Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted December 4, 2007

 

Beloit Poetry Journal coverBeloit Poetry Journal

Volume 58 Number 1

Fall 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Deborah Diemont

What knocks me out about the Beloit Poetry Journal’s fall 2007 issue is the cover. On the front, there is a black-and-white portrait of a woman. Her dress is leopard print but modest. She holds her left arm across her chest, revealing henna calligraphy that runs from her forearm up and across her fingers. She is not beautiful in the way of Gwyneth Paltrow, but she is beautiful – a woman Picasso might have painted. Her eyes are wide and dark, her lips thick, her hair short and curly. Her necklace is a swirling flame. Most striking is a great dignity, the shoulders straight, the chin raised high. I was spellbound by these details, yet it took me several viewings to see that in between tiles that form the background – stars of David – are other tiles shaped like crosses. On the back is the same woman, same pose, same background. Here she wears a veil that covers everything but her face and left arm with its calligraphy. I suppose these photos may represent the meeting or juxtaposition of the three Holy Land faiths, but there’s no need for simple conclusions. The woman is breathtaking. She is how you would want a poem to be.

I wanted to carry this feeling of awe into the poems, and I tried. It may be that the compression of mostly modernist, heavy-toned, religiously themed poems in one small magazine makes it hard for any one to announce itself as compelling or uniquely meaningful. Given that it’s representative of the issue, it seems arbitrary to single out Clare Rossini’s “These Passing Venial Wonders,” set at a convenience store overwrought with “cornucopic shelves, the stern boxed mixes / (Cakes in waiting, helpers of meat).” There is also Brian Teare’s “As That Which Is Above Everything Else,” which laments “detachment’s inability to sustain itself / without consequence. Or: // how Latinate my abstractions!” How Latinate, indeed. Perhaps I felt, that entering through the magazine’s enchanting façade, I’d found myself in a Gothic Cathedral, gloomy and guilty with its paintings of bleeding saints. I knelt and worked harder at redemption. I began to see the light – or was convincing myself.

I’d been unfamiliar with all the featured poets, so I came to them – I hope – unbiased. An exception to the sparser poems is Albert Goldbarth’s five-page mock-lecture which tells writing students to “keep a dream journal,” repeating the mantra in-between long stream-of-conscious passages. According to a reviewer at Slate (I Googled when I guessed I should appreciate this one more than I did), Goldbarth is perhaps the only poet who can “get away with four words when one would suffice.” He has won the National Book Critics Circle award for poetry twice, which means I guessed rightly that my initial reaction was wrong. It’s just that I have stumbled upon poets unknown to me that made me feel they sensed I was out there somewhere, waiting to be transported by their words. And I felt blessed.
[http://www.bpj.org]

 

Color Wheel coverColor Wheel

The Music Issue

Volume 7 Number 2

2007

Reviewed by Camilla S. Medders

The music issue of Color Wheel literally sings. Well, almost literally. With essays ranging in subject from the Doors to classical composers, poems that conjure up every noise you can imagine, and actual songs, notes and all, this issue comes as close as you can get to capturing music on paper.

The essays are plentiful and short, providing an eclectic look at all kinds of music. Jessica Handler’s essay, “On the Wall of Death,” is an entertaining piece about Richard Thompson, while Robert Vivian writes vividly about the sound of a bell. Frederick Moe’s essay, “Woven Wheat Whispers,” drove me to the internet to explore a website devoted to folk music.

I was delighted to find Dan Berggren’s songs in the middle of this literary magazine, inviting the reader to ponder the connection between song lyrics and poetry. I even got out my long-neglected flute and tried out the music, which was simple and lovely.

The poetry, which is heavy on the free verse, would never be mistaken for song lyrics, however. Instead, the poems use music as a subject, and often do it well. My favorite, “Bring Color Back to Me” by Stephen Mead, is a surreal description of an orchestra in a flood: “These violin bows are zippers of miniature spouts / Well mastered by hands.”

This issue got me thinking about the ordinary but beautiful sounds of everyday life. It inspired me to look for new music on the internet, and it even rescued my flute from its dusty corner of the closet. You can’t get more musical than that.
[http://www.colorwheeljournal.net]

 

Court Green coverCourt Green

Number 4

2007

Annual

Reviewed by Camilla S. Medders

Court Green number four is political. Each issue of this all-poetry magazine is divided into a “Poems” section, featuring poems on any subject, and a “Dossier” section, dealing with a single theme. It’s the best of both worlds, combining the freedom of a traditional format with the focus of the themed issue.

