Literary Magazine Reviews
Edited by Denise Hill
Posted July 14, 2006
Call AGNI brain food. This issue is full of literature that is not meant for mere entertainment; it’s meant to be digested. “215. Philosophy is to the intellect what art is to the imagination; philosophy is—and ought to be a kind of art.” Parallels can be drawn to Issue 63; in addition to the art of story, this journal uses words to exalt all art. Vietnam and other wars are referenced in several pieces, and traditional themes like parents’ deaths are juxtaposed with a Slovenian parable, reservation blues and renderings of bats and witchcraft. The artistic references, especially in A.P. Miller’s “Blessing the New Moon” can be daunting more than esoteric—the contributors imbue so much passion for art that it never waxes on artistic pretension. Not art for art’s sake—art for sustenance and at over 250 pages it’s quite a helping. Paul Eggers’s “Monsieur le Genius” is, for instance, about a chess player who initially fools Burundi officials into believing him to be a master chess player. The insistence of the official to maintain the comic masquerade is undercut by the Hutu-Tutsi war that is spilling over the border from Rwanda.
Other fictional pieces, like Phong Nguyen’s contrasting account of adolescence from the battlefields of Vietnam to the classrooms of America, reads like non-fiction. It’s no surprise that AGNI is genre-bending. “Let’s call it a story about someone who’s struggling to write a biographical essay,” Joan Wickersham tries to understand her father’s suicide. There is a series of essays from Charles Bardes, M.D., that enlighten the pathology of medicine. There are poets, some whom I had no idea what they were talking about but I really enjoyed rereading, like Robin Ekiss, and others like Alpay Ulku, Leland Kinsey, Donald Platt and Kurt Brown that must be revisited, sat with, and accompanied by. AGNI is a work of art, challenging, redeeming, disconcerting and welcoming. [AGNI, 236 Bay State Road, Boston, MA 02215. Single issue $10. www.agnimagazine.org] –RT Duffer
Volume 9 Issue 33
It’s back. After an eight-year hiatus, American Short Fiction returns with a new publisher, a new design, an essay and a photo narrative, and an admission “to a certain amount of uncertainty.” The tight, 122-page journal includes five pieces of fiction that should assure readers that they “are concerned as always, and above all else, with fiction.” The writing is quality, the story-telling unconventional, the authorship distinctive though not necessarily American. Susan Steinberg’s narrator lurks in the parking lot, observing and obsessing over the “Court” of a basketball game, revisiting her past, reimagining the present. Steinberg’s style, witty and self-conscious, sparse but biting structure, elevates the undercurrent of sex and longing, brilliant and self-conscious, sparse prose-poem like narrative:
I went to my mother, I’m going to
My mother went, You’re going nowhere.
My father went, I’m going now.
I mean to say my father went.
John Oliver Hodges, whose narrative essay Daytona evokes the eerie carnival of beach natives, adds a thoroughly creepy piece of fiction about love. Gum, a homeless seventeen-year-old boy prostitute, pines for Caramel, who keeps the world together one trick at a time. Gum’s innocent account represents the truth of quality fiction. Joy Williams decries the loss of language in the endangered literature of nature, citing the postmodernists to the naturalists in the super-smart essay, “Literature UnNatured.” Then there’s John McManus’s Reverend Obediah Mantooth, a non-indian Indian who courts God’s eternal darkness while caring for his teenage son and chasing off tourists mistaking his yard collection for a metaphor, his landlocked lighthouse for a phallic symbol. “And this voice of God wasn’t a dysfunction in Obie’s bicameral lobes, nor was it schizophrenia, any more than his lighthouse had a foreskin that collected smegma.” [American Short Fiction, P.O. Box 301209, Austin, TX 78703. Single issue $10. www.americanshortfiction.org] –RT Duffer
A very special Swayze section, where contributors praise the mulleted icon from Dirty Dancing all the way to Donnie Darko. An action figure portrait gallery featuring Spiderman in repose, the Lone Ranger and Silver facing down the camera. A punk rock interview with iconoclast Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and five-dollar Fugazi. “We have a thing for pop culture.” Issue Two of Barrelhouse is fun. Though it tends to the silly side of kitsch, the comic eccentricities of some of the prose belies the quality and craft of the storytelling. With nearly all of the prose coming from male contributors, you can expect some father-son stories. In “Hey Now, All You Sinners” by Brian Ames, a father searching for his bipolar son drifts further back in time to the love of his life before he had a family. Putting his wife in a non-coma pales to the confession he must make about his past. Another son suffers his football coach father by shuffling his dead mother’s belongings from one corner of the basement to another in “Rivals and Hyenas Alike” by Sean Beaudoin. “Luck is for losers,” he reminds a girl, in a laconic, sparse style apt for the despondent narrator.
