Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted April 15, 2013

Beecher's Magazine :: Chtenia :: Cold Mountain Review :: draft :: J Journal :: Jabberwock Review :: The Manhattan Review :: Mississippi Review :: The New Quarterly :: PMS poemmemoirstory :: A Public Space :: The Sewanee Review :: Southern California Review :: World Literature Today

[Back to Magazine Review Index]

 

Beecher's Magazine CoverBeecher’s Magazine

Issue 2

Spring 2012

Annual

Review by Kenneth Nichols

Picking up this issue of Beecher’s Magazine is like sneaking into a speakeasy and becoming part of a very cool, very exclusive club. The gray cover of the perfect-bound journal is distinguished by a gold squiggle and a round cut-out that only reveals the issue’s number. It seemed to me that the whole Beecher’s team was on the same gold-edged page; the fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and art chosen by the editors is just as mature and inviting as the journal’s design.

Brian Shawver’s “Defense” is a standout short story told from the first-person perspective. The narrator is the father of Dennis, a teenage boy who has long been bullied by his peers. Dennis is a harmless kid; he likes playing computer games involving “wizards and elves.” As is so often the case in high school, eccentricity is a crime. When Dennis was eleven, the cool kids began a tradition: vandalizing Dennis’s yard each Halloween. Shawver makes a number of interesting choices. The father certainly doesn’t condone the vandals’ actions, but he sees something of himself in them. A well-built former college athlete, he turns vigilante, falling asleep on the porch swing on this Halloween night. One of the vandals begins writing on the lawn in shaving cream. The boy only gets as far as “DENNIS IS” before the narrator interrupts him. The story ends with satisfying action, but even more satisfying self-reflection on the part of a father who loves his son, but can’t solve his son’s problems.

A slight complaint followed by a compliment: I really admired a series of three works of graphic art in the journal, but the table of contents lists only authors’ names, so I’m not sure which contributor is responsible for them. Travis Millard is credited with the issue’s “art,” so I am left to assume that he is responsible for the three fun collaborations with his mother. At the age of six, Millard’s mother wrote adorable little poems. For example:

Tigers eat meat.
They are
very large
and sometimes
They live in
The zoos.

(The backward ‘z’ was a nice touch on the part of the young author.) Millard transformed the poems into comic strips. Appropriately, the art possesses a visceral power that contrasts nicely with the delightfully childish commentary on exotic wildlife.

Mary Miller’s fiction is always a welcome sight. “Levittown” is a sad story about a woman who has flown to the Big Apple to have an affair with a man named David. The encounter is not very fulfilling for either of them. Miller does a good job of communicating the narrator’s confusion; the woman doesn’t particularly know David very well and doesn’t particularly care for him, either. During a trip to a museum, the narrator has some flashes of self-reflection: “The situation I found myself in was choiceless.” The piece’s structure fits the plot and tone very well. Whether with her husband or with her lover, the narrator is unable to find fulfillment or to make substantive progress toward happiness.

I’m still trying to figure out what I think of Dan McCarthy’s poem, “Popover Recipe.” McCarthy’s work does indeed describe how best to prepare the versatile baked good. You must have patience, allowing the “golden basilicas” to dome before you “stab each one” to “let them breathe.” The delightful complication comes in the opening line that precedes the dictate to keep your hands off during baking. McCarthy advises you to have “more restraint than Eurydice.” She was, of course, the doomed beloved of Orpheus. The poem is ambiguous in the best of ways; McCarthy uses the familiar to invite the reader to derive a personal meaning.

Beecher’s Magazine is very early in its run, and it remains to be seen what kind of direction the journal will take. Issue 2 demonstrates an appealing confidence on the part of the editors and features a compelling aesthetic.
[www.beechersmag.com]

top of page

 

Chtenia CoverChtenia: Readings from Russia

Volume 6 Number 1

Winter 2013

Quarterly

Review by David R. Matteri

Before reading Chtenia: Readings from Russia, my only experience with Russian literature was in college, where I read Chekov’s “The Lady with the Dog” and Gogol’s “The Overcoat.” I fell in love with these stories and realized that I needed more Russians in my life. Chtenia satisfies with its wonderful selection of fiction, poetry, and essays from Russian authors both past and present. The winter 2013 issue is a special treat because it is dedicated to all things dark and scary in Russian literature. Senior Editor Tamara Eidelman writes:

Many years ago, a favorite childhood activity was sitting with friends in a pitch dark room, listening—breath suspended—to scary stories . . . It was a bit like riding on a roller coaster—yes it was fun and you wanted to speed down the hills, but you also wanted to clench your eyes shut so you didn’t have to stare into the abyss . . .

So come with me, dear reader, and see what this issue has to offer. But please watch your step. It’s awfully dark in here.

Included is an excerpt from Nikolai Gogol’s short story “Viy,” which is about a young seminarian’s terrifying ordeal with a witch and the supernatural. Khoma, the young seminarian, is ordered to say prayers for three nights in a small church for the body of a dead witch. Khoma wants nothing to do with it, but the witch’s father, a colonel, makes a very convincing argument: “If you don’t obey, you won’t be able to stand again, and if you do, you will get a thousand ducats.” Khoma performs his priestly duties all by himself in the church, but the dead witch returns to life and summons all kinds of monstrous creatures and spirits. The ending to this tale is chilling and is best read with the lights on.

Alexei Tolstoy’s “The Vurdalak’s Family” is a great vampire story set in rural Moldavia during the 18th century. The speaker tells the story of his youth as a diplomat to the small country in Eastern Europe. He falls in love with the countryside and the small family that gives him shelter, but things start to turn strange when the grandfather of the family returns from hunting a notorious bandit in the hills:

Everyone looked at him in horror. At the same time, the man was coming closer to us. It was a tall old man with a white mustache and a pale, severe face. He moved with difficulty, leaning on his staff . . . Approaching us, the old man stopped and cast his gaze over his family, with eyes that seemed unseeing, dim and sunken.

Madness and death slowly engulf the family and the small village. Our narrator is forced to flee for his life from a horde of angry vampires. The chase scene alone is worth reading and even made me jump in my seat. With all of the sparkling vampires frolicking around our movie screens, this story was a refreshing read.

“ScrubbleDub” by Korney Chukovsky is a more whimsical poem about personal hygiene with just the right amount of creepiness added to it. Lydia Razran Stone does a good job translating this poem for a modern English speaking audience with a Seussian flair. The speaker of this poem is a little boy who refuses to wash himself. He gets so filthy that all of his clothes and belongings fly away from him. Just as the boy is trying to understand why everything is running away from him, a monstrous walking bathroom sink crashes through the front door and berates him for his uncleanliness:

“You alone think it’s a bother
Washing up with soapy lather.
Such a dirty face is shocking,
Scaring off your shoes and stockings.
“I’m the mighty Scrubbledub,
Tsar of sink and soap and tub,
Boss of washcloth, sponge and shower.
No one can resist my power!

