Screen Reading

Mini reviews of current issues of online literary magazines

Reviews by Kirsten McIlvenna

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Crack the Spine :: Gone Lawn :: The Meadowland Review :: Middle Gray Magazine :: Unsplendid


Posted September 9, 2013

Middle Gray Magazine CoverMiddle Gray Magazine

Issue 1



In its first run, Middle Gray Magazine is providing a venue to display artists’ and writers’ works. The layout creates a collaboration between pieces and relies on the artwork to influence the mood of the entire journal. It succeeds in giving each artist his or her space with a longer bio and description of the work where appropriate. It’s a small collection of surprising and exciting work.

Sandra Jean-Pierre writes an impressive page and a half all about “Mopping,” but it isn’t really just about mopping, is it? It’s a story of life, of mopping through both the good and the bad. “In all the things that weren’t, mopping made sense,” she writes. “It made more sense than court dates and guardianship papers and dejection and fear. There is a science to it, unlike any other uncertainty in life, that typically ensures that what you put in, you get exponentially more out.”

With just one turn of line, Natasha Hakimi pulled me into her poetry and got my gears spinning. In “Relics,” about the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, she writes how you think of him and think of “terror, death, oppression—the price paid for / order. And though you will not think of love, / he did love.” She brings in the imagery of the Falange and Teresa of Ávila’s right hand. This is certainly a poem deeply rooted in history and is one that can be read and reread to discover its complexities. Her two other contributing poems are equally well-worth the investment.

Make sure also to read Fauso Barrionuevo’s poetry, Jonathan Escoffery’s short story about a space alien that outsmarts his boss on Earth, and Laura Knapp’s photo journey. The magazine is somewhat zine-like because of the layout and design as well as the fact that in addition to the writing, it includes features on a music collaboration and a string quartet as well as link to an etsy page for the magazine’s café.

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Unsplendid CoverUnsplendid

Volume 5 Number 1

Summer 2013


Unsplendid is an online journal that publishes poetry with form, but that form can be rather loose. With forms ranging from sonnets and sestinas to those that are made up for the sake of the poem, Unsplendid’s poems are sure to tackle language, using rhymes and repetition to further the ideas.

In Mary Cresswell’s “Paradelle for Census Night,” lines are repeated, showing the monotony of filling out the census, but as the lines repeat, they evolve:

Mark as many spaces as you need.
Mark as many spaces as you need.
How many people will be filling in a blue form.
How many people will be filling in a blue form.
Mark how many people will be filling spaces,
as blue as you need, in many a form.

Although Frank Gallimore’s poem is titled “Suburban Love,” it is not a sappy love poem; it’s about a love that “can’t come off.” And although in the neighborhood, “some newlyweds / will snuggle on a backyard bench, snicker and talk,” the speaker has left

a sucking catfish concentration
on the soap scummed linoleum and pests
that—like my ears’ refrain (tinnitus, doctors say),
the rings that darken my sinks, layer by yellow layer,
the mark from a ring I used to wear—won’t wash away.

Ben Berman’s “The Slightly Off” plays with words, right from the beginning with the two senses of refrain—“to stop and repeat—hold their stances / like kung fu stars in a poorly dubbed foreign / film.” This is a precursor for the poem in which the other images, too, have multiple meanings.

I’d also recommend reading Kim Bridgford’s “Moral Compass,” Steven Brown’s poem, Amy Glynn Greacen’s “Rue,” and Jeff Hardin’s “Enthusiasm Gap.”

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Gone Lawn CoverGone Lawn

Issue 12

Autumn 2013


Gone Lawn is a journal that aims to publish “innovative, nontraditional and/or daring works, both narrative and poetic, that walk the difficult landscapes and break up the safe ones, works which incite surprising and unexpected feelings and thoughts.” Read one piece, heck, just look at the art in the issue, and you’ll see they are succeeding in their goals.

Simon Rogghe’s “Split” is surreal and haunting. The imagery and description is spot-on, with inventive ways to create an eerie atmosphere: “I pressed my hands against the window: cold, indifferent, a barrier between the living and the dead,” and, “It sang. It sang its acrid hymn. It screeched an aria that cut through its own skin. It waxed. It sharpened.”