Both sections offer sensational poetry. Being a biased Arkansan, my favorite poem of the first section is Jo McDougall’s “The One Horse Store,” about two teenagers who return from the store “hoping to God we smelled of booze and cigarettes.”

Predictably, war is a big topic in the Dossier section. In Peter J. Grieco’s poem, “Baghdad Bound,” a soldier (real or imaginary, I’m not sure) writes about his initial trip to a military base in Baghdad. Whether because of naiveté or from a desire not to upset his family, “Andy” writes as if he’s on an odd vacation: “. . . If this were regular commercial air travel,” he says, “I would probably be writing a long letter / to Customer Service . . .” The violence and horror of war are foreshadowed in details like “the roar and stench of massive generators,” and I am left with a heartbreaking sense of relief that, unlike the soldier, I will not be leaving this “weird, weird place” to enter the infinitely weirder and more horrible world of war.

This poem is balanced by Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Letters My Prez Is Not Sending,” a collection of imaginary letters to people in the Middle East. In these fragments, Nye artfully leaves the details to our imagination. “Dear Rafik,” she writes, “Sorry about that soccer game you won’t be attending since you now have no…”

The Dossier is not limited to the Iraq War. Also notable are Kurt Brown’s terrifying “Global Warming” and Terrance Hayes’s “Our Best Patton Performer,” which is delightfully creepy. Though I enjoyed it immensely, I’m not sure why Eve Packer’s poem, “Express DVD Video Palace/Sex Sex Sex,” is in this section, but I guess an argument could be made that any poem containing the term “Ass-A-Thon” is inherently political.
http://www.colum.edu/courtgreen/

 

Cutbank coverCutbank

67

Spring 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Jennifer Sinor

Cutbank is a beautiful journal, published on glossy paper, brimming with cutting-edge poetry and prose, and highlighting a visual artist’s work with full-color images. This issue is particularly rich. Louisa Conrad’s collages grace the covers, front and back, and provide a stunning centerfold of images that are as thought provoking as they are sumptuous. The series simply mesmerizes. So does the prose in this issue. In particular, the short story by Edan Lepucki entitled “The Baby.” A haunting story of a man who suffers a kind of twisted post-partum depression, the piece describes a slide into madness that feels easy, almost effortless. The story – and its insistence that we are all but a thin line from shattering – remains with you; in fact, it won’t let you go. Also of interest is the interview with fiction writer, Aimee Bender. She describes the benefits and difficulties of the workshop model and how to guard against “the workshop story.” Of the current state of American fiction, she says, “I think there’s a huge place…for messy stories. I think Americans write the tidiest stories in the world, and there’s a great thing about that, but there’s a lot more space than any of us think for the story to sprawl.” The work Bender is known for provides both model and impetus for all writers to seek out that larger space.
http://www.cutbankonline.org

 

The Fiddlehead coverThe Fiddlehead

Number 232

Summer 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Laura Polley

“It makes me mad,” writes Mark Jarman, fiction editor of The Fiddlehead. “The story has such a great tradition and it’s being turfed as if it’s a regrettable hairstyle.”

If it’s true that today’s marketplace encourages abandonment of short fiction – pushing more and more authors toward novels or nonfiction books – then this issue waves the short story banner with a convincing flourish. These stories represent more than entertainment; they are a testament to the range of which the short fiction genre is capable. Plot, setting, character, theme, situation – all are richly varied to provide an experience not only of particular stories but of the story as a form. While some selections tread the familiar waters of relationship triangles and disillusionment (“The Pool Man,” Patricia Young; “Radio Who,” Julie Paul; “Certainties,” Jasmina Odor, etc.), others crystallize around strange, often offbeat matters. Gavin J. Babstock’s deceptively wacky “The Landing” uses a neglected patio as a foil for a couple’s very real discontentment: “If our hands happened to brush together while we were organizing the patio, we’d shy away from each other, embarrassed as teenagers on a first date. The only thing missing was our innocence.” Lorna Drew’s “Up in the Air and Down” is a study of the contrast between public and private meaning. The mathematically conceived “binary” by Anik See rewards with inventive narration and the pitting of cold logic against emotion. Kenneth Bonert’s unforgettable “White Flight” is a tour-de-force no lover of fiction should miss. Bonert, a master of pace and plot turns, is also blessed with a gift for image: “Marcus had chosen to kill people for a living [. . .] Or was he, as I suspected, born innately cold within, like a crystal stone birthed by a flame, lying somehow ever frigid despite the litter bed of red coals packed all around [. . .]”

