Literary Magazine Reviews
Posted August 17, 2006
A Journal of Delta Studies
Volume 37 Number 1
Barbeque, bottletrees, National Steal Guitars - if you're looking for clichés, this isn't the mag for you. Focusing on the seven-state Mississippi River Delta, Arkansas Review draws the humanities and social sciences in its interdisciplinary net to evoke the Delta experience. And although each issue contains fiction and poetry - 3 stories and 7 poems here—AR includes “studies” in its title for a reason. First, there’s the scholarly articles - about Arkansas State College’s early alliance with the Army and a transcribed lecture on Delta race relations—then the book reviews—17 pages of them, outnumbering any other single piece. With subjects ranging from the Louisiana Purchase to Southern Jewishness to managing Missouri’s natural landscapes, though, the reviews reach beyond an academic audience and appeal to anyone carrying the most cursory interest in their Southern countrymen. Guy Lancaster’s interview with the owner of Little Rock’s antiquarian Lorenzen & Co. Booksellers profiles a passionate entrepreneur endangered by CostCo and Borders. Jianqing Zheng and Angela Ball’s mixed-media collaboration, “Poems and Photos,” portrays the ethereal look and sleepy feel of the bottomland backroads where kudzu slowly consumes rural lives and structures—not unique territory, and the poetry doesn’t reach lyric heights, but the combo captures all the earthly otherworldliness that moves many travelers. Not only does author Darlin’ Neal’s name break the academic gravity, but her story, tracking the disappointment of a renowned Memphis musician’s teenage daughter, offers the issue’s only allusion to Blues. M. O. Walsh’s story, “Young Ted,” with intense focus and slightly unimaginative verbiage, recalls the absorbing strain between a quirky, Arkansas 13 year old and his disturbed father who, fresh out of prison and already driving drunk, steers them to a life-changing incident. Admittedly, the dull, sepia-tone cover is as eye-catching as a Wisconsin winter, but, then again, AR doesn’t purport to be Tin House. It’s part Publisher’s Weekly, part Southern Review, and that’s just perfect. [Arkansas Review, Department of English and Philosophy, P.O. Box 1890, Arkansas State University, State University, AR 72467. Single issue $7.50. www.clt.astate.edu/arkreview] —Aaron Gilbreath
The Chattahoochee Review
Volume 26 Number 1
Being introduced to the literature of a foreign country is like finding a new wing on your favorite library. Every reader should take some time to wander through Chattahoochee Review’s Hungarian Fiction Issue. Work in translation often makes me feel as though I’m reading Ivan Drago’s lines from Rocky IV—clipped, simple phrasing—but the work here is uniformly gorgeous. Judith Sollosy’s amazing work with Sandor Tar’s short story cycle “Our Street” grabbed me from the first line, “Are we poor, dad?” Tar’s descriptions are like photographs, crystal clear and telling, “His father was leaning against a tree by his side, supporting an accordion with his feet.” Any story entitled “Oh, Those Chubby Genes!” is bound to be fantastic, and Lajos Parti Nagy lives up to the promise. Though I typically bristle at descriptions of authors such as “Lajos Parti Nagy is a modern-day Kafka of the absurd” (from the contributors page), writing like, “He was informed that apart from the curious circumstance in question, no curious circumstance had occurred,” makes me think it just may be true. The stories all carry with them the weight of totalitarianism, and as Sollosy says in her Preface, “They have learned to use language and literature in subtle and intricate ways, and there is always more to their works than first meets the eye.” These undercurrents flow between the lines, not essential to their enjoyment, but key to their understanding. [The Chattahoochee Review, 2101 Womack Rd., Dunwoody, GA 30338-4497. Single issue $6. thechattahoocheereview.gpc.edu] —Jim Scott
CV2 Contemporary Verse
The Canadian Journal of Poetry and Critical Writing
Volume 28 Issue 3
“The memory is merely a summary/of the last time I remembered it,” writes Michael Penny in his wonderful poem, “In Memory.” Memory is the theme of the issue, which, among a collection of poems worth remembering, includes interviews with poets Aislinn Hunter, Laurie Block, and Doug Nepinak. I was unfamiliar with many of the poets here, most of whom have published primarily in Canadian journals, and I was happy to be introduced to their strong, original work. Poems that will certainly remain in my memory, include “First Door on the Left” by Laurie Bloc and the finely etched work of Aislinn Hunter in “Attempts to Know the Present,” excerpted here:
All day, matter drifts
G. and I in the piazza under the bright pinwheel
of an afternoon,
under the stuttering light of an oak tree.
