Screen Reading

Mini reviews of current issues of online literary magazines

Reviews by Kirsten McIlvenna


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Atticus Review :: Birdfeast :: Cerise Press :: The Golden Key :: Jellyfish Magazine :: Map Literary :: Mead :: Otis Nebula :: Right Hand Pointing


Posted December 17, 2012

The Golden Key CoverThe Golden Key

Issue 1



The Golden Key is a brand new speculative online journal, then name coming from the Grimm’s fairy tale with the same title. The Grimm’s story ends with a boy who lifts the lid of an iron chest without revealing what’s inside. Co-Editor Susan Anspach says, “The Grimms chose to end their collection of fairy tales with this story as a reminder that there exists an endless reserve of stories still yet untold. In the same spirit, our journal seeks to publish work that is open to strange and marvelous possibilities.”

Their first issue, themed “The Sharp Things,” contains a selection of poetry and prose, starting with Cat Richardson’s “Let’s Hurt”:

I want to be a lovely monster
my teeth could sink apple-quick
into your shoulder you
could pull my hair out the
oil could burn my skin
to ripples the ripples of
the drowned I would
come back from it with
riverweed hair . . .

My favorite tale was “Duplicator” by James D. Reed in which a character named Angie lives out in the country with her boyfriend, a man obsessed with his experiments of duplicating objects, both small and large. But there is one problem with his experiments, they always turn out backwards and skewed, and, in the beginning of the story, he duplicates his house . . . making it land right on top of his barn.

It was as if it had been dropped by a giant crane from the turrets of low cumulus clouds in the spring sky above. A ball of dust and displaced pollen, mushrooming from the impact, enveloped the lower half of the house for a second and then drifted into the oblivion of a soybean field beyond. The duplication, aside from the sputtering transformer behind Angie, had been swift and silent as usual.

Angie’s friends want to visit and are unsure of her boyfriend, but Angie doesn’t listen to them claiming that she loves him. And like “The Golden Key,” this story is left somewhat open ended.

“The Wooden Frame” by Alexander Gifford Howard contains a story within a story. The narrator, supposedly at a funeral, tells a tale that has been told and retold within the town of Knox: “You could come to our village and listen to this story told a thousand different ways, now that Knox’s version doesn’t hold water. Four people can share seven different versions between them. That’s just the way things seem to happen these days.” The tale comes as some sort of legend or fable, but it doesn’t seem to offer wisdom or guidance: “It seems wrong, doesn’t it? It seems like I shouldn’t have told you this story, not now. It’s meaningless.” But both the fiction piece and the story within it are captivating, and you can still find meaning in the meaningless.

Just as “The Golden Key” story ends “as a reminder there is always more to come,” the stories within this issue feel unresolved, as if the story can continue, as if we can imagine what might happen next.

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Map Literary CoverMap Literary

Issue 2

Fall 2012


Another new magazine, Map Literary “is dedicated to celebrating quality works of new literature. Rather than aligning with any one aesthetic, we aspire to promote the finest provocative writing of our time.”

Beth Couture’s “Excerpts from Women Born with Fur: A Biography,” containing several forms such as definitions and letters, tells the tale of Mary, a woman covered entirely in fur. As a child, she reads the story of Julia, another woman with fur whose dead body has been preserved in an unknown museum. Leaving a family that doesn’t seem to care for her anywhere, Mary spends all of her time with “the giant,” to whom she whispers “I love you” to him so often until she "doesn’t know what the words mean anymore; she just likes the sounds and the way they feel on her tongue.” But the whole time, her journey is really about locating Julia’s body:

It is time. Mary has been in contact with the curator of a museum in Norway, and Julia is there. When she tells the giant she’s found her, he kisses her and says “of course you have” like he always believed she would. They makes plane reservations for the trip to Oslo, and the giant says it can be their honeymoon, but Mary isn’t listening to him. Her body feels heavy now, and all she wants to do is sleep. She’s found Julia. She could have found her months ago, but she is almost glad she waited so long. Now that the time has finally come, she is terrified. What will she do with her? Why did she want her so badly in the first place?

