Literary Magazine Reviews
Posted January 7, 2008
580 Split - The Adirondack Review - The Antigonish Review - Banipal - Canteen - Conveyer - The Journal - The Malahat Review - NANO Fiction - New York Quarterly - Oleander Review - The Painted Bride Quarterly - Slice - Virginia Quarterly Review - Watershed - White Chimney - World Literature Today
Reviewed by Anne Wolfe
580 Split calls itself “A Journal of Arts and Letters.” If there is any overall theme to its roughly one hundred and thirty pages of poetry, short fiction and single interview, it can be “seeking.” Many of the poems and characters in the prose seem to be searching, not necessarily for something, but in an existential manner. The poetry is quite modern. Derek Pollard’s “Vine Street Lightens the Streetlights Out” is arranged visually in something of an octagon, with words overlaid to the point of unreadability, yet readable enough to pass on a message, which manages to be stronger than the striking visual impact.
The poetry contest winner, “About an
Apple Fatal” by Bethany Wright, is full of ironies,
alliteration, added grunts and groans; it is very inventive and
might be best read aloud. The aptly named “Deluge in Formation”
by Will Alexander will cause you to lose yourself in its
discordant imagery: “If one believes oneself as stasis / there
exists no seepage / no neural density or scar.” The short
fiction exists as fully developed little worlds that will
completely pull you in. “The Birthday Party” by Susanna Horng is
a wistful, strangely uplifting tale about marital infidelity,
its evils and fruits. In “Tornadoes,” Sean Bernard touchingly
reveals a novel passion, an unusual marital thorn. “Greasy
Pink,” by Susan Chiavelli, the Fiction Contest Winner, is
excellent, thought provoking, and perhaps the most traditional
of the short stories here. It is about peer pressure gone bad
and the emerging individual. Try 580 Split if you are
looking for new angles. The wildly colorful, abstract cover art
by Will Alexander, “The Chromatic Continuum” is a clue that
you’re in for an unusual treat.
Reviewed by Kenneth Nichols
The journal that calls itself “Canada’s eclectic review” very nearly earns the title based on the cover photograph alone. “Miss Julie” lounges in a flowered black overshirt, high-gravity malt liquor in hand, infinite stories to be told with her painted lips. Inside, Alberto Manguel’s essay could be a case for eclecticism. He contrasts the inclination of the great artist to produce a diverse range of works with posterity’s tendency to remember a single one the artist may not feel is representative. Nature themes abound, appropriate in a Nova Scotia-based publication. Eleonore Schönmaier’s poem, “Tracks,” features a protagonist challenging her place amongst the trees and clouds and snow. Karen Shenfeld’s poem, “Bathurst Manor,” evokes a simpler time “When the summer air cooled like bath water,” and time was passed by “squinting through the deepening dusk / to wait for the wishing star.” Human nature arises in Christine Birbalsingh’s story “Trapped,” which depicts a young mother whose eagerness to care for her children is her undoing.
There are other kinds of human frailty apparent in Crystal
Hurdle’s three vivid poems, ranging from physical and mental
illness to the way insecurity can affect our decision-making
processes. And human and nature combine as Brianna Brash-Nyberg
condenses a full short story of meaning into a three-section
poem that sets dead birds as the mile markers on the road to
adulthood. After fifteen years of contemplating the meaning of
the dead birds in her life, the protagonist finally understands.
Her lover touches her and “she trembles / with the old resonance
of flight, spread open like pinfeathers / against his body’s
Reviewed by Robert Duffer
This issue of the UK’s Banipal: Magazine of Modern Arab Literature features Lebanese poetry. The five prose selections are all novel excerpts – some contemporary, some from decades ago. Both poetry and prose are Arabic translations. This may be one reason why it took me so long to get through the journal. Another may be the very reason why I reviewed it: to relieve my ignorance to a culture’s literature.
There was a distracting sense of infidelity in some of the translations. In Fadhil Al-Azzawi’s excerpt from his 1972 novel, Cell Block 5, the narrator asserts that he was mistakenly detained in a raid. “One of the five other men arrested laughed scornfully and asked: ‘If they’re going to release you, why are they sending you, with us, to a penitentiary where prisoners are kept for long periods?’” It feels stilted, forced, ‘penitentiary’ seems so generic. Still, the Kafka-esque search for justice intrigued me.
