Posted May 16, 2011
Review by Kenneth Nichols
The editors of Barrelhouse can always be counted upon to present works that occupy the necessary space on the spectrum between “literary” and “pop culture.” Barrelhouse is the perfect journal to present to friends and family (or even strangers) who have far too long deprived themselves of the magic and potential of poetry, prose and even graphic art.
The thematic section in Issue 8 focuses upon “Office Life,” a drudgery to which most of us can relate. In “Assistant to the Vampire,” Melissa Yancy’s first-person narrator is a somewhat weary human resources cog in an increasingly antiquated machine: a non-profit that makes books on tape for the blind. Ordinarily, the narrator checks the suggestion box and finds monotony: repeat requests for an org chart or the proposal for a “TASK FORCE.” The banality is broken when a mystery coworker fills the suggestion boxes with mysterious prose about the boss: “Most of the mythologies are not true. Her belly does not become distended, full of blood, and she does not return to breast feed her children. If she licks the shadow of a victim, the person will not die. And she cannot steal a soul. Which does not mean she wouldn’t like to.” Yancy maintains a high level of suspense as the narrator investigates, building to a satisfying and somewhat unexpected conclusion.
Adam J. Scott’s “Harvest Day” is a disturbing little story about Charles, a truck mechanic who makes extra money driving a charter bus from time to time. The story is pleasantly deceptive in a way; at first, it seems like a conventional meditation on the depressed and emotionally distant older male. This disconnection from internal and external life is challenged when Charles sees a field of “snow melons,” genetically modified fruits covered with fur. Snow melons are “about twice the size of a watermelon, maybe three feet long and two feet wide.” Revealing too much of the plot would do Mr. Scott a disservice. It is enough to say that Charles reconnects with his humanity through his connection with a decidedly inhuman creature.
Aaron Burch’s short story “Prestidigitation” contains some perfectly cringe-worthy descriptions of the magic tricks performed by Linda, Roy’s conjuror girlfriend. The piece reminds us that communicating with those around us can be far harder than it should be and using words may not be the most potent way of getting your message across.
There is a great deal of clever work in the issue. Bryan Furuness contributes an interesting analysis of Facebook, revealing that the service is really “a book with hundreds of point-of-view characters.” In each issue of Barrelhouse, an artist adapts a story from the journal’s web site. This time, it is Mary Miller’s “Go Fish.” The story illuminates the difficulties inherent in making an interpersonal connection and Matthew E. Dawson’s black-and-white pen and ink drawings fit the theme quite well.
As always, Barrelhouse inspires complicated thought
about the commonplace. The journal’s ethos is an important one;
we would all benefit from living in a world in which all aspects
of society are scrutinized and appropriately valued.
Review by Barbara Ellen Baldwin
This hefty journal is art-in-the-palm; it is a singular delight, a challenge, and a joy, all at once. Readers are presented with a collage of literature, poetry, memoir, music, and photography. This journal explores realms of authorship with notably startling computer images of Japanese mathematical scores by the renowned visual artist, Ryoji Ikeda.
When the magazine was launched in 2009, Director of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), Enrique Juncosa, took the magazine's title from a loved street in Paris, the name derived from 1859's Battle of Magenta. As a Director/ Editor/poet, Juncosa partnered with Seane Kissane, IMMA's Curator; the intent was to showcase all disciplines, to be accepting, avant-garde, and open to the unexpected.
I was immediately drawn to the English translation of Shuntaro Tanikawa's poem: “‘Goodbye’ is a Temporary Word.” I couldn't read the delicate Japanese ideographs on the facing page, alas. Still, I felt at ease with the speaker, contemplating:
Having parted with the evening glow
I meet with night.
But the crimson clouds go nowhere
and just hide in the darkness.
Tanikawa is little known in the west, but is self-taught and deeply spiritual. He seeks to elevate, to ferret out the good. His elegant reflective narrator in “Goodbye” moves readers to think carefully about daily beauty and possible loss:
No one ever, I think, vanishes.
My dead grandfather is wings grown from my shoulders.
He takes me to places outside of time
along with seeds left by dead flowers.
Serenity and certainty sing in every line, and this poet frequently refers to his work as music. He has translated the humor of Charles Schultz, and in fascination, once worked with others on a pack of Shinto fortune-telling cards. This is a poet whose works should be committed to memory.
