The NewPages
Literary Magazine Reviews

Edited by Denise Hill

April  2005

AGNI

Number 60

2004

Yes, after sixty issues, AGNI is still going strong, but more importantly it’s still finding new ways to reinvent itself. The theme here is “reading at the limit,” inspired by Katherine Jackson’s rendering of written text into “liminal” (i.e. at the surface) visual art. If you want to test the limits at the reading level, there’s no going wrong with Robert Olen Butler’s “four pieces of Severance,” a group of concept sketches best defined as “beheading monologues” that you’ll have to read for yourself to truly appreciate. Among the poetry, I enjoyed the account of innocence lost in Richard Hoffman’s “Gold Star Road”: “Ignorant // as goldfish in a plastic bag, / as mayflies mistaking the road for the river, / we assured one another, // keeping up our spirits / as we had long been taught.” The fiction has something for everyone, but the nonfiction has the most room to challenge our notions of limits and categorization. Joshua Harmon, in “The Annotated Mix-Tape,” weaves an eclectic music review of the Scud Mountain Boys’ “Massachusetts” with his own memories of his native Bay State. I was quite amused by his treatment of my native Pennsylvania as foreign to his New England sensibilities. (Full disclosure: Harmon taught at Bucknell University while I was a student there.) Needless to say, AGNI is strangely exotic to my own eyes; it knows how to skew the current times while demanding to be re-read through the backdrop of future ages. And even when rereading, as Jackson says, “aren’t we always reading everything for the first time?” [AGNI, 236 Bay State Road, Boston MA 02215. E-mail: agni@bu.edu. Single issue $10. www.bu.edu/agni] – Christopher Mote

 

eye~rhyme

“Roses are Red: An All-Portland Issue”

Issue 7

2004

Ah, Portland. Village on the Willamette. Microbrewery capital of the world. Stumptown. Rip City. And, of course, the Rose Garden—and what an intriguing assortment of roses to be picked. Taking a trip through the latest issue of eye~rhyme is like having an impatient child pull you through a circus of kerosene-doused cannibals at a Sunday stroll’s pace. This anarchic, bipolar spirit can be found everywhere in this anthology of the Portland arts scene. It’s in Nick Jaina’s “Sadness: A Field Guide,” which uses dead-on conceits to describe obsessively every way of being down in the dumps. Under Lethargy: “This is a poor excuse for sadness. This is dragging a sack of tuba bells behind you. Where are you taking them?” It’s in “Night Soil: Interviewing Walt Curtis,” in which the famed local bard Curtis fidgets, curses, and refuses to go along with the setup, resulting in a meta-interview that reads like a comedy of the absurd with dialogue penned by Edward Albee. And it’s ripe in every line of poetry from “You are a drunk / if her breasts mean more / than food, your next cigarette” (Matt Sorenson) to “I know that death is just another / way of changing the geography” (Curtis). Call it what you will: I still find myself caught between mellowness and hysterical abandon every time I pick this little book up. To top it off, eye~rhyme is eco-friendly, printed on recycled paper with soy-based ink, providing for a truly alternative read. [eye~rhyme, Pinball Publishing, 1003 SE Grant St., Portland OR 97214. E-mail: info@pinballpublishing.com. Single issue $6. www.eye-rhyme.com] – Christopher Mote

 

Gargoyle

Issue 48

Gargoyle 48 confuses me. The cover is entirely taken up by a photo of two women in low cut shirts looking like they want to punch me. On the back, I see names such as E. Ethelbert Miller. The first page is a long political quote from Gore Vidal. The non-fiction reads like fiction, the poetry reads like prose and prose reads like poetry. I think Gargoyle would be pleased with this review. They seem to strive to be surprising and fresh. Their website explains that issues have been published on cassette tapes and that others have featured writers from Charles Bukowski to Rita Dove. The key word here is eclectic, and at 362 pages, Gargoyle 48 contains plenty to be excited about. Sarah Wolfson offers up two engaging and irreverent prose-poems about meat tenderizers as home decorations and animal taxonomy: “The white elephant is mislabeled as such. The title sticks. Every one hereafter is severely disappointed by what is only a light pinkish area around her eyes.” Ron Androla offers up four quirky poems, one of which begins, “george harrison is ash, / entirely molecule-sized,” while Neil Boyack gives us a great, disquieting short-short titled, “A Chair in the Shower.” I could go on, but I am already out of space. Gargoyle is a magazine to pick up, flip to a random page and know you will find something interesting if not excellent. I am ashamed that I’ve lived in D.C. this long unaware of Gargoyle’s existence. [Gargoyle, P.O. Box 6216 Arlington, VA 22206-0216. Email: atticus@atticusbooks.com. Single issue: $10. www.atticusbooks.com/gargoyle/gargoyle.html] – Lincoln Michel