The Fiddlehead – sometimes delicate, sometimes raw – never strays from its commitment to “freshness and surprise.” And that passionate editorial by Mark Jarman? It should be printed in newspapers, framed or bronzed – to be read and re-read in case of multimedia excess by anyone who still finds language useful.
http://www.lib.unb.ca/Texts/Fiddlehead

 

Hiram Poetry Review coverHiram Poetry Review

Issue 68

Spring 2007

Annual

Reviewed by Rachel King

This Hiram Poetry Review has a lot of light poetry for an issue whose cover photo is a gravestone. Greg Moglia puzzles over his ineptitude in the real word in “Burger Days”: “why [did] it seem so difficult? / …here bugs land on burgers / The best worker is an ex-con and / There are answers everywhere / And I know none of them.” David O’Connell discusses zombies in “Symposium” where “Jack’s mourning the death of zombies in American movies / …and I’m all sympathy.”

My favorite poems in this issue are those about love. Many are beautiful because they portray the daily, unsentimental side of love; I am touched by their realism. Lyn Lifshin’s “Near the Grey Stones of the Episcopal Church” and Jane Varley’s “Love Letters” speak of early lovers whom these women have gotten over and yet whose memory still haunts them. Charles P. Ries’s “I Love” lists off the small, quirky habits and inclinations of one he loves: “Your method of slowly moving, methodically / passing through the house… / creating a perfect order in the universe of our life.” But my very favorite is Sean Conrey’s “Forest Ridge Farms Nocturne.” In this, a husband comes home after eleven hours of work to a wife who has been dealing with kids all day. They talk deep into the night: “Work, I think, would fill the void, she says. / It fills the time, but not the space… / …that’s what’s got me scared these days, you say… / …a humid waft slips through the windows. / That cut grass smell? You smell that, she says, / That’s what got me going. / I love you, you say. / this love, these thin walls can’t contain it.”

The gravestone on the front is actually a tribute to Almeda Ann Booth, one of the founders and scholars of Hiram College in the mid-19th century. She might be startled by the form of some of this contemporary poetry, but as Jamie Thomas discusses in the opening poem, “Soundtracking,” major and minor artists, high and low art, all combine to have different but lasting effects on the human soul.
http://home.hiram.edu/www/english/hpr/

 

Light Quarterly coverLight Quarterly

Numbers 56-57

Spring-Summer 2007

Reviewed by Laura Polley

Light verse is a genre surrounded by contentious debate. Some refuse to call it “poetry,” finding its singsong meters predictable, its whimsical themes facile. Others embrace light verse as a refreshing infusion of humor into modern poetry – an antidote, perhaps, to capital-‘S’ Seriousness. Light Quarterly stands proudly with the latter camp, offering selections designed to “restore clarity, wit, readability, and enjoyment to the reading of poems.” In these goals, LQ succeeds. This 95-page double issue showcases work by John Irving, Max Gutmann, Richard Moore, Dan Campion, and many others, with Melissa Balmain as the featured poet. Determined not to take itself too seriously, LQ nevertheless grapples with contemporary issues, offering sociopolitical commentary in the form of wry satire. David Hedges lampoons suburban SUV culture in “Bouncing Bareback Baby Boomers.” Max Gutmann defends the dignity of Katrina survivors in “Windfall.” Miles David Moore’s “Beelzebub Now” manages to refute both the Iraq war and American fundamentalism at the same time: “[. . .] To save our children, we must act today. / We Saints of God must spirit them away, / Hand them all guns and sing a Hallelujah / To send them off to glory in Fallujah.” Of course, the well-worn vehicles that stereotype light verse are in evidence too, including puns and epitaphs, revisions of poems by the old masters (Melissa Balmain, “Frostbitten”) and certain favorite forms (Mary Meriam, “Trip Triolet”; Fred Yannantuono, “Limericks”; Claire E. Hughes, “Two Clerihews.”) Nor is LQ entirely free from the dubious sexual dimorphism (“men are x, women are y”) from which much light verse derives its humor. John Updike, for instance, contrasts generic male and female perspectives in “Dirt,” while Susan McLean’s “Reviews and Reflections” essay bemoans (with unintended irony) the widespread patronizing of “women who write poetry” and how they’re often “put down” for “their female subject matter (romance or home and family) [. . .].” The best poems in LQ are those which, like Dan Campion’s “Gnawstalgia,” underpin their humor with frank honesty and thoughtful observation. Say what you will about light verse – but take a look at LQ before you do; there’s plenty here to celebrate.
http://www.lightquarterly.com

 