The pacing of this poem is fantastic. One can hear the heavy stomping of Scrubbledub’s porcelain feet as his army of scrubbers descend on the boy. The last few lines of the original 1923 poem, which were didactic in the old Soviet style, were left out, but it does not ruin the joy or the deliciously creepy vibes.

Anna Starobinets’s short story “Burning” is full of murder, madness, and holiday cheer. The story begins in a police station’s interrogation room. The main character is literally grilled for answers as the police make the room unbearably hot during his interrogation. He tells the police how he works as a Father Frost impersonator who entertains children in their homes on Christmas Eve. A woman hires him to entertain her six-year old daughter, but when he arrives at their apartment, he discovers that the girl is really a middle-aged woman with the mind of a six-year-old. He is greatly disturbed by this, but does his job regardless. The creepiness of the situation eventually becomes too much for him and he tries to leave, but the woman locks the door and keeps him prisoner. The man starts to panic as he is forced to entertain this deranged woman. Things only get worse when he hides in a closet during a game of hide-and-seek: “I peeked through the crack. She stood right there, next to the wardrobe, but I couldn’t see all of her—only her pigeon-toed feet in their bunny slippers. And one hand—it was level with my eyes and it held a pair of very sharp scissors.” The story is a thrilling ride with a shocking ending.

If you need to read more Russian literature, then Chtenia is a great place to start. There’s a lot of solid writing in this issue, but be careful if you read this one alone in the dark. You may be in for some sleepless nights.
[www.russianlife.net/chtenia]

top of page

 

Cold Mountain Review CoverCold Mountain Review

Volume 41 Number 1

Fall 2012

Biannual

Review by Sarah Gorman

Appalachian State University’s Department of English publishes Cold Mountain Review. The western North Carolina institution is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in the town of Boone, and, yes, the town was named after Daniel Boone. His pioneering and exploratory spirit persists in the editorial stance of Cold Mountain Review, which is “interested in the way contemporary literature is testing the boundaries of genre” and “features work intended to transport the reader to unexpected landscapes—emotional terrains that are sometimes joyful, occasionally disconcerting, always interesting.”

The magazine’s focus is on storytelling, whether in narrative poetry or “lyrical prose.” This issue leads with two examples of creative nonfiction, by Sonya Lea and by Erin Pushman. Lea, in brief descriptions of the “Ten Best Meals of My Life (Thus Far),” writes an autobiography, through images of a happy childhood, love, marriage, family life, health scares, and spiritual journeying. Pushman, in “Sugar Creek,” reminds us of the unsavory elements and the struggles that underlie our achievements and rewards, recounting her search for creek glass (think beach glass) in the polluted stream that represents the only waterway in the city of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Elizabeth Genovise and Julian Hoffman contribute fiction to this issue, both focusing on family life and bittersweet homecomings. Genovise tells of the two-day visit of a soldier on active duty to his Illinois home, and Hoffman describes the diverse notes of anticipation in a Greek village prior to the return of a man who has resided in America for twenty years. Hoffman’s story ends as the bus bearing the sojourner arrives; Genovise strikes disturbing notes in her asides that glance at, without glossing, moments that occur before and after the central narrative.

Cover art for Cold Mountain Review has been in full color since 2006. In keeping with the Greek theme of Hoffman’s work, Jason Waite contributes to this issue “Boy with Accordion in Santorini, Greece,” a compelling close-up image of an unsmiling child with furrowed brow holding an unfurled accordion twice the width of his body. Inside, a black-and-white photo essay about Hestur in Denmark’s Faroe Islands includes descriptive captions and an introduction by the artist Randi Ward, which illuminate her literary as well as artistic talents. Ward resided on Hestur for six months during her time of study for an MA in Cultural Studies with the University of the Faroe Islands. Her photographs communicate a moving depth of relationship with the people and landscapes she has captured here.

The narrative poems in this issue include “Red Boulder” by William Palmer, the heart of which describes a solitary ritual:

I sit under a spreading branch
of a juniper
and write my father a letter
saying I forgive him.
I fold the paper tight,
dig a small hole, bury it
and pat the ground
like the dome of a head.
I write another letter
asking my son to forgive me.
I write a third to forgive myself.

All the poems, like the prose (and like the contributors’ biographical sketches too), have a lucidity, a hard-won effortlessness that speaks to the artists’ ease with their craft as well as with their material. The blessed absence of archness in this collection descends on the sensibility as a deep silence, obliterating the cacophony of self-promotion, self-consciousness, and self-centeredness that characterizes much of contemporary culture.

Daniel Boone is remembered for saying (some version of), “I have never been lost but I was bewildered once for three days.” The quiet confidence, honesty, and humor of this statement have found their way, directly or otherwise, into the DNA of Cold Mountain Review. It’s funny how humility can become the escort of distinction.
[www.coldmountain.appstate.edu]

top of page

 

draft Coverdraft

Issue 2

Fall 2012

Biannual

Review by Kenneth Nichols

I’ll be honest: revision is not my favorite part of the writing process. (I like to think I did it right the first time, even though that’s clearly not the case.) draft is special because it occupies an interesting place in the literary journal scene. Instead of rewarding the polished version of stories and poems with publication, the journal rewards the process by which writers make their good work even better. There are only two pieces in the journal: a short story and an excerpt from a book of poetry. Each piece is presented in an interesting manner: the final version is presented on the recto of each page, directly facing the draft version on the verso.

Alicia Erian, who found great success with her novel Towelhead, offers her story “Standing Up To The Superpowers” for dissection. The story depicts an odd love triangle between college professor Fetko, student Beatrice, and her acquaintance, Shipley. Erian grabs your attention from the first line (of the revised version): “Beatrice told Shipley she would sleep with him, and then she passed out. When she awoke the next morning, he said he’d gone ahead without her.” A beat later, we learn that Beatrice is under Fetko’s orders to mess with the freshman’s head because he’s always speaking up in class and interrupting the professor’s flow.

Shipley and Beatrice forge a strange relationship; they continue seeing each other after she drops out of school. In the climax, Beatrice waits on Fetko and his wife in the clothing store where she works. The young woman learns a little bit about herself and reconsiders her friendship with Shipley. Perhaps the greatest benefit of the draft format is that the reader is invited to see Erian’s original intent for the ending of her story: a more definite resolution of the conflict between the young man and young woman.

