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Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted September 15, 2011

Brick :: Chinese Literature Today :: The Fiddlehead :: Fifth Wednesday Journal :: Hiram Poetry Review :: Indiana Review :: Jelly Bucket :: The Long Story :: Lowestoft Chronicle :: The New Guard :: The Newtowner :: Plain Spoke :: River Styx :: Sinister Wisdom :: Three Coyotes :: Versal :: Weave :: Willow Springs :: The Worcester Review

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Brick coverBrick

Issue 87

Summer 2011


Review by Robyn Campbell

Brick is one of those journals that makes you feel a little inadequate, but in a good way. You realize, after reading, the vast amount of interesting and impressive writers who have somehow stayed hidden from you. It’s not only a matter of discovering new, contemporary voices you hadn’t yet had the pleasure of hearing (though that’s certainly part of it), but one of being exposed to established authors as well, those who have been around for years and—apparently—already have a good deal of clout to their names (even though you have no idea who they are). This latest issue of the Canadian-born magazine does a wonderful job of making you want to learn more about these men and women, to run to the library and check out every one of their books.

Take for example two Polish poets, Aleksander Wat and Zbigniew Herbert, discussed in Alissa Valles’s “A Wound Like a Mouth.” Despite their being a generation apart and coming from different religious, political, and social backgrounds, Valles points out that “one of the main sources of metaphysical reflection for both poets was pain.” The real, bodily stuff, not just the abstract idea of it. They both “sought to de-allegorize pain, to talk pain back to the wound, to make the wound talk.” Following Valles’ essay is an excerpt from Wat’s “Diary Without Vowels,” translated by Valles herself, and Herbert’s “Animula.”

Also included are lengthy interviews with James Salter, Joseph Brodsky, Edmund de Waal (perhaps equally well-known for his ceramics and his memoir “The Hare with Amber Eyes”), and Ken Babstock, making it clear that Brick is a journal for those who love writing, and love reading about writing, and reading about writers, and reading about reading. I found Ken Babstock’s interview, led by Karen Solie, to be the most intriguing. Not only does Babstock have that sort of eloquent self-deprecating voice I find so charming, but Solie asks wonderful, conversational questions. Where some interview(er)s can fall short, simply checking off a pre-written list, Solie hits the mark and gets involved in an actual emotional and philosophical discussion. I found myself mentally nodding along to most of what Babstock had to say about the writing process, about his (or humankind’s) own embraceable inadequacies:

. . . the notion of just rolling your eyeballs back and looking inward and seeing the emotion plastered there in boldface, and then writing a representation of that emotion is, I think, completely false. We don’t know ourselves. Any thinking, contemplating, meditating—whatever you want to call it, the work that comes prior to the poem—is about trying to circumvent our own delusions, or at least allowing them into play.

The journal is not strictly made of behind-the-scenes works. Several pieces of fiction and poetry are also included, most notably “Newts” by Czeslaw Milosz, “Heat the Woods” by Annie Russell, and “The Saying,” an incredible poem by Sharon Olds that fits in well with the journal’s overall ardor for words, their weight and power. With the push of an old boyfriend’s simple “you like it?” the narrator was taken “into a more real world, where a noun / was an organ low in the belly—as if there was / Respiratory and Circulatory / and Vocabulary.” And that seems to be the lesson contained within Brick, if literary magazines can be said to contain lessons: words are important, as important as the people who write them and use them. Anyone who feels a similar type of devotion would be enthralled by this latest issue.

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Chinese Literature Today coverChinese Literature Today

Volume 1 Number 2

Winter/Spring 2011


Review by John Palen

This magazine's second issue shows the same strengths that reviewer Sima Rabinowitz found in its inaugural issue last year—windows into China’s national culture and experience, uniquely personal poems in excellent translations, and stunning graphics. An offspring of World Literature Today and a publication of the University of Oklahoma, Chinese Literature Today will be an important resource for followers of the Chinese literary scene, and is likely to make converts of others who seek to connect with this turbulent and vital society.

What's most impressive about CLT is its depth and roundedness. The question of whether a national literature should be judged in its own or global terms is particularly salient for China, given its rich literary past and history of isolation and Western oppression. We get not one or two, but five different and sharply argumentative takes on this discussion. Similarly, in a section on China's migrant worker poets, we not only have an essay on the movement, but a baker's dozen of lyrics by three poets, in fine translations. Here are the opening strophes of Zheng Xiaoqiong's (b. 1980) "Iron Nails," translated by Jonathan Stalling:

How much love, how much pain, how many nails
Pin me to the machine table, blueprint, order form
Early morning dew, midday's blood
Must have an iron nail to pin down overtime, industrial disease
And the nameless grief follows, the time of the working class
From the factory buildings unfolds an era of fortune and misery

This issue’s featured author is poet Shi Zhi, whose early lyrics were memorized by the "sent down youth" of the Cultural Revolution. He spent three decades in mental institutions before re-emerging as "an icon of historical survival and poetic witness." We have an essay on Shi Zhi, a timeline, part of a letter from the poet "To My American Readers," and nine poems from a forthcoming collection, also adeptly translated by Stalling.

Further fuel for the mind includes two articles on one of China's most prolific and innovative writers, Yan Lianke, an interview with To Live author Yu Hua about his new novel Brothers, and articles by and about Michelle Yeh, an important scholar of contemporary Chinese literature who teaches at the University of California, Davis. English translations of reviews of new writing in Chinese round out the 112-page issue of Chinese Literature Today, which has striking cover and inside art by independent Shanghai artist Yang Yongliang.

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The Fiddlehead coverThe Fiddlehead

Number 247

Spring 2011


Review by Hazel Foster

The spring issue of The Fiddlehead delivers stunning work, fiction and poetry thick with new approaches to classic forms. This issue also features the winners of The Fiddlehead’s 20th annual Literary Contest. The honorable mention in poetry caught my eye early in the issue, “At the Edge of Lake Simcoe” by Catherine Owen:

Shadflies skitter up from the grasses, those blades
that consume the sand, a fist of wings widening
above your head. Against the mulch, this meagre
neglect of beach, the dove’s fuchsia legs are such
glitz around its grieving that you feel relieved,
an instant, of the weight in all your cells.

If you happen to read Ms. Owen’s bio in the back of the issue, you’ll find that this piece is from a work in progress, Cineris, a manuscript about the death of her partner, to whom this poem is attributed. With this context in mind, “At the Edge of Lake Simcoe” becomes a grievous and gorgeous observation poem, ripe with small moments in nature: “a mourning dove lands with its low / triadic kel.” This poem is a great example of the caliber of poetry found in The Fiddlehead.

In fiction, “All the Body Can Tell” by Diana Swennes Smith stands out near the end of the issue. It’s a story of a girl, married too young to an older man, with a stepson closer to her age. It’s a story of isolation. It’s a story of small lives pulled out into greater importance. It’s one of the best stories I’ve read this year. The sexual tension between the young wife and her stepson carries the conflict:

He grilled the splayed fish on willow sticks over hot coals, and she took the charred body he offered, pulling the backbone and delicate ladder of ribs neatly away from the pink flesh and pulling the flesh in strips from its skin with her fingers. Kale sat across the fire from her, silent and eating. He looked at her, and she could smell the juices of the fish on her fingers and on him. She could smell the diesel on his coat. And under it, his skin. He threw the skeleton of his fish in the fire, random and careless, to lie atop the skeleton she had thrown, the bones of the two fish making a pattern of hatched crosses and canting squares.

