Literary Magazine Reviews
Posted February 23, 2008
Brick - Creative Nonfiction - Drash - Field - Freefall - Green Mountains Review - Knockout - The Laurel Review - Other Voices - Pembroke - Pindeldyboz - Rattle - Thereby Hangs a Tale - Tuesday; An Art Project
Reviewed by: Robert Duffer
When a literary journal opens by recognizing the greatness of Dostoevsky and The Brothers Karamazov, it aims not just to entertain but to endure. Issue 80 of Toronto-based Brick embraces the world of words with arms more expansive than most literary journals. The giants of Russian literature are further celebrated in two memoir/biographies: the acrimony of Chekov's wife and his beloved sister is recalled by Gregory Altschuller, the deceased (1983) son of Chekov's doctor; Viktor Nekrasov journeys through post-Bulgakov Kiev to the house of Bulgakov's youth and place of his characters.
The three interviews in Issue 80 are conducted by such astute writers that the interviews are insightful conversations more than stock Q & A's. Any writer reading Stephan Bureau's dynamic conversation with Mavis Gallant will be both inspired and daunted: "All the writers I've known who have to talk about [the question of talent] have had the same doubts. They constantly need reassurance."
Carmen Aguirre's coming-of-age memoir, "Something Fierce," deals with a different sort of rite of passage: eleven-year-old Aguirre unknowingly follows her mother into an underground revolutionary movement.
Two sets of contributors argue for record-breaking cricketer Muralitharan and, separately, the charm of silent movies. Epistles of love and faith are excerpted from the Graham Greene canon. Stunning poems by Sharon Olds and Don McKay address a lifetime in one moment. Ondaatje's conversation with Gil Adamson is bolstered by her fearsome-uncle story, "Fear Itself."
Brick is heavy. With the weight of its contributors
and content, Brick is more book than journal, something
too valuable to dispense with after one reading.
Reviewed by Jeanne M. Lesinski
Devoted to the theme “Silence Kills: Speaking Out and Saving Lives,” this issue proves editor Lee Gutkind’s premise that “less literary” topics also lend themselves to artful writing as well as the detailed reporting associated with journalism. I agree wholeheartedly. In these essays, the authors recount their often frustrating – sometimes edifying – experiences with the health care system using a variety of narrative styles and tones, but all of a very high caliber. The authors treat such varied topics as blindness, overmedication, kidney dialysis, hepatitis, a gastrointestinal disorder; and all of the authors slip in enough medical information so that non-specialists can easily understand. Yet the overarching topic is communication – or lack thereof – and the implications this process has on the quality of patient care.
In “The Good Doctor,” readers learn about how a patient’s wrong lung was biopsied, in “Foreign Bodies” how a grandfather-doctor relationship goes awry, in “Non Pro Nobis” how John Bess, who had risked himself to care for patients in the military, became disenchanted with civilian medicine. Winning the prize for best essay in this issue with “Missing,” Merilee D. Karr describes her experience of being sued (and exonerated) for medical malpractice as a result of the patient lying to her.
I was angered by the communication problem – indeed medical chauvinism – portrayed in Jill Drumm’s “In Praise of Osmosis,” when a doctor puts his pride before his patient’s well-being, so it is no surprise that I rooted for Tamara Dean when she decided to take a more active role in her treatment for asthma in “Saving My Breath.”
This is the third volume of CN devoted to medical
topics. An earlier volume, “Rage & Reconciliation,” was so
popular that Southern Methodist University Press republished it
in expanded form as a book, and the current volume will get the
same treatment. Readers who enjoy “Silence Kills” might also
like to check out the The Healing Muse, an annual journal
devoted exclusively to medicine-themed prose and poetry
published by SUNY Upstate Medical University's Center for
Bioethics & Humanities.
Reviewed by Anne Wolfe
The editors of Drash wanted their first issue to contain poetry, pictures and essays that “reflect joy, to find one’s way to it and to acknowledge its absence.” They succeeded. While the writing reflects all cultures, it heavily represents the Jewish culture in a very positive way, displaying the kindness, the depth and soul that made it continue for centuries with no homeland.