A kineograph that becomes a girl
lowering a bucket down four storeys
to her sister on the street below.
That delicate hand-over-hand balance,
whole minutes winnowed into meanwhile,
the bucket’s sway, its litter of fine white eggs,
bright pinions of during.
Whole days spend searching for a point of intersection,
a letter-hedged now,
the corded seam of a book, the clasp
that holds the reliquary
the middle note in last night’s concerto,
and that note’s own dark quaver,
the brown of an unremarkable door.
David McLeod’s interview with Doug Nepinak makes for extremely satisfying reading. Nepinak is smart, frank, and clear-headed: “…we live in a racist society. How else could you possibly talk about a “racist society, except in racist terms?” His insights about the writing of First Nations people and the story of his own development as a writer make this one of the strongest features of the issue. Finally, I also loved the excerpts of Michael Trussler’s “Remember the Twentieth Century.” We’ve only got a part of the century here. I am eager to read the rest. [CV2, 207-100 Arthur Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3B 1H3, Canada. Single issue: $7. www.contemporaryverse2.ca] —Sima Rabinowitz
Elysian Fields Quarterly
The Baseball Review
Volume 23 Number 1
The “Hot Stove Issue” contains two fiction pieces, Michelle Von Euw’s “The Show,” and Billy O’Callaghan’s “The Game of Life.” O’Callaghan unfolds the relationship between a boy and his grandfather with the same steady pace with which the boy perfects his curveball. I feel “The Show” is the standout here, as Von Euw follows Hattie Sutton watch her husband Sam deal with the sudden notoriety of being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame for his years in the Negro Leagues. As Von Euw writes, “Hattie had spent her whole life watching the major leagues turn their backs on men like her husband.” Sam finishes his career like many players who came back from World War II to find the game changed, “But he signed on with the Baltimore team, where his career died slowly, echoing the end of the league that had become a burial ground for men who were too old or too damaged by the war, or who never had enough talent in the first place.” The cruelty of baseball cannot be overlooked, and Von Euw imbues it with details and emotion that prevent “The Show” from seeming like a history lesson. I think of most modern baseball fiction being the game-as-mythic-metaphor tall tales (which will eventually star Kevin Costner), but Elysian Fields is open to a more critical view, which is where baseball truly becomes a metaphor for American life. [Elysian Fields Quarterly, P.O. Box 14385, Saint Paul, MN 55114-0385. Single issue $5.95. www.efqreview.com] —Jim Scott
High Desert Journal
With numerous journals and anthologies representing the South’s literary tradition, it's about time the desert got a turn. For those not schooled ecologically, the "high desert" is that gray-green steppe between the Rockies and Cascades. Dry enough for rattlers, high enough for snow, it may not be flourishing farmland, but the sagebrush proves fertile soil for literary abundance. As tall as Vogue yet held together by two simple staples, this 51-page journal’s cover bears the earth tones and leafy texture of its native basalt and sage. But don’t be fooled: High Desert Journal is not an environmental magazine or for locals only, it’s a “a literary and visual arts magazine dedicated to further understanding the people, places and issues of the high desert,” and in a time of sprawling franchises and border-blending globalization, HDJ’s breed of regional appreciation offers a strong defense against homogenization. Poems coat the pages, filling borders and crevices like lyric blooms of lichen, and between Tim Greyhavens’ expansive color photos and Darius Kuzmickas’ stark black and whites, this issue almost offers enough visual beauty to render all further descriptive passages superfluous. Almost. While the fiction is emotionally engaging and pleasantly compact, it’s the nonfiction that brings the desert’s character into starkest relief: “Our Role in the History of the Future,” Brooke Williams traces his maybe-Mormon great-great-great-grandfather’s lethal journey from England to Salt Lake City and, more interestingly, feeds his own obsessive speculation over whether his ancestor, born in the same time and town, might have known Charles Darwin; “Planting Trees for Crocodile Tom,” profiles a rich banker who buys eastern Oregon ranches to hunt elk and play weekend cowboy and teases out the disturbing nature of absentee landowners. This issue also contains the first of a new feature, “Postcards from,” which continues the journal’s goal to “chart the region’s changes.” Don’t care about the desert? Don’t worry. Regionalism here doesn’t mean “niche focus,” it’s a form of armchair travel. If Ed Abbey were still alive, he'd likely be proud to contribute. Too bad he lived in Arizona. [High Desert Journal, 2630 NE Daggett Lane, Bend, OR 97701. Single issue $10. www.highdesertjournal.com] —Aaron Gilbreath
