Mini reviews of current issues of online literary magazines
Reviews by Kirsten McIlvenna
Posted October 7, 2013
I find that in a lot of online and digital journals, editors are sticking to shorter pieces, grabbing readers’ attention for a short while, and then letting them go about their day—not surprising in the age of text messages and tweets. But while that is certainly well warranted and effective, it is certainly refreshing to see a journal like Gulf Stream that isn’t afraid to publish pieces that take more than 5 minutes to read.
Written in the third person to give it a little distance, Jonathan Callard’s nonfiction piece “New Country” is a must-read. A man, about to be ordained, meets a woman, and he’s afraid what loving her might mean for him, for his life:
If he were ordained, his priest Chris had once told him, he would not lose himself to the church. There was the fear, as in falling in love, that in surrendering he would lose track of who he was, and give up his life to something he could not control: the strip search, the prescriptions dispensed through the window on the adolescent ward, washed down in a tiny plastic cup the size of a thimble.
E.D. Watson’s “Crescent City Connection” has the classic elements of an enthralling story: suspense, danger, mystery, and deceit. Andromeda is head housekeeper at Bradbury Hotel, hiding from her ex, who she is convinced will kill her if he ever finds her. But she discovers it is someone else who has been watching her, “a thin and red-lipped man,” and he needs her help.
The other fiction story, “The Art of Preservation” by Karen Parkman, involves the cremation of an ex-husband, the return visit of a born-again Christian daughter and her born-again boyfriend, and the struggle between mother and daughter. Tessie appreciates that her daughter is no longer doing drugs and getting into trouble, but she isn’t sure that Margaret’s new views are much better. Their relationship has been cracked for some time, but “after all that readjustment and moving on, Margaret had come back.”
The issue also features a nonfiction piece by Yarrott Benz; poetry by Caroline Davidson, Rachel E. Hicks, Lesley Janike, Sean J. Mahoney, and Michael Montlack; and a couple of book reviews and interviews.
Volume 13 Issue 3
In this issue, a lot of the pieces seem to deal with a void, something missing. Take “Absence” by Sarah Clayville: “You only wake for silence. The absence of a baby’s cry, the silence of my womb no more capable of speaking up to you than I am.” And “Eating Now” by Andy Cochran: “I consider telling him how I woke up hearing her voice. How it faded. How losing her voice felt like losing her all over again.” And Marchell Dyon’s poem: “Sometimes I wish I could be as vacant from emotions as the moon. / To be just another spirit free to wander.”
But in Julianne Pachico’s “Cancer Pirates,” instead of a vacuum, there’s something unwanted: a tumor growing on the prostate of the main character’s boyfriend. In the end, “she pressed herself against his body as hard as she could, hard enough so that there was maybe a tiny chance she could squish it out of him, just like that. Squish it hard.” Yet throughout the story, it seems as if what’s missing is a real connection between the couple. She doesn’t quite pay attention to his stories, it hints that she drinks too much, and there seems to be a large age gap. Does his cancer cause her to stay with him? Or is the disconnect a result of the cancer?
This issue also publishes the winners of the Midsummer Tale Writing Contest, judged by Editor-in-Chief Theryn Fleming, with the theme “Retreat/Encounter.” You can read HC Hsu’s cnf piece “As I Walk Out One Evening,” which is broken into sections of encounters; Hsu is observant of his surroundings, describing each person he comes across in detail. In the final section, he writes to a “you,” an assumed past lover. This section is the most relatable and personal, as it’s a feeling many of us have come across:
I watch you. I don’t see your face. It’s a strange feeling, as if I were no longer me, or were somewhere else completely, or I had simply disappeared, evaporated, from here and now. It occurs to me I had never up until then, seen you. In your completeness.
In your solitude.
I wonder what you are like without me.
Yourself plus the world minus me.
You can also read second place, “Hell is a Dry Heat” by Chris DeWildt, and third place, “Summer Fruits” by Pauline Wiles—both fiction. And beyond that, there’s still plenty more to read. If you, like the characters in this issue, feel a void, something missing, fill it by reading this literature.
As part of SpringGun Press, SpringGun Journal has just transitioned from a biannual publication to an annual one with this issue. I hope that they still get decent readership, because the writers—at least in this issue I know—deserve it. Without given much to go on about editorial taste, you really have to read the journal to discover how it feels. While I wouldn’t necessarily categorize it as themed, it does seem to ask, “Where are we going? What’s next? And how do we get there?”
Kelsie Hahn’s piece “Not Cryogenics” takes a new view on death. The narrator’s “friend” dies the day after he throws a party, one in which the narrator opens the freezer to find a frozen parrot:
He’s dead. This is what it’s like when we die—we’re just dead. We could be in a freezer or the ground or an urn, it doesn’t make any difference. He doesn’t know any better. Neither do we. No joy. No pain. Just peace.