There is a postmodern story about a struggling writer finding
inspiration in a southern franchise chicken joint’s “Three-Piece
Combo with Drink” by Tom Williams, where you have to read on to see
how far the writer, of both the story and the novel chronicled in
the story, can take his adulation of fried chicken. Lee Klien argues
amusingly, if not convincingly, that Barry Bonds shouldn’t even be
an issue in an “overinflated” culture with a monstrous military and
tomatoes the size of pumpkins. “Sex and Pills,” is a story adapted
from the website into photographs and text images of the
sex-addicted main character. Even Godzilla gets his due by Ellen
Morris Prewitt: “He doesn’t follow the Code of the Samurais, the
Code trumpeted by Ernest Hemingway and other testosterone-saturated
writers. The Code does nothing for me.” Humor, kitsch, quirk and so
much more under the surface. [Barrelhouse, New York, NY. Single issue $9.
I love unassuming journals: those thinner, saddle-stitched endeavors with so few people working behind the scenes, I can count them on one hand. Some border on zine rather than lit mag, and it can be a hard call. With this publication, there is no question that this publication is right up there with much larger-staffed literary endeavors. With full-color throughout – photos, artwork, page design – this “little” publication is a huge feast for the eyes. As plagues fine art reproductions, however, there are some issues with resolution that I wish could be resolved, rather than holding the image at an arm’s length to limit the blur. The written works, poetry and fiction, are not to be held at arm’s length, but brought into close range. Not one piece in here I didn’t like for at least a line or stanza or image or feeling it dragged into me and out of me.
Based out of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, there is some sense of place in a few of the works, but the rest branch out into wide vistas, relating to war, politics, personal memory, sense of place within the self. Ralph Murre’s “In a Name” was one of my favorites: “The ones who don’t know / which weeds you can eat; / who think fish should be caught and released” speaking to the kind of differences rural poverty creates among children/families - a poverty so little understood in urban mindsets of poverty. “Poem for a Friend in Prison” is hard-hitting in its accusations and concessions: “The old man down on / Market Street / the one with no legs / and a skateboard / has more balls than the President / this is a bitch of a poem / not a bitching one,” just as is A.D. Winans’ “Fourth of July Poem” with its three-page litany of those to tell that “bullshit crap” of the “American scam” that “anyone / can be anything they want to be / if they put their minds to it” and ends on “rewrite the ten commandments / and start all over again.”
Gentler, kinder works? Certainly not in Robert Cooperman’s “The
Sky at Dusk,” which seems a “sunset” poem, but of a different
caliber, evident in its first stanza: “If the dusk weren’t / so
alive with crimson / mares’ tails, I’d be tempted / to say the blood
of all the dead in this idiot war / is smeared across the sky.”
There is variety; Marie Kazalia’s “First paint a cage with an open
door,” a strong Midwest winter place poem, Gerry Nicosia’s “Chicago
Barroom Melody,” dances with lines like: “She wondered how much
living he’d done; / He figured she’d done too
much----” Stories – only two, and only two pages each, Alan Catlin’s memoir excerpt, gritty and real enough to make you choke on the smell of a stale room reopened after the death of a parent, and Gary Beck’s condensed dialogue scene, “Social Agitation,” of a young boy’s interaction with union strikers and his own strike against his parent. More stories if space allowed would be nice. Definitely a runs-with-the-big-dogs journal. [THE CLIFFS “soundings,” P.O. Box 7, Calumet, MI 49913. Single issue $7.50. www.vertinpress.com] –Denise Hill
A slim annual, more chapbookish in its perfect-bound style, the content of The Eleventh Muse is anything but slim. The back cover gently boasts: “55 poems; 44 poets; 23 states; 4 countries.” What matters most to me is 1. Give me one great poem, and that makes my reading worthwhile, and this publication was more than worth my while. My choice of, “You’ve got to hear this…” read-alouds included Leigh Ann Couch’s “Ciphers,” with lines like, “Run your hand along the vessel / of her. Go ahead, she’ll like it. You’ll find her / empty in all the right places, where she’s full, no doubt / it’s your doing.” Clay Matthews’ “Invitation to My Old, Dead Friend” put its arm around my shoulder and sat me down with the first stanza, “So when I say I was born in the back seat / of a Buick it’s the same as saying / please love me like an old gray boot.” The selections throughout are all keenly fresh, some offering pleasant surprises in what on the surface seem tried and tired style, as in Joanne Tangora’s personification of “April.” She gives a contemporized neurosis to the season that previous poets in their adoration of spring wouldn’t dare: “Enter, spring: late, predictably / skittish / fast-talking peddler / passing through / town, black-hooded birds / perched / on his wobbly cart.”