New Quarterly coverThe New Quarterly

Number 102

Spring 2007

Reviewed by Laura Polley

Flipping through this issue of TNQ, the first thing I notice is the offbeat, quirky whimsicality of Charles Checkett’s cartoons. Highlighted in a 16-page color spread, these caricature drawings of iconic Canadian figures (Neil Young, Elvis Stojko, etc.) lend a dash of frivolity to a magazine that is quite serious about promoting Canadian voices. The written work here, by contrast, is thoughtful and elegant – though not without its own wry humor, as illustrated in a conversation between gynecologists in “Palaces” by Annabel Lyon: “‘See, you’ve hit a fold,’ Doctor Daley told the resident [. . .] ‘See, it’s like carpet in there [. . .] When you go to push a chair? And you end up pushing the carpet too?’” Lyon’s injection of occasional absurdities into the life of Mary, one of several main characters, brilliantly deepens our sense of Mary as a sensible woman navigating the confusion of others. “Palaces” is a lush, wistful novella of place and movement, nostalgia and progress. Russell Smith’s “Confidence” is a cinematic study of single professionals on the dating scene, each brandishing success as both shield and invitation. Two things make this story irresistible: first, each character’s stereotypical surface quickly degrades, revealing the complex individual beneath; and second, Smith is a master at managing simultaneous plots. The focus alternates from character to character and setting to setting, almost invisibly, zooming in so stealthily that one scarcely notices all the characters converging for the final scene. Fiction dominates this issue of TNQ, but the poems are no less notable. Jane Tolmie’s “Bodyseeds” upends poetic pretensions, its poet-speaker complicit in a fait accompli of exploiting others’ lives: “raped women, dead women / absent women, have always been muses. / I have dipped a finger in that ink / and found it red and clotted and profitable.” Two selections of light verse by W. K. Thomas provide an interlude of rhyme and a brief return to the spirit of droll wit showcased by Checkett’s cover art. Keep an eye out for future issues, too: TNQ’s pledge to work through a full list of Readers’ Choice authors promises quality reading for a long time to come.
http://www.tnq.ca/

 

Nimrod coverNimrod

29th Annual Awards Issue

Volume 51 Number 1

Fall/Winter 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Jennifer Sinor

This awards issue of Nimrod represents the work of forty-nine writers, including an interview with U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall in which he suggests we are seeing a surge in poetry’s readership and notes his fondness for poetry that “thrills in the mouth.” Given the sheer number of poems and short stories that received awards in this issue, it is difficult to highlight particular pieces. The poetry ranges from concrete to prose and includes such stellar works as Seth Abramson’s “Gideon Asleep by the River,” a three-stanza poem that runs its course in one glorious sentence. The narrator wonders what would happen if Gideon learned not “to gravitate with the urgency of light / towards men whose least warps bend / the planes of history further yet / in the direction of equity” but instead “how to boil / water, to peel off the blotched skin / of a potato with skill.” Another wonderful poem by Nicole Cooley received an Honorable Mention. The title and first line read, “I’m Starting to Speak the Language / of disaster.” A poem of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina, the narrator takes a “tour of the Gone,” reading the landscape for all that is not there, a place that seems to be “Missing a whole story.” The fiction doesn’t have the same punch as the poetry in this issue, but there is such a goodly number of both that all readers will find something that delights.
http://www.utulsa.edu/nimrod/

 

North Dakota Quarterly coverNorth Dakota Quarterly

Volume 74 Number 1

Winter 2007

Reviewed by Rachel King

The North Dakota Quarterly’s mix of essays, memoirs, poems, fiction, and reviews forms a pleasing whole. A lot of the pieces in this issue revolve around a description of a place or landscape. This trend begins in the first short story “Zulu” by Karen Alpha in which the plains of Alberta form the backdrop of a love story between a horse and a zebra. Karen Babine very overtly continues this theme in her essay, “Sligo: Yeats and the Theology of Place.” She specifically discusses sacred places, “places where the physical and the spiritual cannot be separated…visible signs of invisible grace.” Four poetry selections by Marilyn Dorf describe dusk, harvest and spring in a country setting. In “In the Green of the Year,” she uses her title as a refrain, weaving in and out of beautiful natural images: “In the green of the year…the willow bows / in the direction of rain, / the air mushroom-soft, / and the bay mare / at the barnyard gate / watching for the one who will feed her.” Molly Cooney’s “Lining” describes a river trip and the landscape of the Canadian Artic; in Melodie Edwards’ story “Nightplain” a river is the focal landscape for a daughter searching for her father.

Unique to the NDQ is a section called “A Sea Change: Books that Mattered.” Here writers tell how a certain book or author shaped their life. In this section, Jonathon Larkin’s first published work, “Is This Green Town? My Life According to Ray Bradbury” recounts how Bradbury’s stories infused in him a new love and passion for life, and, maybe most importantly, the strength to forgive his alcoholic father.

