Magazine Reviews


Posted October 20, 2011

Apalachee Review :: Blueline :: CALYX :: Catfish Creek :: Grain :: Knee-Jerk :: The Ledge :: New England Review :: Ruminate :: Still Point Arts Quarterly :: The Sun :: Umbrella Factory

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Apalachee Review 61 2011Apalachee Review

Number 61



Review by John Palen

In this issue of Apalachee Review, some of the best writing is about sports. Joe Ponepinto's boxing story, "The Sting of the Glove," puts you deep inside a morally compromised manager who pushes his fighter too far, then puts on the gloves again himself. Perhaps he returns to the ring in an effort to recapture his own stolen career. Perhaps he does it to win the comatose fighter's girlfriend. Perhaps both.

Sarah Grieve gives us two baseball poems. In "Ode to Kevin Costner in Bull Durham," she goes the full nine innings to explore the interplay between baseball/sex as seen on the movie screen and in real life. "Plate Appearances" pays loving tribute to the poet's father and to Moose Strubing, "the only major league player and manager never to register a hit or a win." In another baseball poem, "In His Backyard, Kid K Plays 'Burnout,'" Charles Manis uses dense physical and kinetic language to capture the "crash-toward-first-base, / fling-across-his-body, hard-as-he-can-drive-and-then-some / motion" of pitching.

The essays are another strength of this issue. In "What Mama Said: A Child's Memoir," Katherine Tracy tells charmingly about eating dinner at a "Communist party" in France, where her father was stationed. In "The Flying Test," D. L. Hall remembers a brush with death that cleared the fog from a confused time in her life—and convinced her she definitely did not want to learn to fly an airplane.

Another riveting essay, "Fixing the Deck" by Pat MacEnulty, begins innocently enough with a home repair project. But before we're done, we've journeyed deep into a wrenching family history of abandonment, addiction, anger, love, recovery, boundary-drawing and gratitude. It's like watching someone survive awful things and emerge as a fully grownup human, in only eight pages. The essay is drawn from MacEnulty's book, Wait Until Tomorrow: A Daughter's Memoir, published in 2011 by Feminist Press and also reviewed admiringly in this issue by Apalachee Review Editor Amanda McCormick.

Other noteworthy work includes a story in the my-first-kiss genre, "God Don't Like Ugly," by Liara Tamani McDyess, and a generous helping of poems. My favorites are Caroline Miller's "Third Day of the Year," Dan Manchester's off-the-wall pop-culture poems, "Resting" and "Jennifer Grey's Original Nose Speaks Before Rhinoplasty," and Sudasi J. Clement's "Somewhere Holy." In that poem, a young girl is locked out by her mom and spends the night with her father and his "new girl," and ends:

After they floated off to bed I heard
my dad reading Dylan Thomas, the one
that begins with a three-pointed star,
and I, restless pilgrim on the couch
placed a pillow over my head
before they made love, sacred song
I knew existed but was unprepared to hear.


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Blueline coverBlueline

Volume 32



Review by John Palen

Blueline describes itself as a "literary magazine dedicated to the spirit of the Adirondacks." Like many regionally-themed publications based in scenic areas, it includes a big helping of traditionally conceived nature poetry, most of it in competently handled free verse. Poets submitting to Blueline obviously find nature to be a source of beauty, interest and anthropomorphic imagery. Kathleen E. Schneider, for example, writes of digging mica fragments from a steep hillside and holding them out "like precious shards of broken glory." Georganna Millman writes a tongue-in-cheek account of a day in the life of crows, who, in late morning "beat it to the trees / hanging over Elk Creek / henpecking an old owl / where she hides."

Lyn Lifshin makes an edgier use of nature imagery, finding a metaphor for "what I wanted and / what was" in ice crystals held in the palm that "no / thing alive can / hold or make stay." Robyn Art pushes nature poetry even closer to the edge with her "Partial List of Things That Happen All at Once," a prose poem that begins: "snow, forgetting my user name, loitering in the parking lot of the Big Box Store; the wombat filmed in its indigenous clime, cabin doors with no locks (Woman Alone: do not pull to the shoulder)."

Other poets who bring freshness to the nature genre include Sandra Kohler, David Giannini, Linda Batt, Jane Ellen Glasser, Mary Kathryn Jablonski, Joshua Michael Stewart, and Jeffrey C. Alfier. Also of interest is Mike Freeman's essay recounting part of his canoe trip down most of the Hudson River. Wildness is returning to the Hudson, despite humans' worst efforts, Freeman writes: "I was glad of it, but crawled into my bag, content that this wilderness is available, but with an exit. We belonged here once, seamless and savage, but don't now, and have never recovered from that weaning."

For my money, the best piece of writing in the issue is Jacob White's darkly comedic short story, "Wolf Among Wolves." White eases into the story with half a paragraph about a tricky piece of road between Ithaca and Trumansburg, where the narrator's sister lives. Then he sets the hook: "Last time I drove up there was February. Clare called saying she'd killed her husband Pete. I told her call an ambulance and pulled on a coat over my pajamas, not without some worry over the drive." From that point the story is a gory, Gothic, surreal romp, reminiscent of Mark Twain's tall tales and Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying." Subscribe to the magazine just for that.

