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NewPages Lit Mag Reviews

Posted May 26, 2009

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  • Issue Number Issue 13
  • Published Date 2008
  • Publication Cycle Annual
It’s a good thing that Alligator Juniper comes out only once a year because if you want to take in all of it – and you should – it would take nearly that long to get through it. That is, if you give the journal the time and attention it deserves. I hardly know where to begin.
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  • Issue Number Issue 50
  • Published Date 2008
  • Publication Cycle Annual
Despite having to evacuate the city during the fall term, Bayou’s editorial staff nevertheless had time to compile an impressive selection of work. Especially notable are the nonfiction pieces and George Pate’s “Indifferent Blue,” winner of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival One-Act Play Competition.
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  • Issue Number Volume 22
  • Published Date Spring 2009
  • Publication Cycle Annual
Beloit’s annual journal of fiction contains engaging stories with clear prose. Every literary magazine usually has at least one story in which I feel the author’s style detracts from the characters or narrative – one of my biggest pet peeves – but I couldn’t find that fault in any of these stories.
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  • Issue Number Number 36
  • Published Date 2009
  • Publication Cycle Quarterly
Lee Gutkind is right. His ledes (opening lines) are better. This issue’s theme is “First Lede, Real Lede” and in his introduction, Gutkind lets us know that the magazine’s editors have rewritten three of the eight essays’ ledes in search of the “real” (and more effective) beginnings. What’s more, he invites us to compare the originals and the new-and-improved ledes for ourselves, as the originals have been posted on the journal’s Web site. (All three are supposedly available, though only two had live links when I visited.) Creative Nonfiction’s revised ledes are so much better; in fact, I was all the more eager to know which of the other opening lines had also been revised. Alas, I’m left to wonder.
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  • Issue Number Number 70
  • Published Date Winter 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
What captures my attention and then holds my interest is Cutbank’s predilection for strong, inviting first lines. Ingrid Satelmajer’s story “How to Be a Disciple” starts off the issue: “Sure, there’s the obvious – Jesus H. Christ, as Binky says, his thumb between a wrench and a hard place.” Rebekah Beall’s personal essay, “Sight,” which begins with “My God, you’re heartsick.” Cara Benson’s prose poems (though I am not sure they couldn’t also be labeled sudden fiction), which begin: “The kettle was boiling above and the baskets were underfilled” and “Everybody walked in the room I mean everybody in the same room then walking around that room to sniff the walls as a type of appraisal of that room.” And Daniel Doehr’s “The Ticket Office Girl,” which opens with, “I saw the ticket office girl again.”
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  • Issue Number Number 29
  • Published Date 2008
  • Publication Cycle Biannual online
This publication has existed since 1989 and is produced by the creative writing department at Florida International University. In this latest edition, they explain that financial considerations have forced them to switch from a print format to an online format, but they are pursing funds to allow them to return to print eventually. Meanwhile, the latest edition provides the reader with fiction, poetry, non-fiction, two interviews, and some art and photography – certainly a little something for everyone.
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  • Published Date Winter 2008
  • Publication Cycle Annual
The Hampden Sydney Poetry Review offers up an eclectic mix of familiar names (David Wagoner, Moira Egan, Lyn Lifshin, Philip Dacey, Cathryn Hanka), and lesser-known poets, though most have published widely – 43 in all in this issue. Two poets’ bios stand out for their unusual claim to fame. Meredith Picard “has published more poetry than any other American geologist.” (Her poem does consider the natural world but is not geology-themed.) And Fred Yannantuono “who was fired from Hallmark for writing meaningful greeting-card verse, and who once ran 20 straight pool balls, insists that Paul Newman claimed to have known him for a very long time.” His poem, “Frog World,” is about ridding oneself of the “money, the gardener, the rankness, the murk” required to provide frogs who have inhabited one’s yard with the means to thrive.
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  • Issue Number Issue 13
  • Published Date Winter 2008-09
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
Hunger Mountain is a sophisticated, grown-up journal that commands attention, respect, and serious consideration. Fiction contributions are fully formed, adeptly crafted examples of storytelling, full-blown narratives with characters whose trajectories we want to follow. Poems are an inspired blend of small philosophies couched in indelible images. A portfolio of paintings, an artist’s statement, and descriptions of the paintings mimic a visit to the finest art gallery.
