Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted June 14, 2006

 

mag coverThe Allegheny Review

Volume 23

2005

Annual

Before they have the craft mastered, most undergraduate students high on talent have to settle for publishing their work in a magazine that never makes it off campus, if even outside the dorm hall. The Allegheny Review remains the lasting outlet committed to giving them the better opportunity for wide circulation. However much its selections may be arbitrary, however abundant the sloppy typos are, the magazine still packs potential. The students write about what they know: meditation on the seasons; failure to communicate in relationships; a moment of doubt while in church. "Attempting Vipassana" by Kristel Bastian is a standout, using the slightly-less-familiar theme of experimenting with Eastern meditation, but still impressive: "Your bones shudder, wanting to sprout wings / and glide with crows: dirty scavengers. / Slam it, feathers and all back into / your heart, where it will fuse muscle with muscle, / mind with blood." Elsewhere, these young writers invoke their literary heroes, evident in Jared Harel's "Kafka" and Kristin Fitzsimmons "A Letter to Baudelaire from His Landlady." And in Karl Stampfl's "The Other Grace Mandelbaum," a compulsive short story of mistaken identity and marital ennui, picture John Cheever, with a pinch of Borges, transported to a farm in the Midwest. Here and elsewhere, it's hard not to see the spark. [The Allegheny Review, Box 32, Allegheny College, Meadville PA 16335. Single issue $4. http://review.allegheny.edu] —Christopher Mote

 

American Letters & Commentary

Number 17

2005

Annual

If, as Christine Delphy writes, "We can only analyse what does exist by imagining what does not exist," American Letters & Commentary #17 proves the verity of her words. While this sort of existential imagining does not occur without staring current states in the eye, there are innumerable ways to stare. And stare they do, each writer confronting their own serrated
truth(s) from a lens fitting their particular frame. Often, these truths relate in some way to current U.S. politics, as the issue's special section, "Wedding the World and the Word," asserts. But others, too, claim a stance within the circle of the political, despite their non-listing below the special feature's title. Ben Lerner approaches the subject of armed conflict from oblique angles, and Jeff Baker even more obliquely (if at
all), while Claudia Rankine and Mary Jo Bang meet it head on and in relative plain speak, which mimics the routine shock of war heard from far away. This is an issue armed with tiny explosions in nearly every line, a coagulate of very bold and, at times, brazen words. I like my journals this way, sullied for the wiser. A little over halfway through, D.A. Powell's "Advice to a Young Poet," a deliciously candid and sometimes humbling, 18-part guidebook, arrives without warning. Powell reminds green poets to "Eat a porkchop this week. They're good for you. You know you can actually write with the end of a gnawed bone if you're short on ink." Which is the issue's bouillon cube—to document the day's events and reveries, however ugly, with whatever means available. [American Letters & Commentary, P.O. Box 830365, San Antonio, TX 78283. Single issue $8. www.amletters.org] —Erin M. Bertram

 

Arts & Letters

Issue 15

Spring 2006

Biannual

What I like best about Arts & Letters is that there is no best — everything is worth reading. This is sophisticated, polished work by experienced and accomplished writers. I'm not even tempted to skip around, but to read straight through from the Table of Contents to the Contributors' Notes. This issue gets off to a quirky start: an interview with Bob Hicok whose answers to Jessica Edwards's questions are similar in tone to that of his verse ("I'm not telling you what to do / anymore than I'm telling you what to feel, / I'm not telling you what to feel / because I'm not sure I feel anything, / I'm not sure there's anything to feel / because I'm not sure language is real.") Of course, the prize-winning short play by Phillip William Brock, three fascinating essays, the elegant translations by Alexis Levitin of poems from Portuguese by Eugenio de Andrade, the exceptional poems, solid short fiction, and book reviews that follow demonstrate not only that language is real, but really impressive in the hands of the right creators. If you're a reader who skips around, don't overlook Sarah Kennedy's three entries for her "Witch's Dictionary," poems whose epigraphs link "current events" with eighteenth century "witchcraft" or Rebecca McClanahan's moving personal essay about "My Affair with Jesus," or Viet Dinh's story "Faults." You'll appreciate just how real language can make an imaginary world seem with prose like Dinh's: "The first thing I ever stole was a heart." [Arts & Letters. Journal of Contemporary Culture, Georgia College & State University, Campus Box 89, Milledgeville, GA 31061-0490. Single issue $8. http://al.gcsu.edu/] —Sima Rabinowitz

 

