Literary Magazine Reviews
Posted November 15, 2012
Alligator Juniper :: American Letters & Commentary :: American Literary Review :: Beloit Poetry Journal :: Blue Mesa Review :: Chinese Literature Today :: Harvard Review :: jubilat :: The Labletter :: The Los Angeles Review :: Palooka :: Redivider :: Rhino :: Sakura Review :: Southern Humanities Review :: upstreet
Review by Julie Nichols
Like the magazine, the alligator juniper tree is native to Arizona (the journal is a yearly publication of Prescott College), but, as its unusual name implies, the magazine “invites both the regional and the exotic.” What sets this journal apart from other lit mags is that the only avenue for submission—open to all levels, emerging, early-career, and established—is through their national contests. These include a general one for fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and photography, and a separate Suzanne Tito contest for fiction, CNF, and poetry. The prizewinners and finalists selected for this issue are supremely worth reading.
These contributions include Debra Marquart’s poignant “Losing the Meadow,” an essay that wanders between past homes and present landscapes so gently you’re not even sure why you feel sad at the end. “Pop” is Chris Guppy’s tender eulogy for a tough old dad, and Natalie Vestin’s “Under Ground” is a strong essay about the earth beneath Alberta, framed by stories of the people buried in it.
You can see why the prizewinners are the prizewinners. “Grown-Ups,” by Laura Hitt, has aptly won the Suzanne Tito award this year for its understated recounting of a car accident whose twenty-one-year-old driver is stricken with remorse:
I should have been driving slower, at a cautious crawl . . . I should have slowed down way earlier for that turn. I should never have learned to drive in the first place, should have taken a stance against the deceptive contraptions.
“I’d like to talk more about the nature of ice and fate; the fragility of life, the absurd risks we take to get from one place to another,” she says. “But I refrain.” What she learns instead wracks the heart. It’s a lovely essay.
So is the national prizewinning piece in creative nonfiction, “Burial” by Eli Connaughton. This memoir taps at death with both love and humor, a praise-song to the imperfections of family life that help the living remember the dead more fondly.
In Josh Peterson’s perfectly paced “Just Sadness,” the child narrator makes a jaw-dropping sacrifice at the request of an angry father, and, in “Electric Shock Therapy,” Sarah Elizabeth Schantz gives us another child whose love for a parent leads her to endure great pain. The fiction prizewinners are stunners, neither experimental in form nor postmodern in theme, but instead consisting of a beautiful piece of historical fiction (Janet Hilliard-Osborn’s “Mycology”) and a grim, substantial account of border-crossing—“Howls in the Desert Night,” by Molly Kiff, takes us into and out of Mexico, but also into and out of the human psyche longing to bridge difference.
One of Elton Glaser’s national prizewinning poems, “Coupling on the Edge of Entropy,” contains these delightful lines:
Hiding from heaven, where the dark haloes flash on
Like crime lights when you step in the wrong direction,
Where all the angels train with the IRS, I still believe
In the mercy of earth, in pardons retroactive to the womb.
Let bygones be herecomes, and the last supper served up
As lazy plates of meatloaf and tall bottles of Bud.
This is no novice poet. Christopher Buckley’s poems walk us boldly into the world of pacemakers—“Heart Failure” is about, simply, all the ways a heart can be damaged, or why would our hearts need help?—and then, fearlessly, he walks us toward death. In his bio, he says, “The closer to the Exit you get, you have to ask yourself if you feel lucky”—this about a poem entitled “Metaphysical Poem Ending with That Line from Dirty Harry.” Humor, empathy, form: these characterize the poetry in this robust issue.
The cover image, “Margin of Error, #14,” the second-prize winner of the national contest, shows a strait-laced woman in a black dress seated between two patio chairs, one hand on each, her legs long and white, her head cut entirely out of the picture. Margin of error indeed! The photography judge says, “Christine Weller deserves special mention for her fine suite entitled Margin of Error”—I’d have liked to see the rest of the collection.
Not all, but many, of the finalists and prizewinners are students. Not all, but most, of the literature in this magazine is conventional and clean, human and compassionate. This is not an issue full of speculative textuality or one-shot ventures into irony and cool. Not even the photography can be considered experimental; Cloe Cox’s “Black Lungs,” a stark silhouette of a girl (whose hair looks almost nineteen-fifties) blowing out a straight stream of white smoke, is perhaps the least still-life-ish. But all of it—both image and text—is highly readable, well-constructed, and, above all, full of empathy for the human condition, with a distinct and subtle sense of humor about it, in spite of its frailty.
Review by Julie Nichols
American Letters & Commentary defines itself as “innovative,” “challenging,” “daring,” and “diverse.” In this issue, John Phillip Santos reviews the poetry of John Matthias, saying that his “work imbeds us in his mind’s ceaseless flow of intimate memories, archival citations, insurrectionary readings, free associations and liberated play that seeks to unsettle the unexamined phenomenology of the reader’s attention to the world.” These phrases characterize ALC 23 as a whole.
This issue is dedicated to topics on the future of the book. ”Newer media swiftly flips forms,” Brian Dettmer tells us in his statement about his book-based art, and though this issue is not technically “new media,” ALC both literally and figuratively requires us to flip our notions of text and context as surely as Dettmer does himself. Russell Jaffe’s mad-lib poems, Carmen Giménez Smith’s repetitive “Phantoms in the Pantry,” and D.E. Steward’s name-dropping “Marcote” are all printed sideways. Fun, maybe; certainly a kind of “liberated play,” readings so “insurrectionary” we ask “why?” Or maybe we just enjoy the rotated volume.
Thus the images of Dettmer’s sculptures deserve note. As an artist, he begins with an existing book whose edges he seals and then sculpts with knives, tweezers, and surgical tools. “Nothing inside the books is relocated or implanted, only removed. Images and ideas are revealed to expose alternate histories and memories.” His piece “Tower of Babble” is a varnished tower of twisted paperback books whose edges have been cut to expose words and phrases in tiny print that, close up, exhibit an eerily predisposed juxtaposition. “Western Civilization 5,” a huge tome wrapped around itself, looks from the top like nothing so much as the agonized cross-section of a felled tree. From the side it resembles an intricately molded column, the words “Oldest Civilization” and “Metamorphosis” winding around its finial. “Saturation Will Result” appears as a plain cream-colored set of encyclopedias nautilus-mounted against a rectangular pedestal from one angle; from another, color illustrations and diagrams hang willy-nilly from the books’ severed pages. These images, like Santos’s discussion of Matthias, are a synecdoche for the magazine as a whole: one relatively familiar kind of text from one point of view, but from another, a different object altogether.
Or sometimes the other way around. At first Eric Anderson’s “[In the Yellow Nearly Red Glow]” (like the illustrations in Dettmer’s sculptures) looks almost random, almost as repetitious as a villanelle, only clearly not one. But then you reread the first line: “Suppose coincidence is a temporal field overlapping”—and you see that the rest of the poem presents a series of coincidences, reds and yellows and couples and wines and weather, which, overlapping as they do in time, are nothing if not repetitions with minute and meaningful variations. (I liked the poem very much.)
