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Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted July 15, 2011

Ampersand Review :: Bone Bouquet :: Hayden's Ferry Review :: High Dessert Journal :: The Hudson Review :: Jackson Hole Reivew :: Kaleidoscope :: Kugelmass :: Left Curve :: Literary Bohemian :: The MacGuffin :: MAKE :: Mid-American Review :: Monkey Business :: The Open Face Sandwich :: Salmagundi :: Tin House :: Tulane Review :: Welter

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Ampersand Review coverAmpersand Review

Volume 6



Review by C.J. Opperthauser

Number six of the Ampersand Review is one packed with loads (and I mean loads; this thing is practically a monster) of juicy fiction and chomp-able poetry. It even has a couple of nonfiction selections that are beyond readable. I have recently been getting into nonfiction perhaps even more than fiction, and the reads in this issue certainly shuffle me along the same path.

The poetry in this issue is often very language-focused, which I love. Here is a portion of Ryan Holden's “Florence 1883 CE”:

puppet carved of wood
only a child is allowed a name
                     & yet a tragedy in the hardness
of heart—an insect's death
                     can something so clumsy
be the reflection & open path

The economy of language in Holden's poem and the many other poems in the issue are what draw me to them. Simple, beautiful, and few in number—the poems are enjoyable. Here's another, which I think is both true and full of great imagery—“Starbucks Poets” by Michael Marks:

Starbucks poets sans pens sans paper
regenerate lines to order
pigeons picking finer fare
respite from alley gusts
militant order of nonconformity
a latte away from epiphany

Yes! And, although I have been known to spend some time in the local coffee shop on my laptop sans pen and paper, I totally get this and love the invitation in the poem to join in poking fun at these types of poets. It takes one to know one, right? Right.

The fiction, which takes up the bulk of the issue, is also strong. The pieces are also not too long, which I find to be a common problem in these types of thick 'zines: they try to cram too much into each issue, not taking into account the speed or endurance of the average reader. The pieces of fiction in this issue are just the right length on average: enough to keep the reader going without feeling too bogged down by the length of any one story.

Here's a sampling—the very beginning, actually—of a story by Jon Lasser called (and I love this title) “Every Girl on the Bus I've Ever Looked at the Wrong Way, I'm Sorry”: “The pneumatic hiss of the bus door woke me. I had dreamed of war, plumed bronze helmets, men unscabbarding swords as they clambered over half-built stone walls like angry ants. I blinked; echoes of clashing iron in the squealing brakes, sounding trumpets in the bleating horns.”

Lasser has a phenomenal sense of poetic language and flow throughout his story, much like this wonderful opening paragraph. The sounds all relate and the reader can definitely hear them through this description.

The very first story in the issue exemplifies the entirety of the issue. It's a quirky piece by Kyle Moreno called “Stuck in a Bottle,” in which a man is physically stuck inside an enormous glass bottle in the middle of a field. The story is made up of letters he scribbles before tossing them out the opening of the bottle. Here is an example of one of the goofy letters:

If you found a note from Stacey Miller saying she had been kidnapped and brought to a field near the Union Valley Reservoir, that was actually from me. I thought people might respond faster if they thought a twenty-two-year-old girl was in trouble, instead of a middle-aged divorcé stuck in a bottle. Either way, send help.

This issue of Ampersand Review is much like this story—quirky, enjoyable, and a quick read. The language-focus is there, which is often overlooked, and makes it that much stronger.


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Bone Bouquet coverBone Bouquet

Volume 2 Issue 1

Winter 2011


Review by Katy Haas

While Bone Bouquet is subtitled “a journal of poetry by women,” the poems in this issue go beyond the idea of women writers only writing about women’s issues. Instead, it holds a wide spectrum of styles and subjects with only the commonality of being written by women.

Two poems by Leigh Stein give an intimate look into the life of the speaker. “Autobiography” portrays the journey of adolescence toward adulthood in a perfect mixture of humor and seriousness, from asking her parents if she was adopted, to wholly immersing herself in religion. Continuing with the more serious tone, “The Haunted Corn Maze” is a glimpse into the speaker’s waning relationship and gives off the feeling of being familiar with disappointment: “For her birthday, he asks her to drive him / to Walgreens, and she knows that this // means that he has no gift for her.”

Arielle Greenberg, in her prose poem “Coal,” relates the story of losing a child: “I’d rather my baby not live than be thus marked, I said to no one. Because that is what had happened.” The speaker goes on, comparing her negative thoughts and words to coal.

Kate Dorris’s poem “Uncle B’s Drive-in, Granbury TX” visits Uncle B’s Beer Barn. She captures the details and exhibits Uncle B’s wares: “We sell excess. Ice, coke, tequilas / domestics, popsicles, lighters, uppers-downers / burritos, morning-afters / & Uncle B’s tank tops,” successfully bringing to life the late night pit-stop.

I’s not to say that women’s issues are avoided completely throughout the journal. Emily Skillings, in her poem “Tract, Tract,” writes about “the problem” and the exploration is handled humorously. “What is the problem— /and why am I attracted to it? / Is Kate Gosselin the problem? I love Kate Gosselin / (but Kate Gosselin is possibly / the problem).”

Adding to the variety found inside this issue are other poems such as “Swallow” by Dawn Pendergast, a piece I wished I could hear her read aloud, and “Mined Muzzle Velocity” by Jennifer H. Fortin presents a piece written in a form or letter format.

The issue closes with two poems by Dana Teen Lomax, both entitled “Lullaby.” The first gives a look into one night between the speaker and the panicked “you” she addresses. Her second “Lullaby” ends the issue lightheartedly. Uncomplicated, the simplicity of a whispered nine-line mantra sticks with the reader: “You want your ears pierced.”


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Hayden's Ferry Review coverHayden’s Ferry Review

Issue 48

Spring/Summer 2011


Review by Hazel Foster

The newest issue of Hayden’s Ferry Review melts in the hands. Perhaps this is due to its comfortable size—large, a bit overweight—or the season in which it is published. In reality though, the fiction, poetry, and photography inside enacts the melting. In fiction, “Meet Me on the Moon” by Robert Warwick brings summer and its thematic counterpart growing up to the forefront with effortless prose:

They killed things that summer, mostly frogs, using Ben’s bow and arrow at very close range. JH tried to get the Meyers’ dog to eat rat poison off the palm of his hands, but Spike ran off, stooping at a distance to look back at them sharply, wanting to be chased.
“I hate that stupid dog,” JH said, kicking dirt and tossing the poison, wiping his hands carelessly on his pants.
JH hated everything. He hated his mother and said he wished she was the dead one and not Mrs. Kyle, who was—had been—younger and prettier… Sometimes he said he hated Ben, although Ben never really believed him because he always came back, regardless of what mean things he might have said the day before. No matter what, he always came back. It was what they both knew and never talked about. There was nowhere else to go.

Ben spends every day with his friend JH in a neighborhood freshly rocked by the death of a young wife. While the heart of the story is a classic coming-of-age tale, the ending takes this staple a step further, pulling the characters into tragic adulthood.

In poetry, Shayok Chowdhury weighs stillness, the last careful word in his careful poem “Biodiversity”:

The moon is full:
I search for the curvature at the edges of its light—
something to show me it is sphere
and no more mystery than what’s nearer:
this wordless man;
bloodrice in the palm of my hand.

The word choice here is so simple and forgiving, conveying the insecurity of the narrator with precision and skill.

In a special section, Short Forms, many fines pieces play with the thrift of words and the expansion of small ideas: “Guts” by Darryl Joel Berger; “The Politics of Metamorphosis” by Katie Farris; “Still Life” by Emma Hine; and “Knuckles” by Erika Eckart to name a few. If you only read one piece from this issue, be sure to read one from this impressive special section.

And, finally, in photography, Robert Ballen sparks the imagination, pairing figures with wires, strings, and branches. Ballen’s four photographs, tucked near the end of the issue, draw the eye, hold it, feed into the mind in ever-widening bursts.


