Posted May 15, 2014
Alaska Quarterly Review :: American Poetry Review :: Anak Sastra :: Bluestem :: Cave Wall :: Columbia Poetry Review :: Court Green :: Creative Nonfiction :: Denver Quarterly :: The Fiddlehead :: Glass :: Green Blotter :: Hunger Mountain :: International Poetry Review :: New Orleans Review :: Off the Coast :: Olentangy Review :: One Throne Magazine :: Poetry Northwest :: Southern Humanities Review :: Story :: subTerrain :: 1966
Volume 31 Numbers 1 & 2
Spring & Summer 2014
Review by Brian McKenna
Good grief, literally. Don’t let the vibrancy of those yellow umbrellas on the cover lull you into a state of blissful aesthetic appreciation; a hard rain’s gonna fall. The short stories, nonfiction, and poetry in the Alaska Quarterly Review’s (AQR) latest issue are soaked with serious consequence, with writers delving into the subjects of madness, financial distress, war, disease, alcoholism, and plain old existential funk. Only the writers’ leavening of such heavy subject matter with great humor, insight, and tart individuality kept me from developing a low-grade Zoloft habit while making my way through the 300-plus pages of this literary squall.
My favorite piece of fiction was Sarah Cornwell’s short story “The Benevolent Society.” It is the tale of a nineteenth century housewife forced to participate in the dull do-gooding of a group of townswomen in order to maintain the family name as financial straits threaten to upend the domestic comfort she’s grown accustomed to. Inspired by the activist Dorothea Dix, these townswomen take it upon themselves to volunteer Becky to board one of the madwomen from the local prison until a more humane place in the state asylum is secured. Cornwell’s writing deftly captures the creeping disdain Becky harbors for the strongly held judgments of others as her own social position grows less certain.
The issue also features two inventive and unsettling war stories that grapple with the struggles of active duty and post-military life. In his short story “I Saw Your Ad for a Trumpeter,” James Warner chronicles the plight of Specialist Gared Drezdon on a base in Afghanistan as he spends his morning interrogating prisoners and trying to come up with a suitable entry for a New Yorker-style cartoon caption contest. Warner uses this device to great effect, characterizing other soldiers based on their caption suggestions for the absurd cartoon. That we know Drezdon’s own absurd version of normalcy can be punctuated by extreme outbreaks of violence makes Warner’s story all the more trenchant.
In Arna Bontemps Hemenway’s dark and structurally-complex short story “The Fugue,” the life of an unmoored Iraq War veteran nicknamed Wild Turkey grows less and less coherent as the blackouts he’s suffered since childhood are exacerbated by a powerful cocktail of medicine, memory, and alcohol. Hemenway’s story is a jarring meditation on the power of a traumatized psyche to distort reality and strip life of the narrative thread that keeps one from getting the spins.
Alyssa Knickerbocker’s “The Uncertain Future of the Body” is one of three exceptional pieces of work in this issue to feature voluble female characters dealing with cancer’s effect on the family. While Andrew D. Cohen’s nonfiction piece “Looking at Sheila” and Julia MacDonnell’s short story “Dancing with Ned” were quite good, the characters in Knickerbocker’s story were particularly memorable and vivid. The playfully combative mother-daughter relationship Knickerbocker so soulfully creates makes her tale of diagnosis and missed opportunities more moving, and, at times, outright hilarious: “‘Just think,’ she said, blowing her cigarette smoke out her nostrils. ‘I’ve been feeling myself up for decades, doing those stupid self-breast exams, and then wham! It comes at me from the crotch.’”
The seventy pages of poetry in the issue shade towards the serious as well, and include a collection of eighteen new poems from Joan Naviyuk Kane. Michael Hettich’s hypnotic, image-driven “The Shells” and Terese Coe’s “Godardian” made the most lasting impressions. Hettich’s poem uses the image of washed-up shells to found a meditation on the whims of fate and our sad reliance on those whims to incite change in our lives. The intricate pacing of Hettich’s poem turns territory that could be cliché into amazing art. Coe’s short poem “Godardian,” with its title seemingly meant as visual pun that suggests a connection between the auteur director and the mythic knot, considers the impossible task of extricating love from desire in a subjective world:
And what you are and what I think you are,
they’re not the same.
I see this when I think
of coming to you, and when I am with you
Coe’s slippery poem manages to enact rather than simply suggest the feeling of unease.
For more than thirty years AQR has provided a stable of returning contributors as well as many emerging writers with a venue for literary art that is serious but not self-important. With great skill and artistry, the writers in AQR’s latest issue continue this tradition.
Volume 43 Number 2
Review by Michael Caylo-Baradi
The name Donald Sterling underlines an un-sterling moment in ‘post-racial’ America, delivered in sound bites that, in many ways, reveal sensibilities lurking beneath the ‘post’ in post-racial. Sterling’s girlfriend or personal assistant, V. Stiviano, was the messenger, thanks to mobile devices that heighten our desire to spy on intimate conversations. Indeed, Stiviano had the ball; and then came the slam-dunk that catapulted the message to first-class scandal. Soon, race as topic of discussions and conversations in living rooms and social media is on center stage once again, quietly intrusive, at times, to a point where it taints the spirit of any material you’re reading in the context of race.
This taint is palpable when I read this issue of The American Poetry Review, particularly because of Martha Collins’s essay “Writing White, an Introduction”—which echoes other essays written a few years ago by Major Jackson, Claudia Rankine, and Natasha Tretheway—which tries to address the issue of writing from “racialized experience” and why there’s a “dearth of poems written by white poets that address racial issues.” Certainly, ‘address’ here touches on terrains of truth and authenticity, and begs the question: to what extent are racial issues racial? Collins argues that
we’re all writing race whether we like it or not: a writer of color will see the whiteness in my poems even if I don’t. And for many years I did not. For me, as for many white people, race was—whether I would have phrased it this way or not—something others had: white was default, was no race.
So then, to her, race is embedded in language, or rather the language of a writer’s imagination, that even if one consciously avoids writing about racial issues, in the end, racialized experience is already factored unconsciously in one’s work.
In the other notable essay in this issue, “Toward a Postmodern Humanism: Information, Layering, and the Composite Poem,” Tony Hoagland quietly echoes how identity embeds itself in poetic language, by virtue of reality itself: “As a poet and a person, I want to include both Lyme’s disease and moonlight in my poems. I want economics and racial reality, and bootleg pharmaceutical companies in India.” To Hoagland, the imagination of poetry today stands in and against terrains of hyperactive rivers of information and technologies that inform and test a poem’s sense of place and time; thus, he poses a challenge of how a poem can “manage and orchestrate it all.” His answer: the composite poem, a poem that “approaches the real through an aesthetic process of sampling, counterpoint, and dialectic.”
While Hoagland drives rigorous arguments about the poems of Spencer Reece, Anne Carson, and Robert Haas to make his point, he spends more time discussing the “power of disarray” in Tomas Tranströmer’s work wherein the Swedish poet “layers and conglomerates the spiritual and the informational, the existential and the scientific, the narrative and the lyrical into his poems”. In Tranströmer’s “Oklahoma”, Hoagland muses about its neutral tone and the lack of connective language and transitions: “This motel is a foreign shell. With a rented car / (like a big white servant outside the door). / Nearly devoid of memory, and without profession, / I let myself sink to my midpoint.” Here, devoid goes with shell. But there’s something unconventional about the notion of servant as a car, an image that disrupts the seeming connectivity between sink and devoid, which underlines an experience of exile, of something obliterated, deserted.
There are many gems in this issue, like the long excerpt of James Baldwin’s “Gypsy,” which unfolds like a novel:
Not knowing why,
for no reason,
he touched his balls
and heard his wife,
This is pure Baldwin, his men are forever minted with fires that conspire. While Abigail Cloud does not mention balls in “Tryst,” its intensity feels raw, nevertheless, in which need and desire raise the temperature of objects:
Her nerves banged
an anthem to the sexy Bartlett
pears, the sexy palm plant draped
in the corner, the mirror like a mouth
on the wall. . . .
Although the repetition of “sexy” throughout the poem creates rhythm, I had a Hoagland moment, and wanted it disconnected from the piece with something less descriptive, or perhaps something foreign to the poem like, say, television.
Like Cloud’s lyrical temperament, Yusef Komunyakaa’s “The Land of Cockaigne” makes love with a landscape, the mythical land of Cockaigne, a place of escape and ease from medieval peasant life: “A silhouette rides / the rope swing tied to a spruce limb, / the loudest calm in the marsh.” The silhouette is intriguing, because of the absence of identity, a face, but has some sort of momentum, not static. The poem feels like an ekphrastic piece, commenting on Pieter Bruegel’s “The Land of Cockaigne” dominated by bodies on the ground, particularly because of the line: “thick mud sewn up like bodies fallen / into a ditch, blooming, about to erupt.”
Mini Review by Kirsten McIlvenna
Anak Sastra is an online magazine that provides a platform for Southeast Asian writers to publish their work in English. It is also a place for “expats, tourists, and regional connoisseurs” to share their experiences in the area. And while I came in with little to no knowledge of Southeast Asia, I still took away important insights.
My favorite piece is actually the longest in the issue, taking up almost half of the pages: Christelle Davis’s “Today is a Good Day to Make a Weapon.” It’s clear that music is an important part of telling this story as references are made throughout to past and current popular songs. And sound clearly plays an important role in the narrator’s appreciation of their time living on Nusa Penida, an island southeast of Indonesia’s island Bali:
Each instrument has a twin, tuned slightly higher or lower and each instrument only plays part of the pattern, so that the tune is only possible by interlocking those notes. Everything vibrates. It is earsplittingly loud. Then suddenly soft and almost peaceful. There is no melodic hook to grasp, nothing progressive to follow, instead it is cycles of fast beats that abruptly change at the bang of the gong. After days of the whining, drawn out screeching this is like a balm.
