Mini reviews of current issues of online literary magazines
Reviews by Kirsten McIlvenna
Posted February 4, 2014
Brevity, the staple for flash nonfiction writing, puts forth another fascinating issue, with authors I couldn’t wait to read.
A. Papatya Bucak’s “An Address to My Fellow Faculty Who Have Asked Me to Speak About My Work” is excellently crafted and an important read. Each paragraph starts with “my work” in which she then goes on to explain what it is, what it means to her, starting with “My work is to write this sentence and revise it into that sentence.” But really, it is so much more than that. And later in the essay, her work “is to tell you this”:
Years ago I was on the subway in Manhattan, and we stopped between stations, and the staticky voice came on the speaker and said there would be a delay of twenty minutes, and cursing ripped through the car, as if a tribe of the homeless mad had just swept into our presence. But then a young woman across from me took out a small pile of paper, and she started folding red origami swans, and each time she finished one, she handed it to one of us.
My work is my origami swans.
Joey Franklin’s “Girl Fight” is a remembrance of childhood embarrassment and guilt, about judging people based on society’s view of what a datable girl is or of how a young boy should act.
Amy Monticello’s piece, too, is about shame. She states right off the bat that she “stole another woman’s boyfriend once.” But through the story, and her life, she holds onto a kitchen table from this “friend,” a token to remember her shame but also a token of hope: “it will always be the table we shared as a new family, a reason for hope despite all I’ve done to eschew it, despite all I’ve done for love.”
More excellent pieces come from Heather Sellers, Sarah Beth Childers, Gary Fincke, Alison Townsend, Craig Reinbold, and more.
Jersey Devil Press celebrates their fiftieth issue, and they even made a playlist to accompany it, with a song pairing for each of these intriguing stories.
Jacob Euteneuer’s “Ash Wednesday” reads much like a narrative poem, calm and melodic. The narrator speaks to what seems to be his girlfriend about the day that her body slowly turned to dust, “like the sand in Jamaica . . . Fine and white.” And though the danger of losing her is immediate, the piece reads as very intimate with the narrator’s concern for his love:
It was you that was crumbling in the heat of the sun and taken away by the wind. I didn’t know when it would stop or if it would, but what I kept thinking about was what I would do when you were gone. Where could I get the glue that could piece together the billion tiny fragments of you that were scattered around our house, around the car, and all over the trail?
Charlie Harmon’s piece is the classic story of a fox outsmarting another wild animal, in this case, a tiger. But what makes the story compelling is the characters they come across in the story: characters from classic children’s stories, but not the way you remember them. At one point, they come across two of the pigs standing amidst the blown-down straw house, missing their brother: “‘Listen, man,’ said the one in the apron, ‘I love Iggy as much as you do—he’s our baby brother—but he’s also an unreliable piece of shit. I mean, who builds a house out of straw?’”
Instances get more unconventional as the journal goes on. For example, the character in h.l. nelson’s piece grows gills and must attach a fish bowl to his head to breathe. But his girlfriend doesn’t dig the new look.
Also hosting the pages of this 50th issue are Andra Skaalrud and Mark A. Rayner. I heard you’ve been invited to the party, so search YouTube for the songs, turn up the music, and get reading (if you can manage to do both at the same time).
East Coast Ink’s very first issue is themed “New Again,” perhaps fitting for a first issue, perhaps not. In the editor’s note, Jacqueline Frasca writes, “Every one of us has a moment where we recognize, This isn’t me anymore. It can leave you lost, hopeful, hopeless—but whether you perceive it as a misstep, a leap forward, or a tragic mistake, you are one thing for sure: new, again. All over again.” For Frasca, this magazine is an attempt to move forward. But more importantly, it’s a place to showcase authors’ works:
Many of the pieces address the “new again” from the point of view of someone who is moving past a break-up or loss. Take, for example, John Grey’s “Unfeeling”:
a dozen words of yours
almost cleaved my heart in two.
And then you sighed
like you were glad that it was over.