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Volume 26 Number 3

Summer 2011


Review by Aimee Nicole

You certainly don’t have to be a woman to enjoy the enticing lines found in CALYX. For thirty-five years, CALYX has been bringing women’s voices to life within their pages. The summer 2011 issue is a compact collection of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, art, and book reviews. The writing is smart, remarks witty, and images powerful. In this issue, the reader will encounter a goddess cleaning out her purse, an aging couple who have lost both memory and close friends, and witness the destruction of cancer. Calyx features work from writers that is so poignant and striking, you will be thinking about their words for days.

Sarah A. Chavez’s poem “How Waitresses Walk Home” is one of the cleverest pieces that I have ever read. Chavez is able to turn a dark situation around, by way of her sharp and witty narrator. After one of the waitresses gets mugged and assaulted on the way to her car after a late shift, the others decide that they should be more vigilant. Shelly now carries mace and Norma a police whistle. The narrator, however, takes a different approach:

Me though, on my break,
I just work on my fuck you face
staring straight and dead-eyed
into the bathroom mirror, my chin tilted up
I try to look as if I don’t care, as if anything
they do to me doesn’t matter. I act
as if I have nothing to lose
and most days I don’t,
which makes this the best weapon.

Helen Klonaris writes a short piece of fiction that packs punch and personality into each line. The piece, titled “Angel and Me,” opens with the lines: “Church. Can’t breathe.” There is conflict between a young girl, exploring her sexuality late at night, and her religious upbringing: “The devil feels like dirt inside me. The devil feels like glista on the inside. The old Greek woman who lives beside the church told me you only live to be old if you’re clean. Live a clean life, she said, you get to be old like me.” The short sentences will strike the reader, again and again, as he or she continues reading, pausing slightly to savor each revelation.

Eson Kim took the creative nonfiction section by storm. The narrator and her cousin, Pree, become fast friends, despite their parents' objections. Together, these girls, though from different worlds, overcome insecurities, moral differences, and social class. When they get into an argument, the narrator is shocked by Pree’s reaction: “My sister and I bickered all the time, but I had no idea it would have this impact on Pree. As large as Pree was, she seemed to fold into herself, and each hiccupping sob fluttered the hem of her sheet dress.” As many of us so often do, the narrator struggles with figuring out the right thing to say. Too late, she admits: “I would have told her that on that little creaky ride she looked beautiful, with the cityscape appearing and disappearing behind her and the swaths of her dress stretched between us like a colorful sea.”

Katherine Malmo’s chapter “The Oxygenated World” is from her creative nonfiction book forthcoming from CALYX Books. It is nothing short of gut-wrenching. Kate is undergoing chemotherapy and promises the Greek god of fish that: “she [will] never eat fish again. Purely catch and release. Forever.” The reader is with Kate when she cuts off her hair before the chemo can claim it and as she undergoes the MRI that delivers promise and hope. Kate admits that she “hadn’t considered the possibility that chemo wouldn’t be fine,” and we should all be so blessed to live with that optimism.

The art section, folded neatly in the center of the magazine, should not be overlooked. Both the abstract and the more direct pieces are diverse and intriguing. Each artist encourages the viewer to take a break from all the words to simply see. Several mediums are represented, making it difficult to favor one work of art over another. Each, however, is strong and unique. Collectively, they have the power to evoke personal responses within each of us.

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Catfish Creek coverCatfish Creek

Volume 1



Review by Julie J. Nichols

Loras College, the Catholic liberal arts college in Dubuque, Iowa, has inaugurated what I think is long overdue and should be welcomed with huzzahs from East to West: Catfish Creek, a literary journal “intended as a showcase for undergraduate writers from across the country and around the world.” O ye scads of undergraduate creative writing majors, minors, and hopefuls, and all those who teach and mentor said scads, should unite in praise of the concept—and the execution. Demonstrating the variety and depth of which undergrads are capable, this is a very fine first volume. May there be many more!

Catfish Creek is not an arts mag. The only visual image is the cover, a provocative black-and-white photograph, by Courtney Brandt, of a butterfly winging across, or through, a fence. But the text inside is full of images, proving one of the cover’s possible symbolic points that this magazine, like the butterfly, gracefully ignores whatever obstacle might prevent publication by those not yet in MFA programs. As an example, let me reproduce Alex R. Baldwin’s truly lovely short poem, “Night in Idaho After Our Second Stillborn,” in its entirety:

Bright white snow, rising like mountains,
low clouds moving, slowly, nowhere.
Mufflerless, an engine sounds,
grumbles against troubling cold.
No Moon. No stars. Pain, as light as day.