 

Glimmer Train

Issue 54

Spring 2005

It’s probably redundant to elaborate on a short story titled “Death Is Not a Bad Joke If Told the Right Way.” Forgive me for trying: I can’t get enough of this meditative piece by Yiyun Li, a memoir of life in a Chinese commune in the 1970s, and the plight of an educated man rendered useless by the Cultural Revolution, as witnessed by the narrator as a child. Combining the wit and wisdom of tradition with the Communist ethos of the present, Li’s story has that perfect Glimmer Train touch: a world made real not by the urgency of plot but through the depths of character and setting. No story in this volume (twelve in all) is anything less than well-written; each world stays with you after you’ve finish reading. Other highlights include a gothic tale set in 1800s wintry Cape Cod following the aftermath of a young woman’s rape in Joseph Flanagan’s “Creed of Whispers,” and a brief but scintillating memory of 1960s adolescence in Lex Williford’s “Beck’s Girls” made more poignant when placed in its historical context. And while there may not be much character development in “Spring Creek Pass” by David Hicks, the landscape it paints across the Heartland and through the Rockies achieves almost a negative capability. Glimmer Train’s intimate author stories-behind-the-stories complete the set. Among the great fiction journals, they don’t come more polished than this. [Glimmer Train Press, Inc., 1211 NW Glisan Street, Suite 207, Portland OR 97209. E-mail: info@glimmertrain.com. Single issue $12. www.glimmertrainpress.com] – Christopher Mote

 

The Hudson Review

Volume 56 Number 4

Winter 2005

At a time when many of its academic colleagues are revamping themselves with colorful up-to-date looks, The Hudson Review remains the same monochrome-cover journal with solid helpings of criticism and literature from the high establishment. Whatever your opinion of the establishment is, THR still manages to transcend it. While Brian Phillips evaluates David Foster Wallace as the last prophet of postmodern lit, Mark Jarman dares to reconsider Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha, long removed from the literary canon, as quite an enjoyable poem not to venerate but merely to read. Nancy Mayer’s “Reloading That Gun” is a thoughtful take on a popular Dickinson verse, challenging long-held feminist interpretations but also sympathizing with them. You may even be relieved to find some contemporary formalist (read: rhyming) poetry on these pages. Try this couplet from Timothy Murphy’s “Hunter’s Log”: “A bowl of steak tartare, a bed of down? / Or blue eyes fathoming two eyes of brown.” The reviews of the goings-on about town (choral music, Chopin recitals, the refurbished Museum of Modern Art) are honest and reliable, but it helps to be in with the cultural elite to enjoy them. Not for the faint of heart, THR may be geriatric at its worst, but you admire it for sowing the seeds of well-ordered argument and criticism among the ruins of cheap-shot hysteria. Karen Wilkin calls the MoMA a “true oasis of rationality.” Think of THR in the same way. [The Hudson Review, 684 Park Avenue, New York NY 10021. (online form contact) Single issue $9. www.hudsonreview.com] – Christopher Mote

 

The Missouri Review

Volume 27 Number 3

2004

“Tell me about loneliness,” begins Peter Selgin’s arresting short story, “Color of the Sea.” There isn’t a writer in this collection who doesn’t know loneliness, whether by the nature of the craft or the scope of their experience, and yet reading this “Solo” themed issue of The Missouri Review is a communal act: there is unity in that feeling of alone. The centerpiece is a collection of unpublished letters by prolific author Ray Bradbury. Although easily dismissed as a sci-fi pulp storyteller, Bradbury reveals himself in his correspondence to be a writer of wide tastes dedicated steadfast to his work; his inclusion here shows how his contributions to American literature (viz. Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes) deserve careful reevaluation. The creative nonfiction in TMR, meanwhile, fits in so well that it’s almost indistinguishable from its fictional counterparts. Steve Salerno’s “‘The Feel of Nothing’” is a testament to an aspiring athlete’s religious-like devotion to the pitching machine. Every detail of the experience is pure and exact: for Salerno, the batting cage becomes shelter and creates meaning. And then there’s “Color of the Sea,” an instant classic about a brief rendezvous between perfect strangers on the island of Crete. Selgin’s tale belongs to the Hemingway tradition of stories about the soul-searching American who discovers himself abroad; the questions it asks about the human condition are both contemporary and timeless. Forget highbrow and lowbrow. If you’re looking for a straightforward portfolio of the many faces of great literature, dive right in. [The Missouri Review, 1507 Hillcrest Hall, University of Missouri, Columbia MO 65211. E-mail: rief@mississippireview.com. Single issue $7.95. www.missourireview.com] – Christopher Mote

 