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High Desert Journal coverHigh Desert Journal

Issue 13

Spring 2011


Review by John Palen

Continuity is the watchword in High Desert Journal’s first number under editor Charles Finn. Founder and publisher Elizabeth Quinn remains at the top of the masthead, but with the title of managing editor. According to Finn’s editor’s note, Quinn continues to be very much a part of the endeavor, but will focus now on “the difficult and necessary job of keeping the magazine financially afloat.” Finn pledges to continue the journal’s dedication to furthering the understanding of the “people, places and issues of the interior West.”

More power to them all. This issue is exciting to look at and to read. Visually, the oversize format and high quality printing do justice to Heide Oberheide’s abstract acrylics and Kevin M. O’Connell’s photo essay on “the terrible beauty” of energy development. Two other artists capture the raw delicacy of Yellowstone geysers—Barbara Michelman in photographs and Bobbie McKibbin in pastels.

“Raw delicacy” also describes Joe Wilkins’s intensely realized short story about a homeless woman in Montana who decides she’ll move beyond the self she had become. “Enough of Me” won High Desert Journal’s Obsidian Prize in Fiction, judged by Gretel Ehrlich. In another superb short story, “Stacking,” Glen Chamberlain retells the myth of Adam and Eve in an encounter among a girl, a boy and a rattlesnake during haying season. The journal makes good use of the Web by including interviews with Wilkins and Chamberlain on its site.

The magazine continues to be a home for quality nonfiction about its chosen “place.” That this is not narrowly defined is demonstrated by Craig Childs’s essay, “Turning Point,” which describes close-to-the-bone life on an island remnant of the prehistoric land bridge between Asia and North America. Focused on a more consumerist West are Jennifer Rudin’s attitude-fueled “Planned Communities and Motherhood’s Unlikely Soundtrack,” and Finn’s interview of Alex Morley, the ninety-two year-old who made Jackson Hole what it is today, “a magnet for disposable income.”

The politics of the West are as interesting as its landscapes. In “High Desert Bling,” Jane O’Keefe tells of her journey from anti-government rancher groupie to an Oregon state commissioner who voted to shut down a coal-fired power plant. David James Duncan and Rick Bass provide two passionate excerpts, one fiction, one non, from their recent book on the tar sands controversy.

The issue also includes nonfiction by Laurie Stone, John Daniels and Mary Sojourner, and poetry by Sean Patrick Hill, Zayne Turner, Kristina Hakanson, Kim Stafford, and Claire Skinner. Turner’s “White King” intersperses recollections of summer work in the Great Basin with excerpts of government reports on a polluted uranium mine. In “Prairie Prescription,” Stafford lyrically imagines his mother’s birth. In “The Beaver Lodge,” a prose poem, Hill pays tribute to Oregon author Jon Remmerde. Skinner draws a sharp Williamsesque sketch of the Mexican border in “Cochise County, Arizona.”


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The Hudson Review coverThe Hudson Review

Volume 64 Number 1

Spring 2011


Review by Vanessa Willoughby

With this volume of the Hudson Review, the magazine features an exemplary selection of Spanish authors and writings, juxtaposing the modern against the established, such as Edith Grossman, Antonio Muñoz Molina, and Lorna Knowles showcased with the likes of William Carlos Williams, Jorge Luis Borges, and Pablo Neruda. Reading almost like a highly compact and sleek version of a staggering anthology, the issue does not aim to define the Spanish identity, but instead to spotlight a variation of strong voices and create a mosaic of cultural and social experiences.

In the only featured memoir piece, “A Double Education,” Antonio Muñoz Molina describes his incipient quest to become a “real” writer, as pitted against the backdrop of the impending death of General Francisco Franco and the destruction of Spain’s endless years of dictatorship. As a university student struggling to make ends meet, Molina believes in the passion and the determination of the revolutionist political movement, yet he lacks the strength of conviction to whole-heartedly join his peers and stand at the picket lines. Afraid of the threat of arrest or a beat down, Molina prefers to hole up in his small, rented room and devour literature. He admires the likes of Faulkner, Mario Vargas Llosa, Borges, Proust, even the iconic pulp fiction of Raymond Chandler. Like an addict, Molina cannot wait to get his hands on the next book, the next world of characters. Yet for all the intense studying, Molina struggles to write.

Seven months after Franco’s death, Molina attends a gathering in Fuente Vaqueros for the fortieth anniversary of Spanish poet García Lorca’s murder. As he watches the crowd and indulges in the sentiment of the moment, Molina realizes that “it had felt great to stay by myself in a room of one’s own, but it was even better to stand in the middle of a crowd sharing its strength and its fear, experiencing the civic joy, the uplifting strength of a collective purpose.” It is the combination of experience and craft that constitute a writer, that propel inspiration. Writing is not only a practiced art form, but a means of communication, of dialogue with the world at large. Molina’s experience at Lorca’s commemoration ceremony shows that no matter how many books an individual consumes, an author needs experience and interaction with humanity in order to authenticate and breathe a sense of life into his or her work. As a young writer wading through a sea of half-finished novellas, vaguely-formed essays, and other relics from the past five years of undergraduate and graduate studies, Molina’s personal revelation rings as words of wisdom.

The featured William Carlos Williams poems are undeniably a brief, albeit telling reflection of the poet’s signature style. “Ode to My Socks” is a quirky, almost whimsical poem that on the surface is nothing more than a celebration of Williams’s socks. However, one must not ignore the poet’s use of language, metaphor, and crisp imagery. The socks become more than two lifeless scraps of wool. His feet become “like two decrepit firemen” while the socks are “that embroidered fire, / those luminous socks.” Something as simple as socks are cause for excitement, for gratitude, thus symbolizing the joys of the ordinary in everyday life.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “The Hudson Review is rare in having remained a forum for intelligent, well-written criticism and cultural commentary on a broad spectrum of topics. In fact it belongs to a tiny handful of magazines where the first criterion of inclusion is literary merit.” A rather esteemed compliment, especially from such a credible publication. But the praise is not unwarranted, as this issue of the magazine confirms the hype.


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Jackson Hole Review coverJackson Hole Review

Volume 2 Issue 1

Spring 2011


Review by Denise Hill

Small but mighty, Jackson Hole Review makes its debut into the realm of literary magazines. If you’ve ever wondered about the strength and validity of place-based magazines, the lead essay “Almost Paradise” by Kim Barnes will give plenty of proof positive. Telling her own story of growing up near water and having to leave it behind, Barnes lays painfully bare how deeply connected she was and the mental and emotional suffering she experienced with leaving. Barnes turns to Jung and Campbell for the psychology and mythology of these deeper reactions we have to the planet, “You see, it is not simply the place that I miss, but the recognizable stories it contains. […] What I know is that the stories that take place in a particular landscape are what give us a strong sense of belonging, of attachment. They give us a sense of shared history, a narratival investment. […] How can we separate ourselves from the land that holds our stories?” Barnes’s essay is a good lead-in along with the editorial, setting up the theme of the magazine: Connect/Disconnect.

I can never be sure with place-based publications if I’ll be able to connect as an outsider. Place-based writing sometimes leaves me feeling like the party outcast, with authors place-name dropping and providing detail for insiders to make nostalgic connections, but that the rest of us can only read as ‘nice sensory detail.’ However, the place-based content in JHR is so subtle and well infused that I never felt this way. Clearly, the goal of JHR is to be both local and inclusive.

JHR is also inclusive in content, offering a balance of prose, poetry, and art. The prose all makes place-based references and is rich in character development. I had some trepidation that Patty Somlo’s snapshot narrative of a Native American Vietnam Vet’s return “home” in “Warrior” would fall into stereotypes, but the expressive detail and click-clean dialogue doesn’t allow this. Somlo deftly packs every line with external story as well as internal contemplation of the main character; I could not help but get caught up in the story’s final sweep of emotion. I love it when a story does that.

Susan Marsh’s “Gathering Blackberries” shares the difficult decisions families must make regarding the “family home.” At a time when the children are grown into their own lives, they must return and decide the fate of now-empty parent homes and property. Her commentary is practical, but not without pangs of desperate hope to “hold on” to the place, and the final painful reality of having to let the place go, no longer its own member of the family.