Passages of description such as this one explore the mundane rural lives of the story’s three characters. The loneliness felt throughout the piece reminds me of Annie Proulx in the very best way. And the simple, classic tensions between the characters feel familiar but fresh. An achingly beautiful story in a steel-strong issue. The Fiddlhead continues its long tradition of excellence.

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Fifth Wednesday Journal coverFifth Wednesday Journal

Issue 8

Spring 2011


Review by Julie J. Nichols

Fifth Wednesday Journal is a most impressive magazine. Each beautifully-designed issue contains about 200 pages of poetry, prose, and black-and-white art and photography. Its editor, Vern Miller, has advanced degrees in both business and German Language and Literature, and FWJ, as it likes to be called, is the splendid result of these two passions. Guest editors in poetry and fiction oversee each issue. “Impressions,” the photo-and-art center section, is arresting and often brilliant. Interviews with a poet and a fiction writer, along with a number of book reviews, round out the journal.

This issue’s guest editors are the poet Michael Anania and the fiction writer Carolyn Alessio. The “Poetry Around Us” department features an interview on the creative process with poet Elise Paschen, and “Taking the Fifth” (FWJ’s “soon-to-be-iconic” interview series) an interview with Stephen Dixon. In addition, FWJ conducts an outreach program “to increase the use of literary magazines in classes devoted to teaching literature and creative writing” (see website).

FWJ  is a journal worth stopping for, and a glance at the contributors’ bios indicates why. Among the award-winning graduate students in art and creative writing stroll such luminaries as Charles Wright, Marvin Bell, and Dianne Wakoski, and among them all, none is less excellent than the next, clearly vindicating FWJ’s subtitle (or motto): “Defining literature. In real context.”

For example, the central scene in Charles Lamar Phillips’s “Postmortem Literature,” a farcical look at grad-school angst and politics, steps outside its heretofore-straightforward narrative voice to give us lists: “Some stuff Bobby Duncan [our protagonist] thought that night…Other things he noted… [and] a few observations he made too and questions he asked of himself,” as well as “A dozen things Claire Sibley said to Bobby Duncan that night.” These lists propel the story forward and upward, and when the narrative voice resumes its more linear trajectory, we are miles ahead, ready for the scathing—but utterly trustworthy—plunge into real life Bobby Duncan and Claire Sibley have to take.

And then, just after, we read what I assume are excerpts from Marvin Bell’s forthcoming book from Copper Canyon, Vertigo: The Living Dead Man Poems:

The dead man’s way of writing is a new wrinkle on old parchment.
Like you, he was looking for a word in the water, a rune, a code, a clue
of any kind when he wised up
His daytimes and nighttimes are preparations.
For him to know means less to him than to know he does not know.

Death is a mystery. Bell takes us to its very edge and makes us believe we can meet it.

Similarly, Maura Stanton’s “Black-Eyed Peas” behaves like one of those films where for a time you follow one character and then you shift to another apparently unrelated one—until suddenly their paths intersect and a story begins to take a shape. As you keep watching, complex interweaving of relations and disconnects come clear, but only as a function of interstices you have to fill in. This fine piece ends with Sally “[tweaking] up a space between two slats of the blinds […] that was her life out there, smothered by blackness, unless she could illuminate the shape.” Illuminating the shape is what Stanton has done. Read it and wonder!

The interviews are similarly outstanding. Stephen Dixon and FWJ play with the whole question of interviews, since Dixon was a “brash” interviewer before he became an experimenter in fictional structures. The reader can hear the laughter and the deep respect as the conversation moves from typewriters (Yes! Dixon uses a typewriter!) to writer’s block (“the only ‘writer’s block’ I knew was the one on Seventy-Fifth where I lived”) to living with a seriously ill spouse in the midst of producing books.

If I were an educator, I would strongly consider taking advantage of the outreach program FWJ is inaugurating. This journal is gorgeously produced, profoundly conscious of talent and depth, and clearly intentional in its brilliance. I’ve mentioned only a few of this issue’s many, many fine entries. To read them all, your day, your week, your season will be better for it.

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Hiram Poetry Review coverHiram Poetry Review

Issue 72

Spring 2011


Review by John Palen

Here are 18 poems by 18 poets, all written at a level of craft that makes them pleasurable to read. Only one is strictly “formal,” a grave and successful rhymed villanelle by John Blair entitled “I Am the Trees Before the Sun.” Two other poems share a similar commitment to make use of repeated lines. Nancy Dougherty’s loosely rhyming “Video or Car,” an ironic poem about two teens killed in a car wreck, picks up the second and fourth lines of each four-line strophe to become the first and third lines of the next. Stephanie Mendel adopts the same pattern of repetition in an unrhymed longer poem about a premature infant, “1965.” In this poem, the repeated lines give a sense of the speaker attempting to gain control of painful thoughts by revisiting them and placing them in new contexts.

Two poems paint portraits. In “Groundling,” Elaine Holoboff introduces us to cab drivers who come into their own after midnight. In “Bedroom,” Juned Subhan tells us about women oppressed by their marriages who go looking for their former names: “We thought we might find them like wings, / the names we no longer uttered, // names which were no more than the width of our hips.”

Several of the poems visit extreme situations of loss. In a prose poem, J.T. Ledbetter recounts the violent response of a man to the death of a woman who provided him stability by telling him what to wear. The drive and concreteness of “Flying Away” remind me of some of James Dickey’s poems.

War figures prominently in two other poems. In “War Story #63 Burning Ammo Dump,” Paul David Adkins cuts through the media muddle to the human in just 18 tight lines: “A man / with a hand on his head / turned to hush his hens / fluttering in the rising, falling / half light of the flames.” Perhaps my favorite in the entire issue is Phyllis St. George’s “They Feed They Death,” which ends:

From my stripes and all my stars,
From no Western sins forgiven, they feed,
From my SUV passing another SUV in the night,
They Death, from my embassies inherit,
From the Vietnam Memorial Wall, they Death,
From they bomb and they bloody remains
And all left burning on the oil-stained earth
They feed they Death and it comes.

Lighter but also well written work comes from Heather Hartley, Christine Butterworth-McDermott, Darren Demaree, Amorak Huey, Jon Palzer, Julie Wittes Schlack, Jeffrey Talmadge, Valerie Wieland, Mark Wisniewski, and Diana Woodcock. New books of poems by Woodcock, Millicent Borges Accardi, Laura McCullough, and Dr. Neal Hall are reviewed to round out this issue of the Hiram Poetry Review.

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Indiana Review coverIndiana Review

Volume 33 Number 1

Summer 2011


Review by Hazel Foster

The newest issue of the Indiana Review is heavy with pointed, skilled, beautifully subtle writing. The poems sit in the hand, the lines and images spilling through cupped fingers. The prose fills the room and exits without apology. Two outstanding pieces, “When My Father Was in Prison” by Hadley Moore and “Loblolly Pine in a Field of Hollyhocks” by Vievee Francis, demonstrate the withdrawn but commanding presence of the work in this issue.

