Literary Magazine Reviews
Posted June 17, 2008
2River View - Blood Orange Review - BluePrintReview - Cadillac Cicatrix - Center - Court Green - Dark Horse - Harvard Review - Hotel Amerika - Hot Metal Bridge - Hudson Review - Knock - Sport Literate - The Sun - Witness
Volume 12 Number 3
Review by Micah Zevin
Colorful, penetrating art, theory and a treasure trove of poems is what comprises a major portion of this issue. Before reading these poems (about politics, a chicken, even the floors of a nasty bathroom stall off the New Jersey Turnpike), we are introduced to the artwork of Jackie Skrzynski: startlingly stark paintings of children in various states of action and repose with titles like “Cold Comfort” and “Boy Napping with Bears.” These pieces are a great first course of what is to come when we are presented with audio of the authors reading their poems on the pages ahead.
In Mark Edmund Doten’s “Bush at War: The Sea,” the reader is presented with a fantastical almost fictional and romantic depiction of a Bush war as if it were somehow equivalent to World War II or a poster of an idealistic war fought in the 1950s:
We listened for news. There would be little news, even in success the battles kept secret. We watched on TV as maps of the world changed colors. We wondered what it meant. Our fathers worked in the factory, everyone was doing their part. We played cowboys and Indians under the sycamore trees, we swam in the river, we posted stickers and opened cans of stew.
In Richard Garcia’s “Your Chicken,” the idea of writing a poem about the convenience of having a chicken as a pet and then eating that chicken becomes a feast of profound absurdity:
When it is time to eat your chicken
do not give in to the hand-held blender of regret.
The hand-held blender of regret
will only confuse you with its poisonous blur.
“Gas Station Men’s Room—RTE 17, Paramus, NJ” by S. Thomas Summers invites us into the sullied world of a men’s room and all the sordid paraphernalia one finds strewn across its disgusting floors: “The hieroglyphics of pornography festoon / the room. Drizzles of blood scale the garbage can.”
And you too can continue to drown in the wonderful, realistic
and humorous worlds created in the vivid poems you will
encounter in 2River View.
Volume 3 Number 1
Review by Micah Zevin
Blood Orange Review is a poetry, fiction, essay and art journal with a dark skin and a smooth philosophical center. Enter the orange confines of their most current issue and be exposed to crimson narratives imparting stories of characters and places told with their fascinating and sometimes tragic details (whether the narrative centers on class, a jellyfish or the struggles inherent in the immigrant experience).
In the essay “Mouse Killer” by Bryan Fry, we encounter issues of class, identity and a narrator reflecting on his childhood living in rural Montana, where attending school was a seemingly coarser experience:
Perhaps somewhere in America, in better neighborhoods where students learned to speak well and minded their Ps and Qs, substitutes glided through class like cruise ships sailing over the tranquil waters of the Caribbean: May I please sharpen my pencil . . . Thank you so kindly, Mrs. Smith . . . And I apologize for the disruption . . .
The poem “Jellyfish,” by Sarah J. Sloat, is an exploration of the mysteries of the depths of the ocean that most human beings will never witness:
There are rooms underwater
we can’t imagine, pellucid rooms
we’ll never penetrate, gelid
chambers, fastened by lashes
to the tide. Dark sharpens
their sparkle, a trance of staircases
and chandeliers that traipse
and sway as those on ships
drawn far from shore.
Wade out and they come to you.
In “Shorn,” a story by Semia Harbawi, the hardships and heightened complexities of the immigrant life come to the forefront when the main character is forced to turn his brother over to the authorities.
The judge’s voice was stern and low-keyed: “This court sentences the accused Omar Laârbi Samet to eight months of imprisonment for the physical and moral injuries he inflicted on the plaintiff Sana Samet.” My eyes locked with my brother’s in a staring contest. I refused to flinch and look away. No one had thought I could have had the guts to go to the police and lodge a complaint against my own brother. But I did.
This story will make you jump nervously and take notice, not just because of its controversial subject matter, but because the writing is precise and powerful.
The Blood Orange Review will leave a slightly acidic
dark taste in the mouth, but once this wears off, it will smooth
out and the energy that comes with the rush of vitamin C will
take over. Reading each poem, essay or short story will be
like witnessing a crimson sunset for the very first time.