Translated poetry ups the already-high demand for the poetry reader; the language must at once capture and transcend its native tongue and place. Many of the Lebanese poets featured in this issue acknowledged – whether to Allah or reason – that the body is nothing more than a vessel. Paul Chaoul’s fifteen brief prose poems infused ironic humor into the journal. Curiously, it was translated by Al-Azzawi, the aforementioned novelist, whose Cell Block 5 excerpt was translated by someone else.
Banipal indeed represents Modern Arab Literature;
although, despite the illumination, there is more to be desired
in the translations.
Reviewed by Jeanne M. Lesinski
Inspired by owner and chef Dennis Leary’s Canteen restaurant in San Francisco, which has hosted a number of “literary dinners,” “Canteen aims to engage readers with both the arts and the creative process,” say publisher Stephen Pierson and editor-in-chief Sean Finney. A prominent example of this intent is the poem “Song” and its accompanying close reading and reflective essay by Julie Orringer and Ryan Harty. I knew that it was only a matter of time before the words from the Magnetic Poetry Kit jumped off refrigerator doors and other metal surfaces to land – where? Here? In analyzing their process of cutting and sticking these dozen lines and photographing them, Orringer and Harty demonstrate and evaluate one experience of this gimmick’s effect on word choice and syntax. I’ve played this “poetry game” in several languages, but never have I believed that the restrictions it imposes are worthy of serious effort. Now I know why. Conversely, Katie Ford’s poem “The Vessel Bends the Water” deserves the reader’s attention for its pure beauty and, I think, perfect slipperiness.
Leary projects a serrated voice in his essay “Prologomena to a Future Restaurant,” an illustrated “theatre of restaurants” that numbers Cicada, My Pets, Paycock, Homtownehouse, and Being among its stars. On a more serious note, Garth Risk Hallberg’s fiction “A Light that Never Goes Out” successfully draws readers deeply into the Pakistani protagonist’s complex life and epiphany during an emergency lock-down at his private high school in Georgetown. I particularly enjoyed Hallberg’s refreshing yet understandable imagery, for instance: “My brain was a radio tuned to too many stations at once.” Another tasty canteen of imagery and memory is Andrew Sean Greer’s “The Museum of My Beginnings,” a memoir of those par-cooked literary works that never make it to the table. I’m certain that all “successfully published” writers have such half-baked works, stuffed on the pantry shelves (and in old recipe boxes) of memory. Another take on craft is Po Bronson’s approachable essay, “Knowing Your Audience,” in which he ponders, as have many writers, the power that stories do have on peoples’ lives. Moreover, he looks pointedly at the particularly troublesome problem of “the gap between artsy literary technique (a language of its own), the blunt way real people tell stories, and whether that gap helps or hurts the power of art.”
A la carte, on the menu, or hiking a forested trail, this debut issue lives up to its name, if canteen means 1. a small container used to hold refreshment; 2. an eatery where delicious meals are served; or 3. a box for cutlery (British-ism). [http://www.canteenmag.com]
Issue Number 2
Reviewed by Rachel King
Although unique is almost a clichéd word, one cannot but apply it to Conveyer. Conveyer is a literary journal, which, according to its title page, is in the business of “articulating and documenting Jersey City’s sense of place though image making and storytelling.” This second issue of the journal fulfills this purpose in a variety of ways. The first section is hand-drawn grid maps with accompanying pictures and anecdotal commentary. The comments are both quirky and informational and give an insider’s sense of place in specific neighborhoods.
The next section, “Stepping It Wednesdays,” combines text by Matthew Daniel and photos by Tyson Thorne to relay the story of Wednesday night dance classes at Victory Hall. After an overview of the class, Hall describes the individual lives of the dancers and the instructors. Next, “Picturesque Contradictions” by Rocío Aranda-Alvarado describes the work of Jersey City’s native painter, August Will. And the final section, “by-products,” showcases “a collection of meaningful everyday artifacts retrieved from Jersey City, N.J.” and explains why that stuff – including a nightshirt, a Coach purse, and a Comme des Garçons wallet – is meaningful.
the readers of Conveyer to be a younger and more urban
version of those who read Reader’s Digest; they would be
the ones to get a kick out of the anecdotes and life stories of
people and neighborhoods they know nothing about. If you are
that kind of person, this journal is for you. If you’re not that
kind of person and yet you’re from the Jersey City area, pick up
Conveyer anyway. You just might discover a hip
neighborhood (your own?) or a long-lost relative.
