Screen Reading

Reviews of current issues of online literary magazines

Reviews by Kirsten McIlvenna


The Baltimore Review :: Blue Lake Review :: Contrary :: Fox Chase Review :: La Petite Zine :: New Delta Review :: Plume :: The Puritan :: r.kv.r.y :: :: Tampa Review Online :: Wag's Revue

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Posted 27 August 2012

r.kv.r.y Cover Imager.kv.r.y

Volume 7 Number 3

Summer 2012


r.kv.r.y includes fiction, poetry, essays, and shorts all on the topic of recovery, incorporating characters that are recovered, are in the process of recovery, or need to start recovery.

The best piece in this issue is easily “Oranges” by Anthony Doerr. A man and woman meet in an airplane ride, eventually marry, and go on to tell the story to their child. Then, the wife develops cancer. What I loved about this was that although it was not an overly original tale, it was crafted well. At any point I thought it might start to become to cliché or sentimental, the focus changed to fantastic imagery and allusions. For example, when the thread of the cancer is introduced, instead of delving into the over told scenarios that come with that, a section follows about how the couple would go around early in the morning and collect the dead birds off the street:

They gather the birds up in plastic bags and he puts the bags in the trunk of the car. Sometimes he looks up at Annie as she walks slowly along, a half-block ahead of him: a thin, stooped woman moving through the pre-dawn with a sack full of birds. Like a princess in some sad fairy tale.
When they get home he makes coffee before school, and Annie goes inside and rests, and he never quite knows what to do with the plastic bags of birds in the trunk—sometimes with a few beaks sticking through the plastic—so after he’s sure Annie is asleep, he takes them to work and upends the bags into the creek behind the school’s faculty parking lot, where the water speeds quickly between narrow, concrete banks, and watches the birds float in their various poses quickly downstream and disappear.

In an essay titled “The Shrink that Killed Gazoo,” Michele Whitney says that finding a shrink is like trying to find a mate: “I admit to having psychologically courted a few counselors until I finally found The One.” In this openly honest and humorous piece, Whitney admits that she feels responsible for anything bad that happens, as if Gazoo (a character from The Flintstones) is sitting on her shoulder, filling her head with “guilt, shame, and blame, even though [she] know[s] the truth.” I only wish the essay could have been continued to see Gazoo murdered, or at least a little maimed.

My favorite in the “shorts about survival” section was “Savasana” by Jami Nakamura Lin. Coraline is a young woman who cannot stop scratching the back of her neck, claiming that she knows there is nothing wrong with her skin; it is all in her mind. With encouragement from Lyle (perhaps her boyfriend?), she tries to use yoga to reduce her stress symptoms:

. . . Coraline lay on the ground with her arms spread as wide as she could stretch them. This was her favorite position, the savasana. It was the way her yoga teacher ended every class. All twenty students would lie in the darkened room, arms outstretched, and would breathe slowly. After five minutes of savasana, they would get back into lotus, put their hands to their foreheads, and say Namaste. The last five minutes were the best five minutes, and Coraline’s sole motivation.

There are also more shorts by Andrew Stancek, Clifford Garstang and Jen Knox; essays by Justin Kingery and Lucine Kasbarin; poetry by Elizabeth Glixman, Lisa Ress, and Gary Dop; and fiction by Indira Chandasekhar, and Yu-Han (Eugenia) Chao. The characters and people in these stories feel real and close to us, as all of us are required to recover from something life. r.kv.r.y shows a real aspect of the human condition, through clean and honest writing.

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New Delta Review CoverNew Delta Review

Volume 2 Number 2

June 2012


This issue of New Delta Review (NDR) features the winners of the 2012 Matt Clark Prize in Fiction and Poetry and Creative Nonfiction Contest. This contest is in honor of Matt Clark, a coordinator of creative writing at Louisiana State University that died from colon cancer at the age of thirty-one. “Fascinated by tall tales and urban legends, Matt was in the process of inventing a new kind of Southwest magical realism, part Mark Twain, part Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In his honor, NDR sponsors the Matt Clark Prize in fiction and poetry.”