Ander Monson’s short essay “Mirror Work,” a commentary on Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse’s book Between Page and Screen, does the same trick. Monson begins by referencing John Conway’s automaton Game of Life. “Maybe you remember the pixelated bits [from the game],” he says, “if not, you’ve probably got a screen, so perform a search.” I did (you should too), and in the analogy’s radiated light, Monson, Borsuk, and Bouse make astonishing new sense. Conway’s “pixelated bits” live, multiply, or die, constantly changing their shape and direction depending on what’s adjacent to them. Some units fall away almost immediately. Some live for a long time. Some seem to reproduce endlessly: “it’s hard not to see in this one future for the book: not obsolescence for one or the other, but a fused existence . . . How stable must a text be to be a book? . . . This play between this book / this screen / and us strikes me as a stable lifeform, one likely to be repeated.” An unfamiliar reference becomes a brand new way to perceive a beloved object.
Joan Retallack’s provocative opening essay (nearly) ends by acknowledging that “the putative future of the book is much more complicated than these paragraphs . . . can contain.” But taken all together, the reviews, art, poetry, and prose in this issue of ALC represent the complication, the complexification, the punning play of word and reader and writer that constitute the present future of the book. Every item—from Amy Wright’s unclassifiable “Prose Translation of Emily Dickinson” to Josh Wardrip’s speculative fiction “Furthermore” and to Richard Greenfield’s prose poem “They Will Bluff Me (To Influence Me)” and everything before and after—every item is a totem of the strange new directions our print world may be headed. “It is infinitely adaptable,” Wardrip’s narrator says, “not only does it freely expand, but it may also continually modify its existing constitution.” And Greenfield says, wryly, “The expiration date [is] viciously scratched out. It [fits] so neatly inside.”
Volume 23 Number 1
Review by Mary Florio
In The Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (January, 2006), researchers argue that “emotion enhances remembrance of neutral events past.”1 Investigators speculated that the reason for this might have to do with more pointed attention during the coding process or enhancement after the event, but what they showed more centrally was that emotion enhances long-term memory, “determining what will later be remembered or forgotten.”2 Virginia Woolf wrote in her journal that there was a certain advantage to memory stripped of its emotional coloring, which doesn’t contradict the recent claim of the Academy, but adds to the complexity of the relationship between memory and emotion which would have considerable impact on literature and its sibling sciences—the law and psychology.
In Kaitlyn Palacios’s essay “The Waiver,” all of these sciences emerge in a testament to what the Academy found in 2006. Palacios captures a history of a marriage wrecked by incomprehensible bureaucracy and yet also depicts a clean, simple sketch of youthful love. The protagonists: an American Spanish-language tutor and her husband, a native of El Salvador. The conflict: after a marriage, the husband must return to El Salvador as the two seek to establish citizenship for the husband in the United States. The antagonist: an immigration system too busy to honor the plea of the protagonists to resolve the conflict. The resolution: about as resolute as an unfinished Kafka novel. Palacios narrates the deeply ironic story of their first Fourth of July. A more painful irony is her husband’s statements: “The problem is that nothing bad ever happens to you” and “You’re just a silly little girl.” Palacios’s essay is an unfurling testament to memory, love, youth and nationhood, and it is an irony such as the husband’s statement that makes you suffer on her behalf. Her memories become the reader’s, as the cadence of her language echoes her conversion. The narrative is so well-crafted, ebbing and rushing in an almost oceanic pull, I am late for everything today for reading it, unable to rescue my index finger from holding the page.
Nine hours and a workday later, I open the magazine again. Fiction, this time. I find the specter of Raymond Carver in Kyle Mellen’s short story “Just Like A Man,” a terrific (and I intend the root of that word here) mix of Carver and Edgar Allen Poe. As a rule, I am unsympathetic to what might become a cliché in voice—you take a moderately educated, working-class bloke who fancies beer and buddies at the neighborhood bar down the street from the obligatory machinist shop of sorts. The man has obligatory trouble with his wife, and his transformation necessary to the formula is typically internal. (The only dreadful variation is when the man’s wife somehow harms him and he is forced into the arms of a younger woman.)
I seek something more—take Austin Gilmour’s “On Huron,” where the short fiction explodes with language and ideas . . . but I left the discussion of “Just Like A Man” too quickly. Mellen uses the voice as a clever ruse; what you perceive as an exercise in the voice of the typical American man takes a story wildly out of the formula’s context—when you might expect a certain outcome, you are arrested by escalating violence and grotesque murder in a nihilistic framework that will freeze your blood. The risk in the plot development is well-managed; I found the pacing to be virtuosic. I think the effort would be terrific even in translation.
The afore-referenced Austin Gilmour’s “On Huron” speaks directly to memory, in one instance here: “My Grandfather was dear to me in my youth and dearer still after his death. But memory has a harsh agenda and often he seems little more than an image coming variously in and out of focus.”
This is where science and manifesto diverge, where the memories that can be tested like copper in rain are not the memories that perhaps persist in wanting to be named. Specifically, it might be said that we own our memories, and the way we showcase that property is going to be unique to the individual, and as writers, we resist the obvious—that memory might somehow conform to a rule or equation. And the refusal to conform to a rule is what facilitates evolution—we modify and twist our thought processes into something vibrant, something new, just as Gilmour does in this story.
Moreover, Gilmour’s work is classed as fiction but comes across by virtue of “telling” rather than illustrating—perhaps, to be fair, “telling” to build to a higher illustration—as a work of nonfiction. And you find yourself trusting the narrator because the story poses so much like a confession. Bobby Rogers’s poem “Interesting Case” provides insight into the mechanism of telling: “But who can presage what piece of our telling will be the detail / that condemns us? . . .”
From a layman’s perspective, many of the poems tend to inform each other and complement the prose while invoking tradition. The bravery to embrace erudition is appreciated (see Richard Jackson’s poem “Prophecy” and Leslie Adrienne Miller’s “Colette as Trope”). I remember reading Wallace Stevens in recovery of something awful and feeling worse for it because the poetry was too dense with allusion, but in these authors, the references work very well—maybe because I am no longer seventeen. Or because I can’t remember now what I didn’t understand at the time.
1 Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2006 Jan 31; 103(5): 1599-604 Epub 2006 Jan 24
[PubMed – Indexed for MEDLINE]
Volume 63 Number 1
Review by Charles Davenport
Whenever I review a poetry journal, I look for one or two poems that stitch all the poems to each other and, ultimately, to the fabric of my conscience. I trust the editors, whenever possible, to produce a publication that ties itself together with a common theme, a certain style, or a period in literary history, to name a few of the devices at an editorial team’s disposal. If I leave myself open to all the ways that such a “stitching” can happen, I am almost always pleased—as I am with the Fall 2012 Beloit Poetry Journal, which is a gem of a journal. The poem “Above the Lake,” by Stephen O’Connor, manages to pull the journal together.
But before I tell you about O’Connor’s wonderful 13-line poem, it’s worth noting that the Beloit Poetry Journal, published by the Beloit Poetry Journal Foundation in Farmington, ME, has been publishing poetry since 1950, and, in that span of 62 years, this little journal has published early pieces by an impressive line-up of important poets, such as Galway Kinnell, Anne Sexton, W.S. Merwin, and Charles Bukowski. Poems first published in the journal are regularly included in anthologies, such as Best American Poetry.
