Mini reviews of current issues of online literary magazines
Reviews by Kirsten McIlvenna
Posted April 1, 2013
Brevity Poetry Review publishes—what should be obvious from the title—short poems, all coming in at under 30 lines. Each issue puts forth just 10 of these short poems, giving more weight to each one. And this issue contains no mediocre poems; they are all worth reading.
Hugo Esteban Rodriguez Castñeda opens the issue with “Leaving Sodom,” about looking back at the place the narrator has left:
The deserter does not turn
into a pillar of salt—only his skin
shivers a little as he looks back
through the watery gates
Phillip A. Ellis’s “The Australian Dream” speaks of a couple, hands clasped, lying motionless as they soak up the hot sun: “. . . they recline, / slowly with skin that burns / rich golden-brown.” Donal Mahoney’s poem is a short observation piece about a Chinese Laundromat in Chicago where, behind the draperies are three women, “glistening black, / bending, grabbing, sorting.”
“Pieces of Light” is enchanting. Before the poem starts, Carey Taylor gives a quote from American Academy of Family Physicians: “The brain MRI scan is the most useful test for confirming the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. MS lesions appear as areas of high signal, predominantly in the cerebral white matter or spinal cord.” The first and last stanzas both begin by referring to how it started "so simply." Here is the last:
It started so simply,
a leg that didn’t work
then two, so she came on four
with lovelies from her garden.
The other featured poets include Saheli Khastagir, Linda Ledford-Miller, Darren Damarree, Darrell Petska, Wendy Freborg, and S. D. Mott.
Ghost Ocean Magazine publishes some of the best poetry and short prose; as far as long prose goes, they say, “Just don’t waste our time.” Published on their website in an easy to navigate and read format, the writing feels cohesive, like it really does belong together under one roof.
I don’t often fancy a pantoum, but Susan Yont’s “Old Photograph” is one of my favorites that I’ve read of the form. And the beauty of it is that it is aware that it is one, and aware that it is breaking from the traditional form: “and I am a beautiful, pantoum ruin.” The brokenness of the pantoum, and of the speaker, and of the love, is what makes this poem whole:
I hope you can forget
my secrets, the minor fall, the major lift. “Hallelujah”
reminds me of you.
I was wrong—
I am ruin, a drunken pantoum. You can never forget
my secrets, my suffering, the major fall, the minor lift—Hallelujah.
It was 1991 when we were in love.
Pedro Ponce’s “Confession” is about questioning a “subject,” later revealed to be God:
Under questioning, the subject predicted outcomes for several nationally televised athletic championships.
Under questioning, the subject recalled the omniscience of birds.
Under questioning, the subject recalled creating birds, the canons of nesting, the air fledging feathers.
Under questioning, the subject rested on the seventh day.
Sky Joiner’s “Put on a Suit When the Ship Sinks” is about looking your best, even when you’re about to go under:
For after one arranges the cuff links on the table,
seeing them tumble off one by one
when the ship tilts; puts on a hat (always a hat);
slides each arm into the sleeves of a jacket—
then one must step outside
amongst the panickers, the mouths
stuck on one obnoxious note as they dodge
the sliding furniture of the deck.
I loved Bryce Emley’s prose piece, “Watercolor.” Some of the lines are so great that I absolutely must share: “They asked her where they went wrong, asked each other where they went wrong, asked her how she could do it to herself, but she knew they were too far away to hear her say that not all pain is wasted, not all death means dying.” And: “She felt his syllables fall like hot rain on her skin when he said This too shall pass.” You should definitely go read the whole piece.
There wasn’t a single piece in this collection that I didn’t enjoy. This issue of Ghost Ocean Magazine completely captured my attention for the short time it took to read it; all other distractions at the coffee shop were silenced.
Spry is a new literary journal that claims to be a place “for people who excel at taking risks.” And certainly, even in their very first issue, they have succeeded with this.