I nearly wept when I read this; the images are stark, icy—perfectly heartbreaking, and perfect. And the perfect coda comes a few dozen pages later, with Cynthia Hershberger’s equally moving personal narrative about her own stillborn boy child, Stephen. I did weep when I got to the end of this; Catfish Creek gets my warmest applause for publishing this heartfelt story of the most difficult of griefs confronted squarely, but ultimately with the strength of faith. Baldwin’s other poem, “Climbing a God Tree,” is as powerful in its imagery as “Night in Idaho,” with its compassion for “all the massacred at Bear River.”

More poems—by undergrads from as near as Des Moines (Heather Reading), as far away as Wilmington, North Carolina (Ashley Anderson), and eight undergrad institutions in between (including one high school!)—fill the pages with compelling imagery illuminating subjects from war to incest to death.

Three other pieces of literary nonfiction join Hershberger’s to indicate the quality and power of undergraduate work in this genre. Danielle Lensen (one of the poets as well) writes of a strange and transformative moment in the art museum where she works, when a patron (or a homeless character off the street—we never know for sure) shows her what art really is. Pritha Prasad recounts a moment of realization that “you are not your own,” when a parent calls a young adult child who happens to be languishing, drunk, in a parked car not too far from home in her piece “Loud Songs and Old Trees.” Philip McDonald reveals the secrets of his father’s broken dreams in “Contra.”

And the fiction here is also reassuring regarding the prowess of our undergrad writers in this genre. Five well-crafted short stories round out the offerings in this issue, which is prefaced by a thought-provoking essay entitled “Three Attitudes for Writers” by Dennis Schmitz, a 1959 graduate of Loras College and author of many books of poetry. His advice—to hold to poetry as a way of life; to “maintain ignorance,” and to “develop the happy surprise”—is well taken by the young writers showcased here. We can look forward to even more happy surprises in future issues of Catfish Creek to live up to the promise in this first one.

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Grain coverGrain

Volume 38 Number 3

Spring 2011


Review by Sarah Gorman

Grain, “the journal of eclectic writing,” comes to us from Canada and was a 2011 finalist in Canada’s Western Magazine Awards in the category Magazine of the Year Saskatchewan. Grain is proudly, if not aggressively, Canadian (though it publishes two American poets in this issue). After thirty-eight years of publication, Grain continues to throw a spotlight on Canadian writing in this 101-page issue.

This issue features the artwork of Chris Kuzma, who says that he seeks to balance “the playful and the sinister” in his work. The black-and-white images of Kuzma’s works reproduced here include a cat (the original is watercolor, ink and gouache), entitled Artemis. The cat, wearing high buttoned boots and a shapeless dress with lace collar and cuffs, with human hands is knitting a stag portrayed as standing on a rag rug that may or may not have been pieced by the cat. She stares balefully at the stag, one-fifth her size. Kuzma says that “it is always important for my work to maintain somewhat of a narrative element.” In respect of the cat with the stag, check.

The cover features work by Kuzma in 4-color; and he designed typography for the term “Honeysuckle,” which appears on the back cover and is the theme of this issue. The editors describe the color honeysuckle as Pantone’s 2011 Color of the Year, a “dynamic reddish-pink,” and the “Honeysuckle” issue as “unpredictable,” delivering both “the familiar-with-peculiar-kinks and the arcane-infiltrating-the-everyday.” This is a pretty good summary of the issue’s artwork, poetry, and fiction.

There is an absurdist flavor to the editorial taste in Grain. A substratum of rage is evident in many of the works in this issue, in apparent response to painful experiences in the toils of fraud and bad faith. Many of the poets give the impression of needing to dismantle suffering so that it can be endured.

The poetry selection includes much that is ephemeral: personal icons unseated, if powerfully imagistic, and entire poems that give the impression of a collection of entries in a writer’s journal. Claudia Coutu Radmore, though, paints a cohesive, broad, and appealingly fractal picture in her poem “Internet Café on Mars”: “like plants, rocks have been evolving throughout our planet’s history.” The poem concludes with a salute to Oscar Wilde, whose phrase “god in creating man somewhat overestimated his ability” rings true for the poet. “[L]ike wilde,” she observes, “we are not young enough to know everything.”

Marilyn Bowering, in “Connection,” does connect the dots in a poem about not being a drug dealer. Her final stanza:

I was never a drug dealer
But when the counter-weight slipped on the drill-rig
I sat in a car with my boyfriend
And stared at some pills
It’s okay, he said—and I hated him
I know exactly how it must feel
When somebody dies
And you loved them.

The fiction writers limn a dark universe penetrated by shafts of light emanating from the sternness of their comedy. “Get Hysterical” by Maggie Andersen rockets through a piece of flash fiction, bringing a benevolent humor to the account of the rapid progress toward death of an accomplished elderly man, a physician ravaged by cancer.

Michelle Barker, in her story “The Unbearable Archives: A Guided Tour,” touches a nerve for this reader:

II. The Archives of Good Intentions
On one table are the pies you meant to bake for ailing neighbours. The phone calls you never made have been anticipated and recorded onto cassettes, then stored according to how badly you felt afterwards.

Sara Heinonen, in “The Chairs in Bjorn’s Living Room,” skillfully creates escalating tension in the reader on behalf of her protagonist, Janis, only to have her (and the reader’s) fears evaporate after a sudden reversal of mood by Bjorn, Janis’s host in a crazy-weird story about artists.