Whether O’Connor’s poem will be anthologized is not for me to say, but with winter looming on the near horizon, “Above the Lake” brings to mind the image of a single set of purposeful footprints crossing the frozen creeks and ponds of a small snow covered valley. O’Connor tells us that in the season that is upon us, “the world is composed / of absence” and that the world is “this snow, / these woods, this bleak sky.” Indeed, his poem reminds us that solitude can often turn to isolation, and from there “I mean human longing, / I mean loneliness accreting as quiet / on quiet, as white on bluish white.” And so, the poem concludes with the world still white, still quiet. The difference is layer upon layer of white, layers of quiet, layers of absence and solitude. Winter is a long season.
Two poems by Lucy Anderton focus their emotions with a sharpness that cuts like concertina. It may seem that Anderton’s poetry is filled with anger and could not possibly be linked to O’Connor’s, but in “Toward the single point of slipping,” Anderton finds safety in solitude “Up the mountain” where she hides from her father. The poem opens with the image of a lamb “strung apart” on barbed wire in slashing rain. At first, Anderton tells us she saw it, before correcting herself, “No. / I see her.” Anderton, though, cannot “cut open / and run.” The images evoke Matthew Shephard, but Anderton is clearly writing about herself and women in general who have suffered abuse, or have at least endured the blunt edge of a patriarchal society. In Anderton’s poetry, the image of the lamb is not a celebration of the sacrifice of a divine and heroic Christ, a masculine Christ. What Anderton is referring to is a killing, plain and simple, of the feminine, or more broadly, the marginalized other, while “watchers” are complicit by their inaction:
And always the watchers
who do nothing.
to be done.
The last eight pages of Beloit Poetry Journal are taken up with a section called “Books in Brief.” Here, Editor Lee Sharkey reviews new books by Martha Collins, Kevin Coval, and Jake Adam York, all of which tackle the issue of race from the perspective of being, as Sharkey puts it, “white.” Sharkey, whose own work has been compared to Carolyn Forché’s poetry of witness, begins her review by saying she has “been moved, and also chastened, over the past few years to see white poets confronting race in their writing.” This is not new ground, but it remains extremely difficult to navigate effectively, even treacherous rhetorically. For example, in the introduction to her essay, Sharkey repeats the assertion of Tess Taylor that the politics of poets are conducted “on the level of sentences.” I disagree and I am glad Sharkey did not pursue this point any further, but I wonder why she brought it up at all.
Small in size and international in its scope, the Beloit Poetry Journal continues to feature some of the brightest voices from the choirs of the written word. In addition to O’Connor, Anderton and Sharkey, this issue includes poetry by Hadara Bar-Nadav, Jeremy Bass, Michael Bazzett, Brendan Constantine, Jaydn DeWald, Caitlin Dwyer, Richard Foerster, Hannah K. Galvin, K. A. Hays, Liz Kay, Philip Metres, Roger Mitchell, Matthew Nienow, Ephraim Scott Sommers, Randi Ward, and Greg Wrenn. Who among them will grace the pages of Best American Poetry?
Review by David R. Matteri
Blue Mesa Review, a product of the creative writing program of the University of New Mexico, almost did not see publication this year. Editor-in-Chief Suzanne Rose Richardson reports that her fellow editors had to fight to keep their magazine alive during their school’s funding crisis: “They organized fund raisers, attended countless meetings, and they brainstormed in order to bring you this very issue you’re holding. Each editor gave above and beyond to ensure this issue had a chance to make it.” The folks at Blue Mesa have a lot to be proud of in this issue. The result of their hard work and dedication is a handsome journal with great content.
Struggling with inner demons is at the heart of this issue. Richardson says “There is something dark and strange inside all of us and issue 25 of Blue Mesa Review looks into that abyss and celebrates it.” One such story is “Admission” by Alison Hess, the second place winner of Blue Mesa’s 2012 fiction contest. It is about a young man who reflects on the sins of his life while in the process of receiving a heart transplant. Some of his sins are mundane, such as stealing a cable from a neighbor, but one of his greatest sins involves raping a girl when they were teenagers. As the narrator lies on the operating table, he asks himself: “How many hearts must blacken in my chest before I’m placed in hell?” Hess’s story is an intense journey through one man’s descent into his personal hell where there is no going back.
“The Fire Chasers” by Dustin Hoffman continues the hellish theme set by Hess’s tale. It is a story about Randall, a man who was recently promoted to the position of head safety supervisor of a local refinery. There is a huge sense of irony in this promotion because, although Randall obsesses over the safety of his coworkers and his family, the man is ultimately powerless to stop the rising jobless rate of his hometown and the fires blazing up around him. He brings Jackson, his twelve-year-old son, with him as they follow the fire engines to put out the fires, but he worries about Jackson’s painted nails and effeminate disposition. Randall wants to protect Jackson from the “white-washes and swirlies and black eyes” of high school with his heavy-handed style of tough love: “He imagined outfitting him in a suit of muscles and calluses like slipping a wool safety jacket onto the men at work.” Fire is everywhere in this piece. From cigars to houses, everything seems to be burning, and not even Randall’s position on the company ladder can stop it. This was a brilliant story that seemed to singe my fingertips as I read.
Yelizaveta Renfro’s personal essay “Lithodendron” weaves in the author’s personal memories of visiting a forest of petrified trees and the life of her grandfather. The petrified trees she visits are like “broken chess pieces of the gods” and “skeletons of the past.” She wonders if her grandfather, who disappeared before she was born, would be discovered some day like an archaeological find: “Maybe someday time will spit him back out, a stone torso or a leg tumbled down to the present.” Renfro paints an image of a man who worked odd jobs around the country during the Great Depression to support his family. From fixing cars for Hollywood film stars to digging wells, her grandfather was an industrious man during difficult times. Her grandfather was not without flaws, though. He once killed a man after drinking heavily and getting behind the wheel of a car. After he spends some time in jail, he returns to work for his family by going into Mexico where he is both shipwrecked and lost in the desert. He heads south for a third time, but never returns. The juxtaposition of the author’s grandfather and the petrified trees is unique and expertly done. One gets the feeling that the distinction between the human and natural world is blurred as both are subject to the slow decay of time. All that is left are memories and stories.
This issue also includes two interviews with poets Dana Levin and Nikola Madrizov. Levin, the author of three books of poetry and professor at Santa Fe University of Art and Design, offers insight into her creative process and the state of poetry in the modern world:
I think poetry offers three crucial experiences missing from much of today’s public discourse: complex clarity, mystery, and the capacity to hold paradoxes without judgment. We’re very application and decision-oriented these days: no time to sit and think through something, no time to come to a thoughtful evaluation before acting or prescribing. To weigh is to dither; to confess not knowing is to confess weakness: these will kill us in the end, especially as we face so many complicated problems: environmentally, politically, culturally.
Considering today’s highly charged political climate, I’d say we could all learn something from Levin’s words! Madrizov’s interview not only reveals his creative process, but also delves into his cultural and familial ties to the Balkans during one of the most violent periods of recent history. Madrizov recounts a time when many poets from Bosnia told him that the shortage of paper during the siege of Sarajevo forced them to write their poems “at the margins of old newspapers, upon paper napkins and toilet paper, all of which are easily perforated by the pen, just as the bullets went easily through the bodies.”
Blue Mesa Review is fortunate to have such a devoted staff. Without their effort, we would not be able to enjoy this offering of great stories and poetry. I hope their next issue will continue such a high level of quality.