Volume 31 Number 1
Reviewed by Robert Duffer
This issue of The Journal reads geologically: something is always happening but its effect is perceptible only with the distance of narrative. A tornado, referred to “in code” by one family, is revisited decades later in “Finding Oz,” The Journal’s William Allen Creative Nonfiction Prize Winner. Connie Vaughn rediscovers affections for her father she had long since dispelled: “If our differences are the centrifugal forces that have sent us flying apart throughout our lives, the tornado might be a form of centripetal action bringing us back together.” That thesis-sounding sentence – and the tidy structure – are more essay-ish than creative nonfiction, but it’s a damn good story regardless.
Another subtle stunner was John Fulton’s long story, “Sleeping Woman,” which took up nearly one-third of the entire journal. The slow, internal beginning of Evelyn, an aggressive divorcee, trying to pick up Russell, a shy, inexperienced man whose wife has been on life support for three years, eventually gathers into a riveting psychological look at the personality of relationships. Place calms and disrupts, binding and releasing its subjects throughout The Journal. Poet Carol Potter frames “the F word” around farm and land, a theme that resounds in Daniel Bourne’s “To The Old Country, Illinois.” A parolee deliberates his destination as he finishes his community hours at an animal shelter in Alan Rossi’s story, “Time in Texas.” Alison Stine’s layered poetry demanded more readings, as did David Moolten’s three poems, whose opening images are noteworthy: “Well into her first mile beneath a bridge / She understood his eyes right away” (“The Rape of the Sabine Women”); “Boasting after a wedding and her third / Mai Tai that he hadn’t touched her even once / In twenty years, she means no fat lip, / No cigarette brand stubbed in her arm” (“Tolerance”); “The bullet has no judgment, passing through / The school bus’ thin skin” (“Prodigal”).
The patience The Journal provides its
writers – and readers – gives it a traditional sense of
authority, one that endures.
Reviewed by Josh Maday
This issue marks the publication’s fortieth anniversary with an entire issue in tribute to the founder, long-time editor, and guiding spirit, Robin Skelton. Here we have a “collage” of pieces from students, friends, peers, and people who never even met him – the “composite,” as Editor John Barton said, “emerging from the overlapping and multilayered reminiscences, essays, and poems by forty-one contributors from five countries is not exact, but the likeness suits our beloved, be-ringed, pentacled, cape-draped and walking-stick-strutting master.”
Included in this issue is an excerpt from Skelton’s unpublished memoir, his short story entitled “Lady in Waiting,” as well as Matthew J. Trafford’s Far Horizons Award-winning short story entitled “Past Perfect,” which was inspired by one of Skelton’s own undeveloped plot summaries and fleshed out. Nicholas Bradley’s critical essay attempts to situate Skelton as both a scholar and poet in British Columbian literary history, specifically in relation to the West Coast Renaissance, in which place played a vital role. Among the reminiscences we find Theresa Kishkan’s “‘Wilder than art and stranger than music,’” telling of Robin Skelton the nurturing teacher/poet/friend, and Yvonne Owens’s “Incantations and Craft: Robin Skelton’s Magical Artistry,” where we learn that Skelton’s witchcraft and poetry were interwoven and complementary forces in his life. In just a few hundred words, Linda Rogers’s “Inconsonance” finishes this tribute perfectly, not only showing Skelton’s last days but also the playfulness and passion he invested into his life with words and with others.