The second half of this issue examines an excerpt of Donald Dunbar’s book of poetry, Eyelid Lick. As you might imagine from the title, Dunbar’s work is visceral and deals with form in a somewhat experimental manner. If this example is any indication, Dunbar is happy to reconsider his work and spends an admirable amount of time and thought on the revision process.

In a poem called “Unquote echo,” Dunbar considers life through an appropriately opaque lens: “You find some new fortune in between the light’s curve and blinking. Corporeal, edged, acoustic. Tied up to the bedposts, the way I use your eyelids is like it just occurred to us to ask us, want to have a kid together? But what can you use them for but suffering.” The rest of Dunbar’s work is equally challenging and rewarding.

Each piece is accompanied by an interview with its author. Erian and Dunbar are both interesting writers and have unique lessons to offer. The editors of draft go one step further to help writers. Pushcart nominee Hunter Liguore finishes the issue with a writing exercise inviting you to create a map for each story you write, allowing you to “fully imagine and then create” your new world.

The presentation of each piece creates an interesting dilemma. Should you read the story or poems before you check out the draft version, or should you alternate between versions? (Personally, I tried the latter before deciding upon the former.) Either way, draft invites you to think of a creative work as the product of a process. Many writers are stymied by the challenge of doing everything “right” the first time. This journal does a great public service, reminding us all that it’s okay to “make mistakes,” so long as you’re putting words on the page.
[www.draftjournal.com]

top of page

 

J Journal CoverJ Journal

New Writing on Justice

Volume 5 Number 2

Fall 2012

Biannual

Review by John Palen

One of the poems I keep coming back to in this issue of J Journal is Judith Skillman’s “Estrangement.” I like the care and precision with which this fierce poem about old age is constructed. I like its John Donne-like metaphors and the way it broadens out from the senses to far-flung and historical references; from “Long nights / sleepless, punctuated by sleet,” to “the city seven hours south of Paris // called L’Age . . .” to the “second century martyr Perpetua, / coming now into the arena / to be mauled by lion, hyena, and laughter.” And I like its seemingly tangential relation to this journal’s stated purpose—in the words of the editors, “to gather creative writing under the justice banner.” Read in any other journal, it might not trigger associations to questions of justice. But its inclusion here enriches it with an existential dimension—what is “just,” after all, about growing old?

In addition, its inclusion here—along with that of several other mind-stretching poems and prose works in this issue—demonstrates what apparently came as something of a welcome surprise to the journal’s editors at the Department of English at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “We were ready for the usual suspects—police writing about the beat, lawyers about trials, inmates about the street and cell,” they write. “But what became apparent right away was how broad the banner truly is.”

It must have been exciting to see work come in over the transom from writers who saw a connection in their own work to the theme of justice—and to consider that work and finally to say, “Oh, yes, I see it, too.” Noting that much of the writing relates to violence in a brutal age and place, the editors conclude: “The writer grabs a pen and arranges events, turns abstractions into images, draws from chaos something to hold, something with meaning. In that way, perhaps writing itself is the first act of justice.”

Journals with themes run the risk of falling into a too-narrow niche. J Journal seems to have squarely confronted that risk—and won.

Also memorable, but at the opposite end of Skillman’s gravity and high technique, is Emmy Pérez’s “Left after crossing.” In lines mostly of one or two words, Pérez deftly sketches a Southwest border landscape framed by the discovery of a pair of “River wet / panties / rolled off / the body / in the shade/ of an ebano”:

I always hope
she discarded
them for a dry
pair from a sealed
plastic bag
to enter
Tejas
comfortable

There is plenty of good prose in this issue, too, including Steven Matthew Brown’s “Dirty Old Gentleman, an open letter.” In restrained but heartfelt language, the narrator recounts a relationship with another man and explores “the murky boundary you dance and breach between legal and illegal, consensual and non-consensual behavior.” When he finds that his lover has videotaped an underage boy masturbating, he knows the limit has been reached, and a line must be drawn.

Other poets I particularly liked in this issue were Ace Boggess, Erik La Prade, Laurie Lamon, J. E. Robinson, and Sheryl L. Nelms. Notable prose comes from Evan Morgan Williams, Vance Voyles, and Alison Ruth.

Two suggestions for improvement in this otherwise reader-friendly journal: One is to distinguish in the table of contents among the three types of prose the journal accepts: fiction, first-person narrative, and memoir. It’s not always clear what’s being offered, and readers, who have different expectations for each, would be helped by knowing. A second suggestion is to include captions with photographs. Several interesting black and white photos are presented in this issue, but without captions, readers may “know what they see but not what they’re looking at.”
[jjournal.org]

top of page

 

Jabberwock Review CoverJabberwock Review

Volume 33 Number 2

Winter 2013

Biannual

Review by Julie J. Nichols

We all know the jabberwock, Lewis Carroll’s monster with its eyes of flame, riffling through the tulgey woods and burbling as it came. The story of the jabberwock “fill[s] [Alice’s] head with ideas—only I don’t exactly know what they are.” We might say that read-worthy literature is all like that, filling our heads with images and sounds whose meanings reach far beyond their mundane expression. I imagine that’s where the title of this journal, created by students and faculty of the Department of English at Mississippi State University, wants to point us: beyond our daily routines, into relevant, effective words that revise our ordinariness.

And so it does. This is a small, manageable journal (90 pages, nice-sized font) of good poems, fiction, and essays by people from all over the country. The language of “Looper,” by Steve Trumpeter of Chicago, is fast-paced, perfectly-pitched. The caddy narrator, Ringer, whisks us through the frustrations of the job, the sport, the lifestyle; I like him from the first sentence (“On eighteen, I know exactly what will happen as soon as Ethan asks me for his seven iron.”) to the last (which I will not disclose, lest I spoil the considerable pleasure of the story).

Garrett W. McDonough’s “Active Adult,” referencing our compulsive need to Google ourselves and our connections, gives us a main character we may not relate to but can’t help being interested in: she’s erased herself from the Internet, but her grandmother has both her same name and a surprisingly shady past. Much merriment ensues. It’s almost a Shakespeare play for the twenty-first century.

The third story in this volume, “The Specioso,” by The Missouri Review’s associate editor Evelyn Somers, is perhaps the most sobering, a concise tale about disappointment and a kind of revenge, the protagonist revisiting an icon of the difficult past to press away the bruises of today. All three of these stories are strongly written and sharply imagined.