Irina Kovalyova, now teaching biochemistry [why not creative writing??] at Simon Fraser University, weaves a delightfully wicked yet gentle humor through fully realized versions of life’s absurd and unpredictable turns in her story “Mamochka.” Visiting her daughter in Vancouver, the protagonist (like Kovalyova, a native of Minsk) experiences a Whole Foods market:

She’d never eaten either papaya or artichokes in her 55 years on Earth, but it wasn’t important. What was important was that she’d endured. She’d endured low wages, cold winters, potholes in the streets, uniforms, flags, parades, and years of waiting in lines. She endured with humour because humour seemed to Maria Ivanovna to be the glue that held the edges of life together. In any case, she could not see what was wrong with eating potatoes.

Grain suits those who like a grainy texture—the play of the absurd against the gorgeous; juxtaposing random thoughts just because one can; unapologetically releasing the right brain in print; and eradicating “should” from the editorial vocabulary. This un-pruned garden of creativity rejoices in a wildness that is largely earned.

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Knee-Jerk coverKnee-Jerk

Offline Volume 1



Review by Julie J. Nichols

From its Facebook page: “An online literary journal devoted to experimentation, humor, and the crossbreeding of the arts, featuring stories and essays by established and emerging writers, interviews with writers, and reviews of just about anything.”

What I’m reviewing here: the first ever offline issue of said online journal.

From the website:

Think of Knee-Jerk as a dinner table filled with friends and family. We’re all sharing ideas, stories, laughter, and a whole lot of corndogs. The table is round, everyone is facing each other; everyone is enjoying the company. Next to the published writer is an emerging writer, a person who’s searching for a home for his or her first story. Sitting across from them is a musician who finds time to squeak out a story between studio sessions. Also at the table, the casual reader of literature. And the guy who’s read Infinite Jest twice.
We invite you to pull up a chair and contribute to the ongoing dialogue. Like any good discussion, we’ll venture beyond that knee-jerk reaction into what [important name] called [quote about venturing beyond knee-jerk reactions].
At Knee-Jerk we hope to evoke conversations that bring everyone a little closer together, that make the literary world a little smaller. And a little bigger.

I totally like (I totally thumbs-up!) Knee-Jerk Offline 01. I wish I’d known their submissions deadline was August 31—I’d have sent them something. I want to be in their pages. Those pages make me smile, big time. They have a worldview that’s street-smart, chortle-worthy, wry and dry. I might say my favorite thing about this first offline issue (they reproduce in their very hold-able-sized paper volume some of what’s been published already in their year-round online mag, including new work, never, I presume, before seen anywhere)—my favorite thing is the “Reviews of Things.” These are not like this review. If I were to write this review the way Knee-Jerk “Reviews” “Things,” I would do something like this:

Well, you could be a writer, or you could be a bull rider, whoopin’ it up on the back of a studly four-ton Australian named Chainsaw with horns and a rep—only nine cowboys ever made it to eight seconds on his back—and the point is, just watching him makes your knee jerk, your tongue cleave to the roof of your mouth, your popcorn fly—what does that mean, knee jerk? Doesn’t it mean reflex of gut? Not acid reflux (which is painful and unpleasant) but reflex action of the best and least-occult kind—my knee jerk reaction to Knee-Jerk is, unlike my reaction to bull riding, settle in! Read some more! Laugh again!

If I wrote that, you’d get the idea. Knee-Jerk plays with the oddities and juxtapositions of real life by mashing up everything from “Man of the Year” by Michael Czyzniejewski to “Academics” by Joe Meno to Greg Fiering’s comic strip Migraine Boy and the color insert—but you’d also get the tone of the entire issue, and you’d have to make a sort of snort-whoop of hilarity because the thing reviewed is approached from a side angle that shows it not exactly as it is or was but as it might be seen by someone with a very specific, very individual pair of eyes. Aye of pears. You’d say “aye,” I promise.

In this first offline issue (whose very subtle cover shows a knee, which just might jerk if you tap it in that sexy little depression under the cap, and whose logo looks just like a knee-jerk feels), we get Jacob Knabb’s review of his pathetically typical freshman experience in “My Freshman Experience, A Year in Review,” Adam Drent’s reviews of the vagaries of closed-captioning and the 2000 movie Child’s Play as an eight-year-old child might have viewed it (“the most terrifying movie ever made”). Also a review of the entire Dan Fogelberg oeuvre as remembered by Alison Powell.

We get (non-bylined) “polls” inviting your opinion on such things as “the most versatile kinds of pants” and “the best Sue Grafton novel never published” (I couldn’t decide between T is for Title and I is for I Wrote Another One!).

We get “Notes” on politics, fanaticism, insomnia, and money (“Just dress up and go shake hands. Fake it till you make it. It being money”), by the charmingly observant Kathleen Rooney and Elisa Gabbert.

