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Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted June 15, 2011

Able Muse :: Black Warrior Review :: Burnside Review :: Cave Wall :: The Georgia Review :: The Greensboro Review :: Gulf Coast :: LIT :: PANK :: Potomac Review :: Slice :: The Southern Review

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Able Muse coverAble Muse

Inaugural Print Edition

Number 10

Winter 2010


Review by Tanya Angell Allen

In the inaugural print edition of Able Muse, Marilyn N. Taylor's essay on the recent rise of semi-formal poetry, mentions “the poetry wars” between “the shaggy free-verse stalwarts vs. the tweedy New Formalists.” It’s nice to see that the new New Formalist critics published in Able Muse definitely do not write in a tweedy style, as evidenced by Taylor’s piece and Julie Stoner’s review of new books by Maxime Kumin and Carrie Jewell, which begins “After the Revival…reminds me of an after-school snack. I enjoyed the combination of salt and crunch and grease and hellfire and cheese, even if I had to overcome the occasional wave of nausea. (I’m still referring to the book.)”

Stephen Collington also has an essay called “The Anyone-Can-Do-It Method for Writing Chinese Poetry (in Japanese): Thoughts on Language, Authenticity and Form.” It’s thoughtful, casual, and best of all, fun.

Steve Bucknell has a charmingly self-deprecating memoir on falling in love with L.P. Lister’s work through the 1978 New Oxford Book of Light Verse and then tracking the forgotten poet/novelist down. In the resulting interview, Lister says that in the past “writing poetry that rhymed and scanned probably affected my poetry career as my work became no longer fashionable. This is why my poems appeared mainly, not in literary magazines, but rather as witty poetry in publications such as Punch, The New Yorker, and the Atlantic Monthly.

Although most poets would be ecstatic to be published in places like these, Lister adds that though he’s still a Fellow of England’s Royal Society of Literature, he is otherwise “little known.” Bucknell speaks of “hoping to have a hand in bringing his work back.” As a good start, nine of Lister’s poems are included in Able Muse.

Many of the magazine’s other formal and semi-formal poems have lively-sounding titles such as “The Speaker Tries Medication” (Rebecca Foust), “Marco Polo Collects Bird Eggs” (Ned Balbo), and “The Slot Tech” (Jamie Iredell). Particularly memorable is David Alpaugh’s “Richard Cory (His Untold Story),” which begins “Turns out Richard Cory had pancreatic cancer; / Was told he had, at best, six months to live.” It’s a thought-provoking piece, worthy of being taught alongside Robinson’s original poem, "Richard Cory."

The fiction in Able Muse is also exceptional, especially the surprising “Relativity” by the astonishingly young Emily Cutler, currently a junior in high school. There is also an excellent “photographic exhibit” by Massimo Sbreni, a “people and travel photographer from Ravenna, Italy.” Four of the photos can be seen online at the Able Muse website. This reviewer also urges potential readers to check out their archives in hopes that others will be impressed enough to subscribe to the excellent and non-tweedy print edition.


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Black Warrior Review coverBlack Warrior Review

Volume 37 Number 2

Spring/Summer 2011


Review by Hazel Foster

The Spring/Summer Issue of Black Warrior Review, featuring Graham Foust, Aaron Kunin, Bhanu Kapil, Sarah Gridley, Joshua Cohen, Megan Volpert, and many other fine writers, is difficult not to pick up and thumb through. The ritualistic cover art gets the issue going: two guys, two girls, all with skeleton heads, watching a horse as it is either pulled into the sky or brought down from it. More in this series by Joseph McVetty can be found later in the issue, in the Nudity Feature.

Being a straightforward reader who likes to read issues from front to back, I found it hard not to skip ahead to the feature. It was a childish impulse, seeking the promised “dirty” parts. But I’m glad I didn’t skip ahead. I would’ve missed all the fine work in the first half of the issue. In particular, the very first piece, “The Seismologist’s Tale,” a poem by Jessica Bozek:

The center of the town sunk first.
The earth’s
tilt was perceptible only to the animals, who
knew the soldier as an earthquake maker.
But his tremor moved in a different way,
had a different shape. It coned.

The poem expresses how a “soldier’s stories” move through a town, how the stories affect the very infrastructure of it.

Also in this issue are the winning poem, short story, and non-fiction pieces from BWR’s annual contests. Philip Tate’s winning fiction, “Dam,” is told in the historical context of a Kansas dam, beginning with the lives it takes:

This is where the men drown. Where the boys and girls drown. Every year, as if following some natural rhythm, it is a fisherman who slips, a swimmer overconfident, a child unwatched. Their faces, when they are hauled into the little boat and laid on their back in the bottom, are beaten and scraped, swollen and white, and always strangely unsurprised.

From here, the story evolves into a specific incident by the dam. Boyd watches four girls, three he knows and one he doesn’t, swim in and across the river. Boyd tries to impress them with his scooter, but they are not interested, and Boyd resorts to fantasizing about them falling over the dam:

They would be helpless and drowning, screaming for help, screaming for Boyd. And he would save them. Somehow he would get to them, take their hands one at a time, and lift them out of the water. They would be cold and bruised and they would hug him. Sitting on the bank, he could feel the warm wetness of their suits against his chest. He could feel the redhead, especially, the thin bones of her pressed against him.

As a whole, the story is dark and concise and proves itself as a winner.

The winner in nonfiction “Litany of my Mother” by Molly Schultz, is a well-crafted essay about a mother extreme in her devotion, a member of the Catholic institution Opus Dei:

I feel sure my mother never wore a cilice. There was a time during my life when I was convinced that her life sufficed enough as a tool of mortification. Her guilt sufficed, as it did for many Catholics, an abstruse guilt that she could perhaps sense throbbing inside her as she lay in bed at night, rubbing her hands across the swelling of her abdomen.

A great essay for Catholics and ex-Catholics, like myself, Schultz shows how far the religion can take a person.

