The NewPages
Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted Feb 12, 2005

Absinthe

New European Writing

Number 3

2004

"While I was reading your poems, my tailbone went numb many times. I'm afraid, my dear friend, that you're a poet and nothing can be done about it. I'm expressing my immense sympathy." That's a quote from Zbigniew Herbert in a letter to poet Janusz Szuber which he reads, at her request, to interviewer/translator Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough. Tailbone numbing writing is a perfect description of the superb work collected in Absinthe. A dozen poets and fiction writers from 11 countries appear here in expert translations (with the exception of poems by the British poet Fiona Sampson whose work, obviously, appears in the original English). What distinguishes this journal overall is that there is nothing occasional here, not a single piece that seems remotely casual in intent or outcome. What numbs the tailbone is not merely the exquisite control demonstrated by each of these authors, but the overwhelming sense of responsibility this control suggests—every word, no, every syllable, counts in poetry and prose alike. While there is much variety in the subject matter treated and the style of the pieces collected here, what they have in common is a particular seriousness or authority that seems, to put it bluntly, unmistakably not-American. These are accomplished and successful artists, widely published and recognized in their own languages and countries. They deserve a wide and grateful audience in English, as well. [Absinthe, P.O. Box 11445, Detroit, MI 48211-1445. E-mail: dhayes@absinthenew.com. Single issue: $7. www.absintheNEW.com] – SR

 

Asheville Poetry Review

Issue 14 Volume 11 Number 1

2004

This was a special 10th Anniversary issue called The Best of The Asheville Poetry Review, a retrospective of the work the journal has published since 1994, including in its 250 pages a surprisingly diverse set of writers - from Robert Bly, Joy Harjo, to translations of Baudelaire, Celan and Lorca, to Eaven Boland, Virgil Suarez, Gary Snyder Sherman Alexie and R.T. Smith. It’s hard to pick out from such a large, myriad cast a “typical” poem, but there were many meditations on natural themes, and many of the poems felt restrained, although again, there were prose poems and experimental work among the traditional narratives and even some formal verse. Along with the poems, there were critical essays, book reviews, and interviews, including a long interview with William Matthews. Scott C. Holstad defended Carl Sandburg’s poetry and his focus on the American working class in the essay “Sandburg’s Chicago Poems: The Inscription of American Ideology.” When’s the last time I read anything that defended Carl Sandburg? I applaud Holstad for his courage in recognizing what was good in the work of this long-maligned American poet. I loved Joy Harjo’s “The Flood” and Cathy Gibbon’s “Dumb Blonde,” as well as the clever “Terzanelle of the Insomniac Dreamer” by Tom C. Hunley. Kudos also for the beautiful cover art work, and the high production values of this glossy journal, as well as the resistance to the usual tyranny of “big names” in anniversary issues. Neither did the editor succumb to the regionalism one might expect from a journal called “Asheville Poetry Review” – the editor chose just as many poems from new or little-known authors as he did from recognized writers, which shows courage, and opened the doors of his journal to writers not only of other states, but other countries as well. [Asheville Poetry Review, PO Box 7086, Asheville, NC 28802. E-mail: editor@ashevillereview.com. Single issue $13. www.ashevillereview.com] – JHG

 

Atlanta Review

Volume 11 Number 1

Fall/Winter 2004

I always enjoy reading Atlanta Review’s poetry; the work is typically approachable, emotionally invested, and refreshingly direct. Many of the poems in this issue even seem to follow the whole “emotion recalled in tranquility” rule of poetry – the speakers are trapped in between occasions, reflecting on the past or future – at concerts, diagnoses, at movies, in the kitchen. This issue featured poems from the Atlanta Review’s 2004 International Poetry Competition, as well as an interview with the always-lively, acclaimed poet-teacher-extraordinaire Marvin Bell. There were a couple of wonderful food-oriented poems in this issue, including “Basmati” by Amy Dengler, and a great poem by Marian Wilson called “Frump Femme Fatale” about a librarian action figure gone wild. One of the other poems I particularly liked in this issue was Alicia Ostriker’s “What You Cannot Remember, What You Cannot Know,” which appears to be written to a daughter or granddaughter. I have to admit I immediately forwarded the poem to both my mother and grandmother. But don’t mistake this for any kind of easy, sentimental verse. Here’s a quote from the poem:

Now that you are almost nine,
Like a duplicate baby, and angel
Or alien, we don’t know which…
It vibrates when you practice piano,
The cotton dresses hand in your closet
Like conspirators, wavering in its breeze…
Here comes the gypsy caravan,
Dingaling, the ice cream man…
We would do anything for you,
Sweetie, but we can do nothing.
You have to do it all by yourself.