Anita Lahey handles Skelton’s poetry honestly and compellingly in her review of Facing the Light, Skelton’s posthumous book of poetry. “Not being a west coaster,” Lahey says, “I came to Skelton as an outsider. I confess that the blurb on the book gave me pause, with its hyperbolic declaration [. . .]” Despite being “worried” after sixty pages, having “read many poems that bore a suspect tone of profundity,” she came to the poem entitled “24.iii.88” which begins: “This is a time / when the cat walks through the mirror / and all the mistletoe berries / fall like snow. // This is a time when the / red wine turns to silver / and pillars of the house are black. // This is the time / when, opening the cupboards / we discover only crawling children.” Later in the poem comes what Lahey calls “the penultimate couplet”: “‘There is no fly. No sound. No room; / no bed; no house; no life, no death.’” With this Lahey concludes: “This poem is both a life’s work and a life’s end . . . an astounding final word from a long-celebrated poet.”
issue of The Malahat Review serves as an excellent
introduction to the person and poetry of Robin Skelton as well
as a valuable artifact in the magazine’s important literary
Volume 1 Issue 2
Reviewed by Anne Wolfe
NANO Fiction is a small booklet, not much bigger than the size of my hand, and only about sixty pages. A wistful-looking woman adorns the cover, her shock white hair blowing in the wind, looking forward; the surrealistic scene continues on the back where a girl has antlers growing out of her eyes, flowing to connect with the hair of the woman on the front. Swirling strokes of blues, greens, reds, oranges and yellows engulf the two figures. The artist, Nomi Meta-Mura, has three enigmatic black and white drawings in the journal. Enigma is appropriate for a journal that consists of short-shorts.
NF contains thirty-eight short-shorts, some as brief as one
or two paragraphs. The majority are no more than one page. All
are competent, a few avant-garde, some brilliant. In an unusual
twist, M. David Hornbuckle applied mathematics to fiction in
“Bertrand Russell Sees a Man.” He begins, “Let (x is
human and x is male) be true where (x=x) is always true
and (x has the name “John”) is sometimes true.” This
makes for surprisingly human equations, aptly drawn. On the
other hand, a lesson in how to pierce the heart in one paragraph
comes from “The Way the Ruin Came” by Blake Butler: “My stomach
eating my other parts. No more food in cans. The faucet cragged
so fat with insects the water won’t even drip.” He becomes
brilliantly more devastating as he goes on, a satisfying
literary bite out of many bits in this lunch of words. There is
such variety, there is bound to be something for any
fiction-lover. Published by a student organization at the
University of Houston, NANO Fiction is off to a good
start with this high-caliber work.
Reviewed by Deborah Diemont
Reading the NYQ, founded in 1969 but new to me, I felt as I used to when I met a man I’d later love. At first it was not terribly attractive; I did not think it was my type. These poems were not what I’m usually drawn to – new formalism, or free verse in which formal elements break the surface like shark fins, or tight lyrics that startle like a butterfly rising, or narratives that travel some scenic route, climaxing, not toward resolution but breath…
If the poems in this issue are not the above, exactly, then how to define them? Most are free verse with no shark fins apparent (which is not to say there are no sharks below). Rhythm and rhyme don’t knock on the door, and many poems are confessional or philosophical. They are New School or Beat (but not Jazzy Kerouak) or, they simply are. They fulfill Raymond Hammond’s editorial promise to publish the kind of poem he likes best – unpretentious. They are accessible, but not “dumbed down”; they would most certainly not give comfort to a Hallmark audience. A few, such as Andrea Lockett’s “America I Want” and Laura A. Ciraolo’s “Ode to the NYQ” are rants; if they don’t go anywhere new, they touch the reader like a call-and-response. You find yourself nodding, “Yes, um-hmm.”
Other poems are sublime. Douglas Goetsch’s “First Time Reading Freud” is one of my favorites for its exploration of that amorphous thing called sexuality. The speaker expresses the inexpressible about coming-of-age through the conceit of a college freshman who studies Freud with his “bleak head floating on the cover / half stark in shadow, monocle in place, / then gaze[s] across the room at the Korean beauty / [who] promised her mother she’d wear pantyhose / every day, to help keep out the boys-- / as if we’d get in there by accident.” The scent of his textbook plagues him. What is it? “A mother’s breast dusted with talc?”
Cuban poet Victor Rodriguez Nuñez’s “Epilogue” (translated by Catherine M. Hedeen), is an elegy for a “pure blue jacket poet / communist / in sum / with his thirty-three years-- / [who] wanted to carry a bit of sky in his look.” It is eerie and reminiscent of Cesar Vallejo. And it’s not the kind of poem you’d find in many other journals. Like Matthew Yeager’s “Black Socks, White Socks,” a loosely constructed villanelle defining a life by the speaker’s sock drawer. The poems here have a rawness that some say is no longer permitted in published poetry; you sense that some of the initial adrenaline of poem-making remains.