Gillian Craig demonstrates in her contributing poems that she is a master of the turn of the last line. Her “Butterflies” is powerful, the impact coming in the end: “they could not dance where fear emulsifies. / There are so many brutal reasons why / on killing fields, the butterflies don’t fly.” Again, in “The Odd Couple,” she tugs at your emotion just as the poem comes to a close.
Kim Nbuyen’s poems, all titled after years, signify a desire for a better or easier life:
Farther and farther
away we drift,
into the night,
toward the “land of opportunity”,
where “money grows on trees”.
And everyone has
a house, a television, a car
and always enough to eat.
Volume 24 Number 1
Review by Justin Brouckaert
The latest issue of Bluestem, based out of Eastern Illinois University, offers a hefty selection of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and art working in a broad spectrum of styles and aesthetics. The journal isn’t filled exclusively with big-name solicitations, but the range of work it includes is refreshing and strong.
My favorite piece in this issue is Kevin Wilson’s story, “King Remembered in Time.” Wilson uses a very small space—two pages—very efficiently, crafting a vaguely fairy tale or folktale-like story about a king who is, for all intents and purposes, immortal. He dies, but always returns to the living in three days, and thus is unable to relinquish the throne. The religious implications are undeniable, and yet the story is too complex to be reduced to a metaphor or a parable. The king’s immortality is tested by his own son, who, seeking the throne he feels should rightfully be his, successfully assassinates the king once before watching his resurrection and giving up for good. Eventually the king realizes he will go on ruling forever, and that’s when his narration becomes most interesting:
After one hundred and seventy-five years, six more queens (no more children since they offered fresh problems of ascension that seemed unnecessary to address), I found it impossible to remember the names of anyone in the kingdom, they seemed to die so quickly, with hardly any effort to pull it off. And they grew tired, I’m sure, of my steady rule. But what to do? My rump had worn an indentation into the golden seat of my throne that no amount of metallurgy could undo.
This is a very successful story—one that succeeds because it is funny, if not a bit perverse, because it is daring, and because Wilson hits the language just right.
Another strong, but very different, story is Michael Don’s “No Matter.” This is a realist piece that follows the arc of a declining relationship, or, rather, a relationship that is extremely lopsided in terms of affection, with the male character Judd being seemingly uncommitted to his partner. Don uses both characters’ medical ailments to complicate their relationships even further. It’s an extremely effective relationship story, and I can’t help but feel a little broken when Judd’s partner, the narrator, finally fed up with his inconsistency, finally asks, “Why do you love me this morning?”
Another strong piece of writing is J.M. Gamble’s poem “I Can’t Believe How Still This Fire,” a meditation on fire in different forms, such as the sun, a cigarette, and a pyre. This fire imagery is twisted in with mentions of family; Gamble’s greatest strength is seen in the language that is both casual and perceptive: “I mean, the sun’s the fire’s mother, / right?”
I’ve long been a fan of Betsy Johnson-Miller’s poetry, and she doesn’t disappoint with “I’ve Heard the Stones.” It is a poem very much concerned with the body, starting out with a beautiful and disturbing image that is later complicated even further:
all over my body
six in my gut
three more in my right leg
I make noise
when I walk
Bluestem publishes a broad range of work, with strong art in addition to the writing, and it features plenty of solid material for an annual journal. The journal is fairly young, but seems to have a great deal of potential. This is definitely a journal to keep an eye on.
Review by Robyn Campbell
The editor’s note in the latest issue of Cave Wall focuses heavily on the idea of time. The way it shifts all around us in an amorphous cloud, it seems that all we really have to hang onto is the moment right in front of us, to the beauty or pain of each experience as it happens. Memory, growth, and understanding come into play throughout, making for a quick read that’s both relatable and stirring.
Nathaniel Perry’s “In Bloom, Where the Meadow Rises” and “In the Briar Where a Hundred Sparrows Stop” start out the collection, both beginning with the question “Do you remember . . .” and addressing a child who is presumably the speaker’s daughter. The first piece especially stresses the importance of memory’s role in our lives. While it was only the girl’s “fifth day in the world,” it’s nearly impossible for her to keep it in mind, her father promises that the image can have power.
if you can find that evening, which is stationed
in my chest, inside you now, I swear it will
get you somewhere, across a field so filled
with snow the sky and ground are one, across
a field so bleached with drought the giant cross
of shadows from the pines is friction enough
to set the day on fire. . . .
Adam Houle’s “We’d Learn Later Her Husband Left” is centered on a memory as well, with the speaker discussing one of their childhood Quaker teachers. Here, the act of remembering is used as a means of interpretation, a way to contextualize a past feeling and reconcile anger with a peaceful religion. The speaker wanted to know “whom [he] could hurt to stop her hurt, / sure that some violence God could endorse, / that mercy’s counterweight is just and swift.” And Joanna Pearson’s “Prosopagnosia” sees memory turning against us; its title means “face blindness” and in the first lines, the speaker asks “what devotion then could recognize / the lover even when his face belies / his very face?”
In Alison Pelegrin’s “Saved,” the speaker’s easy pace implies an almost matter of fact response to the idea of Christianity, that its showiness is not for her:
I’ve seen them on the road
doing an angel Horsemen of the Apocalypse routine
at the prison rodeo—white boots, white fringe
on their sleeves, beating stallions with braided manes
to their knees, snuffing the shine in their eyes
so nothing’s left but beast. What creature am I?
This impressive image serves as a metaphor for the submission necessary in any religion and is made even stronger by the speaker’s definitive final statement, “There’s no breaking me of curses.”
Karen Skolfield’s “How Strange Might Life Be” is a beautiful exploration of a complicated and tense mother/daughter relationship, using the poet’s own name as a jumping off point. Skolfield artfully weaves together ideas of language and conception, calling into question the very start of a thing’s life. She points out that “the name Cain has never recovered, which makes sense, / nor Abel, which makes less sense except that we want // our children to be immortal” and later addresses herself to say “Karen Diane, // your mother was upset because somehow you’d / grown legs and walked away . . .”
A number of Bryan Nash Gill’s woodcut prints are interspersed throughout Cave Wall, their somehow simultaneously intricate and simple patterns perfectly matching the overall tone of the issue. And while it may be slim, the weight of the pieces inside is undeniable.
Reviewed by Anne Graue
When you read the 2013 issue of Columbia Poetry Review, sink into a comfortable chair without distraction and be willing to spend time with imagery that stimulates and verse that reconsiders how we define poetry and its evolution. If you are like me, you’ll want to read this issue a number of times to return to images that intrigue, disturb, or entice in poems structured and unstructured, evocative of surrealism in its almost purest form.
Many of the poems in the issue seemed to have a disconnect between the title and the lines of verse. In a stream-of-consciousness, automatic-writing sort of way, the poets seem to string together images that are simultaneously real and surreal. In Daniel Scott Parker’s “How to Become Awesome at Skateboarding,” for example, the “you” of the poem is instructed to “Totally nitrous / oxide the slow glide recumbent jelly, / good for teeth to put stars on . . .” And “Limb / the rental Nimbus malady of ground.” Reading this poem makes me lose my balance in its unique use of verbs, as if I were on that skateboard attempting what it might be impossible to achieve. Parker’s poem “Pragmatism” is less surreal than automatic in its listing of images that are at once familiar and frightening, such as,
there is no guilt for like
dropping bombs from 40 miles up
on some place degenerate and fetid
where faces are computerized dots on an 8” screen . . .
Doug Ramspeck’s “Fish Bones” evokes the image of the bones “emptied finally of flesh” without referring once to the fish. Instead, we read “My father— /dandelions a skeleton / of whiteheads—taps / his cane in a vapor trail.” Language unexpected produces thought and image and emotion by the end of the utterance. These poems are ones that I will read and mull over, and hope others will too, in search of the message that is paradoxically elusive and precise.
Kimberly Grey reminds us in “What We Have Lost,” that “We left them in little silver factories, our breathings, and continued on / as things unliving and for a short while, as trees.” Jerome Sala’s “Who Will Be America’s Next Top Mannequin?” reminds us of our service culture in which capitalism is king, where “once people begged to be awakened from their roles / now they must prove / that they can sell in their sleep.” John Kenneth Bishop lets us know that it is okay to be reminded of the mundane while in the midst of something that might be meaningful, remembering “the Cuban place that serves steak and egg sandwiches,” a place of comfort recalled during sex in “The good old days.” These and the other poems in the issue strike chords in just the right places and with all of the right notes.
If I were to assign a theme to this issue, it would probably be “Rituals and other Self-Reflections.” The idea of ritualizing every aspect of life until it has been revered almost too much or just enough to reveal the inner space where religion, mythology, and the awkwardness of everyday life meet. In “I Need to Count on All My Fingers,” poet Laura Eve Engel ritualizes anxiety in such a way that I leave this poem reluctantly and then head back for another read. Her theme seems to be distilled in these lines:
The only decent wants
are chopped up or made to look smaller, as from
a helicopter, blustery machine that comes to rest
on what it likes, rehearsing none of its bigness.
Other poems use ritual or rite in their titles and then upend the idea in the lines of verse. Carmen Giménez Smith’s “Ritual,” Alyssa Davis’ “life/rite,” and Abigail Zimmer’s “Rite for Unmaking,” each reveal something about the ritual that is life, death, and all actions in between. Using images that surprise and confound, these poems question my belief in any one definition of poetry that would encompass such feats of language and voyages into unknown manipulation of thought. I am approached by these poems to consider “an admixture of nanobyte / and coal saint plus animus,” “watching the paint / peel in my room, // peach to white to gray,” and “snow that colors us / darker.” Imagery new to me and to other readers that is a stunning definition without attempting to define, delineate, or identify what each poet presents in scenic bursts.
As a poet I am a bit envious of all of these pieces, and I will admit that some I may never completely understand. I will continue to retrace my steps through this issue, though, searching for signposts, signals, and souvenirs to take away with me and store in a place for safekeeping, one I will no doubt stumble upon in the future when I least expect to. That will be a gift.