Bellevue Literary Review

Volume 6 Number 1

Spring 2006

Biannual

The continuing premise of the Bellevue Literary Review is to express, through words, all the emotion that is held within the manner of sickness. This is not an easy thing to do. Illness, as fiction editor Ronna Wineberg observes, "extends its tentacles past any single episode of disease. There is the crisis, and for those fortunate enough to withstand it, the aftermath." The Spring 2006 issue promises to explore these two, crisis and aftermath. Among its pages, through fiction and poetry, both are found. Notable fiction entries are Judy Rowley's "The Color of Sound," and Joan Melarba-Foran's "The Little Things." Rowley writes of an implant that can bring sound to her deaf ears. Easy decision, right? Of literature, she explains, "I locked into the connection between the authenticity of a sound in the fullness of its color and the authentic voice, which exhibits the unique and colorful characteristics of its writer." Genuine sound, we realize, does not belong solely to those who have perfect hearing. With Melarba-Foran's "The Little Things," we're brought into the world of an alcoholic English teacher. "[…] irony belongs to those," she tells us, "who barter in language - and alcohol. I drink to make the small things look big, while most everyone else stays somewhat sober, hoping to make the small things look big." Helen Klein Ross's poem "To a Child Contemplating Suicide" eloquently brings forth that which we would all like these children to know: "Would that / I could make vivid / The void / You'd make upon leaving / The place you belong." Medicine and literature, you'll find, as you read the BLR , make a perfect union. [The Bellevue Literary Review, Department of Medicine at New York University School of Medicine, 550 First Avenue, OBV-612, New York, NY 10016. Single issue $7. www.BLReview.org] —Terri Denton

 

Black Clock

Issue Number 4

Fall/Winter 2005-06

Biannual

Black Clock is hands down the best looking literary magazine I've ever picked up. To begin with, it's a huge 8" x 11" volume with full color graphics not only on the cover but throughout the magazine. The inside layout is both graphically intense and minimalist at the same time, visually engaging without distracting from the writing itself. Luckily, Black Clock's looks aren't the only thing it has going for it—it's got personality too. The issue opens with Rachel Zucker's "Floating Wick in Petrol," a poem full of vibrant imagery and evocative pacing—"I dream a woman puts a gun in my mouth / to make me choose – lustrous, sleek, sexed." The prose in the issue consists of essays themed around lost causes and guilty pleasures, and includes work by Don DeLillo, Jonathan Lethem, and Rick Moody. Anthony Miller's essay, "Damn It, I'm a Doctor," is exactly what a guilty pleasure should be, in this case an almost excruciatingly honest account of Miller's lifelong obsession with Star Trek's Star Fleet Medical Reference Manual. Other essays detail the dark joys of Jethro Tull, Martin Lawrence, and the novels of Anthony Powell, while on the lost cause side of the issue, cases are made for Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage and the film Wanda. A fairly new magazine, Black Clock has already established itself as an interesting combination of art and writing. I look forward to seeing where it goes from here. [Black Clock, CalArts, 24700 McBean Parkway.,Valencia, CA 91355. Single issue $10. www.calarts.edu/blackclock/] —Matt Bell

 

Blue Mesa Review

Number 17

2006

Biannaul

The closest this University of New Mexico journal comes to evoking the Southwest is in an "Elegy" for James Turrell, by Mark McKain, in which the author witnesses a sunset through one of the visual artist's holed cathedral ceilings and comes to grips with his mortality. (Turrell is, of course, still very much alive.) Yet the format and style of the Blue Mesa Review is not out of place: it's in the line of the coastal émigrés who have come to define the former frontier and brought their experiences with them. The exemplar is Leo V. Love, a native New Yorker who died only weeks before completing his MFA at UNM. Included in memoriam, one of his snarkier lines of poetry reads: "The safety seals on the aspirin bottle mean nothing / if the villain works for the drug company." Especially arduous is the task of sorting through the eleven short stories, an over-burnished collection of prose that, in typical MFA style (if such a thing exists), shows off more than it needs to. "Edwin," by Teresa Milbrodt, has a strong opening hook: "I have to be clear that when the director calls to say he needs a squirrel suicide, I am the first to suggest using a stunt double, perhaps as intoxicated chipmunk, for the actual jump." (So that explains the cover art! thinks the reader, with a slap to the forehead.) Even if the stories don't always provide room for empathy, you are unlikely to find a more dazzling selection. Best to take these in stride; the 200-page volume is worthy of a weekend read, urban or elsewhere, and it discharges enough grace upon careful scrutiny. As Kirsten Kaschok writes in "Prescription": "Do not hate the sleeping when you need them. // Wake them." [Blue Mesa Review, Department of English, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque NM 87131. Single issue $10. www.unm.edu/~bluemesa] —Christopher Mote

