Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted September 10, 2007

 

American Literary Review coverAmerican Literary Review

Volume 18 Number 1

Spring 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Jennifer Sinor

The Spring issue of American Literary Review provides readers with a rewarding balance of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. It opens with the lyrical poetry of Karen Carissimo whose poem, “Basho’s Death Poem," culminates with a haunting image of Basho’s final gift to this earth, “his dreams scattered / like seeds over moors of dry grass, / blooming into flags of iris far beyond / the first Spring of his passing.” Another highlight is the poetry of Katie Ford, poetry editor of The New Orleans Review. Included here are excerpts from her recently published chapbook that traces the fallout from Hurricane Katrina: the “guarded city” – “the dead tonnage / of seal lifted and abandoned by the astonished / laws of water,” a “stormed body,” and the dream “the earth was dry / undrowned it could speak again.” Though the nonfiction in this issue ranges from memoir to a personal reading of Freud’s work on mourning, the highlight is the unassuming memoir of Elizabeth Lantz that recounts a summer of painting dorms in college with men “who share their lives with [her]” unlike those her own age who gather at kegs. What makes her piece so wonderful is the dialogue that brings her fellow painters to life and reveals their humanity to both her and us. She is not only a good listener but an apt student of the moments that make us human.
[http://www.americanliteraryreview.com/]

 

Habitus coverHabitus

Number 2: Focus on Sarjaevo

Spring/Summer 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Miles Clark

Years ago, I was watching a newscast of a California wildfire. Eyewitness news brought me to a refugee shelter, where overfed mountain-people lounged on cots. The newscaster explained that a local Wal-Mart “had responded to the disaster by providing blankets, food, and videocassettes.” This last item shocked me. But did Sarjaevo, symbolic epicenter of modern ethnic cleansing, have the same problem? According to Jakob Finci, Jewish community leader, the city’s most urgent issue during the 1993-5 siege was not a lack of food or medicine, but of stimulation; cooped up indoors, people were, frankly, bored. Apparently Sarjaevans took to learning languages – “the optimists learn[ing] English, the pessimists learn[ing] Arabic.” Habitus, a new journal which takes Diasporic writing one city at a time, consistently discovers the details that separate stimulating journalism from mere recitations. A Korean cover band elicits municipal pride, an anonymous medieval manuscript becomes the nation’s most prized national treasure.

One would expect that any journal with Lawrence Weschler on its advisory board would be visually impressive. Habitus’s photography pans between shelled hotels, Ottoman-flavored grandeur, and sociological nature-imagery, effectively capturing the landscape. Paired with its interesting ideological foundation and attractive introductory statement, Habitus may have found the path out of the neon wilderness of the magazine rack that leads to the hands of consumers.

As with most specialized journals, Habitus’s focus carries a corresponding circumcision of imaginative range; behind its details, the writing relies heavily on the overarching premise of the pain of forced migration. The saliency of this theme, especially in exploring a city whose Jewish population is largely the byproduct of forcible exile from Spain, is not at issue; but as a reader who equates, as we all apparently must, entertainment with survival, it grows tiresome. As is generally true of censorship, the most dynamic efforts are found in fable. If Habitus can reduce its redundancies, they’ll have a long literary journey ahead of them.
[http://www.habitusmag.com]

 

The Ledge coverThe Ledge

Number 30

Fall/Winter 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Laura Polley

The Ledge lives up to its name. Unsparing, unafraid, and with a disdain for pretensions, this journal prefers writing that flashes some kind of edge. Sometimes, as in Kennedy Weible’s offbeat story, “Obedience School,” that edge takes the form of dark humor – culminating in the bizarre chaos experienced by a young couple at a dog’s funeral. Other times, that edge illuminates sad realities like child sexual abuse (Suzanne Clores’ “Scary Monsters in the Dark”) or human alienation (Michael Leone, “Bad in Bed”; Franny French, “The Heights.”) Many of the poems concern issues related to the body, sex, and self-destruction. A few, like Philip Dacey’s “Wildly At Home: Her Rhapsody,” skirt lurid borders: “So I mounted him. / I was on top and he was blind – what more / could any modern woman want of power?” Coming from a male poet, this question begs many responses, not all of which will second its vicarious assumptions. Al Sim’s story, “Big Empty Tuesday,” takes similar liberties, needlessly oversexualizing its main female character.