Zoltán Komor’s piece, in which the women of the village go out in the middle of the night to behead the chickens and screw light bulbs into their bodies for light, is about the females of this village wanting to show the men the true light and beauty that they have. The little girl dreams of the day when she can make the light, and she says, “It will be just perfect light for him to really see me.”

Rory Fleming’s “Gloams” is capturing as the narrator sinks into the ocean to let the Gloams enter her through her mouth:

. . . a Gloam, shining fish of struggle, with slits down the length of its body, oscillating like gills. I opened my mouth whole to allow the salty liquid of the ocean to sift through my body as a gold pan. The Gloam entered inside me. I felt myself grow stronger.

Almost every piece in this issue feels like walking through someone else’s dream. With artistic language and strong description, this journal is one to get lost in, in the best sense of being lost.

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The Meadowland Review CoverThe Meadowland Review

Summer 2013


The Meadowland Review, not listing very much insight into the journal on their website, is a magazine whose aesthetic must be learned by exploring and reading the magazine for oneself. Notifying only the genres they list and that they accept established and emerging writers, The Meadowland Review leaves a lot to discover.

Benjamin Goluboff’s “Contact Hours” is a perfect poem for the start of a school year, written from the perspective of a professor at a lectern, as each year “the bodies changes but the types persist”:

The kids say what the kids always say.
And as they speak her stanzas,
Dickinson may not rise,
timeless, from the anthology
to dance upon her toes among
the modular seats.
But she does breathe a little
in the country of the young.

I read Jenny Root’s “Crow” three times in a row. Though short and simple, she has control of her language, and the poem makes me both squirm and shudder: “sleek and keen, she preens / with death, faint gleam of meat / and maggot in the eye.” And Jenn Monroe’s piece is a commentary on how expression has changed into a mindless clicking of the “like” button on Facebook. She urges that we must reclaim expression, “physically offer and receive connection.”

As the sole fiction piece, Andrea Jackson’s “Steam” takes place in the 1760s in Glasgow, Scotland and is focused on James Watts’s fundamental contributions to the invention of the steam engine. However, the main character is actually his wife, Peggy, who is an inventor herself. Yet, in that time period, society says that women should stay home and take care of children, not work alongside men in machinery. Having given into an image, James smothers Peggy’s dreams and refuses to let her create. Yet when he uses one of her ideas and claims it as his own, she stands up to him in the only way she can think of—she throws a saltshaker at him at a dinner party, barely missing his head.

Though the issue does contain some editorial errors, the overall collection is a worthwhile read. I still cannot decipher an exact way to categorize this journal except for to say that the pieces speak of important issues and reflect on heavy memories.

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Crack the Spine CoverCrack the Spine

Number 78

August 28, 2013


Publishing short issues every week, Crack the Spine puts forth inventive and intriguing pieces. Because the issues come out so frequently, they are short—but packed with great readings.

The narrator in Tamara Adelman’s “Think Tank” challenges that sometimes the best thinking comes from thinking inside the box: “Once you put something inside a box, it becomes more interesting. What’s in the box, we want to know. Is it for me?” By swimming back and forth in a pool (a large “box”), you think less and less, becoming more freed. “I emerge, having left everything inside the box,” she writes. “I have a softer demeanor and a less furrowed brow when walking to the parking lot, as if I’ve been recombobulated.”

Cheryl Diane Kidder’s “Pi” ended abruptly, leaving me wanting more. Fueled in the first section mainly by the two characters’ conversation, the story was compelling and interesting. It left me with questions, making me wish to turn back and read again.

Jeffrey Park invites you into the journal with an inventive play on words in his poem, “Game for Two.” If the “two” are looked at as two people, then it’s quite the arousing poem. However, it’s really between a book and its reader:

And though we’ve played this game a hundred times,
I don’t really mind indulging you again, because
eventually you’ll fall asleep on your back,
light still on, me lying open on your breast, your
steady breathing gently stirring my pages, my spine
cracking pleasurably with every rise and fall.

And though you can’t crack the spine of this journal in the literal sense, flip through the pages on Issuu, “thrust your head into [its] gaping mouth,” and enjoy what the small issue has to offer.

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