Posted December 15, 2012
Arkansas Review :: Boulevard :: Brick :: CALYX :: Canteen :: Carolina Quarterly :: Ekphrasis :: Eleven Eleven :: Frequencies :: The Midwest Quarterly :: River Teeth :: Solo Café :: Stone Voices :: Structo :: subTERRAIN
Volume 43 Number 2
Review by Cara Bigony
The Arkansas Review features a blend of fiction, poetry, photography, and scholarly articles about the seven-state Mississippi River Delta. At fifty pages, the brief journal is an interesting study of this part of America, but at times feels claustrophobic in its geographic constraints. What sets this magazine apart from others is the chorus of Delta voices and its convincing local color.
The journal is filled primarily with first-person accounts of people from or living in the Delta area, which adds a degree of credibility and intimacy to the journal that few others achieve. “Getting to Grand Isle,” a memoir by Ramona DeFelice Long about the shifting role of the bridge that connects Grand Isle to the rest of Louisiana, mixes the personal and the historical with a subtle critique of the changing times that ends with a pang of nostalgia.
The opening essay by Robert Hunt Ferguson outlines a history of the Great Depression and Christianity converging through the story of John L. Handcox’s poems and protest songs. Though some biographical information feels dry, Handcox’s ultimate refusal of the “end-times” leads to a proactive account of his fight against unions. The black and white photographic essay by Willy Conley that follows, “Ends of an Era,” conveys a sense of nostalgic patriotism in its objects: a Chevy truck walled by chicken crates, a 64 Motel, a shackled tool shed, and time-beaten signs. Conley’s background in biomedical photography comes through in his documentive approach.
Reviewers in the past have noted that the journal’s academic articles stand out among the rest, and I agree. In “Sharing Chopin,” Nicole Diederich puts Stanley Fish’s interpretive communities to a test by teaching Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” to two different classes: American students and international students. Her account of the resulting discussions is interestingly framed, and her pedagogical approaches pushes at conventional definitions of what it means to be a teacher. Her insights and her expression of her goals for the process are even more impressive: “I wanted to blur [the students’] boundaries, to encourage them to develop an interpretive community that would recognize connections between literature and their majors,” and “this work of literature . . . invites students to become active participants in developing their own knowledge, in making their own meaning within an interpretive community.”
Brad Cobb’s fiction piece “The Country Girl” is an original story that takes place entirely in an elderly man’s house. The first-person narrative brings us incredibly close to the old man, whose awareness of his own aging process is endearing and occasionally painful. When he hires a new woman to help him get around the house, the story really takes off, ending on an unexpected note that is both devastating and hopeful. While the sometimes-stilted language becomes a pimple on the narrative’s otherwise clear face, Cobb’s story is refreshing and a delightful read.
Both written in the first person, the poems “After the Flood,” by Anne M. Shaughnessy, and “Chinese Mulberry Tree,” by Celester Pottier, perhaps gave me the strongest sense of the Delta. Pottier’s poem had some of the most compelling imagery of the journal, and both tackle universal themes through individual experience. Shaughnessy’s poem illustrates one man’s suspension between life and death, living through one memory from when he was four years old that both cements him to his past and pushes him towards his mother’s open hand in the afterlife.
Volume 28 Numbers 1 & 2
Reviewed by Kenneth Nichols
Once again, Richard Burgin and his team present a well-rounded collection of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry that will appeal to the reader’s intellect and emotion alike. The impact begins with the journal’s very first piece: a new short story from Joyce Carol Oates. In “Anniversary,” Vivianne has retired from higher education and has decided to volunteer to teach writing in the State Prison Education Program. Vivianne has been paired with Cal Healy, a much younger and far less experienced teacher. Oates builds tension effectively and organically, taking a lot of time to explain all of the many rules one must follow to work in a prison. (Avoid blue clothing so you can’t be confused with an inmate, avoid delving too deeply into their personal lives . . . and keep an eye on that pencil sharpener.) The ending of the story alone is worth the read. Oates manipulates the reader’s understanding of the narrative, lending greater power and a more disturbing undertone to a simple ride home.
As much as we like to think that humanity has evolved over the centuries, some flaws are unshakeable. In the poem “Two Plays,” Lloyd Schwarz contrasts a scene from Thomas Middleton’s 1622 play The Changeling with a grifter’s ploy that was attempted on him in Paris. The con? A stranger finds a gold ring on the ground and hands it to you, claiming you dropped it. After earning your trust, the stranger unfolds a sob story and asks you for money. Like Middleton, Schwartz trades on the important symbolism of an object as deceptively simple as a ring. Sharing a rare moment of honest contact with a woman working the con, Schwartz concludes: “She’s not a joke. She isn’t in a play. / How dare I interfere with her work? Who do I think I am?”
This nonfiction contained in this issue of Boulevard is primarily of the scholarly variety. Anis Shivani responds to criticism he received upon challenging the current state of creative writing instruction. Who can resist a respectful and spirited fight between people who are really smart? Shivani’s primary claim will be argued for a while, no doubt: “Creative Writing Is Therapy, Even if the Pedagogues Won’t Admit It.” Later in the issue, Jean McGarry and William Black consider that eternal question: “Where do writers find their material?” The authors provide good advice, using examples that range from Katherine Anne Porter to James Joyce.
Michael Nye, one supposes, finds his material through contemplation of that common dilemma: what happens to the feelings shared by parted lovers? The narrator of “A Fully Imagined World” is bringing his daughter through Cincinnati’s Natural History Museum when he spots Serena, a former lover, across the room. Sure, Kyle slipped out after their one night stand without leaving a note. Nine years later, however, “one night with Serena had become a physical ache, a dream he could call up and see and touch.” Kyle is shaken from his reverie with a quickness: his daughter disappears. The story’s denouement is deserved. We’re lost and found, Nye seems to say, all at once.
While this issue of Boulevard may be particularly interesting to academics, others are by no means excluded. For example, Geoffrey Bent’s nonfiction piece “The Virtuoso” is a detailed analysis of the life of the artist Michelangelo Merisi, better known as Caravaggio. Bent does a great service, describing the man’s life in such a way that the reader is reminded that Caravaggio was once of flesh and blood, creating art to satisfy his desire to express his humanity. Such, perhaps, is Boulevard’s aesthetic: an attempt to glorify the mind while feeding the heart.
Review by Cara Bigony
At its start, Brick was a collection of reviews, and at its heart still is. The editors say, “Brick’s mandate remains unchanged: to create a beautiful product filled with the most invigorating and challenging literary essays, interviews, memoirs, travelogues, belles lettres, and unusual musings we can get our hands on.”
