Literary Magazines
The NewPages
Literary Magazine Reviews

Edited by Denise Hill

Reviewers (see Contributors page):
MC
- Mark Cunningham; WC - Weston Cutter; DE - Devon Ellington; JG - Jamey Gallagher; JHG - Jeannine Hall Gailey; JQG - Jennifer Gomoll; DH - Denise Hill; GK - Gina Kokes; RL - Reb Livingston; DM - Deborah Mead; SRP - Sarah R. Payne; JP - Jessica Powers; SR - Sima Rabinowitz;  ST - Sarah Tarkington

Posted May 18, 2004

Tampa Review

Number 26

2004

Tabloid sized, with its impressive, glossy jacket and hard cover, Tampa Review always feels like an extravagant gift (especially considering its unbelievably reasonable price). And that's before you even look inside. Eclectic as always, this issue contains impressive, distinctly varied work by Tampa Press favorites: "a portfolio" of poems from Tampa Review Prize poetry winner Julia B. Levine, and another of poems by Richard Terrill, along with poet Richard Chess and fiction writer Paul Rawlins. This issue also features wide-ranging work from a dozen and a half others. I was struck, above all, by M. K. Babcock's surprising "Even As I Tell It, It's Wrong or Lines, a String of" and Gary Fincke's absolutely stupendous essay about compulsive writing, obsessive counting, and obsessive-compulsive memorizing. The centerpiece of the issue is poetry editor Don Morrill's long, chatty interview with jazz musician, poet, and nonfiction writer Richard Terrill, whose Coming Late to Rachmaninoff was published by the press in 2003. I appreciated, in particular, what Terrill has to say about "artful" memoirs: "…while everybody's life can be equally valuable, I don't think that everybody's writing is equally evocative…you can write about your own experience no matter how unremarkable it is…but the writing damn well better be good." [Tampa Review, The University of Tampa, 401 West Kennedy Boulevard, Tampa, Florida 33060-1490. E-mail: utpress@ut.edu. Single issue $9.95. http://tampareview.ut.edu] - SR

 

Ninth Letter

Volume 1 Number 1

Spring/Summer 2004

Ninth Letter is a vigorous and fearlessly enterprising magazine, unconventional in both appearance and content without lapsing from quality. Instead of the trade paperback format favored by most lit mags, the Ninth Letter editors have opted for an exhibition-catalog size printing, an eccentric incarnation that aptly suits the journal’s adventurous character and could easily inspire a wider scope of design among the lit mag community. This inaugural issue is peopled by established names such as Dave Eggers, Steve Almond, and Robert Olen Butler (who’s story “Hotel Touraine” is simply enchanting), while managing to feature in its lavishly designed pages a wealth of other writers equally eligible for widespread attention. Three tiny prose-poems by Louis Jenkins fascinate with their sumptuous brevity (paradox intended). Michael Martone’s nonfiction musings entitled “Ephemera” offer John Berger-esque perspectives on the metaphysics behind two brief letters scribbled by Mark Twain a century ago, and launch a whole contemplation on the cosmic significance of such postal curios to our computerized age. An interview with Life of Pi author Yann Martel serves up some candid authorial theory, and a thoughtful essay on the famously truant swallows of Southern California’s Mission San Juan Capistrano takes a look at the meaning of kitsch in our everyday lives. [Ninth Letter, Dept. of English, University of Illinois, 608 South Wright Street, Urbana, IL 61801. E-mail: jrubins@uiuc.edu. Single issue $12.95. www.ninthletter.com] - MC

 

InkPot

Number 3

March 2004

More alternative than academic, InkPot is a literary and art magazine of distinct voices, and few of them sound like creative writing instructors. Many pieces in this issue zero in on relationships, romantic and familial. Infidelities, love triangles, and stubborn family members all get their due. In some of the strongest pieces, there is a sense of real people making bad decisions (I’m thinking particularly of Angela Havel’s “Pickle and the Road Crew,” a riveting but sad account of the author’s experiences with road crew work and self-destructive behavior). Such stories are not always neatly tied up at the end, nor do they go out on a note of sarcasm or detached irony. There is, instead, often a refreshing indication of something learned. Amidst all the drama, I liked the quiet moment presented by Celia Homesley’s poem, “Widow Moon,” and the confidence of Kathleen McCall’s “Disrobing My Emperor,” about her middle-aged clothing-optional vacation: “Nobody sneered at my elastic-puckers or my cellulite, but nobody ignored them, either. They didn’t have anything to overlook or forgive me for. And neither, by the end of the day, did I.” If you can get past the huge margins and tiny print, you might want to take a squint at Inkpot. [Lit Pot Press, Inc., 3090 Reche Rd. Ste #132, Fallbrook, CA 92028. E-mail: litpot@veryfast.biz. Single issue $10. http://www.litpot.com] - JQG

