Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted February, 2007

 

The American Scholar coverThe American Scholar

Volume 76 Number 1

Winter 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Jennifer Sinor

The American Scholar celebrated 75 years with the publication of its winter issue. To mark this outstanding achievement, Robert Wilson, the journal’s editor of two years, asked two contributing editors to read every issue from the past 75 years (300 in all) and comment on the journey. The results are fascinating—both in terms of the writers who have written in The Scholar (e.g. John Updike, Oliver Sacks, Barbara Tuchman, Rita Dove, and Hannah Arendt), and in terms of how the journal’s contents trace larger social, political, and ideological movements. Wilson writes in his editor’s note that he noticed how “arguments became more specific, more rooted in particular cases or in personal experiences, more dependent on narrative” and how the magazine has moved, broadly speaking, from “subjects to stories.” Stories are what grab the reader’s attention in this issue. Ann Beattie has a wonderful short story, “Wheeling,” that rises, like so many of hers do, in the middle of things only to leave just as quickly. Like the characters we briefly meet, we are left “wheeling,” unsure of what we have witnessed or what it might mean. Stories also dominate a personal essay by Emily Bernard on an interracial friendship that failed for reasons that Bernard would like to lay at the feet of racism but knows are more complicated than that. In terms of opening lines, poet Marilyn Nelson gives us some of the most powerful. In “Nine Times Nine, On Awe,” she writes “An architecture of inequity / designs the lower floors of history,” and proceeds to enumerate those forgotten while “someone the world would remember was inventing an arch.” This anniversary issue is rich in story as well as subject—ranging from the political to the personal. It is a journal one hopes will be around another seventy-five years. [www.theamericanscholar.org]

 

Apostrophe coverApostrophe

Winter 2005/Spring 2006

Annual

Reviewed by Jeanne M. Lesinski

Entering its tenth year of publication, this journal of the University of South Carolina at Beaufort offers readers fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry by established and emerging writers. Kathleen Rooney’s essay “Coy Mistress,” about her work as an artist’s and photographer’s nude model appealed to me, perhaps all the more so because I read it while sitting clothed in a paper gown on a physician’s examination table, and over the years, I’ve wondered how a person guards her/his composure while under such close scrutiny. Rebecca McLanachan’s essay, “Interstellar,” delves into the relationship between two sisters. Artfully structured around the recurrent image of double stars, it movingly portrays their changing relationship over time. In the short story “Uncle Will,” Ron Cooper convincingly depicts an irascible older man and his clever solution to the perennial problem of transportation. Poems by some two dozen authors take up half of the journal. They include works by Nelson James Dunford, Michael Johnson, Sharon Doyle, David Lunde, and Jane Sanderson. Standouts are Michael Bassett’s “Aphorisms of One Who Calls Himself Legion Because He is Many”: “The wounds we cannot live / without define us the way the night / sky outlines the stars.” Similarly, in her prose poem (or flash memoir) “Detour,” Sanderson powerfully depicts the feelings a person experiences upon visiting a once concentration camp, now memorial. Frederick Zydek’s “Dreams That Get It Right,” part of a collection-in-progress about dreams, also prompted me to think, with these lines:

These dreams are true as first
light where all the many things
are one, a place in the middle
of nowhere between the fierce
edges of life and our slow waking.

I’ll look forward to hearing more about these dreams—and to the time when Apostrophe adds its presence to the web.

[Apostrophe, English Department, University of South Carolina at Beaufort, 801 Carteret St., Beaufort, SC 29902. Copy price: $10.]

 

Black Warrior Review coverBlack Warrior Review

Volume 33 Number 1

Fall/Winter 2006

Semiannual

Reviewed by Aaron Gilbreath

Stylish and quirky, BWR continually reimagines what it means to be a university-affiliated journal. Amid the chapbook and gorgeous art portfolio, Steve Davenport’s “Murder on Gasoline Lake” unfolds the toxic layers of his childhood spent in a refinery town and illustrates the ways home, even sludge and stink, gets graphed to us “whether we like it or not.” Angie Carter may have entered the world just as Elvis exited, but her nostalgic essay proves music and video as seductive as warm flesh to the obsessive psyche. While paragraphs labeled “First sight,” “First jealousy,” “Our song” suggest stalkerish fandom, Angie’s awareness of the absurd and coverage of other Elvis aficionados (freaks?) sweetens the insanity. For this issue’s feature, each editor picked a favorite writer to introduce their own favorite writer: Chris Bachelder introduces Kevin McIlvoy, Stacey Richter introduces Adam Desnoyers, giving this underpublished newcomer a chance to shine. Other solid fiction: “The Alternative History Club,” where a bright 16-year-old succumbs to colorful delusions of a Mob-CIA go-between after her mother’s death; “The American Magical Realist,” about a literary scholar whose mid-life aspirations clash with his personal and creative limitations as he searches his life for material; and the woman in “In Cities, Well After the Fact” realizes she’s better off despite a break-up painfully prolonged by her ex’s selfishness and temper. Staring at the cover makes me wish this was an annual so the image could greet me at newsstands for the next 12 months; the quality writing makes me wish it was quarterly. [webdelsol.com/bwr]

 

Brick coverBrick

Number 78

Winter 2006

Biannual

Reviewed by C.M. McLean

The Canadian journal Brick is a slap in the face (with a brick) to mediocrity. Brick 78 is chock full of nuts: Robin Blaser, Robert Hass, Sylvia Plath, Ko Un, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Barry Gifford, and certainly more. This journal is not long-winded, and still Brick answers to some of the most interesting essays, memoirs, tributes and speeches, and of course, good poetry. The essays of Brick are always the most fulfilling. The piece “Milosz: The Conscience of Solidarity” by Peter Dale Scott is fascinating. A quote at the beginning of the essay by Adam Michnik should be of interest to poets and revolutionaries alike: “I remember that when I once was arrested the police found a box of treatises by Milosz in my apartment. And during the interrogation the officer was saying, ‘Mr. Michnik, do you believe that with the help of this little poetry you are going to win against Communism?’ And we won.” The essay explores the life of Milosz and Michnik during the Solidarity movement and emphasizes the importance and triumph of art over tyranny. I also really enjoyed Robert Hass’ tribute to Robin Blaser delivered at the Griffin Poetry Prize ceremony in 2006. The poem at the end of the tribute inspired me to search out Blaser’s collected poems. Brick will not let you down. It will hold you up for the night. And like an armed cucumber, force you out of the pickle of not having a good book to read. [www.brickmag.com]

 

Callaloo coverCallaloo

Volume 29 Number 3

Summer 2006

Quarterly

Reviewed by Christopher Gibson

Talib Kweli sums up this issue in the final interview/article when he advises, “Make sure that you acknowledge, at all times, your history, your ancestors, where you come from and what you are responsible for, what people have done, how people fought, struggled, and died to get you to where you are.” Each and every engaging and diverse perspective in Callaloo’s issue on “Hip Hop and Culture” clearly sounds off on the importance of the roots of the culture, which entails those directly and indirectly involved in the music and culture. The authors manage to establish the importance of hip hop culture’s history through a variety of interviews, photos, poetry, and articles, not to mention the great front and back cover artwork. There’s nothing like seeing a respectable journal’s title in graffiti topped equally with city and island skylines, a meeting of the urban and the earth. The roots of hip hop and its culture also find an unexpected icon in Curtis Crisler’s poem, “Elegy for Mister Rogers: In memory of Fred Rogers,” which served “as a backbeat, before Run/DMC, Eric B. and Rakim, Tupac and Biggie.” Again the dominant theme for each poet in this issue is the importance and relevance of personal and cultural history in hip-hop. Regarding the critical articles, I found Wayne Marshall’s work on sampling’s relevance in hip-hop and Ed Pavlic’s exploration of the relationship between the DJ and audience the two most captivating pieces of criticism.

