Literary Magazine Reviews
Posted Sept 25, 2006
Bat City Review
The new issue of the Bat City Review starts off strong with Michael Czyniejewski’s “Pleurisy,” a strangely moving story where the small lies of a marriage get reflected in the inconsistency of the family dictionary's definitions and eventually other written materials in their home. Clocking in at only four pages, its slippery definitions haunt well beyond the story’s size on paper. Elsewhere, Maryl Jo Fox's “Marker” brings us a post-apocalyptic tale regarding an artist’s capture and near-escapes from the vain dictator who rules her world. As the warlord stages twisted beauty pageants and forces refugee artists to paint her image, the narrator can do nothing but flee uselessly towards the borders of her failed society. Cruel and evocative, “Marker” shouldn’t be missed by anyone interested in the quickly emerging slipstream genre. In poetry, Stephen Dunn’s “How to Write a Dream Poem” brings a light tone to the difficulty of conveying a powerful dream to someone else, its advice wisely steering the dream-writer away from truth and toward the more profound potentials of story, feeling, and those ever present dream symbols. The poem begins with the line “do not try to be faithful,” but in fact seems to mean the opposite: Be faithful by giving up hard facts in the pursuit of some larger truth. This piece of advice could just as easily be applied to either of the narrators in the stories mentioned above, making it an intriguing link between the issue’s strongest fictional offerings. With work this good, Bat City Review is certainly on the cusp of a wider recognition. While some new magazines are ones to watch, Bat City Review is one to subscribe to, immediately and without delay. [Bat City Review, Department of English, The University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station B5000, Austin, TX 78712. Single issue $8. http://batcityreview.com/] –Matt Bell
The Bellingham Review
Number 2 Issue 56
The Bellingham Review, produced by Western Washington University, offers an outstanding selection of poetry in its fall issue. A number of the poems are inspired by visual art, such as Diane LeBlanc’s “Bardo,” Ricardo Pau-Llosa’s “Brujula,” and Matt Donovan’s “Guernica, First Draft”: “May 1, 1937, four days after the fact, / Pencil lead on blue notepaper, / contours, skeletal whorls.” Melissa Kwasny’s bold and sprawling poem, “The Waterfall,” is also a standout. The prose is strong as well, with a preference for straightforward, earnest narratives in fiction—I particularly enjoyed Anthony Varallo’s “The Eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckelburg”— and several excellent nonfiction pieces, such as Julie Danho’s “As Coffee”: “Coffee trees believe in beauty. They refuse to grow anywhere but the earth’s heat—from 25 degrees north to 25 degrees south of the equator—where temperatures hover between 70 and 80 degrees year round.” This issue also includes three impressive reviews with Gary Snyder, David Suzuki, and Gretel Ehrlich. A magazine well worth checking out. [The Bellingham Review, MS-9053, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA 98225. Single issue $7. www.wwu.edu/~bhreview] –Laura van den Berg
Beloit Poetry Journal
Volume 56 Number 4
I’m sure I finally understand the meaning of the term “fine etched” now, which I confess I wasn’t always certain I did, because I can think of no better phrase to characterize the luminous poems in this issue of BPJ. These poems are like this venerable journal itself, slender, deliberate, careful, and nearly perfect. Many are delicately wrought (poems by Sonja James, Marsha Pomerantz, Lynette Ng), others are urgent or exuberant, but never in a casual way (poems by Garth Greenwell and Anne Marie Macari), and a few are more direct, more immediate, and equally well crafted (poems by Kristina Martino and Malcolm Alexander). Poems by Aimee Sands, Robert Buchko, and B. Z. Niditch are a testament to the ordinary word’s exquisite potential, in the hands of a gifted writer, to reveal whole centuries, continents, and galaxies of thought in a few spare lines. Here is Niditch’s poem, “Holocaust and Art (Gorky, Celan, and Levi),” the last in the issue — a measure of how thoughtfully BPJ is edited, for what poem could follow?
You cannot live
are named Jeremiah
and survive all tears.
Obviously an animal
cannot paint or write.
Yet Jeremiah dies mysteriously
in Armenia, Germany, and Italy,
living more than one life,
spilling myth and milk.