Though The Ledge deserves credit for its head-on embrace of such themes, it falls short of the variety one might expect from a would-be catalog of edginess. Five of the six stories collected here (including two of the three Ledge Fiction Award winners) take place in New York City or nearby. Only Clifford Garstang’s “Saving Melissa” – a searing portrait of a troubled, toxic mother – avoids the Big Apple in favor of small towns. Two of the stories contain characters named “Kate” and “Deena” – an unlikely oversight which has the unfortunate effect of undermining both stories. None of this, however, deters from the wide-ranging emotional impact that is The Ledge’s ultimate target. The poems, especially, will have the reader oscillating between laughter and outrage, light and darkness. The Ledge’s best moments merge these extremes, as when Robin Merrill’s catty poem “Buying a Pregnancy Test at Dollar Tree” sidles, almost unnoticed, into the realm of the sublime. Balancing between the safe and the dangerous is the definition of precariousness – but it makes for an experience guaranteed to be vivid, and for The Ledge, that’s precisely the point.
[http://www.theledgemagazine.com]

 

The Louisville Review coverThe Louisville Review

Volume 61

Spring 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Jennifer Sinor

The current issue of The Louisville Review contains a fascinating interview with W.S. Merwin. Merwin was a guest author at Spalding University’s brief-residency MFA program in the Fall of 2006. In his interview he describes the importance of form in poetry and how a poem “is its form” regardless of whether it’s “in an abstractable form or whether it only happens once.” He goes on to say that “all forms empower what they’re the form of; they make it possible.” If a poem works, he says, then it is because “the form is an empowerment.” Regardless of whether you write prose or poetry, his words focus our attention on the line and learning to hear it. One of the attributes that sets The Louisville Review apart from other journals is a section called “The Children’s Corner,” poetry by children between 12 and 18 years of age. The first of these poems in this issue, one by a poet named Rene A. Girard, begins, “I was shot by an arrow, and / sorrow fell,” exemplifying the control and originality of these young writers. Another poem by Evan Cassity contains the line “Yesterday, I told the sun / That for all the light, I wanted out.” Collectively, the work of these writers reveals a kind of honesty that is as refreshing as it is beautiful. A gift more literary journals might consider bestowing on their readers.
 [http://www.louisvillereview.org/]

 

Lyric coverLyric

Number 10

2006

Biannual

Reviewed by Jeanne M. Lesinski

“If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry,” wrote Emily Dickinson. Instead of my head saying good-bye, I get goosebumps when I am moved by the power of words. In this issue of Lyric, both poetry and prose were able to elicit this felicitous effect: Eugene Gloria’s “Laundry List” with its knees deep in the gritty history of the 60s, Alicia Ostriker’s triptych “Ars Poetica” (“When there is a tail wind, fly.”), and Landon Godfrey’s “Interview: Antique Iron Bed,” which successfully anthropomorphizes the inanimate. Multiple poems by Paul Otremba, Ricardo Pau-Llosa, Laura Cronk, Delmira Agustini, Yerra Sugarman, and María Meléndez fill out the volume. It’s often illuminating to study a poet’s work and thought together. To that end, a lengthy interview with Maurice Manning follows a quartet of his poems evoking rural life that form part of his soon-to-be-published collection Bucolics. Poet Tony Hoagland is known for his sense of playfulness, having won the Mark Twain Award in 2005. In his truly wonderful essay “Barbarians Inside the Gate: Poetry, Truth and Entertainment,” he discusses the romantic triangle that becomes a system of checks and balances. Readers will likely, as I did, enjoy Hoagland’s examples, which he often draws from the works of Eastern European poets.
[http://www.lyricreview.org/]