Volume 2 Number 2
Review by Charles Davenport
In his editor’s Note, Deputy Editor-in-Chief Jonathan C. Stalling explains that part of the publication’s mission is to offer “to non-experts a multifaceted portal into contemporary China through literature and literary studies.” To do this, he refers readers to the issue’s featured scholar, Yue Daiyun, whose work in comparative literature has led to the conclusion that the traditions of the West and those of China (Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism) no longer exist independently of the other. Indeed, as Stalling explains, Yue’s vision is one in which comparative literature is preparation for “an era of global multicultural coexistence.”
Chinese Literature Today is as pleasing to the eye as its content is challenging to the literary mind. Yi Sha, whose poetry, fiction, and essays have been widely published and translated, stares confidently (if not defiantly) at the reader. Yi Sha writes “lower body” poetry, which, as scholar/translator Heather Inwood explains in her profile of the poet, concerns itself with topics such as the use of drugs and casual sex. As controversial as these topics may be, Inwood maintains that Yi Sha’s poetry adds to the poetics of China and swings the focus of Chinese poetry back to the lives of common people. In fact, Inwood asserts, “Yi Sha has been a major source of inspiration for China’s next generation of avant-garde poets born in the 1970s and ‘80s.” In the six poems and accompanying essay written by Sha, Inwood’s assertion is made even more plausible.
In the poem “China’s Lower Rungs,” Yi Sha tells of two street kids living in a “workers’ tent.” One of the kids, Little Bao, has broken his leg, and he has decided to sell a 1964 vintage handgun so he can pay to have his leg mended at a local hospital. The sale of the gun “to a Mr. Dong” sets off a “shooting tragedy that shook the whole country.” But, while most people were trying to discern the big picture about gun ownership, cracks in society and the state of the killer’s mind, Yi Sha writes that all he cared about were the two children: “these hopeless kids of the lower rungs / broke this people’s poet’s heart.”
Yi Sha exhibits a fearless propensity to push buttons that other poets caught up in the watered down discourse of the university community may be unwilling to acknowledge. In his essay, “I Have Something to Say,” he writes: “Poetry is more likely an egg born from chaos, not from the managerial thinking of a modern hen factory.” Nowhere is this more evident, from the angle of my Westernized sensibilities, than in the surprising poem, “9/11 Psychological Report.” The poem counts the evolution of his emotions over the course of ten seconds, from “open-mouthed in shock” in the first second to “taking joy in others’ misfortune” in the sixth second. But in the tenth second, Yi Sha remembers his “younger sister / lives in New York.” The phones don’t work, so he sends an email:
as I type
my fingers shake
are you still alive?
Your older brother is worried to death!”
A challenge in reviewing a journal such as Chinese Literature Today is interpreting the literature, its intent and purpose, as well as the literary elements deployed in the context and language of the authors filtered through the translators. It requires a lot of faith and trust. The journal asked three translators to discuss the questions of “fidelity to the original, cross-cultural interpretation, and literariness.” Shu Cai, who translates French poetry to Chinese, explains that translation is borne out of the necessity to communicate across languages and cultures. “If one wants to translate the spiritual meaning of a poem,” he writes, “one must have an awareness of the life impulses the poet had at the time of creation, which is to say that one must have a clear understanding of the generative process of a poem.”
Excellent poetry and some very thoughtful and intelligent criticism abound throughout the current issue of Chinese Literature Today, and it is impossible to discuss all of it. My advice is to read the journal. You won’t be sorry.
Review by Cara Bigony
Reading the Harvard Review was a pleasure. I could read this journal anyway I liked. I could freefall, flipping forward fifty pages at a whim, and know whichever piece I landed on would catch me. The obvious wow-factors include Spain’s poet laureate, Vincente Aleixandre; Antoni Tàpies, a Catalan painter whose work has been displayed at the most prestigious museums around the world; and Charles Simic, a Pulitzer Prize winner and MacArthur Fellowship recipient.
But the Harvard Review strikes a balance where most well established journals don’t. Alongside these extremely accomplished artists are pieces by young, burgeoning authors. Sophia Veltfort and Mark Chiusano, noted by the editor as young 2012 college graduates, write with poise and insight beyond their years. Veltfort’s essay “Missing” timelines the search for her sperm donor father that preoccupied her youth. The essay maps her lifelong feeling of loss with honesty, and the essay quietly builds to an unlikely source of resolution.
Chiusano’s short story “To Live in the Present Moment Is a Miracle” is reminiscent of Knowles’s A Separate Peace. Chiusano, a recent Harvard graduate, has produced a cleanly written story of a friendship where most things go unspoken. The story moves quickly toward a puzzling, unexpected goal, and Chiusano leaves us with a peaceful image of the pair running over the frozen Charles River with the film of Boston sliding by them:
He was ahead of me. There were the train tracks; up at the top of the little mountain the castle was blinking, an antenna hovering above, some of the windows lit, full of the warmth of other people, their books and lights and extra sweatshirts . . . I started running to catch up. I’ve always felt that you run faster at night, that you’re counting lampposts, or the trees, or the number of manmade objects stuck in the ice flow, as if to say we have been here. We must have run for miles . . . The air bit the back of your throat. The surface was always solid. The skin on your fingers got dry and white. The ice cracks in the night sound[ing] like conversation.
Filial love, a look at parents from children age six to forty-three, seems to surface and resurface endlessly in this issue. Karen E. Bender’s “The Visit” explores the ultimate disappointment of a middle-aged woman trying to understand the ebb and flow of her parents’ aging process. Honor Moore’s poem “Story” encapsulates what seems like the scope of an entire life in the description of one, heart-wrenching moment: a son handing his father over to death, as he holds his hand and stares out the window. And a five-year-old is put in charge of her grandmother who has Alzheimer’s disease in Artress Bethany White’s poem “Geneva Could Have Walked to Switzerland.” The Editor’s note adds that in poems by Mark Jarman and Charles Simic “mothers and especially fathers keep surfacing like finbacks from the psychological deep.”
Anne Shaw’s poem pushes us beyond living relationship and poignantly walks the razor edge between life and death. The only experimental poem in the collection, “Consumption” haunts us with images of coffins and graveyards.
Whole generations collect.
in their plots like children tucked in bed,
Do the dead bear witness
The pleasure of Shaw is that she weaves the living and the dead in such uncannily vivid details that she creates a world hard to emerge from. Jeremy Allan Hawkins evokes similarly eerie images, connecting the anonymity of wartime deaths to the speaker’s childhood games of playing guns with his best friend.
In addition to poetry, fiction, and essays, this journal has impressive visual artists. The longest spread pays tribute to Antoni Tàpies, the Catalan painter who passed away recently and whose lifetime works have been displayed around the world. Tàpies collection is beautifully balanced by New York based painter James Nares whose abstractions have an astonishing sense of movement.
I spent two afternoons curled on my couch wrapped in the pain of children missing their fathers, friends fighting to communicate. I obsessed over the uncanny, the sinister, and the foreign and watched narrators chase and pull away from those they love. These voices of the Harvard Review cohere and lead to an excellent collection.
Review by Sarah Carson
Jubilat 21 is an eclectic issue packed with both surrealism and honesty, insight and fun. I’ve always loved jubilat for the bold, inventive work it features, and this issue is no exception.