The fiction winner is Lydia Ship with “Black Dog Nothing,” which reveals the ways in which a young girl copes with her brother having schizophrenia: escaping to a strict Christian college, developing an eating disorder, and continuing the story of Jack-Jack, the family’s made-up dog. The story begins:

There once was a black creature, like a lamb, like a cosmos, Jack-Jack. He couldn’t speak, but carried the soul of a sick boy, keeping watch over it.
This is how all my stories begin.
Jack-Jack had not become the boy incarnate, but qualities erupting from the boy’s soul touched Jack-Jack like heated hands. He was the boy, and he was not the boy. He was a woman, and not a woman.

“Swollen parts: known as succulence” by Mg Roberts is the winner of the poetry prize, and E.E.W. Christman takes the prize in creative nonfiction with “Me and His Old Lady.” Christman goes on spring break with her boyfriend, not to a beach as she would have liked but, to her boyfriend’s old friend’s house for as ski trip. What makes this piece endearing is the comical references to pop culture including Ghostbusters, Lord of the Rings, and Marlon Brando.

The rest of this issue is filled with poetry, art, a book review, and another piece of creative nonfiction titled “The Philosophy of We’re All Gonna Die” by Robin Becker. Christina Yu’s prose poem titled “Learning About the Neighbors Above Us” comically deals with the way the characters cannot live their life normally because of the way that they can hear everything that goes on in the apartment above them: “The noises are very disruptive, but how can we complain? What would we say? That they live too loudly?” Also check out Brad Johnson’s “Rubber Rain Boots,” Emily Grise’s “The Rabbit,” and Bridget Talone’s “Like a Barracuda, You Are,” among others.

Produced by graduate students in the MFA program in creative writing at Louisiana State University, NDR is an easily navigable and easy-to-read magazine that contributes original and fresh writing to the literary world.

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La Petite Zine CoverLa Petite Zine

Issue 30

August 2012


This issue, themed 21st Century Cosmic Cool, was excitedly announced by the editors to be released on the same day as National Sponge Cake Day. In a newsletter, they even shared a gif in celebration, telling readers to come read the “spongiest litmag on the internet.” Although, spongy isn’t exactly the word I’d choose to describe this issue. La Petite Zine isn’t soaking up every poem it encounters, only the interesting, fresh, and arresting poems.

Gregory Sherl’s “IKEA is Scary,” had me easily entertained with great lines like “By afternoon Jesus’ fingers are splintered / from building IKEA furniture” and “I tell God That fucker holding the Earth looks tired. / This morning I wake up full of caged abdomens.” I also enjoyed—though did not understand—A. T. Grant’s “Dear Sister Wants to Share,” in which “Dead Sister” gives “Dead Brother” several of her teeth, pushing them into his mouth. These characters again appear in two more poems, including “Voices”:

a glow burns behind
Dead Sister’s ears I try
to touch the gleam and her ears
crumble like dead treebark
Dead Sister takes
the crumbles and tries
to press them back
into their bloody holes
she says too loudly
I can’t get them
to stick here
you eat them

In “52 Things Just in Case” by Liz Scheid, a mother gives advice to her unborn baby:

One day you’ll love.
I want you to love massively.
I want you to open the door to strangers.
Talk to the solicitors.
Talk to the religious.
Talk to the man selling a vacuum.
They chase fires.
Fires don’t always need to be put out.

Caroline Hagood’s “Playing Invisible Pac-Man” uses a simple concept like a broken hand-held game to develop the relationship between a father and his son and to show “that sometimes you want the abstract, perhaps even transcendent, / concept of an empty pool, but sometimes / you just want a nice cool swim.”