[Beloit Poetry Journal, P.O. Box 151, Farmington, ME 04938. Single issue $5. www.bpj.org] –Sima Rabinowitz
The Bitter Oleander
Volume 12 Number 1
What I’ve come to expect of the Bitter Oleander is work that is unusual. Not odd or inaccessible or experimental, but unusual — poetry with unusual diction or an unusual tone and stories with unusual perspectives. This issue is no exception. I liked, in particular, poems by Shawn Fawson, George Kalamaras, and Kenneth Frost, and an amazing piece of short fiction by Michael Roberts, “Found in the Wreckage,” in which a man contemplates his own death in prose that is both chilling and lyrical. All of the fiction, in fact, is sharp, disturbing, and unforgettable. This issue’s special feature is a long interview with poet Martín Camps, conducted via email in English, and a terrific selection of his poems, translated from the Spanish by Anthony Seidman. (Camps was born and raised in Mexico; he studied in California where he now resides.)
Camps is successful, I think, in his desire for the work, “to communicate my internal world, instead of the ‘small talk’” — here’s an excerpt from “Niagara”:
His words on the page imitated the waterfall,
like the torrent of thunder
as if the earth were to clear its throat to
tell us something terrifying.
His work tends toward the lyrical, and like the Latin American poets who inspired him, he is interested in the metaphysical as it is reflected in the natural world. Anyone familiar with the work of Octavio Paz, for example, cannot help but hear echoes of his earthy lyricism in the poems of Martín Camps. Seidman’s translations are strong and fluid, but I longed to compare them with the originals. Seidman’s translation of two poems by Estrella del Valle also appear in this issue, alongside the original Spanish, and there are two original poems by Alberto Blanco, with English translations by John Oliver Simon in this issue, as well. [The Bitter Oleander Press, 4983 Tall Oaks Drive, Fayetteville, NY 13066-9776. Single issue $8. www.bitteroleander.com] –Sima Rabinowitz
General Issue with Special Focus Section: Conjoining Literature and Linguistics
Volume 33 Issue 2
If you think literary criticism couldn't possibly appeal to anyone but other writers of literary criticism, this issue of College Literature may change your mind. Serious readers and writers of poetry will be interested in Nigel Fabb and Morris Halle's theory of metrical verse, presented in their essay “Metrical Complexity in Chrisinta Rosetti's Verse.” Fabb and Halle use a structure they call a metrical grid to demonstrate that meter and rhythm (“the performed rhythms of the line”) are distinct from each other. The complex relationship between the line's metrical representation and its perceived rhythms create the basis of the aesthetic experience of metricality, they argue. While it's aimed at literature teachers, particularly teachers of fiction, Elana Tapia's essay “Beyond a Comparison of Two Distinct Things; or What Students of Literature Gain from a Cognitive Linguistic Approach to Metaphor” is a useful essay about the importance of the cognitive or conceptual view of metaphor (as opposed to more traditional views) for anyone interested in considering how language works to mask and to illuminate our understanding of the world. Oliver Mason and Rhiannon Platt's essay on the lexical patterns in George W. Bush's 2002 State of the Union Address, “Embracing a New Creed: Lexical Patterning and the Encoding of Ideology,” is riveting, and I do not exaggerate. The authors, who examine “how certain patterns of usage are employed to convey meaning beyond the stated propositions” certainly have me convinced that training in linguistics should be part of every citizen's education. Anyone who has ever worked in academia will appreciate Charles J. Stivale's essay, “Tenure and its Denial: Facing the Winter Years and Beyond,” and the piece offers some relief from the important, but dense work of the articles which precede and follow it. [College Literature, 210 E. Rosedale Ave, West Chester University, West Chester, PA 19383. Single issue $10. www.collegeliterature.org] –Sima Rabinowitz
Volume 33 Number 1