If Hobart’s Issue 4 was the magazine’s coming out issue (with
stories by Aimee Bender, Ryan Boudinot, Rick Moody, and Stephen Elliot
bringing a lot of attention to the young publication), then Issue 6
is the one where it fully reveals its own voice with its sixteen stories
full of wit and wonder. Early on, J. Chris Rock provides the excellent
coming-of-age story “Fireworks,” followed immediately by Nick Johnson’s
intriguing meta-essay “Lost in the Bush,” about his cousin, an amateur
bodybuilder who’s missing and presumed dead. Hobart’s preoccupation
with baseball shows up more than once, with essays on the sport by Dennis
Dillingham and Doug Hockstra revealing the effects of the sport not
just in the instance of a single game but throughout the lifetime of
a fan. Other highlights include Catherine Zeidler’s haunting debut “Pregnant”
and J. Ryan Stradal’s stimulating “The Augustus McKinnon Story,” a biography
of a poet turned furniture mover who gains fame by applying poetic theories
to his day job. These stories and essays are filled with equal parts
frustrated lovers and confused youths, all of whom arrive at insight
with wit and grace, often discarding epiphany for the sudden rush of
cathartic action. Cover and interior art was provided by the talented
Perry Vasquez, who also contributes the issue’s nostalgic opening essay.
Hobart has grown steadily since its first issue three years ago,
and if this issue is any indication, there’s no slowdown on the horizon.
Issue 6 is the best issue of Hobart so far, and shouldn’t be
missed. [Hobart, PO Box 1658, Ann Arbor, MI 48103.
Single issue $10.
Issue Number 8
Ruth Stone Prize in Poetry judge Nancy Eimers, prose guest editor Victoria Redel, and poetry guest editor Roger Weingarten have selected strong, original work for this very satisfying issue. Poet and novelist Redel offers a short and fabulously poetic introduction to the “rigorous fictions” she has chosen in which she praises “the surprise and heart-stopping happiness of a sentence.” I don’t know if it is by coincidence or design that she has selected several pieces by excellent poets who, like herself, are also successful prose writers, including work by Sheila Kohler, Terese Svoboda, and Richard Katrovas. One of my favorite works of prose in the magazine is Stephen Tuttle’s “The Tree of the Holy Virgin: A Primer,” an inventive abecedary about working with cognitively disabled children, classified in the Table of Contents as creative nonfiction, though it might easily be sudden fiction. Roger Weingarten has chosen to feature “reincarnated forms.” Bruce Weigl describes Weingarten’s interests in his introduction (“to see how free verse poets both used and worked against the traditional, the subliminal, the unexpected”) and lists the forms included: appropriated forms, a canzone, concrete poetry, a crown of sonnets, a diptych, an elegy, interior acrostics, prose poems, and a “quazal” or pseudo ghazal. There is much fine work in this section, but for my taste the most memorable poem in the issue is the Ruth Stone Prize winner, Joshua Poteat’s “From J.G. Heck’s 1851 Pictorial Archive of Nature and Science.” Poteat draws striking verbal illustrations of seven visual illustrations from the natural sciences, rendered in precise, lyrical, and authentic detail. William Walsh contributes an in-depth e-mail interview with poet Jack Myers and stunning water color portraits by Kira Curis round out the volume. [Hunger Mountain, Vermont College, 36 College Street, Montpelier, VT 05602. Single issue: $10. www.hungermtn.org] —Sima Rabinowitz
Main Street Rag
Volume 11 Number 2
Main Street Rag publishes simple, solid, conversational writing without gimmicks. The layout has rather cramped pages and fuzzy artwork, but this can be overlooked. It opens with the Editor’s Select Poetry Series, featuring Mark Smith-Soto. Though his poems are not didactic, a marked political and social purpose often drags down what is otherwise decent work. Most of the other poems are stronger and more personal. The fiction is surprisingly good. A stand-out is “The Survivors” by Ed Southern, which involves a brief, uneventful conversation among three middle-class university students. Not the most dynamic recipe for literary greatness, perhaps, but the author brings a Carveresque subtlety, attention to detail, and interior depth. Southern consistently finds the right words and significant details to convey the proper tone for his story. The narrator describes the student body “in lighthearted tee shirts and khaki shorts” and his own post-adolescent confusion/envy/passion: “He had not been a camp counselor; he had not reached out to troubled kids. He had delivered truck parts for his dad. He and some other friends had almost signed up to work on a fishing boat in Alaska, but his dad had talked him out of it.” In a few ostensibly plain lines, we understand his desire to be like other people, the fact that he isn’t, his drive to explore and become engaged, his failure to do so.