The overall theme running through the works is spiritual penetration: a combination of intensity and discovery. Whether dramatic, light-hearted, joyous, or penitent, this spiritual presence ripples throughout, such as in “Would You Know My Name, if You Saw Me in Hebron?” It’s a touching, uplifting piece by Alex. A. G. Taub depicting a Romeo-and-Juliet tale of a Jewish girl attracted to a Palestinian boy, who runs off to the army to escape an arranged marriage. While love triumphs in this story, the real love that triumphs is the heart of Judaism, and this tale is very much a parable.
An illuminating excerpt from the autobiography Losing the Way: Confessions of a Reluctant Mystic by Mary Potter Engel titled “Which Joseph? Giving Thanks for Everything” gives readers the chance to explore the mind and heart of a struggling religious scholar. Engel was a Christian-turned-Jew, and is dealing with bitterness of family rejection. She examines her own motives and the scripture, and writes, “Living with an abusive, violent family for over half a century has shown me that family is a school of the spirit.”
There are slyly humorous stories like “Triage” by Wendy
Marcus, and a revealing interview with David Guterson, who took
ten years to write Snow Falling on Cedars. Wendy Marcus,
Drash’s editor, explains that the title, Drash, is
about studying scripture using stories, and these stories and
poems are all bound to inspire.
Reviewed by Jeanne M. Lesinski
If as I do, you like to not only read poetry but read about poetry (appreciations, explications, close textual analyses), then you’ll certainly want to delve into the 80-page symposium on Adrienne Rich that begins this volume and the two new poems by Rich that conclude it. In addition to those of Rich, this issue of Field largely favors works by established poets, including Carl Phillips, Marilyn Hacker, David Hernandez, Pattiann Rogers, and David Wojahn. Yet a few emerging poets, such as Megan Synder-Camp and Amit Majmudar, the later a writer of ghazals, have also been given a welcome voice, and translations of poems by Li Qingzhao, Uwe Kolbe, and Amina Saïd give the issue an international flavor as well.
There is plenty of verse in this collection that tries to stretch my imagination beyond my ability to analogize, imagine, or “hear,” and so looses me. Conversely, Paula Bohince’s “Toward Happiness” strikes a balance between the reward accrued and the effort required to understand the poem – allowing for immediate pleasure that deepens upon rereading. So too, J.W. Marshall’s “Not Let Across the Hood Canal,” which depicts a surfaced Trident submarine causing a traffic jam, made me grimace in appreciation from the first line: “Like public funded art / it is a threat.”
While I found Jean Gallagher’s “Year in Eleusis” interesting,
it made me wonder about poets who must append notes to their
poems to make them understandable to today’s readers. If a poem
cannot speak for itself, should it be a poem? Maybe the topic is
better suited to the essay form? At the same time, I understand
the sympathetic but non-specialist reader’s viewpoint on
esoteric poetry: without a roadmap we get lost. In that case,
I’ll take the MapQuest because I don’t want to risk taking a
wrong turn and missing out on what might be a great poem.
Volume XVII Number 2
Winter/ Spring 2007-8
Reviewed by Rachel King
Freefall: Canada’s Magazine of Exquisite Writing features selections from both Canadian and American authors, although the vast majority is Canadian. This journal is the first Canadian journal I’ve read, and I found the poems and stories clear, concise, and engaging.
In Micheline Maylor’s opening “Letter from the Editor,” she encourages the reader to “find a new perspective” in these pieces. While trying to sympathize with some of these characters, I did find a new perspective. In Robert Fantina’s “Forsaking All Others,” a kind wife performs a calculated murder on her next door neighbor and husband’s mistress. The narrator in Lori Ann Bloomfield’s “Starring Wanda Plimpton” still obsesses over a childhood friendship twenty years after the fact. And a man in Salvatore Difalco’s “Sunflowers” plants hundreds of sunflowers around his house to cope after his wife leaves him. I probably wouldn’t sympathize with any of these characters if I briefly encountered them in life, but the authors’ portrayals make their motivations clear and their actions explainable. All these stories are short and written in tight, fluid prose.