And how can you not read the rest of the poetry in this issue, especially with these intriguing titles: “Jane Fonda: Is a Time-Machine or Manifesto for the New Republic” (Paul Legault), “Day Cracks between the Bones of the Foot” (Jesse Nissim), “Andy Warhol with a Ukulele” (Hagood), and “Jesus, Join a Gym” (Sherl). So perhaps this issue isn’t spongy, but it is certainly succulent. And if reading it is an excuse to enjoy a piece of sponge cake, I’ll take it.

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Posted 20 August 2012

Tampa Review Online CoverTampa Review Online

Issue 3

August 2012


After only seconds on the site, what immediately drew me in was the scrolling images of art by Trent Manning—who works with mixed media and recycled materials—and Jon Rodriguez. In an interview with Rodriguez, the Tampa Review Online asks about the inspiration behind his “seemingly tragic” characters, to which he replies “Each character has their own distinct traits that reflect different aspects that mirror where I’m currently at in life. Some are hopeful and some are tragic. These characters act as a way to share a deep truth about myself, in hopes of helping people see a truth in them.” And this is certainly true for writers as well as we pick up on our own lives and emotions to inspire our work.

In the fiction piece “Lake Beulah,” Anthony Roesch plays on the reader’s visual senses, creating scenes and characters that feel very real. His writing comes to life through small details that are distributed throughout the story. For example, the grandmother of one of the characters is seen as “Her hands on her hips, a broken smile, her upper dentures ran above her chin like a fence rail. . . . A portion of her white bra had shown from a gap in her dress caused by a skipped button.”

In the story, the boys find a silver box in the lake and are eager to discover what could be inside; could it perhaps change their daily life? But upon discovering that it is filled with only wet sand, “thick and gooey as brown turds,” the narrator wishes he were the one to pull it out of the lake: “On one hand I’d felt relief, on the other, anger—and if I’d jumped in, at least I could’ve felt its weight, experiencing the excitement of pulling the box out of the water. A boy’s dream can race through his mind in seconds flat, like a rapid current of electricity or burst of wind, and yet, be taken away in a single breath.”

Elisabeth Lanser-Rose contributes a nonfiction piece titled “Shark Night,” in which she goes on a humorously written first date, understanding that “The art of dating is the search for the one native prince in a nation of cane toads.” Throughout the date, she tries to convince herself that the attraction will come, but after an encounter with a cottonmouth snake—in which she is the brave one, and her date tells her to get away from it—she discovers that she doesn’t need someone else to take care of her after all.

Shortly after the incident with the snake, her date tells her about how he was born with two adult sets of teeth. Sitting there, she thinks, “That was the life I wanted, hikes in the Rockies with politicians and pretty goats and a grateful man who made it all happen, a man who relished this life as much as I did, the same way I did. Yet all I could think was the last time I saw a mouth like that, Sigourney Weaver shot it with a grappling gun.”

I was encouraged to read through the different sections, read previously published work. In poetry, “News People” by Joanne M. Clarkson imagines the life of a newspaper and the stories and people described in it as newspapers travel from hand to hand or are left in the garage “where they are swept / and crumpled”:

Skin made of newspaper: black on
         white with patches of war, murder,
weather and empty crossword
             boxes.   They stand
face forward with legs spread, verbs
         for eyes, seeing the
doing, and curved dark
             tears.   The Daily.

And there is plenty more to enjoy including Kelly Magee’s “Pedestal,” Jill Stukenberg’s “Train,” and Joey Poole’s “Instinct in the Absence of Thought.” Definitely take some time to sit down and read Tampa Review Online as the writing is solid, truthful, and entertaining.

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Blue Lake Review CoverBlue Lake Review

August 2012


With no more of an introduction than “It’s not all sunny skies and lake breezes. Deal with it. And read the new issue of Blue Lake,” this issue dives in with mixture of poetry, fiction, and essays.

Most notable in the fiction section is Melodie Corrigall’s “High Noon” in which a woman feels guilty about ignoring a phone call regarding her father-in-law’s poor health as her and her husband head out on vacation. “Will, forever hopeful,” she thinks, “would have ended stranded by his father’s bedside, clutching for words, desperate for any indication of affection. Worse still, it would have cost them their longed for vacation; the chance to save their marriage.” She also tries to justify her act by indicating that his relationship with his father was less than perfect: “In other families the relationship would have been called estranged but her husband would just say that his dad didn’t telephone often. But then neither did Will.” She soon discovers that perhaps her husband hasn’t been as out of the loop as she thinks.