Oddly enough, I think my favorite piece in the issue is an essay by Lee Ann Roripaugh called “’Poem as Mirror Box: Mirror Neurons, Emotions, Phantom Limbs, and Poems of Loss and Elegy.” I say oddly enough because I’m comfortable enough with myself to admit that I often skip over essays about craft—not because I don’t care about craft, but because they’re often dry and, dare I say, pretentious. But I’ve read Roripaugh’s essay five times, and I’m not only continually intrigued with her proposition but moved by her writing.
The essay explores the link between mirror neurons—which, Roripaugh writes, “not only explain a lot about how our bodies learn to perform both simple and complex physical tasks but are also crucial with respect to our emotional and psychosocial functioning”—and the art of creating images in poems of loss or grief.
Roripaugh posits in her essay that poems of “loss and elegy” function much the same way a phantom limb does—they create haunting, “unnerving, even painful or burning, physical images and sensations for the speaker of the poem…” Using examples from the work of Anne Sexton, Yusef Komunyakaa, Susan Slaviero, and, my favorite, Li-Young Lee, Roripaugh takes the reader through her hypothesis one elegy at a time in a way that is insightful, intriguing, and easy to agree with.
Of course, the poetry and prose in the issue was just as thought-provoking and evocative. I was (and still am) especially captivated by Francesca Chabrier and Emily Hunt’s “Sorry David David I Am So Sorry,” an eccentric, pleasantly baffling visual collaboration. Comprised of eight pages of abstract doodles, the text of the piece reads like off-the-cuff interpretations of each drawing. Captions like “the lung like a lily . . . / blooms on the head of another mother / watch out / for the tail end / of the road some people / be playin dominos,” left me simultaneously amused, elated, and confused—and I love it.
Other highlights in the issue included two quirky, inventive one-act plays by Nick Lantz that both end as startlingly as they begin. I also enjoyed Hannah Gamble’s “Somewhere Golden,” a lovely, stream-of-consciousness rant that begins with the narrator cleaning herself up in a bathroom at a party and ends beautifully with a “priest who wears soft shoes . . . stooping at times / to pick up flowers.”
But Jericho Brown’s “Obituary” may be my new favorite poem of the moment. The imagery is so vivid and vibrant it’s hard to pick an excerpt to share here, but I’ll start with the beginning:
Say I never was a waiter. Say I never worked
Retail. Tell the papers and the police, I wrote
One color and wore a torn shirt. Nothing
Makes for longevity like a lie, so I had a few
Fakes and stains, but quote me, my hunger
Was sudden and wanting . . .
The poem goes on to discuss snow that “didn’t fall by the foot in a day,” “Derrick Franklin, gift of carnelian, / Lashes thick as a thumb,” and “A smile / That would shine like the last line of cocaine.” Together these images create an “Obituary” that I’m sure we all would like to see written about ourselves—full of life and love, a lot of honesty and a couple of exaggerations. It’s definitely a piece that moved me and opened up my imagination. I’m not sure you could ask more of a poem.
Overall, there are so many standout pieces in this issue, I feel a little guilty for only writing about a handful. Each page of this issue contains something noteworthy and surprising. All of the writing in the issue is well-crafted and worth reading and re-reading. It’s great to see jubilat continually living up to its reputation for providing a platform for solid, innovative, expressive work.
Review by Cara Bigony
The Labletter is the product of a small group of artists in Oregon who wrote together for ten years before inviting formal submissions. At its core, the Lab was a place where artists could experiment with their work and benefit from the group’s diverse mediums. The journal’s fourth annual issue stays true to its Oregon Lab roots—it is steeped in nature, whether captured by the photographer, the novelist, the poet, or the painter.
David Nakabayashi’s Winterstate series of oil and acrylic on canvas portray industrial structures in rural landscapes. The mostly blank terrains, perhaps reminiscent of Idaho, are crisp combinations of cobalt blue skies, bleach-white snow, and wheat-colored frozen ground peeking through the snow.
“Geese” by Catherine Grow also stays true to the rustic, country setting, as a girl reluctantly transitions to womanhood. Unexpectedly, this coming-of-age theme runs parallel to her father trying to keep geese off his neighbor’s land. The girl’s development and goose chase thread closer together as the story reaches its culminating point. A penultimate scene shows the young girl crawling through underbrush to catch the geese, which prompts her to notice a heavy ache in her stomach—a precursor to the arrival of her first period, which arrives later that evening in the shower: “Suds bubbled around the swells of my breasts, past my belly, and between my legs. Something tight broke loose inside of me then, and I lifted my face to meet the soothing jets of warmth: water and tears . . . ‘damn the geese, and damn being a woman.’”
In a series of black and white photographs, Cristine McConnell shares her obsession with the spiders living in her home. McConnell has documented over 30 species on film, 7 of which are featured in The Labletter. In her note, the artist stresses that these are living photos, that the spiders are not stuck with pins, their lives sacrificed for her art. The photographs, taken from a bird’s-eye view, are not dazzling—though they are detailed. Their most likely appeal is as a product of McConnell’s philosophy; they are a testament to her respect for the spiders’ lives, her fully embracing their cohabitation, and the obsession with them that’s grown out of this.
McConnell’s fascination with nature is mirrored and arguably surpassed in Caitlin Elizabeth Thomson’s two poems in which nature becomes home and houses become empty. “Home in Usk” describes a short moment of two people living in the woods exploring a long-abandoned home. But the couple, distant, even after blowing away layers of dust, retreats again. Similarly, “The First Night” questions what it means to live earnestly. What’s so fabulous about these poems is not in exactly what their asserting, but the scope of what Thomson is able to put forth so expressively in a handful of moments and gestures.
The journal’s only curve ball is its documentary photographs of the China Street Opera, which at first seem out of place among the rest of the journal’s selections. The photographs and author’s note were nevertheless interesting, and Julian Goldberger succeeds most notably in his tightly framed photographs of the Chinese actors backstage. Goldberger finds a backdoor into this ritual, and his images are stimulating and revealing. Equally unexpected was the interview with Donnie Mather about the Adaptations Project, which translates art of all types into theatre performances.
While I enjoyed reading the entire journal, the final poem “One Page,” by Peter Serchuk, stole the show. Making use of the deeply personal “you,” Serchuk’s speaker tells us to imagine we have one page to tell our story. The poem elusively echoes the speaker’s loss and regret, the product of a normal lifetime’s accumulation of mistakes:
word you hoped to say belongs
to someone else, and the one
light you hoped to follow slips
into a gown of fog.
Though his emotions pulse intensely throughout the poem, the speaker veils his specific experience. To us, he’s nothing more than a hazy portrait of a man approaching death. The language of the final stanza is truly stunning:
Tell me how you laughed and lied,
tell me how the world became
your lover, how every truth
you swallowed hypnotized your soul.
Imagine this is your page, not mine.
Please, tell me everything.
His ultimate call is to readers, to raise the mirror to ourselves before it’s too late.