 

Call

Number 3

2005

Biannual

Call doesn't include contributors' notes, but few of these poets require them. The twenty poets represented here include Diane Wakoski, Annie Finch, Peter Gizzi, Virgil Suarez, Rachel Hadas, Nathaniel Mackey, Cole Swenson, Mary Jo Bang, and Jerome Rothenberg, among other poetry greats. Perhaps the most unusual and therefore most fascinating work in this issue is by Anne Tardos (a piece which must surely be part of her larger "simian series")—five poems that consist of black and white photographs of monkeys with what read like poetry captions underneath. Here is the poem titled "Life":

A life terminated is still a life, while a life about to be terminated
may be less so.
The world minus me is not the same as never having been.
The world is what it is because I say so. Had I, or anyone else,
not existed, someone else would have—but try and prove it.

Is a coincidence or terribly smart editing that has placed Campell McGrath's poem "3:a.m." with this epigraph from Rilke, "Yes, everything that is truly seen must become a poem," immediately after? McGrath contributes three beautiful poems, as philosophically driven as the simian poems, but as unlike them in tone and diction as they could possibly be: "…hazy sun barely risen / above sandy flats of bayberry and waving reeds." It's impossible not to admire Call's ambitions, from Kenneth Goldsmith's "A3," a poem constructed of the juxtaposition of 9/11 news and editorial texts with the language of American retail establishments (slogans, jargon, advertising text, brand names), to excerpts from Pamela Lu's "Ambient Parking Lot," about a group of musicians who have made a career of recording the sounds of parking lots: "Spurred by the challenge of transforming ourselves into worthy agents for our art, we set out to inhabit the conditions of creation." [Call, 179 Azalea Drive, Afton, VA 22920. Single issue $10. www.callreview.net] — Sima Rabinowitz

 

Conduit

Number 16

Winter 2006

Biannual

Great literature always seems, to me, to suggest a sort of other-worldly thoughtfulness. Everything, of course, requires thought of some sort, but those who write bring a little something extra into the world. This issue of Conduit provides rebellious proof. All that is contained within the covers – narrative, story, art, interview, and photography – is impressively different from anything, in memory, I've read. There is the transcendence of Debora Kuan's poetic musing "Awaken, Yellow Chamber": "The science of sacrifice is the same anywhere. / Take two objects side by side; ignore their differences. / That thresh approaches thrash is not beside the point." There is the delightful inventiveness of James Tate's fiction. "Danger in the Shadows," is especially good. It reads,"Old man Jameson down the block was murdered by a black widow spider last night in cold blood. I'm on the look-out for that spider. It would be the first time in history that an arachnid would be brought to justice." And among the undefined is Lisken Van Pelt Dus's poem, "Teleology": "Sunset air, sunset fire. / Fire that ate the books / Books that swallowed history // [...] The books that burned: […] Geomorphic- Immunity / Think eons. There's no immunity to change. / Remember, this part of the universe has never / seen us before. // Metaphysics- Norway / The northern midnight glow cannot be explained / by physics alone. Nor can the green forest. Or the / song the fish market sings in Bergen." And if, after you've read Conduit, you require assistance in returning from literary heaven, the editors are more than willing to be of service: "In case of emergency," they offer, "Conduit can be reached at info@conduit.org. [Conduit, 510 Eighth Avenue Northeast, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55413. Single issue $8. www.conduit.org] —Terri Denton

 

Court Green

Number 2

2005

Annual

Court Green does as good a job as any journal I know of offering just the right mix of established and lesser-known poets. Whatever the length of their résumés, Court Green poets tend to be clever, sharp-witted, and philosophically astute (Elaine Equi, Maureen Seaton, Deborah Bernhardt, Veronique Pittolo, translated by Rosemarie Waldrop). The whole issue is satisfying, although there are several high points. These include Maureen Seaton's, "When I Was a Criminal," a prose poem in thirteen sections, interrupted by a list poem (section ii) that continues the thread of the title ("When I was a Witch Burner / When I Was the Staten Island Ferry / When I was John Belushi / When I was Cyrano de Bergerac"); and newcomer Sun Yung Shin's "Half the Business," the finest, most original poem I've encountered on the subject of aging: "We should all have two languages, one of our childhood, and one of our / deathbed. / God, let these two be the same. / No more songs about bureaucrats, armies, a confetti of human hair." Published annually, each issue features a special "dossier," here, a tribute to Lorine Niedecker. Unlike a lot of work written (often hastily, it seems to me) to satisfy a particular theme or focus, these poems celebrating Niedecker's oeuvre are, for the most part, exceptionally good. Particularly noteworthy are poems by C.D. Wright, "The Same Water Everywhere," Anne Waldman, "flowers of war," and Dan Beachy-Quick, "(L.N.)." Gail Roub's photos of Niedecker on Blackhawk Island provide a meaningful visual context for the many poems that refer to the island and Niedecker's relationship to life in this place ("party of one," writes C.D. Wright). [Court Green, Columbia College of Chicago, English Department, 600 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60605. Single Issue: $10. http://www.colum.edu/courtgreen/] — Sima Rabinowitz