Mike Bressler’s “Elk Hunter” is an introspective narrative on the controversial issue of elk management. Bressler’s piece moves quickly from his connection to the issue through his own hunting and guiding hunts, to his disconnect: “Eventually I lost my passion for the hunt, and it was not with sadness, but resignation, that I put my gun away, finally realizing the time of the hunter is long dead.” But, as he continues, not the time of connection with these great beasts of nature.

Tinker Elizabeth Jacobs Duglo’s “Hydraulics” is a must-read piece on the health effects of fracking on a family’s only young child and their decision to move away from the environmental threat while others, out of necessity, must move closer. For all the news stories, it’s narrative pieces like this—the story of the people IN the place (fiction or nonfiction)—that allow us all to connect and to care.

The poetry in JHR is well-selected for its expression of theme and/or place and is, like the prose, strongly detailed and brief. Poems by Devin Murphy and Jenny Minniti-Shippey both tell about places within the larger place, each recounting both character and story, whereas Kirk VanDyke’s pieces provide more on the experience of place alone. Courtney Gustafson, Diana Smith and Caroline Treadwell offer works related well to the theme of connect/disconnect, as these lines from Gustafson’s poem attest: “We detach, detach, diverge, dissolve. / He sounds wonderful, I say. / What a stunning title, you say. / And we both nod and we dissolve.” Meg Daly’s two poems are detail rich in their accounts of connections, each ending with an arc which takes the reader into a greater emotional place.

JHR offers a center section of full-color artwork, showing as much here as in the writing their willingness to consider a wide variety of content: photography, 18th Century Japanese print technique images, solar plate prints, and paintings.

A well-balanced publication with both breadth and depth, both place-based and thematic, and both nostalgic and inviting, Jackson Hole Review is small but mighty, and only just getting started.


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Kaleidoscope coverKaleidoscope

Number 62

Winter/Spring 2011


Review by Jennifer Vande Zande

There are few among us who can say that a disability, in some form or another, hasn’t affected our life or the life of someone we love. Whether it is an accident that results in paralysis, a struggle with mental illness, chronic disease or a learning disability, the fact is, according to the United States Department of Labor, nearly fifty million people in this country have a disability. Kaleidoscope, born out of a beautiful idea back in 1979, is the literary journal published by the the United Disability Services. It gives voice to those living with, or within the shadow of, a disability. This issue of Kaleidoscope is a thoughtful literary collection that focuses on the experience of disability while avoiding any unnecessary sentimentality. Within its fiction, personal essays, poetry, articles and reviews the undercurrent moves readers through content rich with honest stories of determination.

The essence of what Kaleidoscope is [and should be] can found most readily within its essays. Not written by people who feel that they’re victims with some sort of cross to bear, these pieces, instead, offer very tender perspectives on very personal situations. The result is a wide range of writing from those so often defined only by their limitations.

“Good Friday to my father…” is the personal essay of Therése Halscheid who, at fourteen years of age, nearly succumbs to ravages of anorexia. As her body wastes away, dementia lays to waste the mind of her father: “Of our own hours, to you it did not matter I was not in the kitchen that morning or that I had stopped eating. That my own heart had weakened to the point where it slowed. You did not know I kept to the attic, the little bedroom you fixed for me when you were well.” The heavy emotional burden that accompanies such suffering, coupled with a keen awareness of herself, allow Halscheid to skillfully distill a troubling personal history into a beautifully written narrative that, in the end, resonates with the peace one finds only after intense personal struggle.

Meanwhile, Margaret A. Frey chronicles the difficult time following the 2 a.m. fall from a fraternity house roof that leaves her son with a traumatic brain injury in her essay entitled “The Other Side.” Frey is suddenly thrust into the medical nightmare that so often results from such a devastating and complex injury:

Cynthia was the only medical person who had uttered anything positive in the last four days. I would find out later, she’d been warned off by attending physicians, cautioned after preliminary neurological evaluations indicated a grim prognosis. She was wasting her time, the doctors and reports unanimously concluded. Bryan’s chances of a functional rehabilitation were minimal.

Occasionally, we are fortunate and receive a gift in the midst of crisis and despair. For Margaret A. Frey, that gift was a touchstone named Cynthia, an R.N. who specialized in physical therapy: “‘It’s going to be all right, Margaret,’ Cynthia said. Her eyes remained fixed on Bryan. ‘Trust me. He’ll be okay.’”

Kaleidoscope stands as a portrait, not of a group of wounded souls hopelessly tied to wheelchairs, medications or assistive technologies but to a group of those among us who just happen to live with a disability. Thankfully, there is no hidden agenda to be found within the pages of Kaleidoscope, just good writing gathered together to encourage readers to explore places they have not been and perhaps discover something about themselves.


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Kuglemass coverKugelmass

A Journal of Literary Humor

Number 1



Review by C.J. Opperthauser

Let me admit this up front: I normally am not a big fan of literary humor. It's not that I don't think funny and literary can exist side-by-side; Mark Twain proved that the two mix well a long time ago. But this first issue of Kugelmass is truly funny, and truly enjoyable.

The first contributor name to catch my eye was Mike Birbiglia. He came to Central Michigan University during my time there as an undergraduate and he was crying-in-your-seat funny. And, not surprisingly, so is his essay in this issue. His piece, “Patti and the Bear,” is about his strange passion for all things bear, and his sister who shares that passion. Of course, being a bear story, some hilarity and danger ensues. Birbiglia proves he is as good a writer as he is a comedian:

At age eight, I started to have this recurring dream that there was a bear walking in the front door of my house. Literally opening the front door—which is the scariest part: a bear with opposable thumbs. If a bear can open a door, sky's the limit! I don't have a plan for that one. My plan was the door.

The other essays are great, as well. One of them, by Steve Almond, is “Bad Poetry,” and yes, it is filled with it. As a poet myself, I can absolutely and embarrassingly identify with this one. Almond describes his thought process as a younger writer, and even shares with us some of the wonderfully horrible poems he used to write. Here is an example of one of them, called “Kafka At The 50 Yard Line (Shady Side)”:

Cockroach and quarterback
what a curious pair
One craves pork rinds, the other
flings pigskins into air
Cockroach and quarterback
to wed them, do we connive?
But think, now, think
both scurry to survive

All the stories and essays in this issue are equally funny, and each has its own flavor and unique plot. One thing I was worried about when I opened the journal for the first time was a lack of diversity throughout, but I was pleasantly surprised. In a story by Kurt Luchs in which a group of scientists are attempting to study these language-learning/speaking monkeys, one ape texts another: “ur so 6y! omfg, will u b my bubu?” And, as you can probably guess, that story, “Speak No Evil,” is one of the funniest in the issue.

The plots themselves, of the fiction section, are almost always outrageous. In one by Teresa Milbrodt, called simply and aptly “Sphinx,” a woman purchases a sphinx (as far as I can tell, it is the sphinx) to protect her home. This is a world, the reader must understand, in which people can buy these sorts of things. The main character's neighbor, throughout the story, is considering the purchase of a unicorn. And unicorns, obviously, are “pretty and would look nice in the front yard. The neighbor lady figured unicorns would not be so fickle.”

The essays are engrossing, the stories entertaining, gripping. There's even a ticker that runs across each page, busting out funny one-liners that can distract you from your story or essay for a moment. What's not to love about that?


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Left Curve coverLeft Curve

Number 35



Review by Vanessa Willoughby

On the back cover of Left Curve, Franz Kafka proclaims, “The spark which constitutes our conscious life must bridge the gap of the contradiction [between inward and outward] and leap one pole to the other, so that for one moment we can see the world as if revealed in a flash of lightning.” In this issue, authors strive to bridge the gap between the academic and the political, the enlightened intellectual and the deeply philosophical. Unlike other literary journals, Left Curve prides itself on its lofty ambitions of analyzing and even criticizing the effects of cultural modernity. Infused with the fire of devoted and headstrong liberals, many of the essays featured in the magazine cover an array of topics, from the recent Wall Street financial meltdown to the importance of animal equality. The selection and depth of material can be rather daunting, though prepared with the right mindset, can be pleasantly challenging and enlightening.