 

The Southern Review

Volume 40 Number 1

Winter 2004

The Southern Review is one in that clutch of legendary literary journals, which in many decades of existence have unfailingly proffered the work of America’s finest writers. In fact, it would seem silly to bother recommending a lit mag that is more like an institution, were it not for the fact that The Southern Review maintains such a lively and altogether anti-stodgy approach. In this winter issue I was most thrilled by Susan Lohafer’s short story “The Man Who Understood Everybody.” Her protagonist Howard, a middle-age real estate agent with razor instincts who’s beginning to slip from top form beneath pressure from his disconsolate wife, is a Willy Loman for our age, minus the incoherent ramblings. The story is so expertly plotted as to be a recommendation in itself for purchase of this issue. But nearly as absorbing is Brock Clarke’s story “The Fundraiser’s Dance Card.” In its depiction of suburban dysfunction gone over to alcoholic surrealism, it seems an uncanny complement to Lohafer’s tale. Then too, the poetry in this issue simply sparkles, beginning with Julianna Baggott’s lyrical rosary concerning the life and loves of Norman Rockwell. Margaret Holley’s poetic meditations on the great 20th century art of Edward Hopper and T.S. Eliot mystify by their blend of maximal sentiment and graceful restraint. [The Southern Review, 43 Allen Hall, LSU, Baton Rouge, LA 70803-5005. E-mail: jolney@lsu.edu. Single issue $8. http://appl003.lsu.edu/southernreview.nsf/index] - MC

 

The First Line

Volume 6 Issue 1

Spring 2004

The First Line is a fiction magazine in which every short story begins with the same first line and, of course, ends in an entirely different place. This issue’s first line is “There were five of them, which was two more than I’d been expecting.” Some of the resulting pieces are mainstream fiction, and rather funny. I particularly enjoyed Tom Green’s “No Comment,” about a sleazy political campaign manager who bumbles his way through an embarrassing news conference after his candidate winds up in the hospital following a drunk driving accident. Other stories are more speculative. Some pesky Cubs fans cause trouble for an angel in “A Problem with the Catholic Account” by Steve Massart. (The angel expected Three Dowries of the Soul, not Five; the two extra appear to be beer and polish sausage). Stephen Paske’s “All for an Extra Dollar” gives us a well-meaning school teacher bitten by a “demonic” student, an incident which fails to irk the cheerful money-grubbing principal in any way (a product of the Chicago Public Schools myself, I hesitate to label this story “speculative” and not “mainstream”). The First Line is a fun experiment in imaginative thinking, and perfect for readers looking for short bursts of highly creative fiction. [The First Line, P.O. Box 250382, Plano, TX 75025-0382. E-mail: info@thefirstline.com. Single issue $2. http://www.thefirstline.com] - JQG

 

The Carolina Quarterly

Volume 56 Number 1

Winter 2004

Established back in 1948, the tiny literary magazine known as The Carolina Quarterly is a model of humility: a pamphlet-style book not even a hundred pages long, yet filled with writing of such distinction that the reader is provoked to the kind of loving pondering elicited by publications of the snazzier variety. After careening straight through this winter issue, I found myself turning it over and over in my hands in wonder. Nanci Kincaid’s Polaroid-style novel excerpt, “First I Shoot You, Then You Shoot Me,” chronicles the humiliating inaugural moments of ten women entering a state prison, and in four brief, laconic pages manages to pack a wallop equal to that of a great documentary film: “I haven’t even gotten inside the prison and locked away, but already I’m thinking dangerous thoughts like the dangerous person they believe I am.” Utterly different but wonderful is Kevin Wilson’s second-person narrative, “The Choir Director Affair (The Baby’s Teeth),” about a man helplessly endeared to his lecherous friend’s baby, which has sprung from the womb with a full set of pearly-whites. The poetry selections include fine metrical compositions by Chris Childers and Robert West. This is a journal whose value far exceeds the subscription cost. Read it in one sitting and find your enamorment of great literary writing well met. [The Carolina Quarterly, Greenlaw Hall, CB#3520, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3520. E-mail: cquarter@unc.edu. Single issue $5. http://www.unc.edu/depts/cqonline] - MC

 