If you only read one piece from this entire issue, you must read Roxane Gay’s “Strange Gods” in the Nudity Feature. The story is told directionally to a lover. The story forms a confession—common to many of the pieces in the feature—beginning with these two lines: “There are things you do not know about me. These things are not inconsequential.” In paragraph-long sections, the narrative progresses, uncovering moments in the narrator’s past:

Men propositioned me a lot at the porn store. I let them. I did. Most customers were sad, poorly-shaven, sagging but harmless. Others were not. A man once slid five crisp twenty-dollar bills and his business card across the counter in the small space hidden between the security cameras. Five minutes later, I followed him into a jack shack and sat next to him on the little bench.

This piece embodies the confession. It’s strikingly forthright and the individual sections are blunt, but the way the narrative snakes back and forth in time, relaying different incidents before returning to previous ones, softens the harshness of it all, makes the pain beautiful.


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Burnside Review coverBurnside Review

The Whiskey Edition

Volume 7 Number 1


Review by Barbara Ellen Baldwin

Burnside Review is a diminutive delight. Readers at the outset learn, from editor and founder Sid Miller, that whiskey is an "instigator.” Also both a "prelude" and an "epilogue."

I was instantly captivated by Lee Upton's "If A Wood Chuck Could Chuck Wood He Wouldn't Chuck It Around Me." The speaker notes: “They don't chuck wood, actually. They chuck grubs and berries.” Ah, finally some clarity! As a child I wondered why wood chucks ever engaged in such fruitless activity. Upton is informative, initially: “The wood chuck is known variously as the land beaver, the groundhog, the alfalfa nuzzle, and best of all, the whistle pig.” This piece fairly sings with charm, and engages endearingly.

Nicholas Reading's lines in "It's Not Whuskey" also pulls one in, but leaves a crack in the heart, as well. Here's an artful portrait of one beloved man, flawed, human, and remembered:

My friend John pronounces whiskey
whuskey. A pronunciation passed down
from strangers doubled as saints
with cue ball eyes, tortured to say
whuskey. John claims the curse.

John is “godfather / to the gas station attendant's daughter.” With one last delicate image, haunting and heartfelt, the poem closes gently, with craft and tenderness.

Any music fan will wake right up for Lisa Alexander's "Tennessee Bourbon." Chock-full of brevity and bombast, our guy here, is a fast-talker who gets right to the point:

I wanna get knee-walking
        with Dolly Parton
on her porch in Tennessee

This snippet of a teeny poem has power, panache and sensuality. Alexander lets us hear the character whoop out for comrades, refreshment, and harmless, hilarious fun.

I love Kevin Miller's "The Bureau Of Wear And Tear,” because it skirts outright mourning, obliquely noting its effect on those left behind. Rituals command the proper garb: “This drawer holds black socks / for twenty funerals, and while I prefer / to wear them to weddings, odds are poor / at my age.”

Readers can smile, tear up, identify and wonder at the accumulation of foot coverings, saved for what? The man with the appendages is a bit superstitious, then regretful and pensive. He knows “faith is a missing person with no photo.” What then, will become of the plethora of never-worn ebony socks? “I have a plan, this pair for my brother / I will keep for other nuptials if they occur, / the rest I will burn after each ceremony / of the dark-suit, and when…” Well, "when" is preferably much, much later and any ceremonies around that day will include the only appropriate beverage…whiskey!

In "Dithyrambs In The Distillery," Paul Hostovsky tells a tale of two chemists, in luck, although perhaps not precisely in love. The two collide, lab-coated. The result? Entanglement and that initial blessing: Filthy lucre. Crowded by equipment and Bunsen burners, he

…accidentally bumped her beaker
which led to a chemical reaction
on the floor. And it was the greatest discovery
in the field of chemistry ever, and the world
benefited from this discovery and named it
after them, and they won the much coveted
chemistry prize, and shared all the money
and grew rich overnight and stayed rich overnight
for many many nights.

Hostovsky is too canny to let the hapless couple thrive and thus come to ruin. They save themselves. Readers might sigh, always wanting those Happily-Ever-Afters. Still, no one will be disappointed in this little gem’s nifty, righteous ending!

Burnside Review: The Whiskey Edition offers memorable work. In "Pour More Whiskey In A Glass," by Alberto Rios, the final words are so perfect. Dorianne Laux transfixes her rapt audience in "Fog," and Paul Lindholdt's ethereal "Broncos In The Salon" ends with brilliant images, bittersweet and smooth to the last drop. Here’s to a generous helping of whiskey-soaked prose and poetry! Clasp this small book between your palms. Pray or meditate, or wait. Then turn the pages back, and call for a second round!


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Cave Wall coverCave Wall

Number 9

Winter/Spring 2011


Review by Andy Christ

In his Editor’s Note, Rhett Trull explains that, while she has “learned the patience, struggle and mercy of a body as it heals,” she recognizes—in the dying of Pita, her 20-year-old cat—that “one day” we will “reach a point past healing.” As a result, “My appreciation for each moment,” she says, has been “reinforced” by the poems she helped select for this issue. The poems, lyric and narrative, feature speakers whose distance from the poets seems slight.

In “Summer Arrives at My Mother’s House,” Susanna Lamey recounts various reasons she loves her mother, then imagines a moment in which her mother, “If she wanted to, / she could reach out and touch that maple branch.” In “Poem for Rebecca Asleep,” Ms. Lamey invests, with loving kindness, a moment in which she lingers over her daughter as she sleeps: “Sleep is a guest in your house / where a wolf waits.”

In “Equal Shine,” Angie Macri gives us “a couple of hours” with “her, a sundial in the sun / in the spaces of the white pine trees.” We learn that the speaker admires quietly and from a short distance the beauty of this particular sunbather (“Sweat crept like me around her bands, / the old bikini frayed as rough grass”), that “She adored the sun like a man, / flat, still under his long hot span” and that, when she espied her bronzed legs, “I longed to polish mine to equal shine.”

In “Body Worlds,” Gabriel Spera gives us a speaker whose respect for our bodies spills out into the lines of the poem, as the guts of a mother after a caesarian birth: “a mophead of guts / and mottled vitals being fished out or stuffed / back in.”

In “After War,” Sara Talpos reflects on DDT in her mother’s life and on her neighbor’s lawn and chemicals in her own as she watches her son and daughter play: “My daughter crawls out / of the sandbox, puts dirt in her mouth…I lift my shirt; / my daughter’s mouth is wide open.”