Joanna Clapps Herman writes a flattering nonfiction piece about her father titled “Flesh, Bone, and Song,” using the image of his body, angled to one side with a bad shoulder from lifting I-beams, to tell of his strength, both physically and emotionally:

These were our father’s bones. The list is there too–the slightly downward tilt of the right shoulder, showing all the heavy iron lifted over the long years of work, all I beams lifted, carried into place, all of the weight and wear that impacted his body, had impressed deep into his bones.
It was that tilt that made my sister and I weep when we saw our father’s bones laid bare. Here was the frame, the understructure, his very architecture, the deepest delineation, a profound depiction of him. His bones laid long.

Poetry in this issue comes from J. Mae Barizo, Tina Brown Celona, Julia Cohen, Jimmie Cumbie, Les Gottesman, Edward Mayes, Jamie Quatro, Andrew Seguin, D. E. Steward, Jon Thompson, Sam White, and George Witte.

Though at times it was hard to determine the line breaks, I really appreciated being able to view this issue on my phone with Map Literary’s mobile-responsive site; reading it was a pleasure.

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Atticus Review CoverAtticus Review

Volume 2 Issue 49

December 11, 2012


Every Tuesday, Atticus Review publishes a few pieces of literature. The December 11th issue features the work of William Reese Hamilton, Marko Fong, and M. C. Allan. This issue, as the editors say, is about rejection.

Hamilton’s short fiction piece “Awe” tells the tale of a fifteen-year-old boy’s infatuation and lust for a Manhattan/Chilean young woman who he sees at the beach:

I watched her from a distance, sometimes by herself, sometimes tossing a Frisbee with some boy, but most often with other girls, then with her father, his handsome body long-muscled and burned a deep Mediterranean gold, his black hair slicked back in the Italian style. She hung on his arm, ran off into the water, danced around him, flirting. Their voices rose in a dull murmur above the waves.

Fong’s flash fiction piece “Cirque” weaves the rejection of an adopted Chinese baby with humor and absurd details. The parents whom Lucky helped have decided they can no longer handle the baby that they have adopted. “She stands on the back of her high chair balancing her bottle on her forehead,” the mother says. “She’s going to hurt herself.” When she falls, she never cries. Toward the end of the story, “The baby squirmed out of Lucky’s arms, then executed a perfect twisting-front handspring over the stroller. Her head cleared the steel bar by less than an inch before she landed on the diapers where she gurgled contentedly.”

And lastly, Allan’s “Slips” is a spiteful and entertaining poem with various “letters” in response to submissions, all letters of rejection. Here is a sample:

Thank you for your collection of short stories
Upon which our client, Norman Mailer, would piss contemptuously
And possibly then stab you with a butterknife
Even while still zipping back up.
His is a talent one can only call monstrous
Which is why he would be able
To multitask thus.
Henceforth, when you think of publishing,
Please do not think of us.

Atticus Review is a weekly dose of literature, just enough to get you geared and ready for the week ahead.

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Posted December 10, 2012

Otis Nebula CoverOtis Nebula

Issue 6

Fall 2012


What first drew me into this magazine was the art, by Alison Scarpulla. The table of contents is set up as a collage of images, each one pertaining to a piece of prose or poetry. At least for the art, make sure to take a look at this issue, though I suspect you’ll find plenty in the writing to keep you on the site. 

“Antimasque” by Lee Scrivner is a one act play that takes place in The Knotted Would, “an imaginary forest where the flora is knotted to the ground.” With the help of Fell and Fall, Lord Garden makes a map of the land, down to each plant. A ribbon is tied around each item to show that it has been documented. He comes across a boy making music with a reed and is upset that the reed has been moved. The play is about order in the world, and questions if everything should need its place:

How can you build a civilization
Without a map of the world?
And how can you build, on misinformation,
An accurate map of the world?
We would not survive.
We would not survive
We would not survive . . . very long.