I was riveted by Katherine Weber's piece, "Safe," a small but terrifying story from her novel-in-progress, The Monkey Helper. Children either love or hate carnivals: the unearthly hues of cotton candy (the last swallowed bits always nauseating), the crowds, the cruel, foolish stands full of games, toys never won, are often appalling. There are sour-faced barkers everywhere calling, calling. The rides are something else, mostly adored, in memory, too short. Children want that off-the-ground, controlled high, and usually get it. However, Weber's fascinated child is mesmerized by a jaded, world-worn carnie who runs the Twister. Actually, it's the mechanism of control, that bright button she notices:
The red button so appealing, like a clown's nose waiting to be honked. The wooden steps so inviting, like a ladder to be climbed. The exciting music, frantic and falsely cheerful, but with that hysterical pitch which on television always signifies something about to go wrong.
The red button is so intriguing.
Readers can almost hear "Twilight Zone" music in the background, as the camera pans to starlight and Rod Serling speaks. In this reality though, the "hated" man, in the "dirty green T-shirt,” runs the Twister. In Weber's storyline, he simply does his job, his tiresome job, perfectly. The little girl, nameless and judgmental, wants and watches. As the mother looks on, the Twister twirls, "too fast," and "dirty green T-shirt" is fully in charge of the button which stops and starts, the button which brings fear or fun. The ride slows, deflatingly:
Kids erupted out of the seats and scampered towards the exit steps, sneakered feet squeaking and thundering on the painted boards.
Grown ups didn't usually need his help, but a fat lady wedged into a car over on the other side seemed unable to raise her safety bar and he ambled over to help her.
The red button was all alone and the girl was standing on the top step for the exit, right next to it, only a thin drooping plastic link chain between them.
This setting is so clearly etched in my childhood memories, I thought I'd read: "pink plastic link chain." No. Weber, gifted storyteller, is skewing expectations on the page. So: The button “glowed beautifully, like a sucked lozenge.”
The little girl covets. The poorly paid "dirty" man works, and whatever wickedness follows, is unexpected, inventive, new. Weber's novel-in-progress tidbit should encourage all to remember the forthcoming book.
"Playing on the White Notes," John F. Deane's celebratory poem, is a deftly worked portrait of simplicity and contrast. I imagine a God's-eye view of his scene, a pure, natural world, caught:
For days now, white butterflies are a storm
low over the meadow; they come to rest awhile
on the white clover, their wings, for a moment, folded;
the early purity of the lambs is a little sullied
while over against the fenceline, Michaelmas daisies
are gathering to themselves the light…
The poem moves on, awaiting winter, pushing back "autumn colourings," but the butterflies will stay, however briefly. Who hasn't wanted to freeze such a scene in time? Ultimately, it's not of course just warmth and ever-blooming daisies that are wished for. Readers are nostalgic, human, unrealistic. Why can't we bottle such moments? Because the "butterflies" are resting, only. Nothing can remain the same. Night falls; cold waits its own turn.
The Mexican-Italian poet Fabio Morabito's untitled poem is translated to my joy, Spanish page facing the English. I retain enough Spanish to discern the heart of the poem. In the English: The piece is a conversation, an agreement between a bonded couple. The world wants the ring as symbol. They do not:
Between you and me, there has never been,
however slender, a circle of silver or gold,
the slightest pressure on one of your fingers
to remind your circulation
that I exist.
How I admire that clarity! Yes, there certainly is a societal expectation, in many cultures, of a token, preferably worn or attached to the body. I love these lines: “Where would a ring of mine fit on a hand so complete? / What would its glitter add to such an empery?”
Morabito's couple isn't tabloid-fare famous. Maybe they are part of his life's tale. No matter. The simple language here shines, in both languages. Ringless, these two are linked by shared experience, happiness, joy, and tragedy. Marked permanently by offenses against one another, they move on, undaunted.
The Vietnamese-born French photographer Bernard Plossu's crisp black-and-white travel images here are thought-provoking and call for concentration. I was enchanted with "Nijar 1990." One bird, wings full out, is always waiting to land.
Paris-based and renowned visual artist Ryoji Ikeda's work is stunning and original, but readers will wish his computer images of mathematical scores were more fully described. On Juncosa's introduction page, I feel I have truly missed an opportunity: Ikeda's performance in the Great Hall of the Irish Museum of Modern Art is described as "a most memorable night."