Review by Brian McKenna
Journals published annually like Columbia College of Chicago’s Court Green find themselves in the unenviable position of trying to capture and sustain a reader’s good will and attention during the long wait between issues. Court Green makes all this look easy, staying fresh in mind on the strength of its lively, unpretentious poetry and the unique artifact its editors create with each issue’s “dossier” on a special theme or topic. This year’s “dossier” on New York School poet James Schuyler, which takes up roughly half of the issue, truly harnesses the unique potential of the format, drawing together poetic homage, letters, photographs, flyers, the reflections of associates and admirers, as well as a small selection of Schuyler’s uncollected poems. This enigmatic bundle paired with over one hundred pages of new poems by an array of established and idiosyncratic poets is sure to demand prime coffee table real estate in perpetuity.
A definite highlight of the “dossier” is Bill DeNoyelles’s reflection on a parting of ways which occurred between him and the poet and served as the inspiration for Schuyler’s poem “One of My Favorite Gardens.” Accompanying Schuyler on his weekly trek to the psychiatrist’s office, DeNoyelles and the poet find themselves compelled to pause beside a Manhattan church where a stark, white statue of the Virgin Mary and an immaculate churchyard garden stand beneath an apple tree. DeNoyelles warmly recalls the unspoken acknowledgement that passed between them during this brief pause in their day: “He spoke of the roses there, knowing their names and origin, momentarily lost, entranced by the garden’s simple yet varied beauty. The noise of mid-day Monday Manhattan receded as we enjoyed a moment of secular meditation.” DeNoyelles’s reminiscence coupled with Schuyler’s exquisite poem offers an intimate glimpse into the process by which Schuyler transformed experience into art.
Another gripping bit of ephemera contained in the “dossier” was a collection of photographs taken by Schuyler on an August 1968 road trip around Nova Scotia with friend and poet Kenneth Koch and his family. Schuyler’s photographs of Koch’s family and the dreamy Nova Scotia landscape are paired with the reminiscences of Koch’s daughter Katherine, who remembers “Jimmy” and her parents as “good travelers” who were always “ready to be wowed.” One particularly captivating photograph was a profile shot of the thirteen-year-old Katherine engrossed in the reading of a teen fan magazine article about the Doors in the backseat of the car. There’s something endearing and hilarious about imagining Schuyler stuck in the backseat like one of the kids, snapping pictures on a road trip with someone else’s family.
While the first-hand documents from Schuyler and his coterie are undoubtedly the most memorable parts of the “dossier,” some of the poetry inspired by Schuyler is quite good too. Whether these poems are offering thoughtful commentary on Schuyler’s work or musing in his mode, they’re infectious precisely because they betray the intense personal connection these readers of Schuyler’s work have felt. Shanna Compton’s “White Chrysanthemums,” Peter Davis’s “Help Wanted,” and Catherine Bowman’s “Schuyler’s Flowers” were among my favorites.
Court Green’s latest issue also contains an exceedingly entertaining collection of poems by Amy Gerstler entitled “Fifteen Prayers,” which will have you singing its praises to friends and family. Accompanied by the humorously literal drawings of Gail Swanlund, Gerstler’s poems deal with wearying exposure to the trials and charms of the secular world and the hints of spirituality to be found there. In her poem “The Devouring and the Devoured (Blind Date)” a dinner companion rides a train of thought off the rails, unreeling a monologue about the dreary and pleasant qualities of chewing:
As a kid,
I’d repeatedly dream a giant was eating me.
In a sandwich. Do you think that’s sexual?
I could feel the slices of bread I was squashed
between, like the textured walls of my parents’
den, chafing my skin. I could feel the giant’s
teeth pressing into me. I guess I wanted to believe
I was coveted meat. . . .
Hopefully these delicious poems from Gerstler are part of a forthcoming book.
Elsewhere in the issue, Hannah Gamble captures the wistful melancholy of two-wheeled transport in her evocative poem “I Think of My Bicycle As a Kind of Horse,” Rebecca Hazelton objectifies a husband like a 1980s video vixen in her brash and spirited poem “My Husband,” and Cate Marvin explores the nervy self-centeredness of babies in her poem “Next of Kin.” In many ways, these poems driven by such strong personalities vigorously engaged with their surroundings typify the voices to be found in Court Green’s latest offering. These poets are a thoughtful, acerbic, humorous, and humane bunch, and James Schuyler is their leader.
Review by Travis Laurence Naught
Writers for this issue were asked to tackle the subject of “Human Face of Sustainability.” It was a widely interpreted phrase, as proven by the included interview and ten essays. Individual subjects range from cancer-causing carcinogens and their effects on both children and our ecosystem (“Acts of Courage” by Mary Heather Noble), to a bicyclist’s perspective on individual activism (“Trapped” by Sarah Gilbert), to how one of the poorest cities in America is working on changing for the better (“Iyabo is Yoruba for ‘The Mother Has Returned’” by Amy Hassinger).
Donna Seaman’s writing is featured in the first several pages of the issue. It opens with an interview she conducted with fellow author Elizabeth Kolbert. The very first question asked is about how moving from the inner city to a more rural atmosphere changed her views on nature. Kolbert’s answer, dealing with her German grandfather and family trips in the summers of her youth, unlocks one of the common themes which also permeates the rest of the issue: cultural sustainability. It was a delightful reminder that this issue dives into human interactions with the natural world. Kolbert also spoke later in the interview about the author as a translator between science and the layperson as proven in the quote, “Even a very well educated person cannot read most scientific papers unless they are a part of that discipline.”
Matthew Ferrence tells a story about his family farm and the way it continues to be mined for natural gases. One of the truths in selling a piece of property involves mineral rights; belowground resources are not necessarily connected with aboveground deeds. The entire article was not necessarily captivating, did not make me feel as emotionally invested toward Ferrence’s plight as I wanted to, but it shined a very effective light on the reality that our society places more value on harvestable resources than family heritages.
“Seep,” by Mieke Eerkens, tells the true story of how once one of our greatest natural resources has been harvested, there are still large-scale negative consequences. The 2007 Cosco Busan San Francisco Bay oil spill is described by Eerkens, who currently works for The Marine Mammal Center as a communications specialist. The effects on birds are especially detailed, because pictures of affected fowl often leads to the highest number of donations in the fight against future oil spills. Discussion in the article really circles around the helplessness felt by society against avoiding any future accidents, as well as helplessness felt by individuals for an inability to retroactively save affected areas. Here is one of the many powerful phrases in the essay, after having a passionate scene of a girl trying to help one of the birds described; “we were forcibly separated from a horrifying scene of suffering that we knew, on some level, we had helped cause as human beings.” I found myself agreeing with Eerkens that being ready to help is not as good as taking a proactive approach to eradicating the need for help.
“Food and Worker Safety Across the Globe,” by Wendy Rawlings, closes out the issue by looking at how individuals need to take better care of themselves by taking better care of others. Rawlings tells the story of an 11-year-old with a major foodborne illness that was ultimately unable to be traced to a specific cause. High-priced medical attention caused by businesses unwilling to care for their employees created the trickle-down effect that led to this girl and her sibling spending weeks admitted for dehydration due to vomiting and diarrhea. Working conditions in Asia and California were scrutinized with very unique angles and writing techniques, and while it was not the most pleasant of reads, it certainly held my attention best of the works presented.
All the essay authors were granted $1,000 for inclusion, according to the editor, and all of these words deserve to be read. Beyond that, in the name of sustainability, all of these words need to be read. Pick up this important issue, with beautiful artwork by Marci Miranda Janes, and help these authors continue the conversations they have started with the world.
Volume 48, Number 3
Review by Justin Brouckaert
Unlike most literary journals, which separate their content into specific genres, the Denver Quarterly has a much simpler table of contents. The writing in this journal is lumped into two categories: “Work” and “Conversation.” The content of the “Work” section is creative work, e.g. prose and poetry, while the “Conversation” section consists of interviews, critical passages, and the like.
These two distinctive labels serve a practical purpose within the journal, but they also contribute to the journal’s aesthetic as well: the Denver Quarterly contains work that is interesting and daring, and, very often, work that doesn’t concern itself with something so unimportant as rigid genre distinctions.
Of course that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to tell poetry from prose—and, in fact, the poetry in the Denver Quarterly often announces itself as that, flamboyantly even, with widely diverse forms and styles. My favorite poem in this issue is the somewhat prosaic “Nothing Gives, Nothing Root” by Carrie Lorig and Russ Woods. The poem is incredibly clever and elusive, shifting and twisting from line to line, playing with language that is often dreamlike or surreal. The speaker asks questions such as, “have you ever screamed grass?” and, “who is a lion when she asks about the root of death?” Lorig and Woods seem to be masters of the pleasant surprise, and when I can put aside my stubborn search for linear narrative, I enjoy being taken by the poem’s many loops and turns of phrase.
Another strong piece in this issue is Ander Monson’s “The Problem with Memory,” a very short essay that examines the operation of memory, particularly in the context of a new company that is working on “advances in memory encoding, decoding, and accessing technologies.” Monson covers a lot of ground in a very short space, with a writing style that is difficult to describe or classify. The writing is exact, to be sure, but also lyrical at points and surprisingly abstract. I finish the piece certain that I’ve learned something about memory, though I’m not quite certain I have the vocabulary to articulate what I’ve learned.
Lyrical might not be the best word to describe J.A. Tyler’s story, “Our Mother, Remembering Our Father,” but it’s definitely clear that Tyler spent a considerable time crafting this story at the line level. The plot is relatively simple: a father leaves his family for the sea, where he is a pirate, and his wife’s distress is made only worse by the fact that her children seem destined to follow a similar path. The children are the narrators, and the story works with a not-quite-realist aesthetic that allows the mother’s breakdown to become a disintegration in the literal sense. The story is haunting, and that adjective, too, is literal: the mother begins to disappear as the fate of the family unfolds:
If we become pirates, Our Father will apprentice us. If the next time her returns to shore we are thick with buccaneer muscles and minds, he’ll see how ready we are to board that ship with him, and he’ll sweep us into his jolly boat, and we’ll sail away.