Southern, and most of the contributors, who are primarily from the Midwest and South, particularly North Carolina, write artlessly and without self-consciousness. The fiction concentrates on story-telling and spot-on dialogue rather than bulimic minimalism, bloated postmodern antics, or tasteful writer’s workshop Gapification. The poetry, which leans toward medium-length litanies and narratives, shows a command of image and natural language without any stultifying academic taxidermy or careening beat jabberwocky. [Main Street Rag. 4416 Shea Lane, Charlotte, NC 28227. Single issue: $7. www.MainStreetRag.com] —Andrew Madigan
Volume 27 Number 1
Whoever made the sign adorning the building in Greg Otto’s pastel cover, which reads “The New United Church of Love and Deliverance Miracle Center” must have the same aesthetics as Passages North—there’s space available, why not use it? This massive 250-page paperback is filled with 100 pages of fiction, 30 pages of nonfiction, and 100 pages of poetry. I was a bit put off at first by the number of non-adult narrators in the fiction (half of the stories are told by children or teenagers), but each stands on its own. Alexandra Leake’s “How to be a Moron” is filled with hilarious lines, from, “You and your best friend Molly are the only eleven-year old color analysts in Greater Boston,” to “[Your mother] says bangs are cheaper than Botox.” The poetry distinguishes itself in this issue. The opportunity to read five poems by one author is a rare one, and this is where the size of Passages North pays its greatest dividends. For example, Frannie Lindsay’s back-to-back poems “The Chores” and “Henry” build upon each other, emotionally and thematically. In “The Chores,” a young girl shoots a box full of kittens with her father beside her, “I am his/ good, good daughter. Now, he says, / and I don’t waste a shot.” The older narrator of “Henry” lives with an aging dog, “He’s out of bark, / he cannot smell his food.” The revelation, then, “And death curls sweet, and licks / my hands and neck, and leads him by its leash,” becomes all the more harrowing for the lifetime of normalization of death, and ends with the heartbreaking realization, “I cannot look at him.” Passages North allots enough space for these deeper connections, whether they come in a group of poems or the assembled fiction. [Passages North, Department of English, Northern Michigan University, 1401 Presque Isle, Marquette, MI 49855. Single issue $13. www.myweb.nmu.edu/~passages] —Jim Scott
Red Rock Review
Associate Editor Todd Moffett writes that the journal does not present themes so much as follows a hidden code, one that creates associations between the stories, poems, and essays in the issue “to delight not only us but our reading audience.” If part of my job as a reader is to discover the secret code in this issue, I’d say it was “mystery” starting with Michael Clure’s three “Mysterioso” poems (here is an excerpt from “Mysterioso Eight”)—
BLACK ARISEN TO BLACK ROSES IS VOICES
The Yellow centers with anthers
—continuing with Marge Piercy’s “The Mystery of Survival” (“So much feels arbitrary”); Charles Harper Webb’s “My Son’s Fever” (“I’d welcome a nonlethal explanation”); Stephanie Lenox’s “Original Pathos” (“Nothing happens / just once. I have left and I am left now / with an amplitude of leavings”); Justin Courter’s “My Idea” (“I got an idea for reality”); and Amy Billone’s, “If Nothing Else” (“If nothing else let me point to that tree”). The fiction, too, wants to solve life’s mysteries: what can make a teenage mother learn to care for the child she tries to deny or ignore; how can a boy live up to his relatives’ expectations; when and why are people motivated to help each other in unexpected ways? And finally with Teresa Moran’s lovely short fiction, “Unknown.” One of my favorite pieces in the magazine is a poem by Chilean poet Luis Andrés Figueroa, “Winter,” presented in the original Spanish and in translation, which is certainly in keeping with the theme (I mean code, of course) of mystery. The poem concludes:
where a man’s space once was
that white of another world
has selfishly hidden the name of things,
sidewalks, birds, a bridge,
windows that turn off their light
in the coming of this violent season.