 

Cutthroat

Volume 1 Number 1

Spring 2006

Biannual

A cutthroat is a kind of trout — and this must surely be what the journal's name refers to, given the beautiful painting by Albert Kogel, "Rush Hour Fish," on the cover—although it's hard not to think first of its better known connotations (a murderer or someone who is a ruthless competitor). So, it seems fitting that the poetry and fiction in this journal tend to tackle what I'd call "big, serious themes": the war in Iraq, the incidents of 9/11, the aftermath of major illness, literacy, Vietnamese war orphans, the effects of the one-child law in China, the violence at Columbine high school, child abuse. "Cutthroat Discovery Poet" Elizabeth Gordon's work is characteristic of the journal's predilections in terms of subject matter, though her style is more conversational than much of the work presented here. My favorite of her six poems is "Game Over, President Tells Iraq":

I remember my life like it never happened
the beautiful city of my birth
river city           colonial city      city of self-immolation
my parents' lovemaking they slow groans of continents
the dog tags pressed between them
the copter hovered above them
slicing
the ghosts of my ancestors
smell of chemicals and refuse
diesel and perfume
fine candies melting on the tongue

There are plenty of stars in this issue, as well as worthy newcomers, including Joy Harjo and Rick DeMarinis (whose own work appears alongside the work of the poetry and fiction winners of awards in their names), Marvin Bell, Judith Barrington, Dorianne Laux, Kelly Cherry, and Naomi Shihab Nye, among others. Donley Watt's fiction choices, stories by Tehila Lieberman and Pamela Hawthorne, are especially appealing. [Cutthroat, P.O. Box 2414, Durango, CO 81302. Single issue $15. www.cutthroatmag.com/]
Sima Rabinowitz

 

Eclipse

Volume 16

Fall 2005

Annual

Boasting 10-15% student work per issue, Eclipse, published by Glendale Community College, is the only nationally distributed literary journal that continues to publish students alongside authors of international prominence. As any freelancer or writing student knows, having your work published alongside Walter Cummins or Rick Moody is a reassuring nod to the quality of your work, but for readers unconcerned with such things, rest assured: student work is indistinguishable from that of the pros; the only sign of who's who are the contributors notes. At 201 pages, this issue, wrapped in a simple, matted cover, contains 11 short stories and 70 poems. The fiction all runs short, bitingly concise, ranging from urban to rural, voice-driven to traditional. Two highlights: Richard Lange's "My Inheritance," about kid whose desire for normalcy goes up in flames in the chaparral of his hippie family's California home; George Rabasa's "Feast," a rollicking character-driven glimpse at the way a book-obsessed, Marx-loving, transient cross-dresser's mental illness has disrupted his family and ruined Thanksgiving dinner. Packed with imaginative details, there's enough family drama in Rabasa's story to fill a novel, and its strangeness alone makes Eclipse worth tracking down. The poetry stands out as well: from the fun pop culture take of Ryan G. Van Cleave's "Five Failed Movie Projects Starring Britney Spears" to the emotional refinement of students Katherine Tedrow and Cynthie Cuno. Clint McCown's poem, "Boring Sunset West of Fort Stockton, After a Storm," is a snare of evocative description and pinprick emotion: "Back home, where truth nails its joke / to both sides of the door, / the hardest thing to throw away / is the garbage can. / Ideals are ladders built to fall from, / and every crack in the pavement / sprouts fire ants and weeds." Student versus professional, community college versus university, Eclipse proves that the only thing that matters for a reader is the work. [Eclipse, Glendale Community College, 1500 North Verdugo Road, Glendale, CA 91208. Single issue $6. No web site available.] —Aaron Gilbreath

 