All of the critical articles were definitely worthwhile for those interested in hip-hop, the African Diaspora, and/or music, but Marshall does an excellent job of discussing the insistence on “authentic hip-hop” utilizing sampling, interweaving The Roots’ drummer and music producer Ahmir "?uestlove" [pronounced "Questlove"] Thompson’s perspective, which comes from a true hip-hop band member. Pavlic’s article gives both the perspective of a participant and critic’s view of the different social and physical spaces covered as a DJ and audience interact over a night at the Red Dog club in Chicago. The interviews are the lamb’s bread of the issue, providing diverse, yet consistent, perspectives on hip-hop. We hear the female voice via interviews with rapper/lyricist extraordinaire Jean Grae, journalist/writer Joan Morgan, and writer Gwendolyn D. Pough. Because I finally bought Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek’s Reflection Eternal, the separate interviews with both artists were the personal highlights of the issue. The interviews continue to explicate the importance of knowing your personal and cultural past history while still pushing forward. R. Scott Heath states in the introduction that “hip_hop [underscore correct] studies has been, in large part, a legitimizing project—to prove that hip_hop is worthy of institutional attention,” which should no longer need to be said with the publication of respected journal issues as this. [www.press.jhu.edu/journals/callaloo/]

 

Cimarron Review coverCimarron Review

Issue 158

Winter 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Stephanie Griffore

After finishing the final piece “Punched” by Steven Cordova in the Cimarron Review, I was left with the line, "You were punched." Indeed, I was. With each piece I was smacked in the face with a story and a perfect picture, like a movie reel with words streaming by at an almost overwhelming pace, leaving me breathless. The selection of poetry is inarguably strong. For example, “Nocturne,” by Nate Pritts, is based on the simple concept of night, in which he envelopes the feeling, letting each aspect out in short detailed descriptions such as, "Tiger lilies outside my window beat slow time // against the screen, six-petaled heads bobbing / burnt orange, mute tongues curling & streaked // like the sky..." “Aunt Catherine” by Yvonne Higgins Leach also shined, showing a sign of hope for a woman who only had time for herself when she was in the water. The short stories also drop you into the moment. “Ghosts from Iraq” by Clint Van Winkle makes perfect timing while our country is at war, telling the haunting story of a soldier who continuously sees the ghost of a little girl he killed and wonders if anyone else can see her, too. Overall, it was obvious that this issue was carefully put together based on content. You won’t be bogged down poem after poem, followed by a lengthy prose piece. Instead, you’ll start off slow, getting into the mood and feeling of the poetry, then carefully sink into a prose, giving you everything you wanted but nothing that you expected. [cimarronreview.com]

 

Cimarron Review coverCimarron Review

Issue 157

Fall 2006

Quarterly

Reviewed by Jim Scott

Just about to enter its fortieth year, Cimarron Review does not appear to be suffering from a midlife crisis—no new bells and whistles, just poetry, fiction, and essays. As usual, Cimarron Review excels with their selection of poetry. Emily Fragos delivers two devastating poems, “19 Chopin Waltzes” with its accusatory lines, “All the begetting: the weak limbs and soft bellies, / the faces elongated like the devil himself,” and “Insomnia” whose ending is one long shiver, “Even the chained lie down in the dark; / Soldiers, sick of shoveling muck and trench, dream of resting / Beneath blankets of snow. The herder grips tight the squirming / Sheep and shears it down to its pink, quivering skin.” Grace Shulman’s “Harp Song” also stood out, mostly for this breathless metaphor, “The bark is grooved like an islander’s face / as he sails out for bass with pots and trawl, / and in the worst storms sings in a raspy, // whiskey voice haul-aways learned from whalers.” The essays and fiction are less successful, but Claudia Putnam’s “White Lilac,” a novelistic story that stretches and sprawls over fourteen pages, puts as much space as possible into each word. Until Cimarron Review gets a cherry convertible and a flashy new hairpiece, it will continue to be one of literature’s most venerable and consistent sources of new work. [http://cimarronreview.com]

 

Cincinnati Review coverThe Cincinnati Review

Volume 3 Number 2

Winter 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Robert Duffer

It’s to the credit of the editorial staff at The Cincinnati Review that the winter 2007 issue cannot be easily classified. The range of voices is as wide as the experience of the contributors. Poetry dominates the issue, and the best of it, like Claudia Emerson’s selections from Girls’ School, has the narrative sweep of prose evoked by the tight, singular resonance of each word of verse. From “Housemother”: “This life began as mere employment, something / that would pass; she had private joys then, / reasons to close her door. This is how she breathes / now, moving sharklike through the halls’ courses.” Girlhood is eviscerated in my favorite story in the issue, “The Payoff.” Best friends conspire to blackmail their principal, who was caught with his pants down with the art teacher. Susan Perabo captures the language and mindset of tweens, as wilier Louise convinces the narrator how the blackmail will work: “‘Plus his wife would divorce him and his kids would hate him and he’d lose all his friends. And everywhere he went, people would make sucking sounds.’” Stunning oil paintings by John Fraser juxtapose the indoor and outdoor, mock and somehow celebrate living spaces. In an odd but compelling essay, Ander Monson returns to the privileged boarding school he was kicked out of twelve years past to ruminate on connectivity. For the sake of objectivity, The Cincinnati Review publishes several book reviews on the same book. This issue features Colson Whitehead’s Apex Hides the Hurt. Jane Springer, Tyrone Williams, Gary Leising and other poets add some strikingly distinctive pieces, along with Wendy Rawlings’ story of a middle-aged woman’s physical rebirth, to the chagrin of her poor parents. The only way to know The Cincinnati Review is to read it. [www.cincinnatireview.com]

 