Diner

Volume 3 Number 2

Fall/Winter 2003

The poetry of Diner reflects the journal’s title: hearty, digestible, eschewing the frou-frou. Sometimes the fare seems a bit undercooked; you want to tweak a line here or cut a word there, but the read is a good experience. There are two featured poets/translators (Blue Plate Specials): Annie Finch and Dzvinia Orlowsky. Notes on each are provided, outlining their history, interests and writing style, all of which heightens the experience of reading their work. Finch’s “My Baby Fell Apart” is, in my opinion, the strongest poem in the issue, a rhythmic and poignant piece on losing (or fear of losing) a child. A few lines: “My baby fell apart. Then I could see // her falling, through a loud internal sea, / away from the one place that still was tender. / There was no baby left inside of me.” Other highlights include Steven Cordova’s clever “Ms. Daydream to You,” in which Daydream is presented as a woman with a Russian accent; and Alexander Chertok’s “What Is Morning?” about waking to a sweet birdsong. Scattered throughout the issue are evocative digitally-altered photographs by Colin Sjostedt. An enjoyable magazine all around. [Diner, P.O. Box 60676, Greendale Station, Worcester, MA 01606-2378. E-mail: richard@spokenword.to. Single issue $10. http://www.spokenword.to/Diner] - JQG

 

Sentence

A Journal of Prose Poetics

Number 1

2003

Size and shape matter — literally and metaphorically. And because they do, Sentence is off to a great start with this inaugural issue. The journal has an inordinately pleasing size and shape, both literally and metaphorically. With an announced bias for work that does not veer toward sudden fiction, editor Brian Clements describes the journal's purpose as "a full-service forum for readers, writers, critics, and scholars of the prose poem tradition…critical and scholarly essays, translations, occasional interviews, a bibliography of recent criticism…and our 'Views and Reviews' section where you can vent your most dearly held opinions…Sentence will have the widest scope." That wide scope includes: the "Sentence Feature," the introduction from contributing editor Peter Johnson's critical study (published by White Pine Press) of Jacob, Ponge, and Follain, followed by translations of their work; glorious prose poems from four dozen writers, including work by Maxine Chernoff, Jesse Lee Kercheval, Denise Duhamel, Ray Gonzalez, and Mary Ruefle; and noteworthy work from lesser-known writers, including a pithy two-liner from P.F. Potvin and Ana Delgadillo's lyrical "Surrounding My Birth in Veracruz." If this issue is an indication of what's to come, Sentence will make an exceptional contribution to the ever expanding universe of the prose poem. [Sentence, c/o Firewheel Editions, P.O. Box 793677, Dallas, TX 75379. E-mail: editor@firewheel-editions.org. Single issue $10, www.firewheel-editions.org] - SR

 

Motionsickness

Number 6

A wry anecdote appears in Ed Readicker-Henderson’s “How to Go to Hell” in this issue of Motionsickness. There’s a Japanese pilgrimage which features 88 temples across 700 miles; it can take up to two months to walk it. Recently, would-be pilgrims have been given the options of quick ‘n’ easy bus tours, flyovers by helicopter, and even a video to watch if one really can’t be bothered. All this has prompted a friend of the author’s to remark, “They do know they’re still going to hell, right?” I mention this story because it seems at heart to be what Motionsickness is all about; it is travel writing for wayfarers who still want to do it the good, hard, spiritual way. This issue includes an interview with George Meegan, who walked over 19,000 miles from South America, across the U.S., and over to Alaska. Just as impressive are Jason Lewis and Steve Smith, who are gradually trying to go around the world on human power alone and have actually succeeded in pedaling a boat across the Atlantic! Motionsickness not only shuns the prepackaged path, it has a conscience and explores such issues as environmental damage caused by tourism. An engaging read of authentic experience. [Motionsickness Magazine, 4117 SE Division St., #417, Portland, OR 97202. E-mail: editor@motionsickmag.com. Single issue $4.50. http://www.motionsickmag.com] - JQG

 

Colorado Review

Volume 31 Number 1

Spring 2004

This is a particularly good issue with many exceptional poems and stories. Melita Schaum's nonfiction "Enough" is enough all on its own to make this one worth buying, keeping, and re-reading. It's more than enough to make this reader change her mind about "dysfunctional family" tales. Even in these glut-of-family-memoir-days, it is possible to write an original, unusual, and utterly memorable account of one's wretched and unreasonable family. It's enough to make me crave more of Schaum's work, though since the journal does not include contributors' notes, it will take some effort (well worth it, certainly) to find it. The other nonfiction piece in this issue deserves mention, too - Barrett Hathcock's "Catch a Fire," an essay exploring a difficult subject (a parent's choice of after-death rituals) in a style that is natural and laudably free of clichés. This outstanding nonfiction is well accompanied by more than enough excellent stories, including moving work by Laura LeCorgne and Nance Van Winckel, and forty pages of strong and unusual poems from Aliki Barnstone, Dana Curtis, Kazim Ali, and Ellen Doré Watson, among others. Donald Platt's "Treble and Treble and Back" is one of the finest post 9/11 "war poems" I've encountered. [Colorado Review, The Center for Literary Publishing, Department of English, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523. E-mail: creview@colostate.edu. Single issue $10. http://www.coloradoreview.com] - SR