Atlanta Review is always a wonderful read, cover-to-cover, and this issue was no exception. [Atlanta Review, P.O. Box 8248, Atlanta, GA 31106. E-mail: dan@atlantareview.com. Single issue $6. www.atlantareview.com] – JHG

 

Birddog

Five

Spring 2004

A wild little journal of "innovative writing and art: collaborations, interviews, collage, poetry, poetics, long poems, reviews, graphs, charts, non-fiction, cross genre…" not to mention the marvelous pasted-on-the-page-as-separate-slips-of-paper reproductions of photos and artwork. Does somebody do this by hand? Now, that's innovative! Innovative is one of those tricky words that confuses me, even though I confess I often use it to describe work that is risky or unusual or odd or curious and there's all of that and more in Birddog. There are excerpts from Mark Tardi's divided-columns poem "Chopin's Feet," where every other page is divided graphically with a straight vertical line and the verses are like Chopin's complicated music moving from dense rhythms to lighter ones and back again. There's Heidi Peppermint's poem, "The Gulf Streams," whose diction wavers between the utterly familiar and ordinary ("Boy, those days we've talked about are here! / pamper yourself with daily maid service"), to a playfulness that veers toward the arcane ("Boy, those sways wave tangent about arrant! / Boy, those swerves as stranger about arsy-varsy!"). There are excerpts from Bob Harrison's poem "Counter Daemons—4D," incorporating concepts from computer programming, as well as from the "counting coups" of the Plains Indians. There are Brigitte Byrd's prose poems whose fate, we hope, will not be the same as this title: "Comparative Obscurity": "If there is estrangement what is the difference between speaking to the dead and speaking to the living." If you're open to Birddog's innovation, you'll know the answer to that question.[Birddog, c/o Sarah Mangold, 1535 32nd Ave., Apt. C, Seattle, WA 98122. E-mail: smang@earthlink.net. Single issue $6. www.birddogmagazine.com] – SR

 

Hawai'i Pacific Review

Volume 18

2004

Some lovely work here from Hawai'i and beyond, with an emphasis on poems about the natural world, although strong poems and stories consider other subject matter, as well. I was happy to be introduced to poets whose work I had not read before, above all, Joseph Stanton, professor of Art History and American Studies at the University of Hawai'i in Manoa, whose poem "The Hospice Flocks of St. Francis" moves with the quiet, self-assured power of a flock of birds: "The thought of them lingers: flecks of tiny,dark-chocolate birds, / dressed for mourning but full of staying alive,  / ecstatic mouths filling with seeds / and unsolvable small songs." The most unusual, and for that reason, the most fascinating piece in this issue is short fiction by the prolific and talented Wendell Mayo, "Twice-Born World." I'm tempted to call this a prose poem or perhaps poetry prose, although it might also be categorized as sudden fiction, a burst of lyrical tension and a small, tense plot-less plot unfolding inside language that is as finely crafted as poetry: "Stay—and by the double light of the cleft and cowardly moon, we will raise a split ladle to the cold, numb mouth of the twice-born world." [Hawai'i Pacific Review. Hawai'i Pacific University, 1060 Bishop Street, Honolulu, HI 96813. E-mail: hpreview@hpu.edu. Single issue $10. www.hpu.edu/index.cfm?section=uniquelyhpu1110] – SR

 

Hayden’s Ferry Review

Issue 34

Spring/Summer 2004

Hayden’s Ferry Review is, as always, an enjoyable mingle of poems, prose, art, interviews and essays. This issue has interviews with esteemed experimental poet C.D. Wright, acclaimed visual artist James Turrell, whose pieces explore the actions of light (several representations of his work are included with the interview, which I appreciated), as well as poet David St. John, whose poems also explore the nature of light. Poems and stories here are entertaining and lucid. I particularly liked Cody Walker’s poem “My Grandmother in 1933 Thought Everything Was Crooked,” which begins: “And sad, too. / So she pawned her diamonds, / quit her three jobs at the club, / set out like some Sam / Spade detective fro / an America that didn’t feature five heartless / bastards in nondescript suits beating an old man…” Liliana Ursu’s work, translated by Sean Cotter, was dreamy and lyric, wonderfully strange. Weirdly engaging as well, was Drew Perry’s piece, “Breast and Zebra,” about a man who is mystified when his wife of many years considers breast enhancement surgery. Hayden’s Ferry continues to be a journal of strong work that invites the reader to study every page. [Hayden's Ferry Review, Box 871502, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-1502. E-mail: HFR@asu.edu. Single issue $6. www.HaydensFerryReview.org] – JHG