But if death bothers you, don’t read M. R. Sheffield’s “Brief Instructions.” Either way, it will give you chills, so perhaps you should read it anyway for a thrill. These instructions are how to, when you are a seventeen-year-old at prom, give birth to your secret baby, kill it, and hide it in the woods so that nobody finds out. But beware, there isn’t much advice for how to live with yourself after: “Regret the tiny cross you left in the woods. Its sentimentality. The truth of it—that it will be used to undo you, to string you up if it is ever found.”
Brett Gambino’s “The Answers are Not in the Square” speaks out to a seemingly lost soul. In two parts, the narrator advises that the answer to happiness—contentment? life?—is not found by going out and drinking, and it’s also not found by sitting at home, moping, and not taking care of yourself: “. . . You’ve got to / fry the pork and listen / to the fire. Hold grease / with your hands.”
I’d also recommend Lauren Eggert-Crowe’s poem “Confection,” Laura Minor’s poem “Driving through the Crutch of What and Rock,” and Sally Molini’s poem “Premonition with Exotic Birds.”
Volume 3 Number 5
Unfortunately, this is the last issue of NAP. As they said on their Facebook page in June, “Nap wants you to know that quitters never win so don’t be like NAP and don’t be a quitter.” But their last issue is certainly not filled with quitter writers.
Sarah Bridgins’s “Cricket Cage” starts with a haunting first two lines: “Have you ever Googled yourself / and found your mother’s obituary?” Those lines instantly draw a connection between the narrator and the mother—if there is much more than a biological connection. While emptying the mother’s storage unit, she looks back to a time when she “believed in something / so stupid as luck.”
Matthew Dexter’s piece “Paratrooper Pedagogy” also looks to a time when things were more innocent. However, in his story, these children are shocked from their innocence while playing with the parachute at gym class when their teacher accidentally flashed his “scrotum,” went “free-balling.” The narrator notes that before the moment they go under the parachute and Mr. Wilson “introduc[es] fuzz to the ritual,” they “made magic. We stood in a circle and flapped. Like gripping a flying carpet. It lifted me in the air for a moment as our hands waved in harmony.”
Lucy Tiven’s two poems are snappy, with a little bit of sass and sarcasm—but not too much. In “Short Answer,” the answer is no, “I don’t know why all my poems have fish in them.” And Dylan York’s “Strange Life Forms in Areas We Used to Think Were Uninhabitable” is also worth the read:
I made a ship that you swallowed
because anyway who needs one,
because where we go we swim
and it is easy.
Also unfortunate is that this issue isn’t very long, but I guess that’s all the more reason that you should take twenty minutes to sit down and read it. Even though NAP is taking its final rest, I’m certain these writers won’t be—and they deserve to be read.
September 30, 2013
A brand new litmag, Sassafras Literary Magazine, may be in its third issue, but it has really only been publishing for a month. Putting out an issue every other Monday, Sassafras surprises me in that it has so much material in an issue, but kudos to them—or I should say “to her,” as it’s a one-woman show. There’s a selection of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and artwork, viewable online (in which they each open as new pages) or easier to read as a downloadable PDF.
Jeroen van Honk’s “Something in the Air” is the standout piece of the fiction section. Caught between a mesmerizing, almost dream-like scene, the narrator tries to meet up with a stranger, identifying oneself with a single red balloon. But “it must be something in the air,” because each time he tries—no matter how many red balloons he carries—everyone else brings the same amount, making it impossible to identify the person he tries to meet: “It’s all or nothing. People not belonging to the balloon brigade, not caring for whatever symbolism, whatever protest we are into here, seem oblivious to the crimson-clouded ceiling we create. Are they used to it, already?” It’s a bit abstract but is tethered to a social commentary.
For the most part, the poetry in this selection contains short lines, keeping the reader constantly moving through it. Take Gabrielle M. Geisinger’s “Exit 13” as an example:
Last night we drove along
a one a.m. expressway.
a four door
And we, In the back seat like children,
without seatbelts — a folly —
but your arm
around my shoulders.
In the face of such expedient danger —
eighty miles per hour —
Although Sarah Flemington’s “my palm” seems to break the mold, with long lines, lacking capitalization. This poem has a more tranquil feel, slowing down to notice the minnows at the ankles, the palms hovering over the water. With allusions to Edna’s suicide in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Flemington imagines this as her own fate: “what became of you could become of me, otters swinging beneath a deluged torso / from which beavers may salvage limbs, fingers, toes.” You should absolutely read this one; it’s certainly my favorite among the bunch.