Karen Holmberg, in “The Sheen Remains,” discovers the value of self-love during a night of horrors in which “I ran / from the house as if I could outstrip / the front of madness, or ride it / to exhaustion, bracing with one hand / my pregnancy’s dense sphere.” Although we don’t learn any specifics regarding threats against her, we do see that she is keen to not wound anything herself.

Throughout the 34 poems by 20 poets are engravings on copper and etchings by Frederick Jones. Each of his seven black-and-white contributions to this issue includes the human figure in a familiar environment, such as a street scene or a shower.

Additional poems by Christina Cook, Jehanne Dubrow, Patricia Fargnoli and Jim Peterson draw the reader’s attention to the world we live in, often with an emphasis on nature, and often with a vision of subtle influence nature has on us, as in “The Necessary” by Jim Peterson:

Nothing clarifies like the cold fingers
and shoulders of such a wind,
polishing you like a deep stone in the creek,
walking alone down the endless street.

A few more poets whose work appears in this issue include Allison Elrod, David Roderick, James Scannell McCormick, Lisa Zimmerman, Jim Daniels, Karen J. Weyant, Shelby Stephenson, Alison Pelegrin and James Doyle.

I recommend this issue particularly to those readers who find they agree with the notion voiced by Rhett Trull at the conclusion of her Editor’s Note: “How sweet it is that with each failure of the body comes an opportunity to cherish the body, to appreciate the journey through which it’s carried us, to hold close once more this life we love.”


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The Georgia Review coverThe Georgia Review

Volume 65 Number 1

Spring 2011


Review by Sean Stewart

Wow, this issue of Georgia Review is a true literary bonanza! Subtitled “A Home in Other People,” the issue offers a broad retrospective of selected stories and art from 1984 to 2007. This is the second retrospective that the Review has done; the first one came out in 1986, and now the staff is both celebrating the 25th anniversary of that first retrospective, in addition to marking the start of the Review’s 65th year.

As one can probably imagine, just about every story in here is stunning. The issue kicks off with “Time and Fear and Somehow Love,” a Lee K. Abbott tale first published in the Spring 1985 issue. The story is told through the device of a mother writing to her son, whom she has long been separated from. The letter explains why she left, and what role drinking played in her departure:

It was booze―the charm and wiles of it―which had sprung her free of the times he was reading about; and it was booze which had given shape to her life, made it an enterprise of the elements he could look forward to in his own―namely, passion and want, and the darkness which imperils it all.

Jack Driscoll's “Wanting Only to Be Heard” follows a group of boys as they find serious trouble out on a frozen lake. It's a story about the fine line between bravery and stupidity, and being of the age when that line hasn't yet been demarcated. Jim Heynen then strings together several short-shorts under the rubric “Stories About the Boys,” a fine depiction of growing up on a farm surrounded by all the inherent wonders and dangers lurking out in the fields and in dusty corners of the barn.

One of the more gripping stories in this issue is William Gay's “I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down,” which later inspired an award-winning feature film titled That Evening Sun. In the story, an older man decides a nursing home is no place for him, and so he returns to his old homestead, only to find a man he has no respect for living there with his family. Being a rather stubborn and cantankerous fellow, he refuses to leave and his persistent antics spur a rapid-fire chain of events.

National Book Award winner Barry Lopez's story “The Mappist” instantly drew me in with its air of mystery surrounding an unknown rogue mapmaker. It's a beautiful way of speaking about changes to the land throughout history, and provokes thought on how and why those changes have occurred and continue to occur. As the mappist says: "I've nothing against human passion, human longing. What I oppose is blind devotion to progress, and the venality of material wealth. If we're going to trade the priceless for the common, I want to know exactly what the terms are."

There are far too many excellent stories in here to mention individually. Additional writers include Lee Martin and Joyce Carol Oates, among others. It's a real treat and a serious bargain to find all of these writers with some of their finest work represented, all housed in one volume.


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The Greensboro Review coverThe Greensboro Review

Number 89

Spring 2011


Review by Sean Stewart

Fiction rules in this issue of the Greensboro Review. Not to say that the poetry failed to capture my attention, but the stellar stories strung together here hooked me from the first, “The Drift Line” by Charlotte O'Donnell. It's a tale of preteen female friendship, with the complexities of that friendship's dynamics laid bare on a rocky shoreline:

Here in this moment, escaped from time, a piece of me will live forever. I will break through the surface of the water and become like sea mist. And when I float past Anne Marie she will not see me but I will brush against her cheek and she will shiver. And when it is over the world will turn to bubbles all around me and I will feel as if I am breaking open in the light.

Emily Gilbert opens the lives of teenage girls even wider with her winning Robert Watson Literary Prize Story, “Thank God We're Young Otherwise This Would Be Terrifying.” Here, three friends fritter away the summer days and experience the first awful pangs of “love” at the hands of drug-dealing bad boys. It's so honest, it almost hurts to read. The vivid descriptions wipe away any need to imagine:

The girls have French-braided hair. It escapes in wisps around their faces and their lips smell like strawberries. They wear denim skirts and foam sandals that make sucking noises when they walk. They keep close together through the crowds of people. Their skin is smooth and covered in glitter.

Leaving adolescence behind, the final story presents a twisted tableau of unraveling marital infidelity. Set in Amsterdam, Ian Mackenzie's “Late Quartet” makes a strong case for avoiding run-ins with old college roommates. Over the course of a night, an American businessman is inadvertently drawn into an ugly domestic situation orchestrated by an acquaintance he hasn't seen in over twenty years.

Several of the poems in this issue likewise seared their marks on me. The first line of Willie Lin's “The Gods Must Not Know Us” felt like the shock of cold water splashing on my face: “The story is what it has always been, we grow / sick of ourselves. It is summer again.” And F. Daniel Rzicznek pens perhaps one of the most poignant sentences of the issue in “from Leafmold”:

The thought
of you at home is with me all the while I'm here: you open
and close doors, you stand in my eyes, look out and see what I see,
you test my ear and toss a pail of water to the lawn, and we're
together: one within the other and both looking inward to our

Finally, just pages from the close of the issue, Mark Jay Brewin Jr.'s “The Root Whiskers” evokes childhood memories of grand days in the woods followed by cleaning off what was left behind in the evening: “Crawling in the brush by day, washing the beard of dirt / off my face by evening. And the sunset scoring through the sliding glass doors, and the sunset covering the whole world.”