With the inclusion of scholarly essays and memoirs alongside its poetry and prose, NDQ contains the most diverse genres of writing in one literary magazine I’ve enjoyed in a while.
http://www.und.nodak.edu/org/ndq

  

Practice coverPractice: New Writing + Art

Volume 2

2007

Annual

Reviewed by Jeanne M. Lesinski

Practice is a beautifully designed journal, an elegant compilation of literary (prose and verse) and visual work (photography, paintings, and graphics) that successfully mines the past and present. The creators preface their work as well as being prefaced themselves with that ever-present brief bio. Most artists and authors are presented through multiple or multi-part works.

This issue starts out strongly with the seven poems from Danika Myer’s “My Risky Undertaking.” Being a CSI fan, how could I resist this poem sequence inspired by the forensic science of accident reconstruction? Interestingly, several works take on the form of postcards: Christian Peet’s “Big American Trip,” in which an alien “deconstructs the language of road signs, the talk of people in gas stations and rest stop bathrooms, the radioed speeches of the US president and staff,” and Peter Koch’s excerpt from his Nature Morte, a portfolio of digital pigment prints crafted from historical photographs and the journals of Lewis and Clark.

There is a balance of more and/or less experimental poems, and unlike many reviews, Practice editors aren’t afraid to print long poems, like “Green-Wood” (riffs on the atomic history of Los Alamos, NM) by Alison Cobb, “A Letter from Lake M” (a meditation on Missoula, MT) by Brandon Shimoda, and “Record Player” (the poetic experience of the violent energy of mid-20th-century German politics) by Dieter M. Gräf. The latter begins: “in the record / player slum // bers, enter a man / drake, the pistol, // milksop, you / blew your ---.”

I had a great time deciphering the prose poem “Only More So,” by Tony Lopez, who assembled images of politics, language, cars, warfare, memory, humans in nature, and more into a collage. Like all successful collages, this one is unified throughout by its “colors” (tropes). Another work that begs to be deciphered is Emily Ginsburg’s series “Social Studies.” These idiosyncratic portraits of human dynamics recall images of the body, electronic schemata, comics, architecture, and model kits – making for a provocative “read.” And although Colette Calascione’s highly symbolic paintings are intriguing à la Hieronymus Bosch, and Shawn Records’s stark photos disquieting, my favorite visual works in this issue are Mary Daniel Hobson’s selections from the series “Bottle Dreams,” photographs of her past, bottled in mineral oil, as if they were scientific specimens. Overall, Practice is a specimen worth having and taking off the shelf often to study.
http://practicejournal.com/

 

Red Cedar Review coverRed Cedar Review

Issue 42

2007

Annual

Reviewed by Rachel King

This issue of Red Cedar Review promises lively reading in both fiction and poetry. The theme of the story selections seems to be appearance versus reality. Almost every main character has a vice which he or she wishes to hide from his or her close ones. These faults range from the small disruptions of a middle-schooler in Chris Moore’s “The Vicks” to a middle-aged woman’s adulterous relationship in “Without Windows” by Margaret Hermesto a murder committed by one spouse on another in J.C. Dickey-Chasin’s “Blue Jesus.” The reader has different amounts of sympathy for these transgressors. Lydia’s adultery in “Without Windows” can be explained in that her husband has been cheating on her, but Mrs. Betts stark murder in “Blue Jeans” cannot be justified by the estrangement of the couple.

Caroline Du Pree Le Guin’s poem “Counterpoint” almost contains an answer for the stories’ secretive characters: no one is perfect, but people who choose one another learn to live with each other’s imperfections: “But I found you. / And busily, each day, we compose / this imperfect union…Against your ragged, stumbling bass / I carve a shrill, querulous melody…suddenly fearful we rush together / and sing in this fierce unison” (84). The other poems are fine, but my favorite is “Nospaces.com” by Martin Galvin. My friends would probably say that I like it merely because Galvin and I don’t like myspace. Maybe this accusation is true, but I also think he articulates well the peace we may forfeit for instantaneity: “The internet jammed his time with addresses / …which threatened, that flow, to fill up the world / That used to be filled with comfortable places / …to escape the babble that filled up the spaces, / To ponder the silence and empty the puzzles.”