The journal casts a wide geographical net, and the opening essay “The Map of My Village” by Amitava Kumar is a two-page intersection in which Kumar weaves class division in India, writing style, and (surprisingly) bathrooms into a backdoor critique of some failings of the modern world. Another essay portrays Cuban history through the eyes of a visitor being lead on a tour of Cuba’s oldest graveyard. Throughout the journal, we travel to faraway lands, like in the featured fiction, “The Looking Ahead Artist” by Patrick deWitt, which is an entirely different and unsettling read.
The journal also has a foot in theatre and film. David Thomson’s review praises Clio Barnard’s film rendition of Andrea Dunbar’s play The Arbor. Thomson applauds Dunbar for her honesty and bravery and Barnard for her successful translation of it to the screen. The Arbor, which won Best New Documentary Filmmaker for Dunbar at Tribeca, is made even more enticing by Thomson’s review. He characterizes it as “a slice of untidy, wounded life,” a sentiment that recurs throughout the journal—which tends to prefer the bleak post-modern abyss.
The interview with Canadian author and translator Anne Carson was one of the most gripping interviews I’ve read. It revealed Carson’s brilliant tendency to accidentally speak poetic, philosophical truths. It’s no surprise that the interview kept circling back to philosophy, as half of her project is a translation of a Greek poem. Carson unravels the story of her brother’s death—the inspiration for her book—and its effect on her family. An intellectually provocative conversation, Carson speaks honestly about the fragmentation of observing a relative’s life, which opens into a discussion about the possibility (or impossibility) of a coherent “self” and the gap between experience and documentation. Her discussion of poetry as a slippery, elusive beast lets the conversation drift along the subject of dreams, voice, the uncanny, and attemp to piece together a story. Her two poems that follow take on a new intimacy. In “Father’s Old Blue Cardigan,” Carson’s attempt to mimic her father’s masculinity, to be manly in his absence, is all the more powerful.
I did, however, receive some essays with less enthusiasm. “Cosmology” adopted an overly reverent tone that became distracting and a bit off-putting. And “Leonora Carrington, Bride of the Wind” about surrealist Mexican painter Carrington never quite came together for me. It drifted between genres (personal interview, an expose of romantic pursuits, and biography) a fragmentation that made the piece feel directionless. These two were merely blips on the radar though—and it’s possible others may enjoy them.
The most stunning essays in Brick are those where the artistry of the writers matches their subject matter. Colm Tóibín deftly traces James Baldwin coursing through American jazz, our nation’s history, and Baldwin’s literary fathers and peers. In “Baldwin and ‘the American Confusion,’” Tóibín offers an insightful exploration of Baldwin and his successes as an American thinker and writer. His synthesis of Baldwin’s writing impressively paints Baldwin in a critical and honorable light.
Similarly, Lisa Moore’s prose sings in her “Mavis Gallant in Malibu” as she lyrically shares her experience of reading Gallant. She makes Gallant seem like the most captivating writer writing today: “Gallant is the kind of writer who can wring a wry smile out of a question mark or a fast, slick aside. Here is satire, but Gallant does something very difficult and rare—her satire is neither cruel nor condescending but, against odds, compassionate.”
Brick offers a plenitude of fascinating essays, reviews, and three feature interviews that expose the offbeat, the unique, and the relevant.
Volume 27, Number 2
Review by Jennifer Falkner
CALYX, a literary journal dedicated to celebrating women’s voices, never fails to delight. The expanded summer issue of 2012, with its collection of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, art, and book reviews, is by turns lyrical and raw, whimsical and powerful. We read about mothers, sisters, wives, and best friends in witty and imaginative language, glimpses into other lives that live on in the imagination long after the last page has been turned.
Two of my favorite poems in this issue take untraditional subjects. “To Matrilineal Haplogroup K” by Lisa Bellamy addresses members of the poet’s own genetic grouping, descending from the same prehistoric ancestors:
Greetings, my snappish, results-oriented sisters—
we wander through crowds unknown
to each other, slurping fruit pastries in Salzburg,
shopping for bridal gowns at Kleinfeld’s,
hobbling down Terre Haute hospital halls,
trailing intravenous cocktail cords—
slamming phones, trading oil futures from
Calgary skyscrapers, our DNA still reeling
30,000 years after that trek from the steppes.
The poem goes on as Bellamy explains her desire for a sort of family reunion, underscoring both the longing for connection we all share and the knowledge of how interconnected we already are.
Emari DiGiorgio’s poem “Reasons For and Against Dating Tyrannosaurus Rex” is a frank and original description of male-female relations. I know I’m in trouble when I find the dinosaur irresistible:
T-Rex sips a tiny espresso.
He’s reading Spinoza, sports
an argyle sweater, thick black frames
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
What’s it like to be king?
It’s all meat to me, baby.
You know my kind. Hungry.
The three pieces of fiction included in this issue present diverse voices and stories. “Just Like Us” by Vanessa Hua is the complex story of a girl’s search for identity as she and her peripatetic mother move into an RV park in Northern California. Sandra Cisneros’s “The Story You Gave Me” allows us a look into a story of true love, that of a grandmother for her grandson, written with both humor and compassion. “Plots for Sale” by Linda Elin Hamner, by way of a contrast, gives a funny, if surreal, peek into the processes of story-writing, as the author tours a specialty boutique that caters directly to the writer lacking inspiration. After touring the different departments, selling everything from characters to plots, the narrator “pick[s] up a dozen plot twists, a box of bon mots, and a jar of red herrings at the gourmet section for a later snack and head[s] home to begin writing the Great American novel . . . or screenplay . . . or essay . . . or haiku.” And the results are amusingly bizarre.
One of the offerings of creative nonfiction in this issue is the compelling “Ratification” by Allison Green. A combination of personal memories surrounding the long Equal Rights Amendment debate in the United States during the seventies and early eighties and a summary of its history, “Ratification” serves as a reminder of the long process for legislative equality and how the seemingly willful misunderstanding of such legislation slowed that process. As her third grade teacher told her class, “If the ERA passed, girls would have to go into the jungle and handle snakes.”
CALYX’s art section provides a colorful and refreshing pause halfway through the issue. It contains reproductions of several paintings and photographs of art installations, each piece thought-provoking and unique. I confess my favorite in this collection is Victoria Brookland’s ink and watercolor on paper, entitled “Hawk,” depicting a hawk caged within a crimson crinoline. She writes of this piece, “In my painting I attempt to explore our potential for—in Emily Dickinson’s words—‘independent extasy,’ and to celebrate the indomitable spirit of women’s creativity.”