Our Mother, if this ever happened, we know the rest of her body would turn ghostly. Instead of only hands or feet or the crown of her head dissipating, it would be her entire body, turning see-through as rain, and we’d never see her again.
The work in the Denver Quarterly isn’t what you’d call “traditional.” The poems experiment widely with form, and there are no “epiphany stories” on the fiction end, no stories that are clearly and traditionally plotted and rooted in realism. Instead, the journal seems to offer a home for work that is not necessarily experimental, but eclectic and surprising, and yes, perhaps a little strange. And though each turn of the page may bring something surprising, those surprises are always rewarding.
Review by Chip Livingston
The Winter 2014 issue of Fiddlehead turns on moments of awareness of awareness, capturing the instants we catch ourselves catching ourselves, revelations of self to self, to the reader, and to other characters. It’s charming, this subtle focus moving from piece to piece, from poem to prose to poem to poem, and the sequence suggests this international journal from the University of New Brunswick is edited with precision.
The musical flow between these thirty-three poems (by sixteen poets) and four short stories makes its own composition of energy, crescendo, expansion, and contraction, but the pieces also move naturally through transitions in subject and focus. For example, we start with Lee Peterson’s “Things That Go,” in which we study “catastrophes in miniature” and have this fairy tale reference in the line “She sleeps. The snow a white silence,” which leads deftly into Shane Neilson’s three Alice in Wonderland prose poems where we first find a “Bigsmall Alice” to follow through a series of situations depicted in woodcut artist George Walker’s “Alice’s Misadventures.” Neilson writes, “Praise the non-linear, it is the royal road; she is the devil in a blue dress, blue dress,” Then, Gary Allen’s “In the house of his grandparent’s” opens with a house that “is either too small / or the table is of gigantic proportion,” and though the narrative has moved from the imagined to the realistically remembered, the setting is eerily similar, even if the tone has quieted in the created silence. And while each of these authors merit his or her own discussions and reflections, the arc of the sequence is suggestive to me of the editors’ prowess in putting together this issue.
The most significantly unifying thread I notice running through most of the writing is, however, the attention made to the clarifying moment of awareness when the speaker, writer, or character seems to turn his or her attention inward to the self’s awareness of the magic, pureness, potency, or potential in the represented situation, as evidenced in Bruce Bond’s “Earth.” He writes “you think, it’s here, I am / having one of those Oh-my-God- / I’m-alive moments . . .” Adam Sol’s speaker in “That Year’s Fall” expresses it this way: “but a part of your mind . . . / is thinking not what’s happening but oh / so this is how it happens.”
In her powerful, segmented short story “The Things We Lose on Purpose,” Michelle Barker’s narrator Hanna acknowledges, “I stood in the yard for a minute because as a human being I was supposed to appreciate the moment.” This awareness of self through situation and the expectations of feeling compared to the actual reactions was the human chord I felt struck again and again through this story—and the issue collectively.
The clarity of this consciousness is akin to a kind of waking up, like that so eloquently expressed in Alberto Ríos’s “On Waking, If Waking,” where a father waking up his son becomes “the timekeeper my father was,” where the speaker becomes the alarm clock “saying get up, son, for us all.” The awareness is also prominent in Ríos’s “Me the Man in a Hurry,” in which the poem’s speaker relays the logic of not rushing past a slow walker ahead of him on the sidewalk by expressing the additional delays that would result from the physical interaction.
And this is an issue that shouldn’t be rushed through. Even the five reviews that culminate this issue of Fiddlehead speak of the humanness in recognizing these moments, turning inward, tuning toward the vox humana. I highly recommend you do the same.
Volume 6 Issue 2
Mini Review by Kirsten McIlvenna
It is with sad hearts that the editors announce that this will be the last issue of Glass: “We love Glass but we must acknowledge the amount of work it takes to keep it going,” they write. It’s always sad to see magazines fold, but I’m glad that they are making the effort to keep all the past issues accessible: “we want to make our commitment to our poets clear: we will make sure your work stays published and stays available for your readers.”
Charles O’Hay tells us in his poem that our mother is not the woman “quick with her paddle” or even the one “who mends us / with strands of her own hair.” It is the water: “who soothes our scars, wipes away / our doubts, eases our thirst, / and readies us with song.”
I appreciated Jacqeline Jules’s poem in which she convinces us that ostriches aren’t as dumb as they may appear, “from a distance by judgmental eyes.” Although the ostrich doesn’t fly, it runs, leading predators away from her nest:
I wouldn’t mind powerful legs
to out-run malignant fears.
Certainly seems better than
standing in place
to face lions, leopards, and wild dogs
hungry for flesh and feathers.
Christine Guarino’s “The Swallowers” is like two poems weaved together, every other stanza being in italics. In one voice, the speaker instructs how to become a sword swallower: “Start small. A dime, maybe the button from your shirt. / The top hat piece from Monopoly. A marble.” The italicized voice weaved in between warns of the dangers of such a thing: “. . . Intentional foreign body ingestion . . . is costly. Endoscopic retrieval requires general anesthesia. / Efforts should be focused on reducing these incidents.” You can read every other stanza to distinguish the voices or read it all together; the contrast is perfect.
The poems in this issue are aware of their senses: “the farms are lacquered in smells / of turned cream and cut hay” (Monica Rose Burchfield’s “Quitting Ohio”), and, “there were tomatoes, sacksful, / branches of basil, mint tipped with white stars” (Lisa Bickmore‘s “All Souls”), and, “with your nipping jaws, your snarled curls, / the perilous brink of your nose . . .” (Burchfield’s “The Bathers”).
Review by Denise Hill
The slim, 8x8 format of Green Blotter was what first attracted me to this publication. It is some kind of revival publication of the Green Blotter Literacy Society of Lebanon Valley College, Annville, Pennsylvania. I wish I knew more about its history, but despite nearly four pages of separate editorial commentary from two co-editors-in-chief, readers outside of the community will be equally at a loss. I consider myself a connoisseur of editorials (as one editor to another), but these four pages could have been better devoted to a combined effort of a page, personal thanks on a dedication page, and some more solid information for readers about what this is as a publication with some history. Given the fact that this takes up 10%+ of the writing space in the publication, it deserves comment.
Luckily, the first piece in the publication weights worthy to make up for that lost real estate. “Rats Tricks Legumes” by Daniel Riddle Rodriguez is a simply styled story that looms largely in content and impact, starting with the first line, “Pop hates the scabs, says they wouldn’t know a good thing if it slapped them with a sack of pussy.” The story follows the narrator and his friend whose fathers are working the union picket line. The style is short and direct, bypassing punctuation for dialogue, and no softening of the language or situations these men, young and old, confront. The narrator trundles through his loyalty to his father’s loyalty to the union, the fight he rallies every day against the boss and the scabs. It’s brutal to read, but the raw truth of the experiences can’t be put down, as even the young narrator understands:
I pick a battered hardhat from the dirt, fix it on my head. I walk toward all the scabs and sparkies and wharfies, the tin-knockers and the turd-herders, toward all the solder-splashers, the men who put wrenches to steel and use bare flesh to holdback, toward that pile of wifeless November nobodies. Show them the stuff that decides tomorrow.
The other prose pieces included feature close examinations of characters and their life situations. “Summer in the City” by Brandi Gaspard presents the narrator’s summer spent with a friend/partner, using numbered lists to limit the emotions, making their actions of staying secluded during the day and only coming out at night seem orderly, matter-of-fact. Sam Hershey’s “Eye of God” narrator is a sniper hired to search out “bandits” in some kind of Mad Max deserted zone that needs to be secured. Hershey’s detailed action sequences take readers slow motion through tense decisions the narrator is forced to make. Not to give it away—but should he or shouldn’t he have killed the little girl in the end? My own thinking on the matter surprised me. That’s a character well written. And finally, Nathaniel Heely’s stream-of-consciousness “Our Last Days as Children” was both humorous and poignant in its narcissistic delivery.
Amber Koneval was the standout poet in this selection. Both her poems focused on the memory of body parts—“I fell in love with the sight / of your heels” (“Running Man”) and “but your shoulders / ah / I could never love any shoulders / more than yours” (“Monkey”)—each building to delightful conclusions.
I took A.K. Sartor’s poem to be simplistic by the title, “Fine, Thanks, And You?” but found a pattern of delightful twists from the simplistic to the surreal, like “I toss my hair, shaking off the soil settled on top / Evidence of a head buried deep in its own grave / Thoughts resting where the body won’t.”
Adam Uhrig delivers life experiences sorted now with greater meaning upon reflection, the youngster romping the church aisles while his father does his job cleaning (“Dusty Holy Water”) while Melinda Dubbs in “Tree Burial” creates a mythical transformation of a mother swaddling her newborn: “I wrap him in wool / blankets, rolling his body / tight along the edges, / wrap twine around his ankles, / and neck.” And whom she later ties “against a limb / with the others.” Eerie but beautiful in its symbolic rebirthing release.
Art, in this issue, is given a great deal of page space, and is most deserving, especially the works of photographer John DiCocco, whose subject of choice is abandoned spaces, digital communications specialist Billy Gartrell with his unconventional use of colorization, and Evan Laudenslager for striking compositional photographs. Other artwork by Marissa Ingeno, Amanda Hoffman, and Fill McKee gain greater symbiotic impact as a result of being perfectly placed with corresponding writing (which almost seems written or created one in response to the other)—a show of good editorial placement work, considering the publication as a whole. The square format, quality paper choice, and full color print show a distinct respect for art, not simply supplemental to the writing.