Review by Aimee Nicole
This issue of The Los Angeles Review is packed with nonfiction, fiction, poetry, interviews, reviews, and even a special feature on John Rechy. At just under 300 pages, it is truly a wonder how the editors were able to include so many genres and forms. Rechy was impossibly lucky to have the first piece of fiction he submitted be published. He was a gay hustler who needed physical affection, even after becoming a successful writer. His writing is poignant, vivid, and mesmerizing, here is a little taste included in the magazine:
THE MAZE of the New York subways—the world pours into Times Square. Like lost souls emerging from the purgatory of the trains (dark rattling tunnels, smelly pornographic toilets, newsstands futilely splashing the subterranean graydepths with unreal magazine colors), the newyork faces push into the air: spilling into 42nd Street and Broadway—a scattered defeated army. And the world of that street bursts like a rocket into a shattered phosphorescent world. Giant signs—Bigger! Than! Life!—blink off and on.
The streets become a living, breathing monster that I cannot wait to explore further. This excerpt from his book City of Night convinced me to pick the book up and give it a go.
Philip Memmer writes a clever and funny poem titled “The Parable of the Thieves.” The first two thieves turn up empty, and, with no gold or jewels in sight, they leave and do not return. The third thief goes into the third house and does not break or steal, but he does sleep on the floor for a night. Then, he begins to take care of the house, tidies up, and paints his name on the mailbox. The end of the poem allows the writer to shine through and give some advice:
And like this man—and though
you will always
be a thief in your heart—you must
find the kingdom empty,
then make it yours.
This poem is a nugget of genius. From start to finish, I was completely wrapped up in the storyline and was reminded of fairytales such as The Three Little Pigs. The magazine also includes his other poem, “The Parable of the Sword.”
The LGBTQ community is not just a focal point in elections, but is an essential branch of the literary world. There is a great read in this literary magazine that focuses on the new generation in a roundtable style set of interviews. Angelo Nikolopoulos made some really great points in his responses. There is so much discussion of defining what “queer” means and segregation of all the different types of identity that vary from heterosexuality. He says, “trying to define ‘queer’ seems to me in many ways a very ‘unqueer’ enterprise. Instead, I like the word slippery and stubborn and drunkenly inclusive. This way it performs its own concept; like identity, it circumvents and thwarts categorical definitions.” It’s so hard to put a label on feelings and beliefs because they are abstract and sometimes impossible to explain to others.
But just because a writer identifies with a certain group, community, or affiliation doesn’t mean that their identity is the only important writing point. The world seems to have gotten so lost in social issues; yet we are all fighting the same fight. In the U.S., we believe in equality and opportunity. Nikolopoulos shares his universal ideas that are not gender specific or of an exclusive sexual orientation. He recognizes that we are all people, and “If you understand the body’s all you’ve got, I would think you’d treat it and others more compassionately.” Rather than spending so much energy in vying for a specific afterlife, we should treat others with respect in this life.
Review by Kirsten McIlvenna
The cover art for this issue—“The Little Prince” by Andrew Robertson—speaks greatly to the aura of the writing held within. The Little Prince stands on his asteroid, back turned to us, with just his rose. The fiction, poetry, and nonfiction held within the magazine emit these same senses of loneliness and solitude, though in a way that is both beautiful and poetic.
Sean Thomas Dougherty’s nonfiction piece “Nowhere Near Somewhere,” for example (if the title doesn’t prove it enough), starts, “It’s true the heaviest grief carries no weight, moving through us so lightly we can no longer feel the ground. Its sound is the hissing of a wounded balloon propelling haphazardly into the sky.”
Erin Elizabeth Smith contributes a collection of poems all having to do with Alice (of Wonderland). Smith delves into the viewpoint of Alice, wondering what it might be like to live in her mind. In one poem, Alice even gives advice to another character, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz:
and you, so foolish to believe home
is something you’d want to click your heels for,
a place where we aren’t just stories
told to keep girls tight in their own beds.
While the Disney version of Alice is happy and sing-song, Smith brings us a new viewpoint. Perhaps my favorite of this collection is the one that most reminds me most of the little prince on the front cover, “The Carroll Illustrations”:
In Carroll’s drawings, Alice isn’t
so proper or so blonde . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
and stone-eyed, she reminds
me of myself, unlike her Disney
doppelgänger, whose sheeted
hair curtsies like a buoy on a still bay.
There is no delphinium-eyed
darling, singing among the violets,
but a real girl, who is reaching a hand
from the salted water
as if drowning in it all.
Michelle Valois’s “Translation” focuses on the image of a pomegranate (a poetic fruit if you ask me) to portray the relationship between the narrator and the narrator’s companion: “Almost edible, the insides of this strange fruit: moist, chalky, acidic, sweet, and stinging the mouth’s soft flesh.” The lines at the end of the piece are what struck me the most: “You told me about Persephone, poor lass, who ransomed her return for just one taste. I said, I might go home one day. That winter I carried the weight of our love on my tongue.”
But as much as I enjoyed the poetry and the nonfiction, the fiction in this issue is really what had me captivated. Bo McMillan’s “Supernova” is a story told through the viewpoint of a young boy, one who is attached to his action figures, his superhero costume, and his ability to be a detective:
Sometimes people don’t look at you as much if you’re not wearing your costume. It only really works if people don’t know your true identity though. I walk to school and I look like a regular boy, but I’m not. Nobody knows I’m a superhero because I’m not wearing my suit. This means I can be a detective. . . . Superheroes use detecting a lot because they’re only allowed to beat up bad guys and sometimes it’s hard to tell if someone is bad or good.
But through the story of him trying to figure out who stole his Captain Machinegun, we discover that he is a young boy trying to cope with and deal with the loss of his father: “I throw all the superheroes in the trashcan because one time Captain America died in the comics and he came back, but in real life if you’re dead you can never come back. Not even if people miss you.”
Greg S. Johnson’s “Kasia” is equally endearing. Having fallen in love with her old Bösendorfer piano and playing music on it, the narrator battles with her mother’s voice in her ear, the one that tells her to “learn something useful.” In a heartbreaking move from Krakow to Warsaw (in Poland), her piano, her Kasia is broken into pieces. “Even today that sound of heartbreak rings in my ears,” she says. Now living in Chicago, away from her parents, she tries to open her heart to a new piano:
I stand near her and stare at the lights reflecting off the perfect glossy finish.
I sit down on the floor and lean back against one of the legs. It is not so intricately carved but at least it is solid. I worry the hole in my sweatpants. After some time I move the bench out of the way and curl myself underneath her. I hold one of the pedals as though I am shaking hands.
The solitude found within all of these pieces is both heartbreaking and heartwarming,
making it an issue worth returning to.
Volume 9 Issue 2
Review by David R. Matteri
Redivider releases their spring 2012 issue loaded with a mix of strong and diverse works of fiction and poetry. From the absurd to the tragic, this issue was a pleasure to read from beginning to end.
“After School” by Matthew Baker is about two siblings waiting for their mother to pick them up after school. Time goes by, but their mother never shows up. Something is wrong. The youngest sibling, our narrator, thinks that maybe their mother simply forgot and is out getting groceries. His older sister, a teenage girl who suffers from scoliosis, disagrees: “Maybe she met someone cute at a vegetable stand down the road and then eloped to Switzerland.” Brother and sister then set out to find their mother but feel increasingly isolated when they find their home empty. Their search goes on, but their childhood is ultimately shattered by the end of the story and left me feeling emotionally drained. I enjoyed the tone of this young narrator. His voice has the inexperience of youth, but under the surface is a growing adult consciousness that is inspiring yet incredibly tragic.