The magazine concludes with several book reviews, a new interview section containing a conversation with poet Rebecca Lindenburg on her new book, Love, An Index (McSweeney, 2012) and two In Memoriams, celebrating the lives of the writers Wisława Szymborska and Adrienne Rich.
For sheer breadth of form and voice and for the competence of writers and artists performing at their best, CALYX is well worth a read.
Review by Sarah Carson
Now in its eighth issue, Canteen is a journal that “admires what writers and artists do” and wants “insight into how and why it’s done.”
It’s a journal about engaging the senses, and if you’ve touched this issue, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that’s exactly what they’ve done.
From cover to cover, the bold mix of art and writing is a delight to page through. And the issue’s theme, “the State of Creation,” weaves its way incisively and delicately through each work, turning each piece into a contemplation on our everyday lives.
One of the highlights of the issue for me was one of the very first stories, Joshua Mohr’s “Find Your Fight Song” in which a suburban neighborhood underdog, Bob Coffin, finally has enough of his former-football-player, SUV-driving, bully of a neighbor, Schumann. Mohr’s narrator describes Schumann this way: “Schumann is a douche of such a pungently competitive variety that he carries a picture of himself wearing his college football uniform in his wallet. And shows it to people! Seriously!”
In a scene in which I’m sure every red-blooded American has envisioned him/herself in one form or another, Coffin gets his revenge, and a salute of sorts from his neighbor, when he throws a flagpole through Schumann’s front window. As the two stand on the lawn together, I could feel the state of creation permeating my sensibilities. It’s a story that sets the tone for an issue full of characters, situations, and artwork crying out from beneath their carefully constructed surfaces.
The poetry in the issue is also a nice complement not only to the issue’s theme but to the wide range of visuals presented.
Greg Vargo’s “Multitasking Nicks and Cuts” is an ominous meditation in which the twists and turns of language create a narrative minefield that both the reader and narrator navigate together. Its abstract leaps in narrative are surprising yet cohesive, much like the issue of Canteen itself:
You seek out the pain
Of trees turning in parks or along the river
Pull loose a blue thread
From the tangled skein of wind
If the twitch of dopamine is part of you
Then the wheat field never was.
You were right to mistrust its rhythm
To hug stats on the backs
Of trading cards while machines trundled
In and out of landscape.
And Stacey Duff’s picturesque “Storms in Search of a Second Person” is perhaps one of the most vivid and daring poems I’ve read this year.
this morning the aliens
dropped, camouflaged in the downpour, with a velocity so unearthly
that even the most astute meteorologists looked astounded
and temples were blown away, tricking all instruments to egregious silence.
silence in this wet season means death. silence in this moment
makes a god a shy but ornate virgin flapping like a slip of silk flesh
just below the storm in the calm cool air . . .
Another great addition is the “Artists to Watch” section in which Canteen presents up-and-coming artists from a variety of media, curated by experts from across the art world. “The art world has taken an egalitarian turn with the ascent of the Internet,” the editors write. “But art lovers suffer from this democratization . . . Talented curators have never been more indispensable.”
I’d add to that list of “talented curators” the people behind Canteen. With issues like this, Canteen looks to be a journal discerning readers can trust to find new talent, fresh writing, and the artists to look for.
Volume 62 Number 2
Review by John Palen
Families in various stages of self-destruction or survival are a connecting thread for most of the prose in this issue of Carolina Quarterly. Fiction and memoir today are rife with stories about the unsettled, uncommitted young, so it’s refreshing to read strong writing about people who have tried to firm up some ground beneath their feet—even if the effort sometimes fails catastrophically.
Catastrophe is an appropriate description for events in Jessica Hendry Nelson’s powerful essay, “If Only You People Could Follow Directions.” Eric is deep into the chaos of addiction, using again after eight months of rehab. When his enabling mother and sister, the narrator, join him in Florida, the visit turns crazy and desolate, triggering equally disturbing memories.
At last, the three find themselves on a gray, windy shore, where the narrator senses that a free-floater they have only just met has managed to get their number: He seems to know that “this isn’t just some . . . half-baked family reunion, the three of us squatting here on this beach, sans bathing suits and suntan lotion, mid-August in Florida, for god’s sake, shivering in our sweat and bug-eyed from exhaustion.” Whether Eric has in fact hit bottom, it’s possible that at least the narrator has.
The narrator of Anya Groner’s equally powerful short story, “Gorilla and the Protégé,” is an adult woman remembering a childhood friend’s 13th birthday party, for which the friend’s father hired his mistress to dress up like a gorilla and do party tricks with balloons. The mother is present, knows about the mistress, and is drinking. Fun turns vicious, and mayhem ensues.
The girls only half understand what has happened, and as the party ends they gather around an Ouija board: Who would they marry? Someone famous? Would they elope? Would any become old maids or lesbians? As an adult looking back, the narrator sees premonitions of her own troubled future. “But at that age nobody thought to ask what love felt like, or how we would cope when it left us.”
In his perfectly paced short story, “The Sweet Nothings,” Greg Schutz uses a much longer time-frame to explore the adult life of Valerie and Mack—a kindergarten teacher and the big, slow guy she marries—and the challenges posed to that marriage by their troubled son, Kevin. It is a tale whose broad outlines are listed in the marriage vows—better and worse, richer and poorer, in sickness and health. But the abstractions are fleshed out with such achingly deft realism that you are likely to find yourself lingering over details while wanting to rush ahead to find out how the story ends. For Valerie and Mack, both of them physically large people, it ends touchingly, profanely and tenderly in bed.
I found the ending of Stuart Nadler’s short story “Airplanes” to be more ambiguous, but also in an artistically satisfying way. Marc, a Boston day-trader, and his wife Janet are “roommates sharing a child.” This marriage is clearly headed for a businesslike divorce. What little emotional capital Marc possesses is invested in his son Jack—and in the Brooklyn apartment he once shared with a woman named Laura. When Marc sees in the paper that the apartment is for sale, he goes to New York for the open house, taking Jack along.
Laura is quite upset to see her ex-lover and his young son show up out of the blue, but Marc hangs on to his emotional distance. Jack, however, is confused because the neighborhood resembles home. We learn that Marc actually chose his Boston neighborhood because it looked so much like the one in Brooklyn. “Relax, buddy.” Marc tells his five-year-old son. “Time to go home.” But where and what is home? I’ll probably be waking up a year, five years from now, seeing new angles in this story.
The shortest prose in this issue, a mere two pages, is a family story only in the sense that the narrator’s little brother has drowned, a fact that is mentioned only briefly. Instead, Elizabeth Weld’s “Primary Education” is a wise and compassionate coming-of-age tale of a young girl who, while innocent in second grade, in fifth grade has discovered evil in the world and in herself. It’s a gem.