Still, Ikeda's work, and the gorgeous jewel-like
acrylic-on-paper drawings by Philip Taaffe aren't apt to be
found in any other magazine. Boulevard Magenta provides
enjoyment to those of divergent tastes and is not easily
compared to other publications. This edition is a triumph.
Review by Vanessa Willoughby
There’s something undeniably Faulknerian about this issue of the University of Montana’s literary journal CutBank. You’d think that the publication would cater to luminous pieces of prose and poetry that highlight the golden beauty of the Rocky Mountains, work that showcases rugged mountain people born with a heritage of adventure and manifest destiny. While CutBank does feature poetry and prose that praise the glory of the Midwest, this issue’s selection of contributions seem to be fascinated with the darker elements of human nature, of greed and tainted love, sad-eyed people searching for a savior.
Right off the bat, a perfect example of this display of twisted and aching humanity can be seen in Laura Kate Resnik’s “Homespun.” A powerful piece of fiction, “Homespun” tells the story of a cynical and unforgiving female narrator who is ashamed of her less-than-pristine family background and thus invents a web of lies for her oblivious boyfriend. From the very first paragraph, Resnik crafts a narrative voice that is believable and wounded, her festering bitterness functioning as a defense mechanism. The initial insight into the narrator’s past is alluring and effective:
I told him my parents are dead. It’s not exactly the truth. My father left when I was thirteen. He could very well be dead, but last I heard he was in Pittsburgh. My mother, as far as I know, lives in a dilapidated little house in eastern Pennsylvania. The house’s name is painted on a piece of two-by-four and hangs above the front door: Madeline. It’s always been Madeline. This is the house I grew up in, the house my father left, the house my mother was becoming.
Similarly, Bradley Harrison’s poem, “Diorama of a People, Burning,” paints a gruesome portrait of small-town residents drowning in the sea of unrelenting misery. Harrison doesn’t have any problem making his characters suffer, as grief and despair serve as the threads that link each individual. In one line, the efforts of a local pastor are praised and in the next, she “buys a gun and swallows it wholly, brains in the bookshelf.”
If you tend to favor poetry over prose, then you’ll surely enjoy combing through CutBank. While the journal does contain fiction and nonfiction pieces, the bulk of the issue consists of poetry, a mixed offering of the eclectic and eccentric juxtaposed against the compact and lyrical. Many of the featured poets are not afraid to play with page layout and structure; such experimentation diminishes the possible monotony of back-to-back poems.
Although the journal may not pander to
everyone’s taste, the strong collection of voices creates
experiences that touch upon varying locations, cultures, and
perspectives. Additionally, Nikki Witt’s line drawings add an
interesting aesthetic. Keeping with the unofficial theme of the
issue, Witt creates bare-bones figures that showcase the
relationships described in certain works.
Volume 13 Number 2
Review by Barbara Ellen Baldwin
This handsome journal is clothed in Lee Etheredge IV's type on photograph cover. Readers are directed to "Some Words About the Images," where they encounter his shape poem, declaring: "i am not a poet." Etheredge is a visual artist, who utilizes drawings produced by a standard typewriter. The final piece featured is utterly unique. This artist succeeds easily in engaging brain, eye, and heart.
I thoroughly enjoyed Lindsey Baggette's "Leader Ghazal." This poem shatters the classical ghazal's expectations. The late Agha Shahid Ali introduced America to the classical ghazal, the reliance on form, theme, rhyme and refrain. However, Baggette cleverly accedes to the rules, while showcasing dark wit in this piece. She plays with musings on North Korea's Kim Jong-il, "Dear Leader," as his subjects must always call him:
While we were dancing, we thought Kim Jong-il
should know we think only of Kim Jong-il
We keep our elbows on our stomachs and
frown in the springtime sun like Kim Jong-il.
There are two rainbows in a circle.
Perhaps it's a birthday for Kim Jong-il.
The rest of the piece seems playful, and quirky. In the end, though maybe not so light-hearted once re-read. One thing is certain: The poem could not be written by anyone in North Korea. Ever.