 

The New Renaissance coverThe New Renaissance

Spring 2007

Number 38

Biannual

Reviewed by Jeanne Lesinski

tnr is truly an international journal, featuring in this issue the written work and artwork of people from over a dozen countries. Translations of poems from Bengali, Bosnian, and Spanish sit side by side with original English-language works. Among the poems, which include works by Stephen Todd Booker, Alice Jay, Luis Miguel Aguilar, and others, “This Shooting” by Bosnian writer Marko Vešović is particularly compelling. With his translation of Hanns Heinz Ewers’s (1871-1943 ) “Abenteuer in Hamburg,” Don Maurer also gifts Anglophones with the quirky tale of a man obsessed with using the new invention of the era – a mechanical pencil sharpener – to sharpen his cache of “723 almost complete ones, 641 halves, and 379 stumpchens.” As I’m rather enamored of my electric pencil sharpener, I found this piece amusing. Nonfiction works include an article on U.S. unionism, an interview with Soviet dissident artist Boris Sveshnikov who created many ink-and-paper works while in a labor camp, and a memoir by Marc Widershien of Samuel French Morse as mentor, academic, and poet. The art section features paintings by eight Mexican artists, of whom the best known is Frida Kahlo, with a brief introduction by the director of the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico. That the journal is printed on high-gloss paper means that readers can enjoy the vibrancy of these paintings.
[http://www.tnrlitmag.net/]

 

Night Train coverNight Train

Issue 6

Spring 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Robert Duffer

This issue of Night Train is 175 pages of prose – presumably fiction – with an interview of Chimamanda Ngozi Lockett and an essay on the history of Normal, Illinois. I can’t decipher a theme nor can I give any sweeping summary about this issue. Instead, here’s a list of quotes that represent the variety of stories and voices. “Where a woman might look even beatific with all mouths open, a man – even a handsome man, with a broad jaw, solid chest and a stomach you could use as a spice rack – even that man, masturbating, looks like an imbecile.” That’s from Grant Bailie’s “You Are One Click Away from Pictures of Naked Girls,” whose narrator is more concerned with his clumsiness regarding sex rather than internet porn.

“If we’re going to believe anything in a world where people vanish, we need to leave room for mystery. Be willing to live with what we don’t know.” From Ron MacLean’s excellent road trip/missing person story “Last Seen, Hank’s Grille.” Tom, an aloof young scientist working on isolating a telomerase gene to retard the aging process, disappears from a truck stop diner, where his lover and his patron figure out how to proceed.

From Jim Nichols’s “The Plinktonians” where an unemployed father reconnects with his teenage son: “Brian imagined ducking into the market and grabbing a beer. But even he couldn’t be that much of a loser.”

“Home Front,” Bruce Holland Rogers’s piece of Firebox fiction (stories under 1,500 words), is a clever take on war profiteering. There are ex-cons crashing a family Thanksgiving, the freak show that is long distance bus rides, dance lessons for the kids and lesbian encounters with the other mothers. Daphne Buter’s “Now That I Am Sober” is one of the best, original, and moving takes on the clichéd one-night-stand subgenre, where the misogynist male narrator can’t stop the train wreck that wakes up next to him.

As a whole Night Train is quality writing – even the few stories that lacked a strong ending. It’s original, varied, surprising and thoroughly enjoyable.
[http://www.nighttrainmagazine.com]

 

Red Rock Review coverRed Rock Review

Issue 19

Fall 2006

Biannual

Reviewed by Camilla S. Medders

This issue of Red Rock Review is packed with words. Fifty-seven poems, six short stories, two interviews, two reviews and one essay all crowd between the covers. While not all of the writing is to my taste, I still found plenty to enjoy.