Review by Micah Zevin
A serene and bright swathe of red and yellow sunset greets you before you even read a word of Blue Print Review, a journal that incorporates an image, be it a painting, photograph or sketch, with something like a poem, short story or prose piece – although it never explicitly labels any of them as anything but “words.” Even the all-encompassing theme of being “Lost, Found and Stolen” is open to interpretation, much like a painting or photograph.
In J.M. Patrick’s “Learning to Swim in an Estuary,” appropriately paired with Steve Wings's photo, one lover tries to convince the other who is afraid to get in the water:
Come on, he tells you, just one step. He takes your hand. There are two fishermen perched on beach chairs. You can't see their lines in the dark. Thirty yards down there is a seagull screaming. You are sure she is trying to warn you of something. You tell him this and he opens his mouth to laugh. You picture the ocean filling him like a wine glass. This is what you're afraid of. Being swallowed. Like his footprints. Like Jonah.
The ocean and the wine glass reel you into the core of this poetic work, and leave their footprints everywhere.
In “The Capital of Garbo,” a grandson goes to live with his hated grandmother, to take care of her. In the process, developing a bit of sympathy for her plight during one of her rare human moments (centered on the death of her husband): “‘God damn them,' she said, 'I told them Burt Janikowski doesn't live here anymore. I called them up. I told them to cancel these subscriptions.' She looked to me. 'You want some magazines? You want to read? Here.’”
This work asks the reader what has been lost, what has been stolen from us – whether it is what we can see or what we can read.
These two profoundly different pieces only scratch the
surface of what Blue Print Review has to offer. This is
an online journal constructed to ease the complex and beautiful
convergence of language and art and all the possibilities this
entails as readers explore its words and images.
Review by Micah Zevin
Created as a result of the one-time issue of the same name by the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, Cadillac Cicatrix offers a diverse range of poetry, nonfiction, prose, art, criticism and video. Leaving so much literary food on the readers’ plates, they will be forced to ingest its offerings one course at a time.
In the nonfiction story “Pieces of Prison” by Frederic Berthoff, we learn about the origins and adolescence of its central figure before he ended up behind bars. The main character reflects on the innocent surroundings that produced him in an America of idealistic dreams where he prayed with his family, behaved like ‘normal’ children do, and was told that the police were his friends and should be trusted. He takes us into a deceptively ‘typical’ backdrop that greets many at their inception into this world, especially the stereotypical world of the 1950s:
I was born at the crest of the Baby Boom, in January 1955. Not in a log cabin but in a brick hospital, and delivered through a haze of ether as was the custom at the time. We went to school across the street from there, in another solid brick and granite edifice, surrounded by old copper beech trees, a playground – swings and slides all painted a dark comforting green.
In the poem “khmatova #10” by Alan Elyshevitz, a kind of homage to the great Russian poet, the basic narrative structure of the poem is centered around the mysteries inherent in the notion of love and the lover, whether the lover is a muse or the poet Akhmatova herself:
Three blocks from your apartment –
equivalent, phantasm – your lover sees
his image in the passenger window with a real
flower bed across the street cushioning his head.
But a magnificent tulip is, to him, a mere death wish.
In the journal’s expansive art section, which includes photography, paintings and video, artist Chi Birmingham showcases drawings and paintings in a prominent single color, such as “Apartment with Lamp,” “Rose Garage,” and “Studio Apartment,” taking viewers to new and imaginative worlds otherwise unknown.
Cadillac Cicatrix will return you to the aesthetic and
linguistic worlds of the Beat Generation (especially the
California segment) and the past they represented without
entirely removing you from modern hopes and hardships of the
present day. This journal revels in the convergence of all
literary genres, and that is why you will be so intrigued that
you will continue to read and absorb its contents.
Review by Anne Wolfe
Center is 200 plus pages of what you would expect from a quality literary journal – poems, short stories, autobiographical essays, and an interview. It also contains the not-so-usual, “Symposium on the Line: Theory and Practice in Contemporary Poetry.” Lines, even more, line breaks, are discussed imaginatively by distinguished poets.