I had to keep reading NYQ until I’d read it all. Poets
I’d been familiar with, including W.D. Snodgrass, Timothy Liu,
Bob Hicok and Lyn Lifshin were in good company with the
lesser-known. Despite the magazine’s pride in its monthly craft
interviews (this time with F.D. Reeve and Gene Fowler), the
poems in NYQ make you forget current raging debates: what
makes a poem meritorious? What should poets be doing and not
doing when we write? You just read it and want to read some
Reviewed by Rachel King
Oleander Review’s debut issue has a lot going for it: a couple translations of Kostas Karytoakis’ dark poems, some solid poetry and prose, and interviews with Elizabeth Kostova and Robert Pinksy. Karyoatakis’ poems are selections from Battered Guitars: Poems and Prose of Kostas Karyotakis. His haunting poem, “Optimism” begins its concluding stanza: “Let’s assume that we have not reached / the frontiers of silence by a hundred roads, / and let’s sing.” Joshua Olsen’s poem, “I thought I saw my mother in Detroit” reveals his mother’s sad past and then concludes “She seemed lost and I wanted to help her find her way / but didn’t, fearing it really was her.” And Emma Morris’ “Water/Music” demonstrates, once again, that water is an amazing property, and she does so in a much more artistic and compelling way than a high school chemistry book.
My favorite selections were the interviews with authors. Among Pinsky’s many words of wisdom, he said the following: “anti-intellectualism is part of the challenge for artists in a democracy.” Although he admits that pop art has its place, he contends people have an inherent need for the deeper richness art can provide. Elisabeth Kostova discusses how her novel, The Historian, compares and contrasts with other historical fiction books. The interviewers, Eliot Long and Sarah Sala, ask astute questions which result in good discussion.
However, as usual for a first issue, a few points could be
improved. The journal seems too long – or maybe the large font
size just contributes to this effect – with too small a font in
the table of contents, and typos affect the professionalism.
Besides these minor aesthetic contentions, however, the journal
is great for a first issue: I applaud the undergraduates at the
University of Michigan who got it off the ground, and I look
forward to many Oleander Reviews in the future.
Reviewed by Josh Maday
Slice Magazine is a high-quality production with a layout that is both stimulating and friendly to the eye. The inaugural issue appropriately takes shape around the theme of firsts and new beginnings. Jonathan Galassi, president of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, shares a short but moving account of how books being present during his childhood left “ineradicable interfused impressions” on him.
Fiction begins with Connie H. Zhu’s “Lacy,” about an Asian art student in Oregon from Shanghai dealing with her new life while attempting to carve a place for herself in American culture and art culture. In co-editor Maria Gagliano’s story, “Hearing Ilaria,” the isolated narrator becomes obsessed with listening to her neighbor’s life beyond the wall separating their apartments while searching for the courage and the opportunity to make contact somehow with someone. The narrator in Paul D’Agostino’s “Legerdemain and Not” lays out the pieces of his and his family’s past, incomplete as it is, in an attempt to both understand the present and find a way to live in it. I particularly enjoyed Tim Mucci’s three short-short stories, each with its own ominous atmosphere and elements moving toward their visceral, violent, and seemingly inevitable collisions. Poetry includes fine work by Tom Haushalter, Warren Weathers, Elizabeth Blachman, and Michael Kovacs.
Maria Gagliano interviews Junot Diaz about his beginnings as a writer. Diaz talks about his unique vantage point as a Dominican immigrant growing up in New Jersey. “I knew I wasn’t from a major literary center,” Diaz says, “so instead of fighting that I thought – let’s just go the opposite route. Make the Elsewhere into a Somewhere.” When asked about his writing process, Diaz says, “I write a chapter or a story because something’s gnawing at me. Ain’t usually until the tenth draft that I have any idea what it is.”
Later, Celia Blue Johnson conducts an insightful interview with Manuel Munoz, whose short story collection The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue was shortlisted for the 2007 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize. Munoz talks about his beginnings as a writer and the difficulty he encountered trying to get his work published in a time (not long ago) when editors were not willing to risk the bottom line to publish gay Chicano short fiction. Munoz offers this advice to aspiring writers: “Read as much and as widely as you can [. . .] Be respectful of other writers. Nothing dissuades me more from reading an author’s work than to find them lacking in generosity to others. [. . .] It’s a poisonous way to go about writing, seeing it as a competition. Be patient and keep trying.”