And there are laugh-aloud shockers, as in Robert Perchan’s “Mythic Instinct Afternoon” wherein the characters set out to “go and pick monkey” one afternoon. No, I’m not telling anymore; read it for yourself! For style and form, there are prose poems, varied stanza forms, space forms and some hard-driving rhythms that pound in your gut as you read to yourself, like Mary Biddinger’s “Snakeskin” and Carrie Jarrell’s “Plainsong.” The poems range from narrative to surreal, sometimes all in the same poem (“Before They Had Kids” by Susan Kay Anderson). I can’t say I enjoyed all the pieces, which is fine, since those would appeal to other readers who may not appreciate my picks, and reflects some good editorial negotiation. A slim volume indeed, but I like that better than some of the hefty annuals, since I not only am able (time-wise) to read the whole thing, but I have more inclination to return to it, reread and contemplate the works. [The Eleventh Muse, Poetry West Press, PO Box 2413, Colorado Springs, CO 80901. Single issue $8. www.poetrywest.org] –Denise Hill
Who could resist the cover art of this publication? Themed “Youth,” I had to keep reminding myself of that as I read the works in this issue, so varied were the contents and perspectives on this theme. Favs in poetry include “Why I Gave Up Mysticism” in thirteen parts by Sean Lause which combines concrete narrative with its own mystical rhetoric: “and ate Eskimo Pies / that wept down our shirts / as we listened to intricate crickets / design the dark.” And Ruth Kessler’s “Valediction” which presents the adult child’s departure from the parental point of view: “into your eager hands we would like to press everything we / have paid for so dearly at life’s roadside bazaar.” Michael Leong’s personification in “Blackboard” left me smiling, grade school memories replenished, while Jeremy Byars “The Last Time I Saw Her,” a boy’s recollection of most innocently being the last witness, left me haunted with so many childhood warnings about strangers.
Of the prose, all works remain with me, some begging rereading; this and the variety of style a testament to editorial effort. The writing of childhood experiences is not easy to nail, whether real or surreal (Geoffry Forsyth’s “In My Mother’s Kitchen” wins my “Most Bizarre Story of the Week” award). Debra Schneider’s “Rather” is reminiscent of Gibbon’s Ellen Foster in dialect, but hits harder than expected by story’s end. Rosanna Koster’s “The Anorexic’s Daughter” unlayers the psyche of two women each wrapped in their own eating disorder. David Holper’s “Some Things I’m Not Telling,” except for one brief moment where it may have gone too adult-introspective, is dead-on teen attitude in prose (somewhat Danny Darko-ish), and is ringer for film (Any script writers out there? Scoop this one!) Vivian Wagner’s “Telling” also needs mention, another great example of how growing older is exactly what we need to do to examine and appreciate all those years before. And thanks to Jillian, Zoe, Jennie, and Lorraine for the artwork. For variety and strength of content, GRR is a clear choice. [The Gihon River Review, Johnson State College, Johnson, VT 05656. Single issue $5. http://grr.jsc.vsc.edu/] – Denise Hill
A Magazine of Midwest Life and Art
The Heartlands is bookended by poetic tributes to Sherwood Anderson, one a reprint, the other an original, both crying for ‘more, more.’ You hear Sherwood, you think Ohio, which is also home to the Firelands Writing Center, the producers of The Heartlands. The audience extends from the southern tip of Lake Erie, out to “Northwest Ohio, Ohio at large, the Midwest and the Nation…around our theme of Midwest Life and Art.” The community-minded publication includes photo essays from community college students to an essay by editor and teacher Larry Smith, who writes that the most important gift of writing is our intention, “If we can get out of the way (of our ego) our presence and our intent will come across quiet and clear. To do this we must be able to slow down and listen.” This idea, this community of sharing, from the classroom to the forest, courses through the black and white magazine-styled journal.