P.J. Laska’s essay, “Nightfall for AWOL: The Dimming of the Dream & the Search for an Alternative,” is just as detailed and intricately layered as it sounds. In the brief introduction, Laska uses Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Oliver Stone’s sequel to his 1987 film, Wall Street, as both a cultural and political metaphor. He argues, “With the introduction of computer software working in place of humans, however, money can be made buying and selling securities even when greed is asleep or taking a lunch break.” Laska aims to dissect the recession, first by tracing its deep-seated roots. For the author, the seeds were planted with the beginning of Ronald Reagan’s reign, which was, in fact, “a not-so-covert effort to reverse the social and economic democratization of AWOL that began with FDR’s New Deal.” The sting of disappointment is evident throughout Laska’s critical essay, manifesting through his disdain for the smoke and mirrors tactics issued by our government. Additionally, the author addresses the oil crisis and the imminent dangers of global warming. The two topics are linked, as “Global capitalism, which is confronted with a planetary crisis amounting to a turning point in the dismal and disregard of the environment, will now be forced to deal with this crisis at a time when the oil production that has fueled its global success story has peaked.”

On the other hand, Laura Hudson seeks to bring fresh insight to the topic of animal rights. She proclaims, “Environmentalism and animal rights question what our relationship to the natural world and to animals should be.” Perhaps her confidence and strength of conviction come across as aggressive, but Hudson doesn’t dare back down. Although she does not romanticize nature, it does seem to embody some sort of mystical power, some enticing enchantment that is underrated and often dismissed. Animal rights and the advancement of human civilization should not be viewed as two independent subjects. Rather, they are cohabiting entities that are mutually beneficial.

Somewhat reminiscent of Chuck Palahniuk, Ted Dace’s “Animals and Monsters” essay uses metaphor and colorful imagery to satirize the deconstruction of human vitality. Dace uses figurative labels such as “vampire” and “zombie” to describe the assortment of social figures that have been zapped of their humanity and instead have surrendered to the soul-sucking aftermath of cutting all ties to the natural world. The author forces readers to consider the frightening possibility that they, too, could be a member of the previously described pack of monsters.

Although some readers may be turned off by Left Curve’s obvious commitment to hard-hitting political and cultural discussions, the magazine presents a credible forum for the ready and willing intellect. Other notable contributors include: Tamás St. Auby, Theodore A. Harris, E. San Juan, Jr., Anoinette Constable, and Changming Yuan.


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Literary Bohemian logoLiterary Bohemian

Issue 12

Summer 2011

Online 3-5 times/year

Review by Katy Haas

The editor’s note of Issue 12 of Literary Bohemian promises an escape for summer, urging readers to “let the summer change the equation to x = why.” Through 17 poems, all rich with setting, the issue definitely accomplishes this goal.

Melissa Carroll writes about being in a cantina, vividly painting the feeling of freedom and being where one wants to be: “As if in answer, a thunderclap // chars all that blueness, a gesture against impossibility. / Suddenly these chickens, the tequila, are perfect.”

With her excerpt “Peacocks,” Sarah Kay takes readers to a cement rooftop where Ravi, a young man, asks the speaker to write a love letter for a girl he likes. Giving him a letter riddled with clichés, she wishes she could’ve written him a different letter, a letter that captures Ravi’s gentleness and the night: “The peacocks are enormous. They sound like cats. No one seems to pay them very much mind, but the males dance across all the rooftops of the village, begging for someone to notice their tails.”

Aiding readers in their escape, Andrew Kuhn brings them to Park Avenue with his lighthearted poem “Park Avenue, espresso.” With his quick, fun read, he describes types of doormen: “skittery, twitchy doormen with that junkie sidle / doormen who anyone could see should not be doormen” and “drink-blasted doormen scored and scoured / capillary disaster-red roadmap faces,” until I could picture these characters standing beside their doors.

In his poem “Hot, or Why I Boogie,” Edmond Menchavez takes readers to Aguilar Street and a magical night when the speaker spots a boy who mimics Michael Jackson in the dim light of the only streetlamp on their road, “he made a planet fit on a dirt road, / turned a streetlight to a spotlight, / with just his sandals and nothing / and everything.”

“Prairie Sure” by Carol Light captures life in the country. She paints pictures of corn fields and “The dust, the heat, distrusted, the screen door / slapping as the slat-backed porch swing sighs,” and questions if she’d miss any of it.

In this issue of Literary Bohemian, each poem so vividly captures setting, whisking readers away into their promised escape. As Janice D. Soderling writes in "Constants and Variables," as she takes a walk with her dog she says, “I know the whats, the why is yet to learn,” a further reminder to allow this summer to turn all y’s into whys.


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The MacGuffin coverThe MacGuffin

Volume 27 Number 3

Spring-Summer 2011


Review by John Palen

Here are three fiction writers to watch out for. They all set up confrontations of one sort or another on which their stories turn, and they’re all in the latest issue of The MacGuffin.

In “The Last Soucouyant,” Hunter Liguore places us in the sorcery-haunted Caribbean to witness a tragic meeting between an old woman, suspected of witchcraft in the death of a boy, and the boy’s sister, who is in denial about her own role in the death. On a mission to put her brother’s spirit to rest by killing the “witch,” the girl sets fire to the old woman’s shack and eventually lets her fall to her death in a ravine. Yet the story ends in transcendent peace and forgiveness that is as believable in its context as it is narratively satisfying.

In “Swing,” Christopher Green, a University of Toledo lit master’s graduate, tells of another kind of confrontation—this one between “Pixie Stick,” the adolescent starting pitcher for a boys intramural baseball team, and Anni Walsh, who is from Milwaukee but is “an Irish girl with the Irish works: milky calves, buoyant red curls, sixty-watt eyes the color of ryegrass in summer.” Anni has landed a spot on the opposing team, and this hilarious story follows the two through the big game, moving from “boy hates girl” to “boy finds out what sex/lust/love is all about and will never be the same.” But if you think you know how this transformation is accomplished, watch out for the wet grass between home and first.

The confrontation in Sarah Kuntz Jones’s “The Line Between Men” is between Carrie, whose boyfriend has dumped her for an old flame, and the late John Wayne, whom she wakes to find inexplicably sitting on her sofa. She screams, and Jones is pitch-perfect in making Duke immediately believable. “His face puckered, and when her breath ran out, he said, ‘What’d you do that for?’”

Turns out the Camel-smoking Duke is just as mystified as Carrie. He woke up, walked out of his bedroom into her living room, and when he went back through the door he was on her front porch. “I don’t know what the hell is going on,” he says. The boyfriend comes back, finds Duke in the apartment, leaves, comes back again, all the time running his number on Carrie. By the end of the story Duke has helped Carrie find the grit to draw the line with the boyfriend. Then Duke disappears, leaving Carrie alone but now more able to handle it.

Other notable stories in this issue include “The Balding Are the Lonely, Lest Worn-Out Hats Prevail” by Serge Segal; “Medicine Iron’s Woman” by Frank Owen du Bois; “The Window” by Michael Humfrey; “Banjo Justice” by Terry Sanville; and “Old Men Waiting” by Cavenaugh Kelly. There is also a fine poem, “Eden,” by Derek N. Otsuji, who teaches at Honolulu Community College and works weekends at the family’s farmers market.

Rounding out this eclectic and engaging 160 pages are work from 10 other poets and nine other fiction writers, plus four black-and-white photographs and Bert Harris’s straightforward memoir about a Nazi aunt who was Hitler’s librarian. Handsomely published, The MacGuffin has come out three times a year for the past 27 years at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Michigan. Steven A. Dolgin is the editor. The masthead lists Elizabeth Kircos as fiction editor, this issue’s strength.