Normally, nature writing slides away from my ears like warm butter on a knife—pleasant but insubstantial; however, one poem in particular from this issue surprised me, grabbed my reader’s eyes and ears and nose and gave me some nature writing to love, Vievee Francis’s prose poem “Loblolly Pine in a Field of Hollyhocks”:

There is a sweetness, oh yes, there is, like a thin pistil of honeysuckle
gone almost as soon as it’s sucked, like lips pursed just so, like a needled pine
with blossoms at its feet and far afield, and the slobbering bees bobbing
So sweet, to inhale the late afternoon and the slight damp, hint of dew,
or the rain

Francis’s piece serves as a love poem for a particular sweetness. The images are sensual, hungry: “the sweetness found in a stain of wine, or the cloy of blood soup, / thickening as it cools.”

In the short story “When My Father Was in Prison,” Hadley Moore anchors narrative with voice. Told from the first person perspective of a young boy whose father is in prison, Moore’s story reveals itself in brief narrative sections:

The girl across the street’s father waved to her every morning and beeped his car horn, and when the weather got nice the girl would come outside and wave back to him from the front porch. She’d wave until his car turned at the end of the street. I watched her while I ate my English muffin before school and practiced saying government functionary, but when I actually said it to her—I opened the door and yelled it this one time—I got mixed up and said, “Your dad is a government dictionary!” Then I slammed the door and opened it again and screamed “Dick! Suck! Your dad is a government dicksuck! Dicksucktionary!”

These moments of adolescence cradle the wider story and make the narrator real in his confusion and blossoming angst. On returning to this story, I am in awe of how full it feels from only seven pages. If you only get to one piece from this issue of the Indiana Review, this is the one to read.

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Jelly Bucket coverJelly Bucket

Number 2



Review by Vanessa Willoughby

The second issue of Jelly Bucket is diverse, eclectic, and thoughtful. With a variety of poetry, prose, and creative nonfiction, Jelly Bucket does not seem to have specific, exclusive criteria, with the exception that all accepted work should reveal a new truth or way of life.

Kathryn Kirkpatrick’s “Recalling Virginia Woolf” captures the sentiments of Woolf’s novels, namely Mrs. Dalloway, in the sense that the female narrator strongly identifies with feelings of miscommunication, disconnect, and emotional isolation. The narrator confesses:

After his thirteenth confident
on music, poetry, politics,
I’m Lily Briscoe once more
afraid when I look again
I won’t see what I see.

Later, the narrator fully exposes her fury and desperation for escape, to shake free of the shackles that bind her to this material world. She says: “Anger strokes me all morning. / I’m the moth with the ragged wing / batting the glass pane. / Outside in the open air / swallows light on the eaves / shaking their forked tails.” With such fine-tuned vocabulary and turns of phrase, Kirkpatrick’s poem feels like a modern take on Woolf’s voice, one feminine perspective connected through common sentiment, surpassing years of literary history.

On the other hand, Ryan Ridge’s “H” is short and simplistic, employing dialogue to shape his faceless characters. However, when Ridge relies on descriptive details, they balance out the conversational dialogue. The dingy accommodations of a room are further emphasized by telling details:

Now a jolt of fear shoots through me and I drop the knife. I step away from Stone and take an inventory of the room. It’s an orgy of whiskey bottles and mannequin heads. Nothing unusual. I light another cigarette and soon I’m at the window, peering through the plastic blinds. The parking lot is empty and the empty spaces look to me like a framework for atheism.

In another piece, perhaps such details might read as melodramatic, a morose punch line unwarranted and unearned. Fortunately, the characters and the environment call for such proclamations, as these are Godless men vacationing in Salem’s Lot.

Adam Knight’s “Rut” exposes the humanity of an adulterer. Instead of a soulless monster, the adulterer feels guilty, even remorseful that the husband of his lover is so woefully spineless. He desperately yearns for an altercation, an incident of physical violence, in order to get rid of the suffocating feeling of regret, of having stolen something, or rather someone, without a fight.

Jelly Bucket is certainly for the reader who enjoys variety in his or her journals and is not afraid to leap from one opposing theme or style of writing to the next. The poetry feature showcasing Tea Topuria’s multi-lingual poems are quite different from the fiction feature dedicated to Chris Offutt. But it’s Jelly Bucket’s ability to juggle multiple schools of thought and clashing executions of language that makes it so different, like the broken pieces of glass that compose a single mosaic.

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The Long Story coverThe Long Story

Number 29



Review by Julie J. Nichols

The Long Story is, according to its website, “the only literary magazine in America devoted strictly” to stories of between 8000 and 20,000 words. The magazine is “not likely to accept literary experimentation,” editorial taste runs to the deeply human, estranged but involved, and it wants its voices respectful and compassionate. These qualities infuse the nine superb stories in this issue. Somewhere between short story and novella, each of them requires an investment of time and thought on the part of the reader—and each gives a remarkable return.

“Capri,” for example, by Barbara Snow, takes us to that lovely island with Jen and her friend Kit, who have come ostensibly to recover from harrowing cancer treatments, to recover equanimity after so much pain. We see and feel the island’s capacity for peace giving from the first paragraph: “[Jen] didn’t know the slightest breeze could instantly charge the surface of water and send out an army of small ripples that gathered speed and size as they moved toward shore […] that waves crashing against rocks turned into white crystals exploding in ancient crevasses carved out over centuries […] [that] she could spend hours staring at the scene […] and never become bored with it. Kit knew.”

They’re privileged. Kit, who’s paying, spends extravagantly on the friend who held her hand through the worst of the treatment, who helped her want to live. They’re staying at a villa far larger than they need, its rooms cleaned daily by the third protagonist, Amina, a Nigerian immigrant whose life is a stark contrast to theirs. If there is an antagonist, it’s unknowing privilege, or self-absorption. As the plot unfolds, they discover Amina’s need and decide, rather impulsively, to fill it. My favorite thing about this story, aside from the lovely descriptions of Capri, is precisely that compassion that Long Story’s website stipulates. Kit and Jen take so much pleasure in helping Amina that the “punch line” (which I will not give away) takes us perfectly by surprise, and just as perfectly satisfies us.

“Capri” is thirty-six pages long. It is also Snow’s first published story. Both of these facts are relevant as The Long Story acknowledges that certain stories require length, development, circling around and back to certain truths about the human condition. I think “Capri” embodies a key theme for The Long Story: kindness matters. It saves lives. I like that. And I also like that a writer whose previous work is in a different genre (playwriting), produced in a different decade, has the chance she deserves to be seen and appreciated in this magazine.

S. L. Ferraro’s “Blood Pressure” is shorter—fifteen pages—but equally compassionate, equally well-written and deserving of at least a second read. I was surprised by how much more I saw in the second reading—I loved it the first time through, but this is Good Literature—the first three paragraphs rang with twice as much significance after I’d read to the end. “Blood Pressure” is a lovely story about respect, its absence and re-entry into the world of the protagonist. The story takes us on two journeys—the present one, and its predecessor—until “[she makes] it out. Escaped. Again.” Again, we are satisfied, filled with the sense of sorrow that accompanies any hard thing whose final outcome is imperfect but just. It pleases me that The Long Story embraces stories with satisfying, even uplifting outcomes.