The Green Blotter revival, for whatever cause and whatever reason, is certainly welcome. If the work of this editorial staff is any indication of honoring the original, then it is work nicely done, and well worth continuing on into the future. Here’s hoping for continued revitalization!
Review by Rachel Schienke
Hunger Mountain announces itself quietly. The cover looks like a mixture of a chess piece and a road map. Reading the issue’s first poem, Annie Lighthart’s “White Barn”, prepares me for pieces featuring a home on the range, or of lives lived under a guise of simple lives and simple times. There are no flashy mechanics to the journal itself—the art is in black and white, the poetry and fiction well-worded and sometimes blunt, and the creative nonfiction as well as the young adult offerings all carry voices frank and honest. Fiction editor Barry Wightman even states it in his foreword letter: “You may ask yourself, ‘what’s this all about?’ . . . Horses. Horses. Horses. Horses.” I was prepared for horses. But what I received was much more than that.
The fiction was the star of the show for me here. While the subject matter varied wildly—from starlings in an attic to a bus stuck in a bridge to a father and son exchanging blows—each piece is marked by intimate character perspective. In Kendall Klym’s “Pavlova,” we begin with a recipe for a passionfruit meringue, and are led through a series of perspectives that all lead up to the reason for a deception in a Midwest ballet company. It reads easily, the characters’ individual voices are strong, and the story winds up presenting a 360 degree view through six voices of decisions and consequence. Alternatively, Patrick Dacey’s “Remember This” keeps us in the first-person perspective of a boy who’s looking to seek revenge on a grizzly bear. Despite a staunch hunt and razor-sharp focus on revenge, the voice often branches into memory, and we see the recollections of his father and the change of the area where the grizzly made its mark.
“Homing Instincts,” creative nonfiction by Dionisia Morales, brings readers in close with a family’s difficulty to accept change after a major house fire. We see a mother that has always wanted to own a house, and moving closer to her daughter not only gives her that chance but eases the burden of caring for her husband with Alzheimer’s. Through the rebuilding of the burned home, the daughter recognizes that “understanding the opposing forces that shaped [her] parents’ sense of home gave deeper meaning to their terse arguments . . . it revealed how ingrained people’s impulses can be about the nature and purpose of shelter.” That security and concept of shelter not only played a main role in the rebuilding of this particular story’s characters, but also arched into the issue’s poetry.
Carrying the same blunt voices as in the fiction, Hunger Mountain’s poetry strays contemporary as we dive into why “The Pope Does Not Reply to My Tweets” by Brandon Amico. He is “lost in the middle of everything,” and his “fingers worry the keys” as he searches for a home he may never find. Kathleen O’Toole’s “Medium” explores bird watching as “hoping for a medium—four months / and I still can’t conjure your voice . . .,” and Catherine Freeling’s “A Short History of Ironing” is indeed a short history of ironing. Everyday occurrences and items guide these poems into a territory that makes them accessible, simple even, but buried in each are great nuggets of voice, scenery, or word play.
The realistic nature of the literary offerings in Hunger Mountain, along with the exaggerated realism juxtaposed with clean lines that are displayed in the art sprinkled through the pages, makes this a go-to for solid stories and surprises.
Volume 39 Number 2
Reviewed by Anne Graue
I cannot remember when I have ever made reading poetry in translation part of my reading habits, but after the experience of reading this issue of International Poetry Review, I am humbled and convinced that I have been missing out on unique and profound experiences with poems that are significant and at times transcendent.
The space between the original poem and its English translation is a place where readers put their trust—in the accuracy and authenticity of the translation and the skill and talent of the translator. The size of this space varies, but it never disappears. In this issue, the space between is a sliver, an afterthought that does not impede the experience of reading poems that inspire or supersede the art of the original poems.
Diving into the poems in this issue, I am surprised to find that the first is a translation of Horace’s “Epistulae, I, VIII.” I am now convinced that Latin is no longer a dead language but has been revived. Fred Chappell’s translation subdues the Latin lines and brings them into the 21st Century complete with technology without losing its origins. In his poem, “Low Ebb,” which he states is “freely adapted from Epistles 1.8,” Chappell begins expectedly with “O Muse,” closely followed by an entreaty for the muse to
please email Kathryn Stripling Byers
My warm regards and, if she should inquire,
Tell her, one more season discovers Fred
Crosswise with the world and his own head.
Chappell has resurrected the Latin so that it may easily live and breathe in the present. I—not being a student of Latin—am happy to put my trust in Chappell’s freely adapted poem and enjoy the experience.
The translations of poems that follow Chappell’s adaptation seem to be more closely connected to their originals and bring their language through a tunnel to another perspective via English (language being perspective after all) as re-created art.
Michael Goldman’s translation from Danish of Benny Andersen’s “Just Before Spring” gives readers a fresh look at the season and explains that “The quiet is almost ripe, / opening like a seed.” In seconds I am transported to Denmark, imagining a “freezing morning” filled with colors I cannot see. I am assured at the end that the silence will not last: “One more drop of silence / and the air will be full of song.” I anticipate spring after a long winter in a new, breathless way for having experienced Andersen’s poem in Goldman’s skilled hands.
Perhaps Rocío Cerón’s “Cumbres—Tercer Sector—” is more than a list of images. In English, the lines are items illuminating a story, one I want to know. I grasp for words to hang my understanding on. From these lines, my interest is awakened:
Maybe bile on crest peak vertex.
I recognize repetition and imagery, the steadfast elements of poetry. I know how form and function work together to create meaning; this poem, though, makes me wonder if I know my own mother tongue. I need more, but I am swimming in the language of images offered by Anna Rosenwong’s translation. Then I ask myself how much is necessary for me to understand my visceral response to a “Growing mothertongue” or “sunset in mauve” or “wounded flagstones”?
Yet another translation engenders an intense emotional reaction with its stark images personified as a ghostlike storyteller. In Jonathan Harrington’s translation of “The Hearth Weeps,” from Mayan and Spanish by Briceida Cuevas Cob, my trust is firmly placed in both poets as I enter the Mayan world where
The fireplace tells me its story.
Its breath slaps my face.
It shows me its wounds,
its scorched face
Reading Nancy Naomi Carlson’s translation of Suzanne Dracius’s “Anamnésie Propitiatoire” is an occasion to travel to the Paris suburbs, to a specific zip code (this learned at the end of the poem in a footnote) where race and ethnicity reveal “Métissage and marronage” in the city and emerge in “Catharsis / Courageous / Propitious.”
From Paris we travel to Southern France reading poetry translated from Occitan, once widely spoken, now only in rural areas. From Dracius’s warlike Paris to Max Rouquette’s slower paced Provence, we find a balance and an intensity focused in a different direction. Jeannette Rogers translates Rouquette’s “Birds of the Air,” which observes birds at the end of a flight, perhaps a migration,
They came from the blind past
ending their flight
beside the silent water, frozen sky,
broad flower of autumn;
Against Dracius’s earlier images of “Gnomes versus dwarves / the war to end all wars,” Rouquette takes readers to a different place and a different atmosphere.
In his essay, “Shah Hussein: Translations & Conversations,” Naveed Alam asks himself, “Why translate Hussein? My tentative answer: To express an affinity, to explore through a kindred sensibility, to discover a poetic process and (re)examine my own aesthetics, to relive, revive a song through the sounds of a different language while preserving its emotional vitality.” This seems to be the list of goals for all of the translators in this fall issue.
Volume 41 Number 3
Review by Michael Caylo-Baradi
The large, red circle in the journal’s cover makes sense, because family and blood runs deep in this issue, in poems and short stories that talk about husbands and wives, sibling rivalry, or fathers and daughters.
You feel this red in Cara Blue Adams’s “Seeing Clear,” the first story, which starts with lines that can make you chuckle: “Dad’s suicide attempts began when I was ten. He worked at killing himself more earnestly than he had any job. First it wasn’t overt—just lots and lots of cocaine.” This is the voice of Amelia whose father is obsessed with flight not only from his family, but from himself. After leaving Amelia and her mother for a younger woman named Ireland, he ends up leaving her, too, and disappears. But he cannot quite forget his daughter, and sends Amelia postcards without a message, as though his daughter is his last life-line, and any contact with her, however thin, might deter him from taking his life.
Aurelie Sheehan’s “Wolf in the Basement,” the shortest story in the issue, is also a story with a disappearing father. The narrator’s family finds a stray wolf and takes it in as a pet. Sheehan’s information about the father and the wolf is quite clever: “Some mornings I watched as my father and Wolfie walked down the driveway on their way out for a run . . .” Although this information appears innocent, that somehow it does not carry enough weight for the story; it is probably this story’s main backbone, complemented by another piece of information about the narrator’s parents: “fights were had up and downstairs.” Soon, both tidbits converge into one sad moment in the narrator’s childhood: “On the last day my father ran with the wolf . . .”
In Sheehan’s and Adams’s stories, fatherhood and being a husband appears like a rite of passage, a necessary phase, a checkpoint in a long, solitary journey. But you don’t quite feel this kind of manhood in Bob Hicok’s poems in this issue. In “Friends”, the heart of home is a husband’s love for his wife: “Twenty / years I had had / no nipple except / my wife’s in hand / or mouth. . . .” Here, untarnished fidelity appears like an achievement, a badge not so much of courage, but of deep respect for someone, for the institution of marriage. The intrusion of breast cancer and its treatment underlines a change in the appearance of the narrator’s wife. And one wonders how this transformation impacts the husband’s feelings for his wife, his needs. What will happen to those twenty years after mastectomy? Thus, the curious title of this poem, which somehow embeds all sorts of future allowances between the couple in question.
Sydney Bolding’s “In Leyogán” (or in French Léogâne) is a glimpse of humanity as family, from the point of view of an individual involved in a humanitarian organization distributing food in Haiti, we assume; is set after the 2010 earthquake there:
It is a Tuesday night
but all the village arrives for church,
for rice—one bag per family, one more
per child. Their names are merely a list.