Award-winning 16-year-old photographer and artist, Eleanor Leonne Bennett, contributed four outstanding black-and-white photos—one of which, the haunting “High Simple,” is reproduced on the cover.
I’ve focused this review on the prose, both because it is excellent and because of its thematic linkages. But the issue also includes very good poetry in a variety of styles and themes from Stan Sanvel Rubin, Caitlin Bailey, Corrie Williamson, Shelley Puhak, David Moolten, Seth Perlow, Matt Zambito, and Ben Purkert.
Volume 6 Number 1
Review by Jennifer Falkner
As its name would indicate, the poems in this slender volume of Ekphrasis take another piece of art as their starting point, sometimes providing description or commentary but also pushing it further, igniting something transformative. Though there is no editorial statement to indicate any specific theme or thrust for the issue, the further one reads, the more unnecessary it becomes. The title is enough.
The majority of the poems cite a painting, and although Ekphrasis contains no illustrations, they would be unnecessary, given the lyrical and descriptive power of the poetry. Even so, more than once I found myself inspired to look up the painting in question and then going back to read the poem again—a process I wholeheartedly recommend and a delicious way to spend an afternoon.
The first poem in the collection, “Niobe Repents” by Kristin George, takes on the voice of Niobe, as George figures in Ruin VI by Charles Garabedian. George conveys the suspense, the “upward straining” of the woman cursed by the gods and transformed into stone. “True, my face pulls from its body / like a sail from a mast / as I lean into wind / and trust it will bear me.” And the reader leans in, trusting the following poems will bear her.
“In Caravaggio’s St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness” by H. C. Palmer is every bit as atmospheric as Caravaggio’s painting. The brush strokes are almost visible as Palmer describes the moment of calm; “slant of light, fold of robe, long-shafted reed / and angle of repose – all this weight. Soon, / proclamations, baptisms, the choreographed beheading.” Similarly, “On Viewing The Execution of Lady Jane Grey” by Judy Darke Delogu, based on the nineteenth century oil painting by Paul Delaroche, gives a tender and painful glimpse of the moments before the execution of the nine-days queen.
Not all the poems take a visual art as their starting point, however. Two in particular have literary inspirations. “Re-reading Emerson,” by Alice Friman, prompted by Emerson’s journals, is a panegyric to the career of the nineteenth century poet and essayist. “He was a train pulled by / its own light . . .”; “he flew / by the seat of his rhetoric: / a manta of self-reliance.” Robert Cooperman was inspired by a well-known passage in The Odyssey for his poem, “Licius Remains Among the Lotos Eaters.” It presents what happened to one of Odysseus’s comrades after he had been left behind by Odysseus and his men on their long journey to Ithaca. Without irony, he imagines his shipmates already finding their own homes, but continues hopefully, if a little forgetfully, trying to devise his own way home.
The collection ends on a beautiful, threnodic note with “Irwin Kelly’s Barn” by Sylvia Levinson. Levinson plays with the contrast between colorful paintings and the black and white lithograph after which the poem is titled, “Like people I know, like me, fading from fresh / and supple, pink to sallow, bones thinning, / shuffled gait, frame leaning forward.” With age, everything becomes “diffused . . . / ethereal and milky. Everything now becomes clear.”
Every poem in this collection is a delight. In addition to the poets already mentioned, this issue includes work by Paul Willis, Jane Blue, Lois Marie Harrod, Mitch LesCarbeau, Lawrence N. DiCostanzo, Gayle Elen Harvey, Michael Cadnum, Christine Swint, Judith Sornberger, Valerie Wohlfeld, Crystal Mazur Ockenfuss, Sarah Brown Weitzman, Robert Schuler, and Stephen D. Roberts. They have taken artists from across the style spectrum as inspiration, from Georgia O’Keefe to Vincent Van Gogh, Klimt to Kao Feng-han and transformed their color into vibrant verse.
Review by David R. Matteri
Eleven Eleven is an exciting journal from the California College of the Arts. Founded in 2004, their goal is to provide an outlet for risk and experimentation from talented writers and artists. From the gorgeous cover art to the works of fiction and poetry from local and international talent, there is a lot to like about the current issue.
One example of experimental work this journal offers is Lee Ann Roripaugh’s “My Dearest, Most Beloved and Esteemed Friend, Angel, Guppy, and Root Cellar.” It reads like an email you would find in your spam box, but instead of offering drugs that would enhance your sexual performance, this message has a much more enticing offer: “I am joyous to tell you one million, five hundred thousand kalamata olives are ready for deposit in a Peruvian cave marked by a crop circle of silently humming signifiers.” The speaker claims to be a “kidnapped prince held hostage by the narrative feed of a Tasmanian novel cartel,” but changes his story and is now “the duke/duchess of [insert lack here].” It is a hilarious piece that illustrates the absurdity of online communications and makes you wish the messages filling your spam box were just as colorful.
Another example of the kind of work Eleven Eleven reaches for is ali lanzetta’s “when you call.” It is similar to Roripaugh’s absurd letter, but instead of humor, this letter is filled with loneliness and frustration:
when you call, i’ll be knitting a hat for an elephant. droopy, gray. gigantic.
when you call, i’ll be making lasagna in a quiet kitchen listening to my voice in my head. i’ll be just beginning my fall pledge-drive, trying to raise the vibe, or the roof, or the stakes. someone sad will call in and pledge their thirst or their art or their love, and I’ll accept.
The speaker is expecting a phone call but anticipates she will be busy doing other tasks, such as writing poetry. The kind of poetry she likes comes from “jacob,” who writes “about sweat and love and loneliness.” The speaker feels abandoned by the person she is writing to, and the bitterness in the speaker’s voice rises as the letter continues. The letter ends on a relatively peaceful note, but is injected with a little bit of sarcasm. Most people know what it’s like to be abandoned by someone they love and the whirlwind of emotions that follows, and lanzetta’s piece touches on this in a very sensitive way.
Not everything in this journal reaches for the absurd. Some work is more traditional, like Tami Cox Rasel’s “The Bravest Damn Irishman in Baltimore.” It is a story from the author’s childhood about how far her father went to provide for his family. They had little cash and desperately needed a new car because their old jalopy ran on “prayers, not gasoline.” The summer carnival brought in a 600-pound baboon as a new attraction and offered one hundred dollars to anyone who could stay in the cage with the animal for five minutes. Her father accepted the challenge because he “was the best bar room brawler in all of Baltimore.” Before the “fight,” Rasel’s father covered himself in Vaseline in hopes of slipping through the baboon’s hands. However, this only causes the dung and straw to stick to his skin as the baboon beats him into a bloody mess. The story has great humor and written with wonderful details; one can almost smell the aroma of sweat, blood, and dung wafting off of the father’s bruised body. There is also a lot of heart in this story as the author proudly stands by her father as he is publicly humiliated and covered with monkey poop. Now that’s love.