First Intensity

Number 20

2005

Annual

First Intensity considers itself a magazine of "new writing," and indeed, most of the writers here are new to me. The editor indicates that "due to illness and the press of deadlines" no contributors' notes appear in this issue. This is actually quite freeing! Of the three dozen or so writers included here, whose names will I search for again, based on what I've read and appreciated, not on the credentials presented? I'd certainly want to read more of "The Big Picture" by Charles Borkhuis, an excerpt of which appears here, with its spare, almost stark, and striking lines: "life goes on but the photo is / its own little tomb." I'd be happy to stumble upon another of John Olson's insightful little essays, like "The New Narrative or A Bee is a Predicate with Wings" ("Each sentence is an intrigue, an alias, a din. Can you hear that?"). I'd appreciate another piece of short fiction by Laila Lalami, (author of "El Dorado") who knows how to get inside a character's head with amazing authenticity in a few short pages. I'd certainly like to hear more from Richard Rathwell, who contributes an essay about being deported from the United States back to Ireland: "I would like to tell stories in the U.S.A. Dispel a few myths. Make some others. See the emperor. Belong." Thanks to First Intensity, he has, and he does. [First Intensity, P.O. Box 665, Lawrence, KS 66044. Single issue $14. www.Firstintensity.com] —Sima Rabinowitz

 

Five Fingers Review

Issue 22

2006

Annual

Editor Jaime Robles chooses a quotation from Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose to help define "uncanny love," this issues' theme: "first the soul grows tender, then it sickens…but then it feels the true warmth of divine love and cries out and moans and becomes as stone flung in the forge to melt into lime, and it crackles, licked by the flame…" But there isn't much moaning here, as it turns out. The work in issue 22 is, for the most part, controlled, tightly wound, sure of itself, and intense. What's more uncanny than the loves recounted here are the forms and styles of this work from Michael Tod Edgeron's "Embogue" (a long and intriguing poem that relies on epigraphs, parenthesis, and anaphora) to Rodrigo Toscano's excerpt from his poem "In-formational Forum Rousers-Arcing (Satire No. 4)," which relies on brackets, lines of single words, and phonetic spellings. The work in Five Fingers is inventive, playful (though serious), and energetic. I was captivated by Daphne Gottlieb's "gertude reflects on sex*," a piece of short fiction (or is this poetry theory?) with extensive footnotes, separate columns of prose (in bold and plain type), and a Stein-like style: "The may be a little scared, I am not so scared, there is so much to be scared of so what is the use of bothering to be scared…." And I was surprised and delighted by Peggi McCarthy's story "Save Yourself," a conventional story that cleverly makes old-fashioned conventions about love fashionable. [Five Fingers Review, P.O. Box 4, San Leandro, CA 94577-0100. Single issue $12. www.fivefingersreview.org/] —Sima Rabinowitz

 

The Journal of Ordinary Thought

Fall 2005

In reading this edition of The Journal of Ordinary Thought, you will find its writers' thoughts on generation. They are, Luis J. Rodriguez writes in the foreword, the "inheritances of imaginations, gifts, capacities, poetics and dreams." There is the gentle advice of past generations, as in Radmila Lunić's lovely poem, "Message to Nesa": "Let the dreams and strength of your youth / help turn the wheel of life whenever necessary. / Heed the words of your mother and father / and always take pride in their legacy." Lunić's entry is, as are many others, given in a dazzling, side by side Serbian and English. Mayi Ojisua's "The Gratitude (Libation)" is also a standout that speaks tenderly to the young: "Call the heavens what you like / there is always a roof of doubt / in our gentle dreams / Be grateful for yesterday, / be grateful for today / be grateful for tomorrow." You read of regret, as in a poem I especially enjoyed, Khadijah's, "I was too late": "I wrote a poem for you / to say how much / I love you. / To tell you that I share in your grief. / But / before I could give it to you / you died. / and no one writes poems / for me." But it is the quiet hope of Keisha Nielson's essay, "If I die tomorrow" that spoke most delicately to me. "So," she writes, "if I die tomorrow, I hope that I am missed. I also hope that if I die tomorrow, people will look back on their relationships with me and smile. I hope people will have seen my beauty." This is, I think, a universal hope, and it is captured here, along with the memory and longing of inheritance. [The Journal of Ordinary Thought, 1313 E. 60th Street, Chicago, IL 60637. www.jot.org] —Terri Denton

 