Two fine personal essays about obsessions (well, sort of) round out the prose contributions. Deborah Thompson’s “The Buddha’s Hunger” recounts how self-starvation shuts out other pain, delineating a journey from anorexia through grief and acceptance. In “83 Problems, A-Z,” Patricia Smith weaves the Dalai Lama, psychotherapy, laughter, and rage into a clever and sometimes-wise braid of motifs and anecdotes. The D.L. says every person has 83 problems, exactly. If we solve one, another pops right up. Smith enumerates not just 83, but a whole alphabet of problems we might solve, or not. It’s funny, troubling, and well worth reading.

There’s no set theme to this issue, but all the contributions seem to be story-driven, and all are satisfyingly thought-provoking without being obscure or difficult. My favorite poems are two by Sally Rosen Kindred, take-offs from “Hansel and Gretel” (“Gingerbread House: The Apron’s Lot”) and Peter Pan (“What Tinker Bell Tells the Last Boy”). Her chapbook of poems about the girls of Neverland is soon to be published; it is good to see here what else she knows about that country:

but fairies’ hearts are black math: when you’re not
looking we fly past the decimal point
into sun’s thousandths . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 
We’re dwindling imaginary numbers
counting on your fruit-gloss skin.
In my heart now, light’s division, pinwheel wings spinning down

Similarly, “The Apron’s Lot” pulls Grimm into the wilds of post-postmodernism. These are good poetry.

As are Donna Pucciani’s “Varda, Train Station” and “Honoring the Dark.” The first memorializes a dying town: “No station left, but a long-winded whistle, / the screech of brakes on steel. Together they call, / ‘We are the way out. Come.’” The second tells the poignant story of elderly partners, one with a new hip trying to get comfortable at night, the other (the speaker) full of compassion and willing to bear the burden for love.

Good (funny, unexpected) stories drive most of the poems, as they do the prose. Gregory Sherl’s “Rocket Science” is accompanied with hand-drawn circle graphs. “I am full of space shuttles,” it begins. Then, a circle with the phrase “Space Shuttles” and the figure “100%” appears below it. The writing continues, “But sometimes I am pizza slices, / coffee grounds & damp thighs . . .” (then a circle divided into fragments, 52% coffee grounds, 21% pizza slices). I’m delighted to know what rocket science is.

Jabberwock Review is a solid, excellent journal. Follow it, snicker-snack—this issue is a very good read.
[www.msstate.edu/org/jabberwock]

top of page

 

Manhattan Review CoverThe Manhattan Review

Volume 15 Number 2

Fall/Winter 2012 – 2013

Semiannual

Review by Cara Bigony

The history of millions in one cold breath, one empty train station, one terrifying silence. This issue of The Manhattan Review plants us in the aftermath of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and then attacks it mercilessly from the individual, not the statistical. Those who lived to deal with the silence, to inhabit neighborhoods forever changed, move on.

Featured poet Wladyslaw Szlengel calls these deeply personal poems “poem-documents.” His direct, honest writing slips in and out of verse and prose, but is always chilling and personal. “The Little Railway Station at Treblinka,” shows a man haunted by silence, in a world that has been permanently and senselessly shifted. “It is Time,” starts at a cosmic silence and narrows to the inside of a gas chamber made even more claustrophobic by the persistent second person:

They will drag You and cast You into a hideous pit,
They will tear away Your stars—the gold teeth in Your jaw—
Then burn You.
                       And You will be ash

Extremely personal and beautifully translated from the Polish by John and Bogdana Carpenter, this poem will pull you into its world.

D. Nurske’s poems are equally gripping, and his dense language provides sharp images. He shocks us, apt to kill his first-person speaker before the poem ends, eerily narrating beyond the speaker’s death. With frustratingly anonymous enemies, the merciless, masked killer hides behind his weapon. In “Nanglam,” a helicopter circles above a boy on a field:

I shouted: I’m a child! Though I tried to make my voice gruff and serious, it broke into a squeal I myself could hardly bear. The chopper retreated as if my words had beaten it away, then whirled back and shattered my body with bullets.

Penelope Shuttle drapes a heavy silence over a year’s worth of actions. Our speaker floats through a year, separated from the world around her by the quiet she imposes on it:

you’re both happy and sad,
nothing needs to be said,
choose any time of day or night
for not saying a word . . .
not even in the month of rainy days
when the rooms fold in closer,
there’s nothing they cannot bear . . . And you?

Published in many journals and the author of over nine poetry collections, Shuttle’s three poems are dark and domestic, her writing sparse and meditative.

Roughly three quarters through the volume, Hal Sirowitz offers comic relief, toying with conventional proverbs. Extremely minimalist, these poems’ brief couplets suck us in to one moment before it quickly dissolves.

The magazine’s final section situates us in the contemporary world (via Russian poetry) and is as dazzling as the rest of the issue, though less thematically cohesive. Reviews at the back are brief and informative but probably not why you’d buy this issue. This issue’s beacon is its dazzling poetry from the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. I urge anyone interested in this moment in history to read this issue of The Manhattan Review. It’s a haunting, engrossing read.
[themanhattanreview.com]

top of page

 

Mississippi Review CoverMississippi Review

Volume 40 Number 3

Winter 2013

Biannual

Review by Mary Florio

The Mississippi Review, edited in Hattiesburg, printed in Brooklyn, and disseminated worldwide, does not accept unsolicited work, but its winter 2013 compilation is diverse, as though culled from every doorstep in this hemisphere, and the next. I found myself acutely aware of the language in the journal. You can have rich ideas but spare prose, and for me, when you have both you have discovered something rich and renewable. The takeaway is clear; buy two copies, so you can draw exclamations in the margin of one and keep the other pristine.

This edition is neatly partitioned between fiction and nonfiction, but there are departures from the traditional form; for example, Adeena Reitberger’s “Tremors,” a fiction that could be construed to be a poem in its free association and succinct stanza formation. Take the following excerpts:

When you go online and take “The Existential Crisis Test,” there are four possible outcomes: Apathetic, Will to Power, Existential Crisis and Life Is Beautiful. You will score an Existential Crisis.
Get a second dog, name it Sartre. Get a cow, name it Cam-Moo.
Your father calls one night to tell you it has metastasized . . .
Q: How many existentialists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

I took the lines out of order and cut additional material in order to showcase the extraordinarily dark humor. If you read through the entire piece, it does become a fiction, however experimental in its brief, astrological achievement.