My favorite of the nine stories is James Carpenter’s “Reclassified.” I’m not entirely convinced it’s fiction—its first-person protagonist, named James Carpenter, sounds like he’s telling us his own story. At any rate, a “long story” it is, in a delightful voice neither self-deprecating nor self-serving but, in a witty and understated way, highly self-respectful, articulate and pitch-perfect. I think “respect,” for a writer, begins and ends with respect for the language—and in the middle comes self-respect, inevitably.

“Reclassified” begins at a student sit-in at the Lincoln Memorial in the late 1960s, where twenty-year-old James decides once and for all he’s not going to war when he sees the callous brutality of the armed forces brought in to stop the demonstration. We see his efforts to escape the draft, which are ultimately successful. But what sparkles in this wonderful story is the appeal to our post-Vietnam sensibility. Of course war is brutal. Of course most of us don’t want to go to war. And of course there is an entire ubiquitous military system whose devotion to war, to order, to serving some ideal, is frightening in its power and inevitability. Carpenter, who according to his bio began writing fiction three years ago, has already been nominated for numerous awards. I have no doubt we’ll see more of him—and I saw him first in The Long Story, for which I’ll always be grateful.

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Lowestoft Chronicle coverLowestoft Chronicle

Issue 6

Summer 2011

Online Quarterly

Reviewed by Henry F. Tonn

My two major complaints about numerous online literary magazines are: 1. They are so confusing and disorganized that finding anything takes diligent detective work; 2. The stories are boring and the poetry is derivative and lacking in creativity. I am happy to say that this young journal manages to avoid these pitfalls. Lowestoft Chronicle’s website is nicely laid out and there is wide variation of reading material.

I immensely enjoyed “The Adventures of Root Beer Float Man” by Michael Frissore, a humorous tale about a man with super powers such as being able to scream like a little girl, and who is dedicated to solving crimes, if he can correctly identify them. Frissore’s style comes through as the protagonist asks his boss for time off to investigate a friend’s death: “‘Well, you know, Sparky,’ he said. ‘You don't really work here anymore. I fired you three weeks ago. You have no training in journalism and you creep everyone in the office out.’” And so our hero sallies off to right the world’s wrongs.

Another good one is a tongue-in-cheek piece of fiction in the first issue (March 2010) entitled “The Last Election” by Frank Roger, about a group of men electing a pope as the planet around them is gradually being destroyed by earthquakes. It is quite possible the last man standing will become the de facto pope, but will have little opportunity to fulfill his papal ambitions. The author of the story states he has “a few hundred stories to his credit and publications in more than 30 languages.”

Each issue has some art. I particularly liked the bizarre creations of Jenny Star-Busch Johnson in the Winter 2010 issue, and the hard-to-categorize work of Francis Raven in Issue I. For poetry, try Spring 2011, Wayne Lee’s “Ordinary Deckhand,” which begins:

With zen mind, beginner’s mind,
let me pretend I’ve never sailed this sound
so I can see these breaching whales
with newfound eyes, adolescent eyes,

This is an eclectic journal which stresses that it likes humorous pieces with an emphasis on travel, hence many of the works take one to far-away and exotic places. A sample of the editor’s humor is as follows: “In contrast to my Humanities schoolteacher, who would place exam papers on a grocery scale and grade according to weight, at Lowestoft Chronicle we always give priority to shorter manuscripts.” So, folks, at Lowestoft, shorter is better.

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The New Guard coverThe New Guard

Volume 1



Review by Vanessa Willoughby

In her Editor’s Note, Shanna Miller McNair states that the formation of The New Guard was based upon the need to create “something bold and unusual,” using a strategy of “juxtaposing the narrative with the experimental.” As you pour over the pages of The New Guard, it is quite easy to visualize and pin-point McNair’s original ambition. The New Guard presents a curious mixture of the traditional narrative with the experimental, whether it is intimate fan letters to long-deceased authors, short stories showcasing mythical transformations, or free-verse poems.

John Goldbach’s letter to the literary master, Proust, is both interesting and completely modern, brimming with online lexicon and text-message style abbreviations. While Proust loved elongated language and a mellifluous sense of vocabulary, Goldbach’s letter reads much like a speed-demon texting-fiend with a genuine affection for the classics. On the other hand, Tom Grimes’s letter to Frank Conroy, one of the faces of the memoir genre, is a testament to the power of literature and its ability to deeply resonate with an individual.

Harry Newman’s “China” speaks of wisdom and the quest for inner peace. He writes: “seek wisdom the Sufi saying goes even as far as China / and I think of that because you’re on your way again / though they meant a China of the mind the farthest reaches.” Despite the poem’s desire for a source of inner sanctum, Newman seems to have already found this missing piece.

On the contrary, Michael Pearce’s “Tattoo” is a moving and image-filled snapshot of youth in revolt, a carefree time when the uncertainty of the future seemed much more promising than the rigidity of sterile domesticity. He writes:

So who were you? A smart girl who’d quit school
and hung with Kuff and Wren and Bobby and Bobby’s yappy pup Roo
and read more than they did and liked the music they played
and got high almost every day and tried to believe them
when they said today is today and tomorrow isn’t anything
until it’s today, and you were the same girl who’d go find a payphone
that worked and call up your dad and argue with him for an hour
until you both gave up one more time.

Yet The New Guard isn’t all about melancholy odes to long-lost youth and vitality. Similar to the iconic pulp fiction writer Jim Thompson, J. Preston Witt’s “ColdBrook” is an extremely chilling portrait of the perversity and the darkness of the human soul. An old man is ravaged and beaten and then sewn into the decomposing flesh of a black bear carcass. When he finally wanders back to his home, his nephew, terrified and yet feeling the urge to prove his masculinity, shoots his uncle, believing he’s just killed an angry predator.

Certainly, one of the highlights of this issue is Jefferson Navicky’s “The Air Around Her Objects,” an obvious ode to Proust’s The Guermantes Way. Packed with beautiful prose and insightful observations, Navicky’s work is crafted with the best of Proust in mind without serving as a carbon copy. The narrator’s burning lust for his best friend’s lover, Justine, transforms into literary art through his usage of simile, metaphor, and imagery. “The Air Around Her Objects” molds descriptions into elegant poetry, elaborating on the maze-like possibilities of emotions and feelings.

Other notable works include: Erica Plouffe Lazure’s “The Cold Front,” Thoreau Raymond’s “Cancer,” and Matt Miller’s “Asante.” All in all, The New Guard is a unique mixture of literary works which showcase a range of talents and skills.

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The Newtowner coverThe Newtowner

An Arts and Literary Magazine

Issue 3

Summer 2011


Review by Mark Danowsky

These days we hear a lot about the demise of print publication and the general plight of the publishing world. But many agree that there will always remain an interest in local news and therefore local newspapers. The Newtowner is essentially local literary news for Newtown, Connecticut. For those engaged in the world of Arts and Literature, having a publication like this available to your community is something of a dream come true. After all, who wouldn't subscribe to a magazine highlighting the local goings-on pertaining to your niche area of interest?