Elizabeth Hilts’s creative nonfiction piece “A System of Linear Equations” shows the ways in which an adolescent can hide so many secrets: that she will fail her test that day, that she has been skipping gym class, and that she has a boyfriend whom she doesn’t love anymore, perhaps even like. The story takes the course of a single morning of a school day but tells so much so quickly with images of driving to school with her father, sitting and taking an Algebra exam, running out of school as a prank alarm goes off, and visiting her boyfriend. Hilts does a great job of placing us in the present, describing the scene as if we were there to experience it:
The hall is jammed with bodies and their smells—a whiff of sweet powder not quite mixing with pungent musk, a cloud of patchouli, hair spray, too much deodorant, desperate sweat and funk. The slippery susurrus of sand-clotted soles on the hard-polished mud-colored tiles is punctuated by the metal clang of lockers opening and closing, shrieks and whispers and muttered hellos. The fluorescent glare is softened by cloud-paled sunlight; it glows in the banks of windows at the ends of the hallway, creeps over the clerestory windows above the lockers.
Alan Shaw’s gutsy “Sex for the Recently Divorced” shows the shame and vulnerability of a person who has to learn to do something over again—in this case, have sex with a new woman. It’s a unique point of view on a subject I haven’t seen written about before. Followed by that piece is Amy Sibley’s “The Period Calendar,” and this is not punctuation we are talking about here. This, too, shows fear and shame and the difficulties of growing up, learning about your body, and becoming a woman. The writing is daring and honest.
Sheila Black’s “First Cigarette” starts with the perfect image: “I knew it was mine, the smoke pulled / in—the color like nylons without legs.” And on it goes with more powerful images, ones that are wonderful to read and ones that tug at the heart strings:
And later when my parents vanished up the
beach (sound of waves cast through
dimming air), and I stopped to take a
first taste from my father’s discarded
butt, I grasped that it was not smoke only,
but a space inside me, a vacuum that
hungered to be filled. Knew I would chose [sic]
that slow falling, carving away of breath to
feed that death inside me which glittered at times
like the sluice of water across the mountain-
Leigh Anne Hornfeldt’s poem “Strays” is about stray cats, but of course with most poetry, that’s only the surface of what it’s really about:
She loved him. Litters
of crying kittens all over
the neighborhood. Vagabond.
No good drifter. She
loved him. Half-an ear missing
kind of love. Born out of pity.
I won’t leave you
no matter what you do
desperate kind that keeps
a woman in dark glasses
even at night, the kind
that makes a woman go
weak, weaker, weaker, gone.
I could go on and on. While some new journals have a hard time finding enough to publish in their first issues, Spry certainly has their bases covered. There is a serious amount of nonfiction, fiction, flash, and poetry here to read, and it’s great writing.
Volume 1 Number 1
Star 82 Review puts forth its first issue, filled with sections titled “Shorts,” “Postcard Lit,” “Art Post,” “Erasure Text,” and “Hidden Gems.” I wish this magazine well, because they are already publishing great work.
Alastair Johnston’s short “The Great War of 1914” opens the issue, reminding us that “memory is not to be trusted.” Later, Jane Downs tells us that “It is important to remember everything.” In Marie C. Dern’s short, the narrator prepares for press: “No type must escape, a word would be lost or part of a word. poet could become pot or pet.” Leonard Crosby tells us, “Language is how we talk back to the universe, how we express the strange beauty that is reality, and to be unaware of that, or of the universe in its ability to retort, is to dangerously ignore our most powerful and fundamentally human trait.”
Paul Hostovsky’s poem “Cleaning Out the Bank” speaks of cherishing small pleasures in life, like being able to say your job was “cleaning out the bank”:
and once I found a whole
half of a twenty dollar bill
ripped clean down the middle
which I laminated and still keep
right here in my wallet,
taking it out often as though
one could go on extracting joy
from a worthless thing
Lauren Guza Brown contributes a collection of vignettes about ethnicity in the classroom. The piece is titled “Fronteras,” which can refer both to the physical border between Mexico and the United States and to separation (of ethnicities). Written in the second-person (which was done so well that I didn’t even notice until going back and searching for quotes), the piece narrates about “you,” the teacher. In the second vignette, “you” are called to help Marcos, who has gotten his head stuck in the gate because he “wanted to see if it would fit”:
Marcos says that what he’s learned is that his head fits through one way, but not back, and this satisfies you. You can start helping him now, though you don’t know how. You were trained to keep them out of gangs, not fences. But, after a couple minutes of squeezing around the ears, Marcos realizes it’s easier for him to slide his whole body forward through the fence, where his head already is. He pushes through, takes a step on the other side, the street side, and turns back to you, jubilant. He raises his arms above his head and smiles. It’s like crossing the border, he says.