[Red Rock Review, Community College of Southern Nevada, 3200 Cheyenne Avenue, North Las Vegas, NV 89030. Single issue: $5.50. www.ccsn.edu/english/redrockreview/index.html] —Sima Rabinowitz
A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative
Volume 7 Number 2
For those of us tired of most literary journals’ slim nonfiction pickin’s, River Teeth offers not only quantity, but variety. Taking its name from David James Duncan's genre-bending book, this all-nonfiction journal prints narrative reportage, essays, memoirs and critical essays to, as they put it, “illuminate this emerging genre.” In his 40-page memoir “Starting at the Bottom Again,” Dustin Beall Smith, a 57-year-old, cosmically disoriented key grip, follows a Lakota camera assistant from his world of New York City studio suck-ups down the rabbit hole of adopted spirituality and cultural collaging. Mixing humor with poignancy, this is a self-effacing existential romp where, with only a few forced revelations, we can laugh at ourselves as we Jim-Morrison-drunk-dance on Pine Ridge’s medicine-wheel world and stare our painfully modest humanity in its wrinkled face. In “The Center of Another Universe,” Lynda Rutledge reflects on the loss of her storm-chasing brother and the universe of things that might have been. Nature writer Jerry Dennis’ “Common Correspondents in Nature” starts with a list of human associations in nature and concludes with a heartbreaking anecdote of an outcast Indian child’s death. Rounding out the issue is “The Thirteenth Hour,” a newspaper-type piece recording the fatal boat wreck of a South Carolina country singer (lots of Indians and wrecks in this issue), “The Year You Learn About Happiness,” an overly self-conscious essay recounting the effects of a nervous system disease (written in the irritating “you will X” voice), and an interview with Pulitzer-winner Thomas French. Don’t be fooled: River Teeth may come from a university English department and carry the cheap, pixilated, glossy cover photo of a vanity press, but the caliber of the work belongs in prime bookstore shelf space alongside BOMB and Esquire, forcing myself to ask, once again, why we fans have to search so hard for a good nonfiction reader. [River Teeth, Department of English, Ashland University, Ashland, OH 44805. Single issue $15. www.riverteethjournal.com] —Aaron Gilbreath
Small Spiral Notebook
Volume 3 Issue 1
There’s a lot of variety in these average-sized, unspiralled pages—from the elegance of Paul Yoon’s “So That They Do Not Hear Us” to the humor of Ladette Randolph’s wonderful “The Girls” to the stark descriptions of Natasha Radojcic’s “You Don’t Have To Live Here.” No single characteristic defines the stories other than quality. The standouts to me were Yoon’s account of a woman who dives for fish and her friendship with a young neighborhood boy, and Joshua Mandelbaum’s “Yard Work,” which rises above the oft-explored territory of the death of a spouse through the wonderful characterization of Pouklovic, the surviving husband. It’s been a long time since I enjoyed a character as much as Pouklovic and the days he spends laying in his uncut lawn, waiting for the town appointed landscaper to come and cut around his body. Pouklovic is comic and pathetic, but very real—much like the relationship between Arina, the fisherwoman, and Sinaru, her young friend in “So That They Do Not Hear Us.” The musical cadence of Yoon’s prose builds with each striking sentence. The triumph of “So That They Do Not Hear Us” lies in its ending, where Yoon exposes a fear that may have only been gnawing at the subconscious, then manages to uplift the reader in the last few paragraphs, all without appearing apologetic or sentimental. Small Spiral Notebook avoids such clichés, and, if this issue is any indication, has emerged as a source of varied and vital fiction. [Small Spiral Notebook, 172 5th Avenue #104, Brooklyn, NY 11217. Single issue $10. www.smallspiralnotebook.com] —Jim Scott
Volume 4 Number 43
A theme-based literary magazine from Vancouver, the fiction, poetry, commentary, memoir, and photography in the current issue of subTerrain explore the idea of “neighborhoods,” both fictional and real. Much of the work is vivid, raw, and gritty (poems Christopher Shoust and John Roberts, stories by Hungarian writer Grant Shipway and Katherine Cameron). Given the edginess of so much of the work, Diana E. Leung’s commentary, “Buying-in-Security: Safe Zones and Sanitized Living” about the culture of fear in which we live and the building of crime-free zones in Toronto seems appropriate, and given the times in which we live, it is satisfying to find a thoughtful commentary about these issues in a literary magazine. The most spectacular contribution in the magazine, however, is a collection of color photographs