 

The Healing Muse

Volume 4 Number 1

2004

When I finished this annual journal of Upstate Medical University, The Healing Muse, I felt I had been on a journey of discovery. Through fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and photography, health care givers and patients explore and express their feelings and thoughts about the roles and relationships they have with each other as well as with illness and disease. The complexity of the works presented reflects the complexity of the personal dramas from each side of bed. Steven Katz in his poem, “The Cathedral,” eloquently describes the situation: “Thrown together in a whirlwind / by hurricane Cancer / Surgeon and patient twist about / With all the awkwardness / Of new dance partners / Having to learn subtle nuances / Indelibly intertwined like sides of a spiral staircase / Vaulting up the bell tower of humanity.”

Although the subject matter is serious, the journal is never melancholy. Many of the black and white photos accompanying the selections are of spring and hyacinths and small star-like flowers as if to remind us that harsh realities usher in delicate new life and understanding. This is beautifully exemplified in Deborah Bradshaw’s poem describing medical students and physicians visiting a patient in “One Morning on Rounds”: “Every morning we circle your bed like loyal subjects. / Our tithes are small. / Your largesse, in illness, great. / So the first are last and the last are first. / Gentleness crowns you on this slow last march. / We offer a hand to your elbow and know / Who is helping whom. [The Healing Muse, Center for Bioethics and Humanities, SUNY Upstate Medical University, 725 Irving Ave, Suite 406, Syracuse, NY 13210. E-mail: hlgmuse@upstate.edu. Single issue: $10ppd. www.upstate.edu/bioethics/centerpubs.shtml] – GK

 

Inkwell

Number 16

Fall 2004

I hadn't read this journal or the work of interview subject, fiction writer Kathleen Hill until now, but I'll read both again. The interview (conducted by Barbara Brooks) is one of the most engaging I've encountered. Hill seems, happily, not at all interested in impressing anyone, she simply says what she thinks, honestly and passionately, and what she thinks is worth paying attention to. The interview manages to sound like a genuine, unscripted and thoughtful conversation about one writer's understanding of how fiction gets made and it inspires me to read Hill and to rethink my own relationship to writing. Unassuming, sincere, and solid could be said of the issue as a whole. I was introduced for the first time to other writers whose work I'd be happy to encounter again, as well: poets Samuel Solomon and Ann Cefola and fiction writers Stephanie Dickinson and Joan Connor, to single out just a few of the 20 writers whose work appears here. Claire Aronson's poem, "Disappearing," is particularly arresting, a sad, elegant, and splendidly crafted tribute to a woman most likely suffering from Alzheimers: "Her repetitions remind me / of a dragonfly's wings / at the end of a season, / their frantic beating, / beating to stave off / the prison of an unremitting present." [Inkwell, Manhattanville College, 2900 Purchase Street, Purchase, NY 10577. E-mail: inkwell@mville.edu. Single Issue $8. www.inkwelljournal.org ] – SR

 

Night Train

At Kings Park

Issue 4

2004

Although the holiday season is over, there were several times while reading Night Train that I wanted to jump up and shout, “Joy to the World!” The fiction is just that good. Both editors and writers are to be congratulated for this impressive reading experience. The editors achieved their goal of discovering “wow” fiction, and the writers created a satisfying read through unique characters and complicated plots which entertained and inspired. Hands down, my favorite selection was “Movie Star Entrances,” by Thomas Williams. Curtis, the main character, who is everyman, yearns to impress people at an important social gathering. But instead of aimlessly fretting, Curtis employs an enigmatic theatrical couple who specialize in “entrances” to achieve his dream. He discovers attaining a goal is not always a guarantee of long term success unless you have some help. I also loved Grant Bailie’s “Pinocchio Unbound.” A robot working in outer space “makes a wish” to see something burst into flames as it falls to earth. He is granted his wish, although he is the object that speeds towards his “own magnificent end.” Scanning the story index, I don’t want to forget Pia Z. Ehrhardt’s story and Steve Fayer’s story and Bob Arter and “The Spaceman” and…I confess: I want to comment on each story. When a lit mag gives you that much to talk about – 18 great stories - it’s worth hunting down. [Night Train, 212 Bellingham Ave #2, Revere, MA 02151. E-mail: shenderson@ nighttrainmagazine.com. Single issue: $12.95ppd. www.nighttrainmagazine.com/home.html ] – GK

 