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  • Issue Number Volume 11 Number 1
  • Published Date February 2009
  • Publication Cycle Bimonthly
Contributors’ notes in Iron Horse Literary Review include writers’ remarks about the genesis of their piece or comments to contextualize the work. “2009 Discovered Voices Award for Nonfiction” winner Lara Burton says she wanted to write an essay in the “classical style.” If by this she means well-researched, linking personal opinion or experiences to larger concerns and investigations, leaving the reader with information she most likely did not possess prior to reading the piece, and a traditional or conventional narrative shape, she has certainly accomplished her goal. More importantly, she has written an exemplary essay, beautifully composed, interesting, original, and enjoyable to read. In other words, a classic. “On deserts, loneliness, and handshakes” is about all three of these seemingly unrelated entities and their very seemly relationship. The prose is natural, but deliberate; the essay’s pace is perfectly orchestrated; and Burton arrives at a smart, satisfying conclusion.
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  • Published Date Spring 2009
  • Publication Cycle Quarterly
My biggest complaint with university literary journals is that they too often stress style over content. A boring, tedious story is still a boring, tedious story no matter how much it may be slathered in mellifluous, Updikian prose. I ask, how often can one be spellbound by another sensitive account of visiting an Alzheimer-afflicted grandmother in the nursing home? It was with considerable glee, therefore, that I enfolded myself within the online pages of this literary journal’s latest issue and read some real stories.
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  • Issue Number Number 31
  • Published Date Winter/Spring 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
This is the twentieth anniversary issue and I can’t think of a better birthday present than a poem as heartbreakingly skillful as Jennifer K. Sweeney’s “Something Like Love,” winner of last year’s Poetry Awards. It’s deceptively simple and deceptively good, sounding, at first, like it might be one more casual conversation masquerading as verse, (“In our kitchen” the poem begins), which it most definitely is not (“Dinner time-traveled us to the unfinished, the unclaimed. / We ate the past. // Though we never spoke of it, my sisters and I, / we were all under the regime of the rotting.”) “Something Like Love” merges the twin absences of food and love and expresses the pain of an undernourished (nurtured) childhood with a kind of restraint and grace that is rare and impressive – and utterly memorable.
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  • Issue Number Volume 21 Number 1
  • Published Date 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
Voices from Okinawa comes in a study jacket with an ornate, colorful illustration depicting a procession of gaily clad musicians that covers the entire bottom half of the cover. The upper half is in a bold crimson featuring a small insert with a man in a splendid robe riding a horse; the title is printed all across the cover in large green letters. The overall appearance is very Japanese. Running through the literature is the theme concerning the connection between Okinawa and Japan. Japan took over the sovereign country of Okinawa that actually had a connection to China in the nineteenth century, making its people second-class citizens in their own homeland. The struggle runs through every piece in this journal.
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  • Issue Number Volume 1 Number 3
  • Published Date Fall + Winter 2008
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
The Fall + Winter 2008 issue of Memoir fluctuates from brilliant, precise, and unbelievably apt to sentimental, predictable, and disappointing. Reading this issue from cover to cover feels like a wild rollercoaster ride; while the peaks are so incredibly steep they are totally worth the purchase price of this issue on their own, the valleys are a dull and thrill-less place whose only attribute is the promise of an upcoming incline.
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  • Issue Number Volume 34 Number 2
  • Published Date 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
You may not know her name . . . yet, but Nicky Beer, author of this issue’s poetry feature, has won a fellowship from the NEA, a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, a Bread Loaf scholarship, and the Discovery/Nation Award, so, clearly, somebody’s paying attention. But that’s not why you’ll want to get to know her. You’ll want to take notice because her poem “Mako” begins “Motion took on a form / and stayed.” Because to her “all night long” means “twenty to forty minutes.” Because her poem “Hummingbird, 1:30 AM” asks us to “Consider what a thought would do / if it could abandon the body entirely.” And because she turns sharks and octopi into creatures of poetic intrigue and interest in language that is tense and indulgent, without being showy.
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  • Issue Number Issue 4
  • Published Date 2008
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
I’m not easily distracted by bright, shiny objects, but it’s hard not to skip right to Harry Gamboa Jr.’s fotonovela (photo story). The fotonovela is a two-dimensional take on the popular, highly successful, and always melodramatic Latin American telenovela (soap opera). Aztlángst – which, I think, is Gamboa Jr.’s invention and probably means Azatlán-style anxiety (Azatlán is the Chicano term for the US states that were once a part of México) – is a narrative that unfolds in black and white photos of various dimensions with text-box dialogue. The story is introduced with the cast of “actors” and a photo of a man face down on the sidewalk who turns out not to be dead, as one might suppose, but has collapsed in response to financial disaster (the angst in Aztlángst). “The entire system is based on panic,” Serpiento says when he’s told, “Whatever you do, don’t panic.” What is there to panic about? Bank swindling, living beyond our means, gangs, vigilantes, corporate socialism, dirty bombs, no credit, possessions repossessed, and rich war profiteers, all in four pages. The photos are hysterical; the text is an entertaining combination of irony and melodrama. I can’t wait to read the next installment (this is No. 1).