Amidst that crowd, the narrator notices a woman, in a ruffled shirt, thirsty, longing “Not for / rice or water. . . . Not amazing grace. But longing / like mountains, with broad-chested hearts / to the earth, longing like wind unafraid / to go at its pace. . . .” It’s the First World face-to-face with a territory facing severe economic struggles.
Written by recent Wallace Stegner Fellow Molly Antopol, the longest piece in the issue is “Minor Heroics,” a short story about two brothers, which takes place in a moshav, a cooperative, agricultural settlement in Israel pioneered by migrants during the second wave of Jewish migration. The story is told in first person by the voice of Oren, who is only a year younger than his brother Asaaf. Both have served the army. In a way, Oren looks up to his brother, for having commanded a unit guarding a settlement in the Hebron, while Oren feels different about his schedule: “home every evening, weekends working in the crops or feeding the chickens.” One Sunday, when the brothers are off from work, disaster strikes: the tractor that Asaaf is driving tips, and “slashed [his left leg] wide open, all the way down to muscle and bone.” The brothers, their mother, and Asaaf’s girlfriend, Yael, struggle to deal with Asaaf’s amputated leg.
Volume 39 Number 2
Review by Elaine Fowler Palencia
Do dimensions matter? Most literary journals are considerably taller than they are wide, often in the 6 by 9-inch range. The New Orleans Review is a compact 5-3/4 by 6-3/4 inches. For this reader, the size has a focusing effect that magnifies the significance of the words, for better or worse. Also as a result of size there are only seven offerings therein, perhaps a budgetary decision, but in any case one that channels attention towards the text. Two short stories, conventional in structure but not in their degree of excellence, contend with five pieces that variously blur the lines between poetry, prose poems, fiction, and essay.
Charles Haverty’s story, “The Cherry Wood Heart,” begins as a warm remembrance of Quetsch, the first employer of an “undistinguished graduate of an undistinguished law school” who no longer practices law. But other tales soon shoulder their way to the front: of the narrator’s relationship with his beloved Liss, of the narrator’s hitherto absentee father, of Quetsch and his own son, and of Liss’s sorry brother Perry. When Quetsch hires the narrator, he says, “This is my show and I won’t put up with any monkey business. Understand?” The statement seems boilerplate bluff at the time, but later, after some monkey business, we look back on it as a ticking time bomb for the narrator’s career.
G.C. Waldrep’s offering “Part IV: Infolds and Unspires” comes from a long poem, Testament, to be published by BOA Editions in 2015. Here he teases out all sorts of meanings and connections to the word “tender,” mostly tying it to the human body and a search for the divine. There are some interesting admissions. The line, “We can perform the autopsy in language & not feel / anything. Right?” floats out of his poem to challenge a certain kind of pretentious writing that doesn’t amount to much besides wordplay. And again, “I still think story is the more generous gift / though it fails &, in failing, drives /whole economies towards consolation.” Or to take that idea farther, towards consolidation, of power. Which is what myths and religious stories do. But still, who has invented anything better than story to do what story does? We can feel Waldrep circling and searching for both story and an elusive something better.
One of the riskiest announcements a fictional character can make is, “I’m intelligent,” because then the writer has to make us believe it without straining. The narrator of Meredith Martinez’s story, “The Long View,” tells us early and often that she’s smarter than her environment, her druggie “slut” mother, and anyone else she might encounter. Happily, not only is she really wicked smart, but also her friend Brian is a match for her. Whether that will be enough to save her from the bad lessons she has inadvertently learned in a dead-end upbringing is heartbreakingly unclear.
Corey Zeller’s “Wind Map” is printed one paragraph to a page, demanding the readers’ attention and slowing us down to appreciate detail. We are following explorers on land and sea, but who are they? He makes it fun to think about this. They could be the essence of travel, conquest, colonization, exploration, the human need “to strive, to seek, to find,” discovery, identity, and other associated ideas: “The explorers signify, spread. They find stones and name them. They look for stones that have fled other stones. In a cold place, a single explorer pretends to be an onslaught of snow.” Wherever an explorer goes, his arrival changes the place he lands on. Explorers do what we do: “The explorers are all part of each other’s living, all things living, at the time of their life.”
The English Ward,” co-written by Stephen Gropp-Hess and Emily O. Wittman, follows two academics named Stephen and Emily who decide to take a series of walks in order to write about taking those walks (or not taking them) while referencing the simile of English departments being like hospital wards, in a solipsistic mise-en-abîme that one devoutly hopes is a parody of a certain kind of “soft” academic discourse. The other two pieces are from language poetry, “Adam Cannot be Adam,” by Kelli Anne Knopfle, and “Good Historical Reasons,” by Jean Marie Nunes.
At least in this issue, the poetry selections are markedly more experimental than the fiction, as if two different sets of aesthetic values are at work. Writers of both genres should take this into account when deciding whether or not to send work.
Volume 20 Number 1
Review by Travis Laurence Naught
This issue of Off the Coast carries a cover theme of “Ice Fishing,” but I am under the firm belief that was somebody’s joke to play on an outdoorsman like myself. Luckily, I really enjoy poetry, and this issue contains 41 poetic offerings for readers to peruse. None of them deal with the directive of “Ice Fishing,” but for a bad pun laced with reality, I will say that the issue felt to be casting about a bit.
A couple of early poems in the issue that really spoke to me were “The Soul Mate Ache” by Lisa T. W. Jones and “The Last Days of Balkh Bastan (2013)” by M. E. Silverman. Loss is a universal theme, often dealt with in poetics, but both of these authors did an outstanding job of drawing in my attention and making me feel empathy for characters I can neither confirm nor deny exist in reality. A couple of the strongest lines in Jones’s poem read, “Looking for bliss, any bliss / To be unknown without it.” There is a brilliance in those lines that an individual is meant to avoid loneliness in order to avoid fear. This leads into some of the words contained in Silverman’s poem:
The kebab café will soon shut down.
The city’s hotels are hollow.
The caterers call less. Everyone is scared
to leave their home.
In both of the poems, I felt there, with the individuals; empathy, emotion evoked in writing. Success.
As I was reading through this issue, I noticed several occasions were the editors seem to have paired works of similar subject matter. For example, “Motley Fool” by Sharon Olson comes only two pages after “The Sphinx” by Michael Cantor. Each of those poems left me with a feeling of frustration for the narrator. They both dealt with the dichotomies of proper versus improper behavior, living one way but desiring another. Butterflies were another common theme between poems later in the issue, as showcased in “Highlights” by Ace Boggess and “At the Lathe” by Ivan Hobson.
Off the Coast is printed in Maine, but features works from poets residing anywhere. It is billed as an International Journal. It strikes me a little funny that one of the other strong poems I felt moved by in the issue was from my own geographic region, the Northwest US. “When Rain Pulls the Sky Low” by Joannie Strangeland has a haunting feel to it that I believe readers will connect with, regardless of their own geographic location. Lines like, “Oh, for billowing fronts to gather / high overhead, slate-violet swollen before a storm” and “like a horse with blinders on, hooves clopping,” make evocative images bounce off the inside of my brain, and I believe other readers will feel the same. Taken as a whole, the poem is quite good.
To prove I’m not being nepotistic in my reviewing, I present my thorough enjoyment of “Moonshines in Georgia” by C. S. Vincent. The author hails from Washington, PA and while I do enjoy the poem as a whole, the line “raking water wrinkles like a wayward drunk” is probably my favorite single line in the entire issue.
Several pages of the issue’s closing are used for poetry book reviews. Sheila Mullen Twyman did a wonderful job of making me want to purchase a copy of Lee Sharkey’s book Calendars of Fire. Several of Sharkey’s lines are highlighted in the review, making it less about what the reviewer thought and more about the actual work.
The photos in this issue did not stand out to me as much as the cover and rear flap artworks by Debra Arter. Peter Ingrasselino’s two photos that were selected among the 10 internal pictures were my favorite. One of them dealt with a typewriter as its main subject; the other dealt with a butterfly, looping back into editorial connectivity!
Pick up this issue for its widely cast net of poetic interests. Do not be disappointed with its lack of “Ice Fishing” works, but instead enjoy the winter field of never knowing what’s coming out from the hole you have cut and are now pulling words from.
Mini Review by Kirsten McIlvenna
The cover of this issue is a photograph of what appears to be the end of a spinning tunnel in a fun house. The end is in sight, but getting there is the hard part. There isn’t much to hold onto, and your travel is shaky. The same could be said of the experiences people face both in life in general and in this issue of Olentangy Review.
For example, it’s tricky terrain in the very first piece which takes place in an airplane, “Somewhere Between New Zealand and San Diego.” Cathy Calkins begins, “When the turbulence hits, / cups, plates and my sleeping daughter fly into the air above the seats. . . .” The piece speaks to the disillusionment that we are ever really safe.
And in Susan Tepper’s poem, “what’s ahead / bends an arc of broken light— / unscripted . . .” In Elizabeth Crowell’s “Mulch,” the lawn was “tunneled with moles who never once go back / the way they leave . . .” And in her “Pet and Hobby,” one twin thinks “though we’d been born together, / we would die alone.”
My favorite poet in this issue is Amanda Oaks who contributes three poems, each with a different mood and different technique. I read “Ginger” several times, pausing after each stanza to fully take-in the rich imagery. To get a feel for it, here’s the first:
Lining jars of blackberry jelly
next to the green beans, beads
of sweat strung above our lips,
the clang of boiled jars over
the stove, seeds stuck between
our teeth, berry-bruised
fingernails, kittens nursing
in a box at our feet, every
summer since I was ten,
a new litter.
There are a few prose pieces as well which I wouldn’t skip to, but I wouldn’t skip over either. It’s just that the verse in this issue is so strong that you’ll move through the pages for that purpose instead.