The New Review of Literature

Volume 3 Number 1

October 2005

Biannual

The New Review of Literature is filled with the usual suspects. You will find, of course, poetry, fiction, essays, reviews, and even a little extra: an interview. And, upon closer inspection, you'll note that this collection is the product of the Graduate Writing program of Otis College of Art and Design. What is unexpected, though, what sets this compilation apart from others, is that all the pieces that appear among the pages are extraordinarily intelligent and well-informed. Even the creatively fictive seek to be informed. Elizabeth Robinson's verse, "New Vocation," for example, refuses to go quietly: "The body collects aphorisms, as though it were a jar. / That is the world: secured so, and palely organized / according to mysterious function. / I step forward from the system to confess / that I no longer want to whiten / the mystery. I had once carried / a knife to cut away armloads of list, / wind blowing. But no more this obscurity." Bill Mohr's essay, "from Rear Projections," speaks to the artful deception that is directed toward our perceptions. The piece I liked best, however, is of well-informed regret. In his poem "Dear Roger Clemens," Ryan Murphy, perhaps a New Yorker, laments the Rocket-man who left. To wit: "Dominance is its own form of frailty. // The burnt grass and rusted cars / extend forever. / There is more that binds us / than divides us. / I'm glad you're gone." I am, as you might imagine, a fan of both this magazine and this poem. The former is likely obvious to you, the latter may not be. I will, here and now, confess: I'm a Bostonian. [The New Review of Literature, Graduate Writing Program of Otis College of Art and Design, 9045 Lincoln Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90045. Single issue $12.95. http://gw.otis.edu/newreview.html] —Terri Denton

 

The Oxford American

Number 52

Winter 2006

Quarterly

The Winter Reading Issue of The Oxford American opens with a caveat, in light of how a hip memoirist/music writer named J.T. LeRoy turned out to be a puppet in an elaborate hoax to which even this magazine fell prey. In this vein, there's the cover shot of Tennessee's Abigail Vona, the latest memoirist to heat up the publishing world. "At some point," writes editor Marc Smirnoff, "you have to give up the ghost of hoping you can still be cool." He need not worry: The OA still has the best Southern writers at its disposal, assuming they're all real. The issue's four short stories might disappoint some for their moments of contrivance, but they're still fun. Stephanie Powell Watts' "Unassigned Territory" follows two Jehovah's Witnesses through the scorching heat. Daniel Alarcón's "Nancy" is a break-up story with the title ex-girlfriend's, um, "breasts," or her artistic renderings thereof, piled up like pillows on the seat and never to be revisited. But OA is a general magazine, and the nonfiction is essential reading. Aside from a symposium on emerging Southern writers and yet another essay on Faulkner, the best read goes to Will Blythe's "The Art of Hatred," a primer for the epochal rivalry that is Duke/UNC basketball. Best discovery: artist Wayne White, whose textual painting over kitschy lithographs creates a strange euphoria within. "Logorrhea" is profiler Paul Reyes' reaction. Imagine giant letters rising like trees out of a landscape portrait, spelling words like "TET" and "LSD" and even longer, sinuous phrases ("The You Just Don't Get it and You Never Will Look"). It'll floor you. Further reason why Southern "freaks" like White are a special designation of hippie, and why The Oxford American is a one of a kind survey of the South. [The Oxford American, 201 Donaghey Avenue, Main 107, Conway AR 72035. Single issue $4.95. www.oxfordamerican.org] —Christopher Mote

 

Poetry Kanto

Number 21

2005

Poetry Kanto takes its name from the Japanese Kanto plain, but it's hard not to think Canto in the Western sense of the spirited song. This journal, published by an American Baptist-founded university, features four translated Japanese and eight international English-language poets. It refutes the conception that Japan is still the isolated land of the tanka and haiku. Tanikawa Shuntaro, for example, is well regarded for his breadth of knowledge of American pop culture. Yet Kanto also illustrates where the gaps remain. The editors shun "the tyranny of interpretation" and offer a wide range of lyrical styles. Yet the broad umbrage of "Language Poetry," which includes Haryette Mullen and Kanto co-editor Alan Botsford, can be an acquired taste. Mullen's "Resistance is Fertile," which concludes, "When you're / all pooped out, we're just breaking a second wind," is an ode to the regenerative powers of excretion, if it isn't plain sophomoric. What really makes the read jarring at times is the hovering presence of death, a subject to which a society that has survived The Bomb is aptly sensitive. Thus for Tanikawa, the earth has become "a transient wasteland where mortals are dancing." My favorite discovery, I admit, was not any of the featured poets but a poem included in a footnote, "A Phantom Seer" by Tamura Ryuichi, which begins: "A bird falls from the sky / For a single bird shot dead in a deserted place / The field exists // A scream escapes from the window / For a single scream shot dead in a deserted room / The world exists." Such a nugget makes the politics of all the rest feel raw and forced, sometimes too asymmetric, in comparison. Even where disagreeable, Poetry Kanto is involving, a pool adventurous readers will enjoy, though the rest of us would prefer the water were a little more transparent. [Poetry Kanto, Kanto Poetry Center, Kanto Gakuin University, 3-22-1 Kamariya-Minami, Kanazawa-ku, Yokohama 236-8502 Japan. http://home.kanto-gakuin.ac.jp/~kg061001] —Christopher Mote

