Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted June 25, 2007

 

32 Poems cover32 Poems

Volume 5 Issue 1

2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Jennifer Gomoll Popolis

In case you were wondering, yes, 32 Poems is just that—a journal of thirty-two poems, one to a page. This issue's works, chosen by guest editor Carrie Jerrell, are mostly of a straightforward, narrative style, with a couple of wryly amusing “list” poems kicking things off. (Having said that, I wonder if Daniel Nester, whose “Queries,” a list of creative writing class comments, begins “Isn't everything tucked always lovingly tucked? / Don't loomers always appear from overhead?” would ask, “Must everything amusing be wryly so?”) Highlights here include Juliana Gray's “Psycho,” which admits audience identification with Norman Bates as the car with his victim in it slowly sinks into marsh; and Nathaniel Perry's wonderful “In a Friend's Field,” in which a man calls his pet dog back as it stalks a fawn, and is confronted—even awed—by the dog's animal nature, which calls him much more strongly than the owner, who repeats the pet’s name over and over. David T. Manning's “Mirella” is a lovely ode to a woman who lingers in bars and is the object of much crude gossip; the poet declares: “Let the loafers, // swillers of cheap beer talk and roll / up their hopes like dimes.” He “will ask for the next dance – / the Delirium Waltz, to sweep her / out into its great arc under the stars.” There are undeniably wonderful moments in this journal.
[http://www.32poems.com]

 

The Antioch Review coverThe Antioch Review

Volume 65 Number 2

Spring 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Laura Polley

If you’re interested in testing Antioch Review’s stellar reputation, just pick up the current issue. Everything that has made AR a benchmark standard for literary journals is in evidence here, as always: intelligent essays, eclectic themes, engaging stories, and unsparing poetry—all of it thriving in an ever-evolving habitat of exploration. It’s almost impossible to choose standout pieces in a collection as accomplished as this. Jeffrey Meyers opens the issue (and this writer’s eyes) with “The Literary Politics of the Nobel Prize,” a revelatory inside look at the Oscar-like machinations pulling the strings of literary prestige. Alan Cheuse explores what it means to call a work a “classic” in “Classics of the Future.” G. T. Dempsey defends Ernest Hemingway; Paul Devlin expounds on the legacy of Albert Murray; and Jack Matthews offers a convincing rediscovery of the long-neglected Christopher Morley. Scholarly, yet accessible, these essays launch the reader into the fiction and poems at the journal’s center, where Antioch Review’s embrace of literature continues to prize quality over content or style. Here, good writing is all that matters. AR does not shy away from controversial or inflammatory subject matter: Nathan Oates’ protagonist in “Hidden in the Trees” is an ex-heroin addict who discovers her autonomy in the switchback mountains of Guatemala. Mark Wisniewski’s “Straightaway” is a spare but concentrated story, charged with intrigue, desperation and the kind of soul-defining high stakes that are tensely mirrored in the racetrack finale. The only weak spot in AR’s fiction selections comes in Henry Van Dyke’s “Collateral Damage”: while the story itself compels attention, a bit more editing could have spared the repetition of backstory in several places. Poems in AR shine like birthstones: few and brilliant, each with its own light. Any poetry lover will find a charm to fit personal taste, whether it’s Paula Bohince’s acrostic on “mementos,” the chantlike power of Lisa Furmanski’s unsettling “Commandments,” or Dan Stryk’s vividly ekphrastic “Meditation[...].” Personal and critical essays round out this issue. Antioch Review’s careful discernment ensures that every selection is not only a reward, but an appetizer that will leave you craving more. [http://www.review.antioch.edu]

 

Bellevue Literary Review coverBellevue Literary Review

Volume 7 Number 1

Spring 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Danielle LaVaque-Manty