Mini Review by Kirsten McIlvenna
Hailing from Dawson City, Yukon comes a brand new online quarterly, One Throne Magazine, publishing fiction, nonfiction, and writing. And while the visual element is what will initially draw you in, it’s the writing that will keep you there exploring.
Wyl Villacres, in his nonfiction piece, thinks about the “difference between what [we] need to do to stay alive and what to do to feel alive” while offering us insight about bike cabbing in Chicago. His collections of vignettes are entertaining, though at the same time reveal his need or want to move on in the midst of his reluctance to give up the excitement of the job. A lot of the legwork to draw in the metaphors is already done just from the imagery of biking, but it is how Villacres ties it in that makes it worth the read. For example, he explains that at night, it’s hard to fall asleep: “The constant state of motion that you were in all day, perpetually feeling the world go by under your wheels, works its way into you head, into your brain, and when you close your eyes, your whole body feels like it’s going forward.”
Chris Cover’s fiction piece is an adrenaline rush, letting the main character drive you through the story at 75 mph up to 115 mph as he starts his 1,200 mile journey to return a car home. We ride shot-gun as he begins to lose it, writing on his arms, his hands, shoving blueberries into his mouth leaving a purple smear. The character in Xanthi Barker’s “The Unreflected,” too, has her own unhinging. The piece starts, “On the morning that I pulled the mirror down on my head and should have been knocked unconscious but instead remained awake to witness a thousand shattering shards of myself begin to eat into the naked skin of my stomach and legs, I thought, you know what, maybe it’s time I was leaving.”
While I’m not a fan of rhyming poetry, I did enjoy the way Eleanor Austin views the world as if we were giants: “When you scream, the heavens roar; / The whole world cries when giants weep.” And the art throughout the issue is awe-full, each piece enticing you to look closer. It’s not real clear where the art comes from (no submission info about artwork), but it certainly works in One Throne’s favor, pulling all the pieces and creating an atmosphere you won’t want to miss out on.
Volume 8 Issue 2
Fall and Winter 2013 – 2014
Reviewed by Anne Graue
If you read only one issue of a literary magazine this year, let it be this issue of Poetry Northwest, if only to read Stanley Plumly’s gorgeous essay “The End of Keats.” Plumly writes with gentle reverence of the poet who famously died too young, in poverty and failure. Plumly’s writing kept me reading to the end of Keats’ life, and I learned so much. At the end of the piece, Plumly shares his view of Keats’s short life and painful death and writes that the tragedy “lies in the not knowing; or worse, knowing the wrong thing.” He goes on to say that “that is true for most of us: we never know, we never really know the long consequences.” This theme runs through the essay and through many of the poems in the magazine that also deal with truth and the experience of dying and how the living deal with it all. In many of the poems in this issue narrators speak to lost loved ones in sadness and in hindsight at what might have been missed in lives ended too soon. Plumly’s essay is a perfect ending to this issue that deals with endings.
I have to admit that midway through the poems in this issue I felt a kind of disconnect, like a disoriented traveler without a map. Words, phrases, lines, images, and metaphors were not coalescing in every instance for me. The Keats essay returned me to solid thematic ground, and I was willing to go back through the poems to take another look through a different lens, the upshot being an afternoon well spent with the works of talented poets.
At first reading, even before my encounter with Plumly’s sublime essay, I opened to the two poems by Oliver de la Paz. Having read his work before, I felt confident beginning with something I knew would be of high quality and finely crafted, and I wasn’t wrong. The two ekphrastic poems demonstrate the poet’s skill in describing two photographs of Eadweard Muybridge (1830 to 1904) without having to view the photographs themselves. In “Heaving 75-lb. Rock,” Paz offers details he observes in Plate 311, adding his poetic voice to a description of what he sees. By the time I reached the last three couplets of the poem I could see
rising above him so that it is a sun. And he is
a god. The relation between them,
momentum. The relation between them, negated
with the thought.. . .
The movement of the man heaving the rock had come to mean so much more than the action of it, “as when the man’s right arm moves // across his face, arcs, and releases what was his.”
Kate Lebo’s four-part elegy, “Fishing for Icarus,” is a stunning tribute to someone lost, a friend perhaps, someone who is dear to the speaker, the “you” of the poem. The four sections of the poem contain vivid imagery that serves as a subtle kind of foreshadowing, leading to the dénouement where Icarus, the speaker’s friend, and an anonymous “freshman from a party” come together in one identity for whom the speaker searches in the lines: “Now here I cast a net / to drag the spot for splintered wings // and the boy who flew. . .” Lebo ends with a message about art, love, and longing and “how art can stare a person down.” Her couplets are ones I want to circle back to again and again to understand more fully the relationship between the speaker and her lost friend.
Meghan Dunn’s “The Ring” also deals with death from the first line and creates a metaphor for her loss, likening it to the skin beneath a ring that has been removed:
thin and soft, closest
to the bone which has narrowed
to accommodate the missing
circle of gold, which I touch
and touch, feeling the shape
of what I can’t.
From Joseph Harrison’s sonnet “The Key” to Francesca Bell’s free verse “Prayer” to Emily Warn’s “More Endless Than Blue Because of Its Substance,” the poets in this issue explore what it means to endure aging, ailing, and appearances that may not be what they seem. Warns explains “it’s easier to point out suffering than to its cessation— / the sound crows make before, during, and after a mobbing / is the world-sob. . .” Bell wishes to age gracefully and in the moment, embracing the process and asking,
Let me leave
whatever age touches
the way I’ve never
liked to wash
right after a lover.
Harrison’s lovely sonnet offers someone a key to something they’ve never understood. Although I am not sure what the seeker wants to understand, I read and reread the poem wondering what it is, “the brilliant cover, the perfect lie / Telling what little truth you’ve come to know.”
Truth is a quality that changes with perspective, and so Keats’s famous definition at the end of his “Ode on a Grecian Urn” makes complete sense, now and forever, and certainly for the poets in this issue of Poetry Northwest. Exploring this truth, this beauty, is a perpetual process and the work of poets. The fruits of their labor are sweet and plentiful in this issue—taste, bite, savor, and ruminate.
Volume 47 Number 4
Review by Elanie Palencia
The Southern Humanities Review, published at Auburn University and affiliated with the Southern Humanities Council, is a humanities journal with a Southern flavor, not a review of the humanities in the South. This means it publishes fiction, poetry, essays, and reviews that may or may not be anchored in Southern culture. For example, the lead piece, an essay by James Braziel titled “The Ballad of JD,” is set in Georgia and Alabama and is rich in down-home, colloquial language and detail. “I’ve seen him drinking Thunderbird before, what we call hog liquor back home because it smells like a pig farm and gasoline and faintly of overripe oranges,” he reports of a man who has nearly burned himself up in an apartment fire. JD, the title character, works at the pulpwood yard and sometimes at loading watermelons badly, a nobody whose anonymous, hard life makes him, paradoxically, memorable. To tell his story, Braziel takes the long way around, making the side trips as important as the destination, the way Southerners do. So the essay is both set in the South and is Southern in its delivery.
The editors’ comments point out a theme of sadness, portrayed on the cover by Nancy Nieto’s “Skull Bride” painting. An equally strong argument could be made for the search for meaning as a theme. Devon Branca’s poem, “Game Length (Part 5),” tirelessly sieves experience and memory for nuggets of significance:
the author, in not just a meta-fictional
gesture (hopefully), would like to note that he believes ‘I love you’
is the most memorized poem in the English language,
because it is not reducible to any other set of words
and because it holds up to near-infinite but not infinite meanings.
In Clay Matthew’s poem “Dadda,” the narrator piles up observations of a morning with his baby daughter, stopping to say, “I want this all to mean something,” but then, by the end, has worked himself into another place entirely: “Every spring, there’s a perfect moment when I forget / everything I’ve learned. . . .”
The fiction comes from all over. In Vic Sizemore’s “Chamber Music,” Courtney, a classical musician and thus a woman with a certain respect and need for order, has begun a relationship with Matt, a man with children, an ex-wife, and a messy house. Courtney finds herself in a triangle, with a choice to make: life with Matt, where she is already having to mother his children, or life with music and all it implies of high culture, control, and independence. Her search for a meaningful life will weigh these two choices. The story could be set anywhere.
Christopher Linforth’s eerie “The Persistence of Vision” takes place in Brooklyn where a character named Joe Lumen, author of a novel called Here is the Light, encounters doppelgangers everywhere, most notably in the person of David Phot (phot=a unit of illumination), the main character of his novel, who appears poised to take over Joe’s life. Meaning is reduced to a desperate attempt not to lose one’s identity to a fiction.
The substantial section of book reviews offers an excellent sampler of books published by university presses in the South and important to Southern culture, such as Finding Purple America: The South and the Future of American Cultural Studies by Jon Smith, and Emily Clark’s The Strange History of the American Quadroon: Free Women of Color in the Revolutionary Atlantic World; as well as books from other cultural locations such as David Madden’s London Bridge in Plague and Fire, reviews of poetry collections such as Rae Armantrout’s Just Saying and Julianne Buchsbaum’s The Apothecary’s Heir.
1A and 1B
Review by Julie J. Nichols
The inaugural issue of this stellar new litmag “devoted to stories of all kinds, focusing on a single theme each issue” is a double steal. To access Side B from Side A, readers have to turn the volume (the same size and shape as The Believer and Creative Nonfiction, two similarly innovative mags) over and upside-down. In either side, said reader will find herself “innovated” and turned more than a bit upside down, on purpose and with undeniable, delighted affirmation. I can imagine a cadre of new readers sitting around a table drinking wine and rehashing this issue with high gratification deep into the night.
Travis Kurowski, who edited Paper Dreams (Atticus Books), last year’s exploration of the current state of the lit mag world, has written the editorial introduction for both sides, asserting that no other lit mag is dedicated solely to story. 1A’s “innovator” and editorial co-writer is Vito Grippi; he also gets credit for “Innovation” on 1B, with guest editor Ryan Britt. Britt, whose credits wander incandescently through mainstream, academic, sci-fi, and speculative writing, writes a blog for sci-fi publishing house TOR. Kurowski has chosen his collaborators (and his contributors) with a brilliant eye. Future issues should be wondrous.