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Gulf Coast coverGulf Coast

Volume 23 Issue 2

Summer/Fall 2011


Review by Barbara Ellen Baldwin

This gorgeous twenty-fifth anniversary issue of Gulf Coast—a celebration in poetry, prose and art—while anchored in the present, salutes contributors of past years with luminous grace.

I was quite taken by the brilliant work of Aracelis Girmay's "Ode to the Little ‘r’.” She introduces us to her letter-love:

Little propeller
working between
the two fields of my a's,
making my name
a small boat
that leaves the port
of old San Juan…

Her grandfather, Miguel, and other trusting working souls, would: "eat & be eaten by Chicago." Other cities and citizens bullied them. I was moved by such intolerance of innocents. Their hopes, their speech, the very fiber of their names, are all coldly mocked:

& the teacher saying, "Oh
You mean, 'Are-Raw-Sell-Lease.'"

In this experience, the speaker knows:

…& she used her English
to make an axe & tried to chop
them down. But, "r," little propeller
of my name, small & beautiful monster
changing shapes, you win.

Girmay's characters endure and prosper, caring for what matters, not for what those in charge value and admire.

In Michael Parker's beguiling "Catch and Release: What We Can Learn from the Semicolon (Even if We Choose Never to Use it In a Sentence),” readers find Parker was "introduced" to the semicolon in fifth grade:

A colon, our teacher told us one day, is a fence around the pen with two slats to stop the hogs; for the semicolon, one slat is down, which, I later realized, allows the hogs to experience that age-old anxiety—at the heart of so many narratives—of should I stay or should I go.

Parker concedes his teacher utilized and counted on a fairly simple visual device to brand semicolons into memory banks. He remembers certain odors, then understands. The author slyly makes points for the beauty of the orphaned semicolon. He convinces. He lets readers see how this vital punctuation allows Jamaica Kinkaid's "Girl" to captivate in one West Indian mother’s lilting monologue: “Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap; wash the color clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothesline to dry; don't walk bare-head in the hot sun; cook pumpkin fritters in very hot sweet oil.” The semi-colon drives home drama and subtext in this detailed parental list. Parker reminds all how valuable one simple mark can become when emphasis is needed.

The voice of Yusef Komunyakaa, as always, is vivid and remarkable. "English," is written in memory of Andrzei Ciecwierz. In a landscape where even the sky is "burning," the speaker is compelled by a girl knocking, as lowered voices, secrets and fear preside. In violence and chaos, horror and fantasy meet:

I glimpsed Alice in Wonderland.
Her voice smelled like an orange,
though I'd never peeled an orange.
I knocked on the walls, in a circle.

Readers find visions, peace, and wishes are ephemeral: “There are promises made at night / That turn into stones at daybreak.” Komunyakaa knows less detail is the better gift, and the poem's genius is universal loss, portrayed with an artist's eye.

Michael Copperman's non-fiction, "To Cut”, is a stark look into the world of "cutting weight." Here, extreme wrestlers lead a joyless life of deprivation and dehydration for the sake of winning, attempting to avoid the 1998 NCAA Weight Class policy. Wrestlers wrap feet in plastic to lose fluid and pounds, or run wildly in wilting heat, covered in wool. When pounds fall by the hour, lives are in the balance, always. The author informs us:

The truth was that wrestling itself was easy, at least for me. Yes, there was the jittery anticipation of the match, and the demands of competition: instinct and execution and all-consuming focus. But I had natural ability and agility and balance. The training and the actual matches didn't demand half the will and devotion that cutting weight required. Cutting was the essence of the sport.

The author, at twenty-one, nearly goes too far himself. Luckily, love of the sport is finally dulled by bodily pain of every kind: “I couldn't go on. I stood, stripped off the plastics and went to the water fountain and drank.” He loses, and wins, as he swallows. The reader is horrified by the many ways these men find to weigh less, to acquire acclaim or purpose. This is a unique view of a life few would want. The writing is matter-of-fact, graphic and replete with horrific unforgettable detail.

I am quite a fan of R.A.Villanueva's instructional poem, "Antipodal":

To get there from here takes longer than you
think, a faith in cardinal directions
and magnetic north. Watch for the trench-blue
of the caldera, the lychee and knives
lining the shoulder of the road. If you
pass harvests of wasp nests or hear swallows
in the hawthorns, you've gone too far...

I love the specifics, the authoritarian voice, the "trench-blue," also those "harvests of wasp nests,” rarely imagined, but brought to brightness by the poet's helpful speaker. It's a poem that requires reading more than twice, certainly. I didn't want to miss a single nuance of these well-wrought lines. The closure is sharp, unique and exactly right.

The Phillip Lopate contribution on essayist William Hazlitt is a fitting treat, since Lopate was a co-founder of Gulf Stream. The art, reviews, and interviews were fascinating, and completed the issue with panache.

Finally, I thoroughly enjoyed Editor Ian Stansel's cheery inclusion of the Sketch Klub's illustrations. This artistic collective's original and joyous illustrations added to the party of words. Wondrous little drawings even livened up the Contributor's Notes. This issue of Gulf Coast is a present to yourself. Read away the night!


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Lit coverLit

Issue 18

Summer 2010


Review by Tanya Angell Allen

Most of the poetry in this issue is exemplified by Nico Alvarado’s “I Dream I Dreamt a Form”:

You know you’re not a kid anymore when you get sick and no one rubs your back.
Jeff Bridges in the nude.
That’s what happened to me anyway.
My dad is drunk on warm white wine.
Watching Starman and crying.

Though many have a narrative bent (Alvarado’s piece is about the death of the speaker’s mother), the poems are seldom linear. Most are free verse and prose poems told in the first person. They are rebellious and seemingly random.