titled “Rearview Window” by Vancouver-based photographer Mike Gill. (The accompanying text by novelist and art critic Clint Burnham is informative, but the photographs really speak for themselves.) Gill’s photographs of alleys, deserted streets, and garages in disrepair, set against the vast western sky are utterly extraordinary. They capture singular moments in the life of these places through what Burnham describes as “shadowless light.” Rotting wood and leaves, broken fences, garbage pails, telephone wires, dirt tracks, leaning fences, discarded appliances, and paper litter have never looked so intriguing or so devastatingly beautiful. I don’t know if subTerrain features photography in every issue, but if so, the magazine is worth subscribing to for this reason alone. [subTerrain Magazine, P.O. Box 3008, MPO, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6B 3X5, Canada. Single issue $4.95. www.subterrain.ca] —Sima Rabinowitz
This is my favorite issue of this handsome annual yet. It’s smartly edited, with a collection of pieces that seem very much to belong together and to belong in exactly the order in which they appear. The issue opens with a silver print by Jerry N. Uelsmann of a sky inside a hand holding up both a house and a naked shadowy figure looking to one side, but approaching the house. On the facing page, Kathleen Spivack’s poem, “Seeming to Happen,” concludes “I, who thought myself ‘indecisive,’ find indeed I was only waiting: / waiting for you, for me, for a path, for a way to walk into this / painting.” The whole of the issue is thoughtfully put together in much the same way. (My only complaint is that the Table of Contents does not classify the offerings by genre and in this age of confused realities, I would like to know which prose works should be read as “fiction” and which as “nonfiction.”)
As always, The Tampa Review features both established and lesser known writers with prose and poetry that tends toward the polished and sophisticated. Standouts for me include poems by Myronn Hardy, Peter Meinke, and John McKernan, a terribly clever story by Jessica Shattuck, and a short essay about writing by Tom West. The artwork this issue is spectacular, too, and the Review concludes the way it began, with a silver print and story perfectly paired, Timothy Kennedy’s gorgeous and haunting “Ktozebue, Alaska” and John Fairweather’s tender story “Eskimos.” [Tampa Review, The University of Tampa, 401 West Kennedy Boulevard, Tampa, FL 33606-1490. Single issue: $9.95. www.tampareview.edu] —Sima Rabinowitz
Guest editor Kimiko Hahn has compiled a collection of poems and stories based on research, paintings, photographs, and other source materials, several essays about writers' relationships to influences and original sources, and lengthy contributors' notes describing the writers’ processes and approaches. Hahn provides an introduction to the issue in a poetry/theory style, "Notes Re: Trawl/Troll," and includes two poems of her own in the issue. As a reader who is partial to research-based writing, I was especially interested in this issue, but I am confident that readers with no particular connection to this type of work will find a great deal to appreciate here. Most exciting, perhaps, is the range of work presented, from responses to poems of Pablo Neruda by Patricia Spears Jones, to Laurie Sheck’s “Removes” (early American captivity narratives), to Wing Tek Lum’s poem, “A Young Girl in a Cheongsam,” based on a photograph from James Yin and Shi Young’s The Rape of Nanking: An Undeniable History in Photographs. Two prose poems by Ray Gonzalez titled “Findings” mimic the process of writing from research, the way one fragment of data or information may lead to another, associated, yet unrelated. Gonzalez also contributes one of the most eloquent and moving poems in the issue, “El Paso.” Finally, Carol Frost’s explanation of the way in which research influences her language is instructive and inspiring: “…research also gives me the sounds I want for a poem. I research, write down a lot of phrases and words, combine and recombine them for the quality of sounds as much as for the meaning and emotion.” [TriQuarterly, Northwestern University, 629 Noyes St., Evanston, IL 60208-4210. Single issue: $11.95. www.triquarterly.org/index.cfm] —Sima Rabinowitz