A couple poems also stood out in this issue. Tom Sheehan contemplates the places apples go after harvest: “They have all gone now…/…gone to day school / on yellow buses with brown baggers, or bruised / to a freckled taupe and ploughed under for ransom / and ritual.” I also enjoy when poets reflect on other arts, like when Louisa Howerow compares Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss to Constantin Brancusi’s The Kiss, concluding that the latter has, unlike the former, “Nothing remotely coy. No artifice. / In spite of stone’s inherent fault lines, / face meets face, and body presses body / in open, comforting embrace.”
The issue concludes with two interviews and two book reviews. Trevor Cole’s discussion of AuthorsAloud.com is worth reading. His site, which includes poets reading their own work, seems like the Canadian counterpart to websites like Poets.org.
Although many great U.S. emerging writers exist these days,
“Americans” are sometimes too preoccupied with themselves.
Freefall gives a needed dose of the good writing and
emerging writers from our neighboring country to the North.
Volume 20 Numbers 1 & 2
Reviewed by Anne Wolfe
“American Apocalypse” – the theme of the twentieth anniversary double issue of Green Mountains Review. The editor discusses the differences between “dread” and “apocalypse”: “‘dread’ implies profound fear, even terror of some impending event” while “apocalyptic thinkers are more actively engaged…and sometimes actively embracing the apocalyptic event." The editor wants to add “imaginative perspective” to reflecting on the end of the world.
More than one hundred pages deal ingeniously with various sorts of apocalypses. Kevin Allardice in "Go Like This,” depicts a young boy, who was bullied, now terrorizing a younger boy he was asked to befriend in the aftermath of a disaster, challenging the reader to find humanity somewhere. A couple is the first to survive a revival of the Black Death, only to be threatened with death by scientific experimentation in “The New Plague” by Elizabeth Rollins. She puts in a clever, comic twist. Frightening adolescents having the temper-tantrum-of-all-time, threaten the safety of an entire region in “Pucker Pie,” a sinister, realistic nightmare that could have been written by a discouraged substitute teacher.
The poetry is first-rate and equally serious. Shattering is one word for Jim Daniel’s “Thirst, 1989” about a man traveling with a cousin in a war zone. “Between cabins, women stepped over us / into the stall, clutching crumbling purple bills. / It was Yugoslavia then. // Many of those soldiers / dead now.” Likewise, this poem will clutch the reader. Lola Haskins explores the cruelty of human nature in “The Gopher Tortoise,” bluntly and cryptically: “There is no room in our country for anything slow / No room for anything that digs its hole / and refuses to move.” With tenderness and a hint of sternness in her poem “Now,” MaryLee McNeal puts voice to impending death: “All this time they’ve been circling the world, / whatever led you to think they’d not land / where you live?”
By focusing this issue on the end of things, the editors have
brilliantly allowed the readers to revel in original,
combustible works that glow in the dark and burn an impression
on your weathered mind.
Volume 1 Number 1
Reviewed by Kenneth Nichols
This handsome inaugural issue of Knockout Literary Magazine starts with a poem by Marvin Bell that could serve as a mission statement. “Knockout Poem” is a lament for the state of contemporary poetry: “I was like them. Even before the appetite for self-promotion / and glamour overtook our literature, back when books were books.” It is also a call to arms: “Poetry should have punch.” (A knockout, one assumes.)
Christopher Hennessy presents three poems, including “Thief,” a vivid imagining of the thoughts of an Incan girl before she is frozen to a mountaintop, later to be discovered in 1995. Added to the girl’s narrative is an interesting meditation on the meaning we assign to inanimate objects.
Four translations from the seventh- to eighth-century Chinese poets offer a familiar reminder that people don’t change. There is something comforting in the thought that reunited lovers have always felt the resigned acceptance of their feelings. Ouyang Jiong’s poem, translated by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping, depicts two people who have decided not to “talk of tears.” The scene is set: “As fragrance of musk and orchids swells, I hear you panting, / and glimpse your skin through sheer silk. / For a moment, at least, you won’t call me heartless man.”
Dan Pinkerton’s “The Pit” mines a big metaphor, depicting a town that digs a huge pit to serve as a tourist attraction. “Lead-lined and laddered, the pit became / orphanage for unwanted things,” allowing Pinkerton to demonstrate that vanity provides humans with the opportunity to act in an ugly manner.
