Screen Reading

Mini reviews of current issues of online literary magazines

Reviews by Kirsten McIlvenna

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Clarkesworld :: Driftless Review :: The Fiddleback :: Looseleaf Tea :: Niche


Posted July 2, 2013

Niche CoverNiche

Number 3

May 2013


My first impression of Niche was: it is great to look at. Like that initial, hormonal attraction when you meet someone new, I was drawn in instantly, ready to say, “I’d like to get to know you.”

Nicholas Hathaway’s “Bear Cave” was a nice introduction, a piece of creative nonfiction that begins, “My brother is schizophrenic, crazy, off his rocker.” Hathaway has fond memories of playing video games with his brother as a child; “We were locomotive children who ran on Gatorade and Cheeto dust.” But the family has slowly discovered that after his accident, Hathaway’s brother isn’t the same. Hathaway learns to treasure his memories and see his brother for who he is now. The description and turns of phrase in this piece made it a joy to read.

In Don Kunz’s fiction piece, a woman literally walks a mile in someone else’s shoes. The shoes? Black patent leather Salvatore Ferragamos stilettos. The someone else? A woman in black cocktail dress, found in a dumpster, “eyes wide open, a thin line of blood crusted on her throat, imitated Sleeping Beauty.” Enjoy.

Brian D. Morrison’s poem “Hand-washed Laundry” is a heartbreaker: “they cleaned the small clothes for hands / never held but washing was all they could do / for the soap that wasn’t cleansing.” And in John Grey’s poem, “Rex Explains Sex at Sixty”:

. . . forget about
that lying on top of each other
as if we barely touch,
as if a thin lining of air called love
softens the cushion
between bone and flesh, flesh and bone.
Now every pound of body
is felt, upward and downward,
like steel-plates squeezed together,
flattening pleasure into pain.

Though it was at times difficult to read, that was primarily due to the fact that it was in issuu and on my laptop screen. Designer Maria Surawska did an excellent job making the entire journal visually appealing; the atmosphere created fit well with the included pieces. The entire issue had content well worth the read. It was nice to meet you Niche; see you again next issue.

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The Fiddleback ScreenshotThe Fiddleback

Volume 3 Issue 3


The Fiddleback editors say that their mission is cross pollination; “We believe in mixing and colliding artistic disciplines to attract a diverse readership and promoting work that asserts itself.”

The narrator in Joseph Riippi’s fiction piece “Because It Is Very Important that You Listen to Me” is crying out to be heard: “I want to tell you . . .” he continues to say. The piece asks questions about war and about death, about how just one person showing compassion can change thoughts about those ideas. Ultimately, the narrator wants to know if anyone is listening, and isn’t that the question that most writers ask: is anyone really going to read this?

Elisa Gabbert and Kathleen Rooney pose in their poem that “If it’s true that everything was more beautiful // in the past, we should want to die young . . .” Because the word “disappear” appears three times in this short poem, it’s not hard to figure out what it’s about. “In the House of Self-Undoing” was written by an exchange through email and was originally written as a “pseudo-ghazal” in which they used the words “disappear” and “beautiful” to alternately end the couplets.

In Jill Talbot’s nonfiction piece “The Sage Couch,” she learns “When you live in someone else’s house, you’re one word away from being asked to leave.” Tangled in an old relationship—with the father of her daughter—she tries to write her book, while constantly finding herself back living with her married friends.

I would also recommend reading Allyson Paty’s and Wendy Xu’s poems, Ali Rachel Pearl’s nonfiction piece, and Chris Messer’s fiction piece. The Fiddleback also features a musician and an artist, with accompanying interviews.

The writers in this issue of The Fiddleback have a strong hold on the way their words flow onto the page. Each sentence/line is excellently crafted, so that even if the story isn’t your favorite topic, it’s still a thrill to read.

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Driftless Review CoverDriftless Review

Issue 1

Spring 2013


Published by Platteville Poets, Writers and Editors, LLC—“an organization dedicated to showcasing the works of emerging and established writers whose creative journeys have in some way brought them through the  Driftless Region”—Driftless Review is a brand new online journal, this being the inaugural issue which features poetry, prose, and visual art.

In Lydia Conklin’s prose piece “What the Kid Does,” the Kid strives for attention when she clearly isn’t receiving it from her parents or her friends in the way she would like; she is caught between childhood and adolescence, yet it isn’t a coming-of-age story either. In Jacob Reecher’s “On the Rocks,” Kevin is also caught in that spot, but he seems to have more of an interest in doing “mature” things than the Kid does. On a trip to the beach with his mother, he sneaks alcohol, smokes cigarettes, and watches the teenagers play volleyball as a form of research on women, “because understanding a woman’s man was part of understanding the woman.” But all of this is contrasted with his other focus: finding an interesting new rock for his collection. The end is left open-ended. Perhaps he has learned his lesson about drinking and smoking, or perhaps he’ll do it again next weekend.

But this isn’t to say that all of Driftless Review is about this idea of adolescence. In fact, Jennifer Kerske’s “Grief Jar” deals with a very different, delicate part of life: dealing with death. While attending a funeral for her boyfriend’s grandpa, she points out ideas of grief that I’ve always understood, but have never put into words myself:

That’s how all of us can find common ground with the dead without facing our own mortality. We take all the memories we have of the person in the casket and put them in a jar. The memories become our grief allowance. Bonus points are granted for photos of ourselves with the deceased. The person with the fullest jar is the one who gets to feel the worst. Everything is a contest.