Laura Pendell contributes a cute poem titled “Envy” in which the narrator grows a tail and is uncertain what to do with it so asks a cat:

   The cat replied:
     You don’t do
  It’s not something
to do something with.
It takes care of itself.

But the poetry isn’t all light. Carl Auerbach contributes a poem titled “Aftermath: A Photographic Exhibit of Female Survivors of the Genocide Against the Tutsis in Rwanda” that makes you churn inside:

I read the text below the photograph:
the son was born of rape,
the rape went on for days,
she blanked out after the first day,
she couldn’t love her son
when he was born, but now she does.

And the essays, too, are great reads, most notably Lynne Huffer’s “Meredith.” Huffer does an excellent job of weaving a poem by Susan Howe (that she memorized with her friend growing up) and a tragic story from the news with her own story and feelings of being somewhat fearful of the mountains she did not grow up in, that are not her “heart home.” And this essay certainly hits spot on with the editors’ preference to publish writing “that comes from the heart,” as is the rest of the issue.

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Wag's Review CoverWag’s Revue

Issue 12

Summer 2012


The Wag’s Revue certainly offers something different, writing and art that you won’t find in most journals. In the editors’ note, they say, “What we’re saying is what art has always said: insert yourself (fingers, tongue, then pulsing heart) through us to discover what warm depths lie beyond. We just want to get your brain wet. Call us crazy for trying.”

In the poetry section, Brice Peterson contributes poems that are written “in conversation with—and exclusively during the duration of—a single episode of Golden Girls.” And Russell Jafe contributes poetry reminiscent of Mad Libs, such as “Apocalypse Fistpump”:

Go _______________ yourself. For you are a—wait for it—construction.
You have the bodily countenance of a pile of construction equipment in the
moonlight. What a _______________________ thing to say.            

The fiction is introduced by a comical image by Ben Riddlebarger, titled “The Recharging Robot.” In the first piece in the section, “In the Family” by Michael Don, a boy—or rather, now a man—gets a glimpse into the life of the neighbor he and his childhood friend always mused about.

In “The American Book of the Dead (Excerpt), Part II: Kevin” by Nate Brown, a character Alan Yu—“squinty” and “skinny” from Oyster Bay—gives advice about college to an incoming freshman about how important it is to get laid and tell everyone about it. In fact, he says that even taking notes in class is a waste when you can use the “Take Note” service:

This place isn’t about getting carpal tunnel from typing shit up like some asshole. It’s about being smart enough to get through it without killing yourself. It’s about getting laid, King, and hanging with your boys. It’s about getting a fucking job and rolling in it. 

There are also essays, interviews, and more interesting and comical art pieces. If you’re looking for something fresh and unique, this is definitely a magazine worth looking into.

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Posted 13 August 2012

The Baltimore Review CoverThe Baltimore Review

Summer 2012


This issue sizzles, ignites, burns, and lights a literary fire with the special theme of “Heat.” The contest winner, Ann Cwiklinski, contributes a third-person narrative about a woman who takes her children for a day at the beach, but she cannot relax as she is constantly on the lookout to keep her children safe. Yet, as the sun blazes down on her, she is drawn to the water. She wants to take a swim by herself and perhaps disappear. Titled “Selkie,” this story came from Cwiklinski’s research about Irish folklore: “These weren’t romantic fairytales, but matter-of-fact stories about some local woman who jumped into the sea one day, her mild eccentricities finally making sense to her neighbors: ‘Shoulda known that she was part seal!’”