Daniel C. Remein has one called “julian of norwich, appearing in dishwater.” Farrah Field’s “You’re Really Starting to Suck, Amy” begins, “Blogs galore. You shaved your legs twice. You shaved / off your mosquito bites. Fiddle-de-doo. Too much news.” Janis Butler Holm’s "‘Red Light” is made of phrases and sentences “generated by the online Bonsai Story Tree generator from narrative text.” Slovenian Tomaž Šalamun’s poems have a nonsensical feel—the first, “What’s Up,” begins: “Timid foxes with green eyes, / the joy donates the people.”

Though some might find the style of poetry of Lit off-putting, the same editorial selection really works in a fiction piece called “Calliope Venus” by Vincent A Randlett III. A young girl and a pedophile write missives to each other beginning with phrases like, “Turtledove, Lash an appliance to your back and tell me if you would be happy. Could you carry such a weight? Tell me if you would feel any kinship with the lucky lizard.” This sort of language, similar to that in many of Lit’s poems, is perfect when used in the context of a story told through unreliable narrators attempting to court and hide via cleverness and beauty. The narrative context gives the language a heft lacking in some of the poems.

Another excellent story is “Return to the Bubble” by Rafael Pérez Gay, translated by Eduardo Jiménez Mayo, in which a middle-aged man and woman converse and have sex with their twenty-something selves. Also notable is Clair Hennessey’s “A Good-Enough Town” about an artist who sells the wife of her lover a painting.

In general, though the fiction in Lit has a more universal appeal than the poetry, still it's worth a look.


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Number 5



Review by Sean Stewart

If the unsettling cover art is meant to hint at the contents of this thick annual print issue of PANK, I'm at a loss as to the meaning of the hint, even after reading through to the very end. I'm not sure if that says more about the nature of the artwork, or the disparity of the work within. The pages hold prose poetry, visual poetry, and flash fiction, as well as more traditional poetry forms and longer short stories, and virtually everything in between. In the truly liberating fashion of contemporary experimental literature, PANK does not require its writers to classify their work, or if it does, it chooses not to disclose those labels within its table of contents. This can be refreshing, or occasionally annoying.

In the first short-short, Deb Olin Unferth's “The Man Who Says Shhhhh,” the gatekeeper of the Sistine Chapel finds inspiration in Michelangelo's mistakes. It's an admirable start to the issue. A little later on comes a striking story by Rob Roensch entitled “The Customer,” in which a cashier describes his reaction to a violent act that occurred in the store where he works and the resulting connection he feels to a customer. This recollection segues to a memory from when the narrator was a teenager at a party and failed to act to save a girl who was in trouble. In the narrator's mind, these events link together to define him. In the final section of the story, the narration switches to second-person and places the cashier back in the store at a later date. It ends in a storm: “A flash of unearthly light. A snap of pure silence. The sky is black.” This story lingered in my mind for some time afterwards.

Neal Peters' story “Sulfur” also held me rapt, as it charted the swift rise and decline of a teenage relationship that meant more to one of the participants than it did to the other. The subject matter brought to mind any of dozens of young adult novels I've read, where often the same themes are hashed out, but the magic is all in the telling. Peters tells it well.

Amber Sparks delivers an intriguingly difficult to classify piece called “How to Be Modern: A List Found on the Floor of the Last Century.” It's a list of instructions or advice, sort of channeling the sentiments of a very random and free-spirited commencement address: “Weep through dreams and hours, but crack jokes, too; your humor is small and cruel and you have finally perfected your timing.”

Ben Jahn's terse prose ironed out in the short paragraphs of “The Long Acre” sketches a razor sharp slice-of-life portrait of the denizens of a trailer park perched near a raging forest fire. Jahn expertly captures the slow desperation and inevitable tragedies occurring around the narrator.

In a way, this collection is far too long and deep to read from cover-to-cover without taking time to reflect and perhaps skip around to follow your reading instincts. I had no such luxury, but that is how I would advise a reader to approach it.


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Potomac Review coverPotomac Review

Issue 49

Spring 2011


Review by Barbara Ellen Baldwin

This journal is a joy, and my only critique is that it’s not pages and pages longer! I found Ted Kooser's "A Farmhouse in Winter" instantly. This edition opened to this poem, as though I were assigned to encounter a chilly personality, first. As one who worships summer heat, I forgot that when I read, “It's taken weeks but at last the cold / that poured down out of Alberta / has found its way into the old rock cellar / and up the steps to the kitchen door.” This spirit drifts into homely, hidden spaces, and somehow is expected. All is well. Are those "shelves of canned tomatoes" and "dusty rags of cobweb" prepared to move aside for this icy, temporary guest Kooser's touch is simple, not simplistic. How I cherish the sweet power of image at the end!

In the exquisite "Exposure," by Edgar Kunz, you want memory to be different for the wistful speaker, but the poem triumphs without a scintilla of self-pity: “I wish I could say that when I was young, / my parents gave me a camera, that I held it // in my hands, shiny and angular, admiring.” In this honest piece, the narrator begins with history that might have been. What if the parents had been kinder, better? This, what-really-was poem, reveals them as neither well-off, healthy nor wise. Violence rules. They don't know how to escape circumstances. The speaker and his brothers savor the gift of "silence," their only solace, needed more than any mere camera. Kunz's poem might well bring back loss for readers with rocky childhoods.

I was right there in the "Azalea Diner" by D.M. Ross. I was present for:

Closing time at the Azalea Diner:
even diners have to sleep
curl up with a pillow near their heads
and dampen the noise of the day.

The kitchen is unpreparing itself: "the clatter of the night cook" ushers out daily calls for: this, with this and that, please. Then, the chorus of orders is suddenly done. I love the racket of details; they make the Azalea a place to lounge about in, or to leave reluctantly. The tiresome clean-up continues:

…but the manager stops
near a side window
looks toward the parking lot
where new plantings are taking root,
azaleas around the lip of the earth…

The manager, the cook, and the people who keep this iconic place running, dream at times of richer lives. Still, the manager covets "the jukebox selections.” She finds it hard to envision other posts, no better, no worse, but lacking her Azalea's: "miraculous patches of color." I have favorite eateries as well, also graced with those homey "patches" this Ross piece remembers for us all. This poem pays homage to the smallest things. It’s a grand success!