The poetry, as typical of Center, is first-rate. Example – an aching seven stanza verse in "Flight" by Anna Ross: “Too late we find her: / a pinned heart already slowing / through the monitor’s static, each beat / slipping a further cog.” Ross writes lovingly about nature, the fields, valleys, and mountains, and evocatively about regrets collected with the passage of time. A short story, April Ayers Lawson’s “Beautiful Feet,” runs us through a rite of youth, a la adventure and romance, innocence and naughtiness, with a wonderfully original sense of humor, and a bit of wistfulness.
The centerpiece is the symposium. Far from being an intellectual discussion, it is full of passionate revelations of the poets’ feelings about line breaks in modern poetry. All agree upon their utmost importance; Cynthia Hogue states: “The line as used in contemporary American poetry is a joint as well as a building block, tensile and flexible, active and effective, distilling great feeling into a form of endless variance.” Noah Eli Gordon relates: “For me, the line rises from just such a balance between diligent exactitude and explosive, ebullient destruction.” Christina Davis puts it simply, “As the sunset of one line begins / the sunrise of another.” The discussions are anything but dull. They are literary, poetic, insightful, and dynamic; they give a view into the mental processes of a poet.
All this wrapped up in a paper-back-sized volume with a lime
green and grey cover that includes an etching of a withered leaf
that looks like a fairy might be hiding underneath. That’s
Review by Anne Wolfe
Court Green is a natty-looking 220 plus page paperback-sized journal with a pink plaid cover and a world of poetry inside. The first section contains absolute jewels, nothing off-the-wall or experimental, just good poems, a variety to pique every interest. For example, the whimsical “Sexy” by Jack Anderson: “The train stops and people leave – how sexy. / New people step in; they’re sexy, too. / That’s how it goes as stations pass: sexy.” It’s fun and sassy and everything summer should be, subway or no. In contrast to “Sexy,” Kevin Carollo’s “Do I Have a Doctor’s Note?” decries school violence by having a youth pose questions: “I didn’t make it / to the audition? / Because I still / had to learn / how to kiss fire?” He hooks the reader effectively with the tragedy and the greater question “Why?”
“Dossier: Sylvia Plath” contains nearly 100 pages and 63 poems by 49 poets, including Sylvia Plath’s “Mirror.” That masterpiece is inserted between “Arrow” by Lee Ann Brown and “Mirror, Mirror,” by Laura Mullen. While “Mirror” is written from the point of view of the mirror, “Mirror, Mirror,” is addressed to the mirror, pathetically, with the emptiness of one searching for validation that cannot be found looking at a physical reflection, most effectively: “Any answer you give me, / Any answer is only another / Question. The thin return / (Like a dime from a phone unanswered.)” Brown's “Arrow” is a clear play on the title “Ariel.” In this poem, Brown, while describing herself as a poetic offspring of Plath, joyously states she inherited “the part of her / that needed to live a happy life.”
The poetry inspired by Plath is much more varied, some
avant-garde, a very gourmet experience. Sylvia must be pleased
that her poems inspired such bursts of creativity and that she
has been god-mother to so many diverse, devoted followers who
carry the torch by working hard at the craft.
Review by Anne Wolfe
Dark Horse: the Scottish-American Poetry Magazine is simple enough to look at: a plain white cover with a mirrored horse icon in the lower right corner, and content items listed plainly. However, it does pack a punch into its ninety-five pages. There is poetry, but it mostly focuses on four poets.
The poems are terrific, like the brilliant poem by the late Sarah Hannah: “Common Creeping Thyme (Serpillum a serpendo)”: “If only it were just a lousy herb / that issued feeble tendrils slowly now and then / Relinquishing some tiny blooms, its basest // Essence known to all (good on chicken)” Also good is Hannah’s feverishly sober poem for her late mother: “Five Years Passed Exactly, but Who’s Counting?” She’s elegant yet accessible. Three poems by Jack Gilbert shine herein: “Piecing of the Life,” “Living Hungry After,” and “The Secret.” His words have music; he expresses mostly men’s sentiments plainly enough for all to understand. Then, a rollicking poem by Andrew Hudgins, “Why I love Ruby,” joyously celebrates womankind: “When Mom dated lawyers / they showed me their briefs, / and the preacher she dated / held secret beliefs.”