 

Blue Collar Review

Volume 7 Issue 2

Winter 2003-04

What Blue Collar Review succeeds in doing, I think, is putting a human face on nearly every problem you’ve seen on the nightly news in recent years. War, layoffs, violence, crap jobs, bad schools: these are the subjects of the poetry published here. I have to be honest: not every piece is very well crafted, but what some poems lack in skill they make up for in conviction. As I write this, the U.S. is attempting damage control on the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal, and Mike Maggio’s “Collateral Damage” is an impressive litany of mind-numbing public apology snippets that certainly fits this situation as well. An excerpt: “(we swear on our mothers) / (we swear on the flag) / (we swear on the bible) / (we swear on the corporation) / (we’re sorry).” Amy E. Oliver’s “Professional Chef,” about what really goes on in restaurant kitchens, took me back to my waitress years (“the sick onion grease stench” indeed!), and I admired the quiet dignity of Jeff Vande Zande’s “Losing Work,” about a laid-off man fearing loss of respect by his family yet finding support from his wife. If you like poetry by and for the people, you’ll want to pick up a copy of this magazine. [Blue Collar Review, Partisan Press, P.O. Box 11417, Norfolk, VA 23517. E-mail: red-ink@earthlink.net. Single issue $5. http://www.Partisanpress.org] - JQG

 

The Laurel Review

Volume 38 Number 1

Spring 2004

The Laurel Review is unpretentious and reliable, qualities not to be underestimated in these precarious times, especially when that means poems like Susan Ludvingson's "Barcelona, The Spanish Civil War: Alfonso Laurencic Invents Torture by Art": "We know the body can be made / to lose its recollections birthed in music / its desire for bread / and sex, its only remaining wish / confession // Who'd have guessed how easily / the brain opens its many mouths / to red." How I wished, on reading this poem, that it were not of the moment as much as of another era, were not an example of a poet's uncanny ability not only to look back, but forward. My anguish is not so much soothed as momentarily appeased by Katherine Soniat's still life of a poem, "Hopper's Wife" and then re-stimulated by Kent Shaw's "Prologue": "the ocean consumes itself / and the ocean consumes itself." There are many other fine poems, as well, including Arielle Greenburg's "Tumbler" and Bin Ramke's "Song of the North American Martyr's." Six solid stories round out the issue. My favorite: Judith Slater's "Snow Day," psychologically astute and hopeful. Also, astute — Peter Makuck's review of Robert Cording's Against Consolation. This issue introduces a new feature, "Book Recommendations," chosen this time by editor John Gallaher. [The Laurel Review, Department of English, Northwest Missouri State University, Maryville, MO 64468-6001. E-mail: TLR@mail.nwmissouri.edu.Single issue $7. http://info.nwmissouri.edu/~m500025/laurel/index2.html] - SR

 

The Antioch Review

All Essay Issue

Volume 62 Number 2

Spring 2004

I have always loved The Antioch Review and this "All Essay" issue deepens my appreciation. The editors succeed in demonstrating that "essays…comes in all forms and about all subjects" and in meeting their goal to "highlight [the essay's] diversity and vivacity." This would make a fine volume for any workshop in the essay's strengths and varieties and is exceptional reading for any devotee of serious nonfiction. The thirteen essays include political/social analysis (Bruce Jackson, Bruce Fleming, Michael Meyers and John P. Nidiry, Irwin Abrams), personal essays (Floyd Skloot, Nick Papandreou, P.F. Kluge, Paul Christensen, Carol Hebald), a short biography/book essay that happily defies categorization (Barbara Sjoholm), art critique/biography (Steven Vincent, Alex Colville), and a personal/scholarly consideration of the art of translation (Lawrence Rosenwald). Of course, these essays fit all and none of these categories at the same time, which is, partly, what makes them successful. They display thoughtful scholarship, keen powers of observation, and deft, but widely different styles of composition. They reveal new information and insights about familiar topics (Abrams on Jimmy Carter and Jackson on the "Real O.J. Story”), introduce us to the unfamiliar (Sjoholm on Olaus Magnus) and translate these writers' idiosyncratic worlds (Papandreou on growing up bilingual, Christensen on growing up in Beirut, Kluge on breakfast in Ohio). [The Antioch Review, P.O. Box 148, Yellow Springs, OH 45387. E-mail: mgiguere@university.antioch.edu. Single issue $8. http://www.antioch.edu/review/home.html] - SR