I deeply enjoyed the dispassionate narrator in "Posted at Elsinore" by Joe Mills. Here's a story of the accident which unfolds in front of witnesses. This piece cleverly concentrates on reportage. What has poor "Gertrude," revealed as a useless bystander, seen? A drowning we learn, and the victim, "Ophelia," the innocent:

…picking cowslips,
bluebells, marigolds, and these details
make it clear people were watching.

I loved and laughed at:

the writers wouldn't ruin a good story
with direct action. "Girl Falls in Stream"
doesn't sell many magazines…

No. Not a hundred years ago, yesterday, not ever. This smart offering is whimsically presented. This poem will be read more than once, along with the author's companion pieces. I wanted more! There's humor, drama and vision in this tale, re-imagined, neatly wrenched in time. Readers are part of the scene, guilty, there in the narrative. They are also onlookers. Witnesses are too busy, faced with tragedy, to know action means now!

Holly Day's magical poem, "The Quilt," is quirky, sweet and satisfying from beginning to end. The speaker's family: "thinks she's nuts." They can't come to grips with her plan to form a quilt from loved objects, useless, unsanitary perhaps, to some:

other things she wants to keep
find their way into the blanket's folds:
snips of hair taken while her children sleep
a piece of the dog's collar
the tail of a mouse the cat drops at her feet.

The quilter isn't fussy and wants preserved memories. She doesn't give a whit whether these odd items are sanctioned components. I was thoroughly amused by the notion of the "tail of a mouse" getting older, older, ossifying into and becoming part of the blanket's weave. Day's poem is a bright penny, and I'm glad to have found it.

In “Slag,” Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum looks at a rough, near-the-railroad childhood. One boy races through the heat of August. Here, “the Stanley brothers” pursue him relentlessly. Why? He fears. He runs, confused. They’ve:

…organized the neighborhood’s ten-speeds,
hallooing like Pawnee
over the crests of every back-alley I knew,
bareback and hungry for my dirty-blond scalp?

Even the railroad trestle landscape threatens. To be anything, but prey, to escape is the goal. Could he shape-shift? If only.

It’s no great leap into the folds of the wings of the crows,
to perch with them on the power lines,red-eyes open,
then closed

Or perhaps:

The goldfish that lives without a single memory?
The pit viper that strikes without ever having heard a sound?
Make me one.

Nearly every child can recall ridicule, risk, being taunted and tortured, in some year. Here, there seems no escape, except into alchemy, to avoid being recognized again.

This issue of Potomac Review is a rich collection! I reveled in the diversity of vision found and have read many of the pieces more than once. The stories are an eclectic assemblage to treasure.


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Slice coverSlice

Issue 8

Spring/Summer 2011


Review by Hazel Foster

Slice highlights lies and make-believe in its newest issue and overflows with engaging poetry, spectacular fiction, smart nonfiction, and insightful interviews with Ray Bradbury and Isabel Allende among others. Where to begin? What to highlight?

An international/cultural theme can be seen in many of the pieces. This trend is perhaps even more noticeable than the issue’s professed theme, lies and make-believe. “How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the (North) Koreans,” a short nonfiction piece by Patricia Park, talks about the Korean jung, “an unbridled sense of warm-heartedness,” and where the author finally found it:

I also never imagined I’d be sitting around a fire with North Koreans, drinking homemade acorn liquor. I was on a fishing boat off the eastern coast when I said hello to a group of locals. They evaluated me—my Korean(ish) face, my American sneakers—and just when I expected to be met with a dismissive grunt, one of the men pushed a clam into my hand. It was char-grilled, as meaty as beef.

The essay takes the outsider narrative to a country that is itself an outsider and Park finds acceptance there as a Korean.

Another piece with international leanings is the short story “The Nature of My Father’s Crimes” by Jan Pendleton. In this story, Naomi must help her newly released father settle back into life after being imprisoned for sexual offenses. She finds friendship and understanding with her father’s new neighbor, an Indian widow, Geeta:

Geeta led the way along the produce aisle that stretched the length of the store, a refrigerated shelf holding a mix of vegetables and herbs, some of them unfamiliar. Indian women dressed in Western clothes passed by with their carts. There was a lethargy in their movements, even the young beautiful ones, their faces heavy with makeup. They seemed burdened by shopping, the hours of preparation ahead, their husbands perhaps critical. “You must try this one,” Geeta said, reaching for a thick, prickly vegetable shaped like a pickle. Running her fingers over the nubbed surface she said, “You take off the skin then cut in small pieces.” Reddish dirt clung to the milky roots of curly-leaved herb she’d tasted in Geeta’s kitchen. “You are washing them first. Everything must be washed before eating.”

This story, like all of the fiction in this issue, drags you in and along, entertains you and makes you pause and wonder at the implications of a daughter so devoted to a man guilty of such crimes. The prose feels so complete and the piece is a great example of story-telling at its best.

Also in this issue, and in keeping with an international trend, is an interview with Isabel Allende, author of the new novel Island Beneath the Sea. Allende discusses her inspirations, writing habits, and her past as romance novel translator.

I have the perfect space for writing: a little house in my backyard—warm, private, luminous, silent... It is perfect but not really indispensible. I wrote The House of the Spirits at night on the kitchen counter in an apartment in Caracas; Of Love and Shadows in a closet; The Stories of Eva Luna in a car and in coffee shops. To be able to write I only need time and silence.

Finally, if you only read one piece from this entire issue, you must read “Good People” by Nick Ripatrazone, a short story about Aaron and Erin, a couple who run an apple orchard/motel, whose quiet life is disturbed by possible prostitute, Nicholle. The story, so simple, has many small moments: “Everyone who loves anyone, Erin said, loses their identity.”


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The Southern Review coverThe Southern Review

Volume 47 Number 2

Spring 2011


Review by Robyn Campbell

Admittedly, I was a bit tentative when I began reading the latest issue of The Southern Review. When I hear the word “Americana,” its self-proclaimed theme, certain images are conjured—flat beers, hunters waiting in the pre-dawn darkness, the barefoot and pregnant teenage fatherless-yet-sweethearted girl working in a diner on the side of a barren highway—of which I have become a bit tired. Let us call those images shortcomings of my imagination; I had no idea of the depth and variance to the works waiting inside this publication’s pages. Produced by Louisiana State University, it is an engrossing and well-balanced mix of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and photography.