This issue’s charming cover photo, taken during WWI in Vichy, France, shows a nurse from Bellevue’s medical staff helping a dog apply a stethoscope to the temple of a man in uniform—eavesdropping on the man’s thoughts, perhaps? This image says much about the journal’s literary aesthetic; the stories, poems, and essays inside are about death and loss (of health, loved ones, ways of being in the world—the many things there are to lose as we encounter the human body’s various limits), but these are not depressing tales melodramatically told. Instead, they are creative and sometimes humorous engagements with realities we usually prefer to avoid. Take Susan Varon’s “Poem to My Right Hand,” in which the speaker fights to recover from a stroke: “Alien one that I am learning / to make my god, / you are beautiful / in your attempts to return / to your destiny, as in, human, / as in, making fire.” Laurie Kolack’s story, “Presidents, Space, Medical Miracles,” is told from the perspective of a man awaiting a lung transplant who struggles, as a life-long smoker who has recently quit, not only with a sense of responsibility for his own predicament, but also with feelings of alienation from a wife who continues to sneak cigarettes whenever she’s out of his sight. A few of the essays here were not really ready for prime time: Sarah Liu’s “Bones of Jade, Soul of Ice” had the potential to be a truly stunning piece but ultimately withholds more than it tells, and Pamela Hull’s “You Never Know” takes on a worthy topic in its reflections on aging but fails to fully cohere. Overall, reading this journal is much like settling into a rich and serious conversation, the kind that makes you mourn the fact that so many other daily encounters dissipate into small talk.
[http://www.BLReview.org]

 

Chicago Review coverChicago Review

British Poetry Issue

Volume 53 Issue 1

Spring 2007

Triannual

Reviewed by Jennifer Gomoll Popolis

This British Poetry Issue is likely to be enjoyed by those with a strong academic interest in poets of the so-called “Cambridge School.” An introduction by Sam Ladkin and Robin Purves defines this label as a “widely-promulgated apparition” that is “associated with elitism and self-serving obscurantism . . . held to stand for a deliberately inaccessible mode of writing, engorged with critical theory, often held to be 'only about language itself' and written purely for the delectation of a smug coterie of reclusive adepts.” Upon perusal of this magazine's contents, you may agree that with Ladkin and Purves that this assessment is “second-order gossip [. . .] ill-informed and aimed at nothing that exists,” or you may wonder, you mean it isn't? Argument rarely trumps personal taste, so perhaps it would be best to sample a few of the featured poets. For the intrigued, here's a bit of Peter Manson's “Snail Book”: “Ramshorn snail eggs hatch into pink larvae, in transparent cup-shaped shells, slit mouths pulsing white on the glass. // Eat your dinner or we rehydrate The Fonz! // Zebra snail masturbating on aquarium air-stone.” And here are some lines from Chris Goode's “Bent Pony”: “Violet crime rockets. Over my shoulder goes 1 care. Talent slop / vomit turns out to be liquidised fashionista: / whose final thought was a corridor lined with donkey.” These two poets, as well as Andrea Brady and Keston Sutherland, are the focus here; sizable selections of their work are provided, followed by essays designed to decipher. Also included: a helpful pull-out poster of “Styles of British Poetry 1945-2000” and a selection of fifteen contemporary book reviews. [http://humanities.uchicago.edu/review]

 

Greatcoat coverGreatcoat

Issue 1

Spring 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Laura Polley

Greatcoat: an oversized, catch-all garment designed to protect in all kinds of weather. Practical, not flattering, it provides comfort without ostentation. The debut issue of Greatcoat is thin enough, at 83 pages, to fit inside a greatcoat pocket, yet it lives up to its name, enveloping the reader in poems and essays which blur the design lines and obliterate genre seams. The first of the two essays exemplifies Greatcoat’s vision. “Electric Energy,” excerpted from a 1998 book by Lynn Strongin, is a spinning centrifuge of non-sequiturs and vivid imagery. From the quotations about aging which open the piece, Strongin distills ideas of a “cell-like enclosure” trapping the women in her life: “I used to dream I made myself a home in a beehive as a child: clean, solitary, holy.” Through illness, self-destruction, and alienation, Strongin flits from image to image as if she were indeed the bee, and her essay is a dance between beauty and decay. The poems in Greatcoat dance as well. In fact, despite this journal’s stated openness to all forms, the poetry in this issue leans heavily toward the experimental, with scarcely a single received form in evidence. Clipped language and predicate-only sentences achieve a taut vibrancy in “What Is a Tenor,” by G. C. Waldrep: “An apple in December. Sweet. Will ask upwards. Will move from / side to side as if a great earthwork nudging past attraction into some valid spectrum. Sweet.” Syntactical and linguistic explorations appear throughout the many poems of this issue, as typified by F. Daniel Rzicznek’s “Son of Kentucky”: “And one bloated, drank / from the sky it swam: // what plummet and blink, // what pale. Many fine dogs / begged at the edge / of our burnings—” See also the thought-provokingly dense non-sentences of Shira Dentz’s “Loss”: “Again a voice draws overhead. / Sorry & sour / The miscellaneous chunks of; / lasso.” Greatcoat is sleek and well-designed, though not yet as eclectic as it aims to become. With its clear dedication to work that’s evocative, future issues will be well worth watching. [http://www.greatcoat.net]