I was struck with the dense inventiveness of K. Silem Mohammad's selections from The Sonnagrams, in which the author works with Shakespeare's Sonnets. In an author’s note, Mohammad explains that each Sonnagram is an anagram of a modern version of one of the Sonnets "containing exactly the same letters in the same distribution as the original." The author writes the title last, using “whatever letters are left over once I've assembled a working sonnet in iambic pentameter with an English rhyme scheme." So, in this vision of Sonnet 29, readers find a mid-poem clip of humor as the author dreams Johnny Mathis as Korean:
I asked him if molasses wasn't shiny,
To see if he would answer like a star:
He booted Herbert Hoover in the heinie,
And then commenced to singing "Chances Are."
I was completely charmed by James Hannaham's "The Broke Period" and didn't recall previously reading anything quite like it. The reader is put directly into an altered world. The citizen here evinces only mild surprise when:
At first when there was no more money, we tried to ignore the fact. Most of us still had some cash left, and our last paychecks wouldn't arrive for a couple of weeks. Generally, we felt things could go on as they had. The banking industry's debt had become a colossal vacuum cleaner hose shoved between the sofa cushions of the market, sucking up every last bit of loose change and sending it to oblivion. We got used to the sucking; then it suddenly stopped. The computers and even the bankers went silent.
It was strange to pay for our coffee on those first mornings, thinking in the back of our minds that no income would arrive to replace the $1.79 we'd just delicately pressed into our friendly barista's palm, and that we might as well have thrown the bills and coins into the nearest sewer.
Ah…that last line, which leads into the heart of this winsome tale! Isn't it something we've all thought after purchases? The entire piece is hinged on the reader's belief in that perfectly selected word: "oblivion." As the story blooms, characters evolve and accept. The entire piece flourishes.
I was immediately fond of the mood and the ease of identification in "The Moon" by Lydia Davis. This piece of flash fiction is merely a dreamy trek in the dark at first: “I get up out of bed in the night to go to the bathroom. The room I am in is large and dark but for the white dog on the floor. The hallway is wide and long, and filled with an underwater sort of twilight.”
The sojourn to the bathroom is touched with varieties of illumination: "There is a full moon far above, overhead." This slice of night seems to place us all in our flannel pajamas, as half-asleep, one-by-one, we walk through shadows finding something unusual...or not. Here, the author exhibits wry wit, and portrays beauty in the mundane. Her prose is crisp, poignant and curiously, evokes nostalgia.
John Kinsella's "Graphology Holograph Series: 4" is experimental and lovely, and I particularly appreciated:
God is the heartwood, the leaves and the roots of that protected but almost extinct
Ants like best where we walk, dropping tiny flakes of skin.
They practice tai chi outside the Anglican Church. Saying: there's something in this
configuration, for sure.
These fragments of the whole are observational and daring. I am fascinated by the world beneath our feet, there to savor. Few bother in their rushing pell-mell to simply look where they're walking. Little civilizations are crushed. Kinsella reminds me that dust mites survive on human's cast off bits of skin and nail parings. I never step on ant colonies and have known since I was five how perilous the life of the minute can be. Kinsella stops to remind readers of what is "almost extinct," and what will go on. It's rewarding to pay attention, always.
In "Drinking Money," Michael Klein's offering tells us:
In 1939, when my mother was seven years old, the lyricist Lorenz Hart gave her a photograph of himself on which he had inscribed in midnight blue ink: For Kathryn Jacqueline, from Lorenz Hart, whose name will probably be forgotten by the time she is able to read this.
A rather extraordinary gift from the lyric master, who wrote the iconic lines to "My Funny Valentine" and a host of other Broadway tunes. Still, Klein seems perplexed that such lines were penned for a child: “as if childhood had in it the same kind of unpredictability and loneliness that fame did.” However, the Hart quote was spot on. Childhood is often unpredictable and "lonely," despite family, status, or balanced emotions. The photograph ends up being useful, but not prized. In the end, historic value, nostalgia, and need collide. Hart wrote: "Isn't It Romantic?" for another time. "Drinking Money" is thoughtful and memorable on several levels.
This edition of Fence is exquisitely produced, and
presents readers with poetry, prose, recipes, and delightful
creations from all sorts of artists. The pages here are perfect
for reading on the cusp of season change.