Doctorate candidate Professor Spark, in “The Destruction of Professor Spark” by Robert Pope, is annoyed by the callow content of an overzealous writing student. “Grade it, return it, forget it, that is my recommendation,” Spark’s dissertation director advises him on the student. Spark soon confronts the irony of his situation. The poetry is naturalistic and nostalgic, ranging from Carol Was’s lyricism in both nature and what has been forgotten to Greg Moglia capturing the images of happiness “Midnight dancing in the swirling snow/on the small town main street.” Two pieces that were especially enlightening about Midwestern life, “Auction” by Marilyn DeMoranville and “A Year in the Heartland,” by Wendy Patton were labeled in the odd classification of Articles. “Auction” refers to an auction of a farmer’s assets in 1955, written with too much internal point of view to be considered journalistic. “A Year in the Heartland” tracks the course of the 2004 presidential election through the Inmate Culinary School, where convicts chef up “Venison Medallions au Beurre Rouge for his (George Bush) luncheon.” Isn’t that fiction? Sherwood? [Heartlands, Firelands Writing Center, BGSU Firelands, One University Drive, Huron, OH 44839. Single issue $6. www.theheartlandstoday.net] –RT Duffer
Volume 1 Number 44
Reading the 44th installation of this Chicago journal is an exercise in patience. Its stories start slow, build carefully, and almost always finish on a terrific note. The subject matter ranges all over the spectrum; the tone remains entrenched in realism. When this quotidian stylistic blend sinks too deep into structure the result can be a little workshoppy; oftentimes an OV story commits to a single metaphorical strand of development that, while turned smartly at the end, loses the reader before getting there. Even the principal exception to this rule – Tao Lin’s Daniel Handleresque “Love is a Thing on Sale for More Money than There Exists” – seems to be gazing playfully out at the rows of “normal” fictive prose lines which will follow it. What’s interesting is that Lin’s story, while wildly entertaining line-by-line, is also one of the few that fails to deliver a forceful ending punch.
The only story that really exploits its realist arc with comprehensive success is Brigid Pasulka’s “How to Be A Dissident” – with is cunning blend of Russian references, cultural commentary, and disinclined romanticism. Perhaps it does so for me because the setting is new; I’ve never been to Russia, and Pasulka exploits my ignorance so obviously (yet so well), that one wonders if Benjamin Kunkel’s recent discussion of the “perennial novel,” and its continual refreshment by literary “peripheries” can be imported from novels to stories without a steep tariff. Even if so, to suggest that the stories in OV are perennial and fraught with the manufactured mediocrity Kunkel suggests as their trademark, would be a disservice: readers who savor slow buildups and revealing conclusions will find much to celebrate here. A few favorites: Laura Krughoff’s unsentimental tale of a pre-pubescent stripper in “Skinned,” Catherine Brady’s intensely-personal domestic depictions in “Slender Little Thing,” and Elizabeth Crane’s “What Our Week Was Like,” an exercise in groupthink par excellence.
There are several reviews of independent books in the back. Strangely homogenous, they tempt the misconception that OV’s overarching aesthetic is a one-crop farm. In fact, the journal scatters a wide range of imaginative seeds through its waving, realistic fields, cultivating them with the workmanlike steadiness characteristic of one of Middle America’s most respected venues for short fiction. [Other Voices, The University of Illinois at Chicago, Department of English (M/C 162), 601 South Morgan Street, Chicago, IL 60607. Single issue: $9. http://webdelsol.com/Other_Voices/] –Miles Clark
A Creative Mosaic of Fiction
Ex Machina Press adds a new journal to the all-fiction genre with the debut of Silent Voices. The oxymoronic title is best defined by an excerpt borrowed from Isak Dinesen: “Where the storyteller is loyal, eternally and unswervingly loyal to the story, there in the end, silence will speak.” The loyalties range from the traditional to the experimental, stories of ghosts and toilet scrubbers, mad professors (“perhaps the jump from professor to career patient was not such a big one after all.”) and madder neighbors. Michelle Melon’s “Nameless,” winner of their first contest, refers to the book of names that a dying woman finds in the shack that used to be a church for slaves. Desperate to carve their names into tombstones, she hears their song and knows she is not alone. “…she craves and fears the companionship they offer following the lonely, uncertain journey that lies ahead.” Raffi Kevorkian mingles with the afterlife in his parable, “Misfit.” The townspeople summon first the police, then the Der Hayr (an Armenian married priest), and finally a doctor who cannot help the man who carries his heart in his hand, a hole in his chest.