 

Indiana Review coverIndiana Review

Volume 28 Number 2

Winter 2006

Biannual

Reviewed by Anna Sidak

This attractive issue includes the 2005 Indiana Review Poetry Prize Winner, "Galloglass," by Susan Tichy ("Likes to meet with potentates," said John Dean on the radio. "Doesn't like to kiss babies.") and the 2006 Indiana Review Fiction Prize Winner, Marjorie Celonam's imaginative "Y" ("That perfect letter. The wishbone, fork in the road, empty wineglass.") In addition to these well-awarded selections is Richard Holeton's remarkable "Thanks for Covering Your Lane," about a Gulf War veteran recuperating in a Veteran's Hospital. This issue of IR also includes a generous collection of poems. From Bob Hicok's wonderful "A Theory of Art as Respiration": "Or; the painting begins to imagine the painter. / The painting pushes open a space in her mind with its frame. / It asks her to consider that the shapes of Greek letters / resemble the bending of pipe cleaners by cats." Also included is an informative interview with Richard Ford conducted by St. Louis University teachers Fred Arroyo and Harold K. Bush, Jr. (why two asking the questions? it scarcely seems fair). It contains this succinct summative remark by Richard Ford: "[. . .] I'm always suspicious of people who say they are perfectionists. What I think they are is deep neurotics. Or bores. Or bores who're neurotic." [http://indianareview.org//]

 

Isotope coverIsotope

Issue 4 Number 2

Fall/Winter 2006

Biannual

ReReviewed by Danielle LaVaque-Manty

Nature poetry, whether well or poorly written—and this issue of Isotope contains some fairly nice examples of the former—is something we’ve all seen before. Science poetry, however, is a rarer commodity. Perhaps my favorite example from these pages is Mark McKain’s “Wheeler on the Beach,” the title of which brings Philip Glass’s opera Einstein on the Beach (1976) to mind. Subtitled, “I. To override this poison more reactivity was needed,” the poem begins: “We would never have had enough / plutonium, had it not been for him.” And then there’s “Asymptotes,” a winner of the 2006 Isotope editors’ prizes for poetry, by Elizabeth Anne Socolow: “I can still see the curve I first traced from the equation, / the points plotted, the line drawn with the finest pencil / and the astonishing news: the curve will approach the axis / forever and never actually touch…” Several other contributions also demonstrate that science is, in the right hands, a fine subject for poetry. Also fascinating are six paintings by Janaki Lennie that portray night skies over urban landscapes. The viewer is positioned as if standing on a porch or looking out a window at varieties of semi-darkness lit from below by cities that enter only the lower margin of the frame. The colors are subtle and the perspectives unusual. The fiction here—only two stories are included—is competently written but not impressive, while the essays constitute both the best and the worst of the entries. There are a couple of the flabby sorts of pieces I feared I might encounter in a journal of science and nature writing—meandering thoughts about rocks or plants—but also a pair of excellent essays by wildlife biologist Caroline Van Hemert, who deftly weaves together an analysis of the effects of pesticides and synthetic estrogens on the wildlife and ecosystems she studies with personal reflections on her own choice to use birth control pills. All in all, Isotope contained more than enough pleasant surprises to make me want to see what the next issue has in store.
[http://isotope.usu.edu/]

 

The Massachusetts Review coverThe Massachusetts Review

Volume 48 Number 1

Spring 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Anna Sidak

The Massachusetts Review is truly a quarterly of literature, the arts, and public affairs as evidenced by this issue's rewarding stories, poems, and essays. "Fear and Torment in El Salvador" by Noel Valis provides a comprehensive overview of El Salvadorian terrorism and opposes Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments and Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain, the Making and Unmaking of the World. Valis reminds us of the early 80's writings of Carolyn Forche, especially her unforgettable prose poem "The Colonel," and of Joan Didion's Salvador ("Terror," she says, "is the given of the place."). Also mentioned is Robert Stone's film Salvador, as well as the work of others who have explored the moral hell of torture, which Valis, although conceding that it is born in the imagination, posits imagination as the site of its demise.

