Mini reviews of current issues of online literary magazines
Reviews by Kirsten McIlvenna
Posted March 4, 2013
The Blue Route is a national online journal for undergraduate students. This issue offers writers from Carnegie Mellon University, Notre Dame of Maryland University, Stephen F. Austin State University, Susquehanna University, University of Colorado Denver, University of Houston, and University of South Florida. The writing is of high quality and is enjoyable to read.
Soniya Shah, an undergrad at Carnegie Mellon, contributes the only fiction piece: “Lemonade.” The speaker of the piece speaks to “you,” which we slowly discover is her daughter who has been kidnapped. But as tragic as an event this seems to be, the mother seems more caught up in how she no longer has her husband as a result: “He is still silent. I wish he would forgive me and go back to the days when he kissed me in the pouring rain, just like in the movies. Life was a fairytale. We had everything.” I enjoy how the story slowly builds, leaving the reader to piece together the clues.
Sarah-Jane Abate (Susquehanna University), having recently traveled to Russia, contributes a poem about the “Locks of Love” in Yaroslalv, a tradition in which lovers “close a padlock around the rail keeping them from the river / and toss the key in.” She uses these images as a foreigner who doesn’t even know the word for “love” in that language, who is not with a lover:
I wonder if anyone changes their mind
jumps the railing
the handles of the locks digging into the palms of their hands as they vault over
if anyone swims out after the key
The keys by now having been swallowed by fish.
Lisa Lowdermilk (University of Colorado Denver) writes “Parting the Sand Sea,” a vivid poem with an awesome image to start it out:
Snowflakes tumbled out of the sky like
out of the ripped seam
of a dress.
Douglas Knudsen contributes a haiku series, and Rachel Ann Jones gives a poem from a collection she is working on about an all-girl gang. Kaitlyn Stone’s poem—which starts “in a slur of sadness / words stumbled from your lips / like drunken demons from the dark”—appropriately slurs about the page in zigzags. In Jeremy Windham’s “Venom Song,” a girl retraces her steps to a gazebo that she remembers from when she was there with a boy. And lastly, Michelle Bayman’s poem is an image of a burlap sack covering a rose bush, “Winterizing the Rose Bush.”
In her editor’s note, Sara Rauch hopes that this issue will “bring the bright and wild and unusual into your spirit this winter.” Certainly, there are images such as these throughout the issue that bring a little warmth to my room: “there lies me and you sitting on the floor / with a bucket of strawberries, whipped cream . . .” (Shannon Shuster’s “alright .”); “standing at the water’s edge / leaning against the night breeze / taut as harp strings for balance” (Ned Randle’s “Lake Song”); “When I was younger I would wait / for the first bloom of the blackberry / thickets and collect berries in a mason jar” (Matthew Wimberley’s “Indian Summer, Reading Lorca”); and “The heat pins my shirt to my skin like a silver star” (Arah McManamna’s “Cactus Flower”).
Appropriately, the issue begins with the poem “Intro,” by M. E. Gallucci, which starts “(this is a thing of / movement.)”:
A brook ballooning to a
stream ballooning to a
ranging, roving, roaring,
raveling and unraveling only to be
Joe Baumann’s “The Peak of the Night” is a tale of, as the character Father Boundia would say, a miracle. It brings forth the unusual spirit that Rauch speaks of. George Amos discovers a patch of space outside of the church where time slows down. Becoming a phenomenon, this “mystery, as the reporters call it, is news all over town. The church starts to fill up, and the Father couldn’t be happier. Yet, it seems like in the spot where time slows, pain is excruciating. Father Boundia watches some boys play, and one of them throws a baseball at the other:
Father Boundia imagined what must be going through the boy’s head. When he’d walked through the miracle that afternoon, Father Boundia had experienced the bizarre sensation of having his whole body slow down—his arms and legs, his breathing, even his heartbeat—while his thoughts moved as normal . . . So when he saw the baseball thud against the boy’s ribcage, he tried to imagine the sharp pain of contact stretched out, the initial smack lasting longer, the sting coursing through the boy’s nervous system. The thought of being trapped with that pain, unable to move as normal, forced to watch one’s body start to write and not be able to do anything to soothe that feeling . . .