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  • Issue Number Issue 4
  • Published Date Spring/Summer 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
Slice Magazine is definitely slick. To begin with, it has a nice shape, slightly more square than rectangular, bigger than the typical paperback book – its very size lending itself more to the coffee table display than the random misplacement on an overstuffed bookshelf. Page by page, the design by Amy Sly and Amanda Ice is hip and pleasing to the eye; this issue is embellished throughout with a color I want to name “pumpkin,” the only additional color enhancing the requisite black and white. Titles are rewarded with their very own pages, the type large, unique, inviting, accompanied by a thematically appropriate illustration or photograph. Even the white spaces between sections of prose are uniquely addressed; while one story is divided by three pumpkin colored X’s, the next is divided by a series of pumpkin colored asterisks, the next by a pair of slightly staggered lines. The cover illustration by Jessica Gomez is immediately followed by an equally appealing cover photograph by Patrick Schlichtenmyer, as if the burden of narrowing in on a single cover layout was simply too much to bear. Teetering somewhere between an art/lit magazine or a lit/art magazine, the overall design and presentation of Slice is definitely exemplary.
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  • Issue Number Volume 21 Issue 1
  • Published Date Winter/Spring 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
My favorite section of this issue was the interviews: Theresa D. Smith interviews the poet Adam Zagajewski, and Mehdi Okasi interviews the novelist Lan Samantha Chang. Zagajewski discusses how he writes poetry, why he writes poetry and themes in his work. “The empirical world is less luminous than our favorite books of poetry,” he concludes. Chang talks about her craft process and how reading other contemporary novelists has challenged her to write differently than she originally intended. These mini Paris Review-like interviews are both informative and inspiring.
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  • Published Date Spring 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
A quick glance at the Contributors Notes of the Spring 2009 issue of Third Coast reads like a promotional pamphlet for the country’s top MFA programs. Coast to coast, nearly every school is represented, the teachers of writing, the recent graduates, those still pursuing the elusive MFA or PhD. Yet, despite the ongoing rant that too many MFA graduates will inevitably result in the generic poem or prose, this issue serves as a glorious contradiction. Occupying nearly 200 pages of text, a total of 28 poets writing 36 poems, 15 prose writers writing 6 short stories, 2 creative non-fiction pieces, 1 play, and several reviews for a recommended books section, I applaud the editors of Third Coast for their wonderful diversity of taste, for their willingness to publish both the well established and the newly emerging, for their particular caliber of excellence. This issue provides a little something for everyone in pursuit of a satisfying read.
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  • Issue Number Volume 63 Number 1
  • Published Date Winter 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
“This issue of WHR brings together several papers from ‘Critical Renovations,’ a symposium held at the University of Utah in November 2007. The symposium invited scholars of English working in a wide range of periods, genres, and media to reflect on, revisit, and perhaps recycle our scholarly past.” Hold onto your hat. Here comes some serious lit crit, cultural studies, scholarly stuff. I mean I. A. Richards, and Eve Sedgewick, and Saussure, and Leo Spitzer, and Ortega y Gasset, and Fredric Jameson, and Paul de Man. I mean “critical gestures,” and an “oblique gloss” on methodological problems, and “developmentalist narratives.” But, don’t despair! There’s something valuable in every one of these dense, academic essays.
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  • Issue Number Issue 63
  • Published Date Spring 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
Where have I been for the past thirty years? The older I get the more frequently I find myself stunned by the breadth and depth of my absolute cluelessness. Not knowing about Willow Springs is definitely my latest admonishment. If issue 63 is any indication, Willow Springs’s thirty year publishing history is hard earned and well deserved; from cover to cover, the work in this issue is above and beyond.
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  • Published Date March 2009
  • Publication Cycle Monthly
This issue has so many good stories, it is a shame that only a few can be singled out. Most interesting perhaps is “An Honest Man” by Doug Rudoff, which begins, “The first thing you should know is that everything that I write here is a lie.” The author then takes us on the journey of a young boy’s life in Mexico, some of which is supposedly true, but we’re never sure what. Another engaging story is “Blink” by Chuck Campbell, about an eighty-one year old widower, his stubbornness, his relationship with his son, and the man’s eroding ability to separate fact from fantasy.
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