When I first read “Eye for an Eye” by Russell Helms, I thought there’d be no way I would include it in the review—it grossed me out. But then I found myself thinking about it days later, and I knew I had changed my mind. In it, Tristan tries to avoid his high school lab partner whose eye he poked out in class. Later, in college, she taunts him and makes him watch as she plays with her eye socket:

With her fingers she spread the lids apart. A pink wet muscle. She poked her finger in there. She looked at the objects in her lap. She picked up a pocketknife and slid it in, wincing.

With an accident as horrible as that, how long are you indebted?

In “Sleeping in Ditches” by Biff Mitchell, the narrator goes around, spouting out his “philosophical” ideas about the world, and it works as a social commentary (even if it’s just the character’s commentary). Yet, I found it quite humorous:

I have thoughts about mad cows. I think I’d be mad too if somebody slaughtered me, stuffed me with food coloring and preservatives, pounded me into patties, fried the crap out of me, shoved me into a bun soaked with thick sauce and half-hearted vegetables, and served me up to some pouty little bitch who didn’t even have the grace to eat me because she was afraid to join the army of zombies that mad cows are creating to get revenge on the human race for feeding cows to cows.

“Nauman’s Installation” by Peyton Burgess tells the story of a young man who works in a museum where the art installations and walls keep moving, making the building a maze to get through. Stuck with the job of telling people not to step on a piece of art that is installed in the floor, he is unhappy with his job. The piece offers great questions about how to appreciate art, about what’s permanent, and about how to be lost.

What started as a writing prompt, this magazine, now in its sixth issue, “offers a wider orbit, a larger cloud.” I certainly hope Otis Nebula is around for much longer because I like what I’m seeing.

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Mead Magazine CoverMead

Volume 4

Fall 2012


Mead aims to make the magazine “small and explosive, writing we would want to read while waiting at the bar for our lover. Writing that is fermented, burnt, makes some kind of penance, offering, or sacrifice. Has breakage, but tooth. Writing with ropes, legs, residue. Writing that leaves ashes.” There are five sections—beer, wines, cocktails, pure spirits, and sparkling—in which the editor categorizes the pieces to be published. In this review, I choose to select my favorite for each of the drinks.

First and strong is the beers section. The poem “Bop for a Bespectacled Irishman” by Heather Foster integrates an Irish drinking song in with a narrative of a woman and an Irishman at a bar: “I’m smoking cloves, / Getting the greatest pickup line in history / From an Irishman. . . .”

Three magpies sit on a post beside our window.
A little Catholic sex is good.
Teach me to say the rosary over your bare
Body, each freckle a bead, a
Blessing. Take me home on the longest road. Kiss me
Top to bottom, making emeralds of every bone.

In wines, the poetry is much more delicate, and peaceful. In “The Mother of Beauty, Etc.” by Chelsea Rathburn, a couple soon to be married wanders out in the woods. The woods hold the bones of a creature—something the narrators says they may have missed on “any other walk, another day”: “It was a skull, a few feet from the body / of the deer. Love let us look in silence.” I can’t get over these great lines:

Up close, the ribcage like the chapel made
from a child’s upturned hands, open and calling.
Bones the color of an Easter egg steeped in tea.
No one had seen the corpse when it was whole

Drinking too many cocktails in a night might have you feeling lost, not sure where you are going. My favorite "cocktail" was Christine E. Salvatore’s “Destination.” (Although, Melissa Carroll’s “How to Hunt Down Your Orgasm” was a very close second.) Salvatore writes:

These days she can’t discern
if she is moving toward something
or away. Airline itineraries
don’t help: To go north, sometimes,
she must first travel west.
And all the time she feels lost
on arrival. When one home replaces
another, does the body ever find rest?

But the best lines are the last two: “How wonderful to be just leaving, / always about to arrive.”

In the pure spirits category, James May contributes the appropriate poem “Lessons.” But this poem is not about learning lessons from drinking. In this short poem, the narrator tells what happens when driving past a dead deer on the side of the road. I’ll give you a hint, it depends on who is driving the car—mom or dad.

In the sparkling section, I’m not sure what to do with Dan Kaufman’s “fishing,” but I like it. In it, there is a pile of guts, “left out like spilled glue.” And “he would play with the corpses / had the woman not told him / be gentle with puppies.”