The poems here cover every subject and many different styles: pastoral, philosophical, imagist, narrative, tightly crafted and sprawling across the page. Some are deadly serious, like Rodney Gomez’s poem, “Snakes,” which describes a family’s migration from Mexico: “By the end, we couldn’t speak. We / Slithered. We begged. Fought each other. / Ripped the skin, ate the boils.” Christine Stewart-Nunez’s poem, “Directions from Seluck Bey’s Wife,” on the other hand, made me laugh out loud. The speaker’s catalog of Turkish foods and cooking tips ends with the words “Don’t smile too long / at the grocers, especially the one in the yellow / shirt streaked with soil. He likes you and might / ask you to go for a walk, and well, / you’ve met my son, the doctor, no?”

Of the stories, only Zoe Strikeman's "Five Ways" really drew me in. This tale of a doomed family car trip is engaging and funny. Felicia F. Campbell’s “The Stick Man,” the story of an ex-grad student who destroys the souls of women, had a premise that was a little too abstract for me. Pat Hise’s essay, “Face to Face with a Serial Killer,” is an amazing narrative, but sags a little under the weight of wordiness. The interviews were fun to read, and the three reviews were insightful. Given all of that, the strength of this magazine lies in its diversity. I don’t think many readers would love every piece of poetry and prose here, but I also can’t imagine that any reader would fail to find something to appreciate.

 

Salamander coverSalamander

Volume 12 Number 2

Spring 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Laura Polley

Salamander is nothing less than a triumph, a quiet diffusion of luminous work. From the gripping first story, “Evanthia’s Legs” (Henriette Lazaridis Power) to the socially critical insights of the final poems, this issue proves that too many jewels don’t spoil the necklace. Alternating small groups of poems with prose selections, Salamander ensures a fluid reading experience, anchored at the center by the colorful prints of Boston artist Kelvy Bird. The diligence and care of the Salamander editors is evident on every page, as is a commitment to diverse, expansive writing. Six of the pieces appear in translation, from languages like Hungarian and Bulgarian. Stories and poems arise from a wealth of settings and voices. Errors and typographical mistakes are nonexistent. In fact, this issue is so thoroughly envisioned, and rendered with such exhaustive balance, that editorial presence disappears, allowing the writing to speak for itself. Mary O’Donogue’s masterful story, “It’s Alright for You,” details the tensions between a married couple in exile: “The taxi sped, then halted [...] On the sidewalks, people went through their usual business [...] Not having a clue about two people sitting separated by a hillock of bags in the back of a taxi, subtracting themselves from the city.” Maria Efstathiadi’s poem, translated from the Greek by Stratis Haviaris, captures the whirlwind perseverations of its speaker, for whom many types of walls are closing in: “[...] a long time ago I decided to walk on my knees inside the house; nowadays I no longer straighten them even if I want to [...]” Poems run a spectrum of human conditions, ranging from the contemplation of an animal’s death (David R. Surette, “In the Backyard”) to an incisive reinvention of the traditional figure of Mary in Annie Boutelle’s “Virgin Mater.” Oona Patrick’s memoir, “The Last Island,” is an incantation, a mantra of memory in lyrical prose. Sarah Gemmill’s first published story, “Lilleba,” deserves to be followed by many more. Salamander is the real deal – both visceral and intelligent. Read this issue in its entirety. Then tell everyone you know.
[http://www.salamandermag.org]

 

Santa Monica Review coverSanta Monica Review

Volume 19 Number 1

Spring 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Camilla S. Medders

This issue of the Santa Monica Review starts off with a bang: a reprint of the speech Ursula LeGuin gave upon receiving the Maxine Cushing Gray Award. Her words are brief and humble, and she insists on accepting the award “as a proxy, a stand-in, for Literature.” The rest of the speech is an engaging description of the power of literature and its role in our society, and as I left this opening piece to make my way through the rest of the magazine, I did so with a renewed sense of awe for the written word.