Jack Gilbert, Sarah Hannah, Norman MacCaig, and Robert Garioch are all poet-subjects of major articles, with thoughtful critiques, interesting biographical details and notes about their development. Gilbert is described as devoted to poetry and the love of his life. Sarah Hannah, a serious scholar as well as poet, took her own life in 2007, but should be remembered for her poetry, not her suicide, Eva Salzman relates. Norman MacCaig was “an institution in Scotland,” and “one of the most sought-after readers” and is given a multi-faceted portrait. The beauty of Robert Garioch’s Gaelich poetry is laid out by Sean Haldane, with keen discussion.
At under ten dollars an issue for a subscription, this
magazine is a steal.
Review by Denise Hill
Harvard Review is not a first pick among reviewers, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps the name scares some away – too high falutin’? However, in reading this issue, I felt not the least bit shut out of the content, and if anything, found much to access and some enjoyable challenges.
The strength of variety rests with the poetry. Denise Duhamel’s “Baby Onion” was a hit for me with its strong imagery, characters and story quality, whereas in Major Jackson’s works, the individual nature of some lines struck me in their moments, like, “Considering my country’s longing for homogenized milk / & bags of tube socks from Walmart, / Which felt cancerous.” Ilya Kaminsky’s multi-layer story told in the poem “Deaf Republic” left me with one of those ethereally haunting feelings (still lingering). Its exploration of deafness is literal and figurative, metaphorical and concrete, and told all through relationships between those who speak and hear, and those who do not (cannot or choose not). It is indeed a “fairytale” of poetically epic proportions.
Of the prose, which normally gains my greater attraction, there was less to interest me. The short story “Rodolfo and Nelida” by Jason Lewis led the issue, and was indeed a hard act to follow. Lewis’s surrealistic style intertwined with solid imagery, sturdy characters, and situational realism was delightful. Perhaps influenced by the Mexican origin of his characters, his work reminded me of Luis Urrea’s early stories. The essay that followed, “Star-Crossed Something-or-Others” by Eric Lemay, is an exploration of teaching/analyzing Romeo and Juliet with students who couldn’t care less, until provided with the ways and means to connect. Lemay’s commentary on the how he relates the story to a younger generation of readers makes me want to teach it! I would even have students read his essay (“Romeus runs a beauty contest.” will certainly hit the mark). Whether intentional or not, the essay seemed a centerpiece for other works in this collection – the idea of individuals whose relationships and experiences with emotions guide them to understand themselves, one another, and the custom of expression of their time.
Other prose of note includes Michael Knight’s essay “Swimming
the Backstroke or Writing What We Don’t Know,” a must-read for
all writers, and stories by Anna Solomon and Paul Harding. The
strength in the fiction was the clear sense of story, the
connection of past with present, and in some cases, deep
reflection. Other prose works lacked, for my taste, a sense of
poignancy, and utilized endings which seemed trite. Good
writing, but so what? was my response. Not much to stick
with me afterward. The essays and poetry would bring me back to
this journal, though, and as is so often the case, each issue is
a new adventure. I expect this is true of the Harvard Review,
and will not be the least bit hesitant to find out in the
Volume 6 Number 1
Review by Dan Moreau
What struck me first about Hotel Amerika was its gorgeous design and layout. Its pages are taller and wider than most journals – it looks and feels like a trade magazine. Prose is printed in two wide columns of text, while poetry roams freely across the page.
Lovers of poetry, both prose and more formal verse, as well as aficionados of the first-person essay, will find a lot to sink their teeth into here. Of its 119 pages, nearly all of them are devoted to either poetry or essays. The space allotted to fiction is considerably slimmer, coming in at some nine pages. Kelly Cherry’s experimental “Beginning as Other,” in which the narrator imagines her life as different beings, reads as much as poetry as prose. Jason Skipper’s more traditional, but no less powerful, “Girlfriend in Lights,” portrays an adolescent narrator who becomes fascinated with a young woman who moves in with his family to escape an abusive boyfriend.