Driftwood coverDriftwood

A Journal of Voices from Afar

Volume 1 Issue 1

Spring 2006

Triannual

Reviewed by Jim Scott

Judging by its title, which, next to the cover, is the greatest way to judge anything, I expected Driftwood to be a ragtag collection of literature in translation and experimental writing from the English writing world. Instead, Driftwood offers seven short stories featuring the sort of exoticism that has populated mainstream bookshelves for years, which, in effect, dilutes the very exoticism they originally brought to light. Once I got over my own preconceptions, I saw Driftwood for what it is—a fine literary magazine that caters to these types of stories. It seems to me as though there are two central tenets in such writing: one, telling a story as foreign to readers as possible, and two, trying to match the writing to the locale in both voice and structure. It’s when those are the least of a story’s attributes that Driftwood shines. Karen Masuda’s “Fast Train Slow Train” tells the story of a nearly friendless young boy who “walked slowly as was his habit talking to things like rocks and dead leaves along the way.” It’s impossible not to be aware of Driftwood’s ‘mission statement’ for lack of a better term, but somewhere around turning from the first page to the second of “Fast Train Slow Train,” I could have been reading a great story in any magazine. The best stories in Driftwood (Wanda Campbell’s “Quick Silver” is another highlight) made me forget everything but the words I was reading, only to reflect upon this “voice from afar” once I’d finished. [www.driftwoodpress.com]

 

Ecotone coverEcotone

Volume 2 Number 1

Fall/Winter 2006

Biannual

Reviewed by Jeanne M. Lesinski

For readers not yet familiar with this wonderful journal: eco Greek oik-os, house, dwelling + tone tonos, tension. Thus an ecotone is a transitional zone between two communities, containing the characteristic species of each; a place of danger or opportunity; a testing ground. Ecotone the journal embodies all of these qualities: Its characteristic species are fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, and interviews. Poet Sarah Gorham, in her illuminating essay, “The Edge Effect,” goes to great lengths to define and to help readers understand how such genres as the prose poem, short short, and lyric essay intermingle prose and verse and thus well represent the fertile concept of ecotone. In the process, she challenges writers and readers to greater levels of contemplation and creativity. The works in Ecotone are stylistic and thematic testing grounds for metaphoric maps, yet this issue also marks the debut of a genre new to the journal: literal, pictorial maps of places that are important to a writer (Aimee Bender “Three Maps”).

Above all, the creative non-fiction in this issue really shines. Lia Purpura’s “The Space Between” and Julianna Baggott’s “Who Needs Nature” soundly struck a chord with me (I can appreciate motherly anxiety), but Michael P. Branch’s “Endlessly Rocking” accomplished ever much more. It made me remember, made me laugh, made me want to “warp the linear narrative of days to see ourselves being told by a larger story that isn’t finished yet.” Moreover, in the interview with essayist and poet Reg Saner that prefaces four of his poems, Saner addresses the value of non-fiction with the admission: “I didn’t dream nonfiction would teach me incomparably more than my work in verse.” Yet for Saner it did, and in this I find great inspiration, as I do in knowing that journals like Ecotone excel at providing a venue for lyric and contemplative prose. Bravo! [http://uncw.edu/ecotone]

 

Georgia Review coverThe Georgia Review

Volume 60 Numbers 3 & 4

Fall/Winter 2006

Sixtieth Anniversary Issue

Quarterly

Reviewed by Anna Sidak

Sixtieth Anniversary Congratulations to the editors and staff of The Georgia Review, long acclaimed as the best of the best. Correspondence—letters—beginning with the journal's 1947-1976 archives (1977-2000 items to appear in Spring 2007) is the theme of this double issue of nearly 400 pages, perhaps in the hope aid and comfort for today's writers would emerge (as it has: cover letters should self-destruct; also personal papers upon the writer's death, if not before). Much has been made of the loss of the art of personal letter writing since the advent of e-mail, but Hugh Ruppersberg's review of Selected Letters of Robert Penn Warren offers insight regarding letters by literary figures: “Writers tend to reserve their intellect and energy for their creative efforts . . .” Also difficult to imagine: GR's early solicitations, when not ignored, were often dismissed. The letter-based essays, poems, and fictions in this issue were readily submitted you can be sure, and the excellent essayist David Bosworth continues, sans letters, his discontent with the direction of our lives in "Conscientious Thinking," a virtual brief of western literature and philosophy. Invasion of privacy occurs to the reader long before the author mentions the concept in Michael Donohue's grim essay "Russell and Mary." Essays and book reviews, always GR's crowning glory, include Judith Kitchen on several subjects, including The Letters of Robert Lowell and Edward Butscher's detailed reviews of recent fiction and non-fiction anthologies. The collection, Arguing Comics: Literary Masters on a Promising Medium, is reviewed by Louis Phillips, and I, also, regret the omission of contemporary items, particularly Art Spigelman's astonishing Maus. Among other interesting items are essay/reviews on New York writers, Wisconsin fiction, and American theatre. [thegeorgiareview.com]

 

Gulf Coast coverGulf Coast

Volume 19 Number 1

Winter/Spring 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Jim Scott

Gulf Coast does almost everything right, from cover to content. The magazine is even the perfect size: heavy enough to seem substantial, yet not injury-inducing, big enough to stand out on your bookshelf, but not so large as not to fit. The cover of this issue is adorned with one of Amy Blakemore’s haunting photographs. My favorite is Monument, which appears to be a Bunyan-esque statue taken from the back, an odd view, with a combination of haze and focus that makes it all the more eerie. Many of the stories, poems, and non-fiction within Gulf Coast take a similarly unexpected view. For Gulf Coast, this does not mean publishing stories merely because they are unusual, but those that tackle the familiar in a more personal way. The 2006 fiction prize winner (chosen by Antonya Nelson), Steven Wingate’s “Beaching It” has a Richard Ford-type quality in the main character’s inability to make even his modest aspirations a reality. Wingate paints the craftspeople who populate the fairs and markets of small town New England with such a fine brush—he points out the warts and the scars of all of his characters without seeming judgmental. This extends to a brilliant sex scene, which should win an award all on its own for being awkward, cruel, and memorable. The poetry prize winner, Tyler Caroline Mills, goes beyond memorable, as her haunting poem, “Nagasaki,” combines the image of the narrator’s grandfather discussing the dropping of the atomic bomb with Mills’s precisely noted details, the result of which often underscores the feeling of flight, and flight arrested: “This is the way my mother tells stories: / Pausing to notice the cardinals flashing / Like wet paintbrushes in the trees,” But limiting the discussion of another amazing issue of Gulf Coast to the award winners would do a disservice to the overall high quality; each piece merits its own glowing appraisal. [www.gulfcoastmag.org]

 

Heliotrope coverHeliotrope

Volume 6

December 2005

Biannual

Reviewed by Jeanne M. Lesinski

Focusing exclusively on poetry, the editors of this privately supported journal offer readers a wide selection by such varied poets as Nicole Sprague, Marion Boyer, Richard Levine, Hal Sirowitz, Constance Norgren, Janice Fitzpatrick Simmons, Maria Terrone, Donald Lev, and Billy Collins. Indeed, there is something for everyone. For example, in “Guardrail,” Kathleen Flenniken captures an anxious thought to which many are prone, while in “Trash,” Ruth Bavetta meditates on how difficult it is to be rid of non-human and human garbage. Wendell Hawken’s “Trophy Buck” had me so drawn into the drama of the scene that I exclaimed aloud when I read the last line. Of course, being a writer who can panic at the blank computer screen, I found “Writer’s Block” by Matthew Spireng touching—and perhaps instructive. In it he depicts that bane of writers as a bat “hanging motionless in the light.”