On The Newtowner's website, the magazine asserts that it “is a first-of-its-kind quarterly arts and literary magazine featuring fiction, poetry, memoir, essays and features celebrating literary, visual and performing artists.” First-of-its-kind could be a bit of an overstatement; although, unless you reside in New York City, what you call your hometown is probably not privileged to have a publication with a focus on your community.

Also on the magazine's website is a bullet list of goals which includes: “[to] bring the work of local new and established writers and artists to a [wider] audience,” “make a positive contribution to the local community's cultural scene,” and involve "as many locals as possible across all ages and demographics.” The magazine has a team of “Youth Expressions” staff members reinforcing their aim to include youth perspectives, to reach out to aspiring writers and artists within the community and give them a platform where they can have their voices heard.

The Newtowner succeeds in featuring diverse voices and in covering a range of topics relevant to the community. The Summer 2011 issue features an interview with author Justin Scott, whose “Ben Abbott series revolves around mysterious happenings in the Newtown-inspired fictional town of Newbury.” In the interview, Scott discusses author collaboration, the joy of writing, and reminds us that “you can't rewrite until you write.”

This issue also includes several poems by inmates, credited by first name only, of Garden Correctional Institution. In a heartfelt poem entitled “Dove's Cry,” the author identified as “Barry” writes:

One morning my cellmate Mac told me to look out
the window. To my surprise, sitting on the window
ledge was a dove. How that was possible I don't
know because outside our cell window is a small courtyard with four walls and a cage-like roof.
Doves are life partners and stay in pairs.
Every day and night the dove's partner sat on top
of the fence looking down helplessly. In order for
her to escape through the roof, her wings would
have to fold completely in midair. That whole scene
almost brought me to tears.

If you live in a major city, you might expect that it's relatively easy to get informed about literary events in your area, right? Those of you who have searched will likely have discovered that the process is not at all simple and you may yearn for a source with centralized information. The Newtowner has a “Calendar of Arts and Literary Events,” which includes listings for book groups, writing groups, and various activities in the surrounding area.

One way to improve the magazine would be to revamp the visual layout. The issue looks a little too much like the mass mailers universities send to alumni, which feature images situated in such a manner as to produce the appearance of having been cut and pasted using a word processing program.

The Newtowner’s Fiction/Copy Editor, Wendy Wipprecht, explains that her “mission is to save English prose not only from such lapses in taste as the Thuggish Dash, but from mistakes that can embarrass and even hurt their makers.” This insight into the professional life and goals of the magazine's staff is an example of The Newtowner's personal, homey vibe.

Check out the backgrounds of The Newtowner's editorial team and prepare to be impressed. You will find that the magazine's staff is not a group of friends who started a publication just because no one else would accept their poetry, but rather a team of professionals who have each achieved acclaim in their respective fields. If only all communities had an arts resource like Newtown, Connecticut's The Newtowner.

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Plain Spoke coverPlain Spoke

Volume 5 Number 1

May 2011


Review by David Larson

I was immediately drawn to Plain Spoke. Poetry in plain language, I thought. Yeah, there we go. The subtitle only made it better: A Literary Speakeasy. Oh yeah. My kind of language in my kind of place. I imagined straight, honest poetry like bourbon served neat in a drinking glass—edgy, not quite legit. I couldn’t wait to get started.

I was quickly rewarded with beauty and bite. The language is indeed beautiful; I found myself going back to certain poems again, or lingering over lines, letting the sounds echo and sway, or burn and bite. Joel Allegretti’s “Choir of Flies” has great sound:

…so they convene
in their buzzing
canonical hours
above, around
and in the mound
of ocher fur
and putrefying meat
that unites with the
decomposing foliage.

It’s not just the rhyme that quickly comes and goes, bringing little attention to itself, but the pace and the rhythm; for instance, “decomposing foliage” reads like the caramel burn of a good bourbon whiskey. But the poem also has that burn, the bite of its harsh, honest image of the once magnificent deer, not the romanticized image of the stag on the hill, the sun silhouetting it in some painter’s visions. No, now it is the decomposing sanctuary for flies, and, as the poem reminds us, “That is all / That is all.”

Ray Keifetz’s poem, “A Small Seaworthy Vessel,” also packs a nice punch, a clear and glassy gin with just a touch of tonic. The poem is more abrupt: “The new roof and painted siding / were to be her legacy— / but then she sat up.” That abrupt “but then she sat up” just grabs me. I see it. I feel it. This poem, too, has that bite of liquor served straight-up. It briefly shows a home on hold, irritated children, irritated at her, for not dying I have to suppose—how rude of her to hold up our new roof and painted siding! But before I can feel badly for this woman, holding up the lives of these ghouls, she “bought a boat, / a small seaworthy vessel, / and one morning rowed out / like a viking.” Nice.

Later in this issue, in Joshua Michael Stewart’s “How’s the Weather,” I find more of that beautiful language that I’ve come to expect in lines like: “Father flooring / it to the hospital, my brother blubbering // in the backseat, Is he going to die?” Or: “Porterhouses sizzled on the grill / and Sinatra was singing It Happened in Monterey, / while my brother’s last cold breath rattled // from his brittle chest, surrounded by the cinder block walls of a housing project.” This, too, is not a romantic vision of suburban barbecue, obviously.

Instead, it’s an honest look at how lives go in different directions, an unapologetic admission. But it lacks that harsh bite of bourbon or gin. Here we have something slow and sweet. It ends: “I ache / for those kids wrestling to Saturday morning // cartoons. They listen to the Monster Mash, / on a Fisher-Price record player, / and I want nothing of this world.” No less impacting, this poem feels different. A fifteen-year Scotch, a bit sweet, but smoky, complex and earthy. I want to linger here, sipping gently, drinking it in, knowing these are words and images to be savored.

These poems, and many others in this issue, take variable but always honest looks into those complex issues that surround our lives. Sometimes it’s death, other times it’s relationships, growing up, spirituality. Expect to find these heavy, heady themes in this issue all explored in wonderful language, but at the same time, Plain Spoke is like two hard-bit men sitting and enjoying a stiff drink and good talk at the end of a long day.

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River Styx coverRiver Styx

Number 85



Review by Bracha Goykadosh

Circles of Hell: think Dante’s ancient classic? This themed issue of River Styx examines, analyzes, and explicates the idea of hell both as a place and metaphor. The writers are creative, funny, and at times undeniably enthralling.

My favorite part of the magazine, however, was not the written art on the page, but a series of photographs by Greg Sand entitled Snapshots. There is only one word to describe these photos: uncanny. “Family Reunion” is traditional family shot, however, all the subjects in this photograph lack faces—no eyes, noses, or mouths. Almost like clay dolls, they disorient the viewer. Most intriguing is the little boy in the left corner of the photograph. Apparently restless, the boy is getting up to leave. Without showing facial expressions, Sand manages to capture this little boy’s activeness, and blur of being, as his father holds him back. In fact, in most of Sand’s photos, he toys with this idea of being. Like “Family Reunion,” many of the subjects in his photographs lack faces or possess slightly altered ones (e.g. we only see the subject’s face through a mirror in another one). These spooky and thrilling photos convey a sense of anxiety and ethereality. (Do angels have faces? Does the devil?)