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Issue 10

Fall/Winter 2010-11


Review by Jennifer Vande Zande

The Fall/Winter 2010-11 issue of MAKE is dedicated to the spirit of play. And the work presented within is most definitely playful – both in its layout and its content. But don’t assume that because its framework is built around play that it must also be somehow unsophisticated or impetuous. As the editors point out at the start, “the seemingly lighthearted subthemes are all tempered by profound solemnity.” MAKE explores the youthful pastime of play, but in the end offers up very grown-up compilation of literary work.

It’s an enduring theme. The young adult, dissatisfied with life in a small town, decides to leave it and everyone they have ever known behind. Usually unequipped to navigate the capricious world beyond, they find themselves facing a series of critical turning points along the way.

Mabel Yu’s short story, “Our Atrocious Miracle” explores this theme. Readers are introduced to a free spirit named Tess who’s “wedged firmly in the corn belt, the rust belt, the old notched leather belt of America.” It’s through her sister, an acute observer left behind in the wind-swept Kansas town, that we learn of the bond the two share. The foundation of that bond developed early through play. An exhausted single parent, who seems to have decided, early on, that her children simply aren’t her problem anymore, is undoubtedly the reason behind the strength of that bond:

When we were young, we died at least twice a week. Death was a gold mine—our imagination never tired of generating tragedies. […] If we made death beautiful or fun, it wouldn’t be so scary. Tess buried me when I was eight. We dug a thin ditch, just a few inches in the ground with plastic shovels, and she poured potting soil over my body and covered that with the huge severed heads of sunflowers. After singing a solemn rendition of “Blue Blue Blue Like the Ocean,” she watered the plants and my body. Mom screamed when I walked back in the house, her dirt-clump daughter.

Yu’s story, full of intriguingly flawed characters, offers a fresh spin on a familiar tale.

Paul Graham delivers an entertaining piece about the life of one ordinary man in his short story “Crazy Season.” Rick Potts is the guy who never gets the job or the girl. Down on his luck again, he’s reached a point in life when the sense of many miles he’s put behind him tempts him to look back, but what he ends up seeing is only the short distance that he has come. Potts stumbles into a situation which forces him to a tipping point. Somewhere along the way he’s grown old but not up:

In the quiet, he looked around the shadows in Donnie’s room. There was his son’s back pack and schoolbooks, the Pioneers’ schedule taped to the closet door, the dresser spilling the sweatshirt sleeves and pant cuffs. The signs of a small, insignificant life. But all of this had to be watched, guarded. All the time. Why he’d been allowed to get this far without understanding such things, Rick couldn’t say.

In the nonfiction piece “Lunch Time,” author dd charts an adventure of the “core eight,” a band of brothers, 12- and 13-year-old friends living in 1968 and looking for trouble. And, as boys usually do, they find it: “They had a bottle, the boys. Maybe a big brother or, no! Jim took it from his parents’ / shelf. So we were all gonna go to Mark’s and take a drink and smoke cigs for lunch. We / had forty-five minutes, more than enough time. Giggles and friendly punches on the / way.” A series of impulsive actions explode into raw pandemonium that eventually dissolves into the satisfaction of a job well done: “We all learned a valuable lesson; if you’re gonna play like that, do it outside. So we did. / We roamed the streets and parks by our houses all that year, souls exposed. Thanks guys.” dd successfully captures the energy and ecstasy of youth and reminds this reader of a time when boys were unleashed and encouraged to roam the neighborhood in packs.

Also included in the issue is an excellent conversation between Gina Frangello and young adult novelist David Yoo (author of the acclaimed Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before), thoughts on play from Joseph Drogos (a must-read), as well as a collection from past contributors reflecting on the number five—this being the magazine’s five-year anniversary.

Throughout this issue of MAKE are colorful images from artists such as Liz Nielsen, John Dilg and Lily van der Stokker. It is the photograph on the cover from Sandra Louise Dyas, though, that so aptly captures the essence of this issue, and it is what keeps MAKE on my coffee table for friends to notice. Because I know that once they pick it up, they’ll delight in the play that lies inside.


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Mid-American Review coverMid-American Review

Volume 31 Number 1

Fall 2010


Review by Robyn Campbell

Arguably, there is a line between humanity and the supernatural. There is the world as we know it and there is that which is otherworldly. The latter may be interpreted as: God (in all his/her/its forms); Death; the Spirit; Magic. Regardless of what we choose to call it, our fascination with it is and always will be present. In the latest issue of the Mid-American Review, we see the line crossed and re-crossed. We see it buried in dust, painted over with vibrant colors, twisted, stretched, formed into something more like a circle, or a knot. Almost every piece acknowledges, to some degree or another, forces beyond character control.

Gabe Durham’s “Another Village,” appearing early in the publication, beautifully illustrates the intersection of two powerful worlds. It’s a (sort of) re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood’s story in that it features the same main characters, but it focuses on the abstract mysticism hidden in the original. The girl—her name unimportant, “something with an ‘H,’”—is tricked and led away from her village of humans with questionable morals to one of wolves, who also unfortunately have questionable morals. Both groups are intensely ritualistic (sending eight-year-olds into the woods to “learn a little something,” dancing around fires, etc.), further amplifying the closeness of the body and spirit. The narrator, after explaining that the “personal quest” business petered out, offers a bit of wisdom regarding the human tendency to be drawn to, well, the other:

In the early days, when there was still negotiation to do, our ancestors dealt with the devil directly and, with his cooperation, drew up the necessary boundaries. We promised to visit his forest and he promised not to visit our village. This was how peace was made. But did our ancestors know of our delight, of how much we would look forward to those forest visitations? Did the devil?

Durham’s isn’t the only piece to make mention of Judeo-Christian religious ideas. Biblical references are scattered throughout the issue. We see them in Traci Brimhall’s poems, especially “Pilgrimage,” where the speaker muses,

We are faithful pilgrims
seeking your unfaithful hand, trying
to journey farther than our doubt,
to return to you the way all light
wants to return to fire rather than
travel from it.

Yael Schonfeld mentions Solomon’s famous baby-sharing suggestion in “Eggs into Olives.” Eliot Khalil Wilson’s “At Rainer Hunting Camp” depicts some friends rather gruesomely taking down angels. And Amy Newman discusses Saint Philomena in her untitled letter to the editor. The letter, regarding Newman’s work, actually serves as the work itself and uses the patron saint of lost causes to explore the acts of believing and forgetting: “Belief requires my sending my postage stamp crest and white vanes, agitations of my heart’s velocity, forcefully into the unseen, and there it all levitates, and nothing coming back.” It is a beautiful and charming plea for publication. (That particular piece, along with Wilson’s, Schonfeld’s, and several others, received Editors’ Choice status in the 2010 Fineline Competition. They’re all quite enjoyable.)

Cynthia Marie Hoffman’s feature “Now Whatever You Imagine Shall Be Conceived” offers a number of poems from her manuscript, Paper Doll Fetus. Hoffman internalizes magic with each of these poems, focusing on the “unknowableness” of pregnancy that fascinates her, the way that “a human body materializes another human being.” It leads to mesmerizing poetry, notably “One Child” and “The Stone in the Field Falls for the Goat’s Placenta.”

Also featured are translations of Spanish works by Olvido García Valdés and Robert Fernández Retamar, two works by the winners of the AWP Intro Journals Awards (“Why Burning Man Won’t Fix Your Shattered Self-Esteem” by Nicole Sheets is wonderful), and a “What We’re Reading” section at the end of the issue filled with reviews of contemporary works. On the cover is Nikkita Cohoon’s “The Smallest Things I Could Say,” an intriguing abstract mix of reds and yellows. But let’s be clear—nothing about this issue of Mid-American Review is small. These works expand beyond their pages.