For TSR, Americana represents something lost, a sense of longing for the American Dream that has gone unfulfilled, an old feeling being revisited and reevaluated through the eyes of the modern writer. These works eloquently question what defines American culture by looking at those on the fringes of society. Resident Scholar Jen McClanaghan expresses the sentiment well when she says, “Americana as it emerges here isn’t a quaint diorama of a moment frozen in time. Instead, it’s much larger, a landscape continually resettled and redefined by those who come upon it.” Fittingly, Bonnie Jo Campbell’s “What There Was” is the last work in the issue, emphasizing that profound sense of loss. It relates the story of Buckeye and Black Mike, two carnival workers at a crossroads: they can raise the baby growing in Buckeye’s belly and flee their long line of train cars, or Buckeye can go to the clinic with her powerfully protective friend and father figure, Red. After much debate, Buckeye’s idealism comes face to face with the harshness of reality:

Buckeye picked up a railroad stone. It was so hot it burned her hand, and she squeezed it. She has thought Mike’s wounds were something she might soothe or even heal, but it was too much. She pressed the stone into her thigh. She had to squeeze her eyes shut against the pain. Mike wouldn’t be able to see her below his window, but she was so close to him that she felt his heart swelling. […] This town was no place to raise a child. No town was. She couldn’t do it, not even for Mike, couldn’t bring forth another body of pain.

Another particularly striking piece is Amy Lee Scott’s “BabyLand,” a work of nonfiction in which a trip to the Cabbage Patch Kids “hospital” leads to Scott’s conflicting emotions about her own adoption. She artfully weaves together the doll’s history—from 1978, when Xavier Roberts “began his empire as an art student peddling quilted dolls around folk art fairs,” to its current mass-produced state—with her own, and mixes in scenes from BabyLand General in Florida where she and her husband witness what can only be described as a weird birth. The “doctor” is no more than a kid in a lab coat who has “sheep-dog bangs curling in teen heartthrob manner.” He stands by the Magic Crystal Tree as “bald baby heads [emerge] from the center of each cabbage,” and “some cabbage babies even [beckon] potential parents with strained, reaching arms”; frankly, it’s a bit frightening. Scott’s detailed descriptions help us see that this “pointedly commercial operation reminiscent of Korean adoptions […] highlights the relentless pageantry involved in hawking any ware—be it a doll or a child.”

Edward Keating’s photographs are a physical realization of how isolating it can be to exist as a small part of America’s vastness. In his artist’s statement, he talks of the road trip, “that American thing,” he took in the late 1970s and his subsequent understanding that personal difficulties are tough to drop, no matter how far you run. When he retraced his steps and focused on “those who never made it through,” the result was something bleak and a little lonely. Each of the men and women look tired, with an empty kind of disappointment.

In the impressive poetry selection (Emily Lousie Smith’s “American Photograph” and Ansel Elkins’s “Devil’s Rope” are especially beautiful), we see barns and fields, near-empty diners and rotary phones and cars and weighty doses of religion, all things that were (or are) a part of American culture. It is the land of the free, home of the brave, home of Elvis and racial tensions and fear of both God and the Devil, where anything is possible until you figure out that maybe it is not. Almost any reader will be able to identify with the nostalgia present in this issue, and appreciate the rummaging these writers do through the dusty boxes in our collective attic to create a modern portrait.


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Alternative Magazine Reviews

Posted June 15, 2011

Adbusters :: Anarchy :: Social Policy

[Back to Magazine Review Index]


Adbusters coverAdbusters

Journal of the Mental Environment

The Philosophy Issue

Number 95

May/June 2011


Review by Joanne B. Conrad

This issue of Adbusters, subtitled POST—with an Arabic word insertion—WEST, is at first glance an irreverent avant-garde (the publishers probably think using avant-garde is passé) mish-mash of advertisements, graphics, photographs, art, essays, book excerpts, observations, and poetry about economics, capitalism, politics, jihad, revolution, militarism, overpopulation, aquaculture, genetic modification, anarchy, and you name it.

It is an alternative way for "a global network of culture jammers and creatives working to change the way information flows, the way corporations wield power, and the way meaning is produced in our society." It would help a new reader if somewhere in the journal was included their website concern "about the erosion of our physical and cultural environments by commercial forces" at Based in Vancouver, BC, Adbusters is a non-profit and claims a circulation of 120,000, "dedicated to examining the relationship between human beings and their physical and mental environment." At second glance, it provides both provocative and thoughtful observations.

This issue's contents, in very nontraditional form, are "What Matters in Life, Jihad (Striving), What Matters in Death, How do I Love? and How can we be of service to one another in the world?” Seven other content titles are in either Arabic or Hebrew, so one needs an interpreter. Ads by Versace, Burberry, Boeing, Casio, Coca Cola, Lexapro (an antidepressant), Goldman Sachs, and Vogue are included as counterpoint to tradition.

Essays about military drones, enhanced interrogation, sovereign wealth funds buying cheap land in underdeveloped countries, pollution, population control, and advertising evils are included. A Finnish writer, Pentii Linkola, in "A Demographic Plan," calls for the licensing of procreation, saying every woman should be allowed to bear only one child. Perhaps he overlooks the demographic need for fertility for workers to pay for old age benefits.

A more extended essay about Beijing, China in 2010, titled "and then it hit me…in the future…we will all be Chinese," by Charles Humphrey says it is the end of the world and that Beijing is Ground Zero, a "collapse of order and reason." It is:

development without progress, change without context, work without purpose. This is the end of our psychic world… We like to accuse the Chinese government of withholding the rule of law, to blame them for the impoverishment of the Chinese spirit and eradication of 5000 years of Chinese culture. The reality is that the Chinese are merely very fast learners. Western societies have developed and imposed a model of social organization on the world that is devoid of the conceptual distinctions that are central to creating meaningful social and psychic content… Beijing is the End of the World not because China is the future, but because in the future we have chosen to pursue, we will all be Chinese.

There are diatribes against consumption, foreign aid, even old age, and a call for revolution against corporatocracy akin to the American revolution for independence from Great Britain. An essay about the Qur'an promoting "compassion, justice, and equity" is puzzling.