And we get terrific, grab-you-from-the-first-line stories like “Clover” by Billy Lombardo, “Believers” by Jerry Gabriel, and ten others.

Plus “Talks” with Harold Ramis and Glenn David Gold.

And if you do buy the offline issue (which I think you should), you’ll find arty surprises I haven’t even mentioned—images to keep you on that studly demon Chainsaw way longer than eight seconds, I promise.

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The Ledge coverThe Ledge

Issue 33

Summer-Fall 2011


Review by Robyn Campbell

The latest issue of The Ledge is dense. Not hard to get through, not incomprehensible; I mean actually dense. At just over 300 pages, it’s their longest issue to date. And while it’s certainly understandable (and often enjoyable) that most literary journals break up their included works with artwork, book reviews, etc., sometimes it’s nice to just read pages and pages and pages of fiction and poetry. Especially when the pieces are as stylistically varied and well-written as those in The Ledge.

It may seem that such a full collection would lack cohesion, but that’s not the case. Many of the pieces revolve around corporeal elements, bodily details that shape each story. In “Shared Water” by Clare Beams, the tense female relationships are explored through the tie that binds each of the women together: synchronized swimming. Their individual personalities are reflected in what they physically can or can’t do together in the water, seen when the narrator, Kate, says of her partner, “I held myself still so Marla could try to match me, which was a familiar feeling […] Marla was good—quick and strong—but too impatient to be anything but a little sloppy. I was careful and precise, and my mother had been teaching me these moves before Marla knew what synchronized swimming was, and all of that mattered.” Harry Humes’s “A Deep Place” finds meaning in a dolphin skull that the narrator brings home from the beach, impressed by “the way / wind sounded through the large brain cavity, / not a moaning or wailing as you might have expected, / but the clear sweet song of a deep place.”

Meanwhile, in the poem “Bone Loss,” Kate Hovey explores the deterioration of the human body and pleads:

Flesh sags,
organs fail, but bones—O let them endure,
let them hold us together to the end and beyond
that they may be licked clean and weathered
to white crystal, their messages scribed
in the fossil record: dependable,
immutable, oracular.

While violence, death, and decay are prevalent throughout the magazine, several poems serve as breaks from the heavier themes that might otherwise become a bit overwhelming if strung together. “Landscape with Bats” by Claire Keyes is a beautifully detailed description of Castle Valley, Utah and the narrator’s place within it. Christina Olson’s “Wordplay” is enjoyable and funny while still a little sad, relating a couple’s quiet bond made of words—specifically, crossword puzzles: “There’s / no way I love you / fits in that small / white house.” The narrator says: “Look at it: eight letters. / Look at all the room / it takes up / on the goddamn page.”

“Love Song for the Nutria,” which won author Jennifer Perrine Second Prize in The Ledge’s 2009 Poetry Awards, admits compassionate acceptance for an animal commonly considered annoying:

I’ve watched your children, buoyant
    on the boat of your back, infants
plucking the nipples that ridge your spine,
    and imagined armies of you in lines
rising from the water like mammatus
    clouds in reverse,

Other notable pieces include Kate Reuther’s “History Alive” (which won Second Prize in the magazine’s 2009 Fiction Awards), Leslie Anne Mcilroy’s “Red Racket,” Philip Dacey’s “The Spiel” (First Prize in the 2009 Poetry category), and Debra Marquart’s “Cell.” Overall, the pieces in this issue keep you enthralled, thanks in part to those darker themes that have always captivated the human mind. As Rebecca Foust says—and says best—in her poem, “Some Other Mother”: “There’s meaning / in meat enough / to feed a family of four / for two weeks.”

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New England Review coverNew England Review

Volume 32 Number 2



Review by Aimee Nicole

This issue of New England Review has me very conflicted. There is work within that is both inspiring and inspired; however, it was a lot of work to get there as a reader. The versatility of the issue is astounding, considering the many diverse topics and themes covered in the publication. Usually, when I pick up a literary magazine, I expect the fiction and poetry to be the stars, yet in this issue of New England Review, the nonfiction and translations take center stage.

The nonfiction is extremely diverse and, for that reason, each piece is set off under its own headline in the table of contents. Rotheko and the Baroque period, Robert Frost and the end lines of poetry, and insight into a Census Enumerator were all interesting topics in the nonfiction section; however, Kathryn Kramer was the reward for working through the rest of the magazine. Kramer’s memories and experiences blossom out of her recollections at John Hopkins University in her piece “Still Life with Caged Lion.” Places, people, and experiences are concise, accurate, and engaging through her brilliant description: “I’d circled around Ulysses, resenting a book that rendered the rest of literature unpalatable. I went at it in stages, as if in a risky mountaineering expedition, feeling as I did when as a child I surreptitiously sipped my parents' whisky.”

Kramer questions both herself and the reader. She tackles the topic of racism with honesty and tact. Also, she highlights her experience working at Little, Brown and struggles with all of the passion behind the astounding volume of unsolicited manuscripts. She wonders: “They couldn’t all really be writers, could they?” And we appreciate her honesty and continuous need to question.