... I thought to poke it with a broom,
but then thought better. Let it sleep, I thought, let it hibernate,
if that is its state. It will come out in its own good time.

The second section of the journal, set off with the subtitle “The Raw and the Cooked,” presents poems in which food is the subject. The showstopper here is “Mendel’s Garden Pea,” by Claudia Carlson, who portrays geneticist and monk Gregor Mendel through the viewpoint of the sweet pea:

I’d prefer sex with bee, beetle or breeze.
The monk’s stubby fingers clip my stamens, bruise
my petals; how would a man know the finesse of fertilization?
Petals are the blessed marriage bed!

Also worth a look is the journal’s web site, which is attractive, easy to navigate, and provides several sample poems from the current issue. Interestingly, a majority of the poems this issue are the work of women poets. [www.heliopoems.com]

 

Iconoclast coverIconoclast

Number 94

2006

Reviewed by Robert Duffer

I don’t know what mainstream literature is, but after reading Iconoclast #94, I know what it isn’t. “…whores never fare as well once the rumor gets around they thinking on starting a family. Customers tend to get nervous—and absent,” Laura Payne Butler writes in “Only Horses Run Wild in Clouds.” Alice has left her baby behind and collapsed on the shore of a swampy Florida river where she is found by her old friend, Booker, and they proceed to play games with the clouds. Poets, like Llyn Clague in “The Retiree,” exhibit unlikely characters as well. Other poems read like historical narratives of uncelebrated heroes, others are travelogues, like James Longstaff’s salute to Mother Russia in “Waking at the Waterline.” An alcoholic celebrates the destructive courtship of her disease despite running over a three-year-old child in “Tiger Burning Bright” by Arlene Sanders. B.B. Riefner’s story, “Slices from the Pie,” refers to the undeveloped deadly shores of the Mexican Pacific, where an expat warns surfing tourists of The Dead Zone; the only one to heed his warnings is a female assassin. Iconoclast is formatted simply, in stapled black and white pages that unfortunately have a series of typos. There is no editor’s note nor contributors’ page. [Iconoclast, 1675 Amazon Rd, Mohegan Lake, NY 10547-1804. Copy price: $5]

 

Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet coverLady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet

Number 19

November 2006

Biannual

Reviewed by Robert Duffer

“Maybe all of our stories are really about love…saying ‘Beware: this is the terror that is love. Here there be monsters.’” This is taken from “You Were Neither Hot Nor Cold but Lukewarm, so I Spit You Out,” wherein the Famous and Talented Horror Author must confront the monster that nightly devours him. Though the tenth anniversary issue serves up men imprisoned in tubs of cold water, a mysterious woman with dragon eggs, a midget mastermind of professional wrestling, a vanishing bride, a heartbroken drag queen, a troll, there is an undercurrent of love. The aforementioned story was written by a husband and wife team, Cara Spindler and David Erik Nelson (who co-founded and edits Poor Mojo’s Almanac(k)), presumably taking turns with the twisting narrative, which includes a Club-Footed Janitor brother who is really a cold-killing CIA operative, and several references to the Bible (aside from just the title). Katharine Beutner lists the things, both hot and cold, in “(Things) That Make One’s Heart Beat Faster.” Love of fellow man can be found in the opening story, “Tubs,” by Ray Vukcevich. Half-submerged in a tub the narrator fights the urge to step on the floor when someone else is out of their tub, resulting in a palsying shock to everyone, even the dead guy. “The Bride” insists on knowing how much her man loves her up to the wedding, when writer Kara Kellar Bell squeezes the poignant from the quirky. Andrew Fort does the same through a drag queen, “a silly old fag,” in “Lady Perdita Espadrille Tells a Story.” The entertainers in LCRW, including the editors, have fashioned a roller-coaster of a read that defies prediction. The ride may very well be about the terror of love. [http://lcrw.net/lcrw]

 

Lit coverLIT

Volume 11 Number 6

Spring 2006

Biannual

Reviewed by Danielle LaVaque-Manty

From its bright cover—red and blue feet on a purple background—to the wide pages and spacious spreads of its interior layout, to the quirkiness of the stories and poems found within, LIT shimmers with youthful energy. The poetry is plentiful and tends toward the surreal. “I can see him thinking ‘Great, I’m dying and Mom is drilling through brick,’ / as fever sentences accumulate like juice cups under flashlights,” writes Ange Mlinko, in a poem called “Kidnap the Toys.” And in “Winkle, Winkle” by the same poet: “I had a child’s ear, a child’s Magyar. It wrote me a fable. / I forgot it!” Images pile up, baffling but intriguing. Many of the poets whose work appears here are represented by two or three poems instead of the usual lonely one, and some of the poems are quite long. Peter Mischler’s “Reliquary of the Mouth,” for example, takes a hundred lines to cast its gloomy, hypnotic spell. Poetry lovers will surely appreciate these generous servings. The stories, on the other hand, tend to be on the short side—only “No Vacancy,” a moving coming-of-age story by Nova Ren Suma, is more than ten pages—and there are a few scattered pieces of flash fiction. But length and power aren’t the same thing; it took Christine Grillo’s “Lessons, Senior English” less than seven pages to break my heart. [lit-magazine.blogspot.com/]

 

Literary Imagination coverLiterary Imagination

The Review of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics

Volume 8 Number 3

Fall 2006

Triannual

Reviewed by Miles Clark

Any journal sponsored by the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics is going to require a decent amount of attention to enjoy. And this issue seems to take academic contentiousness one step further by first devoting an entire issue to Virgil, and then, in the second paragraph of the introduction, claiming that Virgil’s influence in the practical arena has diminished to the point of irrelevance—not even Harold Bloom can find use for Virgil in his canon. If that sentence sounds like cannon-fodder for the deeply cynical, pointing to the essays may quiet the booms slightly. Why doesn’t Virgil appeal to us in these imperialistic times? To be perfectly (unfortunately) consumerist (or Franzenian) about it, perhaps it’s American pragmatism that’s to blame. We want our reading to “multi-task” for us. The Aneid, we know, is an analysis of Empire; and we, as readers, are interested in how his classical conception coincides with our image of America. However, we are disappointed to find that the Aneid is not prescriptive of Republican ideals of Government, as its conception of violence (a necessary prerequisite for Empire) is entirely unlike our own. It is seen primordial and incapable of destroying either the spiritual or physical sustenance of life: a literary, as opposed to lived violence, alien to a contemporary culture accustomed to conceiving of war as a totalizing experience.

But Virgil’s pragmatic failure in an age of “nucular” anxiety was hardly the dawn of his decline; this begins substantively with the arrival of Milton, who, by extracting an epic poem from several lines of biblical text, shifted the grounds of the aesthetic from imitative to creative principles. Neoclassicist tastes set the critical nail in the coffin; Johnson explains that while in science achievements are based on the back of prior discovery, ancient mythology has been very seldom augmented by new evidence. Virgil’s crime is not that he writes badly; his crime is that he takes his subject material—as did all of ancient Rome—from Greek sources.