God is summoned in a theological argument between a wayward older brother and his dying kid sister in Tim Macy’s, “Prehistory.” In “Bathroom Cleaner” by Elizabeth Orndorff, a woman suffers the naïve incredulity of her grandson when she volunteers to clean the black toilets in the Jim Crow south. “McFarland” by Mark D’Anna is an insufferable neighbor who doesn’t know what to do with his senile, WWII vet father, who sits on the porch with his rifle raised whenever the narrator comes into view. The stories in the first edition are specific to their characters yet ambitious in their themes. [Silent Voices, P.O. Box 11180, Glendale, CA 91226. Single issue: $11.08 print/$9.23 download. www.exmachinapress.com] –RT Duffer
Posted July 3, 2006
The Literature of Food
Don't read Alimentum when you're hungry! On the second thought, read it when you're very hungry—it will satisfy your appetite for good writing, as well as for good food (not to mention spirits). I was reading Sophie Helen Menin's personal essay, "First Growth—An Essay on Love and Wine" on the bus and nearly leaped off, several blocks before my stop, when we passed a wine shop. Her essay about the wines her husband collects, and which they both savor, had me nearly desperate for a bottle of Barolo. Who knew it was possible to write such mouth watering fiction, or scrumptious poetry, or savory essays as the many appetizing works here by Michele Battiste, Patsy Anne Bickerstaff, and Jehanne Dubrow. Alimentum is more than luscious descriptions of great meals and the emotions they inspire, more than a whiff of fine coffee. There are mouthfuls of grief, platefuls of philosophical musing, abundant soul searching, a smattering of family history, and even a culinary folktale. In some of these stories, poems, and essays, food itself is the main course, while in others, food is more like the trays of hors d'oeuvres at a busy and engaging event—you're aware of them, but the characters you're meeting are more important than what they're popping in their mouths. One of these characters is novelist Joanne Harris, interviewed in this issue. Food appears in so much of her work, she says, because "if you are writing about people, and that's really what I do write about, then a number of universals will come out of that and one of them is eating because, you know, everybody eats." I liked everything in this issue, from Elisa Albo's wholesome poem to Sandy McIntosh's biting "Escape from the Fat Farm." If you are, indeed, hungry while you're reading this issue, wait until you've finished before digging into Lynn Levin's "How to Eat A Pet: A Gastronomic Adventure in the Andes." [Alimentum, P.O. Box 776, New York, NY 11063. Single issue $10. www.alimentumjournal.com] –Sima Rabinowitz
The newest issue of Crazyhorse contains four stories, twelve poets, and an interview with Robert and Penelope Creeley conducted a month before Mr. Creeley's death in 2005. The highlight of the issue is the four new poems by Dean Young, whose work the last two years (appearing regularly in places such as The Believer and Poetry) is potentially the best of his career. In "Home," Young continues this newest surge, writing "Home is where you're always wrong / but only in familiar ways," kicking off his trademark rollercoaster of imagery and fast, vibrant sentences, circling the idea of homecoming and approaching it from a variety of angles that each feel equally true. In fiction, John Tait's "Reasons for Concern Regarding My Girlfriend of Five Days, Monica Garza," a story told in lists of insecurities, worries, and remembrances. That white, middle-aged narrator's relationship to his young Hispanic girlfriend (whom he meets by getting in a car accident with her uninsured brother) is taut with the narrator's longing and regret and also his inability to enjoy the mysteries of attraction without second-guessing everything about their relationship. When he writes towards the end of "a painful awareness that never before in my life has a pretty girl banged on my door and wailed my name in the middle of the night," it's obvious that Monica Garza's feelings for him were perhaps less anxiety-ridden than his for her, and so her loss will probably be both more pure and less lasting. Crazyhorse continues here its tradition of bringing strong voices to our attention and presenting them in an attractive and appealing format. An excellent issue. [Crazyhorse, Department of English, College of Charleston, 66 George Street, Charleston, SC 29424. Single issue $8.50. http://crazyhorse.cofc.edu/] –Matt Bell
Volume 5 Number 2
Diner, "a journal of poetry," is impeccable in every sense; this is the single greatest issue of a literary review that I've ever read. Even the peripherals are outstanding: the cover design, the typeface choices, the layout; it looks as good as it reads. As for the poetry itself, Diner offers a surprisingly mixed bag of styles—editorial predilections don't seem to divert quality work that exists outside certain rigid parameters, as so often happens. However, the editors do lean toward a balanced writing, one that resides in the middle landscape between epicene lyricism and lowdown vernacular narrative. At least once every few pages, there's a line, a stanza, or an entire work that jumps out and grabs you by the throat. In "Real Estate," Karen Wolf transfers an epithet with both power and finesse: "The bed kicks me out / with a charley horse." Jana Mackin's "Infinity Bus Stop" wields the same kind of force: "which should