“Painting Jorge’s Daughter” is a story by Vincent Scarpa that takes a peak into the life of a woman whose girlfriend is on a failing musical tour:

Sometimes Erin asks me what happened to these people who loved her, these college girls who waited in the rain and hail to stake their claim in the front row, and what I can’t tell her is that the answer is simple— they’ve outgrown her. No one loves anyone forever.

Scarpa says that the story was inspired by how much he was thinking about “the people and the lives that entertainers—be they musicians, comics, magicians, what have you—leave behind at home while they’re away for indeterminate amounts of time.” What comes from all this pondering is a story that is heartfelt and honest as this woman, whose “emptiness is big enough to tuck the entire world into,” tries to make sense of her world.

“intersection” by Leslie F. Miller was formed by taking striking words from her Facebook friends and using one for each line of the poem. Before discovering this, I read the poem and was in awe with all of the juicy words. As you read through the poem, you quickly discover which word inspired the line, and it is fun to see how she made them all work together:

like memorial ribbon tourniquets on road signs
you stanch my speed, but I will fester here
among the deadly nightshade, the bucolic poisons
of pastured cows, milk coagulating in a barrel.
you grow from these fields. I am interred.

What I love most about this magazine is the emphasis on the writers and on the writing. The table of contents is a collage of images, portraits of the authors, showing that they are the main focus of the magazine. Also, after each piece, the author has room to share what inspired the writing or give a larger context to the story or poem. Baltimore Review offers up not only great writing but also lets you take a glimpse at the muse behind the curtain.

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Volume 8 Number 4

July/August 2012

Bimonthly is chock-full of pieces to feast your eyes on: art, photography, poetry, fiction, nonfiction, interviews, reviews, and columns. There are two great poems by Nicole Santalucia. The first, “Emptying Out the House,” drew me in with the first three lines: “The only thing we found under her bed / was a note taped to the bed frame / that said who should inherit the mattress.” And her poem “What Stands Behind Me Now” has wonderfully captivating images:

his hairy nose was frightening
it was like a monster crawling out of his head.
The black hairs like a thousand spider legs
took over his face

For a more lighthearted section, Scott Galanty Miller contributes a collection of his tweets from Twitter that are “aimed at whoever is still listening.” A couple of his tweets are “After sex, I said ‘I love you’—and she immediately ran off. Did I say it too soon? (Or was it because she was a prostitute?)” and “People accuse auto mechanics of being crooks. But my guy only charges me 15 bucks for my weekly oil change.

Paul Sohar’s creative nonfiction piece “Worm Dialog” is entertaining in that he is stuck on a long airplane ride as the person next to him will not stop talking about how global warming is not from car exhaust but instead from everyone’s “crap”:

One day soon this whole world will be all crap, the earth, the oceans, everything. And worms. You know a worm dumps a hundred times its size, that’s how much crap it makes every day. Because worms eat crap. And they will be the only ones to survive. Worms will inherit the earth. Too bad they cannot drive though. We’ll all be nothing but crap. But the worms will be happy. Eating crap.

There is also poetry from Marissa Schwalm, Chelsie Malyszek, and Alfred Corn; fiction from Hermine Pinson and Rosebud Ben-Oni; and a collection of art, interviews, and reviews. artfully succeeds in its goal to “promote an eclectic selection of subject matter”; this issue certainly covers a wide range of writing and art.

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Fox Chase Review CoverFox Chase Review

Summer 2012


Fox Chase Review covers a wide range of poetry in which there is probably a poem for every one of us. While I didn’t love all of it, there were certainly several poems and poets in this issue that I loved. Stevie Edwards contributes two poems that really hit me in the gut. First is “What I Can Say I’ve Left, What I’ve Mourned”:

The empty of a bedroom with no closet
or bed. The hell of black mold swallowing
floorboards. I held a man’s wish in my belly
for weeks until it bled, until it emptied.

Next is “I Go Back to a House Party,” in which she imagines going back to the party where her mother looks up at her father “for the first time and smiles.” She wishes she could warn her of what is to come: “I want to tell her / in ten years he’ll say all his worst nights started with tequila: / two flipped cars, a drunk tank, punched out kitchen walls. / I want to tell her newborns are ugly, even // your own.”