 

Hunger Mountain

All-Vermont Issue

Number 4

Spring 2004

With new editors each time, Hunger Mountain can be vastly different from issue to issue, and that unpredictability can be exciting. Guest editors Syndey Lea's and Jim Schley's vision for this all-Vermont special edition to "keep the door open" led them to the discovery of writers they had not known, a celebration of writers who seem "insufficiently applauded" and to what managing editor Caroline Mercurio calls "a few treasured Vermont favorites" (Ruth Stone, Hayden Carruth). There are plenty of reminders that this work is from and of Vermont; Vermont as a physical landscape (Thomas Absher's "Chesea"), as a metaphorical landscape (Nadell Fishman's "Coincidence"), and as a metaphysical landscape (Linda Hyatt Young's "October Morning"), though all of these pieces transcend the merely local, as does Victoria Taylor Smith's humorous story of the search for love in Montpelier, "This Need." And there is plenty of work that could not be identified, except in the author's bio, as coming from Vermont, from edgy (Joan O'Connor's story "If It's Bad It Happens to Me") to lyrical (Alexis Lathem's poem "Walking"). Photographs of the work of Vermont sculptors Jerry Williams and Giuliano Cecchinelli and "Meander," the cover painting by Gail Salzman are stunning, enlarging even further this issue's generous vision. [Hunger Mountain, Vermont College, 36 College St., Monpelier, VT 05602. E-mail: hungermtn@tui.edu. Single issue $10. www.tui.edu/hungermtn/index.asp] - SR

 

PRISM International

Volume 42 Number 2

Winter 2004

This issue features the winner of the magazine's 2003 Maclean Hunter Endowment Award for literary nonfiction, an essay contest judge Andreas Schroeder calls "beautifully calibrated." Russell Wangersky's "Mechanics of Injury" is an expertly crafted account of his work as a volunteer fireman, work he no longer does, not because of any permanent injury, but for reasons more complex and, therefore, more interesting ("burns heal, but other things linger…they are things that warp the way you see."). Wagnerky helps us not only to see, but to experience on a deeper level what he has seen. He knows which details to tell and when to tell them; he demonstrates a firefighter's sense of urgency and a writer's instinct for restraint. He finds a necessary balance between description and contemplation and his prose is often alarmingly beautiful, given the nature of his subject: "This equation is strangely reduced in my memory to geometry: the curve of her stomach, the triangle of her skirt, the oval of people standing around her looking down." Equally fine this issue is fiction from E.J. Levy ("Gravity"), a writer with a great ear for dialogue, a mature sense of story, and masterful control over her characters' emotional journeys. [PRISM International, University of British Columbia, Buchanan E-462, 1866 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6T 1Z1. E-mail: prism@interchange.ubs.ca. Single issue $7. www.prism.arts.ubc.ca] - SR

 

Field

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics

Number 70

Spring 2004

Field is a journal with an admirably clear and consistent editorial vision. Typically, this issue presents serious, difficult, reverent poems with very little that is conversational, casual, or occasional; poems that demand to be read slowly and then reread, including work by Carl Phillips, Marvin Bell, Michael Waters, Charles Wright, and Angie Estes, among others, wonderfully wrought translations from Chinese, German, and French, and three in-depth review essays by the editors. I was particularly taken with gorgeous translations of two poems by Chinese poet Bian Zhilin (1910-2000). Translators Mary M.Y. Fung and David Lunde are working on a full-length collection, which I happily look forward to. An excerpt of V. Peneleope Pelizzon's work-in-progress The Monogahela Book of Hours also offers a glimpse of new writing to anticipate with eagerness. Pape contributes a haunting painting of a poem, "Red Moon," with dual fire ravaged landscapes, mountains and heart, and Franz Wright contributes four spare, stark, and powerful poems. Here is an excerpt from "Scribbled Testament": "Having read the great books / of this world only / to completely forget them again; / having learned how to speak / this language only // (darken it up a bit will you) / to translate my heart for you / from the original silence" [FIELD, 10 North Professor Street, Oberlin, OH 44074. E-mail: oc.press@oberlin.edu. Single issue $7. http://www.oberlin.edu/ocpress] - SR

 