The Colorado Review, a handsome journal from Colorado State University, offers readers a quality selection of poetry and prose in the spring issue, demonstrating both a defined aesthetic and enjoyable diversity. The fiction (which includes a story from Alix Ohlin) features direct, third person narratives and a somber realism—stories that, in one way or another, start by laying a few cards on the table, the one exception being the energetic wordplay of Evan Lavender Smith’s “Based on a True Story.” The poetry is more stylistically varied, with an eye towards the abstract. Standouts include Stephanie Matlak’s “Tree in River in House,” Joseph Lease’s “Winter Night,” and Michelle Mitchell-Foust’s “From Sadorus”: “When the wilderness moves / to its other world, the / egg shells will rise up / like the doomed. They will be / the beautiful ones.” Colin Rafferty’s nonfiction piece about being an art museum security guard, “Pictures at an Exhibition,” is another highlight: “Stay in the lines and you’ll never see us. No one ever asks why we walk the halls in our steady gaits, the tap tap tap of shoes on the floor, but the answer is easy. We’re here to keep you away. We’re here to make sure you don’t get too close to what brings you here.” Another treat lies in wait, tucked into the very back of the issue: a wonderful bundle of book reviews—poetry and one story collection. The superb reviews provide a satisfying ending, which, as most writers understand, is no small feat. [The Colorado Review, Department of English, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523. Single issue $10. www.coloradoreview.com] –Laura van den Berg
Volume 35 Number 1
The new issue of Event, a Canadian magazine out of Douglas College, gets off to a promising start with the “Notes on Writing” section, a suite of brief essays that cover the perils of writing about one’s family, using the “cheese factor” as a means of evaluating poetry, the balance between “real life” and creative pursuits, pop culture, and the art of concentration. The prose and poetry that follows is adept, although the arrangement—isolating the genres, as opposed to interspersing the poems, for example, throughout the issue—became a bit monotonous. Standouts in poetry include Sioux Browning’s “Fat Woman Ponders Science and Discovery” and Brenda Leifso’s “The Land Where Night Enters”: “this is the land where night enters / unturns for you / the sun the length of light you cannot follow / your breadcrumbs eyeless / in the dark of your hands / the coil of string / cannot be undone.” For the most part, the fiction is on the shorter end and steeped in realism, and I particularly enjoyed Jessica Grant’s clever “Desert Island.” The quartet of reviews at the end of the issue makes for a nice closer. [Event, Douglas College, PO Box 2503, New Westminster, BC V3L 5B2. Single issue $9.95. http://event.douglas.bc.ca] –Laura van den Berg
The Hudson Review
Volume 58 Number 1
The spring issue, celebrating fifty-eight years of publication for The Hudson Review, is fiction free, focusing instead on criticism, cultural essays, and poetry. There are three stunning poems from Rachael Hadas, including “Light Bulbs and Soap”: “September: sunny afternoon. / Stroll with my sister once again. / Drained by two hours of angry sleep, / limp, drowsy, I less stroll than droop. / Watch out, though. Something fin-like slides / up from the river as if to slice / our futures. Yours is granite; mine / is thorns and mist. It cuts through both.” Margaux Poueymirou’s “Starlings” and Elizabeth Harrington’s “Vacancy” are also standouts. The topics of the critical essays range from Troy to William Empson to Kierkegaard, while the “Chronicles” examine The American Ballet’s fall season, theater, film, The New York City Opera, and Edvard Much at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I highly recommend this edition of The Hudson Review, especially for those who enjoy critical writing. [The Hudson Review, 684 Park Avenue, Hudson, NY 10021. Single issue $9. www.thehudsonreview.com] –Laura van den Berg
Volume 30 Number 1
It’s a confident mag that simply calls itself “The Journal,” as if
it were the only one, but after 33 years of publication, The Journal
has earned that right. Committed to publishing “writing not easily classified
by genre,” this volume packs 132 potent pages. Marsha Recknagel’s essay
“Between Two Storms” reflects on Hurricane Katrina’s psychological impact.