Volume 31 Number 2
Review by Vanessa Willoughby
Originally coined by Lewis Carroll in the poem “Jabberwocky,” the term jabberwock is defined as “a playful imitation of language consisting of invented, meaningless words; nonsense; gibberish.” On the contrary, the Jabberwock Review contains a selection of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry that attempt to defy such a negative connotation. The works featured in this volume are undeniably character driven, focusing on narrators and protagonists that seek a deeper understanding of his or her identity. While there isn’t a specific theme to this issue, the organization of the pieces creates a smooth flow, creating a seamless transition for the reader.
Laurel Gilbert’s “My Particular Happy Ending,” is tinged with the electrifying excitement of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but pulsates with the bittersweet nostalgia of a youthful dream deferred. Gilbert’s protagonist, an optimistic musician with a cowboy’s masculine, jagged edges charm, reminisces about the fatal incident that broke up his former band. Hartman speaks with the drawl of a well-mannered farm boy but dreams of the fame and hedonism that rock star status brings. The dissonance that begins to splinter the camaraderie of the band is echoed throughout the piece and is further emphasized by Hartman’s inner monologue. Gilbert is adamant about preserving the authenticity of her protagonist, effectively crafting a narrative voice that is reminiscent of an early Bruce Springsteen song:
From where he was standing, this smoking-hot girl making eyes, begging autographs, posing all centerfold, and over that girl’s shoulder, his first love and Battery Blues’ vocals and fiddle, Irene Gibson, twenty-some-odd-years-old, Morgantown-born-and-bred, mezzo soprano, scared shitless by thunderstorms, crazy for Jon Bon Jovi, standing there on the stage door steps clutching their coats with something akin to fear on her face.
When it’s finally revealed that a flat tire triggered the untimely demise of the band, Hartman comes to a simple, universal realization: you can’t rewrite the past.
Although the journal features one work of nonfiction, William Bradley’s “Chrononaut” avoids the predictable pitfalls of personal essays through his usage of childhood comic books as the essay’s framework. Bradley utilizes his love of The Flash as a tool to further explore his experience with Hodgkin’s Disease lymphoma. Comparing and contrasting these opposing subjects, something as lighthearted as a comic book superhero and something as serious as lymphoma, form an interesting and unique connection. Bradley’s childhood hero worship symbolizes his struggles with accepting the past and moving forward. The pacing of the essay is pitch-perfect, sandwiching endearing childhood memories between adult experiences.
The featured poetry favors the confessional, the language exposing vulnerabilities that are relatable and familiar, whether it is the teenage trauma of trying on clothes in a department store fitting room or the desperate desire to return home.
The highlight of this issue is by far, Kate Myers Hanson’s “We Built Roads.” Like a modern day Holden Caulfield, Hanson’s protagonist, Jessie, condemns her sheltered and claustrophobic small-town existence. The teenagers in Bolton, Georgia, are hardly cultured; a particular group of jocks like to tease Jessie’s best friend, the intellectual and artsy Tucker. Hanson perfectly captures the voice of a sullen yet introspective teenage girl who is eager to escape. Character development is executed with grace and Jessie’s journey is chronicled with wit and sharp clarity. I loved this story and although I savored Hanson’s descriptions, I was eager to finish the story and find out if Jessie found her a path to freedom.
A compact journal with a plethora of talent, Jabberwock
Review is a journal that you’ll want to devour in a single
Review by Barbara Ellen Baldwin
Parcel is a corporeal labor of love, a treasure for the reader who yearns for the simplicity of words on paper. This edition is dedicated to those "with a love of the elegant, tangible, hand-delivered book." When Heidi Raak, owner of The Raven Book Store, and Kate Lorenz, Kansas kindred spirit, became a team, they wondered: could they produce a gem of a journal, crafted to arrive at each reader's door, a ready-to-open-present?
Parcel is beautifully designed—it practically glows in the hand. Entranced with the art, poetry and prose, I read this journal in one sitting. I used bookmarks; it is too well-crafted for crunching corners. I absolutely fell in love with Jeffrey Koterba's "Little Twister," a fabulist tale, where the reader from the first line, just believes: “As kids, it never occurred to us that capturing a tornado was in any way cruel, no more than, say, harboring a butterfly or a praying mantis.”