And it was over
for all those living on your tongue.
I really enjoyed Jessica Drake-Thomas’s “To My Rochester” in which the narrator compares herself not to Jane Eyre, but to Bertha Mason, starting with: “If we had lived in any other century, you would not have loved me / to begin with—” The poem is broken into three sections, but the third one remains blank, leaving the “new again” open-ended.
Rebecca Thill’s poem “Little Women” is a reference to the Lousia May Alcott novel. Though I’m not sure of the connection of this poem to the book (beyond the lines “I spent my time at the cabin / chasing fireflies and reading Alcott quietly”), the poem ends with a delicate imagery that brings the poem home for me:
I made sure to poke holes
like I was told in each metal lid.
But they died anyways. Their tiny lightless corpses
tink-tinked and pink-pinked against the glass
while I shook my head and the jar
filled with my little dead things
shaking it one last time trying to rattle some light.
And while in this particular issue I was more interested in the poetry, there are quite a few pieces of prose as well. In particular, be sure to read Kyle Hemmings’s micro-fiction selection. Still in the early stages of this publication, East Coast Ink contains some notable selections and is taking steps in the right direction.
Really System is a brand new journal that publishes solely poetry, offering up four issues a year and seeking “new, interesting writing that exhibits a keen awareness of the forms, patterns, and channels through which we find ourselves connected with other people, other things, other worlds.”
In this first issue, Erin Dorney contributes two poems. In “Left,” she repeats the phrase “I left” over and over to carry the poem along and build energy. The images are unique and the sounds delightful to the ear:
I left my blanket in the backseat of your car.
I left my feather in gate 2B of the airport.
I left my nail polish in your mouth,
my sewing machine in the mall—
I left my bobby pins on the pier.
Left my willpower on your sweating neck,
my collarbone on the front porch—
And as much as I enjoyed “Left,” I appreciate even more Dorney’s poem “This is Not a Poem About Fast Food,” written in prose format. It’s a delicate little moment that triggers the narrator to finally cry, and later she dreams that her body is “chicken being eaten—first my breast, then my elbows, then the soft spot behind my wrist where I can still feel the stroke of your fingers,” she writes.
Rose Swartz pushes her poem forward by starting each line with a word beginning with Q, tackling words such as quisling, qualmy, and quadrille. And Dan Boehl’s “excerpts from Whatever from @emoemoji” certainly uses some experimental choices as the stanzas are spread out left to right on the page, each line only a word (or occasionally two).
Really System is a great read for those who are interested in the less traditional form of poetry, for those hungry for something a little different, something that stands out.
Volume 1 Issue 2
Ghost House Review is a new digital publication that claims to put forth “poetry that haunts the heart.” And while I don’t think that is quite the way I would describe the work in this issue, I would say that it is quality poetry.
Kate E. Schultz’s two poems were definitely among my favorites from this issue. Her first, “Onset,” depicts two girls, likely college roommates, who dance about their room in their underwear. It traps the confidence of young women, the skin on their bellies still “taut,” who know they are “every man’s fantasy.” And in the second, the narrator and a deliciously described man unload a truck of food to be sold, not to be eaten. But by the end of “At the Farmer’s Market,” I wanted to take a bite just as much as the narrator. And after reading it several times, I still can’t get over the last phrase of the following stanza, the contrast of the corn and the man:
with one twenty-pound bag of corn while he flings two
over each tanned shoulder and strides to the table
where he drops them, slitting open the green mesh
with his pocket knife. Already the small of his back
shines with sweat. The ears tumble out.
Ana Maria Caballero reminds us that the process of rotting is gradual. “Even while young and pleasant, with clean clothes and comfortable heels. Being mindful of the ground does not mean being ready for the fall.” And Ed Krizek’s poem titled “Onion” peels itself away in layers, sectioned into four. Take, for example, part of the last section:
If you peel back far enough
you may find transcendence
within the emptiness
all can be Buddhas
sending out loving-kindness
filling an endless well.
This little magazine has a great start, and it is worth the read.