Another one of my favorite poems from this issue is Floyd Salas’s “Kaleidoscope Of An Assassination In Black And White.” It depicts the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the reactions of the world with a pounding, song-like rhythm. The words “Memory is like a motion picture / Shattering stills of black and white” are repeated throughout the poem alongside hard-hitting imagery:
Memory is like a motion picture
He is waving
The President is waving
from the back seat of a car
when lead coughs
and his head explodes
Shattering stills of black and white
Salas divides the poem into four sections, each one showing the day by day aftermath of the assassination: the investigation, Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald in front of millions of Americans, and even the conspiracy theories that Oswald did not act alone. But the most powerful parts of this poem are the moments of deep respect and honor for such an important figure in American politics and history.
There are many other great examples of fiction, art, and poetry in this journal. There are translated works from international writers, thought-provoking art in various mediums, and a script for a stage production featuring dystopia science fiction and coffee. Another great journal I highly recommend.
Review by David R. Matteri
Frequencies, a new biannual journal published by Two Dollar Radio, is dedicated to delivering artful essays for your reading pleasure. This first issue only contains four essays and an interview with Anne Carson, but the quality of each piece makes this journal heavy with literary weight.
“Open Sesame” by Joshua Cohen puts a magnifying glass to the famous phrase used to gain access to the mythical mountain of treasures in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Traces of the phrase “Open Sesame” appear in Western and Arabic folklore, but scholars can’t seem to agree on who coined it first. Cohen explains how the origin doesn’t really matter because all story tellers are like thieves who steal gold from the fabled mountain:
The mountain opens for the voice, the voice rolls away the sepulchral stone—reveals the truest treasure: emptiness, proverbial silver, metaphor’s gold, echo gleaming unisonous. The most valuable coin has always been with us, within us: the word, the call, whether shared, lent, borrowed, or stolen.
It is a fascinating look into the origins of words and a discussion of the universal power of storytelling.
Scott McClanahan offers a lively tour of his family tree in “A Short History of the McClanahan Family.” Here we meet numerous aunts and uncles (many with names that end in a long e sound) such as Uncle Leslie, who “kicked the fuck out of The Toughest Man in Fayette County,” and Uncle G, who tried to kill himself with a shotgun on Lake Erie. McClanahan’s wit is razor sharp as he recalls stories that are funny as hell and brutally honest. His family’s story is a human story rich with humor and tragedy, but most of all: “It’s a story full of death and dying, living and life, tits and ass and balls and dicks and pussy. It’s an old, old, old story that always begins—they begat and they begat and they begat.”
“Seven Interruptions of the Image” by Blake Butler combines photography and the written word into an emotionally charged work of art. This piece contains seven photographs associated with Butler’s aging father, who suffers from a form of dementia. Butler shows how he copes with this difficult time in his life with lucid imagery and raw emotion: “Any word spoken into him comes back malformed, spilled through little mazes behind his face, the corridors of those memory shuttles there slowly turning, growing fatter, bleeding into one another, toward one tone.” What I like most about this piece is the arrangement. The pictures come first, followed by prose, which encourages the reader to flip back and look at each picture again with fresh eyes. Overall a great piece that anyone with parents suffering from dementia can relate to.
My favorite essay in this issue is “The Magic Merge” by Tracy Rose Keaton. Part memoir and part history of rock and roll, Keaton analyzes the psychology of the groupie and shows how she tried to satisfy her fantasies during her teenage years and early adult life. Keaton writes with language that is punchy and visceral: “there is nothing like rock ‘n’ roll to rattle the mind’s pleasure center like an atomic vibrator.” She describes how bands and musicians like David Bowie, The Beatles, and The Pretenders have such a profound impact on thousands of young women yearning for sexual release or, in Keaton’s case, identity:
My dad had Bowie’s Hunky Dory LP, and I listened to it on headphones over and over in some dark corner, behind a rubber tree plant. I was literally trying to make the sound a part of me. It was almost as if by merging with my object of longing, I could be born again.
Keaton goes on to describe her estranged family and high school romance in great detail worthy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The fantasies she pursued only led to heartache and loss, but the power of the music instilled in her a greater sense of self-worth and molded her into a complete human being. Rock on.
Two Dollar Radio prides itself on putting forth publications too loud to ignore, and Frequencies is no exception. The next issue is scheduled to come out in spring 2013, so mark your calendars because this is a date you don’t want to ignore.
Volume 54 Number 1
Review by Sarah Carson
The Midwest Quarterly, published at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas, is a no-frills, no-nonsense journal of scholarly essays and poetry.
While its plain, orange cover may be unassuming, “this journal of contemporary thought” means business. All of the work in this issue is expertly written and engaging—from essays on Mark Twain to poems about the Alleghenies, these writers are wordsmiths of the highest caliber.
The selection of essays in the issue includes a variety of literary topics including “Food in Fiction,” the American political novel, and lies in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Each essay is insightful and well-researched in its own right; my favorite, though is Amy Fuqua’s “‘The Furrows of His Brow’: Providence and Pragmatism in Toni Morrison’s Paradise.” In the essay, Fuqua draws parallels between American exceptionalism as outlined by Reinhold Neibuhr and Morrison’s novel Paradise: “Morrison’s founding families, like America’s Puritans, feel alienated from their original home, so they move their families to a new place (which they call Haven), build a community separate from others, and struggle to maintain its separate identity.” Fuqua goes on to lay out a compelling comparison between Morrison’s novel and America’s own foibles, complete with what Fuqua suggests is Morrison’s reconciliation of the exceptionalism problem.
The poems in the issue all share not only a common Midwest sensibility but a keen sense of imagery. The vivid portraits of Midwest landscapes in this issue are astounding. Though the narratives change, each poem seems to fit into a larger mural of the Midwest.
Take, for example, Richard Schiffman’s “The Clearing” in which the narrator meditates on a visit to a clearing in the woods early one evening:
so I walked to the edge
of the circle and spotted
a weathered pot shard
and brushed it off and held it
as the blood orange of the sun dangled
from a low slung branch
and I wanted to stay but night
was dropping its purple drapery
so I told myself I’ll be back tomorrow
although I knew it would not happen
Perhaps I should admit now that as a Midwesterner, I have a certain fondness for these kinds of images. But I would imagine anyone can see themselves in this beautifully written, if regretful moment. Schiffman’s pacing, imagery, and language walk us through the scene as if we are there with him, as if he will pass us the weathered pot shard when he is through with it.