And in the midst of it, she remembers the death of her mother, who passed when the narrator was only 17 due to a car accident which was the mother’s own fault: “She had a drug problem and a sex problem and a bunch of other problems that made her less than a decent role model and even if she hadn’t . . . died I wouldn’t have been any better off.”

The poetry in this issue didn’t stand out to me as strong as the prose, but I did enjoy and spend time on Rita Mae Reese’s “How to Lose a Leg” and Samuel Amadon’s “The Pennsylvania Station Sequence.”

Though I do have two complaints, as a whole, this is a good first inaugural issue. The first is that prose is simply defined as “prose,” and does not delineate fiction versus nonfiction. While this may not be an issue for some, it makes a difference how I personally value a piece. My other qualm is that the “emerging writers” are in their own section and labeled as such. This puts out a stigma (which is different for every reader) about the piece or writer before ever delving into it. Though, it is nice to know that Driftless Review is making an attempt to highlight up-and-coming writers.

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Clarkesword CoverClarkesworld

Issue 81

June 2013


Trapped somewhere in between literary fiction and science fiction, Clarkesworld publishes fiction and nonfiction that is either science fiction or fantasy in nature, though I think it’s fair to say that the pieces offer more than just a good adventure.

Even though it takes place on a ship in deep space, E. Lily Yu’s “The Urashima Effect” isn’t about the science-fiction, futuristic world it is created in; it’s about love, loss, and hard decisions. Leo Aoki awakes after three years on his travels to a newly discovered planet in a different solar system. He was sent alone to research, with his wife to follow behind him in another year, but weeks after he was put to sleep, the research project was cancelled due to a war. “They say you will not awaken until three years from now,” says his wife in a recording. “In those three years you will have traveled twelve point five light years, and thirteen years will have passed on Earth. Your parents may be dead by the time you are listening to this. I will be forty-nine. You, my love, you will be only thirty-six, traveling away from me at close to the speed of light.” She goes on to say that he can turn back now and take twenty years to return to a place where everything he knows is gone—and everyone he loves will be very old, if not dead—or he can go on as planned, alone. The story makes the reader question, what would I do? And I sincerely hope I never have to make a decision quite like this one.

In Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear’s piece, Irizarry is on the hunt for an evil presence aboard a ship that has been infested. Alongside him is his best friend and best weapon—Mongoose, who is a “Cheshire” but is certainly not a mongoose, or a cat. The story questions letting go of pride to save others, as well as questions about what tames a being. It is excellently paced, speeding up with anticipation and relieving the reader just as easily when the time comes.

Jacob Clifton, Graham Templeton, and Paul J. McAuley also contribute fiction pieces. Be sure also to check out the editor’s note, where Neil Clarke comments on self-publishing as well as the online medium for magazines.

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Looseleaf Tea CoverLooseleaf Tea

Volume 1 Number 1

March 2013


A brand new online publication, Looseleaf Tea creates a space for emerging and established artists to come together, offering different perspectives and aspects of different cultures. “Looseleaf tea symbolizes a return to roots,” the editors write. “It symbolizes a partiality toward comfort, honesty, and the formation of new bonds with friends and strangers over common ground.”

I was immediately drawn to Megan Binkley’s “The Fledgling,” reading it first and then going back to sort through the poetry. It offers up the publication’s mission to show different customs and traditions unfamiliar to other readers. Two cousins, best friends and basically still children, discover the full weight of their village’s customs as Sethunya gets married to the village’s best hunter, a man she hasn’t even had a conversation with. Obi learns that he will truly never be alone with Sethunya again, to share their secrets, enjoy their games, and confide in one another:

Obi nodded wordlessly. The numbness had crumbled and he felt pressure building inside of him. He drew in a shaky breath and looked up at [his father’s] face. With a jolt of surprise, he saw the older man’s eyes glisten slightly. Oddly, his own pounding heart calmed and the tension in his chest subsided until he stood dry-eyed and composed.

Their innocence and naivety on sex, marriage, and life is both interesting to read about and sad to think of, as Sethunya has no idea what is in store for her.

While I was not happy with all of the poetry, the inclusion of Alan Harris’s “Look for Me” in the issue made reading it all worth it. I thought about the poem long after reading it. It’s like the message from a lost lover, but at the same time, it could easily be from a parent or grandparent who has passed, a letter from anyone who is no longer there, but is missed. Every line is worth the read, but here is a small sampling (of the already small poem):

When you fear that I’m lost forever
look for me in a crowd
I’m huddled, hidden
between the heartbeats of strangers
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
But our eyes will never meet again
unless we see one another
in the reflections of mirrors,
ponds, and precious children . . .

In his piece, Daniel Davis asks, “What Do You Do When There is No Word for Love?” and the photography in the issue is enthralling. Though the magazine claims no particular culture’s beliefs, this issue does feel heavily laden with Christian undertones and messages. However, I do appreciate their mission to add different perspectives and different cultures. As the journal progresses, it will be able to show more angles and beliefs.

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