Slice Magazine has put together a fine debut issue,
and I look forward to what Issue 2 has to offer. Definitely keep
an eye on this magazine.
Volume 83 Number 4
Reviewed by Deborah Diemont
The Virginia Quarterly Review’s Fall 2007 issue, “South America in the 21st Century,” is a must-read for anyone interested in Latin American politics and culture, as well as those fond of New Journalism – using the fiction writer’s tools, like scene setting, character development, and dialogue to build news stories. The techniques have been accepted for decades now, but here they are spit shined to gleaming. I read the magazine from cover to cover. The poetry, fiction, cartoons, and collages are note-worthy, especially Chilean poet Marjorie Agosín’s poetry of exile; but the journalistic impulse dominates the writing and photography.
Eighteen-months in the making, this issue is a collaborative effort of the VQR staff, editors from the Peruvian magazine Etiqueta Negra (Black Label), writers and artists from North and South America, translators from Words Without Borders, and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Several of the articles are available online, but that’s no reason to forgo the magazine. Reading it reminded me that I’d become cynical about “balance” as an ethic in reporting, as the slant in papers and magazines is, more often than not, transparent. It is not that the writing here lacks bias – or that good writing should – but that a story like Pat Joseph’s “Soy in the Amazon” could present conflicting views with such complexity. After listening to Greenpeace, soy farmers, an American expatriate farm consultant, and local politicians, I left the diminishing Amazon knowing more and sure of less. Through the metaphor of an octopus with its tentacles reaching everywhere, Philip Robertson presents an unsettling look at relations among U.S. companies that export bananas, drug smugglers, and paramilitary groups in Columbia. At the same time, he creates reader sympathy for a “bad guy” informant.
Because I found the magazine so strong, I’m hesitant to say
it, but it seems that “South America in the 21st Century”
continues to mean fewer opportunities for writers who are women.
I turned often to contributors’ notes, thinking, “Who did
this amazing work?” which led me to note four women among the
twenty-three contributors. I did love when Gabriela Wiener,
reporting on Peruvian transsexuals doing sex work in Paris,
asked her subject if she could touch his silicon breasts. Having
left her baby home in Spain, and suffering from mastitis, the
writer was curious about fake breasts that look sexier than real
ones. And I concede it would be harder for a woman journalist to
gain the trust of a paramilitary soldier by hanging out in a bar
– as did Robertson. That said, I’ll look for more work by
Wiener, among the other women and men who write from unlikely
places. Get yourself a copy of this VQR, before it’s sold
Volume 30 Number 2
Reviewed by Rachel King
For their 30th anniversary edition, Watershed’s editors decided to choose one selection from each of the years 1977-2007 and arrange these selections in chronological order. While reading these pieces, I traveled both through the history of Watershed and also through the history of our nation and the world. Many – though definitely not all – of the poems respond to or refer to current events. For example, Greg Rappleye’s “Letters to Yeltsin” is a response to NPR’s statement that Boris Yeltsin suffers from weariness: “Word arrives in the steamy depths / of the American summer, / the torpor so general / I cannot rise from my couch. / I share your struggles, comrade.”
The current selections for Spring 2007 are all poems except for one flash fiction story. The flash fiction, “What We Own” by Chris Elliot, is about a boy who must choose to either forgive or to enact revenge on his mother. He chooses the latter. Retrospectively realizing he’s made the wrong choice, he wants to whisper to the memory of his boy self confronting his mom “that all we can call our own in this life are our actions to each other.” Heaven forbid that all fiction be this didactic, but I appreciate a piece like this once in a while: one that doesn’t leave you guessing as to the message of the author.
Although I think “What We Own” is the gem of the current work in this issue, the poems are pretty good, too. Although I had no favorite or one I think is the best, a handful of them contain very well-worded descriptions. For example, in Suzan Jantz’s “Working the Graveyard Shift with the Women at the Bakery,” she describes her job: “Awkward, my own foreign body freezes / As packages begin to collide / In front of me, rear-end each other / Like speeding cars stacking up / Blindly on the freeway in fog.” And in Laura Jew’s “When We Go,” a lover asks her love an important question: “Do you believe in the afterlife? / I ask, shrouded in cotton violet, / worn and cuddled comforters. / You rub your cheek / further into the pillow as you blink / slowly, look back at me.”