There is more fiction in this issue, more poems, a piece of nonfiction, and a couple of translations. Cozy up and read; find the “bright and wild” scattered throughout the issue.
For something truly original and definitely a break from the normal online journal, take a look at Danse Macabre. Not only is the writing a break from the straight literary, but the images and the layout are as well. The style, as described by Editor Adam Henry Carrière, is “noir coloratura.” Enter this issue, “Terra,” and be greeted by a skeleton who is about to cut down a tree with an ax, be greeted with a type of march song played on the organ.
David Elliot’s “The Fallen Queue Jumper” is about Satan, or Lucifer as he prefers, and his last time seeing the canteen, for having slapped a certain powerful character. In Walter Brand’s “Hijacked,” the narrator, a cab driver, has a gun brought to his ribs by a man who gets into the car and demands him to just drive. Mehra Gharibian’s “Premonitions” is about Shahin’s need to break up with his abusive boyfriend, Sirus.
Samantha Memi’s “God Bless America” is an interesting commentary on America. It starts with Jed, a man who likes to kill animals but never people “because he was a Christian and went to church nearly every Sunday and prayed for America”—that is until he wants revenge on those who killed his girlfriend. This turns into a shooting spree of sorts; a lot of people die, including him—who as he dies says, “They wuz only exercisin’ their cahnstitutional raht to shoot people. We gotta support their rahts . . . God bless America.” After the blood bath, you’ll be surprised—or maybe you won’t—by the new law that the townspeople want to make.
David Massengill’s “Night Gardening” will have you suspecting your neighbors—if you don’t already. Tina, unhappy that a new tenant is a better gardener than her, seeks to find out Monique’s secret plant food. Tina is perhaps not happy that she snooped.
This issue also contains poetry, which is just as vivid and unique as the fiction. Take, for example, Walter Ruhlmann’s “Black and White Blood”:
“killing in the name of” made part of a black and white collection that yelled the rage against the machine
machine gun ex machina
For sixty bloody years the then victims of barbarians became vultures and carrions,
carnal carnivorous criminals, unexpectedly claiming clutters of land the carelessness of coward cowboys did not prevent from harm, from drama, tragedies and corruptions. Executions, excruciation, crucifixions and exterminations.
Plenty more poetry is in store. Dig around a little; you’ll be captivated by the unique aesthetic of the journal.
If I had to come up with a certain way to describe this issue, it would be that it is about reminiscing, of looking back into the past and either wishing to return to that time, or just appreciating it for what it was.
Angelina Oberdan’s poem speaks of remembrance: “He watches his son, and remembers a younger child / who never worried over fishing, / who never thought there could be no fish.”
David King’s “Going to Valdosta” reminisces about being younger, road tripping with the family to South Georgia. It is packed with tight memories, such as this one:
Once we had a blowout, outside Tifton,
And the Oldsmobile spun into the median.
We ate peaches in the weeds,
While my father changed the tire
As easily as he might have changed his shirt.
But as reminiscing often does, it makes him want to go back to that time, when things were supposedly “easier”:
I’d like to have the world
That small again, that certain.
I’d like to know that I
Could always get back home.
Beate Sass’s “Tall Timbers Plantation Project” is a collection of photographs of and comments from the former Tall Timbers Plantation tenants and their families. Every person was photographed with an object that is important to them: plants, a harmonica, a photograph, etc. Hattie Mae Sloan’s bare feet stick out from underneath a Maid-Rite washboard in her photo. Sloan, too, looks back, but perhaps not at easier times:
The washboard is one of the things my mother had . . . “Oh, I would love to have that” . . . to tell my kids and my grandkids about how easy they have it now. They don’t realize how tough things were back then, that you had to rub the clothes on your hand, then you had to rinse them . . . hang them up, [and] take them in. But now, kids have the washer and dryers . . . all they do is let them stay in until they boil up and they just don’t know how blessed they are.
Karissa Knox Sorrell’s “July Beans” is an ode to the summer “the hummingbirds drank / Grandma out of Kool-aid”:
She came up once or twice to check on
me, rescuing a dozen poorly pulled beans
from the kettle and piling them back into my lap.
In the garden my grandmother filled two baskets:
one for the ripe things, another for the rotten,
and behind her the wind tried to help
white sheets escape the line.