The Mississippi Review’s fiction sampling also includes another piece that is remarkably funny: Jim Gavin’s “Play the Man.” Frankly, you may not realize what you’re in for when Gavin begins: “The Romans had a hard time killing Polycarp of Smyrna. In the stadium, surrounded by bloodthirsty pagans, he heard a voice.” This story isn’t exactly about feeding a Church leader to the lions, but, in a way, that forecast could be vindicated in the sharp, smart, rollicking narrative that chronicles a young man’s coming of age without the usual suspects. One character, Tully, doesn’t have eyebrows; he has luxurious eyebrows. “Authority figures usually wore shoes,” our hero observes. And to Tully, shoeless Jesuit drop-outs enforcing a motley team of b-ball hopefuls to spend the afternoon running suicides is unremarkable. “Polycarp was schizophrenic,” said Tully. “All the saints were.”

It’s a story that answers a call for Catholic literature that is Catholic in spirit, if a little heretical in the semantics. By that I mean that it is hard not to enjoy the lovely authenticity of the teenage years, willful misconduct and general dereliction of some reluctant heroes, with a failed priest and a “Gnostic” K-Mart employee as the moral touchstones of the story. Some readers might question my averment that it is Catholic in spirit, but if you look at some of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories—a literature that has been designated the voice of the Catholic South—you see vibrant characters being tested in ways suitable to the times, and Gavin does no less. You’ll hear the quiet voice, one that says “television was the only source of light,” against “a tall, cadaverous Reaganite,” and complete heresy. But it doesn’t offend: rather, it includes a religious-based cultural tradition so popular to demonize, forget or ignore.

I’ve marked up Leslie Jamison’s essay “Saudades” almost as much as Gavin’s short story. The Mississippi Review did seem to feature a bias toward beauty, which is excellent when there are no overt poets to tinge the page. Jamison’s rich language trembles on the branch of the burning genealogical tree—which is a rather burdened way to say that she chronicles a death, a marriage, and a wildly splitting lineage during a period of time that could be ordinary, but, because of her style, is aerial. I was crying by the end and completely humbled by her spirit and her method of delivery:

I think I accepted it like people accept the seasons, their rhythms of disappearance: heat leaves, sunlight leaves, leaves leave, a father leaves. I knew the report was important but I didn’t know why. I didn’t know why my parents got divorced when he got back.

And then she defines the title: a saudade is “a longing for lost things, maybe things that never were.” There are many diverse elements in this essay, but some readers might interpret this woven, textured shroud of memory as a love story for a brother. I certainly felt that such a message—important and necessary as our families fraction—was well-written enough to stand on its own without a more specific designation, but it was a unique invocation, for one’s first friend. She concludes with a foreshadowed elegance: “. . . thank you for giving me your jacket and your prom photo and your impossible volleys and most of all for sleeping in a bed below my bed, years ago, when I didn’t know how to get through the night.”

The fiction and nonfiction in the Mississippi Review run smoothly and expertly, in essayist tradition that suits the region in its physical formation and its cultural propensities, if one might generalize. While the Mississippi Review does not purport to speak of and for a region—does not class itself beside a river bed or tributary—we see the formation of the literature to flow, to surprise curvaceously, at all times navigable at the junctures that cross straight through the heart of the country.
[
www.usm.edu/mississippi-review/misissippireview.html]

top of page

 

The New Quarterly CoverThe New Quarterly

Number 125

Winter 2013

Quarterly

Review by Mitchell Jarosz

How could one resist picking it up! Who, after all, could resist such a title? “The Disquiet of Men: in which we skirt tragedy, watch marriages wither, and seek direction while riding the rails.”

If you didn’t know that The New Quarterly is an impressively supported—for the quality of its work—journal (see the listing of organizations from the arts, universities, community foundations, and preservationists), then you would still be attracted by the subtitle for this issue.

The editor’s introduction sets the tone with an impressively written definition of the theme and a content summary. And the first piece, Zachariah Wells’s “A Walking Shadow,” takes us into the theme with a detailed description of an alcoholic’s stupor, a writer’s mindset, and the memories of anyone who has had to recreate themselves and their relationship with their father.

Well’s piece and Jeffery Donaldson’s “I Stand Before You: Museums, Galleries, and How To Find Yourself in Them” are my favorites, ignoring my preference for nonfiction. It’s the thought in each that appeals, both in reflection and re-creation of self. Donaldson writes, “I am mystified by daily life. I don’t understand what it is. Our stubborn ordinariness, how we live with it, how we embody its routines, its compromises and dulling seductions. . . . We disappear, like pictures hung too long on the same wall.”

Don’t misunderstand; the poetry and fiction are excellent. This is not a philosophy text, but the theme holds true: “The Disquiet of Men.” I believe women will as readily identify with the specific tales, for surely the theme is universal. The message is certainly there. Try “When Genghis Khan Was My Lover” by Susan Young: “Months passed, then years. A string of miscarriages. Batteries of tests, then, finally, a technical diagnosis that might have afforded relief if it weren’t so laughable—inconclusive blame.”

It’s appropriate for Young’s piece to be in a section titled “Three Additional Delights from our Fiction Contest.” And they are. Andrew Forbes’s “The Rate at Which He Fell” echoes the lessons of decision making we all experience. Kari Lund-Teigen’s “Down to Here” provides the third perspective on relationships and the tedium that wears on them.

A woman’s perspective of tragedy and tedium are obvious in Katherin Edwards’s three poems, but they are not limited to only a woman’s or man’s view. They all echo the old adage that “anyone can be a hero; living one day at a time is the real test of courage.”

There’s a message in the humor; try Stephen Kroll’s “The Man Who Dealt Well With His Big Head.” There’s sadness in many of the pieces, but “pathos” would be accurate.

This collection isn’t for the young or those inexperienced in life. The empathy and sympathy come with a recognition of life’s events, both individual and collective. It’s the disquiet of us all.
[http://www.tnq.ca/]

top of page

 

PMS CoverPMS poemmemoirstory

Number 12

2013

Annual

Review by Julie J. Nichols

I hear women’s voices when I read this magazine. I should: this is a “140-page, perfect-bound, all-women’s literary journal published annually by the University of Alabama at Birmingham”; every voice is a woman’s. But I didn’t expect to feel such a bond, such a connection, and I was unexpectedly moved as I read: these writers know how I feel, they live my life, they speak my language. I teach fiction writing, so I went to the story section first. Every story made me smile with recognition and appreciation, and each one left an echo in my mind, an impression I carried around with me as I do with the best literature—a new way of perceiving my ordinary world, no longer ordinary, thanks to these women writers.

I resonated with Louise Stark, the protagonist of Mary Jane Myers’s “Galileo’s Finger,” who, during a long-awaited trip to Italy, stumbles into a museum in Florence where the astronomer’s digit, locked in a gilded egg, suddenly directs her—yes, with His Greatness’s very voice—to abduct it and bury it in Fiesole. If she does, she will have everything she ever wanted. The astonishment I might feel if such a thing happened to me, the reticence, the guilty delight—all of these Myers captures, so that Louise’s utterly changed fortunes after that moment become my own, and I grin the rest of the evening. Why do I think only a woman could have written that story? I do. And I’m awfully glad she did.