John Dorsey offers great lines in his poems—some humorous, some just truthful—such as “if a tree falls in the woods / help it up” and “given enough time / we all learn / how to disappear” in his poem “volcano etiquette.” I also loved the lines “I plan to live forever / in the basement / of your heart” in “the iowa sutra.”

In “reduced to loose change,” James D. Quinton gives us short lines, most not longer than three or so words. It creates a great feeling of movement, like falling down the page:

I’ve never
felt like I
was worth much,
there were times
when I would
have taken
fifty sheets
for my soul
but it’s too
late now
she’s reduced
to loose

There is a lot of poetry here to dig through, so find a treasure of your own.

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Posted 6 August 2012

Contrary CoverContrary

Summer 2012


While I’ll admit that the three poems from Anne Barngrover are what initially drew me into this issue, there was so much more to keep me there. The whole issue of Contrary is filled with pieces containing delightfully juicy details, taut images, and unique ideas.

“Lovers, Carbon Monoxide Poisoning” by Laura Elizabeth Woollett is a story, written in second person point of view, about one man’s last evening alive. It is written in fragments, each one scattered with interesting details and images to keep the reader moving through the piece. For example:

You arrive at the party in a metallic pea-green painted coffin, with hideous vinyl wood siding. You arrive in the same clothes as this afternoon, with a six-pack of Budweiser. The Californian girl is inside, warming herself by the fondue pot, looking snow-tanned and Scandinavian. Her forest green turtleneck fits her like a second skin. You could get used to this.

And Becca Rose Hall’s “The History of Us” is all about the details: the way the characters drink coffee from salsa jars, the reason they cooked dinner without clothes on (“because things like that could be done”), the lime green and neon yellow rooms, and the avocados. Yet amongst all these different details, the main character still feels lost, and, as readers, we wander with her throughout this story:

There were mornings she woke, knowing what she needed to do. There were long aching afternoons, where there was not even the clear sense of breathing. Youth was meant to change things. Youth was a weight: it must be flung wisely. But she was always so full of that oceanic blue.
On the bed, in the room full of houseplants, people curled like a mass of puppies. Slowly, they stroked each other’s arms, shoulders, legs. Their clothes were worn and sloppy. She entered the mass. She went in willingly. Still she was lonely. She had not, like them, breathed the nitrous. Their minds were foreign to her. She suspended herself into them, as if to understand.

Of Anne Barngrover’s poetry, my favorite was “Porch-Drinking Under the Light of the Supermoon.” While seemingly innocent at the start, the poem warps into one filled with tough ideas and emotions:

do we track the pulse of strength or fear?
What lights are an illusion? What lights can
gutter or flare? More than anything, I don’t
want to be afraid to say I love you. . . .

In addition to the great writing, Contrary is a great magazine to read online because of its simple style and design, pairing images alongside easy-to-read text with a navigable side bar. This issue makes me want to dig through the archives and keep a tab on it for future endeavors.

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The Puritan CoverThe Puritan

Issue 17

Spring 2012


After falling behind for a small amount of time, The Puritan is now back up and running, this time with a new reading format. Available to read online or as a PDF, this issue offers a number of poems, fiction pieces, and interviews. The magazine features writing that “may push toward the symbolic frontier, challenging limitations and forging into previously unexplored aesthetic territory. But it may also revisit and revitalize traditional forms.”

The story that stuck with me the most was Andrew Boden’s “The Half-Life of Salvador Barbary,” in which a couple gives birth to an unhealthy baby: “Tinka Barbary didn’t have to push at all. Her baby slipped from her on a pink amniotic stream into the bright, warm lights of the delivery room, at 8:07 p.m.—without a sound.” And as the mother tries to understand what is happening with her baby, her husband, Daveed, remembers Chernobyl and wonders if the cesium-137 atoms that were passed from his own father to him might be the cause for his own baby’s defects.