I’m not sure I understand the purpose of the introductions for each section, written by the editor; instead of what is there, it’d be nice to see an editorial description of the element of the libation they are trying to portray with the poetry. For most poems, I was still able to see how they fit in. And all of the poetry is quality work. Pick your poison, but be sure to sample the whole lot. The poetry is served; bottoms up!

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Jellyfish Magazine CoverJellyfish Magazine

Issue 7

Fall 2012


Jellyfish Magazine’s design is simple and fresh. The top of the page features a sketch of waves—and certainly this issue flows through like waves, ups, downs, and fluid, often touching on the topic of the water, the sea. 

Rob Macdonald’s “Lifeboat,” about the fear of large cruise ships, is both humorous (“And these people, // eating their / baked ziti and waiting // for cheesecake— / I get scared.”) and insightful (“To be untethered, // to be without walls— / ideas can’t bounce // off salt air alone. / An absence of ideas // can’t turn a propeller).

Noah Falck’s “Landscape with Stuffed Animals” is a collection of brief images: “the nape of her neck,” “a small girl with a / handful of sunflowers, and my favorite, “a giraffe drinking rainwater from the gutter of a / tanning salon.” His recent book (2012, BatCat Press) sounds enticing: Snowmen Losing Weight

In Lesley Yalen’s “This Town,” the narrator can’t sleep and takes to wandering around the town, getting a strange feeling and noting new things as the “people who are so nice and the families” are absent. In the end, she ends up going back home to “the crease in / real life where [she] reside[s] in wonder, now.”

A.T. Grant’s prose poem “Dead Brother Speaks” is powerful. It starts, “My throat opens. The tunnel made flesh. I make myself a smoke body and send my smoke body into the tunnel. I sing into the black. I sing Dead Sister back to me.”  In the end, the prayer is a sine wave, a wave that “cuts the bugs in half,” “bends the river,” and the tunnel, and “cuts across the wake.”

Jellyfish offers a nice chance to sit down for a half hour, take a break, and read; get a fresh breath to continue on your day inspired.

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Posted December 3, 2012

Cerise Press CoverCerise Press

Volume 4 Issue 11

Fall/Winter 2012-13


Cerise Press, a well laid-out and professional looking online journal, publishes a variety of fiction, poetry, translations, essays, and art and photography in the latest issue. I started with the fiction, getting lost in the narratives and then dove into the endless (okay, not literally) amounts of poetry.

“Grandma Marija’s Ghost” by Jozefina Cutura deals with a difficult emotion: guilt. As a young girl, the narrator must leave Bosnia during the war. Although she feels compelled to say goodbye to Grandma Marija—her father’s stepfather who has seemingly gone crazy and whom she does not love—when the narrator encounters Grandma Marija on the bus out of town, she doesn’t acknowledge her: “I sometimes wonder if things might have turned out differently for Grandma Marija if I’d stood by her.”

“Aquarela Do San Francisco” by Jaydn DeWald is a much smaller piece of fiction in which the “we” narrators encounter a man following them, lingering on the street outside the window:

. . . staring at us under his hat-brim, so we close the curtains, lock the deadbolts, and turn off all the lights in the house. After a few minutes, we unpause the film, but we can no longer concentrate: we are concerned about the man, that he may reveal something about our lives, our pasts, that he has come here to unravel us. We crawl into bed, silent, and listen to footfalls that, though distant, seem to explode right in our ears. Are they the man’s footfalls? Should we pull aside the curtain and see? We cannot decide: we lie here, too frightened to move, though filled with the desire to know.

Kurt Brown’s poem “Corrigan’s Compass” plays with the idea of things that seem backwards but can really be forward, or things that are wrong that may be right, starting “Venus is the only planet that rotates counter clockwise, / like one of those soccer balls driven into the wrong net.”

When “Wrong-Way Corrigan” flew from New York
to Ireland, rather than back to California, he claimed
it was due to a navigational error and dim lighting
so he couldn’t read his compass. But the truth is always
different from belief. There are those who think
he meant to fly to Ireland and I like to think that’s true,
making a fox of a fool.