But perhaps so could only a woman (Tara Ison) have written the bittersweet “Andorra.” This story is structured like its subject—an illicit love, hidden in the folds of another story, the story of a “sad little trip” to that “plucky little country” between Spain and France whose principal claim to fame is its duty-free tourist trade. We get funny dialogue here, between the narrator, who is single (“I’m always a solo team,” she says, referring to games of Trivial Pursuit but meaning life in general), and her coupled-up friends, in Andorra and back home. The conversation is funny and sad at once, as though everyone is carefully distracting themselves from the pathos of their complicated, separate lives. We learn all about Andorra (pretty pathetic), we learn a lot about the couples who can’t live together for various perverse reasons, and it isn’t until the end that we discover the narrator’s not as solo as she’s led us to believe—but she’s no more “with” anyone than any of the others, either. I think only a woman could see the multiple levels of sadness here, the secret desires that aren’t being met.

The image on the front cover is of a disco ball. The last of the pieces in the nonfiction section, Bebe Barefoot’s “Sparkle and Spin,” circles around the image of a disco ball (which is, she says, “nothing but a chandelier that stepped outside its self-evident limitedness, got over itself and joined the circus”) offered to her by a friend and refused. She’s been sorry ever since. So now she tells the story of “getting out of Dodge” and finishing her dissertation, only to be hit by lightning. This is a smart, lovable piece, circling back to reflect and shed light on (like a disco ball) “the Dodge I escaped” as she reclaims it and returns to the best of what she left behind. I adored this wry memoir of self-discovery and pride in motherland, geographical and biological. I don’t think a man could have written a word of it.

Other memoirs, and stories, too, ring like the ripples of bell-tones with women’s concerns: the death of a child; the loss of a parent to age, mental illness, and addiction; the suddenness of accident; and the inescapability of illness. The poetry deals, too, with love, desire, art. One of my favorites (but they’re all my favorite in this volume), “Worry” by Holly Karapetkova, caresses the hysteria we mothers feel about our babies:

If you’ve left the baby alone in her crib,
then the shower sounds like a baby screaming
the hair drier sounds like a baby screaming
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
and you’re running back
to the bedroom soaking wet
you’re running back to the bedroom
soap still on your back,
you’re running back to the bedroom
tomatoes dropping from your fingers

Yes. If you’ve left the baby alone in her crib, you know exactly how this feels.

The issue begins with an interview of four women filmmakers who offer their unique take on “the industry.” Happily, for most of them sexism isn’t an issue, but the always-present need of women to balance work and family fills their warm, intelligent conversation.

If you’re a woman, or if you love a woman, subscribe to this magazine. I can’t wait to read archived issues to find more of my life reflected in its words.
[www.pms-journal.org]

top of page

 

A Public Space CoverA Public Space

Number 17

Winter 2012

Quarterly

Review by Mary Florio

A Public Space showcases a splendid selection of stories that balance plot, pacing, and literary innovation without sacrificing what makes classic short fiction remain essential. From the first story in the volume, “American Lawn” by Jessica Francis Kane, to the last, a translation, “Something in Us Wants to Be Saved” by Patricio Pron, the reader glides through the narrative. There is enough drive in the stories, metered without sacrificing the thrall of language, to make you read endlessly, wanting to know the end, but letting the powerful pacing direct your review—allowing all truths in its own time.

John Haskell’s short story “DOA” tells the story of a man who abandons love for a kind of soulless calculus: “I try to explain my theory about habits and establishing new habits and about imprinting habits on the brain.” With an aimless abstraction—and by that I mean without clear drive or spirited motivation—he travels to Los Angeles, leaving his lover and his paper-pushing job behind. The story does not fail—we witness a party and models in the art world and we flee iridium researchers and stumble into a homicide detectives’ office—but the end will shock you because you have been with the narrator so long, caught in his polyester point of view, that you will see how easy it is to fracture meaning, to move without any significance to your footsteps. Someone would call it an existential crisis, but the gross beauty of the story’s execution is that the narrator’s experience should prompt an existential crisis, but it is not there.

Megan Cummins short story “We are Holding Our Own,” is masterfully drafted with a richness of metaphor that I almost wanted to quantify to see how she managed to accelerate the narrative without sacrificing the lines that reveled in her own rich prose. You see the power of place in her opening: “Oscoda was a town of passing through.” She starts with place that at the end becomes a metaphor for its people, and her links, which are rich and moving, are not “heavy handed” at all. In fact, I think her opening paragraph helps condition the reader into gossamer interpretation—we are in a small town with small town shopkeepers and raspy-throated barflies—and so when we read “Her heart was as small as a postage stamp,” we stop, consider the line, and continue, not thinking about the role that language plays in making us feel at home with the story. And the key success of Cummins’s story is that we do not slip into any stereotypical “Our Town” or “Zorba the Greek” moments; for sure, the construct made me suspicious, but I’m pretty sensitive to the romanticized small town America framework, and as far as my radar goes on this tightrope, I can say that Cummins’s story evaded any such traps.

Another story in the volume that navigates a tightrope with the universe teetering on its shoulders is Kane’s “American Lawn.” The story weaves together themes of class, ethnicity, community, and a strangely beautiful parallel of a burgeoning backyard garden and the development of a young family. As I did with most stories in this volume, I found it to be accessible on multiple levels. Kane’s achievement is at once a commentary on the United States at a time of transition, but you feel the shadow of war-torn Europe against the grasses and the fecund patch of land that a refugee is cultivating. And yet, we are not sure whether it is Europe or whether the refugee is a refugee, and the ambiguity is rich with meaning for the reader. Are we all so blinded as to believe that the world beyond us is unrecognizable—a Bosnia in a pinch, a Barcelona in a guesswork—and how is it that those whose lives are entwined with ours have bulking blanks as to identity? And yet the garden grows.

I had a hard time pulling away from the fiction for the poetry and the translations because I felt the journal had a unique advantage as a publication of fiction as classical literature—as far as structure goes, you couldn’t ask for more. But the poetry will arrest you as wonderful epiphanies among the verdant fiction.