In “Fox Blossoms” by Michelle Nichols Wright, foxes frequent the cemetery where the narrator’s mother is buried. The foxes take away the flowers and feed them to their pups, and even though the old women complain, “the groundsmen only gather the torn petals when the foxes are done.”
There is a serious amount of work within this issue, more than I could ever mention in even a full length review. Take the time to slowly read it, going through page by page, and really let it sink in.
Volume 6 Issue 1
I’ve always loved flash fiction for its brevity, its ability to, as they say, “pack a punch” in such a short space. Each sentence bears weight. Well the poems in this magazine close that circle a little tighter; here, each word, nay, each syllable bears tremendous weight. Each poem must be four lines or fewer and cannot contain more than twenty words. Similar to the idea of the six-word story, these poems must convey imagery, idea, insight within a small space. For the most part, all of these pieces accomplish that goal.
The issue starts with Ivo Drury’s “Harvesting Pears,” comparing writing a poem to picking a pear, that it comes when it comes, “allowing one firm yet gentle tug.”
Judith Steele’s two-liner speaks truth, of something sometimes more disturbing to sleep than snoring: “Her husband’s breath.”
John Goodhue’s “Irony” is a quick image of “Jesus Lizard,” face down in the snow, “like he was hung from the moon.”
R. M. Rousseau’s “Gravity” creates a unique perspective on the elderly falling, “the sound of earth calling / come back, come back to me.”
“Holding On,” by Laurie Kolp, relies heavily on drawing connections with the imagery. The narrator finds a glove in the slush, “the one / you slipped your hand from / when I wouldn’t let go.”
Max Merckenschlager’s poem is playful, addressed to the “Inch Ant Sharing My Campsite”: “Respect doesn’t necessarily / make us cosy bed-fellows.”
“Cold Nostalgia,” by Sarah Provonche, is tasty, revealing “tart memories of . . . New England youth,” of the moonlight, bathing “the cranberries nestled in their boggy beds.”
And of course this issue offers several more. It encourages a quick read, but also makes me want to try to write my own. New issues are posted the third Tuesday of every month.
The New River is certainly a river off of the mainstream. It’s a collage of digital media, journalism, and writing.
Alan Bigelow creates a unique experience in “Last Words,” which incorporates images, videos, text, and sound to create a collection in which “Ordinary People Speak at the Moment of Death In or Around the New York City Area.” Among them was a woman who bet nobody could outdrink her. She drank 36 shots of tequila in 20 minutes and died from alcohol poisoning, as did her opponent. Allan Bodenko’s last words were broadcast on internet radio, reaching two million plays in three days. He recorded it as a parting gift to his eldest son while chain-smoking in his hospital bed:
he came for me
like a great winter
the cold on my feet
in my hands and chest
where’s the gifts i asked
where’s my toy train
his breath sighed in my face
“Opacity,” produced by a number of individuals, is in four parts and is interactive. In the description it says: “We live in an age of obsession with transparency especially in politics and business. But in our personal relationships, what is the point of being transparent to oneself and to others? The following interactive narrative commends a kind of opacity which is meant as an in-between.” In reading, you must interact with the images, making them more opaque, less transparent, or alternately, less cloudy.
Matt Mullins’s “I Will Make an Exquisite Corpse” challenges you to do the same. Using his images, his videos, his text, and his audio, you create a collage of art and sound. When you get to the page, there are three 3-D sections spinning, allowing you to drop images, videos, or text on to them. You can also determine which audio is turned on. It’s a truly fascinating and unique project, the combinations limitless.
Also in this issue is Loss Pequeño Glazier’s “Four Guillemets” (“Image and text ‘string’ variants resonate like conversational silences with ‘the victory of the echo over the voice.’”) and Matt Mullins’s “Highway Coda” (“A prose poem both lyric and narrative loops its four sections into refrains.”). If you are interested in digital media at all, do check out this magazine; I’ve not see anything like it.
Enter Shadowbox’s site and you’ll see a shadowbox filled will several objects. Clicking on the image of the flowers will bring up this issue’s featured writing. It brings up a spice rack, each bottle containing a spice of life, if you will. Dedicated entirely to all forms of creative nonfiction, Shadowbox presents a collection worth reading. Some pieces are in the traditional essay form, while others stray quite a bit, opening up new ways to see creative nonfiction.
