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NewPages Lit Mag Reviews

Posted July 20, 2009

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  • Issue Number Number 3
  • Published Date 2009
  • Publication Cycle Annual
Issue #3 of the Agriculture Reader has a nice feel to it, literally. For one thing there’s something particularly satisfying about the paper it is printed on; it somehow feels thin without seeming fragile; somehow gives the entire issue a nice flexibility, somehow lends itself to a comfortable back pocket curl. Coming in at 103 pages, if you count the three final lined pages tagged on for taking “notes,” this issue is the perfect size for summer reading, for savoring, for holding up in a sun shielding position while swinging to and fro on a hammock.
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  • Issue Number Volume 32 Issue 61
  • Published Date Spring 2009
  • Publication Cycle Annual
Aimee Nezhukumatahil, 49th Parallel Poetry Award judge, is not exaggerating when she calls the prize-winning poem “gorgeous” and “breathtaking.” Kaveh Bassiri’s “Invention of God” is divine. From Bassiri’s clever, lyrical tercets to Mardi Link’s experience of Tractor Supply as “a spiritual moment” in the essay “Chicken Trilogy,” this issue of Bellingham Review is about pure pleasure: that particular and spectacular pleasure of purely good reading.
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  • Issue Number Volume 59 Number 4
  • Published Date Summer 2009
  • Publication Cycle Quarterly
Toby Wiliguru Pambardu’s poem “First Truck,” “splutters,” and spins, and gushes, and presses forward, with the wild, persistent, percussive energy of the strange and magical beast of a “first truck” on the plain. Written in Yindjibarndi, the indigenous language of the people by the same name of the Pibara region of Australia, the poem creates a rumbling across the page that “clatters,” “rattles,” and “whirls” like the vehicle itself. The poem is translated by Shon Arieh-Lerer whose translation is not, in fact, the first of this poem. This one “attempts to capture Pambardu’s daring innovation, excitement, and poetic style.” Even without the ability to read the original, I can see that Arieh-Lerer has succeeded, and the poem (which takes up four pages in an issue of a mere 35) – and the translation – are thrilling, a highlight of the issue.
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  • Issue Number Issue 2
  • Published Date Spring 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
As a literary magazine of “magical realist and experimental works,” this issue teems with imaginative stories, poetry, and a play. Magical realism wowed Europe before it hit the United States with so much force. This issue will tickle the mind with the ingenuity and refreshingly original, even zany pieces. Who needs brain-altering drugs when reading this can be a mind-blowing experience?
  • Subtitle Readings from Russia
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  • Issue Number Volume 2 Number 2
  • Published Date Spring 2009
  • Publication Cycle Quarterly
The front cover of this superb publication shows a sleek black cat, tail high, eyes narrowed to luminous slits, strutting along an embankment in a photograph by Alexander Petrosyan. Like Russia, the cat is proud, a survivor. Gogol saw Russia as a brooding, dark country. These readings convey other writers’ takes on Gogol. Some of the fiction is absurdist fiction written in the early part of the twentieth century, when there was much experimentation in art and literature, like Dadaism. A Soviet writer could get himself shot for writing absurdist fiction under the Stalin regime.
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  • Issue Number Issue 1
  • Published Date 2009
  • Publication Cycle Annual
Founded in 1983, Exquisite Corpse went through many lives before finally transforming into an online-only journal in 1996. Now offering an annual print anthology of material from the web journal, the work in Exquisite Corpse is as richly layered as it is stunningly diverse.
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  • Issue Number Number 80
  • Published Date Spring 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
There are stars aplenty in this issue devoted entirely to poetry and poetics: D. Nurske, Kevin Prufer, David Wagoner, Elton Glaser, Thomas Lux, G.C. Waldrep, Bruce Weigl, David St. John, Carl Phillips, Laura Kasischke, Franz Wright, Eric Pankey, David Hernandez, Jean Valentine, Alice Friman, Timothy Liu, Charles Wright, among others. And their work is, well, stellar. But there are equally bright and lesser-known voices on the horizon, too (many also quite accomplished and widely published), and I’d like to spotlight their contributions to this fine issue, beginning with moonlight and Melissa Kwasny’s prose poem “The City of Many Lovers.” “Moon that strikes on the downbeat,” she writes, and its Kwasny’s rhythms that are, indeed, most striking: “Lunedi. Martedi. Mercoldi. It’s moon-day.” And so she begins a poetic narrative that manages to tell a large story that unfolds in a small moment in one short lyric paragraph; it’s a perfect little model of prose poetry.