Recknagel, whose family, friends, memoir and life’s milestones are,
or were, all rooted in New Orleans, now finds her sense of self and
identity lost somewhere between past and present tense and frets over
what geographic devastation means to a person for who, like her Southern
culture, “the past is never the past,” but always the present. In the
essay “Bo,” MFA student Julie Wan recounts the struggle to unravel the
mysteries of her native Chinese medicinal traditions as they lay hidden
behind conceptual and language barriers. With vivid glimpses into her
father’s schooling in Communist Korea, Wan relays how that same medical
tradition saved her from being aborted when her mother briefly defied
doctor’s orders not to eat certain “cool” foods. And the fiction is
stellar, too. Meghan Fox’s “Her Cause Was Holy,” winner of The Journal’s
first annual Flash Writing Contest, weaves a familiar tale of sexual
awakening with the unique motif of two Iraq wars. In “When You’re Smiling,”
Louis Gallo follows one dour, self-pitying father’s fixation on a perpetually
smiling woman who he thinks has the secret to happiness; through a wash
of mechanical, microbial and familial troubles, he confronts his fear
of fun, letting go and awakening to life’s small pleasures. As moving
as these pieces are, the issue’s strongest story is Armand ML Inezian’s
“Clean,” which follows an A.D.D. Armenian kind-of-college-kid as he
struggles to create a viable life for himself just as he starts to descend
into the violent, hopeless world of LA’s Armenian versus Mexican gang
warfare. An unsentimental mixture of alien subcultures and familiar
feelings, the characters linger like bullet holes in a shot-up stop
sign, and the narrative voice captures youth’s gritty parlance and desperate
confusion while still maintaining youth’s humorous abandon. See? Like
the magazine says: writing this good doesn’t need a fancy name.
[The Journal, Department of English, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210. www.English.osu.edu/journals/the_journal/ ]
The Kenyon Review
Volume 28 Number 3
The Kenyon Review can always be counted on for exceptional poetry and prose; their latest effort is no exception. A wonderful new section debuts in this issue, Andre Bernard’s “The Casual Reader,” in which the author discusses the books that found their way onto his reading list and struck a chord. The first installment is eclectic: Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes; 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen; The Spy Who Came in From the Cold; Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness;, and The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards, and the Circulation of Cultural Value. All these titles were new to me and I was grateful to Mr. Bernard for the recommendations. The fiction is also wonderfully varied: the iced-over landscape of Bridget Bentz Sizer’s “Snow Blind” to the gothic domesticity of Philip Deaver’s “Lowell and the Rolling Thunder” to the Tokyo setting of Don Lee’s comically sorrowful “A Preference for the Native Tongue” to M. Allen Cunningham’s structurally innovative “Twelve Monthly Devotions.” The poetry selections are also outstanding, particularly Eamon Grennan’s deliciously frenetic “In Bits” and the more contemplative “Night”: “What to make of night, then, its caul of stars sequined and— / for all their fixture—unsteady as breath, able to be winked out / by the smallest cloud?” This edition also features an excellent interview with Grennan and an array of book reviews. [The Kenyon Review, Walton House, Kenyon College, Gambier, OH 43022-9623. Single issue $10. www.kenyonreview.org] –Laura van den Berg
The Louisville Review
The poetry in The Louisville Review is accomplished-sounding, conventional and predictably “poetic.” The second piece attests to this: “Koi and goldfish drift in languorous bliss.” This is the type of language and construction we expect, and so often find, in thousands of other works, an aesthetic trendiness. The fiction is, on the whole, more enticing. However, the opener, “Dhobi Ghat,” is a long, exceedingly dull story that deploys far too many Hindi words without explanation. This leaves the reader adrift, perplexed. Like many journals, The Louisville Review may be too quick to publish the exotic, perhaps in the effort to gain multicultural credibility. “The Plagiarist” by Eric Lundgren, on the other hand, is one of the best stories I’ve read in years. His deadpan humor is dead-on: “On his way out he attempts a nod of appreciation to the barista. He has offended the barista. Last week he asked if she knew the origin of the name Starbucks, and when she didn’t, he enlightened her: “A certain novel called Moby Dick by one Herman Melville. You should read his letters to Hawthorne sometime.” An astonishingly flaccid pick-up line. Lundgren constantly surprises and impresses; his story is witty, poignant, crafted with impeccable precision and skill. At $20, The Louisville Review does not come cheap, but it may be worth it for this story alone. [The Louisville Review, Spalding University, 851 S. Fourth Street, Louisville, KY 40203. Single issue $20. www.louisvillereview.org] –Andrew Madigan