Immediately after Kramer’s gorgeous writing, readers are transitioned into the work of Leconte de Lisle, translated by John Kinsella. Again, commendable writing that truly resonated. This work, “Five Poems,” breaks down into exactly that: five poems. Each is able to stand alone, strong, yet they work together to create an unparalleled sensory experience. The first poem is titled “L’albatros (The Albatross)” and immediately catches the reader, with charming lyrics and lines:

It flings itself, scratching the colorless
Water that it pursues and ruptures into clouds
Of steam; it bites, tears, slices, and shreds clouds
Into convulsive morsels which suddenly bleed a flicker
Of lightening; it seizes, envelops, and tumbles through the air
A confused whirling of shrill cries and feathers
That it shakes and drags to the crests of waves

After reading these poems, it is hard to imagine a better translation. Each poem is filled with imagery so striking, that the reader is completely enveloped in the experience.

Meanwhile, Russian writer Semyon Akimovich An-sky’s work is carefully translated by Michael R. Katz. This piece, entitled “Among the Pioneers,” is ruled by exclamations. At first, it was a little confusing simply because I’m not used to exclamation marks and question marks after 75% of the sentences in a piece of writing. Honestly, it was slightly comical to get wrapped up in the speech of these characters:

“Aha!” Gerverman interrupted him triumphantly. “Did you hear about that? ‘Aesthetics’! ‘Pleasure’! That’s why you’re a philistine! ‘Pleasure’! Perhaps a roast or a pastry also affords you pleasure! Well, may you choke on them! Go read your Dostoevsky! I don’t seek pleasure in books, nor aesthetics, but substance, real meaning! What use is Crime and Punishment to me? None whatsoever!”

This magazine does not seem to be meant for the casual reader, but has a more academic feel to the language style. It is rare for the translations and nonfiction to so completely outshine the rest of the creative work in a literary magazine; however, in this issue, I was completely dazzled by these entities.

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Ruminate coverRuminate

Issue 20

Summer 2011


Review by Sarah Gorman

Get past any queasiness at this journal’s title right away and plunge into its rich substance. This five-year anniversary issue has a theme—feasting—and the poetry, nonfiction, book review and artwork appearing in the large-format fifty-six pages are well-chosen by the editors to cohere around this theme. Production values, including full-page four-color reproductions of artwork, are opulent. Only a classicist would object to the background grayscreen flourishes which adorn some of the pages, apparently chosen at random to be thus graced. The enormous pull-quotes, though, in the nonfiction pieces, are so huge that at a glance one might think they signal the beginning of a new story. Although the subtitle of the magazine is “chewing on life, faith and art,” the messages of faith in the various works, including the editor’s column, are generally subtle, causing nary a wince for this reader.

The editors selected this issue to launch the awarding of an annual prize for nonfiction, with the charter winners chosen by Al Haley of Abilene Christian University in Texas. The nonfiction prizewinner is Josh MacIvor-Andersen, for “Flexing, Texting, Flying,” and second place was awarded to A. J. Kandathil for “Van Gogh’s Parable.” Both winning works deal with the theme of depression; both could, were their authors to describe them differently, hold their own as short fiction. The third nonfiction piece in this issue is “Saving Waters,” by Patty Kirk of Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Her short work, printed dramatically in reverse, with white type on black pages, and as heavy with images as any poem in the magazine, creates the indelible impression of a specific family’s domestic life centered on what happens in the kitchen. I’d like to taste the soup prepared by Kirk with the “pastel waters” she saves and freezes after simmering vegetables.

There is a leisurely, appealing quality to this issue that conjures the experience of feasting. The poetry, chosen for its apposite images, offers much more than thematic significance. There is a maturity of voice among the poets represented, an expansive, compassionately inclusive consciousness that accommodates all the images and experiences memorialized here. In “The Truth,” Jenn Blair writes:

I peeled potatoes
and if a bit of rough skin stuck
on mine, I did not flick it off
‘til I was done, and to me,
that was tenderness.

Joseph Heithaus’s sonnet to wine, “House Red,” opens with an homage to Homer: “How does the wind lift the goblet / of the wine dark sea?” The poet employs enjambment to good effect, concluding:

                     We drink a scarlet sea
with all its winds and tides, good blood
of a fallen god, the crazy,
stomping, crushing muck of a load
of grapes, a hurricane of bliss
come to the mouth, a cherry kiss.

The artwork in this issue is a feast for the eyes. Nicora Gangi contributes to the back cover a gorgeous pastel study of a copper cup, a spotted egg, and three egg-like rocks, reflected on a shiny surface; Laura Breukelman’s two paintings in equally soft tones, of people at table, adorn the front covers and set the scene for feasting. Candace Keller’s acrylic work provides contrast: her bright colors and the slightly disconcerting image of pallid chicken feet on a platter that holds a fish with what might be radicchio, expand the reader’s impression of what it means to feast.