Versal is an attractive, large-format magazine, denser than its one-hundred pages would initially suggest and ornamented with full color art both inside and out. Most of the prose in the issue is very short, each story generally only a couple of pages long. Chad Simpson’s “Hunger,” for example, is one of the strongest stories in the issue despite taking less than a single page to convey a terrifying tale of a woman obsessed with eating after a move to a new house. Strong undercurrents of menace lurk between sentences, and the final line packs a surprisingly large punch, considering the story’s lean three-hundred-word body. Another highlight, Rob McClure Smith’s “One Thing Leads to Another,” reads like an extended joke, as an old man berates a younger passenger at length, wittily explaining why something as simple as telling another man the time could lead to unwanted consequences for both their lives. On the poetry side, Randall Horton’s “Letters to and from Brothers Quintus and Henderson McIntosh” and Joel H. Vega’s “Dante’s Recuerdo” vary greatly in style and subject even as they come together in their deep considerations of compassion and pride. Published in Amsterdam, Versal contains a wide variety of writers from not only the Netherlands but also from North America, Europe, and other corners of the world. Rather than espousing any particular aesthetic ideal or political philosophy, Versal takes the high road by including a collage of styles that represents the diversity of both its writers and the literary scenes from which they hail. [Versal published by Wordsinhere: an international collective of writers based in The Netherlands. USA ordering address: Megan M. Garr, Versal, 259 Graylynn Drive, Nashville, TN 37214. Single issue $10. www.wordsinhere.com] –Matt Bell
The Yale Review
Volume 94 Number 3
The Yale Review contains fiction, poetry, reviews and essays. The design, by Chip Kidd and Jayme Yen, is simple and unadorned, but eye-catching. Kidd’s imprimatur is noticeable, though it is also noticeably restrained; his transatlantic flights of fancy are shortened to mere layovers.
The first four poems are quite good, especially the first, “No Good Deed” by Rachel Hadas. Her language and manner are original and striking: “Never touch a stranger! / The blind man’s crazy logic / fits right in with No good deed’s / apotropaic magic.” Hadas doesn’t stoop to modish obfuscation, but rather has the confidence to display her poems as is. Surprisingly, this semi-didactic work, and the next three, are closed form, using stanzaic, metrical and rhyme structure.
The most alluring essay in The Yale Review is “About the Creative Process” by Lukas Foss, which crackles with insight, savvy analysis, and a wide-ranging synthesis of several disciplines. He touches on music, creativity, artistic influence, self-expression, education and other topics, often hopping quickly from one to the other, but without losing the reader’s interest or his line of argument. He’s especially poignant when dealing with the strangely pervasive misconceptions regarding the creation of art. The other essays, however, are rather dull. There’s an unfinished article, by Elizabeth Bishop, about a trip to Brazil with Aldous Huxley, and a very long piece by Fritz Stern, “Family Physicians: My German Past.”
Stern’s essay, which opens the journal, is an account of Breslau Jews and their ever-changing, complicated role in German society. He jumps erratically from one topic to another but, unlike Foss, cannot sustain the reader’s focus or interest. Too much is summarized in too short a space; some of the material is already well known, while other issues need more elaboration. The essay might work better as a book-length study, though the language is pompous and the sentences tend to meander. There’s also a problem with the heroic portrayal of the author’s ancestors, which, lacking any objective third-party evidence, is at odds with the historical integrity of the piece.
Haruki Murakami’s “The Mirror,” newly translated by Philip Gabriel, is rendered in a poised, understated English. The story itself is slight, innocuous, the mere shadow of a narrative, as though the great writer’s name and celebrity were more important than the actual work. “Toast” by Paul West is comparable in style. The writing is refined, sometimes witty and frenetic. There’s very little dialogue or action, though; the story is told almost exclusively through narration and interior monologue, a strategy that grows tedious. “The Abridged Versions” by Peter Cameron is, in many respects, similar, though its technique is more suited to the story’s content and purpose. His writing is playful and entertaining, the words crisp and occasionally startling: “The evening superimposes a nudity on the table lamp, as if it were posing for a pornographic issue of Home and Garden.” Ultimately, though, none of the fiction is a match for the better poems. Cameron’s self-consciously experimental narrative is ultimately derivative and rather predictable, like the zany yet culturally sophisticated gags of Woody Allen in Side Effects. [The Yale Review, P.O. Box 208243, New Haven, CT 06520-8243. Single issue $9. www.yale.edu/yalereview/] —Andrew Madigan
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