The always excellent Stephen Dixon leads off the seventeenth issue of Meridian with “Going Back,” the story of Meyer, a writer who gets his best ideas for stories right after he’s had sex with his wife. Faced with a bad case of writer’s block, he tries to seduce his wife over and over in an attempt to get some work done. Luckily for us, the writers who inhabit this issue of Meridian were apparently faced with no such blockages (or at least conquered them more successfully than Dixon’s Meyer does). The stories and poems included in this issue show an amazingly wide range of styles and, more impressively, voices. From the faux-historical narration of Daniel A. Hoyt’s “Maria” to the confessional whisper of Bob Thurber’s “Cinderella She Was Not” (winner of the 2006 Meridian Editor’s Prize for Fiction), each of this issue’s stories are entirely distinct in their choices of subject matter and guiding aesthetics. The issue also contains new poetry from over a dozen poets, including Elizabeth Gold, whose standout “The Juggler Is Tired Now” is full of exhausted longing and fantastic imagery—”He would like to be / that woman out there squeezing / cantaloupes without thought / of how many she could hurt / and catch without / dropping.” With so many literary magazines switching to themed issues or settling into comfortable stylistic preferences, it’s exciting to see Meridian take a chance on so many different writers working in a variety of genres and aesthetic movements. Running the gamut of contemporary styles and subjects, Meridian guarantees not to disappoint anyone’s taste, while at the same time offers an opportunity for new literary experiences that shouldn’t be missed by any interested in the future of American writing. [Meridian, University of Virginia, P.O. Box 400145, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4145. Single issue $7. www.readmeridian.com] –Matt Bell
Notre Dame Review
In this issue’s engaging and entertaining interview with novelist Lance Olsen, conducted by Renée E. D’Aoust, Olsen dismisses prose he considers to be “the art of consolation and solace” and describes the texts that excite him most: “…the ones that impede easy accessibility, move us into regions of disturbance, make us feel the opposite of comfortable…I can’t imagine a more important role for writing. Wake up, wake up, wake up, the more important of it says.” The work in Notre Dame Review is by no means inaccessible or even deliberately disturbing, but none of it is ordinary, and much of it is intelligent and sophisticated. There is an especially large number of poems this issue based on historical themes, circumstances, and personalities, including work by D. E. Steward, Thom Satterlee, Jill McDonough, Peter Nohrnberg, Anis Shivani, Floyd Skloot, Jay Rogoff, Robert Bense, Thomas O’Grady, and Askold Skalsky, as well as a number of fine lyrical poems by Michelle Detorie, Mary Quade, Cynthia Sowers and others. The prolific Michael S. Harper contributes two new poems, and I am pleased to learn in the “Contributors’ Notes” that he has a new book coming out next year. One of them most delightful pieces is a short essay by the very young and very talented Heather Treseler, who writes about what she learned from Saul Bellow in a class she took with him as a teenager. The essay is funny, insightful, and beautifully composed. The piece in the issue that may come closest to making us feel the “opposite of comfortable,” is classified in the “Table of Contents” as “docufiction,” prose by Dimitri Anastasopoulous titled “Signs of Intrauterine Life: An Expectant Father’s Notebook.” It’s part personal essay, part science article, and part science fiction, an exploration of the biological changes that take place during gestation in the life of the “baby-grower’s” mate (the father). [Notre Dame Review, 840 Flanner Hall, University of Notre Dame, IN 46556. Single issue $8. www.ned.edu/~ndr/review.htm] –Sima Rabinowitz
The Oxford American
This glossy, rightfully called “The New Yorker of the South,” has folded three times yet never lost enough of its creative momentum to keep it down. Dedicated to the “Best of the South,” this issue not only features colorful pieces by regular contributors, but defensive editor Mark Smirnoff actually kept his introduction short enough (Issue 52 featured a 7-page rant about a hoax) to fit a 25-page special section filled with inspired odes to the people, places and flavors that make the South distinct: a drive-in theater that also sells guns; a family of 16 eerie cemetery statues — including a horse, fox and deer — all facing east, in Kentucky; a quirky tribute to actor Warran Oates by hilarious and not-yet-adequately appreciated Jack Pendarvis; funeral culture and a dying relative; a butterscotch pie. Laced with luminous photographs, picking a favorite from these would like trying to pick your favorite single flavor in a bowl of jambalaya.