There are a number of compelling Midwestern moments like Schiffman’s in the issue, which is what helps Austin Smith’s “I Dreamt I Kidnapped a Little Girl” stand out as one of my favorites. Smith writes:
But it’s not what you think.
Her mom was high, a washed-
out print in the chemical bath
of the TV, her dad years
gone, and I was only trying
to protect her. Driving away
she didn’t cry, nor did she
look back, but instead stared
at thunderheads building
in the west. . . .
From there the poem moves into the surreal and dreamy but what remains is a sense of rural, Midwest identity and imagery that only enhances the “plot” and makes the poem all the more fantastic—in more ways than one.
All in all this issue has a lot to offer for any literature lover. Whether you’re looking for insight into classic writing or fresh perspectives on an American landscape, this edition of The Midwest Quarterly definitely delivers.
A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative
Volume 14 Number I
Review by Mary Florio
A journal dedicated to the nonfiction narrative, River Teeth celebrated its fourteenth year anniversary with its Fall 2012 edition. In many of the essays in this volume, the concepts of privacy and identity, which its editor Dan Lehman mentions in his notes, become a weighty trade-off for the benefit of nonfiction. The thirteen narratives that compose the volume are unique in subject matter and voice but share an artistic spirit, a deliberate frame of a world otherwise chaotic.
For example, take “Selling Out in the Writing of Memoir,” an essay by Lee Martin. Essentially the memoir of a memoir as prepared for an ethics course on the implications of disclosure, the narrative traces the memoirist’s social journey from the vantage of confessor. Suddenly the components of a tale—the instrumental parents, the first kiss, the classroom—become figures in an artful arrangement of facts. The retribution comes in the form of a dysphoric aunt: “My aunt didn’t know, nor did I, that I’d keep selling out the family, having just now published my third memoir. Had she known what was coming down the pike, she might have shot me. If I’d survived, I would have told that story, too.” Funny and unapologetic, Martin transforms the ordinary into the sublime and makes me eager to discover his confessions in all three of his memoirs. “Memoir is as much about the future as it is the past,” he notes, almost seeming like a kind of Illinois-bred Rick Bragg—navigating the terrifying rope of humor and insight without losing the storyline.
Excellently paired with Martin’s essay is Andre Dubus III’s “Writing & Publishing a Memoir: What in the Hell Have I Done?” Under Dubus’s spell you arrive in a tough suburb of Boston with a devoted mother and a broken family—all under the scrim of the reputation of a world-famous, absent father. Dubus details the questions posed by members of his childhood community and the perceptions of the obligation of silence to those who witnessed his growing up and perhaps played a part in it. Loved ones are illuminated for their crises and shortcomings in a tale Dubus felt obligated to publish. Both Dubus and Martin approach the memoir from deeply personal convictions. It may be well-trod ground to consider the ethics of exposure post-publication, but these writers manage to illustrate the emotional landscape of “betrayal” and “selling out” without SWOT charts and a well-cited authority.
Eli Sanders (“The Shooter”) pursues a different approach to personal disclosure, preserving the identity of an adult who shot two people as a juvenile in Sanders’s high school and escaped a lifetime penalty under second-chance criminal code. Sanders, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, is careful to withhold details about the subject just as he elegantly avoids the editorializing that might come with a near-death experience. Sanders lets the man’s actions evoke the essence of his character: the shooter requests financial compensation for the interview, and when he promises to come out of the darkness and speak to Sanders, he disappears into the Seattle rain. Sanders’s story is not just about a terrifying experience in his life; it is also timely and vital as the increase in school shootings escalates. He orders the text in vignettes so that you can literally explore the wide-lens view and the personal. A compelling, urgent story is delivered in clean, disciplined prose.
Leslie Stainton also elegantly weaves between time and place in “The Things Our Fathers Loved,” illustrating a dramatic family history through the chords of a family piano. For the honeyed moment we segue into the dreams of old composers, broken-hearted lawyers, sutured lineage. I kept reading it because the story was good, but it was good because Stainton wove in an incredible tension. There are no explosives or bright lights casting brutal, portentous shadows, but there are crimes and punishments (not always effected in that order). I like the tempo of her sentences and find myself wanting to diagram them, to sneak beneath the music to the structures of the chords.
I recommend Robert Atwan’s “Notes Towards the Definition of an Essay” as it offers a systemic look at a genre invented by Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, who, Atwan explains, “. . . purposefully defied the formal conventions of classification, division, logical progression, etc. that characterized serious prose. And he thus established an ironic authorial posture: the art of his essays would be grounded in the illusion of their artlessness.” Invoking Montaigne, Atwan sketches out ways to see an essay, how to hear it, in an elegant conversation with the essays around it in the journal. All seem to defy definition just as Atwan suggests a good essay does.
Volume 2 Number 8 & 9
Review by Aimee Nicole
Solo Café 8 & 9 is a volume written by teachers and students. It considers the relationships between teachers and students as well as the dynamic of an educational setting. Having such a diverse age range of writers with so many different experiences relating to education was enlightening. The writing follows a more autobiographical track filled with emotion, rather than being dominated by writers trained to excel as creative writers. The raw story takes precedence over any craft in storytelling. It made for a very interesting read, and there were some great contributions of poetry to dive into.
Kenneth F. Carroll writes a beautiful poem about a painting of Frederick Douglas on the second floor of Charles Hart Middle School. This information is given as a prelude to the poem, and I was able to immediately ground myself to that location. Going along with the educator’s theme, Carroll includes a quote by Douglas: “It is easier to build a strong child than to repair a broken man.” I thought a lot about that quote and what it says about our education system. There has been a lot of reform at both a local and national level in our education system, and it truly is an investment in our future. His poem begins:
The hallway patiently waits, yearns
for the meticulous brush of janitors
scraping away the vestiges of
children who do not understand
that they are the protagonists
in a centuries old drama full
of monsters and circumstances
waiting to devour them
The comparison of students to protagonists is a fitting and strong image. Each little mind holds so much potential and ability to grow, but most wisdom comes only with time and age; it is hard to understand your place in the world until you have seen it. Also, Carroll does not paint the world as a pretty place where childhood lives on forever. I enjoyed his description of the world being full of “monsters and circumstances”; you cannot predict every outcome as much as one might like to. There is so much adversity and struggle in our world; school is an important part of learning to protect and prepare oneself for what lies ahead.
Penny Harter takes on the perspective of the student and addresses the difficulty of balancing school and real life. I’m sure we can all relate to those days where serious things happened in our life outside of school, and the negative impact it had on our learning and/or completion of homework. In her poem, “Report from the Classroom,” Harter writes an honest, heartfelt series of events:
I didn’t finish my essay.