A balanced mix of the realistic and the abstract, Knockout’s
poems and presentation seem poised to combat work that Bell
dismisses as “This deadly politeness, this glamour-puss poetry.”
Reviewed by Rachel King
This issue of The Laurel Review contains mainly poetry but also has a few selections of fiction, essays, and book reviews.
I’ve been reading more prose poetry recently, and this issue has a few I really enjoyed. Jesse Lee Kercheval’s poem “4:15” follows a mother’s thoughts about her son’s doctor’s appointment and her daughter’s safety walking home from school. Each stanza is broken up in five-minute increments – from 3:45 to 4:20: “4:15-…the doctor shines a light / into the delicate pink that is Max. Checks the tubes, thin as wire, that drain / his inner ear, keep fluid from drowning the world and all its sound.” Albert Goldbarth’s poetry uses a two-day academic trip to Missoula – a town he hasn’t visited for many years – and Sir Conan Doyle’s book, Sir Nigel, to reflect about the differences between both the remote and the immediate past and the ever-changing present.
All three of the fiction selections (by two authors) contain compelling characters, and all three seem unresolved in their ending. In Catherine Kriege‘s “Miracle,” sixth-grade Amy feels slighted by a former friend until that friend signs Amy’s autograph book. In Charles Heiner’s “Miss Kristinsen,” an eighth grader, Jennings, loves to draw his art teacher, though neither he nor the reader finds out how she received a scar on her face. And in Daniel T. Smith’s “The Mission,” Father Jaime assigns Berno, a worker at the Mexican mission, to help a girl who had a tryst in the neighboring field the night before. However, Berno never figures out if Father Jaime accepts her, faults and all.
Although I’m usually not a big fan of unresolved plots, in these particular stories I thought the ending the characters looked for was an ending not necessarily needed. For example, although Jennings wants to know the origin of his teacher’s scar, he receives what he truly needs: an insightful art instructor. And while the reader doesn’t see whether or not Father Jaime accepts Berno, he does see that Berno’s done what was needed: she helped out a girl who was in a similar predicament as her.
I’ve only touched the surface of The Laurel Reader.
Both these stories and the diverse poems deserve a further
examination by every reader.
Volume 21 Number 47
Reviewed by Anne Wolfe
My most vivid memory of Chicago is talking to an old, toothless bag lady near a bus station toting her shopping cart, about 1980. She looked at me with great conviction, and said, “The lord is coming!” She seemed intelligent, most striking, and was definitely listening to a different drummer, predicting the end of all things. Other Voices has come to its end, and is equally striking, colorful, even mesmerizing. The last issue is a special “all-Chicago issue,” consisting of twenty-two short stories by both established and new Chicago writers, plus two interviews and a splash of reviews.
The interviews with Audrey Niffenegger (by Megan Stielstra) and Aleksandar Hemon (by Barry Pearce) give good insight into the process of creation the authors go through in birthing their work. Niffenegger describes her research, fact checking, and how she finds inspiration for her stories. Hemon discusses his sensibilities, opinions of other authors, and his feel for other cultures and languages.
The short stories in Other Voices tend toward the ambitious, many dealing with the idiosyncrasies of life, love, and the craziness of trying to find it, and living life lustily. We’ve all heard the cliché, “there’s someone for everyone,” most often used in reference to someone “odd.” Jonathan Messinger put a man in “Hiding Out” whose life seems to be a little too story-book smooth for a man who e-mails himself constantly at his job, and begins getting strange e-mails from himself he doesn’t remember sending, concerning a woman. A thoughtful, yet hilariously twisted tale. Then there’s “In the Days of Allende,” by Eugene Wildman. A man has a fierce romance with a very independent photographer who confesses a dark secret. What comes of it is a very old tale, yet fresh and unique. “Incredible” is the title and the best description of the story by Megan Strielstra. A woman is rejected by many lovers, but not by the “Incredible Hulk” underneath her bed – is she nuts?
Touching, funny, winning, and satisfying. These are
finely-crafted short stories of substance, down-to-earth Chicago
cuisine, at its finest.