allow enough time / to take a swig of Thunderbird // before he has to ward off the sucker punches / threatened by mortality sauntering up to ask directions." The most arresting work is by E. Michael Desilets. He throttles the reader with nearly every word. "She'd eased herself into madness / as if it were a hot bath," begins "Reminded." Desilets's work is the "strong poetry" of Harold Bloom, neither strutting nor cowering, but original and self-assured. Aside from poetry, there are a few reviews, an interview, and art. This last item deserves special notice. Consisting of photographs and one drawing, the work is extraordinarily vivid and clear, which is rare among literary magazines, where visual art is almost always an awkward appendage and paintings, in particular, don't fare well. [Diner, P.O. Box 60676, Greendale Station, Worchester MA 01606. Single issue $9.95. www.spokenword.to/Diner] —Andrew Madigan
Fugue is one of the journals I turn to when I'm in the mood for something reliable and satisfying. I know I'll want to read the whole issue, that I won't be confused about the editors' choices, that I'll find writers whose work I've enjoyed before and a few I'm happy to encounter for the first time. The work is always solid, readable, and pleasurable. This issue is no exception. Fans of the poetry of Franz Wright (and I count myself among them) will be especially pleased to find six new poems. Wright is somewhat edgier than many of the other dozen or so poets here, although, as always, Fugue demonstrates a fairly cohesive, if generous editorial vision. I was impressed with Laura Hope-Gill's unusual genre-defying work (appropriately placed in the section of the journal titled "The Experiment"), "The Fifth Fiancee: An Opera Without Parts," complete with supertitles (especially interesting since the opera is in English and the supertitles are also in English) and lyrical stage directions. Fugue co-editor Justin Jainchill's interview with fiction writer George Saunders is outstanding — intelligent, thoughtful questions that generate equally intelligent and thoughtful responses. (Saunders is exceedingly quotable, so it's hard to select one enticing sound byte, but here's a brief example: "The process of writing will always be trying to repair something that doesn't exist with tools you have to invent on the spot.") David Harris Ebenbach contributes a tender story concerning a young couple's decision whether or not to have children ("Naming"), and Jessica Breheny contributes a story with an unusually convincing adolescent narrator. This issue also features three fine essays, including poet Christopher Buckley's entertaining "Fame of Fortune," which details his experience as the "other" Christopher Buckley (not the New Yorker humorist, read no fame, no fortune). This Buckley, has, of course, come closer to what passes for fame in the poetry world than most of us. [Fugue, English Department, 200 Brink Hall, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844-1102. Single issue $8. www.uidaho.edu/fugue/home.htm] –Sima Rabinowitz
Green Mountains Review
Volume 18 Number 2
The stories and poems in this issue are unpredictable and surprising. They move in unexpected and original ways and come to unimagined conclusions. Much of the poetry is clever and inventive, including Elizabeth Powell's long monologue of a poem with a prologue and six acts, "Willy Loman's Reckless Daugher," a personal narrative built on the metaphor of "sales"; Maurya Simon's, "Brackets Make a Racket," ten bracketed lines that begin "[because even silence disrupts silence]"; and Oliver Rice's "News for the U.S.," a dialogue between six voices. I wasn't sure I understood the poem completely, the links between the speakers' turns are vague (and this is clearly intention), but I was intrigued by it nonetheless and by the possibilities of the form. The poems in this issue with more conventional forms also dazzle and startle. This "flesh-eating-beetle" of a first line, for example, by Charles Webb from his poem, "King Kong Song": "When a flesh-eating-beetle of a tune gets / trapped /inside your cranium…" Other standouts include poems by Laurie Blauner and Timothy Liu. The stories in this issue of Green Mountains Review are as full of surprises as the poetry, including Matt Nelson's historical fiction, "The Horses of Great Men," and Amanda Rea's exceptional story, "Housecleaning." Rea creates an adolescent narrator with a voice so authentic and compelling, I forgot I was reading fiction. Given the story's troubling premise and heartbreaking conclusion, I was glad, however, that this was the case. [Green Mountains Review, Johnson State College, Johnson, VT 05656. Single issue $8. www.greenmountainsreview.jsc.vsc.edu] –Sima Rabinowitz
The Louisville Review
This issue's guest editors, Crystal Wilkinson, a professor of creative writing at the University of Indiana, and award-winning poet, Debra Kang Dean, have selected four stories, five essays, and fifty pages of poetry by established and emerging writers. I was struck by the volume's unifying tone, which might be best described as poignant — quiet, traditional work, deeply felt, writing that is both psychologically astute and moving. Edmund August gets my vote for the most poignant title in the issue, perhaps for one of the most poignant titles of all-time: "How Will We Know Which One of Us Died First?"—
From you I learned to listen for your
learned to crumble cornbread
into a glass of sweet milk
without my glasses.