The featured artist, Stefani Rossi, was the magazine’s visual art editor at the time this issue was published; but unless she begins to telecommute to Colorado, she no longer holds the post, since she has now joined the art faculty at Wabash College in Indiana. Her four pieces are conceptual and at the same time satisfyingly representational. She states that she has been fascinated by “the lingering evidence of habitual consumption,” which she construes as “an act of petition […] and an expression of devotion.” She offers pleasantly haunting images—oil paintings of scraps of crumpled paper on a dinner plate, empty wrappers in a valentine-shaped candy box, and crushed paper take-out coffee cups and lids; and a witty mixed media altar constructed from used coffee filters, gold leaf, and oil on velum. The soft tones of her pieces—even the red of the candy box is muted—harmonize with the Gangi and Breukelman works and form a counterpoint to the Keller.

This magazine acknowledges a substantial number of benefactors and friends. The editors and financial supporters of Ruminate can be pardonably proud of what they have wrought. I’ll grant them their title and wish them well as they ruminate through the next five years.

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Still Point Arts Quarterly coverStill Point Arts Quarterly

Number 2

July 2011


Review by Jennifer Vande Zande

Still Point Arts Quarterly is the print publication of the virtual Still Point Art Gallery based out of Brunswick, Maine. Their premise: “That art and artistry possess the capability to transform the world.” It is a laudable belief and Still Point’s editor, owner and director Christine Brooks Cote is working admirably to see this premise through, as the art, artist portfolios, feature articles, poetry and exhibition information chosen for this journal are of exceptional quality.

Included is a fascinating article from writer Peter Steinhert entitled “Learning to Draw.” Steinhert was an editor and columnist at Audubon for twelve years. His work has appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times, Mother Jones and Sierra, and he has published four books, including The Company of Wolves. In “Learning to Draw,” Steinhert breaks down and demystifies some of the remarkable goings-on within the brain with regard to drawing, that craft that is so inherently simple and yet, at the same time, maddeningly difficult. He explains that when it comes to drawing, we are born with the innate gift of freedom of form. “A child draws what he knows, not what he sees.”

He continues, “It’s not a case of observing and translating what one sees into line and texture within some scale of perspective. It’s the laying down of images largely from the inside.” It is as we grow, and our ability with language develops, that that innate ability is lost within the cracks of our own disapproval, the disappointment of others, and the inability to see objects without implying learned knowledge to them. Steinhert’s article is an enlightening physiological look at what it takes to draw “well” and whether there are predetermined limits in our abilities.

Meanwhile, Amanda Wolfe writes of how she constantly confronts her own self-doubt, as an artist, in the nonfiction piece “A Confession in Clay”:

I cannot force myself to believe that life is just getting up too early, coming home too tired, and, in the middle, feeling lost and hopeless in a dead-end job. Why is it a fact that I have no choice but to find something that pays the bills and settle for a life I don’t love? I can’t. I really, really can’t. […] Now two years later I have my own wheel and kiln, used only once since I got them. The real reason, I hate to admit, is this: I’m not any good. There is a difference between having true innate talent and having a hobby. Putting too much stock on that hobby has caused it to grow large and untouchable in my mind, so untouchable in fact, that I cannot bring myself to even walk in the door of my coveted studio.

Will Wolfe move forward, doing what she loves most, despite the nettling awareness of her fixed limitations, or is it enough to settle comfortably into the dearth of ordinary existence?

Also included is the photography of Stephen Tomasko. His portfolio entitled “Winter Was Hard” features the unabashed beauty of the tree blossoms that explode onto the Midwestern landscape in the spring. He writes: “This series is my eagerly anticipated reaction to, and reward for, surviving another cold and unrelentingly gray northern Ohio winter. Though the subject has been buried by decades of pop photography detritus, I have found that there is still undeniable energy to this subject matter.”

As a lifelong resident of Michigan, I can easily relate to Tomasko. These blooms never cease to amaze. But how does one go about capturing such ephemeral splendor? Tomasko does so by approaching the blossoms as a “photographic challenge.” They inquire:

How much pink is too pink? How much blur? They call upon distant memories of sweet scents. The prints are created using archival pigments on a luxurious matte cotton paper. Presented in this way, the prints bring to my mind the work of Hokusai, the brilliant woodblock artist from Japan’s Edo period. Working with the atmosphere of the rapidly changing springtime Ohio sky, I seek to create equally rich imagery filled with the essence of the air and its fragrance, and of the fresh spring light, the touch of petals and pollen, and of emotionally intimate experiences with the land. Winter was hard, but…

The cover of this issue of Still Points Arts Quarterly features the contemporary work of painter Jeanne Bessetee. There is poetry from Charlotte F. Otten and Michelle Ward-Kantor as well as fine work from artists Michal Barkai and Angela Young.

Still Point Arts Quarterly does exactly what I always hope a literary arts journal will do. It refrains from overwhelming the reader with its content. Instead, it leaves one wanting just a little bit more. Christine Brooks Cote has put together a collection of diverse works worthy of one’s time and attention.

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The Sun coverThe Sun

Issue 429

September 2011


Review by Caitlin Reid

Reading The Sun is like spending a few hours with a very smart and environmentally-aware friend who is also a little bit of a goof. The theme of this independent, ad-free journal varies month to month, but the prose, poetry and photography selections tend to create an over-arching narrative like a well-ordered book of poetry.