This issue also contains top-notch poetry. In Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s “The Afterlife,” the speaker dreams that she has entered that great-beyond: “it was so crowded, / hordes of people, everyone seeking someone, staggering.” When the speaker finds her mother, the mother proclaims: “Here is no help, no love, only the looking. This / is what death means, my child, this is how we pass / eternity, looking.” Despite the unbounded nature of life and death, Schwartz seems to be telling us that there are links that cannot be broken, things we will always be attached to.

All is not serious and morose in this issue. Michael Derrick Hudson is funny and playful in his poem “That Circle of Hell Reserved for American Men.” He writes:

The Devil asks how you are, if the air conditioning
is cool enough. He probes your politics, faith, philosophy,
aesthetics, and your ideas on the top ten ways
to maintain a healthy relationship.

Writers often characterize the devil, turning him (or her) into a figure with horns and a tail. Hudson, however, flips this cliché, and turns the devil into an annoyingly chatty inmate who “probes” and “plays” back what you say. The irony in this poem resides in its final line: “Your self-deprecation // sounds natural, irresistible. No bullshit / here. So you tell yourself the first ten thousand years or so.”

One promise: you’ll be in heaven as you read this Circle of Hell issue of River Styx.

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Sinister Wisdom coverSinister Wisdom

Issue 82

Spring 2011


Review by Robin Devereaux

The title intrigued me. As I took my Pandora-esque peek between the pages of Sinister Wisdom, I was caught in a whirlwind of shadows, hope, despair, courage and fire. There is no complacency here, folks, so if that’s what you came for, you’ve come to the wrong place. These essays, poetry and art by lesbians who experienced the “coming out” times of the 60’s and 70’s force the reader’s eyes open, shines a light into them—a light that is sometimes too bright, too painful. You want to look away, but don’t. There is much here that you should not miss.

Sinister Wisdom is a song of emerging from women summoning the courage to break a shell of silence and taboo, to live in the truth of who they are. These essays speak of the lesbian movement at its roots, of organizing, of the dreams that were sometimes realized and sometimes shattered. At times angry and other times whimsical, sweet, and shy, these essays are always brave. They are proud. It is one hell of a collection.

The first essay in the issue, Fran Winant’s “Come Out! Join The Sisters And Brothers Of The Gay Liberation Front!” takes the reader straight to the heart of the gay rights movement:

. . . the first thing I notice is the large number of gay individuals and couples strolling together on a warm night (in Greenwich Village). Unlike straight couples, these do not hold hands or touch, preserving an unreal anonymity for fear of being stared at, jeered at, “found out,” or attacked by straights or even arrested or threatened with arrest. . . our 1969 evening walk has the feel of prisoners passing before their captors in review.

Artist Evelyn Torton Beck describes the joy of finally coming out, of owning her truth and the effect it has on her art: “The space that truth clears is communal, but the process starts within the individual. 'Coming out' is a process of truth-telling (first to oneself and then to others) that frees layers of possibilities within the self.”

At the heart of this issue is the stark, yet beautiful, poetry of Cheryl Clarke. Clarke weaves images and rhythm together to build songs on the page. Her pieces beg to be read aloud, drummed to, swallowed whole.

For this reader, Sinister Wisdom misses the mark in only one area: near the end of the editor’s notes, with a call to get this fine magazine “into the hands of lesbians everywhere.” If we are to stop perpetuating the chasm between the gay and straight, I believe the call should be to get Sinister Wisdom into the hands of everyone—period. It’s good reading—not always easy reading—but it is truth at its finest. An inspiring read.

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Three Coyotes coverThree Coyotes

Volume 1 Number 1

Winter/Spring 2011


Review by Vanessa Willoughby

Joan Fox’s Editor’s Note, entitled “Variety and Vision,” states that this inaugural issue “features poems of survival, defiance and hope; images of our Western landscape; and, works offering a world of beings—mountain lions, coyotes, doves, dragonflies, cockroaches, fleas, cats, dogs, pelicans, humans, machines, sunlight.” Indeed, Three Coyotes highlights the beauty of the natural world, whether it is through the medium of prose, poetry, or photography.

The opening work, Joan Burbick’s “Mirrors at Night,” explores the central theme of violence, especially the drive to kill that which is unfamiliar. Revenge is not seen as a form of beautiful justice, but rather a twisted symptom of xenophobia, racism, and discrimination. Burbick discusses this plague of “Southern white anger” during the early twentieth century; there seemed to be a campaign of hate and fear directed towards blacks, as the mantra of Manifest Destiny was only reserved for white Americans. She says, “The slightest hint that blacks would revenge 200 years of slavery was met with a ferocious blood lust to silence their pain.”

The Snake River, located in Oregon, is used as a reoccurring symbol, a flowing guide to a specific history of violence against minorities, a floating cemetery as well as a place to bury secrets. Although the essay has some lingering questions to be resolved, overall it is an interesting and eye-opening read, a brief attempt to make sense of a racially-fueled thirst for destruction and rage.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Heidi MacDonald’s nonfiction essay, entitled “Bug Out,” begins with a scene showcasing a problematic dragonfly infestation and ends with a conversation between the narrator and a man named Bruce. MacDonald isn’t so much about grandiose language, but rather exposing the insecurities, anxieties, and quirks of certain individuals through their actions and reactions. Thus, the narrator comes across as trustworthy and reliable, a voice as soothing as a cool drink of water.

In terms of the visual, Chuck Fox’s photography portfolio is a stark slice of America, a catalogue of high-speed transportation and world-weary wanderers, in addition to ramshackle, abandoned buildings left for the idle hands of time. Fox is also largely self-taught, which makes the selected photographs even more wonderful and inspiring. The portrait of Janice from Washington recalls the black and white works of photography pioneers such as Dorothea Lange.

Of course, the journal would not be christened Three Coyotes without a few works inspired by the aforementioned animal. Meg Files fiction piece, “Coydog,” explores one young woman’s quest for personal identity, namely the search for her absentee father. In the end, the appearance of a wild, somehow ominous coyote sparks an epiphany, a realization that the search for her phantom father was really perverse idolatry in disguise.

In Steve Pavlik’s nonfiction piece, “Who is the Beast? Perspectives on Mountain Lions and Mankind,” Pavlik hopes to disassemble the common fear of mountain lions, openly criticizing state and government-funded animal control groups that seek to shoot first and ask questions later. Although Pavlik does not dismiss the danger of such animals, he hopes to promote education and awareness, which may help alleviate such wide-spread terror. He says, “I believe that animals like cougars possess basic rights that stand alone. These rights are apart from and independent of the desires of humans. They possess the inherent right to live and pursue their own purpose, a purpose perhaps known only to the Creator. In other words, a cougar has the basic right to be a cougar.” Perhaps some may read Pavlik’s essay as an inflated dissertation, a rallying cry created by an extremist, but if one looks past the passion, the author raises valid points.

Three Coyotes may not be the right cup of tea for every reader, but its juxtaposition of animal-rights advocacy and soul-searching create an engaging mixture that effectively highlights the spiritual and cerebral world and the natural world.