As a child, I was always delighted with tiny, fleeting beings. I wanted to love them at home. My ornithologist father made sure hapless baby birds were returned to the wild. Why? Naming a sparrow "Jenny" meant an assured demise, in less than a day. In Koterba's child-world, children hunger to capture and adore miniature tornadoes:
Our greatest satisfaction came from snagging those half-pint twisters with our bare hands, the fat brown cylinders vibrating and shaking between the cages of our palms and fingers. The tickling sensation made us giggle, made us temporarily believe that these frantic things could be tamed. Or maybe one day, they might even grow to love us.
Koterba's reality is so familiar. Mothers worry how the magical entities survive; they berate the would-be-loved captors and appeal to reason and practicality: "They need hot and cold air at the same time, I think." But children want things, and in "Little Twister," holding onto miniatures is all the rage. Tiny tornadoes are collectibles. They are expensive in the "pet stores," but purchased, after wild-caught specimens shrivel to nothing. However, once one child names his catch, the others are forever touched. The final lines in Koterba's piece are ethereally placed. It's an exquisite rendering of another world, on another plane, but readers will be enthralled, as I was.
Matthew Nienow's "Eclogue at the Edge of Darkness" is a dreamy reportage of experience, and the reader is obliquely addressed. The narrator is located in a garden:
Where every living thing was named:
Prickly Pear. Virginia Creeper. Morning Glory.
We rolled Chamomile between our fingers.
Here is a blissful examination, an explicit noticing, as the narrator and "J," venture further and further into the green nightbird heart of the poem: "& the night was a song / we were trying to learn. A few birds trilled / from a cedar. A street lamp buzzed on."
There are hushed conversations, as though they are churched. The explorers identify with growing bodies, like and unlike theirs. I am quite taken with the line “& The Way We Were was the song of the moment.” In this piece, the reader is admiring "cedars," framing “a greenhouse with a whole room of cacti.” The snapshot-in-time quality of the piece is tender. Outside of the glass, one thing, inside another, quite safe and saved for another evening. Everything in order. Waiting.
In "The Narwhal," Peter Longofono brings to life "the unicorn of the ocean," as these behemoths are described. Here on the page is the rarest of whales, hunted legally only by the Inuit. This is a brief but thoroughly captivating glimpse:
The infinite machine that it is,
blubber and groin,
sputtering ecru: tainted ivory,
The poem is a flickering view, all that should be seen, if these private animals are to thrive. I can feel oceanic cold here, as waves roll on, on, and over “A briefcase full of water.”
"Cloud Lot," Daniel Coudriet's poem, won my allegiance on first read, with this trenchant opener: “Playing lawndarts with lit matches / Keeps me from writing letters home.” Lines like these are an adrenalin shot; specificity, originality, and quirkiness light up the page. Coudriet's facility with language is exacting, wholly memorable. Who could fail to be marked by: “A cumulonimbus / is climbing my pantlegs.”
Frightening or sweet? The "coldfront" described might spawn cumulonimbus clouds, a warning of storms with supercells. This poem isn't all about weather, though it's a run of synesthesia, a delight, as the reader finds: “Night closes like leaves swarming / my shoes.” "Cloud Lot" is best enjoyed when read out loud, then quietly, then carefully, to someone you love.
Michael Martone's homage to Philo T. Farnsworth is a wackadoodle, historical prose-poem defense of the man who essentially formed the idea of "video," at age 14. He went on to refine his genius notion of manipulating the electron beam to produce everything we experience today as "television." There were challenges to his historic mind's discovery, but U.S. Patent Claim 15, found Farnsworth the inventor extraordinaire.
In "Test Pattern," Martone, in a brilliant near four-page accretion of fact, begins with: “Philo T. Farnsworth, the inventor of electronic television, on his knees.” The reader follows Farnsworth through every nuanced refinement of Philo's creation, as he tinkers with and surveys his history-making design. Toward the end of Martone's piece, the reader is right there, as “Philo T. Farnsworth feels his eye scan the surface of the screen as the screen is scanned 60 times a second by the 25,000-volt electron beam that he invented, that he is now (this night, this early morning) deflecting, deflecting to bring the Test Pattern into focus.”
Readers will long remember Farnsworth's contribution, a refined light in America's homes. In "Test Pattern," Martone's goal is to remind us all: remember the man, too. Farnsworth said: "I give the credit to God." The U.S. Patent Office, in Claim 15, gave credit to Farnsworth, too.