The new work is good, but this specific issue is most worth
the reading for the whole created by Watershed’s best
selections from the past thirty years.
Reviewed by Anne Wolfe
White Chimney – “The Creative Arts Journal” – hails from England. The slim, magazine-size, thirty-page journal packs a punch. The cover art, by Christophe Reme, harks back slightly to the psychedelic sixties’ art, with fantastic smoke emerging from a building, and skulls peering from a cloud; bare trees in the foreground, jagged hills in the background – an incongruous yet interesting rendering that mimics the variety in this journal. It contains two literary interviews, six drawings or photographs, seven poems, and six short stories – my personal high point. The art is first-rate – engaging and well-chosen. Margaret Murphy, a crime-fiction writer, and the poet Jacob Sam La Rose, are both interviewed capably by Caroline England and Chishimba Chisala.
The poetry ranges from haiku to free verse. Ken Head, in “Dave Ov Bolton,” writes, “I’ve known and walked these tracks for more
than half a lifetime, stood watching / hares, crazy at the first
sniff of spring, chasing one another round in circles.” He uses
language skillfully and evocatively. Rebecca Stonehill’s short
stories, “Night,” about the eerie world of a night receptionist,
and “For Iris, With Love,” narrated through a war veteran, are
chilling, sad, sympathetic, and hit their mark. “Dancing DNA,”
by Miriam Burke, detailing a bag lady’s revenge, is
entertaining. “One Hour From Home” by Christian Dabnor cuts to
the bone in three paragraphs while you ask, could that happen to
us? “Our Darling Jessica” by Chelsey Flood has an unusual and
effective twist – and Jessica is not a baby. For a very short
journal, White Chimney is worth taking the time.
Volume 81 Number 5
Reviewed by Deborah Diemont
World Literature Today, published by the University of Oklahoma-Norman, is international in scope, focusing on languages and cultures worldwide. It ambitiously considers the ways in which language and art are defined by culture, emphasizing that our own culture can only be enriched by exposure to others. In this way, it speaks against xenophobia, not through polemics but by its mere presence.
The magazine is broad in its consideration of language: this issue features a language spoken by only 300 people on the planet (Cornish); an island language that had only an oral tradition until its folktales were translated a by gifted Japanese girl (the Ainu language); it treats html like any other language in a piece about dance troupes that perform simultaneously in New York and California, responding to each other’s movements on a computer screen. And that’s not all. The “Outposts” department feature about a Nahuatl community festival in Guererro, Mexico would fit well in a travel magazine. A novella excerpt translated from Russian (The Pit: a Novella of Camp Life by V. Dolinin) is reminiscent of Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago.
I could complain that WLT lacks unity: so many languages, genres, directions. But that would be like complaining there are too many dishes at the banquet. This issue’s theme is: “Endangered Languages: Voices on the Brink of Extinction,” featuring poems and stories in obscure languages along with English translations. The reader is exposed to Khomani (South Africa), Maori (New Zealand) Basque (Spain) and Cornish (England) among others. It is a reminder of how complex and nuanced the world really is, with precursors and co-existers to what we think of as dominant languages.
There’s an interview with Alum Tan Lan, a young musician who only records in Welsh. What does Welsh music sound like? It makes me want to hear it. There are poems by the Arabic poet Sinan Antoon, unabashedly political and carried on a subtle wave of rhyme, as in “A Letter” addressed to “the dead Iraqis”: “Had you been trees / you would have made a beautiful forest / whose destruction would have been deemed a crime / against the planet. / Had you been words, you would have formed a precious book / or manuscript whose loss / would be mourned across the world / But you are none of these.”
As a publication, WLT is “none of these.” It seeks to
bring us words, rhythms, stories, and lives that need to be
salvaged. And we didn’t even know that they do.
Online Lit Mags
Volume 8 Number 1
Reviewed by Mary Winsor
A fascinating feature of this online magazine is that each issue is published “as it comes together,” right before your web-weary eyes. It is a double treat to witness the process as some of the finest poetry, fiction, and art available are assembled; however, that pleasure doubles a reviewer’s troubles. The “emerging” Fall issue waits while I offer a response to the summer issue.