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Versal coverVersal

Issue 9



Review by Robyn Campbell

The latest issue of Versal establishes its strong character before you even open it up. Simply styled with Antoinette Nausikaä’s cover art, it states in black handwriting “I AM HAPPY” (followed by the date and location of the statement’s creation). There it is. A negation of the bland and normal, an embracing of the strangeness of human existence. Part of the cover’s beauty comes from its confidence—isn’t it a bit more difficult, a bit more unnerving to say simply, “I am”? It allows for the possibility of any (or no) emotion, any description, and in that sense it is universal. Fitting, since the journal prides itself on its trans locality, based in Amsterdam but spanning across nations. At the same time, however, the statement is personal, almost forceful.

You might think that I’m placing too much importance on what is only a small part of the journal, but I have my reasons. In short, Nausikaä’s piece wonderfully embodies the aesthetic and feeling of Versal, which is not always the case with cover art. The works inside its pages fall into that vast middle-ground between abstract and realistic. At times, I found myself reading a piece (especially of poetry) and being completely unable to wrap my head around it. Meaning: obscurity is not for everyone, but Versal seems intrigued by it. And it seems to work for them.

Several stories ascribe human thoughts and emotions to inhuman entities. Nate Liederbach’s “Demonstrum” features some sort of beast—a weird mix of claws, gills, horns, fur, a linen shroud, etc.—artfully describing its own downfall. The troll in Jacqueline Vogtman’s “Letter from a Suicide to a Troll” is more lover than monster as he re-dresses and spoon-feeds the narrator. In “The Reindeer Daughter” by Suzanne Warren, the humanization is a bit more vague; the narrator (the adoptive father) doesn’t exactly give us reason to believe Doris is more than an animal, but they have an affair nonetheless. “She was a reindeer, yes,” he says, “but she was beautiful.” The most far-fetched instance of personification (and what I would say is one of the strongest pieces in the journal) is seen in Carmen Petaccio’s “Tornado.” In it, the tornado writes a self-deprecating letter to the farmer it’s been pestering: “Hello. I am your tornado,” and “destruction is all I know.”

Other noteworthy pieces include Maya Sarishvili’s “[A friend disappears from you like this—],” Lucas Southworth’s “Marianne M. Masterson: A Well-written Author,” and Amy Mackelden and Laura Tansley’s “Chemistry,” which explores the chemical reactions between, around, and inside of people.

I feel
you at the peak of every nerve, every single one. And once you’ve
been there, to the edge of every ending, I am scarlet, I am violet,
I am yellow cut. And then completely colourless.

The entire journal is edgy (some of it over the edge), urgent (noticeable in the mostly first-person, mostly present tense writing), and evocative. It is not for those with a low tolerance for strangeness, but it is worth spending a little time on, worth getting to know a little better, like that odd but non-threatening neighbor down the street. You know, the one who lives alone with all the cats, but who you’ve heard has a fascinating backstory.

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WEAVE coverWeave

Issue 6

June 2011


Review by Hazel Foster

When I received my stack of magazines to review this month, Weave felt the best in my hands. It’s a smaller journal, thin and light-weight, but that’s not all that separates it from “the big boys.” Weave opens its sixth issue with a stitched in supplement called The Clothesline. Here’s what founding editor Laura E. Davis has to say about it:

With electronic publishing on the rise, Weave remains committed to print. Inspired by artist deona fish’s cover piece, we are thrilled to feature the work of five contributors in The Clothesline. We hope that the textures you experience here, and in the rest of the issue, will continue to inspire.

The content within The Clothesline propels the reader into the issue with fine work such as Sarah Machinak’s poem “My Seventeenth Birthday”:

On this day, while bathing,
I inhale a strand
of seaweed fermented.
When the princess fish, eyes wide,
whispers hallucinogenic,
I swallow her.

Beyond its supplement, this issue offers an accessible mix of prose and poetry. For instance, J.P. Dancing Bear’s poem “Nocturne”:

Yet it is that hand
like a feather arcing under the dome
of the Milky Way, I sense will shift
my sight to the slower birds
moving in the blackness, the unstarred
night that surrounds you more than I.

And Stephen Langlois’ short story “Burglar:

He felt the sort of queasy pleasure he used to feel when his buddy Greg St. Peter would sleep over and they’d sneak downstairs to watch reruns of Real Sex and Taxicab Confessions on mute. Isaac would be forced to start up a running commentary about the strippers or orgy enthusiasts on the TV in order to keep his buddy from nodding off, talking louder the deeper Greg sunk into slumber, though hopefully not loud enough to wake his parents.

Weave is a great example of how an independent print magazine can succeed. Subscribe, submit, find a comfortable place to devour and enjoy.

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Willow Springs coverWillow Springs

Issue 68

Fall 2011


Review by Hazel Foster

Willow Springs Issue 68 is a meal. Maybe a sandwich. But maybe that metaphor is too old. Let’s say lasagna, poetry stuffed between layers of prose, topped with a melted interview. Willow Springs fills you up with poems by Dexter L. Booth, Beckian Fritz Goldberg, and Nance Van Winckel among many others, prose from Clare Beams, Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum, Jill Christman, and Sarah Hulse, and a conversation with Richard Russo.

Among many fine poems, Dexter L. Booth’s “Moon Building” stands out:

My sister said that every time she cracked an egg
she was splitting a universe. Every dimension existed
in a shell. The yolk, of course, was the sun. I told my father.

The poem exists in three anecdotal parts that are subtly interrelated and held together by a young boy as its character. The first is the blurred memory of a girl holding the young boy over the sink, asking him to “piss on every plate and spoon.” The second, from which the above stanza is taken, discusses time travel and what that could mean to the father. The third presents the image of catching bees and ants in a mason jar. The beauty of this poem is the way it suggests a larger narrative through smaller moments. And, to suit the title, there are several space references, tying together each part with metaphor. “Moon Building” is a well-designed poem, a juggling act of narrative and metaphor held in the periphery.

If you only read one piece in this issue, be sure to read Sarah Hulse’s “Sine Die,” winner of the Willow Springs Fiction Prize. “Sine Die” is the story of a rodeo roper turned politician who is forced to retire because of short-term memory loss. He cannot remember anything for more than two minutes. He is static, and his wife, the narrator, must deal with this. The struggle intensifies when the husband’s horse is injured:

This is an opportunity, I tell myself. The chance to learn to break bad news perfectly. I tell Jeremiah the truth, but I tell it different ways. I try easing into it: ‘Roscoe was hurt in an accident.’ I try vague: ‘Roscoe’s gone.’ I try blunt: ‘Roscoe died.’ Once, after I tell him he was the one to shoot Roscoe—‘You did right by him, Jem’—tears appear in his gray eyes. When they fall onto his cheeks he seems surprised, and he turns to wipe them with the back of his wrist. Later I tell him again exactly the same way, but his time he doesn’t cry.

Hulse captures the reader with her smart, simple prose, with her mastery of storytelling. This is not a story to miss.