The OA’s regular “columns and departments” are always stellar and frankly what make the magazine a national literary treasure. Roy Blount, JR’s “The Best of Bad Gaynelle,” for example, is a riotous sampling of work by a playfully unapologetic newswoman who, over 30 years, fabricated human interest stories for the “Only in Our Southland” column, proving that her fiction was as compelling and indistinguishable from the actual news. John T. Edge profiles roving waffle and peanut vendors, a career mayonnaise-maker, and the sassy cookbook author Marie Rudisill who, thanks to cupping Hugh Grant’s boot-ay on The Tonight Show, will be most widely remembered as “The Fruitcake Lady.”
This issue contains two intriguing “Writers on Writing” features, one about why Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” might be the best Southern short story ever written, the other an author’s agonizing search for the source of a mysterious domestic racket. Not surprisingly, there are Hurricane Katrina pieces, one of which is the issue’s weakest. “Love in the Ruins” follows Ada Liana Bidiuc’s trip to gut New Orleans’ houses. Motivated by an inter-semester slump where she was “skulking around the house… wishing I were dead,” this spring breaker traveled south to help, but backdropped against our nation’s worst natural disaster, all Bidiuc’s nighttime drinking and lusting after shirtless Habit for Humanity boys make her good work seem like nothing more than a way to pass time and raise her fragile confidence. As always, the issue also features new fiction and nonfiction. We can only pray this uniquely Southern magazine never folds again, and that, if it does, it will rise Phoenix-like from the ashes back on a regular publication cycle in perpetuity. [Oxford American, 201 Donaghey Avenue, Main 107, Conway, AR 72035. Single issue $4.95. www.oxfordamerican.org] –Aaron Gilbreath
“Tribute to the Best of Rattle”
Volume 12 Number 1
This issue of Rattle includes forty-two poems in a “Tribute Section” celebrating the magazine's 25th anniversary. Reading these poems, and William O'Daly's brilliant essay, “Speaking Freely: Poetry, Torture, and Truth,” I was sorry I'd ever missed a single issue of the journal. (The essay is the second half of a two-part essay, which may be found in its entirety at www.poetsagainstthewar.org.) The tribute is introduced by editor Stellasue Lee, who describes her interaction with Rattle poets over the years and includes their thoughts on the poetic process (many of which are also included in the “Contributors' Notes”). It's a moving essay, made all the more so at the conclusion with Lee's revelation as the result of her forty-year-old stepdaughter’s death in an accident just two weeks earlier—”that's why we write, not to be alone.” And you won't be alone — you'll be in the great company of Salah al Hamdani, whose beautiful poem “Baghdad Mon Amour” (translated by Molly Deschenes), couldn't be more powerful or more timely (“You cannot tremble at the threshold of these ruins of days”); and Tony Goeggeler, whose poem “1969” is also, and sadly so, utterly timely (“Two white gloved Marines / rang the bell, stood / on our stoop….My father / started Johnny's car / revved the engine / until every tool / hanging in the garage / shook.”); and Lola Haskins, whose poem, “Halfway Down the Block, Your Father,” is typical of her work, deceptively simple and gut wrenching; and Philip Levine, and Li-Young Lee, and Yusef Komunyakaa, and the late Julie Goldman, whose poem “End of Season,” is a testament to the work that ordinary language can do (“The folded shirt goes with the rest, / face up in a storage box that smells of cedar, like a casket.”). It's hard to believe, but the tribute constitutes less than half the issue, which also includes 47 new poems, seven reviews, and interviews with Hayden Carruth and Mark Jarman, whose poems “The Northern Lights” and “Almost” appear in this issue. Judging by the new poems, I'd say Rattle's next twenty-five years will be as strong as the last. [Rattle, 12411 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91604. Single issue $10. www.rattle.com] –Sima Rabinowitz