The piece brings awareness and shows small observations about the way these children view the world and how they deal with their ethnicity in school. In one case, the teacher asks Diego if when a black girl at lunch yelled “Fuck Mexicans!” it hurt his feelings; he simply replies, “No, because I’m Salvadoran.”
Also with sections that incorporate text with art, Star 82 Review publishes pieces that are not only enjoyable, but also matter.
SWAMP is an online magazine that exists to feature the writing from postgraduate creative writing students. Edited by postgraduate writers, it is a great community for these students.
This issue starts with Laura Elizabeth Woollett’s “Plum Orchard,” which is saturated with brief, rich images: “If I were fruit, I would be long-fallen, like the plums that squelch underfoot. These are the fruit that the hornets like best. They haunt them like Ted Bundy at the dumpsite with his dead girls.”
Kezia Perry’s poem is a haunting image and apology to a whale:
Touching the grey brow, I spoke my sorrow at the task.
For after checking the shallows, I killed the whale with dynamite.
Afterwards, it was still, nothing but wind, and sawdust falling onto sand,
Amid tiny specks of red.
Briony Gylgayton’s “1920” has interesting and new images, ones I wish I were clever enough to write:
We swam in red brick pools
and spread ourselves like cream cheese.
She touched my arm
only to find that it was a parasol
while I dressed in pale purple
and imitated a flower,
opening my mouth to let the bees in.
Lynette Washington’s second-person narrative plays with the idea of how we all wear different hats, or in this case, shells. In this story, you have two jobs, one in retail, and one painting the shells for hermit crabs and selling them to the pet store owner. You realize that the shells can represent your personality or your feelings toward something.
You are different people, depending on who you are with. You know this and you even know when you are self-censoring; you have that awareness. It’s always with family and with work, never with friends. They are your three groups and your three personalities: family, friends and work.
Also featured in this issue are authors Mona Zahra Attamimi, Aleksandra Lane, Christine Piper, David Gilbert, Autumn Royal, Michalia Arathimos, Rochelle Hairman, Philip Porter, Helen Heath, Cassandra O’Loughlin, and Jannali Jones.
Tongue doesn’t claim to provide any answers, to provide stories that reveal them, but the editors “revel, instead, in poems and art at ease with a kind of ambivalent vulnerability.” And as I read this issue, I certainly felt that.
Malena Mörling’s “See the Second” dedicates imagery to different increments of time in each stanza. The first stanza, about seconds, moves into a stanza about minutes, and so on, until the end of the poem ends with an entire day. The length of time is felt within the words:
See the second
and the second
like quick marks
at the minute
how it has time
like a raindrop
on the underside
of a railing
before it too drops
into the past—
Brynn Saito’s “Mother and Children” prose poem certainly doesn’t offer up any answers, but the language is so captivating that I found myself reading it four times. Split into six sections, labeled by roman numerals, the piece moves from the mother to the children. It starts, “My children as they wandered from me took on the shapes of beauty. I was proud of the way they suffered though I know they were undone by the sharpness of the earth’s asking: Do you know hunger, do you know rage, do you know the color of grief?”
There are six poems by Gemma Gorga translated from Catalan by Julie Wark. I was drawn in from the very first one, “Semantics and Nutrition.” It shows that everything can be broken down into smaller pieces; “Everything is matter.” It starts,
A leaf falls to the ground and decomposes
into smaller meanings -humidity,
pigment, lamina, oxygen, warmth,
light–, like someone spelling his full name
to a stranger: car bon di o xi de.
The speaker in Tarfia Faizullah’s “In the room I was born,” in short lines, reveals:
She will point
out other graves: corpses
stacked upon each other
to save space. . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . Time unfolds
a wing. Soon, I will be a wild,
wind-bent map worth loving.
The issue—although designed more as a print issue than an online issue, available as a PDF or through issuu—is welcoming with bright colors and a fun design with art by Radio Sebastian.
Tongue is saturated with beautiful images and ideas, poems that delightfully use language to create insight.