Anyone who’s lived poor in a big city will identify with Sonya Huber’s essay, “Anointing of the sick.” In it, she relates her trying post-college life in Boston where she cleaned her therapist’s office in exchange for discounted sessions.
The large-page format of Hotel Amerika lends itself particularly well to photography. Joanna Frueh and C. Jill O’Bryan’s “Intimate: a photographic series” combines 1950s Hollywood glam with brooding film noir undertones.
Poetry ranges from the free-wheeling and experimental to more narrative poems, like Mark Irwin’s “Lucky Boy,” which describes the speaker’s first day of work selling newspapers. But after selling his first paper, the speaker throws away his bundle and trades in his money for some rare Buffalo nickels, which, in turn, he sells to a coin shop. Later, having treated himself to a cheeseburger, the speaker emerges from the restaurant and sees this striking image: “The Place was called Lucky Boy, / and as I left, there he was, huge, on top of the roof, / freckled, smiling, holding a tray of something up / to the sun, his legs crossed, running into the blue.”
So pleasing to the eye is Hotel Amerika that once you
pick it up, it’s hard to put down.
Review by Micah Zevin
Hot Metal Bridge, the innovative and fiercely imaginative online literary magazine of the University of Pittsburgh, publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction and criticism that will cause such an extreme variety of reactions that by the time we are done reading, we will be so spent and drained that we will have to go home, rest, dive into a hot vat of peanut oil perhaps, before attempting to peruse any more of its wacky literary experiments.
In the short story “Lighthouse” by Dan Chaon, George Orson, the narrator and protagonist, returns to his family home in the middle of nowhere in Nebraska with his girlfriend and student, Lucy, who hears a boy crying:
Of course when you live in such a place and you think that you hear the disembodied sound of a boy crying in the back yard it might occur to you that the place might be haunted. She wasn’t exactly that type of person, not exactly the type for example to use the word haunted. She didn’t believe in it. Not exactly. She didn’t think ghost or hallucination or any specific word, nothing that would commit her to a certain course of thought.
In the equally wacky but less spooky poem “Elegy for a White-Footed Cat” by Alicia Casey, a family buries their cat after discovering the missing feline on the side of the road:
We found him
on the side of the highway.
I was seven months pregnant,
he was three days stiff. His tongue
gone from sandpaper pink to asphalt.
Here, the author utilizes humor to lighten the painful realities inherent in the emotions that come with loss.
In the nonfiction essay “Life as a Shorty Shouldn’t Be So Rough: Economic Influence on Gender Roles in Hip-Hop Music,” gender roles and economics are deconstructed in the world of Hip-Hop music. The separation between the images and depiction of men and women have diverged and degraded further:
Certainly, the ho is a sexual object, but the word is in reference to an occupation, not an identity. As the gangster rap became an industry, the gangster changed from a representation of the marginalized into a self-affirming hero of the lower class, the ghetto kid made millionaire. This hero required a monster, leading to the increased degradation and more vague classification of “ho,” shifting in meaning from prostitute to any sexually active female, at the expense of other more positive gender roles for women.
Hot Metal Bridge not merely a showcase for absurd
yet emotionally gut wrenching poetry or creepy ghost stories set
in under-populated states, but intellectual discussions about
gender and music as well that will force you to poke yourself in
the rear with a hot poker and actually learn something nuanced
about the world.
Volume 61 Number 1
Review by Dan Moreau
This issue marks The Hudson Review’s 60th anniversary, which is an impressive feat in and of itself, especially in the impermanent world of literary journals. It features two stories by Penelope Fitzgerald who died in 2000. For readers unfamiliar with her work, she won the Booker Prize in 1973 for her novel Offshore and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1993 for The Blue Flower.
The first story, “The Mooi,” experiments with voice and dialect. “In first impression it seems to be a parody of Beckett […]. The speaker obsesses over the same few facts – a drunken tramp sitting motionless in the sun who forgets his lost bicycle,” says an essay which accompanies the story. The more satisfying “Worlds Apart” chronicles a single mother who takes in a Polish émigré as a boarder and wrestles with feelings of jealousy when a friend shows a romantic interest in him.