“A Collection of Favorite Holidays” by Anna Prushinskaya reads like a letter to a man who grew up in Soviet Russia. The author lists famous Soviet holidays, such as Cosmonaut’s Day and International Women’s Day, and reminds the man of his memories of those holidays and his father. The nature of the letter quickly becomes intensely personal as the boy grows up into a man living in America who can’t afford to travel back to the old country to visit his father. Instead he calls his father every Saturday and the author turns this into a new holiday called “Saturday Calling Your Father.” Pleasant memories turn to tragedy when the extreme distance between father and son separates them further apart with every passing day: “In the silences you heard the distance vibrate in the phone lines, the familial bonds stretched thin and ready to snap.” It is a unique work of fiction which at times I forgot was fiction and thought was a personal essay. Other times, I thought it was a work of prose poetry. Whatever this is, it is a great read.
Perhaps the quirkiest work of fiction I have ever read is Darrin Doyle’s absurd tale “If the Invisible Man Dies and Nobody Sees It, Does He Really Die?” It is about an old man writing a book about the exploits of his youth as a renowned boxer in the year 1983, “A year of cool dancing and cool coke.” He has an affair with an older woman, who just so happens to be the wife of his manager. As it turns out, his manager recently became invisible:
Picture it. A hot dog in a bun, smothered in kraut and ketchup. Now the hot dog floats off the table, hangs in mid-air. WHAT?? Then a chunk rips loose and gets mangled and mashed and pulverized before your eyes. I felt like I was on some Superman acid.
What makes this story even stranger is the fact that it reads like the rough draft of a manuscript. Whole paragraphs and sentences are crossed out (as well as the original title which reads “I Boxed KO’d Killed the Invisible Man”), and the author’s personal notes are scattered throughout the story like a side plot; they are funny without being distracting from the main plot. This story was completely bonkers and a blast to consume.
One of my favorite poems in this issue comes from Denise Duhamel, who picks apart a famous Shirley Temple movie in “The Littlest Rebel.” The speaker admits to being addicted to the child star’s movies as a little girl, but now sees them differently through the lens of an educated adult. She takes issue with the film’s lack of attention to slavery, racism, and a country at war with itself and relates the ending with a heavy dose of cynicism:
The film ends with Shirley singing
everything went wrong but it turned out right,
polly-wolly-doodle all day.
The civil war is still on. Lincoln hasn’t yet been shot,
which would have certainly made Shirley sad.
But her father says southerners never cry—
they just have raindrops in their eyes.
It’s certainly a controversial film by today’s standards, but that song is still pretty darn catchy. You can’t go wrong by reading this poem and all the other works in this issue of Redivider. So go on and read it yourself. You won’t be disappointed.
Review by Mitchell Jarosz
It’s Rhino. I don’t know how long it’s been around, but it is one of the best annual collections of poetry you can find. Once you know the quality is there, what would you like me to tell you? It’s always good. If you are not familiar with it, you can count on it to enrich your day and entertain your evening. If you are familiar with it, you look forward to it. So, what did I do?
Ignore the awards; don’t notice the editors’ choices. Read all of the poems, make some notes; then compare your choices to the editors’. If Sean Howard’s “shadowgraph 44: observation appears as an event” isn’t for you, there’s more; turn the page. Later, consider why the editors gave it their first prize; how do their standards and yours coincide?
The work isn’t grouped by place or theme, but that’s not a problem. Finding the love poems (or the ones you feel are love poems) isn’t hard. Try Bill Christophersen’s “Angel Wings, Keyhole Limpet . . .” Here you can connect with the memories of your past loves and what you still fondly carry with you. There’s Hŏ Nansŏrhŏn’s “Autumn Longing,” translated from the classical Chinese, carrying with it all of the flow and impact of traditional pieces, using images that still affect us today. In fact, all of the translations are artistically done, whether from the Serbian or the Portuguese, Chinese or Vietnamese. I have no doubt the translators have earned credit for their faithfulness to the original ideas, metrics, and flowing rhythms.
Some themes are, of course, more familiar than others, but pieces such as Richard Boada’s “Post-Soviet Recession” can be readily felt by anyone who has lived any history. I don’t know if the references are to Old Havana in Miami or old Habana, but I don’t care. The images bring up the smells and tastes of melon and lemon and more importantly, the feelings of the characters as they enter a new era of social freedom.
There are also some very pleasant narrative pieces. Eliot Khalil Wilson’s “Uncle Frank Meets the Artist Formerly Known as Prince” is as descriptive as I could ask for: “. . . and since you want to know, no purple anything—tight green pants, green gloves and an orange shirt—like Aquaman, I thought, Aquaman and Liza Minnelli.”
Marianne Villanueva’s “Eating” could take anyone back to their childhood: “I thought about my mother. About how much she loved me. She loves me, I whispered. She calls me the names of her favorite vegetables: sigadillas, kamatis.”
Many, such as Leigh Phillips’s “Country Grammar,” are a pleasing blend of narrative and poetry. The pacing and staccato imagery aren’t obvious in the paragraph form until you’re into the reading (aloud would be great!). All the pieces are enjoyable. Some are more whimsical than others. Try Arthur McMaster’s “Sunfish,” a visual poem; yes, it does look like a small sailing craft.
Do you like reflections? How about Christina Olson’s “Punk Rock Poem Grows Up”:
you think, this is the hard
business of living: the real
punk act of waking
each morning, every morning.
A word about the writers: well, how do I give you “a word” about 100+ talented people. They would make a great writers’ school (not that we need another one). This edition would make a great textbook for writers, beginning or advanced (did you ever notice that the best artists of any kind consider themselves either beginners or intermediate? To claim more is to claim hubris as your middle name.). Yes, I do asides. These writers are some of the best of our artists. All of the writers in Rhino 2012 are to be complimented for the quality of their work; the editors are to be complimented for bringing them to us. We can feel complimented for the opportunity to share their work.
Review by Sarah Carson
Upon reading Volume III of Sakura Review, I had an immediate interest in finding out what the word “Sakura” referred to. I, of course, went first to Wikipedia where I learned that “sakura” might refer to “the Japanese term for ornamental cherry blossom trees and their blossoms.”
“Ahhhh…” I said to myself (ok, not literally), this made sense not only because the cover of the issue featured a little pink flower, but more because the common theme I found in the well-crafted but widely varied choices of work featured in the issue was the precision of language featured in each piece. Each story, poem, and story/poem in the journal made use of its imagery with expert specificity and concision, in much the way the cherry blossom symbolizes the impermanence or transience of life (also according to Wikipedia). From its lovely minimalist cover to the issue’s last story, each piece buzzes with the tension of what is said and what is not said, of what the images the reader is left with and what they all mean.
I don’t think any work in the issue exemplifies this sentiment better than Joshua Ware’s “My Cinematographies II and IV”—two tiny poems carefully balanced between the pictures they evoke and what is left unsaid: “An invisible ball,” Ware writes in “My Cinematographies II,” “ricochets between invisible racquets. / Volleys echo / and re-echo / in the artist’s ear, murder / in a photograph.”
There’s also Nathaniel Hunt’s “The Fig Tree” an entire poem told in just three stanzas and two images that says “there’s only one way / to bear fruit”:
wandering from blossom to blossom
on a wet spring day
and the jaws
of a flower closing, closing
around my body.