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Monkey Business coverMONKEY BUSINESS

Inaugural English Edition

Volume 1



Review by Patrick James Dunagan

Something every day—gettin up, goin to school
No need for me to complain—my objections overruled, ahh!
Too much monkey business, too much monkey business
Too much monkey business for me to be involved in!
Chuck Berry

This initial issue of the new annual English edition of the Japanese serial Monkey Business is welcome evidence of a fertile ongoing Japanese-American literary exchange via Brooklyn. Editor-translator Ted Goossen and his counter-part in Japan, Motoyuki Shibata "decided to create an annual English version" of the recent and (it appears) popular Japanese publication, so they "selected the most suitable pieces from the first year or so, and set about translating them with not a little help from [their] friends." The editorial aim, as set forth by Shibata, is to confront "the aggravations we face every day" with the "liberating humor" a "work of art" such as the Chuck Berry tune above affords. The contents of Monkey Business delightfully showcase the strength of recent literary work coming out of Japan.

The range of the truly exemplary work is thoroughly diverse, including the traditional-leaning in form, yet forward looking poem "Monkey Haiku" by Minoru Ozawa: “Bear flesh / Monkey meat / In the same pouch.”

In addition there is an extensive, far-ranging interview with the internationally well-known novelist Haruki Murakami, a variety of short stories, prose sketches, and even a manga (Japanese literary comic/graphic novel) version of Kafka's "A Country Doctor" by the Brother and Sister Nishioka. The issue as a whole is very much alive and of the moment.

The majority of poems reference the "monkey" spirit of the journal, as can be seen by the haiku above as well as these bawdy lines from Masayo Koike's "When Monkeys Sing":

Monkeys run deep, they are to our existence
As miso paste in soup
Suffusing the world with their presence.
I once gave birth to a monkey
In Shibuya's Red Cross Hospital, on a stainless-steel gurney
I tried to hide it in my shorts,
But my crack is so red and rough.

Of course, Monkey as a trickster character plays a substantial role in the mythological imagination of the Far East, born in part from Wu Cheng'en's sixteenth century Chinese novel Journey to the West on which Atsushi Nakajima's delightfully included tale "Sandy's Lament—from the Memoirs of the Sramana Wujing" is based.

An easy-going congeniality is evident throughout the issue, from Ted Goossen's referral in his short prefatory note to his co-editor as "Moto," to the interview with Haruki Murakami by Hideo Furukawa presented as a conversation between "Hideo" and "Haruki." Such informality is especially surprising in a journal where contributor notes indicate award-winners with prolific and wide publication and makes for a welcome departure from the often more straight-laced public face East-West relationships often present.

Monkey Business is a smorgasbord of differing literary styles and taste, guaranteeing that wherever the discerning reader dips in she'll be struck by a quirky writer she's not previously familiar with. Both familiar and foreign recasting of American motifs abound. For example, "Monsters," by Hideo Furuwaka, might at first seem to have the feel of high-brow Stephen King, but in the end turns out to be far more disturbing in the manner by which it achieves its vanishing implications of horror—if that is the appropriate term for such mundane circumstances in which its suspense is detailed. Or the close American Gothic parallels of Yōko Ogawa's "The Tale of the House of Psychics" with its babbling spinster would-be novelist who lives in the squalor of an abandoned neighborhood building complete with the gloomy overgrown front garden and pack of prying neighborhood kids at play, one of whom grows up to become the working editor who narrates the tale.

Nonetheless a strong spirit intrinsic to the Japanese experience does prevail. The vignettes in "People from my Neighborhood" by Hiromi Kawakami give a concise coming of age snapshot of the burgeoning caldron of East-meets-West Japanese industrialization during the latter end of the last century. A good deal of the work responds and enlarges in kind upon Hideo Furukawa's belief that "the sense of loss, of reality having been somehow diminished, arrived in Japan first." As Haruki Murakami defines it (referencing the events in NYC on Sept. 11, 2001), "when I talk to Americans today I feel they're experiencing a certain sense of loss, a fear that the ground beneath their feet is no longer solid, that the world they live in is not the real world at all. That reality itself may have been lost." As Identity is increasingly realized in an ever growing global context, Monkey Business serves as an integral take on how further possibilities of understanding in the world might be realized.


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The Open Face Sandwich coverThe Open Face Sandwich

Number 2



Review by Jeff Vande Zande

The Open Face Sandwich shares a great deal in common with its edible namesake. It’s strange, isn’t it, to sit down with a menu and see that you can order a sandwich without a top piece of bread. Giving it any thought, you have to ask why. Why the unorthodoxy? On a pragmatic level, why give up the bread? What’s the gain? Maybe the experience is the gain. Maybe it’s enough to say you tried it. Maybe only having half the bread, rather than leaving you hungry, leaves you satiated in a way you didn’t expect. Consuming the breadless bread, or something Zen like that.

For me at least, The Open Face Sandwich is unorthodox as a literary magazine. Or would it be avant garde? Cutting edge? Maybe anymore it is orthodox. I don’t know. What I do know is the only thing I can bring to a review is my reading sensibilities. Admittedly, my tastes lean toward the more traditional style of fiction. Still, I’m not afraid of trying something new off the menu. The Open Face Sandwich is something new—new fiction, at least for me.

One of my favorite bites was “The Marsupial” by Adrian West. What a strange little story, but strange like a foreign film. Tasty—touching some taste bud that hasn’t been put to work in a while. The story is about a son and mother relationship, a very bizarre relationship. Following the death of the father in a motorcycle accident, the son feeds, bathes, and even escorts to the toilet his enormously obese mother. At times he is even sexually attracted to her. I know, I know—but that turns out to be the least of the reader’s discomfort.

In a very Kafkaesque way, the main character undergoes a metamorphosis, which starts with a tooth growing in his hand in “the membrane that stretches from the palm to the thumb…” The tooth becomes a mouth, and more. A doctor later explains: “‘Somehow you’ve acquired a parasite or perhaps some genetic anomaly is only now unraveling itself, and you appear to be undergoing some sort of transformation whereby you—what you’ve formerly been—are disappearing, as fuel, you know, for some other entity that’s taken up residence inside you.’”

I appreciate that even though the story is quite surreal, West still takes the time to develop some character history, which pulls the reader all the more into this fabulist world. This one, more so than some of the less character-driven stories, really stayed with me.

Another flavorful nibble among the morsels was Agnes Gerner’s “Babies.” In this piece, a woman laments her husband’s desire for them to have a baby. Her not wanting the baby is so palpable throughout the piece as she contemplates the idea of it. She seems petrified, to the point that she also doesn’t protest everything having a baby will mean: “But babies, to decide to have them, to think of yourself that you’re capable of raising a human being. Remembering to feed it, remembering to love it, remembering that it hasn’t asked to be born, that you made this decision, that the baby is never to be blamed.”

The ending is so perfect for this piece, and to read it you’ll need to pick up this issue of The Open Face Sandwich. You’ll need to do the counterintuitive thing and order that perplexing-sounding sandwich.

When you’re finished with it, you’ll know you’ve tried something new. It won’t be like any other lunch you’ve had. You’ll have taken a chance, and it will be memorable. You’ll taste it in between your teeth throughout the day. Maybe you can even be a little smug toward your co-workers who insist on ordering close face sandwiches exclusively. Where’s their sense of adventure?

The Open Face Sandwich—it’s a literary lunch everyone should try at least once.


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Salmagundi coverSalmagundi

Numbers 170-171

Spring/Summer 2011


Review by Vanessa Willoughby

Founded in 1965, Salmagundi magazine takes pride in its spectrum of essays, reviews, interviews, fiction, poetry, regular columns, polemics, debates and symposia. In the past, the magazine has featured the likes of acclaimed literary figures such as J.M. Coetzee, Christopher Hitchens, Susan Sontag, and Joyce Carol Oates. Additionally, the magazine boasts that it showcases neither a liberal nor conservative predilection, proclaiming that, “in short, Salmagundi is not a tame or genteel quarterly. It invites argument, and it makes a place for literature that is demanding.”