Suzanne Buffam’s “Altered Proverbs” is a joy to read. One line reads, “To forgive is human, to forget divine.” Another line, “The grass is always greener over graves.” The poems are smart and surprising. “A Song” by Ghassan Zaqtan (translated from the Arabic by Fady Joudah) is small enough to fold into a locket, but it ends with fire: “. . . so you can roll / and smoke your whole / tobacco pack / before the next war comes.” I like that the poems in this collection that are from Palestine are, like the rest of the work in this journal, not driven by any agenda that is not first a human longing that transcends nation or identity. I enjoy the richness of the language and the gentility that these writers are tying together eight themes that one can interpret in her own script—while these are wise craftsmen, they endeavor to succeed on the first bar, with any transpositions only making the melody richer.
[
www.apublicspace.org]

top of page

 

The Sewanee Review CoverThe Sewanee Review

Volume 121 Number 1

Winter 2013

Quarterly

Review by David R. Matteri

War is a constant throughout human history. Even now as I write this review, North Korea is threatening all-out war with South Korea and the United States (even though they have technically been at war since 1953, but we won’t get into that). The latest issue of The Sewanee Review examines all the facets of war in its collection of fiction, poetry, and essays. From the battlefields of the distant past to the conflicts of today, the authors in this issue examine the heavy cost of war and the impact it has on those who survive.

“The Sleeping Saints” by Michael Beeman is a powerful story with a great opening that immediately sucks you in: “Afterward Roxanne Irving would not remember which arrived in Glennwoods first, the snow or the returning dead.” Roxanne lives in a small New Hampshire town where autumn descends as “gray and cold as the barrel of a gun.” Her brother, Peter, joined the army with many other young men in their small town after 9/11 and is serving in Iraq. Roxanne worries constantly about her brother and sends him emails hoping for his safe return. But her nightmares come true when her father, a veteran of Vietnam, tells her that the army has reported Peter missing in action: “Peter disappeared outside one of the awful villages that colored his e-mails, all the same gibberish to Roxanne, foul like curses.” Roxanne turns to midnight ski runs to escape from the pain, but has an unexpected visitor: “By a tree a shadow moved. Roxanne cursed herself for staying out after the darkness was coming sooner each night, alone. She took a shuffled step away and extended her ski poles, ready to bolt. ‘Roxy.’ It was a nickname she had not heard since childhood.” This is a fantastic story with razor sharp writing and a chilling ending.

Austin Smith’s poem “The Stephenson County Fair in Wartime” is set in an innocent county fair, but surges with dark undercurrents: “The man taking tickets fantasizes / he’s taking souls, and maybe he is.” The man operating the Ferris wheel “has a tattoo of a spider spinning / a web on his arm” and thinks of how the blood of his guests tastes. Set against the backdrop of this disturbing setting, a boy takes his girlfriend to a shooting gallery to win her a stuffed animal. The mood of the poem takes a drastic turn once the man at the gallery places the gun in the boy’s hand:

. . . the kid swings
the gun toward him slow and says,
softly, “Bang,” and everyone
around them stops breathing.

I love how the tension is established in these last few stanzas. All life and activity holds its breath as a couple sitting on top of the stalled Ferris wheel realize “how alone they are, and how far from earth.” A marvelous ending that is loaded with meaning.

Scott Donaldson’s essay “Bomber Boy” examines the military career of Charlie Fenton, an author whose young adult life reads like the bio of a Hollywood action hero: “As a second-semester freshman, he’d been dismissed from Yale in the spring of 1938 for entertaining a girl in his room.” After a few more years of misbehaving in the universities, Fenton joins the Royal Canadian Air Force. His rebellious attitude and disdain for authority lands him in the dangerous position of a gunner: “a nightmare, as the average lifetime of a gunner in action is 2½ minutes.” Donaldson quotes a section of Max Hastings’s Bomber Command to illustrate how terrifying this position was for the average gunner:

The rear gunner faced the loneliest and coldest night of all. Gazing back into the darkness . . . he often felt that he inhabited a different planet from the tight little cluster of aircrew so far forward in the cockpit. Even after electrically heated suits were introduced, they often broke down. Many gunners cut away their turret doors to dispel the nightmare of being trapped when the aircraft was hit—they were wedged impossibly tightly in their flying gear.

Sortie after sortie takes its toll on Fenton’s morale. The romance of fighting in a war erodes, and all that is left is the terror of not knowing if he will live to see another day. The fighting and the terror are too much for Fenton and he goes AWOL, hiding with his lover in London until he turns himself in. Donaldson’s essay is tightly written and shows how the scars of war haunted Charlie Fenton until his suicide in 1960.

Another fine essay in this issue is Edwin M. Yoder, Jr.’s “Intestine Shock.” Yoder’s essay compares the similarities of two civil wars—the English War of the Roses and the American Civil War—and the historians who recorded them: “Civil wars are nothing if not tragic, involving the clash, evoked in King Henry’s soliloquy . . . ‘of one nature, of one substance bred . . . in the shock and furious close of civil butchery.’” Facts are woven into the essay without being dull or pedantic. History lovers will appreciate Yoder’s commitment to details and may even learn more about these two major civil wars that have shaped Western history.

Earl Rovit’s autobiographical “The Waning of the Wayne” is a semi-satirical reflection of his service in the army during the Korean War. Rovit’s style is punchy and fun as he tells a story of an early morning patrol:

And, around 3 a.m. one day about an hour before my relief was due, through the murky white with sleet in my face, I saw what looked like a figure climbing the wire. “Halt! Who goes there?” I yelled, as though I were reciting lines in a movie. I unslung my M-1 and pointed it across the enclosure. The figure kept climbing, and I pulled the trigger and then came the shot and muzzle flash, and the figure fell or jumped off the wire, picked itself up, and vanished from sight. I pulled open the jerry-built gate and checked in the direction of my shot. A crate of Coca-Cola cartons had a .30 caliber hole through it with shattered glass and shards of frozen Coca-Cola . . . Like a far-flung sentinel of liberty I had stood tall against the forces of evil and made Coca-Cola a little safer for the free world.

One can only hope that fewer wars will occur in the future and that there is no shortage of writers. This is an excellent issue that deserves to be read.
[www.sewanee.edu/sewanee_review]

top of page

 

Southern Callifornia Review CoverSouthern California Review

Volume 6

2013

Annual

Review by Mary Florio

All the bad, bad boys. You sort of wanted them to fraternize with each other—take the sociopath Greg from Erika Wurth’s short story “Freight Train” and introduce him to the Matthew/Luke character (trust me, they are merged in the story too) from Graeme Mullen’s memoir of creating a community art project, then place them under the suicidal tutelage of Ilya Leybovich’s eponymous ‘suicide artist’ flailing for good fortune in the Upper East Side. I wanted the characters to meet each other, and that is how you know that even the surreal ones are thoroughly alive.