Of course, not all of the work in the issue is so short, but it is all just as precise in its telling, like George Bishop’s “On Telling a Story More than Once” in which a butterfly longs to go back to his days as a caterpillar. The narrator’s voice is absolutely pitch perfect, and, again, it’s the visuals that make the caterpillar’s plight so heartbreaking as Bishop writes: “Just once / he wished his wings would fall / off when he stopped—he wanted / to blend again, inch away. Direction / was hopeless—rescued by instinct / he didn’t know was his, he’s been / lured to flowers without knowing why . . .”
This same beautifully succinct storytelling is evident in the fiction in the issue as well, like Robert Yune’s “Wrens,” the short story of a fresh-from-the-academy police officer who is patrolling her hometown when she notices a missing stop sign. The young officer seems more at home watching the spot where the stop sign once stood and “listening to her scanner and the wrens,” than in the people driving past her. Officer Posnaski catches her reflection “in the cruiser’s window, herself with an arm out, as if asking them to slow down, as if reaching for something.”
It should be no surprise, then, that I found this third volume of the Sakura Review to live up to its name. The poignant, carefully-crafted pieces in this journal come together as one issue as not many do in today’s literary journals. The Sakura Review editors seem to know their voice and their mission, and it has certainly paid off here.
Volume 46 Number 3
Review by Mary Florio
When money’s involved, what constitutes a document can be volcanically contested. Prior drafts, letters of intent, symbols sketched on a corner of a tablecloth are material one way or the other, if at all. Not so with every literary magazine. The summer 2012 issue of Southern Humanities Review is the first out of maybe twelve issues that I’ve reviewed that is curiously harmonic, down to the detailed footnotes of an essay. The Minutes of the Executive Board Meeting of the Southern Humanities Council, the copyright attribution on the last page from November 1931 are allusive, contributing to a cohesive whole, teasing, in the vein of a modern Nabokov, what is real, what is to be believed.
The efforts of Auburn University faculty have won the school a strong reputation and a considerable but not unusual amount of federal funding. I make this connection only to highlight that the publication, which is housed at Auburn, published a trove of nonfiction (about 50% not including book reviews, the aforementioned minutes or the contributor notes). Moreover, the fiction and poetry were what my poet friends call “truthy.” The only artifice was perhaps in Martin Noval’s “Turning Bears into Chipmunks: The Wild, the Violent and the Destruction of the Earth”:
More and more we see Nature as merely useful, as a means to serve and enhance human well-being—however that is understood at the moment – and we would preserve Nature only in the face of so-called rational arguments about the economic, health or aesthetic benefits of doing so.
I haven’t seen a sentence like that since perhaps I read Walden, in the winter of 1993 (who can’t remember when they first read Walden?). The essay is not dissimilar to those of the Transcendentalist movement that emerged in the late 1800s. Noval is not merely subjectively a modern incantation of the prominent Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, but he actually captures the sound also. “At the beginning of this essay I said that merely understanding Nature is not sufficient to save it; rather we must be of Nature, natural beings among other natural beings.”
The essays in the volume are challenging and must have required a tremendous gift of editorial discretion—there is no quick right hook in Julian Hoffman’s “An Accumulation of Light,” unless it is the elegant first sentence: “It reached me as an afterglow.”
As a reader for an annual poetry prize, I see about 2,500 pages of verse per cycle, and maybe 25% of the verse is opaque despite many efforts to decode it. Rather than remove the verse from consideration, I forward it on to senior editors at the press. The idea is that whether or not you prefer Mary Oliver to Sylvia Plath, if Plath is the better poet, choose Plath. After the rigorous and sometimes jocular essays in this volume, I was lucky enough to read poetry that was easier to unpack and had the best of both worlds—poems full of insight and craft. Take Dana Koster’s “Hummingbird Heart,” about the enormity of new life or David Salner’s “Milton,” about the enormity of life already gone. Jacob Newberry’s Rondel “Paris Called: She Craves me Wildly” and “Theology of Wasps” have all the cache of the canon in terms of literary discipline at the expense to nothing. I nod respectfully to Ace Boggess’s “The Times,” which is a sturdy elegy to Bob Dylan in a magical tone that evokes the voice of that era.
The fiction in this volume is not art for art’s sake alone—both Jennifer Cranfill’s “The Last of the Small Town Girls” and Toni Graham’s “Ash” are tales of our generation. One might say something that simplistic and expect it to be accepted, but to clarify for those who do not accept such a statement, I mean to underscore that while Cranfill tells the story of a news reporter seeking work and finding Waco, Texas, and that while Graham writes about sexuality in various incantations, these voices capture ideas and events that have come to define the document that is our lives.
Reviewed by Kenneth Nichols
What makes the lit mag experience special? Editor Vivian Dorsel provides one interesting answer in the short introductory essay that opens this issue of upstreet. Dorsel describes the experience of arriving in Bermuda for a vacation. The narrow Bermudan roads wind you “through a landscape both commonplace and exotic—simple cottages and family homes and forms and hues foreign to your native New England, palm trees in myriad sizes, shapes and shades of green whose fronds clatter in the gusty wind . . .” upstreet creates a similar experience, introducing the reader to unexpected people and places that are nonetheless familiar.
This issue leads off with a gem. Claudia Burbank’s short story, “How to Tell if You’re Alive,” transports the reader to Switzerland, where young Marek helps “death tourists” end their own lives. Marek does the dirty work for Herr Schlegel, setting up the video camera and giving his patients the drugs that will bring them quietus. “The Cause” means a great deal to Marek; his mother had been involved before her own terminal illness. While Marek understands the gravity of his job, he’s become slightly desensitized. This state changes, of course, when he’s charged with training Anya to facilitate suicide for the dying. The beating heart of the story is the emotional epiphany Marek experiences during his time with Anya. Indeed, some of the conflict is the result of his attraction to the young woman, but Marek also considers the nature of existence and the responsibility of the dying to those who will succeed them.
Damian Fallon’s “Fellatio” will indeed appeal to the chortling twelve-year-old that remains in the depths of the reader’s psyche. The poet considers the topic in a meaningful fashion, illuminating the method by which that twelve-year-old becomes a mature adult. This close reading of both the act and the word is a reminder that great literature contextualizes the whole of the human experience.
In “Accommodations,” Jodi Paloni immerses the reader in a claustrophobic setting that heightens the emotional stakes for her three characters. Patsy Hartshorn runs a small gas station in a smaller town that is being buried by a winter storm. Patsy is about to close everything down and go home when Forrest shows up needing gas and a bite to eat in addition to the kindness of a stranger. Forrest’s terminally ill wife is in the truck; he’s hoping to let his wife see the Maine coastline one last time. Patsy has tried working through her own pain, a process that guides how she will deal with Forrest and Anna. She “understood how important it was to be able to say goodbye. No matter how suddenly a person died, or how long they were dead, seeing the body, touching the hair and skin, getting over the shock of a coldness like nothing else; a person remembers that forever.”
The nonfiction showcased in this issue of upstreet seems focused on people in need: a male model in search of a deep connection to others, a writer and scholar who wants to understand his feelings with regard to what a childhood acquaintance has become. Steven D. Rucker employs a beautiful simile, comparing the seven-person firing line at a full-honors military funeral to a “terminal chord:” solemn music that commemorates the dead and inspires the living.