A small feat.
Much smaller than the sound of you
biting your nails
as I dress for a trip to the barber and a stop, after,
to endure the whoosh and plop of snowballs
children use to execute me
for sitting under a hat too silly
for a man in the park
under the sun.
I credit Lyn Lifshin with one of the most moving conclusions with these final lines to her poem, "When Spring Melts the Ground," a poem that considers the response of the dead to the new season: "It does / not hurt to know somebody / kneeling in wet grass / is as lonely." Essays by Kathy Hayes concerning, literally, "big jumps" she and her son were both compelled to risk (sky diving, bridge jumping); by Leslie Smith Townsend coming to terms with her father's Alzheimer's disease; and by Victoria Moon about overcoming a fear of the water, are carefully crafted and emotionally satisfying. A long story by Tess Uriza Holthe, "Homecoming," about a young French widow's regrets, is a two-handkerchief affair. One piece that deviates considerably from the general emotional tenor of the issue is Kim Dana Kupperman's essay, "Nine Segments of Orange," about the writer's experience, over time, of the color orange, prompted by the Security Code Alert system. [The Louisville Review, Spalding University, 851 S. Fourth St., Louisville, KY 40203. Single issue $8. www.louisvillereview.org] –Sima Rabinowitz
New Orleans Review
Volume 31 Number 2
"The peculiar virtue of New Orleans…may be that of the Little Way, a talent for everyday life rather than the heroic deed," Walker Percy wrote in 1968, in an essay first published in Harper's and reprinted in this issue of the New Orleans Review, which includes work solely by writers with deep connections to New Orleans. If anything has changed since "New Orleans, Mon Amour" first appeared, perhaps it is that we now think of the "everyday" as the "heroic" when it comes to these post-Katrina times. Percy's essay is one of two pieces "from the past," in a heartbreaking and breathtaking issue that includes poetry, fiction, and essays by nearly three dozen contributors, as well as several series of striking black and white photographs, and a clever graphic story by Brad Benischek. There is much of what fascinates us about New Orleans here—music, dance, spicy southern food, the swamp, the heat—and there are tales of earlier hurricanes. And there is, of course, information, images, stories, and emotions about living through Hurricane Katrina and about the city in the post-storm weeks and months. None of the work feels occasional, incidental, temporary, a quick outpouring of grief after the trauma. This work is powerful, memorable, and quite beautiful, even, or perhaps, especially in its evocation of the devastation, confusion, and distress. Poems by Ed Skloog, Rodger Kamenetz, Abraham Burickson, and James Nolan are especially strong. Nolan, a fifth generation New Orleans native, also contributes a fine essay. It seems fitting to conclude this all-too-brief review with the final lines of Anne Gisleson's essay, "The Chain Catches Hold": "One morning my son pointed excitedly up, 'Look, another!' In the hard blue fall sky two jet contrails had crossed each other, and for a moment it wasn't just our houses, or city but the whole sky that the world itself, marked for search and rescue." [New Orleans Review, Box 195, Loyola University, New Orleans, LA 70118. Single issue $7. www.loyno.edu/~noreview] –Sima Rabinowitz
Orchid "celebrates stories and the art of storytelling"
and it is, indeed, cause for celebration. Here are a dozen rich,
pleasing, readable pieces of short fiction; stories to sink your
teeth into; stories to lose yourself in. They are wildly different
from each other, which makes the volume all the more exciting. What
they have in common, however, is strong, authentic writing and a
deep sense of story as urgent, necessary, and vital. There isn't a
sleeper in the issue. I was especially taken with "Jauncy's
Feathers," by Rebecca Cook, which captures the fascinating ways in
which an adolescent's experience of mental illness manifests itself
in the way she uses language; with Laura Krughoff's "Audra," a
heartwarming story of a mother's strategies to help her young
insomniac daughter get some rest; and with "Accomplice," a story by
Patricia Stiles about a daughter's experience of her mother's
shoplifting. Orchid also includes several pages of
"Afterthoughts" in which the writers share some background on their
stories, describe the writing life, advice from a mentor, or name
something they wish they had written. [Orchid Literary Review, P.O.