Darrel Mansell's essay "Aria Amid the Ruins of Language" defines the operatic conflict between language and music and concludes, "Aria is a struggle between the rationality of the word and the wild animal voice engulfing and threatening to submerge it in emotion."

And further on the stage arts, Norman Berlin's essay "Traffic of Our Stage: Druid Synge" provides a meticulous account of the playwright's entire output—six plays—as performed in one engaging 8.5-hour day by a company of nineteen Irish actors as part of the 2006 Lincoln Center Festival.

Fiction includes Boomer Pinches's "The Astronauts," which reminds me of the time and concentration required to fill a journal with good work and more: parents who write, children of writers; it all hits home in his story. Janet Berkok Shami's "Delivery" portrays the universality of infidelity, the futility of in-laws. "Unstrung: some Notes on Depression and Literature," by William Giraldi, explores a familiar and always fascinating subject.
[http://www.massreview.org/]

 

Michigan Quarterly Review coverMichigan Quarterly Review

Volume 46 Number 2

Spring 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Anna Sidak

This rewarding collection of essays, poems, and fiction avoids direct confrontation with current concerns—war, poverty, ecology—in favor of a Jewish boy's memoir of 1938 Berlin and Vienna and Bertolt Brecht’s poem on WWII propaganda. From Brecht’s "The Government as Artist": "It is well known that an artist can be stupid and yet / be a great artist. In this way, too / the government resembles the artist. As one says of Rembrandt / that he couldn't have painted any differently if he had been born without hands, / so it can be said of the government that it couldn't govern any differently / if it had been born without a head."

John Felstiner's essay, "If He Do But Touch the Hills, They Shall Smoke: Singing Ecology Unto the Lord," traces biblical appreciations of wilderness through the Psalms and onward in the work of Bacon, Emerson, Whitman, Dickenson, Thoreau and modern writers—Stegner, Lowell, Levertov, etc. The cover of this attractive issue displays one of William Blake's illustrations for The Book of Job; another appears within Alicia Ostriker's essay, "Job: The Open Book," a fascinating exploration of the origin of fundamental ideas and subsequent questions involving the contradictory nature of Job's God and the mysterious origin and nature of our concept of justice.

Short stories by Joyce Carol Oates often involve an arctic plunge into cold reality, but "Donor Organs," in which experimental punctuation replaces dashes with blank spaces and dispenses with paragraph breaks, semi-colons, and periods for seven dense pages, works surprisingly well, its novelty clouding the issue sufficiently for contemplation.
[http://www.umich.edu/~mqr]

 

Mid-American Review coverMid-American Review

Volume 27 Number 1

Fall 2006

Biannual

Reviewed by Anna Sidak

If one looked for themes in this splendid and beautifully presented collection, it would have to be drug addiction, past or present, in each of the four fictions: "The Yoshi Compound: A Story of Post-Waco Texas," is a delightful satire of phony spirituality by Todd James Pierce; Rebecca Rasmussen's "Partway," is a terrific story of a drug addict's daughter and the people who love her; "The Girl Who Drank Lye" by Colleen Curran traces the shocking decline of an ostracized fourteen-year-old picking up bad habits when befriended by the class bad girl. Jason Ockert’s "Piebald" tells the story of a father dying of some strange malady while mourning the death of his son, but, of course, it's more complicated than that.

In non-fiction, Vishwas R. Gaitonde's thoughtful "The Graveyard of Doubt"—linking the apostle Thomas to the arrival of Christianity in India—is worth the price of admission. "The Right Floor," by Pappi Tomas, is an entertaining essay on floors of dirt, wood, carpet, etc.; Yasbel Fernandez-Acuna's "Ghost Story" is pure delight: "And you misunderstood me; not everyone who hates their mother is a great writer, but all great writers hate their mother. Don't get it confused."