Claudia Serea’s “The White Ear” is intriguing in the way that she calls the telephone a white ear. Not knowing this at the beginning, it is quite intriguing from the first few lines:
The white ear was large and a bit hairy. It sat on the table between the two red armchairs in the red-carpeted hallway, listening to everything we said. The cartilage stretched and twitched to catch every word in the house. At night, it listened to our breathing.
But once I found out the ear was a phone, I wasn’t any less intrigued. The language and sounds in this (“click-click-click-whirr”) make it a compelling piece.
Bradley P. Efford’s piece “Arriving” is a collection of vignettes, each at the time of a birth. Starting with the birth of Efford’s father (actually it starts with the birth of his father’s older brother) the pieces trace forward to the birth of his father’s grandchild, Efford’s niece. Packed with vivid details and endearing moments, it is a family history born out of the moments of “arriving.”
Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch present a selection from Conversations over Stolen Food. They spent thirty days recording conversations in areas in and around New York City. The one presented here takes place at a Union Square health-food store.
In “Handiwork,” Hilary Schaper reflects on her relationship with her father. She admits that growing up, she felt like the bonsai trees that her father pruned, stunting her growth and turning her inside herself, unsure and unconfident. But later in life after more thought, she realizes that perhaps she and her father are not so different when it comes to art:
For my father, I think bonsais functioned as a kind of way station, an intermediate step to his immersion in making art . . . when he retired. . . . Perhaps this art allowed my father the freedom to express himself with confidence at a time when he could not yet navigate the open sea of creativity—imagining, spawning, and realizing an artistic project.
If the bonsais gave him the opportunity to express his own aesthetic reality, then my father and I are aligned in that way. We both try to give voice to our unformed thoughts, to create something of beauty and meaning. I shape words; he, trees.
Many of the pieces here I loved, several of them didn’t do much for me, but all of them were different. So, in a way, there’s something here for everyone.
Temenos, the journal of Central Michigan University, is a Greek word that “refers both to the ancient Greek concept of sacred space and the Jungian ‘safe spot’ where one may bring the unconscious into the light of consciousness.” The editors say that their mission is to “bring to light works that are engaging, memorable, and fearless.”
Jacob Melvin’s “Jack-O’-Lantern” is short and simple, but powerful at the same time. It’s the first Halloween since the narrator’s wife (his daughter’s mother) has died. He thought his daughter might have grieved at some point but did not think it would be when they were about to go trick-or-treating. He finds her, half in her cat costume, laying on the hardwood floor. “I’m a dead kitty,” she says. The father’s next move shows that he is a good father and that they will make it through together.
Ben Lieb’s nonfiction piece “My Portrait in the Memorial” grieves for his classmate, a girl who was kidnapped out of her home when she was twelve. The piece asks questions of empathy: “Could I feel empathy for a man who had committed unforgivable crimes?”
Now here’s a line to draw you into Daniel Waters’s “Flotsam”: “‘I was never very good at sex,’ my father told me the night I died.’” Because, first of all, whose parents really talk to their children about sex (beyond the whole idea of the birds and bees). Clearly, the narrator agrees:
This unprovoked little address hit me like a stiff cocktail of disgust and excitement. I’d never had the slightest interest in accepting as a reality that my father had been a sexual being any more times than the one time it took to create me. That was hard enough to swallow. But, ever since it had become clear that he shouldn’t be living alone and I had moved in with him, the extent of our communication had been relegated to bathroom alerts and grunting. I couldn’t let my childish repulsion spoil this drastic improvement.
But at his deathbed, his father finally lets the narrator in, at least a little bit, confessing that he wasn’t perhaps happy with his choices in life, that all life is is “flotsam”: “Living is what you do with the shit that’s left over after the fucking storm. And you know what, you’ve just gotta keep fucking afloat, thank God this one didn’t take you, and then reassess.”
There are more stories, alongside photography (see Eleanor Leonne Bennett’s “High Res”), and the work of three poets. Important to digital literature, the site is in a very easy format to read. Temenos offers a fine sampling of work, several of which will be stuck in my head all week.