The theme of Story 1A is “Inside the Box.” On its cover, four antiqued picture frames house black-and-white photos from other times, each with one surprising out-of-character color figure “inside the box” in the literal sense, but not at all if we’re speaking metaphorically. Story 1B’s theme is “Ray Guns Tucked into Tweed Jackets.” The twisted, shell-shocked housewife on the cover, designed by cartoonist Mike Hawthorne, holds in her left hand a blood-stained pair of scissors, while in the lower right corner of the picture, the hand of the person she’s just murdered drips gore onto the kitchen floor. An eerie midnight blue soaks the grisly scene, so that her skin is purple, her yellow housedress the same lurid hue as the desperate eyes she casts over her shoulder as if to wish us far, far away. It illustrates James Hannaham’s story “High Five,” 1B’s cover story. The second-person accusation/confession recounts the trials of Tiffany, a “parts model,” whose egocentric “part,” Tatiana, has driven the Tiffany parts to—well, gore and destruction. In an interview with Hannahan, one of the many high points of the issue, Kurowski asks Hannaham what parallels he sees between what he writes now and what he was “reading or doing as a kid.” Hannaham says:
Walter Murch [the film editor who worked with Coppola for many years] . . . said . . . the people who are doing something closer to what they wanted to be doing when they were 13 years old are the happiest people he knows . . . if I’d given a list of my titles to me at 13 and said, here’s what you’re going to be writing, I would have been thrilled.
The rollicking variety and sheer sparkling quality of this issue persuade that everyone involved in Story is doing what they’d have been thrilled with then, and ever since.
Also from side B, Allegra Frazier’s “Dreamers, Again” evokes an awful space between a real estate buyer’s high and a futuristic plague lying in wait in the walls. Two poems, Jason McCall’s “Superman Watches Lois Lane Pull Weeds” and Krista Franklin’s “Platform, Position & Possibility: Magneto Speaks,” speculate darkly on the underside of superheroism. And the reprint of Benjamin Percy’s 2011 Gulf Coast story, “The Cold Boy,” is ominously paced, suspenseful and horrifying throughout.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story” forms the issue’s central chiasm, in Spanish in 1B side, in English in 1A. Same story (an essay can also be a story—I plan to use this one in both my Creative Nonfiction Writing and Intro to Theory classes later this year). Stunningly good.
The rest of 1A is as terrific inside the box as 1B is highbrow speculative. Andrew Malan Milward’s story “Hard Feelings” evokes the tension between siblings differently caught in the racial activism of the sixties in the South. I’ll distribute Randi Shedlosky-Shoemaker’s “Narrative Persuasion” in the same two classes I’ve already mentioned, as she succinctly reviews academic studies examining the role of narrative in rhetorical persuasion. Ditto “Special Notice” in 1B, by the way, an ironic (fictional) announcement for a workshop whose goal is to “understand the role of narrative in security contexts . . .”
“On Brevity” by David Shields rounds out the metanarrativity of this issue, but the “Convicted Minimalist Portfolio” that forms the middle third of 1A (with pieces by Frederick Barthelme, Steven Barthelme, Mary Miller, Kim Chinquee, and others), along with a graphic short by MariNaomi, an excerpt from Marco Roth’s memoir The Scientists, and three poems by Jeremy Lespi, demonstrate the glorious variety of contemporary “story.” Together they convince me handily: this magazine is at the forefront of whatever happens there next.
Volume 7 Number 66
Review by Sherra Wong
subTerrain has a youthful feel. But rather than the ages of the characters or speakers themselves, the feeling is borne more of a sense of dislocation and disorientation. Even when they are seen in an adult habitat—job, relationship, a rhythm that most of the over-25 set settle into—the bleakness, the weirdness, and the whimsy in these pieces recall an eighteen or twenty-two-year-old’s fantasy of what life may turn out to be like down the road, if they remain on the edge of convention either internally or in society and haven’t become more content than they are now. Perhaps the fantastic and the rootlessness are a product of the issue’s theme, “This Carnival Life,” which throws up and tears down an entire mesmerizing world in the space of a few days. And true to the chaos in a carnival, subTerrain isn’t interested in tidy structures. The stories end abruptly, the poems demand considerable powers of association from the reader, the commentary can take leaps of logic, and the book reviews sometimes grope unsuccessfully for the right word. Yet the talent of these writers is evident; the skill they have for creating worlds is a promise for greater things to come.
Jordan Turner’s “Down & Vacant,” Martin West’s “Five Cents Short,” and Brock Peters’s “Bilderberg” feature narrators or main characters with lifestyles that can broadly be characterized as irregular: a vagrant in a café at three in the morning, a teenage runaway being invited into a farcical and vaguely sinister world of adults, a reader who calls a friend at four-thirty in the morning to go to a 24-hour diner and who had lost some library books “in a freak intoxicated bonfire disaster.” Coffee and alcohol are prominent supporting actors. All three feel slightly detached from reality and even have something cartoonish about them, like a woman’s too-red painted mouth. But once the reader accepts the premise of a stylized, aestheticized experience, these stories’ powers of description become apparent. “Five Cents Short” shows exquisite control of rhythm and individuals in a group in the party scene. Like a movie director, West pans the camera from person to person seamlessly, spending just the right amount of time on each action. The language is smooth and original. The delight of “Down & Vacant” lies in the impersonality that comes from calling all the characters in the story by their appearance and not by name: the blonde, the hooker, the vampire, the college kid. Such is the city at any time, but especially at 3 a.m. The fact that they are gathered in a close space and interacting with each other with oblique hostility adds to the loneliness.
But as fun these three are to read, it is hard to pin down what exactly happens in the end; or rather, the significance of what happens in the end. Even readers who are open to experiment tend to want to know why they read what they have just read. After all, they spent time on it. The endings of these stories read as if they were just the beginning; which is a shame, because they have been so successful in building a stage all along.
The poems feel young, too. There is a lot of variety in form—prose poems, end-justified blocks, double-spaced lines, a parody of Wordsworth’s “Daffodils”—and less storytelling of either the literal or the emotional world. I imagine many of the speakers in the poems to have once believed in the possibility of engagement with the world and still long to be a part of it, but have become cynical about the notion and would be embarrassed to admit to the desire. Terry Trowbridge’s beautiful “Introvert at a Party” describes the anguished negotiation between a person’s outer and inner selves:
The way he feels afterward
is what it must feel like to be an ocean
on the first day the moon is gone.
If everyone was talking about the moon
they might not notice the silence
Karl Siegler’s “Yes We Can (Just Say ‘No’ to Empire): A Parable” gives an extremely interesting and well-written condensed history of Pueblo settlements in the southwestern United States, and then hints that the abandonment of one commerce-based settlement in the 12th century augured the future of the United States. The analogy is imprecise. There is little evidence in the article supporting the notion that economic inequality led to the abandonment of the settlement. And because the reasons for the abandonment are a mystery, the choice of that particular settlement—among all the empires that have met their end partly due to internal corrosion and discontent with a class system, like pre-revolutionary France or imperial Russia—as a fitting analogy for present-day United States also remains puzzling.
It would be amiss to overlook the design of the issue: the bold fonts, Brit Bachmann’s line drawings packed with emotional punch, the gentle watercolors suggesting a tenderness underneath the “Strong Words for a Polite Nation” that is subTerrain.
Volume 2 Issue 1
Mini Review by Kirsten McIlvenna
If Miya Pleines’s “These Orbits, Crossing” is the first thing you read from 1966 (it’s the first piece in this issue), I promise you’ll continue on. Mixing research about flying and falling, alongside memories of her grandfather, Pleines crafts an essay that isn’t just a memoir; it connects to all of us:
Planet Earth is orbiting around the sun at a rate of 30 kilometers per second. Which is to say that our home is falling towards the surface of the sun at the same speed that the sun’s surface is falling away from us. Which is to say our planet exists in a perpetual state of falling. . . . we are always falling as well. When we take the dog for a walk, we are falling . . . When we are falling on our matresses at night. . . . When we write a letter, say ‘I love you,’ pour ourselves a drink, we are falling. We will never stop our descent . . .
It is the mission of 1966 to celebrate “research-driven creative nonfiction—prose that turns information into story and facts into art.” But if you think this may include scholarly work, well, then, you’d be wrong. It’s creative nonfiction that offers more than just a personal story.
In this issue, we get to learn a little bit about penguins, right alongside Carolyn Kraus as she attends a class at the Detroit Zoo. Throughout “A Thing with Feathers,” she expresses her confusion in the vast interest in the animal, but despite that, she too attends and has her own questions. Following a chronological format, the piece is a delightful read, and Kraus isn’t afraid to ask the instructor the questions we are all wondering.
The detail in Alica Forneret’s “Crawfish” is what makes it so enticing to read. The temperature is rising in New Orleans:
Balmy evenings welcome entire neighborhoods onto the streets to chug malt liquor from sweating 40 bottles, lounge lazily on porches of their neighbor’s shotguns, and trade work clothes for unbuttoned booty shorts and stained tank tops. People move through the city in packs, sharing sweat-soaked handkerchiefs, scratching each other’s bug bites that are out of reach, and recognizing Lent on “meat-free” Friday nights, crowding around folding tables covered in empty crawfish shells.
The whole piece, every single sentence, is littered with this same style of great description and excellent language. It’s a piece you certainly do not want to miss.
There’s also essays from Dave Madden, Natalie Vestin, Sharman Apt Russell, Dawn Shand, Lori A. May, and Nancy Penrose—and you won’t want to miss a single one! I greatly appreciate the goals of 1966 and am happy to know that such a place exists for writing such as this.