Red Cedar Review only comes out once a year, which is unfortunate, because it’s difficult to wait twelve more months to enjoy its selection of fine art.
http://msupress.msu.edu/rcrorg

 

Rhino coverRhino

2007

Annual

Reviewed by Anne Wolf

Rhino, a thirty-year running annual, bursts with imagination and innovation. Modern poetry covers most of the one-hundred-fifty out of two-hundred-and-some-odd pages, along with several enigmatic short-shorts and a few piercing, quick essays. The official title is Rhino 2007: The Poetry Forum. According to editor Kathleen Kirk, Rhino has been “charging ahead for thirty years,” since it began as poets gathering together. Here the editors have assembled a diverse yet cohesive collection of modern poetry that forms a smorgasbord of the world, putting every possible flavor together, all delicious. The poetry can best speak for itself. There is the devilish “Lucifer Cleared His Goatish Throat,” by Jeannette Allee: “Lucifer cleared his goatish throat / and yawled, Hey Gawd, you’re snogging off on the job again.” Also, there’s the whimsical and tender, such as “Instruments” by Natania Rosenfelds: “I fell in love on the downbow of the phrase.” A longer, wistful piece deals with the not-so-charmed life of a pretty, young girl in “Sugar Mountain” by Kelle Groom: “I’d often wished to be under the influence, / but alcohol cocaine quaaludes sent me / into guardrails on the highway [. . .] It was a month before a co-worker told me / that my dress was really a top.” Humor is present here, plus irony, and can be found throughout this poem. On the other end of the spectrum, completely non-humorous and horrifying with its realism is “Flying Shamans” by Matthew Murrey: “Half a mile high over Vietnam / five thin men with arms tied behind / were booted out one at a time out the open door.” Yet, mystique rules with “Origin Stories” by Christopher Malpass: “Before his lover’s body closed like a vault / beneath the hospice sheets, she passed / herself on to him.” Poems using German, string theory, lessons in Japanese culture, algebra, goats, suicide, and the composition of the sky make up this volume, all glittering with energy. The cover art of a rhino emerging from the dark, impaling the title, scattering letters of the alphabet resembles the dynamism within. Rhino is a good read.
http://www.rhinopoetry.org/

 

St. Petersburg Review coverSt. Petersburg Review

Number 1

2007

Annual

Reviewed by Anne Wolf

This first issue of the St. Petersburg Review: White Nights 2007 is an opening for English readers to a part of the world previously denied them, to ravishing poetry, fiction and essays that will hopefully be coming for decades. New and established writers of Russia and the region, most translated, have voice here, and what marvelous voices they are. Especially notable is a section of eight poetry and fiction pieces by women of the Gulag, devastating for their bravery, honesty, sensitivity, and irony, giving a window to life there. Svetlana Shilova in “Dear Zek,” writes, “Dear Zek, I loved you / Just as you were / When I set eyes on you / Nearly ready to inter.” In “Unmarked Grave,” the same author writes, “So I cherished my love in silence / Locked it up under golden key… / And in an unmarked grave lies / My love, number 632.” Elena Vladimirova, also a Gulag poet, from the poem “KOLYMA,” pens these words, “I write of a dead generation / Of people silenced forever.” A poem that shares its title with its first line by Anna Barkova begins, “Days they go off like gunpowder, / But nights they’re quiet as mice.” These poems are set side by side with their Russian versions. George Saunders wrote a bold essay: “Manifesto: A Press Release from PRKA.” PRKA stands for “People Reluctant to Kill for an Abstraction.” It is both entertaining and thrilling reading for peace-lovers, and, on the contrary, there is a scary essay, “Five Easy Pieces in Moscow” by Josip Novakovich. Included are both elegant and modern verse, and short stories uplifting and poignant, like “Excelsior” by Dylan Landis, and the wistful “Used to Do” by Jeffrey Renard Allen. St. Petersburg Review lights up a new window on the world of literature, all two hundred pages of it. The Russian literature is priceless, and the international literature well worth it. Read!
http://www.stpetersburgreview.com/

 

Shenandoah coverShenandoah

Volume 57 Number 2

Fall 2007

Quarterly

Reviewed by Camilla S. Medders

A long poem by Wendell Berry, entitled “Sabbaths 2005,” opens this issue of Shenandoah. The poetry is exquisite, capturing what Berry refers to as “moments of pure awareness.” In the interview that follows, Birkin Gilmore engages the poet in an entertaining (for the reader at least) game of verbal dodgeball as he tries to get Berry to elaborate on his subject matter. Berry skillfully avoids most of the questions with responses like, “If [art is] any good, it’s happening pretty far beyond the sort of scrutiny that interviewers’ questions suggest.”

The nonfiction in this issue is diverse, including an intellectual rumination on the act of writing, a rambling childhood memoir, and, my favorite essay, John Gamel’s meditation on death from a doctor’s perspective.