 

Post Road

Number 11

2005

Biannual

The newest issue of Post Road is certainly ambitious, including not just fiction and poetry but also essays, book recommendations, a one-act play, photography, an interview, and even an index of all the characters in John Cheever's short fiction. Highlights include Dan Pope's story "Drive-In," about a group of teenagers going to see a porno film at a drive-in, and Ralph McGinnis's essay, "The Omission of Comics," which makes a strong case for the inclusion of comics as modern art and also for their place in history as strong influences on Dadaism and Surrealism. Elsewhere, Elizabeth Knapp's poem "Indelible" remarks powerfully on the aftereffects of pain and grief, while Steve Almond reflects on our "death fetish," suggesting that shows like C.S.I. with their clear narratives of death are filling a vacuum left by our disconnect from the casualties of 9/11 and the war in Iraq. Despite the strengths of this issue, the content finally breaks down in the Recommendation sections. There are fourteen recommendations, including plugs for Cheever, Vladimir Nabakov, and James Baldwin. There's nothing wrong with drawing attention to the classics, but I would have preferred the space to have gone to another story or essay, not to mention whatever might have been published by leaving out the twenty page index of Cheever's characters. This is less a reflection of the quality of the recommendations themselves and more a compliment of the rest of the magazine. The writing in Post Road is so good that I simply hate having missed out on whatever other original works might have been included instead. [Post Road Magazine, 203 Bedford Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11211. Single issue $10.99. www.postroadmag.com] — Matt Bell

 

The Raven Chronicles

Volume 11 Number 3

Biannual-Triannual

"What a lie a map is," a character declares in Michael Daley's near-epic poem. Indeed, how do drawn boundaries account for the diversity of cultures in the world, especially those transplanted from their homes? This "Speaking in Tongues" issue of The Raven Chronicles offers the best symposium for answering. The accounts are from ordinary voices, and their authenticity makes them extraordinary. Immigration, Diaspora, reunion, or curiosity: all form a tie between or among cultures. Daniel A. Olivas' essay, which really epitomizes the magazine, studies the concept of Pocho, or a fully Americanized Mexican, of which Olivas is one, in an informal, candid, yet professional style. Besides Spanish, there are French, Portuguese, Irish, and Chinese translations—and not just into English, but from it. And why stay contemporary? Mike Farman's translation of Jiang Kui, a Song Dynasty poet, probably loses a lot of the original, but few will find the sentiment foreign or obsolete. "Mandarin ducks / should sleep in pairs, / why does this one pass the nights alone? / See her become a wisp of cloud, / drifting westward / to her lover's bedroom." The casual Chronicles reader won't always recognize the foreign concepts in discussion, but a little research and inference goes a long way. And then there's "Teacup and Cookie," Michael Daley's poem following the excursion of a bi-cultural couple in a complex Eastern Europe. It may require Mensa membership to get all the references, but not to appreciate its strange, gothic nature. [The Raven Chronicles, Richard Hugo House, 1634 Eleventh Avenue, Seattle WA 98122-2419. Single issue $6.50. www.ravenchronicles.org] —Christopher Mote

 

Red Mountain Review

Volume 1

Fall 2005

Annual

Born of a city remembered for its racial fissures, this newborn Birmingham journal acknowledges its Southern roots while stretching branches far as Colorado, New York, and Iowa. RMR's motif is unapologetically, if subtly, political, a tender piñata of a first issue. Jim Murphy's poem, "Open Letters to James Wright," reminds me how a good apostrophe is to be composed. And Angela M. Balcita's essay, "You, Too, Can Be Americano," pleats emigration with baseball and cognates, all in second person. The journal sponsors an annual no-entry-fee chapbook competition, and features Charles Jensen's 2005 winner Little Burning Edens as a centerpiece. Jensen's matter of fact vis à vis gaze at the unraveling mortality brings is as long and strong as the boys many of his poems describe and laud. This is a chapbook with its fingers on three cities on the map of the body: Desire, Love, and Disease. The fourth city, and perhaps the largest, Affirmation, is one the poet succeeds in convincing readers to finger themselves. On one end of Little Burning Edens is "Vapor Boys," arguably the collection's representative poem. In it, Jensen writes: "Every day the world sucks down more sun / and packs it away […] // that slowly, one of us who dies // will enter the rest of us as a breath [...] / or a photograph of a gorgeous young man / who smiles with a fire / where his teeth should be." For Jensen, the body represents more than an accumulation of cells and muscle memory. The body, for him, is a structure to worship before it withers and is no more. For RMR, the same can be said for marginalized written work. [Red Mountain Review, c/o ASFA Creative Writing Department, 1800 8th Avenue North, Birmingham, AL 35203. Single issue $6. www.redmountainblog.blogspot.com] —Erin M. Bertram