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  • Issue Number Issue 70
  • Published Date Spring 2009
  • Publication Cycle Quarterly
The editors of Glimmer Train Stories have successfully put together another issue of pieces that focus strongly on character interiority. Through the course of the issue, the reader is acquainted with several different people, including an American teacher watching over his students in Germany, ill-fated lovers dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and people on the run from Nazis.
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  • Issue Number Number 85
  • Published Date Spring 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
I almost missed my stop on the subway, I couldn’t stop reading. What captivated me most in these poems, prose poems, and short stories – and what they have in common, for the most part – is the power to surprise without working too vigorously or obviously to accomplish this. They don’t go where you expect or move the way you think they will, but they don’t announce their intentions to thwart expectations with bold gestures or wildly inventive strokes.
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  • Issue Number Volume 21 Number 2
  • Published Date Summer/Fall 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
“I must be frank about this – the American Present baffles me.” Not longer after making this pronouncement in his interview here with Irene Keliher, David Leavitt reminds us what Grace Paley said about finding a subject or coming to terms with what one is compelled to say: “For me there is a long time between knowing and telling.” Turning what baffles us into something we can know and tell about, in ways simultaneously original and unique, yet recognizable or, at least, meaningful, is what good writing is about (although I may end up no less baffled). Gulf Coast satisfies this goal admirably.
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  • Issue Number Number 4
  • Published Date Spring/Summer 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
This literary journal is dedicated to helping the “15 million children throughout the world that have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS.” The proceeds of the sales and submission fees go to various orphanages around the world. To make sure it sells, it uses both “prominent writers and artists with rising stars to produce an eclectic mixture.” How can anyone go wrong with a journal meant for such a worthy cause?
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  • Issue Number Issue 44
  • Published Date Spring/Summer 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
Here is an editorial perspective I can get behind:
  • Subtitle Africa Calling
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  • Issue Number Volume 52 Number 2
  • Published Date Winter 2009
  • Publication Cycle Quarterly
The front cover of the “Africa Calling” edition of TLR presents us with the crossroads where Africa presently stands: four young teenage boys walking to schools in uniform, striding down a brown road against the green backdrop of ageless Africa. Modern Africa with its optimism marching forward impatiently while old Africa, with all its problems and lushness, is still there, but receding.
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  • Published Date Spring 2009
  • Publication Cycle Quarterly
When I read recently that a story published in this lit mag had won the Million Writers Award, I decided to give it a closer look. The award is sponsored by the online literary journal, storySouth, and involves a panel of judges reading through seven or eight hundred entries from the web to select a hundred and seventy-five or so for further consideration. Then Jason Sanford, previous editor of storySouth, selects the top ten stories and these are voted on by the public. It is a fairly democratic – if arbitrary – procedure, and the winner of this year’s award is “The Fisherman’s Wife” by Jenny Williams, which appeared in the August 2008 issue of LITnIMAGE.
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  • Issue Number Issue 23
  • Published Date May 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
A meridian stretches between poles, an apt way to describe the fascinating extremes between the pieces in this issue of the magazine – from the “Lost Classic” feature, a letter sent in reply from Katherine Anne Porter to book designer Merle Armitage (“It is not in the least difficult for me to standby what I love and believe in”) to an e-mail interview by Paul Legault with poet Tao Lin (“I want my next book to be ‘iconic’ it can’t suck”). From Lynn Pott’s poem “Barely Ask” (“When you get old do your lips shrink, do you know?”) to Angus A. Bennett’s “Muted with a Line from Someone Else’s Memory” (“and the joy of a midnight as meaningless things / as we do meaningless things – a placemarker for desire”).