The Greensboro Review

Number 75

Spring 2004

This spring issue of The Greensboro Review contains two short stories that are simply breathtaking: Adam Berlin’s “The Karaoke Bet” and Matt Valentine’s “Zohra.” Berlin’s piece, in its portrayal of a soulless, lustful bookie is worth close study by any aspiring short story writer, so perfect is its characterization, voice, plotting, and overall thematic significance. After betting against another man’s wife in a karaoke contest, with the trophy to be the man’s Harvard diploma, the bookie fantasizes: “On nights when I came home drunk, with cash in my pocket from my cash business, with memories of hands getting broken, and memories of empty lap dances, I’d look at the diploma and read the elaborate script . . . and I’d pretend I’d taken another road until I fell asleep.” Matt Valentine’s “Zohra” is an acute tale of three American tourists in Morocco (Paul Bowles terrain revisited), and pointedly captures the disorientations of travel, while managing to construct a larger metaphorical architecture. Also notable among the eight short fictions offered is Diana Sprechler’s “Close to Lebanon,” about a confused young Jewish woman living in Boston, stymied at every attempt to escape her existential befuddlement. The entire other half of this issue is devoted to poetry. [The Greensboro Review, English Dept., 134 McIver Building, UNCG, PO Box 26170, Greensboro, NC 27402-6170. E-mail: tlkenned@uncg.edu. Single issue $5. http://www.uncg.edu/eng/mfa] - MC

 

Light Quarterly

Number 43

Winter 2003-2004

If you’ve ever wondered where all the Dorothy Parkers have gone, they’re submitting poems to Light, wearing glasses, seldom receiving passes, and all. This quarterly magazine of light verse specializes in rhyming wit, puns, palindromes, and a heap of good old-fashioned showing off (Robert Schechter, “My Grandmother, the Actress”: “Of the two famous playwrights / who charmed and beguiled her, / Oscar was Wilde / but Thornton was Wilder.”). The poems here fall under such broad categories as “The Mating Season,” “Quandaries?” and “Warped Worlds”; sometimes the mere inclusion of a certain work under one of those titles brings a smile. It all ends with essays and reviews, including a surprisingly fine piece by Barbara Loots on the nature and purpose of greeting card poetry. If you’ve ever been accused of Nerd Humor, you’ll want to take out a subscription to this one. However, if puns make you groan, you might want to skip it, or at least pass up Christopher Scribner’s very funny “Shattered,” inspired by an inmate’s attempt to escape jail by breaking a bulletproof window with his bare rear end. It contains the line, “And never let a little pane deter you.” [Light, P.O. Box 7500, Chicago, IL 60680. Single issue $6. http://www.lightquarterly.com] - JQG

 

Posted May 5, 2004

Sycamore Review

Volume 16 Number 1

Winter/Spring 2004

At first glance, Sycamore Review seems a typical literary journal, divided into the usual blocks: poetry, fiction, interview, review. A deeper look reveals an eclectic and engaging selection of work. Smart but not obtuse, the poetry is well-crafted with diverse subject matter - mortality, refugee camps, a child’s collection of pets - but my favorites are the witty pieces. One standout is Mary Jo Firth Gillett’s “On Being Asked by a Student How You Know When a Poem Is Done” (“I say, when you’ve given up searching / for something to rhyme with orange because / you’ve eaten the orange.”) Three pieces comprise the fiction section: one about a new father, another on a divorced mother, and sandwiched between them, C.A. Lahines’ lyrical telling of Wagner, plagued by itching testicles and longings for woman named Mathilde in “Of Tristan, Isolde, and Unbearable Itches.” (Did I mention this journal is eclectic?) This issue is editor Sean M. Conrey’s first. It’s good, but a bit short. Aside from the cover photography, there is no art spread, and that’s a shame because Sycamore Review has featured gorgeous work in the past. Here’s hoping that future issues continue to offer vital content, and more of it. [Sycamore Review, Department of English, 1356 Heavilon Hall, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907-1356. E-mail: sycamore@purdue.edu. Single issue $7. www.sla.purdue.edu/sycamore] - JQG

 

Salt Hill 15

Winter 2004

Always surprising and unconventional, this issue of Salt Hill is even edgier than usual, with Thom Ward's "imaginary" scholar Dr. Arnold Schnagel and Schnagel's parody of reviews and critiques (like this one!) of the work of "imaginary poet" Jan DeKeerk whose very real poetry is translated here (from Flemish) by Schnagel; and Steve Almond's interview with novelist and screenwriter Tom Perotta ("Q: But you don't behave badly?" A: Well, I'm a fiction writer"); and Denise Duhamel's poem "Lost Bra," thirty-four couplets, every line of which ends with the words "Maidenform Bra." G. C. Waldrep contributes three poems with his signature merger of the sacred and the profane (as it happens, a story about Waldrep's conversion to the Amish is featured in the latest issue of Poets & Writers and provides a context for his work). Poet Miles Waggener contributes excellent translations from the Spanish of three poems by Jaime Siles — poems that at moments sound as raw as Peter Cooley, who also has a poem in this issue, and a verse or two later as erudite as Jorge Luis Borges: "Hace que deulen hasta los pronombres/It hurts right to the very pronouns." There's never a dull moment at Salt Hill. [Salt Hill,  Syracuse University, English Department, Syracuse, NY 13244. E-mail: salthill@cas.syr.edu. Single issue $8. http://students.syr.edu/salthill/] - SR