Sex and violence, those timeless themes, unite the short stories, and each deals with one or both of the themes artfully. In Pam Durban’s story, “The Jap Room,” the wife of a WWII veteran revisits the details of their life together. The narrator’s acceptance of her husband, faults and all, makes this love story touching and refreshing. “In the Blood” by Ron Savage is a haunting coming-of-age narrative. It’s also that wonderful, rare kind of story that seduces and surprises the reader, leaving you feeling somehow complicit in the events.

The poetry selection contains several gems, including Jehanne Dubrow’s poem, “Bargaining with the Wolf,” about the lasting effects of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf on the narrator’s psyche. “…Old fears / still nibble with the sharpest teeth, / your three French horns, a leitmotif,” writes Dubrow, forever influencing the way I will remember that piece of music.

All this would be enough to make Shenandoah a satisfying read, but there’s also a selection of art by Bill Dunlap, accompanied by an entertaining editor’s note introducing the artist, and a generous selection of book reviews.
http://shenandoahliterary.orgindex.html

 

Tampa Review coverTampa Review

Issue 33/34

2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Deborah Diemont

A glance at the Tampa Review’s website reveals that it is published in hardback, and that it seeks to combine various arts to carry on the “tradition of illuminated manuscripts.” This edition of TR’s “gallery space in print,” offers journalistic photos by Peter Andrew Bosch and David Swanson to illuminate J. Malcolm Garcia’s “Encountering Afghanistan.” An image of Hanneke Beaumont’s bronze sculpture of a runner kneeling fits well with Mark Baumgartner’s story “Some Miles Back.”

Several essays examine the writer’s life. The writer is considered in terms of her fallible humanity and her need to invent forms to solve the problems of synthesizing material. Poets Joan Cusack Handler and Mary McCue discuss their own writing from a poetry-as-therapy perspective that may make some readers wince. Cusack Handler states, “It is my belief that writers at some point in their lives were forbidden speech, and it is that prohibition coupled with an unsatisfied longing to communicate that compels us to write.” This may be too sweeping of a generalization. Even so, the essay’s strength lies in its courage; by acknowledging her initial doubt, fear, and even envy for “the talents of my peers . . . outdistancing mine,” Cusack Handler emphasizes process. She gives permission to write badly in search of the good – permission all writers need.

The three essays on Mary McCarthy, by Leila Philip, Philip Lopate, and Sandi Wisenberg will reconnect the 1930’s “dark queen of American literature” with her readers or introduce her to those who have not yet had the pleasure. If she has “fallen out of fashion” as suggested, well, she should be back in. Though Philip Lopate and Leila Philip disagree about whether McCarthy was an innovator in the genre of memoir, both admire her risk-taking and willingness to be wrong – her lack of p.c. Says Lopate, “[She] dares to be dislikeable and this is the grit that makes the oyster.” Finally, Sandi Wisenberg invokes McCarthy as a lifesaver, a model for a young writer seeking her way.

Though uneven at times, this hardback journal states convincingly, “I am not disposable!”
http://tampareview.ut.edu

 

Water~Stone coverWater~Stone Review

Volume 9

2007

Annual

Reviewed by Anne Wolf

Water-Stone Review is a veritable kaleidoscope, spawning with colors to amaze your keen literary eye. Plus it offers a smattering of striking, disciplined photographs that capture a specific subject very poetically – such as a pink bed, clothes on a mattress, a boy staring, a man posing on a rock, paper on fire – all ordinary scenes captured in an extraordinary way, enhancing the mystique of this volume. I found the Brenda Ueland Prose Prize winner, “Galveston Island Breakdown: Some Directions,” to be a morality and life lesson with pathos and wit, especially wit. More non-fiction includes “How to Love a Poz Man” – an exquisitely written piece about a romantic interlude, by John Medeiros. Also, Rachel Hall’s “In the Cemeteries of Saint-Malo,” a haunting non-fiction piece about a woman searching for the graves of her grandparents who died during the Nazi occupation of France. The non-fiction was so well written, and the fiction so true-to-life, that I had to check the table of contents to see which was which. “The Bones in Her Face,” by Antonia Harrison, is a short story about two men working in a mortuary, one taking an unusual interest in his work. A touching tale of family cohesiveness, from Atomic Age, by Judith Katz, pulls no punches and can break your heart, although fiction. The poetry ranges from modern to avant-garde, all stellar. “Great Gray,” by Eva Hooker, is extraordinary, having literary notes after, and the heartbeat of an angel repeated within. Ellen Weble’s “Aesop’s Frogs in August” features ethereal lines such as, “Euphoria thy name is noon” and “Pond glazy as hot silver / clouds nailed onto the water.” Nearly three hundred pages of these, plus reviews, are wrapped with a tasteful cover displaying a pink ribbon on a mottled green background that gives a proper impression of this classy publication. Water-Stone Review celebrates the literary arts annually, with this edition dedicated to the memory of writer Frank Busch. It achieves a beautiful variety for readers to take in.
http://www.waterstonereview.com/

 

Willow Springs coverWillow Springs

Issue 60

Fall 2007

Biannual

Reviewed by Rachel King

This issue of Willow Springs combines accessible poetry, flash fiction, and a couple great interviews into one volume. I think the tea cup on the cover is symbolic: one could sit down with this journal and tea and finish them both at the same time. Maybe this is a little bit of an exaggeration – the tea might be cold at the end of the volume – but these great poems and stories fly by, one after another.