My brother’s been missing for over twenty-four hours.
We didn’t sleep all last night,
out looking for him.
He took my father’s rifle and sleeping bag,
so we think he’s in the swamp,
and it rained all night.
I particularly enjoyed the youthfulness of the narrator. The poem was not weighty with metaphors or imagery, but packed with emotion and straightforward storytelling. The last section blew me away; so often children question the practicality of getting an education. Will I ever use pre-calculus again? When will I need to read sheet music? Especially coming from this particular character, the point really hits home:
My little brother told me,
“I’m not doing my homework anymore
because I’m just going to die.”
He’s only ten years old.
I have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of curriculum that has been useful to me in my everyday life post-graduation, but I can’t say that I never questioned it when learning about pi.
Lastly, Dorraine Laux gives us a taste of what it is like to be a teacher. Her poem, “What the Teacher Learned this Week,” was humorous, witty, and honest. I almost wish she wrote one of these poems every week for a blog; I would be a very loyal reader. Here are a select few of her insightful stanzas:
That some Americans choose not to eat
meat, chicken, fish, dairy products,
certain vegetables, bread, salt.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
That watching the same thing happen over and over
is a version of hell.
That a boy’s mother will stand next to her car,
the door open, and wait for him forever.
It is so important for people to understand the concept of learning, and to see the value in it. We learn from everyone; it is not restricted by age or social standing, job title or gender. And, as Solo Café show us, we continue to learn even after we leave the school system.
Review by Lesley Dame
We read magazines for escape. At least, I do. Whether I’m sitting under the salon hair-dryer flipping through celebrity gossip or snuggling into a comfy chair with a novel that forces me to be the narrator (Look at me! I just killed a dragon!), I am an escape artist. I enjoy leaving reality far, far behind. So, for me, Stone Voices was a major wake-up call.
Stone Voices, as its motto suggests, values art, spirituality, mindfulness, and creativity. This is not a magazine full of poems, stories, and creative nonfiction (your everyday lit mag). Instead, Stone Voices asks you to consider reality (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, et cetera) and your place in it.
As a writer, my mind is rarely clear. There are characters floating around, arguing and making up, fighting wars and baking pies. Lines of possible poems flit around the peripheral, pouting in their passionately indifferent way. So, mindfulness is tough for me. Meditation is tougher. Discovering my inner sanctuary, as suggested by feature writer George Wolfe (“Inner Space as Sacred Space”) is daunting. But Stone Voices is not daunting. It’s beautifully crafted in a very clean simplistic style, lots of white space and vibrant artwork. Perhaps Stone Voices’ best quality is its clean crispness. Every page is strategically designed to help you clean your mental clutter. The magazine consists of four art portfolios, three features, and four columns. These articles are practical and manageable, and encourage readers to embrace (or at least attempt to discover) their own realities.
“The Perils of Excitement” by Peter Azrak (psychotherapist, teacher, writer, photographer . . . you know, Jack of all trades) kicks off the issue with a thought-provoking column on excitement versus reality. I’m ashamed to admit it, but yes, I have met an interesting boy and in one day, thought he was the love of my life, and then basically never saw him again. Azrak defines this as The Let Down. He says, “I, once again, out of my neediness and desperate longing to be with someone allowed the excitement to blind me. In other words, I was choosing excitement over reality.” This is not a column of preachiness but one of questioning and introspection mingled with gentle encouragement to embrace reality. Whoa! I’m not sure I’m ready! Still, I read on.
Another noteworthy article is “Seeing Beyond” by Theresa Sweeney. It begins:
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m painting a picture of that big rock over there,” I said.
“That rock doesn’t look like that,” said the six-year-old, pointing out my apparent need for glasses. “That rock is gray, NOT all different colors like that,” she said.
“You’re right,” I agreed. “I’m painting what the rock sounds like.”
What follows is an equally well-written and candid essay about the moment Sweeney’s world changed forever. So yeah, she began to hear rocks. We might think that’s weird, but I have my own equally weird moment, far more embarrassing, in which I discover the proof of a higher power whilst taking a shower. The point is to embrace these moments. Don’t write them off as crazy but as moments of learning and enlightenment. “We make a lot of automatic assumptions about life that narrow our thinking and connection to the world,” says Sweeney. Now, as an artist, she doesn’t strive for realism in the traditional sense but instead strives to capture her own reality. That might mean multi-colored rocks. And she encourages children and adults to retain and increase their creativity through Eco-Art therapy workshops. In the end, we could all benefit from her final words of wisdom: “Look for the magic in the rocks!” Or shower, whatever.
Lastly, you can’t talk about Stone Voices without talking about art. Lots of magazines have artwork, but they often feel more tacked on than essential. The artwork here is integral to the magazine’s landscape. It makes up the bulk of the magazine and is truly stunning. From a series of onion and garlic paintings (simple, gorgeous watercolors) by Joyce Washor to amazingly concrete yet fickle sand dune photographs by Vincent Louis Carrella, the art is stark in its visceral realness. Whether photographs or paintings, accurate or abstract, each piece is moving. For me, I think that’s because the artists are okay with white spaces; they’re okay with blurred lines. They offer their suggestions (each collection has an interesting write-up) but leave you to interpret the work with your newfound (hopefully) mental openness. Since I’m good with my imagination, this was a plus!
Although Stone Voices is not your traditional literary magazine—you won’t be publishing your short fiction or personal essays here—its urgency is not lost on me. An appreciation for the visual world coupled with the desire to create less clutter, both physically and mentally, is inspiring.
Review by Lesley Dame
I like your motto: Stories Poetry Interviews Essays & Such. “Such” being my favorite word, because it makes so many promises without making any promises, you rogue, you. I like your cover art, the black and white photograph of a young man all bundled up and reading in some other time. It’s nostalgic and comforting. I like that you are only eight bucks in the U.S., which is actually quite decent for a lit mag. I also like your editorial, thanks to Editor Euan Monaghan, which includes this little paragraph:
The only aim we’ve ever had for this magazine is to produce something worth reading, something that authors and poets will want to have their work printed in. If the content of this issue is anything to go by, I think we can say that we are succeeding. It’s a bloody good one.
That, my dear Structo, is a humbly confidant morsel, and it’s got you pegged. I struggled writing this review, mostly because I had to take copious notes in a tiny notebook. I couldn’t bring myself to dog-ear your pages, ink up your margins, or mar you in any way. You’re just too special for that.