 

Redivider

Volume 3 Number 2

Spring 2006

Biannual

As if Ploughshares weren't enough work, Emerson College has its grad students doing their own thing. Like a number of young, urban lit journals, Redivider isn't afraid of subverting pop culture while presenting fresh new modes of aesthetic philosophy that even the amateur types can "get" and appreciate. And yet, how far it has come. Two short stories stood out for me: "Odds Even Odds" by Tom Stoner and "The Wall of Sequoias" by Urban Waite. The twisted narrative of "Odds Even Odds" is almost unworthy of its characters. The sway between the absurd and the sublime parallels the story's intricate search for resolution between odds and evens, the narrator/mathematician's idea of balance versus his wife/musician's creative spirit and three-step compositions, further complicated by her reckless and very pregnant sister who threatens to drive them all over the edge. The pace of "The Wall of Sequoias" is much different, plotless and character-oriented. Questions of fidelity, manliness, labor, and sexual awakening provide the framework for a boy's coming of age in the Sierras during the summer. Gradually, Waite gives us the details and builds to a moment. Visual art gets well represented in Redivider, as does the experimental fringe via a pair of avant-garde plays by collaborators Mark Halladay and Martin Stannard. But the author interviews alone may be worth the subscription: this issue features fiction writers Antonya Nelson and Kelly Link. I must say that Kathleen Rooney, here with Link, has been a consistently engaging interviewer, even when she veers off course on occasion (she has a habit of asking guests for favorite recipes). As a whole, Redivider is more than showy: its experience is textual, visual, didactic, and especially conversational. [Redivider, Emerson College, 120 Boylston Street, Boston MA 02116. Single issue $6. http://pages.emerson.edu/publications/redivider/]
—Christopher Mote

 

West Branch 57 CoverWest Branch

Number 57

Fall/Winter 2005

Semiannual

West Branch, published by Bucknell University's prestigious Stadler Center for Poetry, isn't a poetry journal, but poetry clearly lies at the heart of its editorial tastes. Clocking in at 134 pages and cloaked in a vibrant, gorgeously weathered oil painting cover, this issue boasts 19 poems, 4 stories, one essay, 2 book reviews and 2 translations. The nonfiction is a transcribed lecture, "On Sentimentality," delivered at Vermont College in 1994 by poet Mary Ruefle—literary minutia to some, but likely many poets' bread and butter. Poet and essayist Garth Greenwell's review is a passionate analysis of four first poetry books that never gets burdened in marble-mouth academia-speak, which, as any fan of good criticism knows, can ruin many a fascinating topic. Sarah Kennedy's review, in a similarly approachable voice, covers five book-length poems. Matthew Ladd's three landscape-inspired poems managed to mesmerize even a short story fanatic like me, as did Charles Jensen's "Vapor Boys": "Every day the world sucks down more sun / and packs it away. Nights, then, / are about radiation: this warmth / hissing back toward the blinding noise / that gave it up." As for fiction, Catherine Sexton's "Reckoning," a story of adolescent "Freaks" who hang around a Midwestern graveyard, centers on a boy with OCD. Amy Shearn's "Questions and Answers from the Book of Knowledge" portrays a tense woman's struggle to accept her father's descent into old age and her own aging process, and who finds perspective in a chance encounter with a high school acquaintance. Subheadings often seem like unnecessarily overconscious installations, but Shearn's, a nod to the heirloom the story is named for, lends a heightened sense of the protagonist's fears without distraction. From editors to professors, West Branch's contributors have published in the nation's best journals, and that, like the journals advertising in the back—The Southern Review, Cimarron Review, Shenandoah—speaks to West Branch's stature. West Branch may not have Tin House's name recognition or distribution, but it has proven that, after 29 years in print, it will continue to publish consistently engaging, innovative work for decades to come. [West Branch, Bucknell Hall, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania 17837. Single issue $6. www.bucknell.edu/westbranch] —Aaron Gilbreath

Reviewers - Contributors Notes

Cumulative Index of Lit Mags Reviewed