The New Quarterly

Canadian Writers & Writing

Number 92

Fall/Winter 2004/2005

As far as fiction goes, this issue of The New Quarterly is in a class of its own. The prose was consistently precise and original, the stories themselves well-crafted and well-developed. In fact, as I read these stories in a chronological order from front to back, it repeatedly seemed as if the following story far outshone the previous, as if the magazine simply surged forward with an ever increasing and ever impressive quality. Loosely based on the theme of “Weddings & Other Disasters,” the stories explore the common themes of love, and marriage, and motherhood, and divorce though each approaches these topics in a truly unique and surprising way. I particularly enjoyed Vivette J. Kady’s “Most Wanted,” about the dwindling estrangement of a well-suited couple, and Carolyn Black’s “Baby Mouth,” an eerie and bizarre take on a woman struggling to accept her new role as a mother. Magazine editor Kim Jernigan’s interview with Mary Borsky was a great enhancement to appreciating Borsky’s story “Wedding Pictures,” though the story was fantastic on its own as well. The short stories in this issue of The New Quarterly were all so consistently good it’s difficult to single them out one by one or to narrow their depth and complexity into a single sentence. If you are looking for superior prose, I highly recommend this magazine. [The New Quarterly, St. Jerome’s University, 290 Westmount Rd., N. Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. E-mail: editor@newquarterly.net. Single issue $16.50. www.newquarterly.net/] – Mary Baken

 

Room of One’s Own

Volume 27 Number 4

2005

I found this volume of Room of One’s Own to be a fifty-fifty combination of really good and then really disappointing poetry and prose. The good stuff was so good that I would be doing a great disservice not to recommend the magazine, but the bad stuff was so predictable and bland that I have to temper my recommendation with reservations.  On the good side I highly recommend Natalie Pepa’s “The Signs of Love,” a wonderful story told from a child’s point of view as her parents struggle to cope as post-war immigrants in Argentina. I also loved Ami McKay’s “Christ on a Bike,” a funny, and quirky take on sexual awakening. Likewise, I loved Pam Galloway’s prose/poem “Orange—Segments From A Life,” an experimental piece that somehow wonderfully worked. On the poetry side I liked Kathryn Kirkpatrick’s “My Students Read A Doll’s House,” which begins with the wonderful lines “Nora has hidden her macaroons. / Torvald has produced no miracle. // A young man twists his baseball cap, / speaks of his mother / as if the door Nora slammed, / shut on him too.” Joanna M. Weston’s poem “Under A Yew,” ends with a heartbreaking twist, and Angela Hibbs’ series of tongue in cheek poems were a true delight to read. Unfortunately, the other prose pieces were well-written but somehow fell short of being spectacular for me, and the greater portion of the poetry was too simplistically anger motivated, too “feminist” in the shallow, flippant, and derogatory use of that word. Hopefully the next issue of Room of One’s Own will be a little more quality consistent. Judging by the best of this volume, the potential for a great magazine is definitely there. [Room of One’s Own, P.O. Box  46160, Station D, Vancouver, BC V6J 5G5, Canada.. E-mail: contactus@roommagazine.com. Single issue$13/U.S. www.roommagazine.com] – Mary Baken

 

Topic

Number 7

2005

This was my first encounter with an issue of Topic magazine and I was immediately smitten with its slick graphics, compelling photographs, good writing, and overall quirky approach to the meaning of “family.” Beginning with Justine Kurland’s fun and irreverent cover photo, I was gleefully drawn into the magazine through the compelling photo essay titled “Family Album” wherein Topic invited a total of eighteen photographers to submit old and new images of “family.” This was followed by the hysterical “Letter From The Editor” and into the text of the magazine itself, beginning with Liz Bussey Fentress’s essay “Liberty Act” about her attempt to join a newly formed circus immediately after completing her undergraduate degree. This issue of Topic contains a total of seven main non-fiction essays, each of which wonderfully illustrates the touching depths of our idiosyncratic selves, from Natalia Tkachenko’s “Cyber Bride,” about finding her husband online, to Craig Sander’s essay “Soulmates” about identical twins marrying identical twins. I was particularly intrigued and haunted by Janine Avril’s essay “Eavesdropping” which deals with the early loss of her parents and the never ending mysteries they left behind, and Amanda Miller’s essay “Estranged” about her work as an estates analyst attempting to distribute the “estates” of those whose families have parted ways. I found Topic #7 to be a sheer delight and anxiously look forward to reading Topic #8.[Topic, P.O. Box 502, New York, N.Y. 10014. E-mail: info@topicmag.com. Single issue $8.  www.topicmag.com] – Mary Baken


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NewPages Literary Magazine Stand Archives

March 2005
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December 2004
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Cumulative Index of Lit Mags Reviewed