Also featured, is a quirky story by Penelope’s husband, Desmond Fitzgerald: “The Soldier In My Throat.” In it, a beleaguered father thinks he’s swallowed one of his children’s toy soldiers, though none of the doctors can find anything wrong with him. I won’t give the ending away, suffice to say it’s worth reading. The story reminded me of Hemingway not just in style – pared down and plain – but also in content. Like many of Hemingway’s characters, this one suffers from the unseen consequences of war.
Elizabeth Spencer’s stunning “Sightings” had me hooked by its
opening sentence: “Mason Everett, a man who lived mostly happily
in his own mind, hadn’t any idea why his daughter Tabitha had
come to visit.” That fine first sentence not only introduces us
to the two main characters, but also sets the story inexorably
in motion. Spencer, winner of the Pen/Malamud Award, proves
herself to be a master of the short story. Like all good short
fiction, hers resonates powerfully beyond the last page and
forms a lasting impression in the mind’s eye.
Review by Anne Wolfe
Knock: Hurt on Purpose is as amazing, off-the-wall, and anguished as the title suggests. There are some very strange pieces inside. Weird. Off-beat. Even creepy. And downright original, stunning, hair-raisingly good! Try the odd short-fiction piece, “Artificial Heart” by E.C. Jarvis, which effectively gives the reader a rise with its dark, twisted sense of humor. Then, “Plump” by Matthew Hamity, a love-hurt story, complete with a villainess-narrator that gives a chilly slant on the definition of “love,” complete with tears.
A prose poem, “Intermediary,” by John Olson contains odd, yet satisfying non sequiturs: “I’d like to go on a safari tasting of eternity and write a long letter from Iceland on a mahogany desk in Madagascar. Then mail it from Egypt.” “Boss Death” by Ron Savage is a devastatingly clever, witty tale of revenge, and no actual bosses were hurt in the writing of it.
Though much material is on the edge, on the safe side is “I Love Turtles” by Oliver Kellhammer; an exquisite memoir, a salute to the green, slow-paced way of life of a generation or two ago, and a reminder that change never stops. He writes, “I was shocked to see the orchard I walked through completely bulldozed. Its venerable apple trees, dating back to the days of the pioneers.”
The interview of Tim O’Brien, who authored If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Send Me Home while serving in Vietnam, is shocking. He describes censorship in Iraq, such as pictures that cannot be shown on television, edited letters to home, blogs, emails, resumes – and not only by soldiers, but by their families and civilians involved. They blank out much more than locations, but testimony and experiences, hurting soldiers that need to communicate. He said he was “dreading this interview because I’m so angry.”
Knock might be only 76 pages, but it’s 76 pages of
Volume 5 Issue 1
Reviewed by Kenneth Nichols
Although its content was featured in notable anthologies, Sport Literate has been riding the proverbial pine since May 2005. Thankfully, the publication has returned to the mound and serves up this Chicago-themed issue of creative nonfiction, poetry and photographs.
Writers have always seen poeticism in baseball. Robert Funge’s poem “The Game” posits a credible explanation for this. The young have countless opportunities to compete on the field. As they age, they “play their games on paper now. / It’s a boy’s game, and grown men, / grown literate past games, / can’t put the thrill down.”
Editor-in-Chief William Meiners points out what happens when we don’t give up our athletic ambitions. At forty, he spent a season on the gridiron with a semi-pro football team. Meiners examines the intersection of sports and life to the tune of popping hamstrings. Over the course of the season, he learns the requisite lessons about life and love and the changes we undergo as we age.
Most people know about the Chicago Black Sox scandal. Donald Dewey examines another of the complicated figures of the time, Hal Chase. Indeed, he was one of countless ballplayers who squandered his talent and betrayed the game’s integrity. However, Chase was also a victim of draconian reserve clause restrictions that limited the fair market value of his skills. Dewey’s article is interesting on its own, but also entices the reader to find his full biography of Chase.
In “Getting the Story,” Felicia Schneiderhan recounts the challenge she faced as a female fiction writer assigned to interview Chicago White Sox players for a piece of journalism. Entertainingly, the players face just as much of a challenge in fielding questions that require an answer beyond the standard athlete boilerplate.
Sports have always served the same function as good
storytelling. Sport Literate takes advantage of this,
providing the reader with glimpses of unexpected facets of the
(literal and figurative) diamond.