Salmagundi’s commitment to intellectual excellence is evident from the very first literary selection, an essay penned by guest columnist Steve Fraser, entitled “The Age of Acquiescence.” Fraser makes the well-rehearsed argument that the recent financial meltdown, the ever-expanding gaps between the grossly wealthy ruling class and the struggling middle and lower-income classes are the unfortunate symptoms of America’s “Second Gilded Age.” Some of the usual suspects are cited, namely the shifts in the division of wealth and the societal attitude concerning the use of such wealth. Ronald Regan’s presidency seemed to sanction ostentatious displays of wealth, once a social stigma coupled with disapproval and a modesty that bordered on embarrassment. Such a change in the social and financial climate paved the way for what Fraser calls “the Age of Acquiescence,” where “the stage seems bare indeed. No great fears, no great expectations, no looming social apocalypse, no utopias or dystopias—just a kind of flat-line sense of the end of history.”

And yet, for Fraser to say that the great social revolutions of the 60’s are yet just a passing memory, a sense of social consciousness only seen in the pages of glossy history books, rings somewhat false and frighteningly cynical. Although hordes of people are not rioting in the streets for their chosen social and political issue, the activism machine has transformed, yielded to the modernity of technology. Young people are turning to their computers, to the Internet. The movers and shakers are attempting to utilize technology for a faster and more wide-spread influence, as evident by the government WikiLeaks drama, even the creation of Facebook. This is not to say that Fraser’s point is completely moot—the downside of such hyper-speed technology increases the itch for instant gratification, the need to seek fame or attention or validation by the minions of cyberspace. As for the lack of a social apocalypse, perhaps Family Radio would like to argue that Judgment Day is lurking right around the corner.

True to the goal of Salmagundi, the magazine would not be complete without critical essays contemplating the arts, namely the act of memoir writing. In her column, “The Real Story,” Siri Hustvedt discusses the nature of memoir writing and the author’s dedication to preserving the truth. Yet this can be a slippery slope for some writers, as memories fade and alter due to the passage of time. She says, “The art of autobiography, as much as the art of fiction, calls on the writer to shape himself as a character in a story, and that shaping requires a form mediated by language.” In other words, memory is not a reel of perfectly in-tact film sitting in some dusty archives. Rather, it is a series of connections, thoughts, triggered by association. Yet the authenticity of a memory, at least for a memoir writer, should also be based upon the writer’s dedication to the emotional truth.

All in all, if you’re looking for a literary magazine or journal that offers a plethora of mediums, in addition to schools of thought, look no further than Salmagundi. From social criticisms to poetry, and reviews to even letters to the editor, the magazine mirrors the taste of a person eager to sample a colorful and sometimes non-linear array of foods, leery to develop favorites. Other notable contributors include Benjamin Barber, Adam Day, Ruth Franklin, Jed Perl, and Brenda Wineapple.


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Tin House coverTin House

Volume 12 Number 4

Summer 2011


Review by Jeff Vande Zande

The recently published “Summer Reading” issue of Tin House is… well, it is…

Why is it hard to finish that sentence? It reveals a problem with language—especially language that is trying to describe superior writing. The best words are all suspect, having been used far too many times on the back covers of books. Too often, the books are only mediocre, and so words like “fantastic” or “spectacular” or “stunning” become so much hyperbole. We distrust such words, doubting that a piece of written work can actually live up to them.

Please, though, make no doubt about it, when I say that this issue of Tin House is brilliant, I mean it in every sense of illumination and intelligence that the word “brilliant” evokes.

The short stories and poems reflect a conscientious editorial team at work. Karen Shepard’s story “Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When” offers its reader a woman who lives in the apartment beneath that of her lover and his wife. The two women begin an odd and provocative friendship after the man that they shared dies during 9/11. Patrick Ryan’s slipstream story “Which Way to the Osterling Cloud?” takes place in 2056, and tells the tale of a man who has waited nearly his entire life for aliens to come and take him away. The story is told from the point of view of the alien probe inside him.

With the poetry, I admire that the editors knew what they were looking for, even if I wasn’t the reader they had in mind. I could see an informed aesthetic behind their choices. Like with a Rothko or Pollock painting, sometimes it’s enough for poems to simply be, and not mean.

What really makes this issue of Tin House a template for what all literary magazines could be are the extras. Rob Spillman, Tin House’s editor, orchestrates an excellent interview with Ann Patchett. I loved Patchett’s honesty, as seen in this excerpt:

I think that supporting myself—because, really, I made my living doing magazine work for so many years—as a freelancer just made me tough, and that’s great. When I teach fiction, or I talk to people who are all sensitive, and they write a paragraph a day, and it has to be perfect, I’m like, "Oh, man. Just shut up and get to work.”

The issue also included an interview with novelist Jean-Phillippe Toussaint, conducted by Michael Silverblatt. Toussaint spoke admiringly about Samuel Beckett’s work. He spoke too about how something like the cell phone can allow his characters to be in two places at once: “…she’s forgotten to turn off the cell phone. So there he is in a bathroom making secret love to a Japanese woman, hearing his ex-girlfriend in Paris walking through the Louvre in the terrible awareness of her father’s death.” Everything about the interview leaves one wanting to read some of Toussaint’s work, and what a gift it is that Tin House’s editors followed the interview with a satisfying excerpt from Toussaint’s latest novel, The Truth About Marie.

Also included is a fascinating excerpt from Maggie Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning. The woman, this writer… I mean, what a stylist. What a thinker: “I don’t know who, exactly, feels as though they’re hearing truth spoken to power by watching a shellacked cable news anchor read aloud from incoming tweets, but no matter—it is characteristic of today’s supposed hunger for truth that it coexists with a general repudiation of, or disinterest in, fact.”

Everything about this issue of Tin House is a pleasure, and there’s so much more to it that I didn’t get the chance to mention. The editors clearly made their selections with the reader in mind, and, so, what a perfect bit of summer reading, indeed. Trust me when I say, without the faintest hint of hyperbole, that this issue of Tin House is fantastic, spectacular, and stunning.

I did, in all honesty, subscribe to Tin House as soon as I finished writing this review. If you love good and varied reading, I would suggest you do the same.


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Tulane Review coverTulane Review

Spring 2011


Review by Charles Davenport

Published twice a year, the Tulane Review is a student-run literary and art journal published by the Tulane Literary Society, which claims on its website to be the “hub of all literary activity” on the Tulane University campus in New Orleans. Nestled in the uptown section of the Crescent City, near where the Mississippi River snakes so tightly it nearly doubles back on itself, Tulane University is itself a hub of literary activity. The works of the forty-seven writers and artists published in this edition are like the intermingling effluents of the hundreds of rivers and tributaries that stream together in the Mississippi River.

In the first piece, “The Soldier,” Brady Rhoades makes the case that war is the killer of dreams. He presents to the reader a young soldier on Seal Beach whose thoughts wander to his divorce and the tumbling stocks on Wall Street, while “The caterwauls of two wars echo in his ears.” The soldier imagines himself planting a “nut tree some time, some place” and resting beneath it “with a woman from Venezuela.” But the ruminations of the duty-bound young man give way: “For now, let thoughts come and go like the breeze. In the vortex of / the fray, let peace, let anti-war, burrow like a clam.”

Jennifer Blair, in her poem “(for J. Who drove North. Many times.),” pulls readers into the familiarity of small towns where everything, no matter how personal and private, is for sale.

In wake of the shadow, small towns
prostitute themselves—unwillingly
laying out their small privacies (arrow head
soup ladle and cameo broach)
under the painful scrutiny of glass.

For Blair, the landscape of the small towns is one that has been made desolate by “…the perpetual / motion of the claws” that tear away the sides of hills. In the end, small towns such as these are left with an odd sort of mysticism in the form of a pancake on the griddle begins to take the “first shape of a name.”

The editors of Tulane Review deserve credit for including two poems, “Death Notice” and “Letter to My Victim,” by Ace Boggess, an inmate in the West Virginia correctional system at the time of publication. His poetry has been widely published, and he has written at least two books. At first glance, his poem, “Letter to My Victim,” is an apology:

I’m deeply sorry
in you I saw nothing
human, just a door
through which
Hell is exited…

We can only guess at the exact nature of Boggess’s crime, but images such as a dead black snake and a bloody knife give us the clues we need to conclude that it was not petty. A deeper reading of the poem reveals an entirely different and perhaps more honest plea: Boggess wants the reader to understand he regrets his actions, which is more than can be said of his fellow inmates “who’ve never looked up / the Webster’s definition of regret.” His other poem, “Death Notice,” portrays a “copper” finding some measure of comfort in knowing that the obituaries in newspapers include only the “hometowns, survivors, litanies / of acts meaningless from the / context of history,” and say nothing about the misdeeds of the deceased.