Denver Butson writes the poem “our names” about the obsession of seeing one’s name written on anything, since it gives us a sense of our own significance, however false the correlation may be. Dan Pinkerton’s four poems are quirky and funny. For example, in “The Baby Is Reading Nietzsche Again,” he writes, “Isn’t that the way with one-year-olds? [. . .] he’s obsessed with toddling towards the forbidden: the Bach concertos, the Tolstoy and Satre, the single-malt scotch.”

The flash fiction pieces are fine, although none I thought necessarily notable, but the one full-length story and winner of “The George Garrett Fiction Award” is marvelous. In “Berry Picking,” Karen is picking berries in the Alaskan Tundra while debating with herself whether to leave her husband, John-John. Barry Lopez once wrote that he is suspicious of stories that are not firmly established in a place. Lopez would have no reason for suspicion here, since almost every paragraph contains some detail which shows the reader Alaska’s landscape: “Scanning the tundra, the rolling green hills that kissed the clouds, Karen took a deep breath. She felt like a thief, stealing deep gulps of air so she could taste the wild celery and fireweed that grew all around her.”

The issue finishes off with two excellent interviews with Robert Wrigley and Aimee Bender. Wrigley gives tips on how to balance his writing with his teaching, and Bender discusses the necessity of a stage of boredom in the process of creating art. This journal is an excellent read all the way through.
http://willowsprings.ewu.edu

 

Online Literary Magazines

Journal of Literary Disability

Disability and the Dialectic of Dependency

Volume 1 Number 2

October 2007

Reviewed by Mary Winsor

In this inaugural issue of the Journal of Literary Disability, Editor David Bolt observed that disability is “…present in all literary works, but too frequently absent from literary criticism.” Theoretical perspectives are appreciative of class, ethnicity, and gender, “…so why are there so few (curricula) that are appreciative of disability?”

Curriculum deficiency, particularly in Britain where the JLD is based, results in a lack of published literary criticism; the lack of published criticism weakens the curriculum. These “interrelated absences” produce a literary anemia that Bolt and the JLD editorial advisors and contributors, whose work and studies span the globe and the spectrum of disability “interdisciplinarity,” seek to remedy.

The current issue, “Disability and the Dialectic of Dependency,” offers unflinching and well researched critical essays that ought to influence curricula and inform criticism. It is nearly impossible in this format to provide more than a glimpse of the depth and breadth of this issue of JLD, written by and for critical theorists and disability scholars, but the language and arguments in these articles are accessible to even the non-scholar. Lennard Davis, whose foundational work is referenced by other contributors, carefully and expertly examines Martha Nussbaum’s Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, and Species Membership. The borrowing (or theft) of the language of disability rights activism by “World Bank rhetorics” is traced with incisive reason and rich research by Robert McRuer. Neel Ahuja identifies “opposing forms of dependency within (Jack) London’s writing” that perpetuated the primitivization of Asian and Hawaiian culture and justified government-imposed quarantine of sufferers of “Hansen’s disease.” (Ahuja uses the term(s) “leper(s)” only sparingly and with footnoted explanation.) An essay by Martha Stoddard Holmes prompts the recasting of criticism of Victorian fictions, examining themes of interdependency in works that have been too easily dismissed for their “Christian ideology of self-sacrifice.” Tom Coogan assesses the intersecting of the inherently challenging genre of autobiography and the “problematic dependency” of disabled authors upon their collaborators, cautioning against any definition of “functional dependence” that excludes assisted communication. In an essay as understatedly beautiful as the works it illuminates, Michael Davidson analyzes Samuel Beckett’s disabled and co-dependent characters.

Bibliographies reveal cross-referencing and common reliance upon apparently seminal works – understandable and unavoidable in this young and largely underserved perspective of literary criticism. But this issue achieves Editor Bolt’s “high aims” for the journal and bodes well for the future of disability scholarship.
http://www.journalofliterarydisability.com/

 

 

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Cumulative Index of Literary Magazines Reviewed