A fine selection of poetry includes "Chuck Norris" by Eliot Khalil Wilson as one of four Editors' Choice Awards from the 2006 Fineline Competition, as well as the winner "Fish-Eye" by Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis, and some eighteen or twenty other poets, among them featured poet Erin Gay, and translations from Spanish and Chinese. In addition, the 2006 AWP Intro Journal Awards are here: Gavin Adair for "Fire in the Streets" (poem) and Nancy Loewen for "Harvest" (story). Plus more than a dozen excellent book reviews. Who could ask for anything more! www.bgsu.edu/studentlife/organizations/
midamericanreview

 

Phoebe coverPhoebe

Volume 36 Number 1

Spring 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Danielle LaVaque-Manty

When I can, I like to single out one or two stories in a journal for particular praise, but all four fiction entries in this issue of Phoebe merit attention. “Forgery,” by Steve Yates, is a tale of corporate revenge set in the offices of a company that sells pornographic toys, yet it manages to be sweetly romantic. “Harvest,” by Danielle Evans, sets a group of women of color, Ivy League college girls all, against a friend who is able to sell her eggs to infertile couples for loads of cash simply because she’s white. William Jablonsky’s “In Dreams” features a fireman who is able to perform amazing acts of courage because he has seen his own death in his dreams and “knows” he won’t die as long as he doesn’t drive his truck through a certain fateful intersection, while “The Good Life,” by Jonathan Lyons, centers on a character who is so blitzed out on drink and drugs that he and his buddies can’t quite manage to care when they kill four strangers in a tragic highway accident.

Most of the poets, whose work is largely image-driven, are given two pages each, which seemed generous until I reached the feature section on contemporary Chinese poets, where a similar allotment became extremely disappointing. Five different poets are introduced by a two-page essay, which made the information presented about each vague to the point of uselessness. The poems that followed—two or three per poet—were intriguing, but not enough to give the reader a handle on the poets’ preoccupations or modes of prosody. Careful attention to a single poet could have provided a more satisfying encounter than this sketchy survey.

Phoebe calls itself “a journal of literature and art,” and two visual artists are included here—Jim Fuess, whose black and white abstract works are reproduced quite well, and Mary Connelly, whose gorgeous cover image sets a noir-ish mood that depends in large part upon her use of color. A viewer can only guess how much richness is sacrificed by the reduction of her other two paintings that appear inside in black and white. As with the contemporary Chinese poets, this is a case where less—the single cover painting in all its glory—might have been more.
[http://www.gmu.edu/pubs/phoebe]

 

Spoon River Poetry Review coverThe Spoon River Poetry Review

Volume 31 Number 2

Summer/Fall 2006

Biannual

Reviewed by Jennifer Gomoll Popolis

This issue of SRPR is longtime editor Lucia Cordell Getsi's swan song before retirement; tempted though I am to draw a parallel between her moving on and this issue's many poems of grieving, I won't. Aside from loss, death, and suicide, there is a variety of other themes represented here, from the nearly violent joy of two girls skinning tomatoes (Lita Sorensen, “Peeling Tomatoes”); to teaching school children in a small Mississippi town that still has a ways to go with race issues (“The Schoolteacher Blues Again,” Joe Wilkins); to a sweet, faintly sad retelling of a mother-and-daughter’s tourist trip to India. (“The Story of the Palace,” Lynn Aarti Chandhok). One of my favorites is Amy Knox Brown's “Penates,” in which a battered woman's household gods inspire her to take up her hot steam iron to defend herself against the drunken, physically abusive brother-in-law who interrupts her domestic peace: “Stepping forward, she's Camilla, the iron / her shield.” I must also give a nod to Thomas March's “Edward Hopper's '7 a.m.',” in which the poet as a child is asked to guess the time of day depicted in Hopper's stark painting featuring a sun-streaked, empty store. The boy doesn't know what makes him blurt “Morning!” He only knows that “people like that time of night / and it's their lounging presence, not the light / that marks the falling hours of the day”; and that early morning, making breakfast alone, he feels “the burdensome proximity of dreams.” (Now that's Hopper, exactly!) I'm looking forward to seeing how this long-standing journal continues to evolve under new editorship; somehow I think it'll do just fine.
[http://english.illinoisstate.edu/affiliates/journals/spoon_river.shtml]

 

Reviewers - Contributors Notes

NewPages Literary Magazine Stand recent reviews:

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Cumulative Index of Literary Magazines Reviewed