These are enlightening conceptions, but they do not furnish a reason to continue reading Virgil in the future. So why should you? In order to find out why, I’ll recommend that you read Literary Imagination yourself. [www.oxfordjournals.org/our_journals/litimag/]

 

Main Street Rag coverMain Street Rag

Volume 11 Number 3 

10th Anniversary Special

Fall 2006

Quarterly

Reviewed by Anna Sidak

This attractive publication, an eclectic collection of fiction, essays, interviews, book reviews, and poetry, has—without the backing of a college or university—flourished for ten years under its original editor—quite an accomplishment. Congratulations to M. Scott Douglas and his Main Street Rag! I especially enjoyed the poetry—scarcely an adverb or abstraction to be found. Three poems by Lyn Lifshin, Shawn Pavey's memoir "Ten Years After," as well as Suzanne Baldwin Leitner's interview of poet Irene Blair Honeycutt are admirable. Norman Ball's "What Can We Do to Make Your Stay in Power More Comfortable?" is, of course, a satire on the present state of affairs: “[. . .] the real business of America, jockeying for power [. . .].” Wayne Peabody's "Country Porch Lights" illuminates a writers' conference, and yes, it's pretty much as you imagined. Then there's Tim Keppel's brief, vivid "Farewell to the Barons and Lords," on life in Columbia, S. A., among the Extradictables: “They were church-going Catholics, they loved their moms and kids. But in the mornings, going out for the paper, you'd trip over a corpse. Or you'd catch something when you were fishing but it wouldn't be a fish.” This from Pam Bernard's World War I narrative “Blood Garden”: “If it's true that a horse has no sense of itself / in the world, then it must be wholly present / in the moment of its dying—pain and terror / pacing the fenced paddock of its brain.” [www.mainstreetrag.com]

 

Make coverMake

Issue 4

Winter 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Miles Clark

Make has gone the route of Opium and Swink—championing shorter material and a more relaxed design style. For this, their international issue, they also include “sister city” book reports; Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code tops the list in both Jordan and Israel. Athens, Greece, appears to have far better taste— three Orhank Pamouk novels make its top six. Osaka, Japan appears consumed with captivating nonfiction titles like The Dangers of Induction Heating Cooking-wareElectromagnetic Waves Could be the next Asbestos. A diatribe about the anti-gay culture of Poland follows. Occasionally this lackadaisical style grows tiresome; an “interview” with poet Gabriel Levinson allows exchanges like, Q: “What is memory?” A: “My best friend. My worst enemy.” to be less the exception than the rule.

Most interesting are Fred Sasaki’s fragmented biographical vignettes from a Japanese internment camp; Sasaki knows well enough to stay away from the heavy-handed sentimentality or outright rage, focusing instead on how the time in the camps is reflected in future actions. This is not the case for much of the fiction, which feels crude, often presenting a garden-of-Eden scenario shattered blandly by corporate power entities. Many are taken from excerpts; perhaps their clumsiness is an unfortunate side-effect of design. In any event, the issue is vibrant, interesting and insightful. [www.makemag.com]

 

Massachusetts Review coverThe Massachusetts Review

Volume 47 Number 4

Winter 2006

Quarterly

Reviewed by Anna Sidak

The admirable literary venture that is The Massachusetts Review will soon celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. In this exemplary issue, C. M. Mayo's exploration of Ferdinand Maximilian von Habsburg's life in Vienna, Venice, Trieste, and Mexico City in “From Mexico to Miramar” takes creative non-fiction to a new level, while Faye Wolfe's “Rahoo,” and “In Trouble with the Dutchman,” by Alix Ohlin are outstanding short stories. In “Lolita, Who's Your Daddy?” Gerald Williams makes a good case for plagiarism on the part of Vladimir Nabokov, but we can't be sure Nabokov was ever aware of this—it’s easy to forget where, when, and if one learned something (ask I. Lewis Libby). Should you need something new to worry about, you'll find it in “Momentary” by Ted Sanders. Norman Berlin's displeased critique of the staging and performance of Eugene O'Neill's play, A Touch of the Poet, is edifying. This from Rob Cook's “campaign speech”: “we're certain there are places in the Oklahoma night where it was never America.” Plus a great many outstanding poems, this from “Elegy for Francoise Vatel,” by Amy Scattergood: “Your king doesn't understand how fast ice melts / and the standing armies across the channel // have no patience for demi-glace or diplomacy.” Sean Thomas Dougherty's non-fiction, “Killing the Messenger,” is effective, while a ghost story, “Seeing Things,” by Marianne Boruch reminds one that not everything can be explained and offers examples from the writings of Keats, Eliot, Plath, and others. [www.massreview.org]

 

New England Review coverNew England Review

Volume 27 Number 4

2006

Quarterly

Reviewed by Jennifer Sinor

New England Review is known for its excellence. A highly selective journal, the fiction and poetry found in its pages not only point to the writers who are at the fore of their genres but also to the direction the fields are heading. The editors seem to prefer poems and stories that break with tradition without sacrificing craft. Stephen O’Connor’s short story “Bestiary” would be an example. He gives us a rather elliptical tale of two people—one with a face that “looks like a knuckle”—who come together, or fail to come together, in a moment of sexual shame. A more traditional story in terms of form, Carla Panciera’s “No Sooner” leaves the reader with the same sense of disembodiment. What is lovely about Panciera’s work is how she captures the main character’s simultaneous love of her husband as well as her desire for the bodies of others. This issue has a special feature on Stanley Elkin that includes reminiscences by writers like Helen Vendler, John Irving, William Gass, and Charles Baxter. Some of the most remarkable selections in this issue are the poems and fiction in translation. Margret Schaefer provides a deft translation of turn-of-the-century Viennese author Arthur Schnitzler. Part of his novella, Lieutenant Gustl is a stream-of-consciousness narrative that is able to sustain the interior life of its opera-going main character for pages. The reader is at turns fascinated and irritated by Gustl’s all-too-human reflections. The fact that the NER juxtaposes works in translation, recovered works, contemporary poetry, and edgy short stories makes for a stimulating read. You never know what to expect when you turn the page—only that you will be asked to think and respond in heartfelt and challenging ways. [http://www.nereview.com/]

 

New Letters coverNew Letters

Volume 73 Number 1

2006/2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Danielle LaVaque-Manty

This elegant, high-quality journal has a little bit of everything: fiction, poetry, essays, book reviews, and striking art in the form of black and white photographs of Uganda by Gloria Baker Feinstein. In one of these, school children look sternly into the camera, as if demanding to know the photographer’s reason for taking these pictures; in another, they seem to offer her a flower. The two essays, though very different in style and subject, are the most engaging pieces. “Recovering Robinson,” a biographical sketch of poet Edward Arlington Robinson, recounts high and low points in Robinson’s career and conveys the nature of his craft and aspirations in a conversational manner that made me want to pour the writer, Scott Donaldson, another glass of wine and ask him to keep talking. “Portrait of a Homeless Art History Student,” by Andrew T. McCarter, is riskier work, told in second person:

The man who sits down at your table asks Stephan, “This your bitch?” tilting his head in your direction.
“He ain’t my bitch.”
“Pretty bitch, though,” says the man.

