their final product.
Over half of its contributors are students themselves or those
affiliated with CSU. It’s smart, tight and is, on the whole, a
very satisfying read.
Volume 1 Issue 1
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Women Arts Quarterly launches its slender first issue with poetry by Julia Gordon-Bramer and Kelli Allen, a novel excerpt by Jacinda Townsend, nonfiction by Beth McConaghy, an interview with violist Kim Kashkashian, artwork by Ellen Baird and Vanessa Woods, and a music review. The journal “aspires to nurture, provide support, and challenge women of all cultures, ethnicities, backgrounds, and abilities in their role in the arts and seeks to heighten awareness and understanding of the achievements of women creators, providing audiences with historical and contemporary examples of the work of women writers, composers, and artists.” The inclusion of work about and by composers is unusual and does distinguish WAQ from other publications.
Gordon Bramer’s poem, “Sylvia Plath Jogged Past,” sets the tone and standard for future issues’ poetry:
I was running in the other direction. I almost didn’t
notice. She was plugged in
to her iPod, behind dark
glasses, wearing a Hughes
University T, and white Nikes.
…she smiled, said Oh,
it’s just you. Get back
I am starving
The issue’s most striking feature is a series of exquisite
black and white photographs by Vanessa Woods, a San Francisco
Art Institute graduate whose work has been exhibited
internationally. The photos are close-ups of natural objects
that turn dreamy in their detail. I was pleased to be introduced
to this gifted photographer’s work and look forward to future
issue of the journal and the opportunity to be introduced to
musicians, composers, visual artists, and writers whose work in
not otherwise accessible or available to most readers.