The rest of this issue is nicely organized. Though the ten stories, one essay and two novel excerpts are very different from each other, they share a theme: most of the characters are struggling to figure out the rules in an unfamiliar or challenging situation. In my favorite story, “Aspirants,” by Diane Lefer, a teenage girl volunteers for a Democratic politician in order to further her own political career. As she learns how to maneuver in the world of politics, she begins to suspect that her boyfriend’s interest in Neo-nazism will prove to be a liability. In “Fly or Die,” an excerpt from a novel by Dylan Landis, Leah’s new girlfriend, Rae, decides the best way to acquaint Leah with her lifestyle is to throw her in headfirst, and the shock of this new experience forces Leah to confront aspects of herself that she has forgotten. John Mandel’s strange, Dostoyevskian story, “Theater of Servitude,” presents a man so overcome by the challenge of human interaction that he avoids it altogether, and his every action becomes an attempt to perfect his self-sufficiency.

I was worried, as I read these pieces, that the experience would be anti-climatic. What if the literature on these pages didn’t live up to the promise of LeGuin’s speech? I’m happy to report that I wasn’t disappointed. The Spring 2007 issue of the Santa Monica Review exhibits what LeGuin calls “the invaluable unruliness of literature, the essential liberty of the imagination.”
[http://www.smc.edu/sm_review/default.htm]

 

Southern Indiana Review coverSouthern Indiana Review

Volume 14 Number 1

Spring 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Laura Polley

Southern Indiana Review takes geography seriously. Based in a heartland where visions of utopia still color local history, this journal blends a commitment to regional writers with an equal commitment to a broader audience. The resulting volume succeeds on both counts, celebrating a range of largely Midwestern voices within a far-reaching context that is anything but provincial. The variety of genres and forms presented here illuminates SIR’s encompassing aesthetic.

Grouped together, poems pave the way, followed by stories, including the winners of the Mary C. Mohr Short Fiction Awards. Read on for an interview with contest judge Speer Morgan, and a relatively new addition: fiction and poetry reviews. Socially conscious themes help the pieces cohere, as do intermittent black-and-white photographs of John McNaughton’s distorted sculptures. In the poems especially, death and suffering feature prominently, from the horrors of war (Pamela Garvey’s “Fear”) to a more internal crisis (Brand Sauerman’s “Western Nightmare”). Longings for peace resonate most strongly in Allison Joseph’s “February Prayer for a Roofless Church,” which invokes the post-utopian New Harmony setting of SIR’s biannual RopeWalk Retreat: “May no one defile you with songs / unfit for celebration.” Stories, too, explore relational themes. The first-place “Decadence,” by Dana Kinstler, descends a relationship’s ladder in twenty rung-like parts.

The remaining stories speak to questions of alienation, both of person and of place. All make excellent reading, but the standout, Mark Lindensmith’s “Forms of Life – Kansas, 1957,” takes the reader inside the eerie, yellow stillness of family secrets just before the inevitable cyclone of reckoning touches down. SIR’s sampler-style openness, though refreshing, risks a parallel unevenness of quality. Some poems suffer too much detachment, while others seem too heartfelt. Marika Lindholm’s beautiful but disjointed story, “Fall Seven Times, Stand Up Eight,” means well, but forces its Asian sensibility through self-conscious, iconic prop-strewing. “Mahjong,” knives, sushi, wasabi, fugu – all the Americanized romanticisms are here, and this good story, as a result, rings hollow. SIR, though, earns its stated goals. Read it as a cross section, a crossroads, a point of contact – and come away transported, through the Midwest and beyond.
[http://www.usi.edu/SIR/index.asp]

 

Reviewers - Contributors Notes

NewPages Literary Magazine Stand recent reviews:

Aug 2007
July 2007
June 2007

Cumulative Index of Literary Magazines Reviewed