The poetry and fiction, though less surprising, are also satisfying. Deborah Greger’s narrative poem, “The Desert of Christmas,” is worth reading more than once, and Michael Pritchett’s novel excerpt, “Reason to Believe He Hath Deserted,” sent me straight to Amazon.com to see whether the novel it came from, The Melancholy Fate of Capt. Lewis, is available yet. (It isn’t, but I’ll keep an eye out.) The richness and variety of the selections in New Letters are impressive, and this journal will be one of my “must reads” from now on. [www.newletters.org]

 

North Dakota Quarterly coverNorth Dakota Quarterly

Volume 73 Number 3

Summer 2006

Quarterly

Reviewed by Aaron Gilbreath

While this journal’s academic covers do little to counter the misperception that the Plains are plain, NDQ’s ninety-six-year publishing history does. This issue’s highlight is “Holy Socks.” After her father, an Ohio minister, endured a lobotomy that permanently confined him to a hospital, Constance Studer, a nursing student, breaks hospital regulation to gather information and portrays a family broken by “the cure” as well as the fine line dividing some peoples’ spirituality from psychosis. “White Meat of Chicken, Flowing Streams of Milk” excerpts a memoir about a Southern expatriate’s life in the Dakota oilfields with his beloved Boston Terrier. “Overwintering in Fairbanks” recounts solitary Alaskan Erica Keiko Iseri’s slow healing and her aging dog’s equally belabored passing. Paramedic Dane Myers’ essay records, with pop-thrillerish blandness, how he was thrust into action once while driving to work. The essay “Ashes to Ashes” documents the way a friendship failed and searches the rubble for meaning. In this installment of NDQ’s occasional “Sea Changes: Books That Mattered” feature, a professor reflects how his undergraduate reaction to Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be, and later poetry, shaped his current teaching technique and professional outlook, illustrating the difference between A+ work and an F- life. Besides abundant nonfiction, the genre-hopping Gary Finke enriches us with two stellar short-shorts, “The Plagues” and “Home Remedies.” Fans of the Plains and West will enjoy two of the ten book reviews: America’s 100th Meridian, a photo-essay book with text by William Kittredge, and Not Just Any Land, a memoir of psycho-geographical self-discovery wrapped around biographical encounters with four Plains nature writers: William Least-Heat Moon, Linda Hasselstrom, Dan O’Brien, Mary Swander. Ninety-seven years, here comes NDQ. [www.und.nodak.edu/org/ndq]

 

Poetry Kanto coverPoetry Kanto

Number 22

2006

Annual

Reviewed by Jeanne M. Lesinski

Want to get a taste of modern and contemporary Japanese poetry but don’t speak Japanese? Then Poetry Kanto will give you a draught. It includes English translations of Japanese poems by members of the Kanto Poetry Center at Kanto Gakuin University in Yokohama. They have prefaced the works with helpful introductions to the poets’ lives and works. Many of the poems collected here have appeared previously on web sites or in books, and a number of these poems are slated to appear in Japanese Women Poets: An Anthology (M.E. Sharpe, 2007). I have the impression that many of the Japanese poems lost vitality in the translation, and this is the likely nature of translation because, of course, many aspects of poems (sounds, wordplay) cannot be rendered well in another language. What remains then are the images, and if the reader is not stirred by the images, the poem falls flat. Of the translated poems, “Eating the Wind” seemed to be the most successful, partly because the Indonesian terms are included so the sounds are not lost, and because of the difference in meaning of the title phrase in Indonesian and Japanese, as explained by the persona.

This issue also contains original English-language poems, including works by Michael Sowder, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Jennifer Michael Hecht, as well as an excerpt from Concerning the Book That is the Body of the Beloved by Gregory Orr. Of these selections, Fisher-Wirth’s lengthy “Answers She Did Not Give to the Annulment Questionnaire” caught my attention:

Too poor to buy a bed,
we jammed twin beds side by side
but one was higher,
so we slept stairsteps

like drifting-apart rowboats.

Its subject matter, bitter tone, and portrayal of a relationship decaying over time make it a powerful piece; yet, I wonder whether the persona’s faulty understanding of annulment is intentional or reflects that of the poet. [home.kanto-gakuin.ac.jp/~kg061001/]

 

Porcupine coverPorcupine

Volume 10 Issue 1 Number 19

2006

Biannual

Reviewed by Jennifer Sinor

Porcupine literary magazine is concerned with both the visual as well as the literary arts. Each issue contains poetry, fiction, and essays, as well as portfolios of artists and a full-color section dedicated to visual media. In this issue, Janet Yoder describes the basketry of Vi Hilbert, an Upper Skagit elder, who has been weaving her entire life, binding her community and her past as tightly as her cedar root baskets. We are given photos of two of her baskets and left wanting to see more of this amazing woman’s art. The drawings of Betty LaDuke make up the center of the issue, images she created during her volunteer work in the war-torn areas of Albania and Kosovo. The pictures are accompanied by diurnal-like entries by the artist, recalling a particular family or situation, and conveying the sense that the artist worked in the middle of things. In some ways, the visual art is more powerful than the literary selections in this issue. Most of the issue is dedicated to poetry, with a feature on poet Mathew Rabuzzi, but few of the poems are truly remarkable. The nonfiction, too, lacks a lot of dimension, but the fiction is stronger. The opening short story by Lauro Polumba, entitled “Malojapass,” gives the reader some stellar images and snappy dialogue—for example, one of the characters is initially described with “hair a white apology squirming on his head,” the same character who later comments about photos of himself that he had “gotten so old [he’d] lost track of his own face.” The editors chose wisely in opening the issue with Polumba’s work. It is strong in scene and generates the same visual force that the three-dimensional artists provide later in the issue. [www.porcupineliteraryarts.com]

 

Portland Review coverPortland Review

Volume 53 Number 2

Fall/Winter 2006

Triannual

Reviewed by Danielle LaVaque-Manty

This issue of Portland Review showcases “innovative fiction,” beginning with two pieces selected from the FC2 Writer’s Edge workshop for experimental writing that was held at Portland State University last year. There are hazards to publishing work selected from a pool as small as a workshop, which is not to say that these two stories aren’t interesting, but rather that other work that appears in the journal is better. Martha Clarkson’s “Water Filter,” for example, tells the story of a family that acquires gills (through surgery) and moves into the pool for a few months to get away from Dad. It’s a surreal but effective approach to describing a family’s dissolution. Also of note: Mark Wagenaar’s sestina, “How to Start a Cult (for Tom Cruise),” Eric Mohrman’s mournful “Reincarnation” (“your song is creeping / past the tombstones / again”), and Perry Glasser’s piece (I’m not sure if this one is fiction or nonfiction) called “Hey Joe—The Jimi Hendrix Experience: A Riff,” which outlines the history of the narrator’s relationship with his ex-wife. The issue also includes three black and white pieces of abstract art by Guy Beining. Portland Review could use a better proofreader—some missing author bios and a garbled sentence in the editor’s introduction were annoying slips. Nonetheless, this journal is recommended for those looking for something out of the ordinary. [www.portlandreview.pdx.edu/PRhome.html]