Reviewed by Anne Wolfe
A sparkling array of African American writers is featured in this issue of Pembroke Magazine. The editors chose to feature the Caroline African American Writers Collective (CAAWC), plus more African American prose and poetry.
The grand centerpiece is a forty-page collection of previously unpublished poems by premier author-poet Charles Edward Eaton, whose work has been praised by Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. “Closing Time,” the collection printed here, is an incisive, searching, varied set of poems. It looks back upon his life, and forward to his impending death. Looking back movingly in “Love in a Warm Climate,” he rues, “No man Friday, and he was certainly no Crusoe: / He could not rub a fire, fish or hunt – No gun, no animals: / He had lived his life on populated lands, and let the tides come and go.” Later he reflects, with humility, “But I have felt the rain upon my face, / And will not mind the solitary place / If I have told, like Dickinson, the truth but told it slant.” These poems reveal more about him than dozens of interviews. Following “Closing Time” are several essays in tribute written by some whose lives he touched as a writer and friend. Critiquing his work, Shelby Stephenson writes, “he salves disparate matter into whole fabrics of motions.”
Also, there’s much other poetry, prose, and several savvy author interviews. There’s well-crafted poems like Valjeanne Jeffers-Thompson’s, who indelibly penned in “Down Home Ecstasy,” “Listen to the Blues / Visualize / Charcoal black, sweet, sweat sinews / Broad, powerful.” DeLana Dameron, in “Chalice, describes delicately a damsel in distress: “Catch me, I’ve fallen into the crease / Of the chipped cup that was never whole – / Gather me when I am pieces.” After viewing that, and taking in “Bop: To conjure one home” – about a grandmother’s final days, you feel like you have met her and been a guest in her house.
The short fiction in this issue also shines. Read it all when
you want to get involved.
Reviewed by Stephanie Griffore
An all-poetry issue. No short fiction, excerpts, or memoirs to help shake off the feeling of confusion or understanding that follows a two-page long poem. That is why this magazine should be taken in doses, not inhaled nonstop from beginning to end. The formats are adventurous, and the language is crisp and new. The topics range from playful to thought provoking, yet it all seems to melt together perfectly.
A poem by Denver Butson titled “from the invention of your sleeping body (a book of hypotheticals)” toys with made up places in which the narrator wishes to move and live a carefree imaginary life. A piece by Eric Torgersen titled “He Looks Back Over His Life and Thinks of What Might Have Been” takes a comical approach, taking the stand point of a man’s thought process of who he’d like to be his killer, if he were to have one. The narrator mentions how he feels that Lennon and Kennedy deserved better. He ends with the conclusion, “So that’s it, for me – it’s Joni in the bedroom with the knife. That’s my real life story.” (Joni, referring to Joni Mitchell.)
Some other recommendations would be “Diese Luete” by Tim Lantz about a murder, and the first poem of the book titled “Poem” by Micheal Leong, which gives lists of instructions on what to do before reading the poem while reading the poem, if that makes any sense!
This magazine is not something you can decide to just sit and
read from cover to cover. I suggest picking an author and
reading their pieces, then taking a day or two to let the poems
burrow a bit. The reason is in the name: Pin’deldyboz –
“A feeling of confusion and/or anxiety, when ingeniously
anesthetized by obese amounts of levity.”
Volume 13 Number 2
Reviewed by Anne Wolfe
This edition of Rattle includes a tribute to nurses that makes this issue worthwhile on its own. The nursing section has personal essays from poet-nurses, such as Courtney Davis, T.S. Davis, Anne Webster and Christine Wideman, describing how they became both writers and nurses, which role was dominate at what point in their lives, and how nursing feeds into their writing. They talk of the sensuousness of nursing, the essential selflessness and empathy nurses experience, and how that “otherness” affects their poetry. Courtney Davis wrote movingly about her favorite patient: “A few weeks after my patient died, not knowing what else to do, I dug out my old poetry notebook…” “Writing about her death, I felt a sudden, inexplicable joy…” “I had also, in the writing, let her go.”