Redivider

Volume 2 Issue 1

2004

The second issue of the newly relaunched journal out of Emerson College in Boston includes poetry, fiction, interviews, art, and a fistful of short book reviews. One of the highlights of this issue was the interview with the always-entertaining Nancy Pearl, my own hometown’s (Seattle) celebrity librarian who has her own action figure! Her wit and passion for books are palpable. An interview with lyric poet Gregory Orr was also enlightening, and discussed the transformative potential power of the lyric. I also loved the art work by Chris Hutson – his surreal and symbolic etchings are powerful, moving, hauntingly beautiful. Some (not, certainly, all) of the poetry in the issue had an off-putting “faux-tough-kid” edge that jolted me when I first read it; poems that seem to be oozing some kind of machismo/insecurity about being a writer – I couldn’t tell if these poems were being ironic, trying to be funny and I just wasn’t getting it, or what – poems like “alibis and false reasons,” “If School Was a Person,” and then there was the just plain not-very-interesting or well-crafted “Twenty-five ways to make love without having sex.” Shock value for shock value’s sake isn’t very interesting to me; this felt like a porn textbook description. The first issue of Redivider had a lot of poetry I enjoyed, so perhaps this issue was a bit of an aberration. Looking forward to seeing in which direction this journal moves next. [Redivider, Department of Writing, Literature, and Publishing, Emerson College, 120 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02116. Single issue $9. E-mail: redivider_editor@yahoo.com. http://pages.emerson.edu/publications/redivider] - JHG

 

The Seneca Review

Volume 34 Number 2

Fall 2004

The Seneca Review is an established literary magazine of poetry, lyric essays, and translations of contemporary poetry. The current issue reminded me of an antipasto bar in a fine restaurant I recently visited: colorful, interesting, challenging, distinctive and robust—obviously not your mama’s cheese dip. My favorite pieces were from the renowned Latvian writer, Imants Ziedonis. His poems, “Each Day Catches Fire…” and “They Drove the Donkey Out of Me…” hit the bull’s eye of my little soul. I loved the concept that in each day there is something unusual and beautiful and original which flames your heart and imagination if you keep your eyes open for it. His second poem laments his youthful lose of willfulness, “Oh, donkey days! When my heart had long ears, when stubbornness, like a large key, locked me in place: -Here I stand. I will stand my ground. Beat me to death!” Age may mellow us, but we were magnificent in our defiance once upon a time. I admit there were poems and essays which challenged me, not unlike my first taste of an unusual olive at the bar which made me pause trying to decide if the texture and taste, so unfamiliar to me, was pleasant or not. But this is the job good literary magazine, to present readers the experimental, the challenging, the work which requires work. As Alexander Rothman stated in his poem, “After Lyrics by the Shins, The art is don’t drown / hold nothing / especially sacred / The book you haven’t read / and the poem you’ve just written: / the makings of papier mache.” [The Seneca Review, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, New York 14456. E-mail: senecareview@hws.edu. Single issue $7. www.hws.edu/SenecaReview] – GK

 

Texas Poetry Journal

Volume 1 Issue 1

Spring 2005

The editors of this new journal exhibit an expansive and generous view of poetry with their eclectic semi-annual dedicated to publishing "poetry and poets from around the world." Consider for example a few lines from these poems – "Bon Voyage" by Bonnie Lyons: "This morning aquamarine clouds / look like they've been dipped / in the Agean. Soon that sea / will take you in its arms."; "Hide" by Michelle Burke: "Hopping on one foot / anxious to relieve myself / I am eight years old and restless / I am absorbed by moments"; and "Work" by Chuck Taylor: "Shall I work? Should I be a good citizen? / Astound my mother and father with my polka dot briefcase and Lucifer pace?" Twenty-seven vastly different poets appear here, a "conversation" with Deborah Warren, and photographs by Ralph Barrera, the best of which is the journal's marvelous and mysterious cover. Two of Warren's carefully crafted poems accompany the interview, both of which demonstrate her supreme avoidance of what she calls "self-indulgence"— "any poem that hasn't been refined to its best, most complete self." These are poems not only refined to their best, most complete self, but poems that are themselves, refined, self-controlled and powerful as the "sorties" of birds and "Hurricane Road" that are her subjects. [Texas Poetry Journal, P.O. Box 90635, Austin, TX 78709- 0635. E-mail: editor@texaspoetryjournal.com. Single issue $7.50. www.texaspoetryjournal.com] - SR


Reviewers (see Contributors page)

MC - Mark Cunningham            DM - Deborah Mead
LKB
- Lisa Buchanan                LM - Lincoln Michel
JHG
- Jeannine Hall Gailey       SR - Sima Rabinowitz
JQG - Jennifer Gomoll             AS - Ann Stapleton
KL - Kathe Lison

Edited by Denise Hill

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