Review by Denise Hill
Confession: It’s been ten years since I last read The Sun, and I’m not sure why, but now I feel a sense of regret for all I have missed. If you don’t read this three-decades-old, ad-free publication, or don’t know it at all, get this issue (at least). The interview with Edward Tick is an absolute, tell-everyone-you-know-to-read-this-now piece. Tick currently directs Soldier’s Heart, a nonprofit initiative to promote “community-based efforts to heal the effects of war.” As a college teacher working with returning vets, I felt guided by Tick’s insight. The most poignant comment for me: “We have a parade and shoot off fireworks, which scares the hell out of many veterans. A better way to honor them would be to listen to their stories. We should give them new ways to serve and an honorable place in our communities.” Thanks to Tick, I have already started an initiative in my community. This interview, read in combination with Edwin Romond’s poem “Brother in Arms,” about the treatment of ‘Nam vets in a particular workplace, gives voice to the sorry spectrum of response our “warrior class” experience.
The spectrum of autism in Poe Ballantine’s son is the subject of his personal essay, “These Dark Woods”: a chronology of seeking, accepting, and resisting in response to his son’s borderline diagnosis. Borderlines between acceptance and rejection or resistance seem thematic in this issue. Dana Wildsmith, in her essay “Survival Guide,” recounts her experience with a poisonous snakebite and the decision to accept or decline the antivenom (no spoiler here; read it!). Jack Paris, in “The House Painters of Southern California,” focuses on the professional lives of illegal workers and comes to a pointedly delivered statement on the love/hate/denial-of-need/scapegoating relationship this country has with its underground work force. Though prose, his writing lilts poetic, like his painting, appreciated as art by those who see his mastery of skill:
There are times, rare blessed afternoons, when you have the perfect amount of work to do in a room; heavenly, engrossing times when the screeching of tile cutting is distant and the late daylight falls through a window on your work, the cracks in the cabinet joints disappearing beneath the smooth white trail of vanilla-smelling caulk. The occasional worker drifts through to trade barbs and ball scores, then leaves, his steps receding down the hall, and the silence is slowly recaptured: just you, the work, the swish of sandpaper.
On those afternoons, you’d do it for free.
The fiction in this issue is tight. The conclusion of Zane Kotker’s “Grand Boy” literally made me catch my breath and churned emotions still unresolved. Austin Bunn’s “Everything, All At Once” is a smooth-as-silk rendering of a caustic breakup, with a deeply satisfying finale.
The Sun: No sappy sentimentality. No overwrought
dramatizations. Life as it is; the weight of emotion conveyed
through stories well told. I will be back to reading
Review by Dan Moreau
With the tagline “The Modern Writer as Witness,” this publication assembles work by authors from the U.S., South America, Korea, Vietnam and a 10th-century Jewish poet from Muslim Spain.
Among the competent poetry and prose, what stood out was nonfiction by Tim Bascom. In his piece “Community College,” a writing instructor recounts the hectic and hard scrabble lives of his students over the course of a semester, told in a weekly syllabus-like format:
Larry can’t come because he went to his dad’s place and found him on the floor, face down, dead. Dwayne can’t come because he’s got black lung from smoking cigarettes. Mindy can’t come because Walmart changed her schedule; it’s either eat or learn.
As the reader can tell, it is what happens outside the classroom that matters here. The narrator is conspicuously absent whereas the students take center stage. Had this piece not been listed under nonfiction, I would’ve read it as a story. Indeed, the ebb and flow of a semester lends itself neatly to the arc of a story.
Fiction aficionados will recognize the names of Alan Cheuse and Jess Row. Cheuse’s “Ben in Amboy” imagines a fictitious sexual encounter between Benjamin Franklin and a Native American woman. Row’s “The World in Flames” takes place in the seedy back alleys of Bangkok where a British backpacker meets an evangelical missionary with a hidden – and harrowing – agenda. Finally, “Dutch Treat” by Josip Novakovich portrays a guilt-ridden former UN Peacekeeper who becomes ensnared by the U.S.-led War on Terror.
With this issue, Witness continues to publish socially
conscientious fiction that matters.