Still in its infancy, Silent Voices, published by Ex Machine Press, is making its own foothold among the vast array of literary journals. Its fiction-only focus is a plus for those of us looking for contemporary story collections, and a welcome relief from some of the more popular “Best of…” publications that seem to have bottomed out in terms of presenting a variety of style. (And for short story/creative writing teachers out there using those publications in your classes, SV certainly offers an alternative that might be of more interest to your students.) SV is not all what I would consider highly polished (the end of a couple stories here or left them feeling flat; dialogue in one was stilted and could have stood some revision), and some is not even that great (a couple predictable plot lines; some flat characters; one a great idea not well executed). But, there is also plenty here that stuck with me, and that’s what I consider a good story: one that remains with me and makes me keep thinking about the characters, the time, the place – all the what-ifs and applications in my daily living. Standouts for me included “The Word Thief” by Marie Lecrivain, whose character is able to steal lines of poetry from writers who are then left with empty thoughts and open mouths. Emily Rapp’s “Francesca Woodman Prepares,” Susan Briggs’ “Going Under,” and Tanya Salvini’s “Episodes” followed one another neatly, each a dark ride into character psyche, a common thread throughout much in this journal. Unfortunately, Rebecca Epstein’s “Where We Go” didn’t do as much for me, though it was selected as the 2006 contest winner – it just seemed too close a repeat of Girl Interrupted, though it might be a strong choice for YA readers. “Winter at Eldgar” by Marika Lindholm and “Henry and Zim” by Susan Balee are tremendous for their ability to inhabit the bodies of characters with disabilities (too oft ignored in literature as well) and work through—for better or worse—the internal and external conflicts each faces. An interview with George Saunders tops off the collection, providing insight into his works as well as writerly advice, and a feature I’ve not seen in many publications but that is of great help, “Whispers” at the start of the mag, with excerpts from each story; a useful reference tool. The structure of the publication, how one story seemed to lend itself to something in the next and in the next, tells me the editors of SV have a strong overall vision of the publication, and gives me hope that it will continue to grow into something quite loud. [Silent Voices, PO Box 11180, Glendale, CA 91226. Single issue $11.08/print mailed or $9.23/pdf. www.exmachinapress.com] –Denise Hill
For its 25th Anniversary Issue, Sonora Review called on some of the University of Arizona’s MFA graduates and the journal’s previous staffers: Antonya Nelson, Tony Hoagland, Ken Lamberton, all of whom have gone on to successful careers. The cover features slivers of 37 past covers, all artfully arranged side-by-side in a bright stack of faulted literary strata. And although they couldn’t get Richard Russo and David Foster Wallace, also one-time SR staffers, this issue reaches lyrical heights without them. In Geoffrey Baker’s clever sarcastic “Know Your Saints,” an American recuperating from his ruined marriage spends time leading tourists around Italy on fake art tours where he spins lies like, “Before 1500… all depictions of Jesus showed the holy genitalia” and “the Dominicans and Franciscans were the Crips and Bloods of their day” before a single “customer” brings into question issues of morality, miracles and divine intervention. Angered by her irresponsible and now-deceased lover’s loyalty to her brother over her, Sadie, in Antonya Nelson’s “D.W.I.” — a short, internal story occurring mostly inside the protagonist’s noisy head — struggles to accept the return to her normal domestic life, the life she was escaping through the affair, and her own insatiable appetites. In addition to 31 poems and an excerpt from Maud Casey’s forthcoming novel, 3 essays accompany the fiction. In “Blurred Lines, Borderless Wings,” essayist Ken Lamberton investigates nesting Harris and Cooper’s hawks in Tucson and concludes that our lawns are as much wilderness as national parks. Still scientific but more personal, Ron Grant’s “Holding Abraham’s Knife” leads us through the murky debate over circumcision’s medical necessity. With great wit and a few impressions of his Polish great-grandmother (“Zees is ze knife zey cut your little peepala wiz.”), Grant, a pediatrician who performed his own son’s bris, confronts his feelings on the legacy of his Judaism and explores the power of tradition versus scientific opinion. Tucson may seem far off the East Coast-centric literary map, but SR proves a journal need not be near Manhattan or Iowa City to be a literary powerhouse. [Sonora Review, Department of English, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721. Single issue $8. www.coh.arizona.edu/sonora] –Aaron Gilbreath