 

Prairie Schooner

Volume 78 Number 1

Spring 2004

There is always something for nearly every serious reader in Prairie Schooner. It's not because Raz lacks a consistent editorial vision. On the contrary, issue after issue the journal feels whole and unified. It's more because her vision is large and generous. The prose is especially strong this issue, with a tender and memorable story by Tamara Friedman ("Stealing Sherisha") and a fine example of literary journalism by David A. Taylor, "Nailing a Freight on the Fly: The Federal Writer's Project in Nebraska." Taylor's essay is a solid and pleasingly humble combination of competent research, travel writing, and literary history. Three short fiction pieces by Iranian writer Leonardo Alishan ("Black City my soul called home.") will likely encourage readers, as it has me, to seek out his collections of poetry. As usual, there's an abundance of fine poems. Poems by Judith Arcana ("Facts of Life") and Peter Viereck ("Two Liners") demonstrate the range of styles represented in this issue. From Arcana: " All that we do, living, is killing; birth / and death the pumping hearts of life." And from Viereck, this two-liner ("Progress"):  "What has the tech age left the soul for food? / Look for the road kill crushed across the road." [Prairie Schooner, 201 Andrews Hall, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE 68588-0334. E-mail: kgrey2@unlnotes.unl.edu. Single issue $9. www.unl.edu/schooner/psmain.htm] - SR

 

Nimrod International Journal

Vietnam Revisited

Volume 47 Number 2

Spring/Summer 2004

Nimrod's spring issue is always theme-based and always superb. The subject of Vietnam is timely in ways I wish it were not, though it makes the work all the more necessary. The issue begins with an essay by poet John Balaban, who volunteered in Vietnam as a civilian conscientious objector, and excerpts from his outstanding collection of Vietnamese folk poems, published by Copper Canyon. That book is also reviewed here by Britton Gildersleeve, who aptly calls Balaban's translations "elegant." (Gildersleeve's essay about growing up in Southeast Asia, "39A Phàn dinh Phàn" is also quite elegant: "I don't remember leaving. I only remember being gone."). "Poetry, that fragile construct, is Vietnam's enduring monument," Balaban writes. His work is followed by a collection of Nimrod's own enduring moments: exceptional poems, stories, essays, an interview with novelist Lan Cao, and exquisite black and white photographs. Andrew Lam's story, "Star Anise, Charred Onion, and Five Kinds of Basil," offers a small taste of this issue's powerful writing: "Nga, remember those mornings when the borders were still real and even talking across the clotheslines or the courtyard as treacherous as crossing the ocean? Yet how I long for that world! For the smallness of things." [Nimrod, The University of Tulsa, 600 S. College, Tulsa, OK 74104. E-mail: nimrod@utulsa.edu. http://www.utulsa.edu/nimrod] - SR

 

Grain

The Same Mistakes

Volume 31 Number 4

Spring 2004

The same mistakes is not…a mistake. In fact, it's a provocative and successful theme, beginning with editor Kent Bruyneed's witty introduction and his description of these writers "doubting and soaring." The poems and stories in this issue share a casual energy that is more difficult to achieve than it may at first seem, elevating mistakes to art. The theme of admitting a mistake, telling on oneself, has moved these writers to elect tones and diction that are highly personal, without becoming sentimental, and exceedingly familiar, while still deliberate and artful. It's surprising how much serious, thoughtful and original material is contained in what can appear so informal and natural, as in this poem by Michael Quilty, "Anniversary Ride: Theme of Opposition": “a year ago this morning I sat in the closed room of a seminar, / the first hour the prof explained The Theme of Opposition / in Four Victorian Writers, / after our break she told us about the planes (and twin towers).” All of the work is strong, but several pieces warrant special mention:  Yann Martel's scathing short fiction/social commentary, beautiful poems by warren heiti, and a very fine story, "Blue," by Kim Trainor. [Grain, Box 67, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada S7K 3K1. E-mail: grainmag@sasktel.net . Single issue $9.95. http://www.grainmagazine.ca] - SR