Molly Lynch’s “What Makes You Think You’re the One?” was also shocking. But the beauty in this piece was in the details of description. For example, the narrator says, “. . . I was in the quilted single bed in my grandmother’s quiet house with its macramé plant holders and baked raisin-bun smell and linoleum on the kitchen floor that allows you to move through the room silently in socks at any hour.” I feel like I’m really there in the scene, or perhaps in my own grandmother’s house.

Anna Maxymiw’s glosa poem “The Taut String”—from an unpublished poem by M.M.—was a delight to read, especially for the small details and the way the words work fluidly together. The first stanza reads:

The wedding wages on. Girls with jugs of
samohon wind their white hands like snakes,
wave to the boys perched on roofs of houses,
wave to the tree nailed to the highest eaves,
their thin fingers curled like apostrophes around jar handles.
Behind the dancers, the cornfield spreads thick and dense,
cushioning the guests whipping the polka
across the mud—dirt up their ankles, dirt up their legs,
people like violent tops in red and black suspense—
and I quietly abscond past upturned jars on the wooden fence.

There is more fiction from Marc Apollonio, in which a young boy steals porn magazines from a barber shop, and Melissa Kuipers, in which the narrator deals with her initial envy of her college roommate, and poetry from Lynn McClory, Matthew Tierney, Amanda Earl, Sean Braune, Sean Howard, Alyda Faber, David Brock, and rob mclennan. What makes this magazine even better is that many of the pieces have an accompanying audio clip so that you can hear an excerpt of the piece in the author’s own voice. Although the issue seems to need a way to direct back to the homepage, the new format for The Puritan seems to be working well, and I hope it will continue to push forward interesting, new work.

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Plume CoverPlume

Issue 13


I have been reading this issue of Plume now for a couple of weeks, each time going in to reread the poetry, catch parts of it I might have missed. Each piece has its own unique pull, making this issue of Plume one for everyone. But as a monthly magazine, a new one will be our shortly, so make sure to read this one soon.

Kim Addonizio’s “The Easy Way to Stop Drinking” pulled me in as the narrator compares herself to a fly when she’d rather not be, hoping to be able to reverse time:

Take my wings. Make me an earthworm,
nine-hearted. Even if seven of them
are already smashed and oozy.
It happens I am sick of being a fly.
I was happiest when I was a maggot,
talking to birds in the woods,
crouching at the edge of the creek
spied on by invisible fairies.

Kwame Dawes is wonderful at developing small details that round out the pieces, grounding the reader in the moment. In “Creek,” he creates a peaceful scene where you can actually feel the stillness, hear the silence, as the main character floats down the river and stares at the sky. In “What God Says,” he shows a woman who, by God, owns her husband’s body:

when I can smell the funk of another woman
in your skin, even when I know you don’t
know that it is all mine, even then,
I still stand over you, place my hand over
your chest and put my face against your face,
feel the breath of you on me; and in this
silence, I say to you, “Man, this is mine . . .

And I was definitely pulled in with Alan Shapiro’s “On Thumbing through Smith’s Recognizable Patterns of Human Malformation,” in which the narrator contemplates the images of two dwarfs in a book of human malformation. What is compelling is the boy who does not smile for the camera:

                 the camera flashes
fixing him inside the isn’t
of what everyone else is,
which is why he isn’t
smiling like his sister, no,
not now, not here, not
even if asked to, he won’t
be like the other smiling
children in the book . . .

“A Wedding in the Hotel” by Chase Twichell has its own sense of emotional twists as a character notices a star and a plane in the sky, distances apart from each other:

Why does this make me sad?
It’s the ancient pang, a blue-black sigh
from the time of first love,
not loneliness, but the knowledge
that the star and the plane will never touch . . .

And of course the issue is packed with more pull in poems from Angela Ball, Brenda Hillman, Troy Jollimore, Dorothea Lasky, Davis McCombs, Charlie Smith, Diane Vreuls, and Aleš Debeljak. Plume is worth taking the time to read, and read again.

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