Weave bows out with a conversation with Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls and Bridge of Sighs. When asked to discuss how “studying literature, as opposed to creative writing, helped [him] as a writer,” Russo answers:

A lot of my colleagues who were in the MFA program in fiction, were reading contemporary stuff. I don’t want to call it a literary dead end, but it certainly wasn’t mainstream. They were reading William Gaddis, Stanley Elkin, Vonnegut, William Glass, John Hawkes…I wasn’t interested in metafictional games, and it didn’t matter to me how great the stuff was…I was the kind of writer who was informed by Dickens, the Brontes, and Twain, all of whom were clearly more important in terms of the writer I ultimately became than if I’d been taking contemporary fiction courses in writers who, despite their brilliance, didn’t have much to say to me.


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The Worcester Review coverThe Worcester Review

Charles Olson at 100

Volume 31 Numbers 1 & 2



Review by Patrick James Dunagan

The Worcester Review (published and edited out of Worcester, Massachusetts) is a bit of a rare bird, regularly combining a “regional” focus with a “Feature Section” on a particular poet of interest with Worcester area ties. This latest issue is a definite delight for readers interested in the poet Charles Olson. While this is not the only worthwhile aspect, it remains the key element which lifts the whole of The Worcester Review above the fray distinguishing it from similar literary reviews published this last year.

Olson is an obvious choice for a feature since even though nearby Gloucester garners much of the attention in his Maximus Poems, it is actually Worcester that is the poet’s hometown. He only summered in Gloucester with his folks as a kid. Worcester is where he went to high school and formed his first serious romantic interest, with Barbara D. Milliken, who is interviewed in this issue. Her comments are surprisingly fresh (her relationship with Olson ended in 1936 and she had little contact with him thereafter) and full of daring verve. She gives a disarming picture of the young Olson as a talented suitor:

Well, I think Charles did a very good job of becoming almost a performance himself […] he could be extremely charming, when he chose to be. Particularly women, certainly, fell for his charm. Eleanor Metcalf did; my mother and my grandmother certainly fell prey to his charm; and, of course, I was long gone. [Chuckles]

And she acknowledges the rift that came between them was one of class and expectation: “Charles was increasingly convinced that I was middle class. And heaven knows he was right!”

Olson’s conduct later in life, particularly his role as teacher, both in and out of the classroom, is given generous overview by Jim Cocola’s essay, “Olson as Educator.” Cocola draws upon Olson’s own works as well as the work of others to turn up both familiar and little-known anecdotes: “Olson, at large: promptly answering and welcoming the prospect of a visit from Champaign-Urbana by Illinois graduate students Carolee Schneemann and James Tenney, and walking the beach at Gloucester in their company, laying a foundation in the form of a provocation.” He got this from Schneeman’s book Imaging Her Erotics. It’s fascinating to think of her meeting Olson.

Providing other much needed critical exploration that’s currently lacking is Richard Owens’s “‘The Practical Limits of Daylight’: Charles Olson and J.H. Prynne,” which tantalizes with its dabbling into Prynne’s own vortex(t)ual reading of Olson. Similarly, Sasha Steensen’s “Cunt, Great Mother, Cow, or Whore: Charles Olson’s Unlikely Influence on Contemporary Female Poets” is, if anything, but the bare skimming of a problematical aspect to Olson. Likewise, House Organ editor, Kenneth Warren’s “Charles Olson’s Grail of Intuition” ratchets up the ante on critical approaches to Olson, with a selection from his critical opus The Emperor’s New Code: Ideology, Mystery, and Typology in the Lives and Works of Vincent Ferrini and Charles Olson. Warren’s colossal mashing together of poetry with Jungian/Catholic mysticism is nothing short of astounding. The hair stands up on back of the neck.

Alongside the Olson material, The Worcester Review serves up poems by locals, such as Pastor Judith Robbins’s “First Cigarette” which subtly captures the seducing burst of wonderment without regret only the young know:

the unfamiliar between your lips
inhaling as though
you’d been doing it
all your life—the lightheaded high
not qualified by watery eye

And, not-quite-so-local, locales are here, too. Such as Sylva Boyadjian-Haddad’s “In the Heart of the Fertile Crescent” which takes the Tigris river as its subject and setting, asking “How often will that bulimic river / after her ritual gorging on death, / send forth from her depths bountiful loam.” Boyadjian-Haddad teaches up north in Henniker, NH, where this reviewer, for one, had her as an instructor several years ago. It just shows that you never know who or what you might run across reading through publications like The Worcester Review.

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Alternative Magazine Reviews

Posted September 15, 2011


[Back to Magazine Review Index]


Issue 64

Summer 2011

Review by Rachel Cuschieri-Murray

I was filled with both excitement and apprehension when I received my Summer 2011 issue of Lilipoh in the mail. This issue is entitled “When Disaster Strikes,” and the words “Radiation,” “Anxiety,” and “Emergency” jumped off the cover at me. As someone who feels particularly in-tune with many of the natural and man-made disasters that have occurred around the world in recent years, and as someone who feels a bit of trepidation when I ponder the future my generation appears to be leaving for our children, I already have more than my share of anxiety. However, I was reassured by what I found inside this magazine—a common perspective and some tips for helping to change our current course.

This issue discusses coping with disaster, both on a macro scale and on a personal level. Susan Weber’s “How Do I Find and Create Goodness for My Children?” gives practical advice for parents who want to maintain their children’s innocence and carefree nature within a world that is neither innocent nor carefree. Simple solutions like “saving our adult conversations for later, [and] turning off televisions and radios in their presence” seem obvious, but how many of us actually do it? Weber’s key point is “[that children] imitate our deepest, innermost feelings and beliefs, and these carry them far as pillars of strength when they require it.” What could be more important than helping our children feel safe and secure in their world?

Bringing the discussion of disaster closer to home, Sharon Daley Kelly, PSYD explains in her article “Are We All Crazy?” the effect that our personal disasters have on our total mental state. Like others before her, Kelly stresses the importance of maintaining perspective when traumatic events occur in our personal lives. She also points out that “it is essential that we surround ourselves with people who believe in us and in our potential.” On the flip side (and just as important) she says that by placing ourselves in a supportive environment, “We also become more generous in our own encouragement and support of those around us.”

Trista Haggerty brings perspective on disaster to an even smaller scale with her article, “Journey to the Inner Temple: divine presence in everyday life.” While Weber and Kelly are charged with the responsibility of taking mass-scale disasters and finding a bit of small personal hope within them, Haggerty does almost the opposite. She addresses the tiny tragedies of our everyday lives: “a longtime grief over the lack of the family dinner in our home. Bad habits were fully in place with my busy family and their busy lives.” In Haggerty’s experiment, she makes a commitment to become more present and less controlling in her own life and find beauty in every moment in order to break the confines of previous patterns. Her message is hopeful because her experiment works. Haggerty finds that “The letting go that precedes grace is a necessary component. Being willing to stand in complete vulnerability is the threshold, or gateway, to a miracle waiting to occur.”

In all, I found plenty of hope and practical advice in this issue of Lilipoh. Anyone who is familiar with Rudolph Steiner and his philosophies will immediately feel at home with this magazine. It provides a holistic approach to viewing the world, processing it, and working to live within it, while still staying connected to nature. It also prizes human relationships, especially the role of a parent.

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