Parcel is a lovely well-wrought inaugural issue. As
its creators hoped, it is special, non-digital, and gorgeous to
Review by Andy Christ
In the 64 pages of this issue, John Zheng gives us 27 poets and 49 lyric and narrative poems; not surprisingly, one page is often enough to include the entire poem. Brief bios of contributing poets appear at the end, along with a page to mention a handful of noteworthy books of poems published since 2007 in the U.S.
Although I did not expect to see any work by the editor, I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of three translations he did of centuries-old Chinese poems. Each of them is typical of the poems selected for this issue. For example, in “Night Rain: Letter to North,” by Li Shangyin (813-858), we have someone writing a letter: “You asked about / the date of my return, but / there is no date yet.” The letter writer remarks on the weather and then asks, “When can I return…and talk [with you] about / this night rain […]?” The “slice of life,” at once ordinary and special, is enhanced by our attention to it.
A few of the poems revolve around grief, as in Rodger Martin’s “Lullaby for My Mother;” Ted Haddin’s “Shoveling” and “Lines for Maurice McNamee, S.J.” I enjoyed being surprised by “Lines for Maurice.” The narration comes from an experienced baseball player as he recalls a particular game:
There I was, at the Jesuit Residence,
out on the Diamond, playing center field.
I could see the pitches as they rose or curved
toward the plate. It was the freshest…
The entire poem follows this narrative line until we have the result of Father Mac’s “mighty swing”:
I saw a ball coming up over the Diamond
rising in my direction and I prepared to receive it,
but I had no glove and the ball was turning
marvelously fast and went up over my head
out of sight. We weren’t playing the usual way.
The next three lines of the poem clarify the experience, and the poem concludes, “Somebody had won.”
Several poems rejoice simply in observing a particular event, as in Mack Hassler’s “The Building Inspector and I,” Katsue Suzuki’s “Self-Portrait,” and June Huang’s “Black Friday.” These are delightful poems! For starkly honest poems, see Susana H. Case’s “Three Thousand Days of Evil Tongues,” Charles S. Kraszewski’s “Terminat Auctor Opus,” and Maybelline D. Gonzalez’s “Antidepressants Make Me Dream.” Also starkly honest is Violetta Ekpe’s “This Is Famagusta,” although this poem is more concerned with bearing witness to the widespread poverty that resulted from ongoing political conflict rather than with reflecting on one person’s experience during an afternoon. To these we can add Meredith Trede’s “The Willowware Sings,” a poem of anxiety; Margo Taft Stever’s “Step-Mother,” a moralizing poem; and Angela Ball’s imaginative “Beauty Is Not Big.” In still other poems, God shows up.
Once you begin reading this issue, you will see for yourself
the variety “slice-of-life” poems are capable of, and you will
want to continue reading straight through to the end.
Review by Vanessa Willoughby
In this issue, Saltwater Quarterly channels inspiration through one of the most powerful and seductive emotions of the human condition: desire. Whether it is carnal or the spiritual, the maternal or the romantic, the selection of poems and prose are crafted by a sense of urgent yearning, carved from the deepest truths of the human heart.
In the poem, “Korean American Tongue,” Bo Schwabacher longs to break language barriers that threaten a friendship and also rattle the narrator’s sense of self-identity. Something as simple and commonplace as a daily telephone call emphasizes the poem’s looming sense of cultural alienation, as well as the author’s sense of disconnect. Interestingly, the language of the poem is straightforward, stanzas utilizing unadorned and concise imagery in favor of extremely detailed physical descriptions. To further showcase the narrator’s sense of disorientation, Schwabacher writes in both English and Korean. Upon reaching the last stanza, it’s clear that the narrator wants to achieve much more than a confusion-free conversation with her best friend; she longs to make a genuine and heartfelt connection.
Similarly, Marita Isabel’s “Clothespinned Beauty” is a colorful confection of sharp wit and clever reflection that uses a child’s curiosity and innocence to challenge and question American beauty standards. On Christmas, the seven-year-old narrator receives a bright and shiny new Barbie doll, an assembly-perfect model that “looked like Christy Turlington, only more symmetrical, all pointy nosed and big, blue eyed.” A plastic pinnacle of perfection, Barbie is a direct contrast to Isabel’s Filipina heritage; she eventually yanks off the head of the doll and tosses her into the toilet. Perhaps some readers would say this final act of redemption is too obvious, but the described childhood memory coupled with the narrator’s matured voice of adult poet only make this particular cause of doll death pleasantly fitting.