 

Saint Ann's Review coverThe Saint Ann’s Review

Anniversary Issue: 2000-2005

Biannual

Reviewed by Jim Scott

This Brooklyn-based review celebrates its fifth anniversary with this issue, and I must say, they are five quite underrated years. Alongside some new pieces, the editors have selected the best of their fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Brian Baise’s “Don’t Leon Sanders Me” is flat-out hilarious. The story begins with Leon Sanders’s father purchasing a snowmobile for his wife and son, thinking they spend too much time indoors: “Nothing like that had ever been in our driveway before. I’m not even sure how I knew what it was.” The story is pitch-perfect, as is “Switcheroo” by Judith Hawkes. The first line being, “It all begins the night the three of them decide to switch heads,” and that’s what the story is about. Really. But it works with Hawkes’s tight control over the prose. “Horse,” by Mary-Beth Hughes, paints an emotional picture of Atlantic City from a new bride’s hotel room the morning after the wedding: “Tilted houses, scattered parking lots, municipal buildings rusty from the sea air.” The stillness of the view extends to her glimpse of her new husband, “I have wasted him with kisses, she thought.” Aviya Kushner’s poem “No One Knows What Happened to the Hittites” ends with the lines, “we tried to tell you what to expect / but then everything just went bust.” The change in diction is startling, and “bust” produces such a strange sound, so much rounder than the mostly soft-sounding consonants of the rest of the poem, that I found myself repeating the word over and over. For a poem largely about impermanence, getting a word stuck in the reader’s head is no small feat. The Saint Ann’s Review has similar staying power, certainly longer than the Hittites, who ruled for a mere five hundred years. [www.saintannsreview.org]

 

The Saranac Review coverThe Saranac Review

Volume 1 Number 1

Fall 2005

Annual

Reviewed by Jeanne M. Lesinski

It would take a particular effort of resistance to ignore this debut of The Saranac Review simply because Frank Owen’s vibrant painting In Season August adorns the cover. And while the black-and-white interior renditions of his paintings do not do justice to his work, the written works (fiction, non-fiction, verse, and “inter-genre”) match the cover’s brilliance. I enjoyed reading excerpts of the forthcoming novels Deadline Fiddle (HarperCollins, 2007) by Jay Parini and Push Comes to Shove by Wesley Brown. Parini’s novel, with its sympathetic characters and well-drawn settings (couldn’t tell much about plot in so few chapters), will likely take a prominent place among novels set during the American Civil War.

As for short fiction, Don Ball’s “Squatting in the Ruins” accomplished no mean feat: by tale’s end, two unsympathetic characters showed glimmers of humanity, thus eliciting my sympathy. “Inter-genre” is an interesting label for David Budbill’s “The Purse Lady” and Amy Gerstler’s “Rooms of Joy.” The later, a rumination on a certain suite of rooms (real or imaginary?) used by Edgar Allan Poe, Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, Mary Shelley, and Charles Baudelaire is quite evocative and thought provoking.

I connected with a number of poems in this issue as well: Naomi Ayala’s terse “Trasnocharse” (“This word, / the opposite of sleep, / meaning to pierce the night away”) and Jean McMillan’s “Azalea” (“Whatever it was, it stayed hidden, / the reason for her alcohol-lust, insatiable, / secretive as a witch bottle buried in the garden, / clear glass sealed with wax and stuffed with needles, pins, / rusty metal-shards, wiry strands of hair.”). Although Ross Leckie’s “The Lost Birds of Paradise,” based on the fact that 20 species of bird of paradise became extinct in the 19th century due to hunting for the millinery industry, defies excerpting, it succeeds in creating an aura of mystery that will draw readers back repeatedly. Even so, “Regarding the Notion of Goodbye” by Elizabeth Powell is this volume’s tour de force:

Make your partings complete.
Do not flip them over and over

like a stone, until your hands are dry and cut,
and your mind is cliff-worn, as if hit by wave after wave.

The goodbye is a prayer to release what has come before,
release it as the flower sends her pollen into the wind.

According to Editor Linda Young, The Saranac Review “aims to dissolve boundaries and to create connection between American and Canadian writers, acting as a textual clearing, a space for cross-pollination. . . . [W]e set out to capture the magnificence of these crossroads, where cultures, aesthetics, and theories intersect, merge, diverge, and inform one another.” This being the case, I hope that future issues will include more works by Canadian authors. [http://research.plattsburgh.edu/saranacreview]

 

Shenandoah coverShenandoah

Volume 56 Number 3

Winter 2006

Triannual

Reviewed by Aaron Gilbreath

Is it me or have Shenandoah’s covers gotten hipper and hipper? Vibrant full-page paintings, an enormous guitar, now a haunting neon-red vintage Billiards sign—finally covers as bold as the contents. George Singleton goes wild with a 25-word title to his story about a religious group who print Revelations on their trailers for weather protection (“everyone took to insuring them with the Good Book”). Mixing his trademark humor and imagination, this brilliant critique-of-Southern-culture-studies-gone-wild leaves you grinning like a madman. Short-short experimentalist Nathan Leslie conjures a grouse farmer’s revenge with prose as lyrical as it is original. Bret Anthony Johnston—Harvard professor and pro-skater (did I mention he’s a skate-boarder?)—delivers a novel excerpt, James Lee Burke—yep, author of the popular Dave Robicheaux series—a violent story about an adversarial rancher entangled with criminal bikers. The first of two essays is professor Cynthia Lewis’ disturbing account of a fixated student’s sexual email harassment (she even reproduces their offensive content—you’ve been warned), offering chilling insights into intimidation, institutional red-tape, and personal empowerment; the other recounts Paul Crenshaw’s lifelong relationship—as active member, civilian neighbor, chicken-savior—with the National Guard. Seven book reviews finish the issue, ranging from Cormac McCarthy to Charles Frazier to the appropriately hyped novel Tehano. Don’t skip the “editor’s notes”: it’s really R.T. Smith’s essay on Appalachian ginseng hunters, and the language alone makes you wish he wrote under a pseudonym so it didn’t have to go in back. [shenandoahliterary.org/]

 