Box Box 131457, Ann Arbor, MI, 48113-1475. Single issue $8.
The "Low Carb Issue" of Pavement Saw is a tasty buffet of (primarily) narrative and list poems. The writing is concrete, unpretentious, idiomatic, unadorned and occasionally surprising, a welcome remedy for all the lofty, self-important abstractions found in The Paris Review and other journals. The writers follow Levine, Wakoski, Tom Clark. There are traces of Bukowski and Ginsberg. "Eugene's Drive to Work," by Don Winter, is a representative example. Perhaps Eugene "is / just like his father: / same shift at Hamtramck Auto, / same bottle of whiskey, / same reckless fights." Despite echoes of Prince's "When Doves Cry," the characters and setting recall the lyrics of Willy Vlautin from Richmond Fontaine. The deliberate pace of Winter's poetry—as with much of the journal—is similar to a Malick film: the poems aren't forced or prodded; there's no sprint to the finish. The references in Pavement Saw tend toward the mundane, not the highbrow; the language is typically simple, colloquial, precise, sometimes unsettling (in the best of senses). Leslie Anne Mcilroy, for instance, alludes to "the ass end of a piano" ("Again"), which works very well; a more literary or pedantic image would have been, in the context of her poem, misplaced, clunking and just dead wrong. This is an impressive collection of verse. My only reservation is the Forward, which is written in a rather ridiculous pseudo-Beat style. [Pavement Saw Press, P.O. Box 6291, Columbus, OH 43206. Single issue $7. www.pavementsaw.org/pages/mag.htm] -Andrew Madigan
Volume 35 Number 2
Phoebe is a biannual journal of fiction, poetry, art and special features (interviews, art/text collages, etc.). It's quite a prestigious review and, like others in this niche, features a certain kind of poetry. It's Greg Grummer Poetry Award winner, Lynn Xu, epitomizes this. In "[Language exists because]," she writes: "Language exists because nothing exists between those / who express themselves. All language is therefore / a language of prayer." Phoebe poems are ethereal, professional, self-referential, and stocked with learned references; they are lyric, careful, restrained, polite and exact. Most often, they are about language and writing, about Art. They are always competent, but they generally lack vitality. They are never rough-hewn, desperate or gritty. They're never funny. There is undoubtedly a big market for this type of poem, and writers such as Xu perform it with elegance, poise and economy. The poems are fussy and rather affected, sometimes quite sterile, but they are refined and euphonious. One gets the sense of clever MFA students texting each other, but not of broken people who've lived life. The fiction is much, much better, which is typical of high-end reviews; "The Orchard" by Jacob Appel (Winter Fiction Contest winner) is a stand-out. The art is good if also quite incidental, which is what seems to happen when literary journals feel compelled to go graphic; the visual work isn't fully realized or integrated with the written texts in a meaningful way. [Phoebe MSN 2D6, George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030. Single issue $6. www.gmu.edu/pubs/phoebe] –Andrew Madigan
A Journal of Prose Poetics
N. Santilli's essay introducing a feature on the prose poem in Great Britain calls the form one that "appears in print but is not formally accepted by its author or its audience, both simply accepting it for what it is." More than anything, it seems the purpose of Sentence is to correct this assumption by building a formal set of both intellectual and artistic frameworks for the consideration of this form, as well as to highlight the work already being done in the genre. Santilli's essay is interesting not only for the regional focus he brings to British prose poetics, but also for its consideration of the form's interesting lineage and aesthetic no matter where its authors reside. As for the poems itself, they vary wildly in form, style, language, and apparent goals. Some are so narrative as to be hard to differentiate from flash fiction ("Reappearing," by Marjorie Manwaring) while others deny any claims to representational language at all, preferring more abstract modes of expression. Highlights include the above mentioned "Reappearing," as well as "Scientist" by Arturo Giovannitti, and "A Traveling Monk Observes" by Charles Kesler. Containing the work of over eighty poets (the contributor's notes are seventeen pages long), Sentence provides not only an amazing introduction to the prose poem form but also a platform from which it can be spread. This is definitely a young magazine worth keeping an eye on. [Sentence, c/o Firewheel Editions, P.O. Box 793677, Dallas, TX 75379. Single issue $10. www.firewheel-editions.org] –Matt Bell