This issue of Southern California Review orbits among the stars of “control,” but the editorial touch is effervescent, so you might enjoy the stories without tasting the saffron lines that bind them. It is a decadent montage of genres and tones. Take Sven Birkerts’s memoir about a dog that transcends the literal with intellectual ferocity and gentle humor. Add that to the considerable experimental exploits in each genre—I liked Trinie Dalton’s prose poem “hairpin.” At the other end of the spiritual-experiential scale, we respond to the potential for destruction in Brenda Miller’s teenage pinto death trap (memoir) and the extraordinary suffering and extraordinary courage in Emily Rapp’s “Signature/Mother.” Rapp’s story made me cry all weekend when I heard her interview about it on NPR. Her narrative of caring for a child with Tay-Sachs illness, which is in part included in this volume, is moving and lovely beyond my comprehension.

Jesse Hassenger’s “Fists Full of Feathers” explores, with hilarity, the fiction of searching for a husband for the sake of expeditious divorce. The pacing is pitch-perfect—the backstory controlled, the persistent odyssey motivating tension—and the surprises are likewise somehow perfect, in the lopsided, magical levity that you can only score with laughter.

The placement of certain stories and poems help to regulate the mood of the reading experience. Editors can modulate a circus or a mausoleum with just the right organization, and I think that this journal was magically orchestrated. Under the review of Matt Ackels and Susannah Luthi, we see considerable balance. Some of the writing is so dark and so terrifying that we need the cool intelligence of Leybovich to dull the violence of Diana Wagman’s torturing soldier, whose only connection to her humanity is a memory of babysitting. Or take the placement of Ace Boggess’s “Letter to the Parole Board” that opens the volume. This poem is a great way to begin a volume of balance built to scale. You can hear the longing in some lines (“I’ve not tasted that soft perfume along a neck / in centuries beyond my reckoning”) but the control of feeling, the economy of order, will manage you.

Ryan Ridge’s “Small Green Plastic Army Men will Win the War” seeks to answer Padgett Powell’s Interrogative Mood, in three voices. About three years ago, The New Yorker ran a story by Jonathan Safran Foer where the sentences run fluid—complete disintegration of form with language and idea driven explosions. In Foer’s piece, you have the energy and chaos that Ridge achieves in this piece, but I think Ridge’s work forces a control of that device with a snapshot of editorial guidance.

While the theme of the issue is control, I think it is also worth noting that the volume is generally cinematic. “My Beautiful Goddamn City,” a play by Jon Robin Baitz, is a very apt inclusion not only because of its outstanding literary achievement, but because as readers of this volume we are used to being told a story, whether that telling be philosophical modeling or literary evolution—or maybe just to scare the hell out of innocent readers who are not ready for the whiplash. (I am nodding to Wurth’s story that did a great job of transcending the teenage male angst with a compelling placement of ethnicity in the midst of a hate crime.)

An especially nice aspect of this publication is Matt Ackels’s interview with Diana Wagman. It complements her complex story “Yellow” and provides such smart, sharp commentary about writing and her body of work that it left me ready to sprint to the bookstore to pick up a copy of her next book. And because it serves as an editorial fulcrum with half the journal left to read (if you are reading linearly), it means you are seated – glued to the text but eager to obtain her novel The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets, and feeling a little out of control, I guess.
[
dornsife.usc.edu/mpw/literary-journal]

top of page

 

World Literature Today CoverWorld Literature Today

Volume 87 Number 2

March/April 2013

Bimonthly

Review by Cara Bigony

World Literature Today always packs an exciting table of contents, one that makes me want to spring up off my couch and catch the first international flight. I see the shining achievement of WLT in the editors’ ability to balance what is innovative and cutting edge with what is well established and relevant. Its unique content distinguishes it from most mainstream literary magazines, giving it vitality and spunk. This special double issue treats photography as a modern narrative form. Featuring twenty-one photographers, the spread beautifully illuminates many intersections between literature and photography.

The photography special is simply stunning. It brings into conversation some of the top-working photographers alive today. Beautifully constructed by Guest Editor Yousef Khanfar, this feature is thorough (providing approximately four large images per photographer), well composed, and enhanced by artist interviews and commentary for all included photographers. Khanfar, an award-winning author and photographer himself, fleshes out the relationship between the photographer and the writer and the language their mediums share:

The beauty of photography’s language is that it has no rules and follows no laws. There is no need for grammar or punctuation. There are no worries about stubborn commas, stepchild semicolons, or hunchback parentheses. Style is out the window, and personal taste is welcomed at the lens’s door. No need to tie your tongue in pronunciation but let your eyes sashay into images with the same accent. And as the writer’s life sometimes hangs on a comma, the photographer’s life hangs on a moment.

Throughout, the photos themselves are bolstered by the text that surrounds them. A deeper conversation between the photographers’ images and their words amplifies our experience. Lois Greenfield’s stunning compositions sit just beside her discussion of the interplay of movement and time in her work. Flipping back and forth between the two, we get a glimpse of her work through her eyes as she fleshes out the tension she perceives between dance and photography.

The artists presented are extremely varied, from Jacko Vassilev, who grew up in communist Bulgaria and whose images burst with humanity and vulnerability, to nature artists like Robert Glenn Ketchum, and to Lisa Kristine, who had to wait until dark to take portraits of slaves in Ghana by candlelight to ensure their safety. One of the most dizzying and intricate presentations is the Moroccan feminist movement expressed through Lalla A. Essaydi’s henna portraits. Phil Borges’s “Tibet: Culture on the Edge” does spectacular things with color and engages in the real fear that Tibetan culture is disappearing under China’s regulations.

Angela Bacon-Kidwell’s writing invites us in—to her photos, her personal philosophies, and the unpretentious web that merges her life with her son and the world of her art. Ami Vitale defends her unique decision to include a mental hospital in her photojournalism coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This issue brings us the rare experience of hearing photographers share their stories in images and words.

Beyond the feature, this issue’s interview with Scottish travel writer William Dalrymple is an ambitious, engaging conversation. Taking on the whole genre of travel writing, it discusses at length the pervasive genre stereotypes. Dalrymple and the interviewer slip in and out of Dalrymple’s work and genre-talk seamlessly. The essays and reviews that bookend the photography sample diverse writing and cool cultural trends. The opening “Notebook” section offers brief introductions to “Financial Crisis Fiction,” recently translated mystery novels, and Contemporary Inuit music from Arctic Canada. And a short essay by Mark Budman uses a personal narrative to frame a serious discussion of political divisions within Ukraine, which he believes are sorely patched by a new television show “Ukraine’s Got Talent.” Though far from the highlight of the issue, this brief essay memorably introduces a fascinating phenomenon.
[www.worldliteraturetoday.com]

top of page