September's issue focuses upon family dynamics and explores the role of humans as rogue family members of our planet's eco-system. One essay in particular is a perfect primer for the upcoming holiday season. "A Zen Zealot Comes Home" by Shozan Jack Haubner chronicles the irreconcilable sentiments stirred up by the author's Thanksgiving visit to his family. The emotional distance between the zen monk Mr. Haubner and his conservative, gun-dealing father can't be addressed by simply flying back across the country. Too wide to bridge, the ideological chasm between the two provides a fine place for Mr. Haubner to roar his frustration and then be confronted by his own angry echo.

Arnie Cooper's interview with Whole Earth Catalog editor Stewart Brand does not ever fall victim to familiar environmentalist rhetoric. Entitled "Environmental Heretic," Brand explains why he is critical of the "back-to-the-land" mind-set, how he has come to embrace the idea of nuclear power, and how he advocates both genetic engineering and organic farming. The Sun also typically features a Dog-Eared Page, where "works that have deepened or broadened our understanding of the human condition" appear, and this month's piece feels like a continuation of the Stewart Brand interview. Two excerpts reprinted from biologist Lewis Thomas' The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher describe how the earth operates much like a human cell, except humans have started "running the place" without truly understanding how the cell works.

The writing in The Sun takes risks and pulls off stunts I don't usually have patience for. "When Mystical Creatures Attack!" by Kathleen Founds is a short story told in eleven fictional high school essays. Each vignette details the hopes and disappointments of a tenth grade classroom in all their cruel beauty, and I love the cumulative effect of eleven unreliable narrators. "Conversations with A Tree" by an author simply listed as Sparrow provides additional genre whimsy. Listed under the heading "Essays, Memoirs, & True Stories" in the table of contents, this piece is actually three pages of diary entries where Sparrow records his conversations with a Norway maple he encounters in the suburbs of New Jersey. Yes, the tree's side of the conversation is included.

I bought The Sun this month because I saw the poet Tony Hoagland listed in the table of contents. To read a great new poem by one of my favorite poets in a current publication is as life-affirming as happening across a radio station playing a new song by my favorite band. In "Please Don't," Hoagland's flowers and blades of grass are high on life and artlessly vulnerable:

—they don't imagine lawn
mowers, the four stomachs
of the cow, or human beings with boots

The speaker in Hoagland's poem acknowledges the danger which accompanies being truly alive, but hopes to keep the grass and flowers naive for a little while longer. In this stanza, we realize the entreating title itself, “Please Don’t,” is actually Chekhov’s gun hanging on the wall, fully loaded, a gun the poem’s speaker knows must be fired—but not yet. The poem is more interested in asking for a few more minutes of joy than being painfully truthful.

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Umbrella Factory coverUmbrella Factory

Issue 6

June 2011

Online Quarterly

Reviewed by Henry F. Tonn

It is difficult to determine what kind of writing this journal is looking for since they do not give any directions on their website, but I paused in my incessant trolling of the online lit mags to read a story, and was hooked.

I love humor, and Gary Anderson’s “Dick-Whapping” has it. It concerns a dull, boring janitor who is seeing a court-ordered therapist because of his sexual obsession with a woman who worked in the office building where he cleaned. As the story unfolds we learn about his alcoholic co-workers (one who has a “pointless personality”), his marital problems with a claustrophobic wife who is having phone sex with "a guy named Daryl," and even his therapist, who seems quite opinionated and asks almost stereotyped questions.

Nathaniel Tower, editor of the online lit mag, Bartleby Snopes, writes an excellent tongue-in-cheek story entitled, “As Easy As Black And White.” This is about Billy Brown, who is a Caucasian, and Jerome White, who is African American, getting their paychecks mixed up by the payroll department and the boss, Mr. Rhinecold, who enjoys getting a “weekly examination” from his secretary from nine to eleven every morning. Confusion reigns. People are hired and fired, raises are given and retracted, and a Marx Brothers comedy ensues. The story is not only hilarious, but takes a nice poke at race relations and office bureaucracy.

Moving on to the archives (the wonderful thing about online literary magazines is that all the old stuff is available with a click of the finger), I found “Where the Antelope Roam,” in the March, 2011 edition, by Becky Margolis, winner of the 2011 Prism Review Fiction Contest. This is the convoluted account of a recent college graduate who is staying with her alcoholic, unemployed father, while animals from the local zoo keep escaping. What is the connection? I’ll let you read the story. Lastly, I would mention “Too Many Left Turns” by Meredith Luby, who is making her publishing debut. She begins the tale with: “My imaginary boyfriend beats the shit out of me,” and then we are taken on a whirlwind of fantasy, or is it fantasy? This story, more than any I have read in the past year, however, had a considerable number of grammatical and word usage errors, and could have used some good editing.

Umbrella Factory was begun in March of 2010 and appears to be going strong. I hope they stick around for a while.

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