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  • Issue Number Volume 10 Issue 1
  • Published Date 2008
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
This publication contains “prose, poetry, and art exploring Arab American.” Mizna the organization is dedicated to supporting Arab-American culture and giving is expression. “Mizna” the word means “the cloud of the desert.” In a desert, a cloud is good, cooling, giving comfort to those who pass through – a big difference maker. This publication is short – about eighty pages, but packs a wallop.
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  • Issue Number Number 6
  • Published Date Spring/Summer 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
The new Monkeybicycle is a beautiful book to hold and admire. Weighty, a neo-Rothko cover design, that new book smell. The inside is even better. A strong lineup of edgy stories and poems. Devoting its pages to mostly prose, the selections range from flash fiction to medium length and longer short stories. What other magazine throws together hard realism with the surreal, magical realism and science fiction? Editor Steven Seighman has put together something for everyone and it is refreshing after a glut of theme-issues has dominated literary journals for some years.
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  • Issue Number Issue 5
  • Published Date Spring 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
If you love Polish Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska’s work as I do, you’ll love this issue which features the poet’s work, along with ten brief essays that “consider” her writing and influence from Lawrence Raab, Carl Dennis, Sally Ball, Kathy Fagan, Jennifer Clarvoe, William Olsen, Michelle Boisseau, Rachel Wetzsteon, Marianne Boruch, and Tony Hoagland. Olsen describes Szymborska’s poems as “a little off to the side,” ironic not as “cosmic betrayals,” but as “human fictions.”
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  • Issue Number Volume 13 Number 2
  • Published Date Spring 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
“An international magazine of ideas and opinions, emphasizing literature and the arts” – that is how the editors describe tnr. The front cover exhibits delicate pink petals, aside thistles, against a brick cross – beauty, troubles and truth. Art this journal has in abundance – photographs, reproductions of paintings, watercolors, drawings – all very stylish and in color.
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  • Issue Number Number 65
  • Published Date 2009
  • Publication Cycle Quarterly
To start at the ending, I loved Melanie Lynn Moro-Huber’s straightforward essay “Checking the Pulse of Poetry Today,” in which Moro-Huber attempts to assess the value of poetry in contemporary culture. Beginning with a brief conversation with her husband, who sees little to no value in poetry, and continuing on with anyone who will listen, Moro-Huber receives a variety of responses from the owner of a music store, a fellow shopper at the local Walmart, MFA students, and academics. I loved the casual tone of Moro-Huber’s essay and the quirkiness of her approach, such as when she reiterates her husband’s response that “Poetry hits you in the nuts or it doesn’t.”
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  • Issue Number Issue 45
  • Published Date Spring 2009
  • Publication Cycle Annual
Potomac Review is a publication of the Paul Peck Humanities Institute at Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland. It’s not suburban Washington D.C., where the college is located, however, that graces this issue’s cover, but an exquisite black and white photograph of “Scotland’s Royal Mile,” by Roger Fritts. The street scene is viewed through a window behind a desk. The window’s divided light imposes its grid on a table of objects (drawing and scientific tools), the geometry of the buildings in the distance reflected in the instruments on the table.
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  • Issue Number Volume 15 Number 1
  • Published Date Summer 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
Poetry as storytelling. Poetry as intimate conversation. Poetry as painting. If you know serious readers who say they don’t like poetry, give them an issue of Rattle. Especially this one, which features amazing “conversations” with Toi Derricotte and Terrance Hayes, conducted by editor Alan Fox, a “Tribute to African American Poets,” and contributors’ notes that contain brief personal (and personable) remarks rather than dull lists of credentials. “The hope is that a poem might walk the tightrope from which sloganeering topples,” writes David O’Connell in his note. Many of these notes are, happily, as satisfying in their own way as the poems.
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  • Issue Number Issue 23
  • Published Date Fall 2008
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
At first glance, the Fall 2008 issue of Red Rock Review may seem to be fairly provincial in tone, but a deeper look shows the work to be as wide in locale and subject matter as it is rich in expression. From Hari Bhajan Khalsa’s poem about the swaying rhythms of summertime in Los Angeles to Mark Sanders’s deceptively simple poems about the inner lives of horses, Red Rock Review charts the forgotten ghosts and breathing minority of the American Southwest.
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