In a touching poem subtitled “for Dan,” Geri Rosenzweig writes, “When at last / you find the street of the cellist, / may the dread / that accompanied you / fall by the way.” Only nurses close to life and death can write about it as in these selections, close to the pulse, with grace, and strength.
The first one hundred-odd pages include choice poetry, some of it dead-on hilarious, like Nathaniel Whittemore’s honorable mention-winning “You Never Know When You’re Gonna Live…” It begins, “Sarah was a chronic masturbater;” and becomes more inventive – and 99.9 percent G-rated – from there.
So many poems left me satisfied, feeling like these editors
really know how to choose. Tom Holmes wrote with clever irony,
“My Mouth (An Apology)”: “I left my mouth / hanging on the wall
/ With the front door / shut and locked.” “ Persephene
Remembers: The Bed” by Alison Townsend will haunt you, and
“Still Life” by Jessica Daigle Vidrine has universal
implications for anyone who has left someone behind; there are
too many other striking poets to mention. If a poetry lover
doesn’t find this journal measuring up, nothing will.
Issue 2: Birth
Reviewed by: Robert Duffer
The debut of a journal brings tentative excitement to the entrenched literary scene. Can a newbie survive a crowded marketplace funded largely by ego? What distinctive editorial vision will buoy the perils of distribution, promotion, and un(der)appreciation? Some sink, some sail, but the masthead of the second issue of Thereby Hangs a Tale includes the crew’s superpowers, which can only help. Based out of Portland, Oregon, the slender, black-and-white journal runs regular sections, like Tales Told (nonfiction), Tall Tales (fiction), Rants, a closing We ♥ Libraries, and a journal-entry-like sprinkling of revelations. The editors call it an art project; the content, like the contributors who range from novelists to retirees, is free of literary pretensions and silly snobbery.
Several pieces, most of which were well under the 2,000-word limit, had literal interpretations of birth, the theme of this issue. Miscarriages (one Tall, one Told), unwelcome disclosures, harrowing deliveries all get due attention. The memorable stories, however, were less conventional. “To scare them off, I pulled out a spray bottle of Fantastik and shot at the nest. Both birds went ballistic,” Jill Dearman illustrates her comic plight in “Pigeon Anguish.” Parents get rid of a wayward son to protect their growing daughter in Paul A. Toth’s “In Our Own Company.” In K. Bannerman’s “The Hired Man,” the title narrator takes a high-paying summer job that includes wearing a burlap bag over his head.
The magazine-sized layout is balanced and easily read, and
the editors compile a varied pool of contributors. The overall
sense of the journal is that it is sharing something intimate
yet universal with its reader, which should keep it navigating
for years to come.
Tuesday; An Art Project
Poems Photographs Prints
Volume 1 Issue 2
Reviewed by Anne Wolfe
Tuesday; An Art Project may technically be a literary journal; however, ‘art project’ describes it so much better. It arrives as a series of postcard-like cards, printed on one or both sides, with poems, photographs or prints, well wrapped in sturdy, folded, thick, almost cardboard-like paper. The title and subtitle are neatly printed on one side of the wrapper, the names of the authors and artists on the other, plus the subscription price. It unfolds to display a table of contents inside, plus a list of editors, advisory board, detailed background description of the artists and authors, a featured poem, and, the cards themselves. There are eighteen sturdy, pure-white, five-by-seven-inch cards; fourteen contain poems, four display photographs.
The poetry is basic, and good. One gem, “For Mr. Grimes Who Tried to Teach Me Physics After My Father Died” by John Hodgen, gracefully draws parallels between physics’ and life’s lessons: “He spoke of gravity, of the earth that draws us to itself.” Noelle Kocot’s “The Peace That So Lovingly Descends” tugs effectively at my heart with, “I sleep without you, / And the letters that you sent / Are now faded into failed lessons.” She evocatively puts loss into physical perspective. My favorite is “Symbiosis” by Don Share: “The maimed coyote in the wetland / beyond our sunken fence / croaks all night alone.”
There may have been any number of reasons for putting art in
this form rather than a traditional journal format – you can
mail the cards as gifts, put them up on the refrigerator or
wall, frame them, put them in a mobile or collage, or keep it as
is, like a packet of treasures. Any way, it is unique, worth
taking a look.
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