The mag eschews any stated goal and prints text on dark backgrounds, making it difficult to read. Its masthead information is at the back of the journal. It is very thorough about providing credit to contributors, although one wonders if advertisements require any attributions. If it clearly purported its objectives, it would be a valuable contribution to increasing intellectual dialog for concerned persons.


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Anarchy coverAnarchy

A Journal of Desire Armed

Issue 70/71


Review by Joanne B. Conrad

Published by C.A.L. Press, Berkeley, CA, Anarchy purports to "Disarm authority! Arm your Desires! with provocative, creative, and critical anti-authoritarian discourse and art."

The editor's "On the Winter of Wikileaks" comments on the "glut of disinformation," including Wikileaks' "uncensored and unvarnished truth" and that the "mythical Public…is so inured to talking heads spoonfeeding them soundbites that it remains questionable…whether unfiltered information can be…any use for radical challenges to statecraft." "Inside Anarchy" decries the demise of a related publication, Counterpoise, and appeals for help from contributors, subscribers, et al. Three appraisals are also cited in this issue of The Coming Insurrection, a French document by an anonymous The Invisible Committee, for which some French were arrested and later released, and promises two more reviews in issue 72. Egypt, Greece, England, and other uprisings are cited as "against all manifestations of entrenched bureaucracy and dictatorship [that] make anarchists happy."

The first review of TCI (The Coming Insurrection) by Lupus Dragonowl, aims to "develop insurrectionary anti-politics into a movement actually able to destroy global capitalism." The second review by Lawrence Jarach critiques a book about TCI by Chris Spannos that Jarach says contains "apoplectic and delirious rantings.” The third review of TCI by Wolf Landstreicher says, "the book is not anarchist; it is communist." Well, maybe issue 72 will clarify.

A "Recent Events" article, "On Violence Against the Police," in England, says "Someone has to say it: mass violence against the police is necessary as part of any social struggle….The reason is simple: the police defend the state unconditionally, the state defends capital unconditionally, and capital attacks us without remorse."

In addition to sections for recent events, book reviews, essays, columns, and letters, Anarchy contains media reviews of sister alternative magazines such as Anarchist Studies, The Anvil Review, Arena One: On Anarchist Cinema, The Authoritarian Artist, Brief History of the Working Class, Cabal-Argot, Come Hell or High Water, Fire to the Prisons, The Laugh of the Medusa, and This is Not a Love Story.

Dali-esque or Dali-grotesque artwork by Bernard Dumaine, Christian Edler, Karena Karras, Peter Van Oostzanen, Rodney Gee, Ton Haring, and others, hard to decipher, is interspersed throughout. Recognizable were distortions of Madame Defarge (Dickens's Tale of Two Cities) and Dorothea Lange’s famous picture of Florence Owens Thompson of the Great Depression. One wonders if the artists ever title their works as they must have messages. To Anarchy's credit, they do identify all artists.

Rounding out the issue are eight pages of "Letters" and four "Columns," decrying a September 24th FBI raid, saying, "We encourage anarchists to stand with the victims of these actions, for it will only be a matter of time until the FBI targets anarchists again in their quest to silence those who dissent against the global capitalist system" and "It is the U.S. government that operates as an empire with military occupations of countries all over the world…and underwriting oppression." John Zernan writes in "Love" that our "affective state is the very texture and timbre of our lives" and that "every political struggle is an affective one." Spencer Sunshine writes a review of Nietzsche and the anarchist tradition and says "give me…a social anarchism that engages with, and is inspired by the thoughts of Frederich Nietzsche."

It is a magazine of dissent and sometimes nebulous philosophies for elitist audiences, and, as one letter writer says, "Time for a serious Anarchist-Communist attempt at a solution to the current crisis or we might as well just listen to the preachers tell us everything depends on Jesus or Obama or head for the hills."


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Social Policy coverSocial Policy

Volume 41 Number 1

Spring 2011


Review by Joanne B. Conrad

Unless one is a regular reader of Social Policy magazine, there may be some confusion, despite Wade Rathke's "Publisher’s note." He says the Spring 2011 issue is “in perfect harmony with the heart and spirit needed in these times, despite the challenges of adversity…and challenges of our…heroic strengths and weaknesses.” If Social Policy is “[the] key site for intellectual exchange among progressive academics and activists from across the United States and beyond,” it would be instructive and helpful to say so in the boilerplate masthead or logo. Their website says, “Social Policy seeks to inform and report on the work of labor and community organizers who build union and constituency-based groups, run campaigns, and build movements for social justice, economic equality, and democratic participation in the U.S. and around the world.” Again, why not say so in the magazine? Its cover does include "Organizing for Social and Economic Justice."

The articles about the United Farm Workers’ Union purges and a forty-year-old transcribed talk by Cesar Chavez are distracting. Perhaps explaining that the first two articles were historical might have helped. The first article about UFW purges, with no dates, contains twelve footnotes, but the cited references are nowhere to be found—which seems to be the publication's modus operandi as they are missing in other articles as well.

On the other hand, the articles "Social Justice Unionism," by Bill Fletcher, Jr. and Fernando Gapasin, and "The Theory of Comparative Advantage, Why It is Wrong," by Ian Fletcher are well-written and enlightening, although sometimes abstruse. Again 32 footnotes are missing cited references in the latter article.

"The Maharashtra Model" in India, by Wade Rathke, meanders about before making its point that it, Canada, and New York State are models for organizing informal workers, e.g. lower-paid workers and others. Again, footnotes are not identified.

Five other articles "Radical: A Portrait of Saul Alinsky" by Nicholas Von Hoffman; "Learning from Poverty in Canada and the U. K." by Amy Leaman; "Public Employees and the Public Interest" by Philip Mattera; "Egypt: First Cut Off the Internet" by Noorin Ladhani; and "Backstory" about the Gamaliel Foundation, a faith-based community organization, by Wade Rathke round out the issue.

Slick, with heavy gloss pages (which are expensive), Social Policy is informative if one has time and perseverance to read and elicit the information. As a quarterly, that may provide enough time. It contains minimal, but relevant, photos and artwork, but credit is missing for the back cover artwork about Wisconsin's union protests. This is not written for mass consumption, but, rather, for organizers and other progressive elitists.

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