The Threepenny Review

Issue 108

Winter 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Robert Duffer

A magazine’s readership can be found in its advertisements. MFA programs listing esteemed writing faculty spot the pages of The Threepenny Review, a quarterly, newspaper-styled arts chronicle. There is a high-brow academic element to the review, but it’s balanced by questioning yet incisive prose. The symposium in this issue is an intellectual, time-binding tour of Berlin, its art and its denizens. Black and white photographs by Albert Renger-Patzsch and August Sander break up the chunks of prose. “Table Talk,” a conversational recap of the world’s curiosities, is formatted like the “Talk of the Town” section in The New Yorker. That comparison stretches to the end of the Threepenny, where the reviews—ranging from tap dancing to the resurgence of Duma director Carroll Ballard (The Black Stallion), to a review of Thomas Bernhard’s translation Frost, are reviews not only of a piece of art but of a career. In Lydia Kann’s “The Mule that Pulls the Cart,” a husband consults his half-sister before dealing with his past while in therapy with his cold wife, who pleads for “the little things.” “The Epicurean” by Louis B. Jones is built on the theological and philosophical experiences of Candace Roan, who, in her story to our narrator, reveals that she is blessed to be unmoved by passion. In “My First Language,” Bernardo Atxaga recalls growing up learning five languages as his native Basque culture was being steamrolled by modern Spain. [www.threepennyreview.com]

 

Swivel coverSwivel

Volume 3 Number 2

2006

Annual

Reviewed by Jeanne M. Lesinski

Before I start, I have to admit to being confused by humor, which at least I do know is a very individual construct. I don’t watch stand-up comedians because I can’t enter into the proper frame of mind, David Letterman’s smug face makes me want to hurl (hard objects at the TV), and bitter sarcasm makes me anxious for the state of the world. On the other hand, I like the impromptu sight gags and puns of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, the situational humor of a Garrison Keillor monologue, and clever word play (including bad multilingual puns) wherever I find them. So why did I choose to review a journal with the subtitle “The Nexus of Women and Wit”? I guess I was challenging these women to make me laugh. Some of them succeeded so well that I was laughing aloud, and in one case, searching out my teenager daughter with, “Let me read this to you” (Susan E. Butler’s poem “Walk Not This Way”). “At Ten Thousand Waves Spa, Santa Fe” by Julie King is humorous in a pursed lips, arched eyebrow kind of way, while “Quick Fix Sestina” by Kelle Groom cleverly solved the mystery of how to use the words spa, skin, nude, doughnut, breathe, and drool as the form’s repeating end words. Some of the black-and-white photos, cartoons, and black ink drawings stand on their own, yet others compliment the nearby text, often adding subtext. Some day, I’d like to be a matriarch as portrayed in Kipling West’s cartoon, “Tarantula Grandma.” The most dangerous piece in this issue is Lauren Weedman’s story “A Fatty-Gay Christmas.” Whatever you do, do not—as I did—read it aloud to your family at dinnertime. [www.swivelmag.com]

 

TriQuarterly coverTriQuarterly

Issue 125

2006

Triannual

Reviewed by Miles Clark

For TriQuarterly, one of Chicago’s many estimable literary venues, their 125th issue is surprisingly erratic. It allows Moria Crone’s flat, turgid “The Ice Garden” to consume nearly 30 pages, and David Kirby’s initial travelogue/essay to proffer descriptions of how we consider sex: “The question is a loaded one, and the gun that fires it is double-barreled, for nothing is more wonderful than sex and nothing more tawdry, nothing more elevating yet nothing more degrading.”

Thankfully, the journal contains a few far more invigorating efforts, chiefly among them Bryan Booker’s “Train Delayed Due to Horrible, Horrible Accident,” a tale of a mind unraveling during a nighttime train ride. Told in a consistently middlebrow voice and peppered with curious characters whose attempt at etiquette increasingly feels like a joke, the story’s internal consistency not only gains the Aristotelian nod but, furthermore, takes pains not to forget the reader’s interest (something increasingly uncommon of writing produced by academics). Unsurprisingly, we read in the biographical note that a collection by Booker had been a finalist for the 2005 Iowa Short Fiction Award.

More common among TriQuarterly contributors is the cultivation of a single linguistic tension, often furnished by some ethnic stereotype. Best of these is Kathleen de Azevedo’s “Together We Are Lost,” whose Hispanic heroine crackles vibrantly if predictably, and James D. Redwood’s “The Stamp Collector,” in which a Vietnamese store clerk watching news broadcasts of Iraq is questioned about his heritage. [www.triquarterly.org]

 

Washington Square coverWashington Square

Issue 18

Summer 2006

Inaugural International Edition

Semi-annual

Reviewed by Anna Sidak

Washington Square is edited by students in the New York University Graduate Creative Writing Program, which includes among its faculty members E. L. Doctorow and Philip Levine. This issue contains work by writers of sometimes dual national backgrounds, among them Kurdistan, Romania, Australia, India/Hong Kong, England, Bulgaria, Japan/Germany, Lebanon/France, Spain (Kirmen Uribe of the Basque region), Palestine/USA, Palestine, and USA—fitting for an issue proclaiming itself the Inaugural International Edition. "Shipditches" by Mallory Tarses is an amusing present-tense account of a Southern California family and is the winner of Washington Square's 2006 Prose Award. A lovely thought from "A Noun Sentence" by Palestinian Mahoud Darwish: “Our talk a predicate—and a subject before the sea, and the elusive foam of speech the dots on the letters, wishing for the present tense a foothold on the pavement," while "Lunch in the Labyrinth" by Courtney Zoffness may lead to defining self-centered as knowing more than is understood. Beautifully designed and printed—the curious cover design by Kieran McGonnell appears at first glance to be a birds-in-flight filled window of yellow sky; closer examination reveals the birds are actually 180 (in repeated clusters of fifteen) airplanes so closely massed their wings sometimes touch—a somehow unnerving image. [www.washingtonsquarereview.com/]

 

Vallum coverVallum

Volume 4 Number 1

2006

Biannual

Reviewed by C.M. McLean

This end-of-year issue by the Canadian journal Vallum is a pleasant and serious counterpoint to the monthly whimsies of Poetry. Its theme is the desert, and I’m not talking about the American diet. Through poetry, Vallum explores deserts of ice and deserts of sand and deserts of the mind. Still hungry? Good. Because Jane Hirschfield, near the opening pages offers up “Jasper, feldspar, quartzite, agate, granite, sandstone, slate.” And provided these are all stones and Hirschfield isn’t making words up, then I’m impressed. Actually her poem is very good, and the ending of a middle stanza sounds like a sound byte from a RZA track: “Each pebble, each planet, [. . .] I have heard them. / Monastic the strangeness.” I love the translations of poems by the Bangladeshi poet Rajlakshmi Devi. Devi, however, is entirely unimpressed with love. These are the ending lines of “Love is Solitude,” translated by Carolyne Wright and Mithi Mukherjee: “Love is just humanity—a kind of poverty. / A transcendence from one aloneness to another.” This aphorism, intensely poetic and unfamiliar, fortifies this issue of Vallum as worth the extra two Canadian dollars. There is also a thought-provoking essay by John Kinsella and wonderful desert photos by Sandi Wheaton. Vallum is poetry and means it. [www.vallummag.com]

 

Reviewers - Contributors Notes

NewPages Literary Magazine Stand recent reviews:
Jan 2007
Dec 2006
Nov 2006


Cumulative Index of Literary Magazines Reviewed