Southern Humanities Review
Volume 40 Number 2
For how trim SHR is — barely over 200 pages — its 39-year-old mission to publish “fiction, poetry, personal and critical essays, and book reviews on the arts, literature, philosophy, religion, cultural studies, and history” is grand in scope. This issue, with 2 essays, 3 stories, 8 poems and 9 book reviews, delivers just that. Becky Bradway’s story “Sara in the Apartments of the Countess” follows two young, literary, St. Louis women to a poetry party where one of them, the latent lesbian with almost Victorian sexual mores, confronts her unclear future and desires during a reading of Baudelaire. Patricia Foster’s story “Class Day” portrays a white writer’s problematic attempt to get rural Alabama black women to tell their life stories, and as she struggles to accept the cannibalistic nature of her creative endeavor — taking other peoples’ stories and “folding them” into her own — she learns to look at her own life. Poet Andrea Deagon offers a concise, deeply lyrical essay about her narcoleptic husband. Painting a life lived along the foggy line between sleep and wakefulness, dream and hallucination, “Endymion” offers a personal glimpse into a very alien existence. From the unconscious love-making to the meds to the disability checks, Deagon compares narcolepsy to a kidnapping that happens several times a day, in this case while her husband’s riding his bike, brushing his teeth, taking his bar exam. Being a Southern journal, the second essay, “Inside Passage: A Cajun in Alaska,” offers an intriguing premise but poor execution. Written around the loose similarities between Southeast Alaska and the author’s native southern Louisiana, Germain’s unfocused attention bounces between Tlingit Indian history, Indian alcoholism, her own father’s drinking and the Tenakee Spring Village’s fight against large-scale tourism, making the essay — more a meditation really — suffer from its tangential weaving. That said, it’s easy to see why work in SHR has been anthologized or honorably mentioned in New Stories from the South and Best American Essays. Plus, SHR’s table of contents groups the genres together, and, as someone who loves to skip genre to genre, that’s something to be thankful for. [Southern Humanities Review, 9088 Haley Center, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849. Single issue $5. www.auburn.edu/english/shr/home.htm] –Aaron Gilbreath
A Journal of Spiritual Literature
Volume 2 Number 1
A young journal — this is just the third issue — Tiferet has the solidity and self-assuredness of a more seasoned publication and its approach to “spiritual literature” is expansive. Take, for example, this poem by Helen Marie Casey, “Loaves and Pears”:
I never write father poems
and I don't often write about God.
I have a father
and I believe there is a God.
I write love poems
certain that words can never envelope love.
I chew memory
and set the bigger seeds aside.
I shape pain
turning it like the pear on the windowsill
in love with the sun.
I shape it, like dough, into a loaf.
I let the poem rise
the one that wants to be about my father.
Casey's poem is not “typical” of the poetry in Tiferet, because, happily, there is no typical Tiferet poem. There are dense, intellectually inclined poems (G.C. Waldrep), challenging, inventive poems (Benjamin Paloff), clever, edgy poems (J. T. Bebarese), and smart, lyrical poems (Megham Hicky). There are several illuminating essays, including cover artist Dani Antman's “Sacred Letters,” in which she describes her engagement with the Hebrew alphabet as the inspiration for her work. Her collage, “Aleph,” makes a marvelous cover for the magazine, and her essay is an instructive piece on the artist's process. The issue contains an eclectic mix of writers (Nahid Rachlin, Rafael Campo, Ruth Knaffo Setton, Hal Sirowitz, D. Nurske, Francine Sterle, Jeffrey Levine, Maria Mazziottie Gillan) with work that is reverent (an essay by Rabbi Lenore Bohm, “On This Very Path I Will Go”), and work which questions the meaning of reverence (which is not to say irreverent). One of my favorite pieces in the magazine is Peter Selgin's essay “My Locomotive God,” a lovely, lyrical essay about the atheism the writer learned from his father, whose reverence for knowledge and deep attention to the world were, without question, a form of worship. [Tiferet. P.O. Box 659, Peapack, NJ 07977-0659. Single issue $14.95. www.tiferetjournal.com] –Sima Rabinwitz
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