Be sure also to read Jon Pineda’s essay “Trailer,” Christopher Howell’s poem “Diminishing Returns,” Wendy Mnookin’s poem “If It’s You,” Nathaniel Perry’s poem “Drunk on the New Honey and the Honey,” Kathleen Winter’s poem “Third Eye,” J. M. Villaverde’s fiction piece “The Interpretation of Dreams,” and the translations.

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Right Hand Pointing CoverRight Hand Pointing

Issue 58



Before delving into discussion of the writing in Right Hand Pointing, it is worth noting that the magazine’s layout/design makes reading it easy. Such a simple design allows for full focus on the words rather than what they look like on the page. I read the issue entirely from my phone; at the end of each poem, I simply scrolled to the bottom and clicked the hand pointing to the right to continue on in the issue.

In Kim Suttell’s “Lilaceous,” the narrator does not wish to be “lilaceous,” instead, she wishes to be “the hot oven, /and jagged ends, // a rough plank and splinters / and the spider’s trap.”

Karen Greenbaum-Maya’s “Homeland Security” reminds me of the week I helped fix up an older woman’s house where six Chihuahuas stood guard. The poem starts:

Two, then five electrified Chihuahuas
boil out of the porch’s shade,
snarling so far back in their throats
they choke on their own sound,
jitter stiff-legged trying to get at us

The rest of the poetry contains excellent lines such as “thin as a soap bubble / lost inside bones” (Helen Losse’s “A mere sensation”), “He makes his bed, he breaks / bread, he washes the dishes / and lets vain wishes / slip down the drain” (Geordie de Boer’s “Solitude”), and “‘you’ll never live / up to the sea’ // but the body keeps trying” (Alexandra C. Fox’s “7/25”).

A short fiction piece, “The Lottery Winner” by Timothy Gager, tells of the interesting things the lottery winner spends her winnings on, starting with what she buys her boyfriend:

She buys her boyfriend a roller-coaster with some of the winnings, which takes up his entire backyard, but has to pay additionally to have some trees cleared. “Now you can ride it over and over again to match your mood swings,” she says. He tells her that he never asked for that. “Neither did I,” she says.

In the end, she buys herself a lighthouse, where she can have parties, because, after all, “A lottery winner deserves to dance.”

As the magazine always says in the email announcements, “It’s your hand. It’s right. And it’s pointing.” Follow where it’s pointing and read this issue.

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Bird Feast CoverBirdfeast

Issue 4

Fall 2012


Created last Thanksgiving, Birdfeast aims to quarterly provide a feast of poetry; publishing all forms and styles. “Think of how you might see a dessert pudding sitting comfortably by a roast turkey on your Thanksgiving table,” the editors say.

Becca Glaser’s “I hope one day birds will rule the sky again” discusses the way the world works today, about how intimacy is found on okcupid:

I just want someone who will make crepes
with me on a Saturday morning,
love me raw and worried,
argue with me cuz conflict’s regular
as pine needles. . . .

Despite what the world suggests, she says “We are born when we are born,” and so must live in that time. She concludes, “Sometimes I’d be satisfied just to sit / at the Chinese restaurant stuffing / my face and not apologizing.”

Portia Elan says that “It is as easy as a car crash – a car & a body – a leaping body, a pedestrian body – witnessed from a cigarette sidewalk how a body is & isn’t.” The lines of her poetry make me pause and think, especially this one: “You ban the words I’m sorry but I mean it anyway – the only Am I’m sure of.”

Gale Marie Thompson’s “Ojalá” (which translates to “hopefully” or “I hope so”) says, “so here’s hoping / that it is willing / that I am willing”:

Where the universe is spreading
and thirty miles will do
I want to be embroidered
as if then I could adhere to anything

Other poets featured in this issue include Aaron Crippen, Erin Dorney, Logan Fry, Ken Meisel, Emma Ramey, Sara Tracey, Matthew Wimberly, and Matthew Zing. The layout is simple, and easy to read, but all that really is in the issue is the poetry. It would be nice to see an editor’s note or contributor bios to give some context to the issue. Either way, the poetry is what is important, and it is worth reading.

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