 

The Threepenny Review

Number 97

Spring 2004

Anne Carson, Gary Shhteyngart, and Mark Doty, all in this issue! There's also a wonderful story ("The Red Fox Fur Coat") by Teolinda Gersao, translated from the Portuguese by Margert Jull Costa, who also contributes a translation of an essay on Faulkner by Javier Marías, outstanding book essays by P.N. Furbank (on Geoffrey Hill's Style and Faith) and Rachel Cohen (on a new edition of Rilke's Letters On Cézanne), and C.K. Williams on Lowell's Collected Poems, comparing poets to composers: "…that there are elements in the poems that I don't care for, or even have to forgive, is incidental to the elemental experience of being taken again by Lowell's singularly gratifying music." The prose is accompanied by marvelous poems. In particular, I loved "Five Year Plan," by Victoria Chang. The pièce de résistance: Carson's Stein-like "How to Like 'If I Had Told Him A Completed Portrait of Picasso' by Gertrude Stein”: "If she told us we would like it. Yes we would. Or at least I do. To complete a portrait is to learn to like your likeness albeit miraculously and never more than three." I count on The Threepenny Review for intelligent, unexpected, and stimulating work. Here it is. [The Threepenny Review, P.O. Box 9131, Berkeley, CA 94709. E-mail: wlesser@threepennyreview.com. Single issue $7. http://www.threepennyreview.com] - SR

 

PRISM International

Volume 42 Number 1

Fall 2003

Sometimes clichés are true: this issue of Prism International illustrates the concept that good things do come in small packages. The journal contains poetry which ranges from Bernadette Higgins’ traditional poem, “Short Wave,” describing language, music, and thoughts which tease and cross on the air late at night, to a strong contemporary poem by Matt Robinson, “why we wrap our wrists the same each time,” exploring a hockey player’s quest to “do anything” to beat his “jinx.” Ouyang Yu translates four Chinese poems from the 8th and 9th century, which are beautiful in their simplicity and complexity. One of the most remarkable poems is Leanne Boschman-Epp’s “Prince Rupert Rain Journal: night rain.” In this extraordinary poem, the reader is treated to both an auditory and visual simulation of rain through sound and creative placement of words. The contemporary fiction is short, averaging about eight pages per story, but packs a punch. Lauro Palomba’s knock-out piece, “Salesmanship,” shows us even Santa can have an “angle.” Royston Tester contributes “Once Upon a Prissy,” a powerful and gritty story of a young Englishman learning to prostitute in Spain. Finally, give the cover by Janieta Eyre a second look. Yes, it’s unusual. A young woman with bright orange hair, blacked-out eyes, and graphics attached to her cheek is stirring a pot on a stove. Now, add the title, “Making Babies” and notice the container of eggs, semen, and blood. Interesting. [Prism International. Creative Writing Program, UBC Buch. E 462 – Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z1, Canada. E-mail: prism at interchange.ubc.ca. Single issue $7. http://prism.arts.ubc.ca/] – GK

 

The Tampa Review

#25

I had a sense of déjà vu while reading The Tampa Review. I held the large slim 7x11 hardcover and remembered beautifully illustrated fairy tales books from my childhood. Although The Tampa Review is not filled with whimsical tales, the cover artwork by Florida artist James Rosenquist along with the black and white photos in the journal creates a book of beauty. The unusual format also sends a subtle message that the journal should be treasured and enjoyed over and over again. The journal opens with Patrick J. Murphy’s “Night Fishing,” a story about young boy who defies his new stepfather’s rules and takes a skiff out deep sea fishing. Instead of returning home with a fishing trophy, the boy catches and kills a giant ray. This unexpected disappointment and tragedy mirrors his own life as his father is replaced with another man. Another interesting regional work is Marcia Fairbanks’ “The Ghost Orchid of Fakahatchee.” The author searches for the allusive “ghost orchid” made famous by the movie Adaptation and Susan Orlean’s book about an orchid thief. The non-regional works are all solid pieces of writing reflecting other areas of the country and other dreams. W. Scott Olsen’s piece “The Joy of Beginning” heads out onto the Alaska Highway. Rafael Perez Estrada’s poem, “The Enterprising Young Man,” shows the stature gained by a young Bangladesh man who sells his kidney to a New Yorker. “Lessons,” a short story by James S. Proffitt, portrays a man who can’t find home—geographically and mentally. [Tampa Review. The University of Tampa, 401 West Kennedy Boulevard, Tampa, Florida 33606. E-mail: utpress@ut.edu. Single issue $9.95. http://tampareview.utampa.edu/] - GK

 


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