The majority of the pieces in Saltwater Quarterly are lyrical and insightful; the words echo in your head long after the last period has been placed. Edmund Sandoval’s “Burning the Horse,” a dreamy slice of prose with flashes of cinematic clairvoyance, packs as much of a punch as Jeremy Halinen’s three-line poem, “In the Combat Zone.” David Glen Smith’s “Another Variation on a Theme of Desire” flows with the soft-filtered serenity of a jazz album while capturing the pain and pleasure of lust-induced nostalgia. Smith examines the nature of memory and the process of remembering; concrete details, such as ash falling from a cigarette, are in stark contrast to Smith’s ending scene of realized truth and unrequited attraction: “we unbraided the feelings of desire / which were casually wound between our fingers— // allowing us to drown back into the anticlimax of our lives.” Throughout the poem, stanzas are haunted by a sense of disappointment and regret, demanding some kind of brilliant and crackling resolution. Instead, the final stanza expresses a much gloomier and realistic portrait of suppressed desire.
Self-proclaimed literary advocates of “underrepresented
authors, specifically members of oppressed communities,”
Saltwater Quarterly’s winter issue hosts a multicultural
crew of authors.
Review by Vanessa Willoughby
In the Letter from the Editor, Darren Richard Carlaw states that the goal of StepAway Magazine is “to perpetuate the evolution of the walking narrative,” and encourages authors “to submit work which forges pathways through the cityplace.” Carlaw recalls his childhood fascination with William Blake’s “London,” which later spawned an admiration for Guillaume Apollinaire, Charles Baudelaire, and Walter Benjamin. In this issue, the featured contributors transport readers to the bustling streets of New York City to the fast-paced glitz of Los Angeles. While Carlaw sought inspiration from classic literature, StepAway Magazine is an undeniable product of modernism, unafraid to unflinchingly explore the ugliness of such cities.
Famed playwright, novelist, and historian, Sarah Schulman kicks off the issue with a witty story entitled “Why Not?” The story revolves around a lesbian playwright who moves to Los Angeles in hopes of finding a girlfriend and advancing in her career. However, the narrator quickly finds that LA is just as beautiful as it is hollow, a glittering façade that promises love. She engages in a meaningless fling with a wounded Starbucks barista; the short-lived affair is merely a distraction from a failed relationship. Schulman’s writing is engaging and self-aware, willing to reveal the narrator’s flaws without hesitation or timidity. The critique of LA is harsh yet deserved, as the narrator’s superficial relationships only emphasize her sense of isolation and social detachment. There’s something very stream-of-consciousness about the language, as Schulman focuses not on elaborate metaphors and complicated sentence structure, but truly getting inside the mind of the protagonist. There aren’t any barriers between the narrator and the audience; readers are almost like a fly on the wall.
On the opposing coast, Matthew Hittinger’s poem, “Füße: Umlauts, Eszetts, A Step,” takes readers on a walking tour of New York, using the city’s notable and memorable landmarks and defining characters. It’s not quite a love letter to New York, but rather a collage of all the oddities and peculiarities that make it so vibrant and unique. There’s Coney Island followed by a rooftop party in Harlem, Madison Square Garden and 42nd Street, the infamous Naked Cowboy
strums and half-struts fully poses
on his V-tipped island the chords
lined up like girls.
In a surprising display of creativity, Kyle Hemmings uses the theme of the walking narrative as a foundation for a story seemingly inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. But instead of the French Riviera, “Cat People #9: Tales of Manhattan” is set in the concrete jungle of New York, where a cop is hot on the trail of a female cat burglar who also happens to be his childhood sweetheart. Additionally, there’s something reminiscent of the pulp fiction of the 1930’s and 1940’s, as the cop’s erratic chase is accompanied by rainy skies and greasy-spoon diners. The story swiftly moves forward without looking back and once I reached the end, I wondered if the cop and his convict lover would ever reunite.
Issue One of Stepaway Magazine certainly crackles with
city life and the energy of a world-curious adventurer. The
featured poems and stories do not intend to demonize or
glamorize city living, but attempt to explore all realities of