With America as the setting in nearly every other piece in this edition of Tulane Review, Jeff Schiff’s poem, “They Beat Rugs Here,” stands out in its depiction of the mundane daily life of Valparaiso, Chile. Schiff creates a still life with an expert eye for the details that matter: domino players grease their hair back with “pomade” and their necks are drenched in sweat; the air is thick with the smell of diesel fuel; chickens, shrikes and pigeons “war for grubs”; and “laundry is sovereign” in the “dusty rouge” of the Valparaiso. However, lest the reader conclude that all is well in paradise, buried amongst the minute concrete details are two abstract references to an emotional current running just beneath the surface: “and lunch is envy / stewed with marrowed bones,“ he writes, “and love is distracted.”

This issue of Tulane Review is a satisfying read. Opening to any page is to be rewarded with a piece that stands on its own; taken as a whole, the reader will be carried away by a swirling current of images and voices. In New Orleans, where the Mississippi River reaches its final destinations, it’s as though the editors of Tulane Review have dipped their nets into the eddies and have collected the multi-colored narratives that drift downriver like leaves from the trees of other places.


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Welter coverWelter



Review by C.J. Opperthauser

Sitting down with a hot mug of coffee and looking at the landscape-style, bright green literary magazine sitting flat on the table in front of me, my first thought was, I hope I don't stain this. My second thought on the cover, after having read through the pages between the two covers, was that the content was just as strange and delightful. Well, most of it. Some of it was more strange than delightful, and some more delightful than strange. Still, I'm glad I didn't stain it.

The 2010 issue of Welter boasts a great deal of diversity. Most of the poems and stories (which are super-short; great for people like me with short attention spans) are witty and smart, right to the point. And most of these, possibly all of them, are full of beautiful language. Here's the very beginning one of my favorites—a poem called “Kitty & Tony” by Danielle Sinclitico:

he forgot her name
& the world dropped like a stone, solid
into her pocket, mixing with lint
and hard candies

Here's another poem, a list poem, that works very well—“A Course in Miracles” by Marion Winik:

Your scale is six pounds heavy.
Your cell phone has been found.
Your agent is trying to reach you.
There is good news from the Middle East.
There is an amazing thing that happens after menopause.
What do you mean, out-of-network?
A love letter is in your mailbox.

This one is different in that the list really moves all over the place. There are lines about the Middle East, about a person's dead parents, and about their scale not working. But these weird swerves and sharp turns in subject work here, I think, in netting up all these random events as miracles. Losing six pounds due to a technical error, as many people will tell you, certainly deserves miracle status.

Aside from the many witty pieces in this issue, there are a weighty handful of truly moving ones. Pieces that hit that emotion bone in our bodies in just the right way. My favorite of these is a poem by Tania Hopwood titled “60 and Alzheimer's”:

Like many days before
I am simply nameless.
She'd say,
“Come Ma–
Su–, El–
Today is a happy day.
Today I shall be Emily.

There are a few stories with the same soul-type as this poem. One of these, a story by Sue van den Brink-Loweree titled “Magic Happens,” is an excellent example. Here, a couple is in desperate need of an apartment in the (trust me) dirty New Orleans, but can't seem to catch any breaks. Then:

Through the break in the bamboo wall, a broad, crowned brick walk rutted by carriage wheels led up to the front door. Apparently what had once been stables at ground level had been converted to living quarters. To the right of the entrance, a massive trunk of an over-arching magnolia tree laced with ivy was almost hiding a dusty faded “For Rent” sign.

The poems as well as the stories in this magazine all show these same strengths. They flow nicely as a straight-through read, yet are still great to simply flop open to a random page and dive in. The weakest point of this issue, though I love the possibilities in it, are the comics. They are, at least in this year's issue, a bit crude in both humor and overall quality, but even so, they divide up the literature rather nicely. If you venture out to pick up this year's Welter, don't forget to enjoy the cover.

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Alternative Magazine Reviews

Posted July 15, 2011

Z Magazine

[Back to Magazine Review Index]


Z Magazine coverZ Magazine

June 2011

11 times/year

Review by Mark Danowsky

Sometimes it’s nice to get another perspective, other times it’s downright satisfying to have someone else agree with you. Ninety-five percent of the time mainstream media tells the story that needs to be heard, and when it comes to news stories, many of us hear what we want to hear anyhow. That is, we take away from a story what we want to take away from it. But if you're in the market for well-researched, articulate articles by writer-activists with true convictions (who are not afraid to speak their minds) then seek out Z Magazine.

Readers Beware: Articles in Z Magazine contain the occasional slam on mainstream media as well as talk of the Democratic Party’s failings. For example, in discussion of polling data meant to gauge the U.S. population's stance on The Big Issues, including jobs, the deficit, health care and entitlement benefits, Edward S. Herman writes in "Reflections on the U.S. Counterrevolution" that "mainstream media, as part of the elite, play down or misrepresent these poll results."

Paul Street's "The Meaning of Madison" offers many perspectives including Street's own firsthand account of a protest where pro-labor activists rallied against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attack on public sector union collective bargaining rights. Being there, Street is able to tell us that "on Saturday, February 19, a day when Tea Party activists vowed to hold a rally in support of Walker […] The Tea Party Contingent was outnumbered at least 60 to 1—unreported in Chicago's evening news broadcasts, which portrayed the day as pitting 2 roughly equivalent protests against one another."

The June 2011 issue opens with a memorial to the late Hazel Dickens. Recalling the life of this musician in particular highlights the type of voices Z Magazine seeks to feature. Dickens grew up in Appalachia and wrote songs to express the plight of the downtrodden, the working poor, the existence of life in coal mining towns, and aimed to promote feminist ideals. Also in this issue, Shahin Cole and Juan Cole discuss the recent uprisings in an article entitled "The Missing Story from the Middle East." Here, the authors discuss how the role of women in these uprisings has been understated. Moreover, that these courageous women faced adversity even from other protestors: "attacked by militant religious young men who shouted that they should go home and do the laundry." The article's authors also point to the lack of women in positions to represent their government: "In preparation for September elections in Egypt...only one woman (a Mubarak holdover at that) was appointed to the 29-person interim cabinet."

One of the most entertaining reads in this issue is Don Monkerud's commentary, "Buy Cable TV, Get a Free Gun: Welcome to the New America." In his article, which comes under the banner "Bizarre Politics," we learn that the article’s title refers to a deal offered by a Montana RadioShack, "a gun with every purchase of Dish Network." Monkerud goes on to aggregate poignant snippets of nefarious GOP dealings. He delivers this information with a light tone while exposing a rather dark portrait of American political climate in recent times.

Z Magazine publishes 11 issues a year, each forty-eight pages in length. The magazine addresses current national and world issues through what is, generally speaking, a progressive lens. Inside the front flap of each issue is a mission statement explaining that, "Z Magazine is an independent magazine of critical thinking on political, culture, social, and economic life in the U.S. It sees the racial, gender, class, and political dimensions of personal life as fundamental to understanding and improving contemporary circumstances; and it aims to assist activist efforts for a better future." While Z Magazine posits itself as a radical voice, the magazine content will be of interest to many readers who even somewhat lean to the left. The articles are written for a general readership that has at least some familiarity with current social and political issues. The layout of the magazine is inviting with a hefty dose of political cartoons that are far more biting than the "funnies" in mainstream publications.

Z Magazine, founded in 1987, is a division of South End Press, a publishing house that according to the Z Communications website was "founded to raise consciousness about class, gender, race, and power and to provided information, analysis, and vision to help activism." The website calls Z magazine a "radical print and online periodical" [emphasis added] and that the name "was inspired by the movie Z, directed by Costa-Gavras, that tells the story of repression and resistance in Greece."

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