Now, Structo, you happen to publish my favorite type of poetry, which is image-driven and saturated with humanity, which is to say emotional but also mundane. Quiet moments: a woman holding a pebble, a man looking out the window. Compiled, this is the stuff of life. Elijah Burrell’s “Social Networking Sights” captures this silent sentiment in one perfect stanza:
He imagines lamp-lit bodies of lonely people;
how they search the sidewalks for anyone they know,
or did; their steps like taps on keyboards after
long days; the alleys diseased with clicks of mice.
We could talk about Burrell’s endearing use of semi-colons, but let’s not. Instead, let’s discuss the fact that great poetry is often sad. Here, Burrell has mingled the anonymity of the interweb with the anonymity of city life. What we get is a somewhat universal truth. Life can be lonely.
But you’re not depressed, Structo, nor depressing. While many of your poems are downers, they’re beautifully written, so who cares? And then there’s “Sixth Graders Discuss Poetry,” by Heather Dobbins, a poem that illustrates your thematic versatility while maintaining your pledge to damn good writing. It begins: “A student asks me, Have you always lived on this planet? / I nod, scramble before the tardy bell to explain / a poet’s place in history.” And ends:
There can be
no human without earth, nor love without language.
She meets my eye, patient, asks me now,
Have you ever written a love poem?
As you know, all poems are love poems, or something like that, and what better way to prove it than this poem, with its rich images, from planets and books to sailors and mythological elements, all culminating with crayon drawings on classroom walls? It’s ambitious in the best sense and solidifies our humanity through time and place.
Phew! That was deep stuff. Your fiction is also deep, if the definition of “deep” is: fabulously written and also addressing human concerns, like debt and racism and sitting in traffic. “He’s a Bull,” by Robert Karl Harding is narcissistic and blasphemous (“Suck on that! says God”). In short: wonderful. And a trickster—Harding dangles possible stories in our faces and snaps them back. The story turns into a story about a man named Dean, or Dick, one or the other, or both. Damn you, Harding! Dick is a seemingly strong man (a bull) but one day breaks down and sobs and continues to have weeping fits until he admits himself into a special hospital and eventually tries to jump off a building. Interesting, right? But of course the story isn’t really about Dick; it’s about the narrator, who sees Dick’s story as a parallel to his inner turmoil. He says: “I am falling still, waiting to hit the rocks in the outer asteroid belt and re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, all my planets reconfigured.” I’m glad he carries is self-absorption all the way to the very end. Who doesn’t see themselves in every one else?
“Mt Prospect,” written by Benjamin Van Loon is another good one and an example of your willingness to publish flash fiction, a genre I am becoming increasingly excited about. So, thank you. This one depicts something we’ve all experienced while sitting in traffic: the desire to murder the person in the car in front of you. This funny little story (“I thought of bopping my horn, but if the man were dead, then I would always be the guy who honked at a corpse.”) ends in an unexpectedly kind moment between the narrator and not-dead driver, and we are urged to hold on to hope in a seemingly hopeless world.
Your interviews are very cool, too, and should not go unnoticed. Romping around in the minds of authors is a rare and fascinating experience. I especially liked “Word-infested Water: An Interview with Steven Hall” because he comes across as so natural and easy-going. He says, “I think there’s a sweet point between planning and understanding what you’re trying to do because if you don’t already believe the world you’re planning to write about, when you come to write about it then it feels fake.” For me, this boils down to some very keen advice that all writers should make note of: Don’t force it.
Aside from interviews, it’s hard to tell if you publish other types of nonfiction, although your website says you publish essays, and there are a few pieces in this issue that sound like creative essays but could also be fiction. Who knows? Maybe you could add genre headings to the contents page. That might help. Anyway, it’s difficult to find room for improvement, Structo, since you’re annoyingly awesome, but I have to give some form of criticism, you know.
Sincerely Yours & Best Wishes Forever,
p.s. I know I’ve expressed admiration for other lit mags in the past, but I want you to know that you’re special. I’ve never felt this way before. I think you might be the one. Call me?
Volume 7 Number 62
Review by Mary Florio
The journal subTERRAIN is published thrice annually by the sub-TERRAIN Literary Collective Society in Vancouver, British Columbia. Although the journal originated in 1988, to a reader in the United States, it appears to be a somewhat Northern combination of the 1970s Mother Jones magazine with its funky typeface and riotous paper and Harper’s Magazine with its editorial composition. Despite its funding from various governmental entities, I don’t think its writers or its editorial collective really tend to bow or mew to anyone in particular.
Generally, I perceived that there were a lot of sharp edges to some of the fiction and memoirs in the journal. Like the fabulous punk haircuts of the 1990s, the construction or design some of the pieces romp along in a reliable braid and then suddenly veer into a metallic green, a sunset red. For example, I kept looking for a neat ending and sensible conclusion in Nathaniel Moore’s short fiction “In a Lonely Place.” The story is thematically rich—in fact, I felt the mood of the story moved its dramatic action along in ways that a tab of its events did not, and yet the story ends in a kind of desperate dystopia. Even the protagonist’s lover is somehow arid. Reading the sharp ending that concludes exactly like a mohawk, you long for something else, something that you might have been warned against by considering the short story’s title.
Mood drove my reading of Leah Bailly’s “Spiritus Mundi” which won the Vancouver International Writers Festival for fiction. The sentence length (roiling, like the waters where the story is set), the subject matter (a fire, a coming of age), and the narrative voice (first person, plural) pull the reader along at a steady tide while the raw drama is kept at bay. I would argue that the treatment of such drama is not atypical of the publication, especially in concert with Moore’s story and some of the others discussed herein.
In Patrick MacKenzie’s “Halfway to Happiness,” a memoir of his father’s struggles with bipolar disorder, I noticed a great deal of restraint with regard to the description of symptoms or more outlandish behaviors that one sees in so many of the narratives of mood disorders. One has heard the litany before, but not in this way, and I think MacKenzie’s work is masterful in taking a well-trod road somewhere else.
Michael Turner’s “441 Powell,” also a memoir, is innovative in the point-of-view. The memoir starts out in the third person, and I was happy beyond reason when the narrative stayed there. The technique forced me to seek out the story itself—not the confessor—and read it more objectively.
The work in this journal is cinematic in many ways; the overtones in Gaye Fowler’s “Something for You Today” (creative nonfiction), and Marianne Apostolides memoir “Coming of Age” left me looking for the kind of narrative order you might discover in the films of Quentin Tarantino and Ingmar Bergman, respectively. The scenes set in both pieces of nonfiction were vivid, the characters haunting. And as much as I hate the word “haunting” when applied to a work of art, you see the richness of abuse and destruction in the protagonists in such a way that you are reminded of it later—it comes back at a stop light, in the row of tenderloin at the grocery store, behind closed eyes.