This issue defies critical pretenses and devices. You don’t open this issue; it opens you, and the experience is a synthesis. Colors muffle or amplify sound; whispers make your eyes hurt; scents and flavors conjure visions; and a touch or a glance, even if it fails in its mission, is itself a phenomenon.
Poetry by ma Naryan, Erik Gleiberman, Aleah Sato, Melissa Frederick, Sean Ross, Carolyn Hudson and Kate Buckley divine the beauty, resistant or yielding, in the ordinary or ordinarily terrifying. The simple language and pitch-perfect child’s voice of Gale Acuff’s “If Thy Right Eye Offend Thee” belie the poem’s purity and power. Ross Wade’s poem “I Am Normal and Tall” is not at all short on raw honesty and possesses a beauty that seems to have never glimpsed itself in the mirror.
Otherness is dominant. Stuart Blakesberg’s “Anya” is sharp-eyed fiction about a young Russian woman who marries an American businessman and soon seeks comfort and identity in the “Little Odessa” of Brighton Beach. “Split Feelins,” an aptly titled story by Aaron Gilbreath, takes the reader on a discomfiting train ride with a man whose new iPod presents him an opportunity to confront his fears and isolation, and to consider those of a fellow passenger who wants only “a listen to that thing.” [Editor’s note: Gilbreath is a former reviewer for NewPages.] Pier Roberts’ article, “Learning Turkish (We Are Waiting for You)” is a downright elegant but unpretentious account of her attempts to navigate and interpret her adopted culture – a humbling and edifying experience, as much for honest readers of the piece as for its author.
Also to love, illustrations from artist Jesse Hawley, and the
next installment of Jan Garden Castro’s skillful and complex
“Notebooks of My Other Selves: Intimate Memoirs of Three Women.”
This issue questions, expands, and reveals good old, nagging
reality, even while a new dream whispers, “C’mon, we are waiting
for you.” And that’s reason enough to return to The
Reviewed by Mary Winsor
The Painted Bride Quarterly, published four times a year online and annually in print, has a long and proud history of giving voice to new and established talent. For over thirty years, PBQ has consistently sought and published writers whose very individual work seems to rush us to the edge of the known world, and then signal us to risk the leap; yet, as innovative and personal as these works are, they seem to belong, too, to the communities and cultures that gave rise to them. Perhaps more remarkable is that although PBQ is sponsored by great institutions and organizations (Drexel University is home), the magazine has retained its authenticity.
This issue is hefty. Over twenty exquisite poems seduce your ears first, and shame any pretenses that might be lurking in your body; they require something from you – a conversation between poet and reader, and not always an easy one. Among these were “The Mortician’s Bride Says I’m Yours” by poet and novelist Rigoberto Gonzalez whose work distills language to its most potent and intoxicating effect: “Sound is death because it’s / irretrievable and every time / you speak you die a little more.” Noel Sikorski’s poem “Fuck” has all the appeal and soothing cadence of “dirty word” acquisition in early childhood and then, well, yes, fuck it – mean old Context skulks in and wipes the smile off your face. (If after reading Sikorski’s poem you’re still smiling or, worse, disturbed by the literary employment of that word, check out the October 30th post on the NewPages blog). The voice of Liz Spikol’s powerful “Wedding March” is matter-of-fact and mournfully resigned but not self-pitying, and will call you to stand a long while under a cloudless sky, holding a fistful of rice and praying for rain.
Fiction by Stephen Schutzman (if you haven’t read him, get on
it) and Andrea Luttrell are stand-outs. These stories reflect
what seems to be PBQ’s aesthetic: solid writing that
isn’t there for its own sake; these are stories worth telling,
skillfully told. This issue also offers two prose pieces, each
worth noting. Lane Anderson’s essay “First Day Back” is
cheer-from-the-shore good, drawing from details and navigating
waters that might have drowned a weaker writer. Also, Mercer
Bufter shows you how it’s really done in a thorough and
insightful review of Juliet Patterson’s poetry collection, “The
Truant Lover.” Painted Bride Quarterly’s site is well
organized and archived, making it reader-writer friendly.
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